Posted on: November 21, 2011 10:51 am

Monday Musings: What do the Bears have in Hanie?

If, as expected, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is out for the rest of regular season and maybe beyond with a broken thumb on his throwing hand, it means Caleb Hanie is the guy who the Bears will hand their playoff hopes to the rest of the way.

What do we know about Hanie? He's 26, in his fourth season from Colorado State and he played decent in relief of Cutler in the NFC Championship Game last January.

Hanie, who is listed at 6-2 and looks smaller, has never started an NFL game. He doesn't have a big arm, but it's good enough. He does seem to understand reading defenses in the limited time we've seen him play.

Are the Bears done? Too hard to say. Are they in trouble? You bet.

It's too bad for the Bears. They were on the role, winning their fifth consecutive e game Sunday against the Chargers.

The good news is the schedule is soft the rest of the way. But this is a quarterback league, and we know what losing a starter means.

Just ask the Colts.

---It's one thing for media members and teammates to rave about a rookie quarterback. But when you hear veteran opposing players raving about one, you know they mean it.

That's how the Baltimore Ravens reacted to Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton after seeing him for the first time Sunday. Asked his thoughts on Dalton, Ravens safety Ed Reed had a simple answer.

"Niceeeeee" he said. "He throws a good ball and he has the poise. You have to like to see what you like as a Cincinnati fan. He had poise and did what he needed to do. He put them in a position to win."

"He was better than we thought he was," Ravens corner Lardarius Webb said.

Dalton threw three interceptions, but he also threw for 373 yards, a touchdown and had the Bengals inside the 10 in the final minute with a chance to tie.

"He's a rookie, but he's a very good football player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

The Bengals have to be thrilled with Dalton so far. He just may end up being the best rookie quarterback in this class, maybe even better than Cam Newton.

----By now, you know I am big believer in playing rookie quarterbacks. All you do by playing an aging vet is delay the inevitable. That's why the Titans need to play Jake Locker. He came off the bench to play well in the Titans loss to the Falcons. He was 9-of-19 for 140 yards and a touchdown after Hasselbeck went out with an elbow injury. Hasselbeck was 13 of 25 for 124 yards and an interception when he left. He led the Titans to three points. It's time to play Locker. The Titans aren't going to the playoffs.

---The Falcons had to get Roddy White back involved in the offense and they did in a big way against the Titans. He caught seven passes for 147 yards. When the Falcons get Julio Jones back from a hamstring injury, they need to be more wide-open with White and Jones on the field together with third receiver Harry Douglas, who had four catches for 51 yards. Why the success? The Falcons used the no-huddle more. They are clearly better when Matt Ryan is calling the plays at the line of scrimmage.

---Packers receiver Jordy Nelson had six catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns against the Bucs. That begs this question: Is he now the best receiver on the roster? He just might be.

---Say this for Dolphins coach Tony Sparano: He isn't going down without a fight. Sparano's team has won three consecutive games and pushed the Giants the week before starting the streak.  What if Sparano gets this team to 8-8? Does he come back? Not likely, but you have to like his fight.

---All those who wanted to keep John Skelton in as the starting quarterback in Arizona might want to change that thinking. Skelton was horrible against the 49ers, completing 6 of 19 passes for 99 yards and three picks. Kevin Kolb will get back in the lineup -- no doubt.

---You have to give Vince Young credit for his play Sunday night. Sure, he made some mistakes. But he made the plays when he needed to on that fourth-quarter drive to win it. Maybe he has changed. 

Category: NFL
Posted on: November 20, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2011 5:47 pm

Who are the Ravens?

BALTIMORE -- Can somebody figure out the Baltimore Ravens team, please?

Maybe all they need to play better is to see good teams on their schedule. A week after being blown out by the Seattle Seahawks, the Ravens bounced back by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 31-24 Sunday.

The inconsistent Ravens hung on for dear life as Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton made it interesting with a big fourth quarter, but his rally fell just short.

The Ravens are now 7-3 and tied with Pittsburgh in the AFC North. But it sure wasn't easy. The Ravens had to have a late stop inside the 10 to hold on for the victory.

Isn't that the Ravens, so good for a while and then so bad?

Anybody have a grasp about this team? Anybody?

Category: NFL
Posted on: November 17, 2011 3:32 pm

Week 11 Matchups to watch: Veldheer vs. Allen

Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer vs. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen -- This might be my favorite battle of the year. Veldheer is an unsung player who is playing at a high level. Allen leads the NFL n sacks with 13 1/2 The Raiders go into Minnesota knowing full well they have to keep Allen blocked to have success throwing the football. 

Panthers receiver Steve Smith vs. Lions corners -- The Lions corners are beatable down the field. They rely on pressure up front to cover up their liabilities. Smith will eat them alive if the Panthers can protect Cam Newton. That's a huge if.

Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth vs. Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs -- Whitworth has given up 1 1/2 sacks this season. He is a top-level tackle, but Suggs is one of those players who never lets up. Whitworth will have to keep Suggs off Andy Dalton if the Bengals are to have a chance. I do expect the Bengals to help him some.

Bears cornerback Charles Tillman vs. Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson -- Tillman did a great job in man coverage against Calvin Johnson last week. I expect the Bears to put him on Jackson here. Jackson hasn't had the type of season many expected, but he is still a dangerous down-the-field threat.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers vs. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler -- I know they don't play against each other, but this rivalry is fierce. They don't like each other. Both love beating the other. That makes this game fun.

Browns left tackle Joe Thomas vs. Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey -- This might seem like a mismatch in terms of name recognition, but don't be fooled. Mincey had 2 1/2 sacks last week against the Colts and brings it hard every play. Thomas is one of the game's best tackles, but if he has any letup here, Mincey will make him pay.

Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood vs. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews -- Matthews isn't putting up the sack numbers he did a year ago, but he's still playing at a high level. He seemed to come as a pass rusher last week against Minnesota. Trueblood has struggled as a pass rusher at times, so I expect the Bucs to help him a lot. If not, it could be a long day for Josh Freeman.

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald vs. 49ers corners -- Fitzgerald had a huge day at Philadelphia last week against a good group of corners. The 49ers corners have played at a high level, but Fitzgerald is among the three best in the league. I expect some safety help over the top on Fitzgerald.

Titans left tackle Michael Roos vs. Falcons defensive end John Abraham -- Roos did a nice job last week on Charles Johnson of the Panthers. Abraham needs to get his pass rush going. Abraham is a veteran who still has a burst, but he has to do more in terms of getting to the quarterback.

Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez against Chiefs safeties -- Without Eric Berry, the Chiefs have struggled some on the back end. Kendrick Lewis is a solid player, but the other spot is a concern with Jon McGraw. Gronkowski is coming off a huge game last week and Hernandez is also a top threat. Tom Brady has to use his tight ends more than usual because of a lack of outside speed.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 11
Posted on: November 14, 2011 7:04 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 7:05 pm

Texans now in big trouble

This was the year. No more teasing by the Houston Texans.

They were for real.

I actually thought they had a chance to be the top seed in the AFC. But then we get news Monday that quarterback Matt Schaub might be lost for the year with a foot injury.

If that's true, what does that do to the Texans? It means Matt Leinart is in. It doesn't mean they are dead, but you can pretty much put those Super Bowl dreams to the side.

This Texans team, built around the running game and the league's top defense, will still have enough to win the weak AFC South. They will get to their first postseason party.

It just won't last long, though, without Schaub.

I think Leinart has matured to the point where he will be good enough. But in the playoffs, it becomes about the quarterback.

Tom Brady or Leinart? Ben Roethlisberger or Leinart? Carson Palmer or Leinart?

Losing Schaub is a hit to an organization that finally seemed to shake free of the jinx that had plagued it since joining the NFL.

It's too bad. This year, they looked like they were for real.

Category: NFL
Posted on: November 14, 2011 1:57 pm

Monday Musings: Slow down on Hester to Hall talk

There's been a lot of talk this week about Devin Hester being Hall of Fame worthy.

I say no.

Hester is a great return man, but do we put return men into the game -- even if they are the greatest of all time?

We've had a lot of great return men in our time, guys like Brian Mitchell of the Redskins and Eagles. Did anybody ever consider him a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Hester is a special return man. He now has 18 returns for scores, one off the record of returns for touchdowns held by Deion Sanders.

But when you consider special teams to be 1/12th or so of the game, how can a player who returns kicks and punts be in the Hall.

Let's call Hester what he is, a special return man who can change a game.

Not Hall worthy.

----Who are the Atlanta Falcons on offense? That's it. They don't know. If you trade up to get Julio Jones in the first round, don't you have to become a pass-first team? But they played ball-control football against the Saints in the first half. It worked. They won the time of possession battle, controlling the ball for llnor. They were also trailing at the half. Matt Ryan threw for 122 yards in the first half as the Falcons used a lot of bunch formations. In the second half, when they were forced to spread things out, even with Jones out with a hamstring injury, they moved the ball better. Ryan finished with 351 yards and a touchdown. Harry Douglas, who would be the slot receiver in a three-receiver set, filled in for Jones and had a big second half. He caught eight passes for 133 yards in the game, all but one catch coming in the second half. I understand the Falcons want to keep the ball away from Drew Brees, but that strategy only works if you score touchdowns. Chunk plays are what they need, not ball-control offense.

---Tim Tebow is 3-1 as a starter. But what position is he playing? It sure as hell isn't quarterback. Tebow completed two passes against the Chiefs Sunday -- and won. How the heck does that happen? I know there are a lot of media members out there singing his praises and lauding Denver for playing to his strengths, which aren't quarterback strengths. But anybody who thinks that's a winning formula in the NFL needs to have their head examined. All the Broncos are doing, maybe in a subtle way, is proving that Tebow isn't the long-term answer. Tebow had one completion for 56 yards and a touchdown -- he looked like an NFL passer on that play -- but he completed just one other pass. He ran for 43 yards on nine carries.  The Broncos are proving a point to everyone without really proving it. Tebow can't be an NFL quarterback. He just can't.

---Can we slow down the Cam Newton hype now? Newton was just OK against the Titans. He threw for 212 yards on 23 completions and was picked off once. He ran seven times for 55 yards. But Newton's numbers are coming down. Are teams figuring him out? He was also sacked five times, three of those from non-down defensive players.

---So Chris Johnson is alive? Johnson looked more like his old self against the Panthers, rushing for 130 yards and a touchdown. He also had four catches for 44 yards. Just remember, the Panthers have real problems stopping the run. But it's a start.

---Enough, already. Curtis Painter is horrible. The Colts need to sit him down and play somebody else. Anybody but him.

--Steelers receiver Hines Ward had one catch for 10 yards against the Bengals. It looks like Ward is being phased out. When Emmanuel Sanders returns from injury, expect the Steelers to make Ward their fourth receiver. That could be interesting in terms of how he reacts.

--- Tony Romo completed 23 of 26 passes (88.5 percent) for 270 yards with three touchdowns. Still have doubts about him?

---Does it really matter who plays quarterback for the Redskins? The Shanahan family has totally botched the handling of that position. Rex Grossman was back in as the starter against Miami and he was 21 of 32 for 215 yards and two picks. The Redskins scored six points.  Ugg.

---I think the Rams would be making a mistake if they fire coach Steve Spagnuolo. It would be unfair with all the injuries his team has sustained. He deserves another year. The Rams are still fighting for him.

--The Jaguars have held opponents under 300 yards in six of their first nine games and the Colts were eighth team to be held below their average against the Jaguars (282.8 avg.) Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has done a nice job with that unit. It won't help his cause that corner Rashean Mathis is now out for the season with a torn ACL. Mathis was having a good season in a contract year. 

---The Cardinals should keep John Skelton in as their starting quarterback. He looked good after an early interception. With the way Kevin Kolb was struggling, why not take a look at Skelton. If he continues to play well, it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals would admit a mistake on trading and paying Kolb.

---Losing Eric Wood is a big hit for the Bills offensive line. He has played at a high level this season. In Wood and guard Andy Levitre, the Bills have two really good linemen.

---If I'm the GM of the Eagles, I am not paying DeSean Jackson. His act this season tells you all you need to know about him. The book on him coming out of Cal was he was selfish. Some teams had him off their board. Now we know why. His teammates should be sick of his act by now.

--It's laughable to think Falcons coach Mike Smith opted to go for the first down from his own 29 because he got a new contract last year. Whoever said that does not know the man. The aggression is part of who Smith is as a man. I respect his decision, even if I disagreed with it.

Category: NFL
Tags: Devin Hester
Posted on: November 13, 2011 4:31 pm

Saints grab hold of first place

ATLANTA -- Their coach was back at his familiar spot on the sidelines Sunday, and now the New Orleans Saints are back in their familiar spot: Firmly atop the NFC South Division.


With Sean Payton on crutches on the sideline for the first time since tearing up his leg a month ago in a sideline collision, the Saints came into the Georgia Dome and took a strong hold of the division race with a 26-23 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons.


The Saints are now 7-3 heading into the bye week. What has to be even more encouraging is that a defense that had been struggling, especially on the road, played better -- although that unit did make it interesting late when the Falcons moved to a game-tying field goal in the final seconds.


The defense made a huge stop on a fourth-and-inches play from the Atlanta 30 in overtime to get the ball back for the game-winning field goal.
Category: NFL
Posted on: November 10, 2011 5:47 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 5:57 pm

Week 10 Matchups to watch: Dalton vs. LeBeau

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton vs. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- They say facing LeBeau's complicated defenses can be daunting for a rookie. But I asked Dalton about it last week and he was looking forward to the challenge. He is a smart quarterback who might be better suited to handle it than most rookies. Dalton should have spent extra time in the film room this week.

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen vs. Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse -- When the Packers played the Vikings in the first meeting, Allen had two sacks and spent the day in the backfield. Newhouse has to do a better job against him this week. The Packers gave up four sacks to the Chargers last week, but some of those were coverage sacks. If Allen wins consistently, he will make it troubling for Aaron Rodgers to get going,

Patriots receiver Wes Welker vs. Jets corner Darrelle Revis -- The last time the Jets played the Patriots, Welker had five catches for 124 yards, but he didn't get into the end zone. Expect to see Revis on Welker a ton here. The Patriots don't have a lot of other options, so if Welker is taken away that could be trouble for Tom Brady.

Falcons defensive end John Abraham vs. Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod -- Bushrod had a tough go of it two week ago against the Rams, but bounced back to play well last week against the Bucs. Abraham is always a tough test for any tackle because of his explosive first step. It could be even more of a problem for Bushrod because of the crowd noise.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham vs. Falcons safeties James Sanders and Thomas DeCoud -- It looks like William Moore won't be able to go for the Falcons, which puts Sanders into the lineup. Sanders is a veteran who has started in the past, but he has struggled some in coverage. DeCoud has coverage ability, but he hasn't always played up to it. Graham might be the best receiving tight end in the NFL right now, and he is clearly the security blanket for Drew Brees.

Bengals receiver A.J. Green vs. Steelers corner Ike Taylor -- Taylor has done some of his best cover work this season, playing more man than usual. He will likely get the call on Green in man coverage. Green is an impressive rookie who knows how to go up and get the football. Look for the Bengals to challenge Taylor a lot if he's singled on Green.

Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe vs. Broncos corner Champ Bailey -- Bailey had done some good man-coverage work on Bowe in the past, so expect to see him on him again. Bowe is a big receiver who gives smaller corners trouble. But Bailey has good size to match up.

Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson vs. Titans left tackle Michael Roos -- Johnson signed the big deal to stay in Carolina this summer and he hasn't disappointed. He has seven sacks and he's good against the run. Roos is playing at a high level again, which means near Pro Bowl quality.  This battle could go a long way in deciding this game.

49ers right tackle Anthony Davis vs. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul -- Davis is coming off two of his best games. He can be a dominant run blocker, but his pass protection has also improved. Pierre-Paul is a powerful and fast edge rusher who never lets up.  

Lions left tackle Jeff Backus vs. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers  -- At times this season, Backus has had protection problems. That's never a good thing against Peppers, who is one of the league's better ends. He hasn't put up big sack numbers this season, but he's still influencing the quarterback.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 10
Posted on: November 7, 2011 4:57 pm

Monday Musings: Bengals front impressive

Watching the Cincinnati Bengals defensive line on tape has been impressive all season long. Seeing them live for the first time Sunday was even more so.

They have a ton of talent.

"We're eight deep," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "We roll them through."

Dunlap, who had two sacks against the Titans, might be the most impressive of the group. He is a big, fast, aggressive pass rusher.

He has only three sacks on the season, but he's been around the quarterback a lot. He did suffer a hamstring injury on the final play against the Titans, but he said he expects to play this week against the Steelers.

The Bengals are first in the league in yards-per-rush, which is how they put pressure on the opposing offense.

Another rising player: Defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

"We're young and we're getting better," Dunlap said. "We know we have talent, and we know we have a chance to be a good front.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has his unit playing great football.  It's time Zimmer gets some head-coaching consideration.

---As one of his teammates said, you can't spell elite without Eli.

For years, Eli Manning has taken an endless stream of criticism. Even after winning a Super Bowl, becoming the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to drive his team to two fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdowns, Manning still didn't get his due.

They said he throws too many interceptions. That he was too nonchalant. 

That's why Manning claim this summer that he was an elite quarterback was met with so much shock.

After he drove the Giants to a game-winning score to beat the Patriots, the question begs to be asked.

Is Eli Manning elite?

Not Peyton Manning-Tom Brady elite. But he's up there in the top-10.

Manning is having a great season in leading the Giants to a 6-2 record. He has 15 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He's thrown for 2,377 yards.  More impressive is that he leads the NFL in fourth-quarter passing. Manning has eight touchdown passes and two interceptions and a passer rating of 122.7 in the fourth quarter.

That shows him to be a clutch performer.

The Giants' schedule is tough the next month, starting this week at San Francisco, but Manning has proven a lot of critics wrong during his career.

He might not be Peyton good, but he's showing that elite might not be that far off.

----You have to give Joe Flacco a ton of credit for driving the Ravens 92 yards in the final minutes to beat the Steelers. After his fumble led to the Steelers' go-ahead score, how many people in Baltimore were cursing Flacco? That was a big-time drive that could be what helps turn Flacco into a top-tier quarterback. 

---Speaking of that drive, what the heck were the Steelers doing? Why were they in man coverage on the outside when the Ravens needed a touchdown and a field goal did them no good?  Dick LeBeau is one of the best coordinators ever, but he blew it there. One more thing: Where was James Harrison on that drive? 

---Didn't like seeing Ray Rice sidestep a leaping Harrison when he was attempting to block him. That makes Rice look soft.

---Memo to teams facing the Cardinals: Don't kick to Patrick Peterson. He has three punt returns for touchdowns, including one for 99 yards to beat the Rams in overtime Sunday.  Peterson is the first NFL rookie to have three punt returns for touchdowns in his first eight games.

---How do you stop Aaron Rodgers? You don't. The man is having the best season ever for a quarterback after eight weeks. Rodgers has passed for 2,619 yards and 24 touchdowns, making him the first player in NFL history with at least 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns through a team’s first eight games. He has a chance to take down a lot of passing records. Brett who?

---The New England Patriots better improve that defense or they will be in big trouble come playoff time. They are 32nd in the league, which is last. They are also last in pass defense. Even Tom Brady can't overcome that.

---Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow made two nice throws for touchdowns. But he can't make a living rushing for over 100 yards. This is the NFL, son. You make your living in the pocket or you won't be around long.

---Was the Carson Palmer trade a flop for the Raiders? So far, you'd have to say yes. But Thursday's game at San Diego is the real litmus test. Palmer has to play well -- or the Raiders will be taking a ton of heat for the deal.

---In the weekly what-does-Peyton-Manning-mean-to-th
e-Colts item, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney didn't have a sack between them against the Falcons. That's what happens when you don't play with the lead.

---Is Antonio Gates old and fat? Well, he's older and he's fatter. So the anonymous quote about him is right. But he's also still productive. Gates is still a threat in the passing game, just not as good a threat as he once was.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 9
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