Posted on: September 22, 2011 7:11 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 10:53 am

Ten Match-ups to watch in Week 3

Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton -- Yeah, they won't face each other. But this is a battle of two rookie passers taken in the top-10 of the draft last April. Newton is off to a fast start. Gabbert will be making his first start. It will be interesting to see how he responds. The other question is this: Can Newton keep it up?

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald against Seahawks CB Brandon Browner -- Fitzgerald had one big play last week against DeAngelo Hall, but it was a 73-yard touchdown catch. Browner had a real tough go of it against the Steelers. If Fitzgerald can get man coverage against him -- even though he's a bigger corner at 6-4 -- he should light him up.

Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs vs. Rams T Rodger Saffold -- Suggs didn't do much last week against Titans left tackle Michael Roos. Saffold is one of the rising stars at left tackle. He did a nice job on Jason Pierre-Paul Monday night. This will be a real challenge and chance to earn some acclaim for Saffold.

Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall vs. Cowboys QB Tony Romo  -- Anytime a player talks about going after another player's injury, it has to make this list. Romo has a broken rib and Hall said he would do his best to get a shot on it if he could. He might want to worry more about covering Romo's receivers. Hall is off to a great start this season, but making the statement he did is risky business.

Giants defensive front against Eagles offensive line -- The last time the Giants played Mike Vick, they attacked him from all angles. That will put a lot of pressure on the Eagles re-shuffled line. Can rookie center Jason Kelce handle the line calls to help identify the blitzers?  Pierre-Paul vs. Jason Peters should be a fun battle.

Saints QB Drew Brees against Texans top-ranked pass defense -- The Texans haven't exactly played two good passing offenses, but they did finish last in 2010 and now they're first in pass defense. But Brees and his receivers will be a big challenge to that rating. It's hard to get pressure on Brees because he gets the ball out so quickly. That will put a lot of pressure on the cover people on the back end.

Steelers OLB James Harrison vs. Colts LT Anthony Castonzo -- Anytime a pass rusher like Harrison faces a rookie tackle, it makes for interesting talk. Harrison is one of the toughest players in the NFL, but Castonzo won't back down. He's a tough guy too.

Jets C Colin Baxter vs. Raiders DTs Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly -- Baxter, an undrafted rookie, will be making his first NFL start for the injured Nick Mangold. That's tough on the road against two good tackles. The Jets are a run-heavy team and if they are to have success doing that Baxter has to have a good game.

Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth vs. 49ers DE Justin Smith  -- This is a battle of two former teammates who are both relentless in their play. Smith has started to get his due, but it's time Whitworth get some as well. He did a nice job last week against the Broncos and he can get more juice if he plays well against Smith.

Bills WR Stevie Johnson vs. Patriots CB Devin McCourty -- Johnson has become a top-level receiver. McCourty is one of the best young corners. When they get matched up, it will be interesting to see who wins. Johnson is a smart receiver who knows how to run routes. He isn't a burner, but he plays fast. He is bothered some by a groin injury, but is expected to play McCourty excels in man coverage. Keep an eye on this one.

Category: NFL
Tags: Cam Newton
Posted on: September 21, 2011 9:48 am

Del Rio makes the only choice

In the first week of camp, I watched Blaine Gabbert throw.

He made some that I hadn't been seen on a Jaguars practice field ever.

So the question is this: Why didn't he just open the season as the starter?

The coaches just weren't sure he was ready. They were concerned that he wasn't comfortable enough in the pocket, not comfortable enough with all the reads.

The team gave him the chance to win the job, but he never did. He didn't take it in camp.

Now it's his.

Coach Jack Del Rio made the decision Wednesday to name Gabbert the starter after Luke McCown's horrible game against the Jets.

Gabbert has a chance to be special.

There are a couple of concerns. Some scouts wonder if he is too apt to feel phantom pressure.

From what I've watched, that's the only knock. But that can be because he's young.

The big arm is there. The ability to read the field seems to be there.

During one practice this summer, former quarterback David Garrard took a snap from center and looked down the field. There was a wide-open receiver, but Garrard never saw him.

Standing behind the play, Gabbert, according to a team source, said, "it's there."

Gabbert, at 6-5, could see over the line. Garrard, at 6-1, always seemed to have problems with that.

Gabbert carries himself like a quarterback. He has that swagger.

Now it's time to show that Jaguars are his team -- for a long time.

The Jaguars have never really had their own draft-and-develop franchise quarterback. Now they do.

If he can show he was worth that top-10 pick.

Why not play him? The Jaguars aren't going to the playoffs anyway.

Category: NFL
Tags: Jaguars
Posted on: September 19, 2011 2:15 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2011 2:53 pm

Monday Musings: Lay off Romo

Ripping Tony Romo has become a blood sport. It's almost like everyone sits in wait to attack Romo when he doesn't play his best, or has a game like he did last week against the Jets, which included another late-game meltdown.

So why doesn't it go the other way when he plays like he did Sunday against the 49ers?

Romo is just one of those guys people love to take apart.

Why? What's the issue? Is it because he's the quarterback of the Cowboys? Romo works hard. He's a good guy. His teammates like him -- yet he takes an endless stream of abuse.

Romo suffered a broken rib against the 49ers, but came back to throw for 320 yards after the injury, He finished with 345 yards and two touchdowns and hit Jesse Holley on a 77-yard pass in overtime to set up the winning score.

Romo might not have a Super Bowl ring. And he's had some playoff failures, but it's time for those of you out there who rip him just for being the quarterback of the Cowboys to back away.

I just don't get it.

At least give him credit when he deserves it like he did Sunday against the 49ers.

 Let's get this straight: Falcons coach Mike Smith did not want punter Matt Bosher to punt to DeSean Jackson in the final seconds. The decision was to punt the ball out of bounds, but somehow Bosher booted it right to Jackson, who ripped a similar kick in the closing seconds to beat the Giants last year. Smith did admit to botching the closing seconds when he told quarterback Matt Ryan to take three knees but left time on the clock for the punt and a Hail Mary into the end zone. "That's on me," Smith said. "I should have run a play. Coaching error."  Smith said he didn't give any thought to taking a safety up 35-31 in that situation. He didn't want to kick off.

 I have to give credit to Matt Hasselbeck. I was ready to bury him and have the Titans play Jake Locker. But Hasselbeck responded against the Ravens by throwing for 358 yards and a touchdown. Props to Hasselbeck, but I still think the long-term interest of the franchise is better off with Locker playing sooner rather than later.

 There was a lot of talk this summer that Miami running back Daniel Thomas was soft. He didn't look it against Houston, rushing for 107 yards in his first NFL game. He did fumble, which can't happen.

 The Falcons are adamant that the hit Dunta Robinson put on Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin should not have been flagged. Smith said Maclin took a couple of steps before Robinson hit him. "That's not a defenseless receiver," Smith said. If Robinson is fined or suspended -- this is his second offense after laying out Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson last year -- you can expect an appeal. Robinson, for the most part, is expecting a fine -- bare minimum. -- even though he insisted it wasn't a dirty play. "I'll let the commissioner decide that," he said.

 With Cam Newton and Andy Dalton putting up big numbers this past weekend, what could keep the Jaguars from starting rookie Blaine Gabbert? Luke McCown was terrible in the team's loss to the Jets, throwing four interceptions. Gabbert came in for mopup duty and his five of his six passes. It can't be any worse.

 It's easy to take shot at Chiefs coach Todd Haley. But what about general manager Scott Pioli?  His moves have backfired in a big way. Trading for Matt Cassel and paying him a long-term deal was and is a bad move. The guy is just ordinary. Pioli has made some other questionable personnel moves, like drafting Tyson Jackson with the third overall pick. Pioli is from the "we invented the game bunch" that is offspring of Bill Parcells.  It looks like Mr. Rigid hasn't invented the game after all.  One more note: Haley and Pioli aren't exactly chummy, but the coach loses out in that one.

 Sad to see Jamaal Charles go down with a torn ACL. He is one of the game's most-explosive runners. One has to wonder if he will be the same. Backs off ACLs sometimes never look the same again.

 The Colts aren't good right now. And Kerry Collins isn't playing well. But Brett Favre? That's what some in Indianapolis are saying. What's the point? Leave Favre on the farm. Please.

 What happened to the Raiders defensive line in a week? They owned the Broncos last week and then were handled by an average Bills line Sunday. Was it motivation, maybe?

 Bad move by Jim Harbaugh declining the 15-yard penalty and keeping a 55-yard field goal on the scoreboard against the Cowboys. In that situation, you try to get a touchdown and at least burn more clock. I don't know about Harbaugh as an NFL coach.

 The interior of the Eagles offensive line isn't very good. That could cause a lot of issues for Mike Vick as it relates to the blitz.

 Tom Brady has thrown for 940 yards in two games. To think Bill Belichick once loved the running game. Smart man that Bill. Smart man.

 Chris Johnson and Arian Foster: Why you don't pay running backs big-money deals. You just don’t.

Category: NFL
Posted on: September 18, 2011 11:44 pm

Falcons save season?

ATLANTA -- You had them buried.

Called their 13-3 season a fraud. You were ready to mock me for picking the Atlanta Falcons to go to the Super Bowl.

They were down 10 points to the Philadelphia Eagles, couldn't deal with the Eagles offensive speed, had an offensive line getting whipped and a quarterback who looked jumpy.

Staring 0-2 in the face, the Falcons got a break. And they got a victory because of it, beating the Eagles 35-31 at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons won in large part because Mike Vick got hurt.

Vick, the former Falcons quarterback starting in Atlanta for the first time as an opponent, left with his team leading by three and driving to make it 10. They did make it 10, but he never returned.

He left with a neck injury.

The Falcons were rid of their pain in the neck.

And they rallied to prevent an 0-2 start. It wasn't easy, but that's the kind of victory that can keep your big hopes alive.

And keep my Super Bowl pick still a possibility.

Category: NFL
Posted on: September 15, 2011 7:04 pm

NFL Week Two Match-ups to watch

Here are 10 match-ups I can't wait to see from Week Two of the NFL season:

Browns left tackle Joe Thomas vs. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney

Freeney is one of the game's best pass rushers. He is explosive off the edge, but he can also bull rush a tackle. Thomas is one of the better tackles, but speed players can sometimes get the best of him. These two should be fun to watch all day long -- especially if it is loud, which will play to Freeney's speed.

Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo vs. Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown

Brown had a tough time last week against Carolina and still doesn't come close to resembling a top-10 pick, which he was. Orakpo now has help on the other side from rookie Ryan Kerrigan, which will mean fewer doubles. If the Cardinals single-block him, it could be trouble for Brown. Orakpo has been bothered by an ankle injury this week, but he expects to play.

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith vs. Green Bay corners

Smith had a huge game last week against the Cardinals secondary. The Packers are significantly better on the back end than Arizona. Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields form the best corner threesome in the league.  That will make for tough going for Smith. If the Packers single him, as good as they are, they will be playing with fire. Williams has a sore shoulder and hasn't practiced, but there is a chance he can play.

Eagles left tackle Jason Peters vs. Falcons right defensive end John Abraham

Abraham had a sack last week against J'Marcus Webb of the Bears and he's usually even better at home in front of loud crowd. Peters was solid last week against the Rams, but Abraham is a step up in competition. If the Falcons get a lead, and Abraham can pin his ears back and go, this could be a bad matchup for the Eagles.

Titans center C Eugene Amano vs. Ravens nose tackle Terrence Cody

The Titans got little push inside last week against the Jaguars. Amano isn't over-powering at the point of attack, which could be a big problem against Cody. He was fantastic last week against Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. He pushed him into the backfield a couple of time. If the Titans want to get Chris Johnson going, Amano has to do a good job on Cody.

Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski vs. Chargers safeties Bob Sanders and Eric Weddle

The Patriots tight ends destroyed Miami, catching 13 passes and two touchdowns Monday night. They did a lot of damage against the linebackers, but the Chargers have the cover safeties to handle them. I look for Sanders and Weddle to spend a lot of time on those two second-year tight ends. If they can take those two away from Tom Brady, force him to go to his receivers more, it should be a big help to the Chargers defense.

Bills offensive line vs. Raiders defensive front

The Bill front, which is a major concern this season, did a nice job against the Chiefs last week. They weren't dominant, but they held their own and gave Ryan Fitzpatrick time to throw. But this Raiders defensive line sacked Kyle Orton six times and dominated the Denver offensive line, which is a step above the Bills line.  This is the battle that will decide this game, not what happens outside.

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson vs. Dolphins corners 

Dolphins corners Sean Smith and Vontae Davis had a rough start to their season last Monday against the Patriots. They both got beat at times, and both had cramps. They had to live with Tom Brady throwing for 517 yards. Now they get the NFL's best receiver and another top-tier passing game. I would imagine Smith, who is bigger, might spend more time on Johnson than Davis. They can only hope to contain Johnson. They won't stop him.

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers vs. Saints LT Jermon Bushrod

Peppers is one of the top pass rushers in the game. But he also can hold up against the run. If the Saints are to get the run game going, Bushrod has to win against Peppers. But even more importantly, Bushrod has to handle him in pass protection. Drew Brees is good getting the ball out, which will help neutralize Peppers some, but I was there when DeMarcus Ware worked over Bushrod a couple of years ago. Peppers has that same type of ability.

49ers center Jonathan Goodwin vs. Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff

You know the 49ers want to run the football with Frank Gore. Goodwin is a good center the 49ers added in free agency. He will be matched against Ratliff, a smaller nose tackle who is quick at the point of attack. Goodwin has to handle Ratliff to allow the guards to get out on the Cowboys linebackers if Gore is going to run the football.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 1
Posted on: September 12, 2011 10:13 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 10:29 pm

Brady lights up Dolphins

MIAMI -- You look at the Miami Dolphins defense and you see good cover corners. You see an elite pass rusher in Cameron Wake. You see big, strong down linemen, active inside linebackers and a top-notch coordinator.

That's why I picked them to be a playoff team.

Then you watch Tom Brady and the New England Patriots carve them to shreds and it make you wonder.

Are they any good?

Or is Brady just that good?

Brady played a game of pitch-and-catch with his receivers in leading the Patriots t a 38-24 victory Monday night at Sun Life Stadium. He stood in the pocket at times for what seemed like 10 minutes, picking apart a Miami secondary that had no answer for a receiving group that isn't exactly filled with burners. Brady threw for a career-best 517 yards, four touchdown passes -- one a 99-yard throw -- and seemed to barely break a sweat.

I still think Miami's defense will be fine against mortal quarterbacks.

On this night, they faced one of the all-time greats, and Brady got them again.

But the Dolphins should get some solace in knowing he's done this to a lot of defenses that think they've arrived. Just not as bad. 

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 1
Posted on: September 12, 2011 11:58 am

Monday Musings

---All we heard all summer long was how moving the kickoff back 5 yards was ruining the game. What people missed about the change was that the cover players could no longer have a running start. They could only have a 5-yard lead-in. To me, and I insisted this all along, that would even things up. Return men could take more chances. And that's what's happening. There have been three kickoff returns for touchdowns so far, which ties the NFL record for opening weekend with two games to go. If there's one in either of the Monday night games, the record is broken. I love the way teams are playing this. It brings even more excitement -- not less. There aren't as many returns, but the ones that do happen are full of excitement.

---When I talked to Panthers receiver Steve Smith this summer about Cam Newton his face lit up. He was so excited to be in a new offense with a quarterback that had a big arm. Now we know why. Newton got all the headlines Sunday for his 422-yard passing performance in the 27-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but Smith was special as well. He caught eight passes for 178 yards and two scores. There was some talk that Smith's best football was behind him. He showed Sunday that's not the case. It must be nice to play in an offense where blocking for the run isn't the only requirement anymore.

----I worry about the Tampa Bay speed on offense. Mike Williams is a really talented receiver, but he isn't a burner. And there isn't much speed away from him. The backfield is also slow and lumbering with LaGarrette Blount and Earnest Graham as the feature runners. The lack of speed really showed up against the Lions. That's the next big step for Tampa Bay, finding a speed threat in the backfield or outside.

---The Atlanta offensive line was horrible against the Bears. They missed Todd McClure in the middle. He isn't the most physical center, but he's great with all the line calls.

---One of the interesting trends of the past couple of years is having a guard tell the center when to make the snap. The Lions did it all day against the Bucs. The Lions do it because the want center Dominic Raiola with his head up to make the line calls. So right guard Stephen Peterman, in a set stance, looks back at quarterback Matt Stafford to see when he's ready. Once he gets the signal that he is, Peterman taps Raiola's leg once or twice or three times to tell him to snap it. "You have to be an athlete," Peterman said about looking back in a set position. I also asked him about changing the snap count. "We change it," he said. The plays I watched, it looked like it was mostly one tap and go. The Lions, like so many other teams, only use this on the road for crowd-noise reasons.

---So much for the preseason talk of how Mario Williams would struggle playing the new stand-up position in the team's 3-4 scheme. A pass rusher is a pass rusher, no matter what the scheme. And he is rushing on almost every down anyway. He had two sacks and a forced fumble against the Colts Sunday.

---Irritating talk of the week: The Colts lack talent and it's showing now. No, they have talent. It's just what happened to them in getting blown out by the Texans shows just how valuable a franchise quarterback is to a team -- especially Peyton Manning. You tell me other teams wouldn't line up to get Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Jerraud Powers or Antoine Bethea? Of course they would.

---Smart move by the Texans to sit Arian Foster with his hamstring issues. But hurry back. Ben Tate looked good rushing for 116 yards. 

---I couldn't figure out why the Cowboys kept Dez Bryant on the field Sunday night. It was clear he couldn't run. I also noticed several times where he seemed to be in the wrong place on a route. He is so talented. But he needs to work on the little things.

---Tony Romo, get ready for more heat. He played a great game until the final five minutes or so. But that's when great quarterbacks make their names.

---The Jets still have pass-rush issues. They have to blitz so much to compensate for a lack of outside rushers. If that's the case, look for teams to take advantage of safety Eric Smith if he's in coverage. He lacks the ability to cover tight ends who can run.

---The Steelers have offensive line issues. Again. That really showed up against the Ravens. They have a way of fixing it as the season moves along -- see 2009 -- but for now it has to be troubling.

---Luke McCown was serviceable for the Jaguars. You don't make noise in the playoffs with serviceable. When Blaine Gabbert is ready, he plays. I've been told it could be less than a month for that to happen.

---Bad news for Panthers if linebacker Jon Beason is lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, which could be the case. He's the heart of that defense.

---I know the Eagles offensive line isn't good now, buy Mike Vick can't run for 98 yards on a weekly basis. He has to stay in the pocket more, or he might not finish the season.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 1
Posted on: September 11, 2011 1:00 pm

Bucs were not alone

TAMPA, FLa. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as reported Sunday by Charley Casserly on CBS' The NFL Today, will be fined by the NFL for illegal contact with players during the lockout.

Here's the deal: The Bucs told me coach Raheem Morris made seven calls to players, one to Kellen Winslow to congratulate him on the birth of his child.

Are you kidding me?

Do you really think the Bucs were the only team? Think again.

It's like speeding or tampering at the NFL Scouting Combine: Everybody does it.

I remember when Tom Coughlin had his golf tournament in Jacksonville. He talked with his players. Why? It was charitable.

The NFL is off base here.

Tampa Bay is guilty of one thing. They just got caught.

The amount of the fine is to be determined. It shouldn't be much.

My guess is they won't be the only one to get hit with this one.

Category: NFL
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