Tag:Clay Matthews
Posted on: January 9, 2011 8:45 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2011 9:35 pm
 

Packers have (gasp) a running game (VIDEO)

J. Starks had a breakout game vs. Philadelphia (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With their win vs. the Bears in Week 17, the Packers established themselves as the “non division winner nobody in the NFC wants to face in the playoffs.” Tonight, they showed you why.

Aaron Rodgers continued to establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league – if you had to pick between Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning to lead your offense, that would be a tough choice at this point – and the Packers are tough on defense (Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, et al).

But here’s the scariest part about Green Bay. The Packers now apparently have a running game. And with a running game, they very well might be the best team in the NFC.

Funny, they haven’t had one of those for most of the year. After Ryan Grant was lost in the season-opener, Packers fans have been subject to watching Brandon Jackson be rather mediocre and John Kuhn try to convert himself from a fullback into more of a tailback (Kuhn has been pretty decent, actually).

But with the emergence of rookie RB James Starks, the Packers become that much more dangerous, because they take less pressure off Rodgers and because they make the play-action pass that much more effective.

Here's Rodgers talking about his running game:



Against the Eagles, Starks carried 23 times for 127 yards, including a key first down late in the fourth quarter that kept Green Bay’s last drive alive for another three plays, and behind that performance, Rodgers threw for three touchdowns. And think about this: Starks only played THREE games in the regular season (he was on the physically unable to perform list for much of the year). Most notably, he had 18 carries for 73 yards in Week 13 vs. the 49ers, but then he only played once in the next three games.

After tonight, I doubt he will be absent again.

So why hasn’t he been playing lately? Well, there have been whispers about his practice habits. Not necessarily his work ethic, but about what he actually accomplishes while at practice.

"Keep in mind this is a young kid who is still continuing to grow and continuing to develop," Packers running backs coach Edgar Bennett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week. "Each and every one of our backs, they have a role and when their number is called they'll jump in and respond. He certainly has all the capabilities of being (an every-down back). He's talented."

Yes, we saw that tonight.

And now the Falcons have to figure out a way to stop him. The last time these two squads faced off – in Week 12 with Atlanta needing a last-second field goal to pull out the victory – Green Bay’s running game was obsolete. Jackson carried the ball 10 times for 26 yards (actually, Rodgers led all rushers with 51 yards), and the Packers passing game was what led them to their near win.

Now, Green Bay has Starks, and he might just be the difference.

That's what the Eagles will tell you, anyway.

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Posted on: January 6, 2011 2:47 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2011 5:02 pm
 

Eagles vs. Packers: 7-Point Wild Card Preview

Posted by Will Brinson



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point playoff preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. And as an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. Green Bay Packers (No. 6, NFC, 10-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3, NFC, 10-6)

And we're right back where we started! Except instead of the regular season opener, we all know that Michael Vick will play and that he's capable of being the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL on any given day. So is Aaron Rodgers, though, which is why this is such a compelling matchup. It doesn't hurt either that at one point either before the season (Packers) or during the year (Eagles), both of these teams were the clear-cut favorite to win the NFC. Injuries almost derailed Green Bay, but they rallied to become the annual "wild card team no one wants to play," while the Eagles stumbled down the stretch as either Vick's injuries caught up to him or defenses figured him out. Sunday, we find out which one it was.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



This is probably a 5-Mora rating because of the compelling matchup at quarterback, but I'm a hard sell for a maximum rating. Plus, the whole "What if Michael Vick has a bad performance" storyline is terrifying.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Michael Vick vs. Dom Capers and his blitzing minions

Michael Vick threw his first interception since like 2006 in Week 12 against Chicago. It's cool, though, because no one can go totally interception-less. Except since that Week 12 game, he hasn't had a game without an interception. That's not saying Vick hasn't been good -- Lord knows he's piling up fantasy points by the bundles and won my championship for me (it's a CBSSports.com league, duh, so hey, Garrett! Maybe next year!). But fantasy football doesn't offer negative points for quarterbacks being sacked and when someone runs in touchdowns, which Vick does, scores get inflated. 

That's a long way of saying that take a look at the final three games of Vick's regular season and you realize how important pressure is for Dom Capers and the Packers. If they can get athletic blitzers to Vick (i.e. defensive backs and Clay Matthews), they'll force sacks, fumbles and bad decisions from Vick. 

That was the plan Minnesota utilized in Week 16 and it resulted in six sacks, two fumbles, an interception and enough bad decisions by Vick that he completed just 58.1 percent of his passes. Now, Vick probably wasn't "100 percent" but that's the nature of football at the end of the season. 

It's no secret that there's a correlation between additional pressure on the quarterback (and this applies to any team playing any quarterback) and turnovers, sacks, bad decisions and wins. And it's no secret that quarterbacks who can recognize blitz packages and formations and then adjust on the fly have a higher rate of success. Michael Vick has shown, over the past few weeks, that perhaps he's not as developed as a "pure passer" as everyone thought when he was piling up deep balls against the Redskins.

Capers will bring the heat with the Packers blitz packages -- if Vick can demonstrate a better job of recognizing the various formations, then he'll seem a lot more like the guy who upped his MVP status in the second half against the Giants than the guy who was stifled in the first part of that game.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

I was originally going to put  to put "Redemption Song" by Bob Marley here (for Vick's comeback), but that's probably desecrating the importance with which Marley wrote the anthem of freedom. Instead, let's think about what's at stake for Vick and Rodgers here -- both guys need a playoff win in the worst way. One to really beef up his contract status with the Eagles next year and the other to get that final monkey off his back. But that doesn't mean there's any PRESSURE, DAN Michael and Aaron.



5. The Eagles will win if ...

They provide Vick adequate protection and establish LeSean McCoy in both the running and passing game. The Packers are going to bring pressure (duh) and the best way to counter that is by letting McCoy make plays from screens, draws and dumps in the flats designed to occur before the pressure hits.

6. The Packers will win if ...

They get to Vick. Rodgers will get his points so it's on the defense, and the Eagles are 1-2 in games where Vick was sacked four or more times, with the lone win a 35-32 victory over Detroit in Week 2.

7. Prediction: Eagles 23, Packers 21
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:05 am
Edited on: January 4, 2011 10:19 am
 

10 Wild Card stories worth your attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Momentum schmo-mentum

When a columnist or analyst starts talking about the momentum a team has or doesn’t have heading into the playoffs, really what they’re telling you is they don’t have anything to say about that particular team. Citing a team’s momentum is like citing a quarterback’s moxie or a head coach’s energy: it’s meaningless drivel.

The 2007 New York Giants lost two of their final three regular seasons games. How did momentum work out for them? Or what about the 2008 Arizona  Cardinals? They lost four of their last six regular season games, with three of those four losses by 21 points or more. They lacked momentum…heading into their Super Bowl run. Or there’s always the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who entered the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. If only they’d had momentum…they could have blown out the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, rather than beat them by a mere two touchdowns.

Momentum is relevant DURING games (we saw that early at rowdy Qwest Field in the Seahawks-Rams contest). But it’s not relevant week-to-week. It’s only logical that “momentum” would disappear after the game. After all, there are six days between games. And – just a guess – but the do-or-die scenario of an NFL playoff game changes the mood in the locker room over the course of those six days.

So here’s a promise: these next eight stories about the eight Wild Card teams will have nothing to do with “momentum”. The only references to what’s happened in recent weeks will pertain to actual events and tangible data – not that mythical force that lazy sportswriters have been allowed to pretend is real.



New Orleans Saints (No. 5 seed; 11-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (No. 4 seed; 7-9)   Saturday, 4:30, NBC


2.) Seahawks: undeserving

On Sunday night, many people saw the Seahawks play for the first time this season. Give them credit – thP. Carroll (US Presswire)ey deserved that win more than the Rams. The Seahawks got a solid game out of backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. In the second half they discovered their long-missing rushing attack, registering 141 yards (their third highest total on the season) They stifled the fruitless St. Louis passing attack and used the famous Qwest Field buzz to their advantage.

Now, let’s hope America doesn’t get short-sighted and say, “Sure, the Seahawks are only 7-9, but they actually looked pretty good Sunday night; maybe they deserve to be in the playoffs after all.”

Make no mistake: it is an embarrassment that this club is in the postseason tournament. The Bucs and Giants were both three games better than Seattle. Yes, it is an honor to win your division…but the old-timers who say winning a division warrants an automatic playoff spot are just plain wrong. Division titles meant more back in the five-team division format. But since realignment in 2002, a team now just has to beat out three other teams to win a division. The problem is, the NFL’s current playoff format was in place long before the 2002 realignment. A division title should warrant an automatic playoff bid…just as long as the division winner is ABOVE .500. Yes, there have only been three instances where a team with a .500 record or worse reached the postseason. But two of those instances have come since realignment. And in both of those instances, the outdated playoff system screwed over playoff caliber teams.

This time, it’s also screwing over NBC. The network pays the NFL $1.1 billion a year to cover the NFL. You think Dick Ebersol likes getting stuck with a losing team on the Sunday Night Football regular season finale? How about having to broadcast that losing team again the next week in the Wild Card opener?

If you’re wondering why the NFL would stick the Seahawks on NBC for a second consecutive week (not to mention give the Seahawks a short week after making them play late on Sunday), it’s because of the way the playoff television format shakes out. Here’s how it works (based on observation): the NFL views the Saturday night late game as the premier television slot and alternates between using an AFC and NFC game in that slot. Last year the league took the Philly-Dallas matchup from FOX and put it in NBC’s Saturday night slot. This year, it was CBS’s turn to give up its premium game. Thus, you get Colts-Jets (the NFL’s most marketable player against the biggest market team). Because the Colts-Jets is a 3 seed vs. 6 seed, the NFL chose the NFC’s 4 seed vs. 5 seed matchup to fill the other Saturday slot. D. Brees (US Presswire)

Why are we discussing the logistics of the broadcasting schedule rather than the Seahawks themselves here? Because this article is designated for true playoff teams.


3.) Saints: Unable to march in?

Last season the New Orleans Saints ranked sixth in the league in rushing. This season they ranked 28th. The Saints come into the postseason averaging just 68.3 yards per game on the ground over their last three outings. They have barely even bothered with establishing the run in any of those outings.

Injuries have likely factored into Sean Payton’s thinking here. Until this past Sunday, leading rusher Chris Ivory had been out with a bum hamstring. No. 1 running back Pierre Thomas has battled a bad ankle all season. Veteran midseason pickup Julius Jones is too inconsistent to feature, while Reggie Bush has stolen about $8 million from the team this season (Bush has often looked sluggish because he hasn’t been processing information well).

The lack of a run game is part of the reason Drew Brees threw 22 interceptions this year (Brees finished the season with a 12-game interception streak, the longest the NFL has seen since Jon Kitna in 2006).

Is this play-calling unbalance a major problem? Meh; there are worse things than relying heavily on the reigning Super Bowl MVP and his litany of receiving targets. But make no mistake: this is NOT the formula New Orleans used in its Super Bowl run last postseason.



New York Jets (No. 6 seed; 11-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Saturday, 8:00, NBC

4.) Jets: Surprisingly under-hyped?

At least the New York Jets didn’t sneak into the postseason through the backdoor like last year. Though the 11-5 Jets are two games better than they were in ’09, and though the offense has opened up considerably in Mark Sanchez’s second season, no one seems to consider this club on the verge of taking that next step. Except their head coach, of course. “I think we’re going to win it [all] this year,” Rex Ryan said after his team’s easy Week 17 victory over the Bills.

Because the Jets gave up 45 points in primetime to the Patriots and 38 points on a widely-watched Sunday afternoon game against the Bears, there is the perception that Ryan’s defense has dropped off from a year ago. But look at the numbers:

2009 Jets
98.6 rush yards allowed per game (8th in the NFL)
153.7 pass yards allowed per game (1st)D. Revis (US Presswire)
51.7 percent completion given up (1st)
32 total sacks (tied 18th)

2010 Jets:
90.9 rush yards allowed per game (3rd in the NFL)
200.6 pass yards allowed per game (6th)
50.7 percent completion given up (1st)
40 total sacks (8th)

All in all, the numbers between the two years are nearly identical. And the ’09 Jets forced just one more turnover than the ’10 Jets. The major difference between the ’09 Jets and ’10 Jets is that the ’09 Jets were not on Hard Knocks, were not playing on national television every other week and were not filling the tabloids with stories about harassment of a female supermodel reporter or foot fetishes.

A more important difference between the two is that the ’09 Jets could control games with their rushing attack (which always buttresses a good defense) while the ’10 Jets cannot. Expected breakout running back Shonn Greene has come close to topping his Wild Card performance against the Bengals last season. Thus, the ’10 Jets are still relying heavily on 31-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson, who has not rushed for more than 55 yards in a game since Week 5.



5.) Colts: Peeking at the right time

Okay, so the Titans gave the Colts a tighter Week 17 contest at Lucas Oil Field than anticipated. Defensively, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were neutralized by the stellar Tennessee tackles (Michael Roos and David Stewart). Offensively, Peyton Manning and company were held to just 23 points.
D. Rhodes (US Presswire)
Fine – go ahead and bet against Indy’s pass-rush and passing attack. A lot of you did earlier in the season (you know, when Manning showed he might be washed up by throwing 11 bad passes over a three-week stretch).

It’s easy to say these 10-6 Colts are not their usual dangerous selves. But the Colts failed to earn a bye in 2006, when they went on to win Super Bowl XLI. The Colts didn’t find momentum in the’06 playoffs – they found their run defense. That was the postseason in which Bob Sanders returned after playing just four regular season games.

Sanders won’t return again this time (IR, biceps), but that doesn’t mean the Indy run defense won’t progress. The progression is already underway, in fact. This past Sunday, the Colts held Chris Johnson to just 39 yards on 20 carries. The Titans as a whole managed just 51 yards on the ground. The week before, Indy held Oakland’s No. 2 ranked rushing attack to just 80 yards. The week before that, they held Jacksonville’s No. 3 ranked rushing attack to 67 yards.

What’s more, the Colts seem to have rediscovered their own rushing attack. Joseph Addai (who also helps tremendously as a pass-blocker) is back after missing eight games with a neck injury. Addai has rushed for 45 and 44 yards the past two weeks. More impressive has been veteran Dominic Rhodes. The soon-to-be-32-year-old locker room favorite was a member of the UFL’s Florida Tuskers just a few months ago. Since resurfacing in Indy, Rhodes has rushed for 172 yards in three games His quickness and veteran savvy give the offense everything it was missing when first-round bust Donald Brown was starting.

And, of course, the Colts still have Manning. And, while they’re without Austin Collie and Dallas Clark, they still have one of the league’s premier one-two punches at wide receiver in Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.



Baltimore Ravens (No. 5 seed; 12-4) @ Kansas City Chiefs (No. 4 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 1:00, CBS


6.) Ravens: Joe Flacco to come of age?

Last year in the Wild Card Round, the Ravens went into Foxboro and punched the Patriots in the mouth/nose/throat/gut/groin. They ran the ball 52 times for 234 yards, which is why few people crowed about Joe Flacco’s almost irrelevant performanJ. Flacco (US Presswire)ce. The then-second-year quarterback was 4/10 for 34 yards…on the day. An interception made Flacco’s passer rating an imperfect 10.

We wont’ see another Pop Warner gameplan like this from John Harbaugh’s club. Sure, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will be enticed to attack the Chiefs’ 15th-ranked run defense– especially given that Ray Rice looks fresher than he did early in the season and that Oakland’s Michael Bush gashed the Chiefs for 137 yards in Week 17 (most of those yards came from attacking the undersized defensive ends on off-tackle runs). But the Ravens have been grooming Flacco for this opportunity. His 2010 numbers wound up being nearly identical to his 2009 numbers – just 10 fewer attempts, nine fewer completions and nine more passing yards overall – but the Ravens used less six-man offensive line formations and more spread receiver sets this season. In other words, they put more on Flacco.
This makes sense considering Baltimore traded a small ransom for wideout Anquan Boldin, signed veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh, signed speedster Donte’ Stallworth and drafted tight end Ed Dickson. The Ravens have more aerial weapons than they’ve ever had, which is why this time they’ll ask their third-year franchise quarterback to be a weapon himself.



7.) Chiefs: Can coaches carry them?

For a man known for being difficult to work with, Todd Haley sure showed admirable humility this past offseason. The second-year head coach and respected offensive guru realized that clearing play-calling duties off his ultra crowded head coaching plate would ultimately help the team. So, Haley welcomed Charlie Weiss to his staff, knowing full-well that the former Patriots offensive coordinator would almost certainly get the lion’s share of the credit if, you know, Matt Cassel went from being a hot seat starter to 27 TD-7 INT passer.

Operating in Weiss’ familiar system (a system Cassel learned primarily from Josh McDaniels in New England), the 28-year-old ex-USC backup has been exactly what a team with the league’s best rushing attack needs: a caretaking quarterback capable of making the occasional big play. Much of the credit for Cassel’s success belongs to Weiss.

Weiss isn’t the only coach who has turned in a masterful season for the Chiefs. Offensive line coach Bill Muir has been fantastic with a callow unit that was originally thought to be very vulnerable at the tackle and center positions, while running backs coach Maurice Carthon has helped Jamaal Charles blossom into a 1,467-yard rusher (a 1,467-yard rusher who primarily comes off the T. Haley (US Presswire)bench, no less).

Defensively, coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system has flourished despite an undersized front seven and inexperienced secondary. That secondary, which has often featured dual rookies at the safety spots (first-rounder Eric Berry and fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis) plus a rookie in the slot (cornerback Javier Arenas) has benefitted from the tutelage of Hall of Fame defensive back Emmitt Thomas. Finally, give credit to linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who has overseen a unit that successfully transformed nickel inside ‘backers Derrick Johnson and Javon Belcher into starters. The emergence of the young safeties and those speedy linebackers has infused speed into the interior of Kansas City’s defense.

You could argue that no team maximizes its talent through a variety of personnel packages better than the Chiefs. But is the reliance on coaching a good thing? The Chiefs did not look very well coached in their season finale against the Raiders, particularly on offense. Cassel completed 11 of 33 throws and was under immense pressure the entire afternoon. One can’t help but wonder if the news about Weiss heading to Florida isn’t distracting (especially given that the relationship with Haley likely wound up having something to do with Weiss’ decision).



Green Bay Packers (No. 6 seed; 10-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 4:30, FOX


8.) Packers: DE-FENSE! (boom, boom) DE-FENSE! (boom, boom)

Columnists and analysts will be most tempted to fall back on the moment myth when talking about the Green Bay Packers this week. They’re that team that “nobody wants to face heading into the playoffs”. It’s true, Green Bay is hot right now. But the reason isn’t momentum – it’s talent, deception and aggression on the defensive side of the ball.
C. Woodson (US Presswire)
Injuries have ravaged the Packers D, but only in the front seven. Coordinator Dom Capers has still be able to prove what Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams proved last season, and what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau proved the season before that: you can basically do whatever you want with your front seven as long as you have an elite back four. In the NFL, an elite back four includes: a true cover corner (Tramon Williams, ala Jabari Greer/Ike Taylor), a rangy safety (Nick Collins, ala Darren Sharper/Ryan Clark) and a versatile playmaker (Charles Woodson, ala Roman Harper/Troy Polamalu).

What Capers has that Williams did not have (but that LeBeau certainly had) is a dominant pass-rusher. In fact, Green Bay might suddenly have two. Clay Matthews continues to punish teams with his speed off the edge (by the way, a side note, don’t listen to analysts who simply look at Matthews’ somewhat slender stature and determine he can’t anchor against the run – the guy has been a tremendous playside run defender the past few weeks). In addition to Matthews, undrafted rookie Erik Walden has exploded since filling in for injured Frank Zombo (another undrafted rookie who was filling in for injured Brandon Chillar….who was filling in for injured Brady Poppinga – seriously). Walden led the Packers with 11 tackles and two sacks Sunday against the Bears.

Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. Or, given that he hasn’t yet won a playoff game, perhaps we have to say he’s a quarterback with great skills. Either way, Rodgers makes Green Bay’s offense capable of greatness. But the absence of an adequate running back also makes Green Bay’s offense vulnerable.

The reason the Packers are in the postseason is because of their defense. It allowed just three points in the make-or-break finale against the Bears, and it forced six turnovers in the make-or-break matchup against the Giants the previous week.



9.) Eagles: A quarterback change?

Hard to believe – maybe even impossible to believe – but according to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio (via Pro Football Talk), Andy Reid may consider benching Michael Vick in Philly’s Wild Card game against Green Bay. The Eagles coaching staff is extremely alarmed by Vick’s inability to recognize presnap blitzes. As ESPN’s NFL Matchup Show pointed out, M. Vick (US Presswire)recognition problems are what led to most of the sacks Vick took against the Vikings in the Tuesday night loss.

Vick did not practice with the team prior to the meaningless Cowboys game (which he sat out in order to rest his battered 6’0”, 215-pound body). Instead, he spent the week studying Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. Vick torched that defense in his 2010 debut off the bench back in Week 1, but that was only because the Packers had spent the week preparing for quintessential pocket passer Kevin Kolb (whom they destroyed, by the way).

It’d be great to know how much time the Packers spend preparing for Kolb this week. Do they – or anyone – really believe Reid would have the gall to pull the league’s presumed MVP runner up in the playoffs? The backlash Mike Shanahan took for pulling Donovan McNabb in a regular season game at Detroit would be a mere blip compared to the backlash Reid would take for pulling Vick in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Eagles obviously hope it won’t come to this. And it probably won’t. But this Sunday will prove whether Vick has really become a student of the game. No question he’s putting forth the effort to study the film and playbook; the question is whether that effort will pay off.




10.) Quick Hits: The bye week teams

With so much focus on the immediate playoff matchups, it’s always amazing how far off the radar the No. 1 and 2 seed teams drop during Wild Card week. Here’s just a little something to help keep the bye week clubs in the back of your mind.;

**The Patriots finished with an NFL-best 14-2 record. It’s the fourth time in Bill Belichick’s career that he’s reached 14 wins. (Too bad this stat, like virtually all other regular season stats, will be rendered virtually moot in two years when the NFL decides to water down its flourishing product by adding two more games to the regular season).

**The Steelers will be as well rested as a BCS bowl team once they take the field for their Divisional Round matchup. Pittsburgh will have played the hapless Panthers on Thursday night in Week 16, rested for 10 days, played the hapless Browns in Week 17, then rested for another two weeks.

**The Falcons might be the most banal, methodical No. 1 seed in NFL history. Their season has consisted of nothing but 12-play, 77-yard drives capped with a Michael Turner/Tony Gonzalez/Roddy White touchdown.

**Lovie Smith was true to his word: the Bears played to win in Week 17. The Bears didn’t get the win, of course, but no player in that locker room regrets the effort. And doesn’t it just seem like ever since the Giants gave the undefeated Patriots all they could handle on that epic Saturday night contest at the end of the ’07 season, more teams have played to win in their meaningless games?

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Posted on: December 18, 2010 8:26 pm
 

Nike unveils Zoom Alpha Talon cleat for NFL

Posted by Will Brinson

Nike, as you know, recently signed a deal with the NFL owners to become the league's apparel provider.
Some of the 2010 Nike Football Media Summit in Cowboys Stadium was specifically designed around dropping news about that angle.

There was also plenty of discussion and presentation of the new BCS uniforms (TCU, Boise State, Florida and Oregon all got new digs) but much of it related to the new gear that NFL teams would begin using.

For instance, the most revolutionary piece of equipment was the Zoom Alpha Talon cleat (right), which features an adaptive tracking system (for making quick cuts) and is the first football cleat to use Flywire, an uber-light but ultra-strong lockdown material.

The Talon's also the first football cleat ever to apply "Deflex" padding (which is basically what Nike makes their lowest-layer padding out of). The premise there is you get lightweight layering with heavy protection for bruises, big hits to the foot, etc.

Here's what the athletes present -- Steven Jackson, Clay Matthews, Ndamukong Suh, Dwayne Bowe and Felix Jones -- had to say about the new uniforms and cleats they'll be wearing.

Posted on: December 9, 2010 12:43 am
 

Top Ten With a Twist: Non-Brady MVP votes

M. Ryan would be the top MVP candidate in the league right now if it wasn't for a guy named T. Brady (US Presswire). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

This week, seemingly everybody is proclaiming Patriots QB Tom Brady as the player who should be named MVP – including his former teammate, Troy Brown, who I talked to for this week’s Five Questions (or more) segment. After watching Brady dissect the Jets on Monday, that’s hard to argue.

But we’ve still got four weeks of regular-season NFL football, so Brady can’t be named the Most Valuable Players quite yet (I think that’s actually in the rules). That said, there are a number of players who have done quite a bit to help their respective teams this season that also must be in the conversation for MVP. What happens, after all, if Brady throws 10 interceptions in the final four games and the Patriots go 0-4 in that stretch?

Thus, this Top Ten With a Twist pays homage to those who are having hellaciously good years for teams good and bad and could creep into a voter’s conscience (assuming he/she doesn’t simply write Brady’s name in every possible space on the ballot). I’m not saying most of these guys should win; I’m just saying they should be considered.

10. Julius Peppers, DE, Bears: In his first season in Chicago, the defense, ranked as the third-best in the NFL, is a huge reason why the Bears are 9-3, lead the NFC North and own the second-best record in the conference (tied with the Saints). He’s recorded seven sacks and a very strong six passes defended and he’s forced three fumbles. You could also make a case for Brian Urlacher in this spot.

9. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: So many other quarterbacks have made big headlines this season – some for good reasons (we’ll get into those candidates later) and some for bad reasons (ahem, Brett Favre) – and it seems like Brees has been slightly ignored. That’s also because he isn’t the top quarterback in his division at this point and because the Saints are in danger of not winning the NFC South (more on the Falcons below). But the fact is that Brees is statistically the most-accurate quarterback in the league, and the Saints are 9-3 with a chance to return to the Super Bowl. That’s not too shabby.

8. Clay Matthews, LB, Packers: Remember how amazingly fast Matthews started the season, recording six sacks in the first two games? Well, he’s slowed considerably since then, and even Miami’s Cameron Wake has surpassed him for the league lead (Wake has 12 sack to Matthews’ 11.5). Matthews only has one sack in the past three games, but he’s still got a good shot at defensive player of the year (along with Julius Peppers, Steelers LB James Harrison, Eagles DE Trent Cole and Bills NT Kyle Williams), and he’s still having one heck of a year. 

7. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs: Coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged 5.9 yards per rush and finished 2009 with 1,120 yards and seven TDs, Kansas City rewarded him by going out and getting (gulp!) a legitimate RB in Thomas Jones. In his first two games of the season, Charles averaged 11 carries and 70.5 yards per contest, leaving some of us to wonder what was going on in Kansas City. But Charles has been awesome for the resurgent 8-4 Chiefs, averaging a ridiculous 6.2 yards per carry while gaining 1,137 yards.

6. James Harrison, LB, Steelers: You’d be forgiven if, the other day when Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was defending Harrison in another laborious discussion about fines, you would have scoffed when Tomlin said Harrison was having an MVP-type season. But look at the plays he’s made and the numbers he’s produced. Harrison is third among linebackers with 10 sacks, he’s defended six passes and produced two interceptions, and he’s forced six fumbles, best among LBs. And he does it for a top-five defense which could help the Steelers to a deep postseason run. He's the MVP of NFL fines, but he might be the MVP overall as well.

5. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: You’ve got Matthews on defense, and now you’ve got Rodgers as the catalyst for an offense ranked in the top-10, despite a dreadful running game. Rodgers has been so impressive (a 65.4 completion percentage, 3,243 yards, 23 TDs and nine INTs) without the benefit of Ryan Grant and having to play with very little support in Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn (they rank 30th and 50th in rushing in the league, respectively). His MVP candidacy obviously will ride on whether he can get Green Bay into the playoffs.

4. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: A week ago, I might have picked Rivers a little bit higher, but he’s coming off a bad, bad home loss to the Raiders that dropped San Diego two games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West. Not that Rivers played poorly, because he wasn’t bad. But it’s tough to get excited about a QB leading a 6-6 squad who very well could miss the playoffs, even if he is the guy who’s led his team to all six of those wins.

M. Jones-Drew has made himself a strong MVP candidate in the past five weeks (US Presswire). 3. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: What would you say if I told you that Jones-Drew has rushed for at least 100 yards in his past five games and helped Jacksonville win four of its past five to take over first place in the AFC South? Would you say that man would be an MVP candidate? I would.

2. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: Yes, he’s missed three games because of injury, but other than that, Vick is, bar none, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he’s having a career season in a year in which he wasn’t supposed to be the starter (you might have forgotten about a guy named Kevin Kolb). He could, throughout his career, always change the game’s dynamic with his running ability (and he’s got 467 rushing yards, a 6.3 average and six scores this season), but he’s showcased his arm this year as well (63.8 completion percentage, 2,243 yards, 15 TDs, two INTs). He is absolutely a complete quarterback and absolutely an MVP candidate.

1. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: The “Matty Ice” moniker has already worn thin – unlike the “Pocket Hercules” nickname for Jones-Drew – but there’s no question that it’s reflective of his playing ability. Even when he doesn’t play altogether well – an example would be last week in Tampa Bay – he still somehow finds a way to lead Atlanta to a win. At this point, the Falcons are the best team in the NFC, and Ryan is the biggest reason for that. If Brady falls off in the last month of the year, my vote at this point would go to Ryan.

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Posted on: November 27, 2010 6:29 pm
 

Week 12 injury news and analysis, part II

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Vikings at Redskins

Two of Minnesota’s top receivers, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian, are questionable. It looks like Rice will play, while Berrian will be a gametime decision. Rice returned last week to play in his first game this season, and he didn’t appear to have any complications with his hip. Meanwhile, Berrian has missed the past two weeks with a bad groin, and he missed practice Thursday (he was limited Wednesday and Friday).

Washington will be without RBs Ryan Torain and Clinton Portis – the former is out this week, and the latter was placed on IR this week – so Keiland Williams will get the start and will be backed up by James Davis.

Making matters (potentially) worse, No. 1 WR Santana Moss is questionable with a knee injury. Coach Mike Shanahan held him out of practice Thursday and then said he felt better Friday. He’ll still be a game-time decision, though.

Eagles at Bears

The big loss to Philadelphia is that CB Asante Samuel, who originally was listed as questionable, has been downgraded to out for Sunday’s game. Samuel was trying to shake off a sprained MCL, and earlier in the week, he talked about trying to play. But he missed all three practices this week and was ruled out today. Look for Joselio Hanson to take his place in the starting lineup.

The Bears have nobody listed on their injury report. Which seems kind of amazing. But true.

Packers at Falcons


Atlanta DE John Abraham, after missing last week with a groin injury, is questionable this week. If he doesn’t play, the Falcons should be OK in the run defense game (Atlanta ranks sixth in the NFL, while Green Bay’s running game is No. 21), but Abraham’s pass-rushing ability surely would help against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Abraham, in his 11th season, is having a solid year, recording eight sacks.

Of the nine Packers on the injury, seven – including WR Donald Driver, LB Clay Matthews and CB Charles Woodson – are probable. Green Bay is a little beat up, though, in the secondary. Atari Bigby is out, and S Anthony Smith is doubtful with an ankle.

Buccaneers at Ravens

G Chris Chester, who missed last week with a bad case of cellulitis, is questionable and still could play. One reason Baltimore might not need to rush him back: Tony Moll was adequate while replacing Chester at right guard last week. Although Chester didn’t practice at all this week, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that wouldn’t necessarily preclude him from playing if he’s healthy enough.

Backup S Tom Zbikowski is listed as questionable with a heel, but with Ed Reed healthy, his absence isn’t as big a deal.

Tampa Bay should be relatively healthy. Four of the five players listed on the injury are probable (DE Kyle Moore is definitely out).

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Posted on: November 22, 2010 6:24 pm
 

Hot Routes 11.22.10: Week 11 boxscore tidbits

Hot Routes

Posted by Andy Benoit

Did you notice the Giants only had 208 yards of total offense against the Eagles Sunday night?

Justin Tuck had three sacks and was phenomenal in containment outside and against the run.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis racked up 96 yards on 21 carries against the Colts.

Donald Brown had 68 yards on 17 carries, but 36 of those yards came on one good run. Brown was his usual ineffective self for most of the night. J. Mayo (US Presswire)

Jerod Mayo led the Patriots with 15 tackles, though fellow inside linebacker Gary Guyton stood out more. Guyton had nine tackles.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 21/34, 316 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Fred Jackson and Cedric Benson both rushed for over 115 yards.

For the second week in a row, the Bills won and Lee Evans caught just two passes. (Not trying to suggest there’s a correlation between the two.) Steve Johnson has become Buffalo’s No. 1 wideout. He had eight catches for 137 yards and three scores against the Bengals.

For the second straight week, Felix Jones gave the Cowboys 51 yards on the ground. That is his second highest rushing output of the season.

Jahvid Best, who is battling a bad foot, had just two yards on three carries. Or maybe it was three yards on two carries. Anyway, he was a non-factor.

Dez Bryant averaged minus-two yards per catch on all of his non-touchdown receptions Sunday.

Very rarely does a DT lead his team in tackles. That’s what Ndamukong Suh did for the Lions (eight stops).

Before leaving with a re-aggravated groin injury, Clinton Portis looked fresh on five carries (32 yards).

Pilloried all week for poor route running, Redskins wideout Joey Galloway caught three passes for 32 yards. That was three more than Randy Moss caught, by the way.

Titans rookie Marc Mariani recorded his second touchdown return of the season (87 yards on a punt).

It came predominantly in garbage time, but Derek Anderson was 25/46 for 295 yards and a touchdown. And Matt Cassel, who raised the bar for garbage time excellence last week, was a sturdy 15/24 for 193 yards and two touchdowns.

Dwayne Bowe caught two touchdowns, giving him a Chiefs record six-straight games with a touchdown. Bowe is on pace for 1,100 yards and 18 TD’s.

Adrian Wilson led the Cardinals with seven tackles after struggling a week ago.

Thanks to the big deficit, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson got only 14 carries Sunday (72 yards). That was only two more carries than the Packers gave Dimitri Nance (37 yards).

Sidney Rice’s debut: three catches, 56 yards.

Clay Matthews added another sack to his records (league-high 11.5 on the season). He also had two tackles for a loss and two hits on the quarterback.

LaDainian Tomlinson still looks fresh. He only managed 36 yards on 12 carries, but he turned in 71 yards on seven receptions.

Joel Dreessen could wind up keeping the starting tight end job even once Owen Daniels is healthy. Dreessen, who is a slightly better blocker than Daniels, caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.

With RT Damien Woody out, the Texans got three sacks (two from Mario Williams) and seven hits on Mark Sanchez.

Pittsburgh held Oakland to 61 yards rushing, which is par for the course for the Steelers this season.

Jason Campbell was 7/19 for 70 yards and a pick before getting benched in the second half. Bruce Gradkowski finished 13/24 for 98 yards and a pick.

Rashard Mendenhall’s 59 yards rushing were just four more yards than Ben Roethlisberger had on the ground.

James Harrison had two sacks, two tackles for a loss and two hits on the quarterback (one of which drew a ridiculous roughing the passer flag)…and those numbers still don’t describe the depth of his impact Sunday.

Joe Flacco had his first 300-yard passing game of the season against the Panthers.

Ray Lewis got his 30th career interception (and took it to the house).

The Jaguars won despite six turnovers (four from David Garrard).

Peyton Hillis was held to 48 yards on 21 carries, though he produced 95 yards on six receptions.

The Jaguars sacked Colt McCoy six times. Six sacks used to be a half-season for Jacksonville.

Interesting: Michael Turner got 28 carries for Atlanta (131 yards) and Jason Snelling got just one.

Who needs Pierre Thomas? Chris Ivory turned in99 yards on 23 carries for the Saints.

Brandon Stokley, Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu all had at least five catches and 75 yards for the Seahawks.

The 49ers generated only 71 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay’s bottom-feeder run defense. Forty five of those yards came from Troy Smith scrambles.

Mike Williams, barely 48 hours removed from a DUI arrest, caught all three passes thrown his way. Williams finished with 54 yards and a touchdown.

Patrick Willis stamped his ticket to Hawaii: two sacks, two tackles for a loss, two QB hits and a team-high 13 tackles.

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Posted on: November 9, 2010 12:58 am
 

F&R NFL Approval Matrix, Week 9

Posted by Will Brinson

Our affinity for graphs and charts and purty pictures knows no bounds, so (with a nod to the smartypants at NY Mag), we present the NFL Approval Matrix. Suggestions, complaints and intellecutual property lawsuits may be directed to us on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).

Click to embiggen.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com