Posted on: October 20, 2011 7:10 pm
Edited on: October 22, 2011 4:35 pm

Week 7 Match-ups to watch: Tebow vs. Mike Nolan

Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan vs. Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow  -- What kind of looks will Nolan throw at Tebow? Does he attack him with a lot of blitzes? Has the two weeks -- coming off the bye -- prepared Tebow for what will come? Tebow is making his first start of the season, and he's not known for his ability to see the field so it will be fun to see what Nolan does against him.

Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley vs. Jeremy Bridges -- Woodley has played much better the past two weeks. He is showing signs of being the same dominant player he was last year. Bridges had a rough go of it against the Vikings in his last game. Brian Robison whipped him. 

Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse vs. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen -- Newhouse is a second-year player who is playing because Chad Clifton is down. Newhouse has played well, but Allen is a real step up for him. Allen didn't do much last week against the Bears, so look for him to be focused here. Look for the Packers to give Newhouse some help.

Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo vs. Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross -- Gross did a nice job on John Abraham last week, and now gets another top-notch pass rusher. The last time Orakpo was on the road, he abused Rodger Saffold of the Rams. Gross better be on top of his game again.

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson vs. Falcons corners Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson -- Johnson has a huge height advantage on the two Falcons corners. I would imagine the Falcons would play him like the 49ers did last week, a corner under and safety over. Even so, I look for the Lions to try and attack with him anyway to take advantage of his height.

Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson vs. Jets corner Darrelle Revis -- Revis loves to play man against the other team's top receiver. Jackson is that guy for the Chargers. Jackson, like Brandon Marshall last week, is a bigger receiver. Revis seems to thrive on that. He plays a physical style of corner, and seems to get away with more than other corners in terms of contact. Even with Revis on him, look for the Chargers to attack with Jackson.

Ravens running back Ray Rice vs. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew  -- Yes, they won't face each other, but this is a battle between the game's two best small running backs. Which one comes up with the big game? The Ravens defense is a little better than Jacksonville's, so the early lean is to Rice but it's hard to count out Jones-Drew. He's such a competitor. 

Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer vs. Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali -- There is no better left tackle in the league right now than Veldheer. He is playing especially well as a pass protector. Hali can be an explosive pass rusher off the edge. He seems to be a guy who gets into a groove once he beats a tackle once or twice. Veldheer has to handle him to make it possible for Carson Palmer to make big plays in the passing game.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh vs. Falcons center Todd McClure and guards Justin Blalock and Garrett Reynolds -- The Falcons got their running game going last week with McClure back in the lineup after missing games with an injury. Reynolds has had a rough start to his career as a starter, so he has to play better here. Suh hasn't been the same player he was as a rookie. He got trapped twice for big runs against the 49ers.  I expect the Falcons to do a lot of the same.

Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall vs. Broncos corner Champ Bailey -- Marshall gets a chance to face his former team and in Bailey he will face one of the top cover corners in the league. Bailey has been bothered by injuries some this season, but the bye should help him. This will be fun.  Bailey helped tutor Marshall on what it took to become a big-time receiver.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 7
Posted on: October 18, 2011 2:10 pm

Did Jaguars know about Garrard's back?

So David Garrard's agent Albert Irby thinks the Jacksonville Jaguars did his client wrong?

He thinks the Jaguars released Garrard because they knew he had back troubles?

If that's true, why didn't Garrard fight the release, rather than thanking people in the organization for what they had done for him on the day of his release?

Here's what I know: Coach Jack Del Rio was the one who facilitated the Garrard release. But Del Rio was not in the building on cut day, instead attending his son's football game in Atlanta. So the decision wasn't made on the Saturday of the final cuts.

It was instead made the following Tuesday, after Garrard struggled through a practice on Sunday. Del Rio planned to bench Garrard, which he told general manager Gene Smith, and the decision to cut Garrard was made because the team would have been on the hook for his $8 million salary if he were on the opening-day roster and then let go.

Smith took the heat for the move. And it was indeed his decision to release Garrard, but only after Del Rio made the move to bench him. Fiscally, it was the right decision once Del Rio made the move to sit him.

At the meeting to tell Garrard he was being let go, the quarterback thanked those in the room -- including Smith and Del Rio -- and thanked them for the opportunity they had given to him. He even hugged some people on the way out, according to a source.

Did Garrard's back injury play a decision in his getting released? It had too since team sources say there was a concern that Garrard seemed to be hesitant and not playing with the same toughness he had displayed before hurting his back. 

Toughness was always one of his strong points. He took a ton of shots, but the back injury made him a little jumpy in the pocket, according to sources.

Now Garrard is having surgery for a herniated disc and one has to wonder if he will try and go after his 2011 salary through the courts. 

Keep an eye on this. It could get interesting

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:35 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 12:55 pm

Palmer trade makes Raiders a playoff team

The Carson Palmer trade to the Oakland Raiders does two things:

It makes the Raiders a true playoff contender and it shows that Bengals owner Mike Brown isn't as stubborn -- or as foolish -- as some might think.

When Jason Campbell went down, it made sense for the Raiders to make a move for a player like Palmer. They have so much speed, so much young talent, that just getting through the season with the Kyle Bollers of the world made no sense.

Palmer is legitimate. Some will say he's never won a playoff game. Some will say his arm isn't the same as before he hurt his elbow. I don't buy it. I've always been in Palmer's corner as a player. I didn't like his move to sit out -- but I guess it worked.

Irony of ironies: He wanted out of Cincinnati, which some think is a disheveled organization, and he lands with the one that is even more uncertain. Owner Al Davis recently passed away, so the Raiders are a ship without a real captain.

Palmer will join a team loaded with speed at the receiver position. Darrius Heyward-Bey is starting to live up this his billing. Jacoby Ford can fly. Rookie Denarius Moore is a player. Oh, and they have Darren McFadden.

Hue Jackson, an underrated offensive coach, will make this team explosive with Palmer.

As for the Bengals, they get two first-round picks. If Palmer is as good as I think he will be for the Raiders, they will be late-first picks. But the Bengals have a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton who is playing well, so Palmer was expendable and the price was too good to pass up.

Even a stubborn Brown couldn't pass that up.

The trade is a win-win all the way around.

PS: I really like my pick of the Raiders to make the playoffs now.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 17, 2011 10:13 am
Edited on: October 17, 2011 5:43 pm

Monday Musings: Ponder Time

The Vikings have to do the right thing. They have to sit Donovan McNabb and start Christian Ponder at quarterback. Even if Ponder isn't better right now -- and after watching the Bears game, I'm not sure he isn't -- this is a move for the future. Ponder is the future.

I liked what I saw from Ponder against the Bears. He was mobile. He moved his head from side to side and he was accurate at times. He did miss some throws, but it was a solid performance in garbage time. He finished 9-of-17 for 99 yards.

I know it was just garbage time, but Ponder was my top-rated quarterback in last year's draft. Yes, ahead of Cam Newton.

He understands the passing game. The one knock on him was arm strength, but he showed plenty of zip on his passes against the Bears.

McNabb has skipped too many passes into the ground this season and is unwilling to let the ball go down the field. It's Ponder's time.

"I don't see it ending like this," McNabb said.

I do. 

Don't worry about Ponder's psyche either. He has a ton of confidence. 

Play the kid. Can I say it again: Play the kid.

---Two things about "handshake gate" Sunday:  Both coaches were wrong. Jim Harbaugh has to act like he's won before. This isn't college. And Jim Schwartz has to stay away from being a sore loser. Both coaches are emotional. I get it. But Harbaugh can't be prancing around like he won the Pac-10 title and then basically give Schwartz some over-aggressive handshake and a hard pat on the back as he skipped around. And Schwartz, even as angry as he was, has to refrain from going after him. Both were wrong. Schwartz could be facing a fine. They were both in Baltimore in 1998, Schwartz as an assistant coach and Harbaugh as a quarterback. One has to wonder if there is bad blood stemming from something there. This one was spared from being really ugly. So who wins if they would have gotten into it? I'd probably put my money on the former NFL player.

---When the Patriots rallied to beat the Cowboys Sunday, it meant that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick tied Don Shula and Dan Marino for the most victories (116) of any coach-quarterback tandem. So who would you take? That's too tough to call. But what is interesting is that both Shula and Belichick were ball-control type of coaches early in their careers, but changed when they landed those two. Smart coaches those two.

---Rex Grossman was so bad Sunday he made Eagles safety Kurt Coleman look like Ed Reed. This is the same Coleman who was benched a few weeks ago for his poor cover skills. Coleman had three picks of Grossman before the Redskins decided to bench him. John Beck played better and I would imagine it's his turn to play. The Redskins are in desperate need of a quarterback. You think?

---Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is doing a great job with his young defense. They are ranked first in the league and haven't given up 20 points in a game yet. Zimmer has flirted with head-coaching jobs in the past, but maybe it's his time in 2012.

---Somebody asked me on Twitter Sunday night if I thought Bears return man Devin Hester was a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My answer: No. He's a great return man, and had another kickoff return for a touchdown Sunday night, but there's no way a return man should go to the Hall strictly for his return game. Now if he develops into a good receiver, then maybe. Not as a return man.

---For all the talk about how good the Lions defensive front is, why can't it stop the run? It might be because they are always in pass-rush mode, which means up the field. The Lions are ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in rush defense and rushing yards per play. Frank Gore ran for 141 yards against them Sunday. With Ndamukong Suh in the middle of the defense, that shouldn't be the case.

---So it looks like Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd can be had for a sixth-round pick. The problem is Lloyd is a free agent, so you'd be renting him for 10 games or so. For a contender, it might make sense. I'll tell you this: The Patriots might want to give him a look. They lack the ability to stretch the field. The 49ers are also interested in Lloyd.

---The Rams are winless and now must go to Dallas. This is their step-back season. Watch out in 2012 when they get healthy and also get another high draft pick. Imagine if Sam Bradford gets Justin Blackmon?

---I hate the rotation of defensive linemen some teams use. In a key spot during the second quarter of the Cowboys-Patriots game, the Cowboys had DeMarcus Ware on the bench. That's just dumb.

---Here's wishing successful surgery for Sean Payton today to repair his broken leg and torn-up knee. That had to hurt. Knowing Payton, it didn't hurt nearly as much as losing to the Bucs.

Want more of my analysis? Check out my Week 6 grades
Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week Six
Posted on: October 16, 2011 7:21 pm

Brady makes Cowboys pay

FOXBORO -- They gave him a chance.

You never give Tom Brady another chance.

For nearly four quarters, the Dallas Cowboys seemed to have Brady befuddled. Their exotic defensive looks had him looking jumpy in the pocket and forced him into two interceptions.

It was their game.

But they gave him a chance, and Brady loves getting the chance.

Trailing by three, he started at his own 20 with 2:34 left and moved the Patriots to the game-winning score with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez with 22 seconds left for a 20-16 victory.

Moral of the story: You don't give Brady chances.

The Cowboys did. They got the ball back at their own 20 with 3:36 and ran it three times.

Brady made them pay for being so conservative -- just like so many others before them


Category: NFL
Tags: Tom Brady
Posted on: October 13, 2011 7:02 pm

Week 6 matchups to watch: Megatron vs. Rogers

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson vs. 49ers corner Carlos Rogers -- Johnson is off to a torrid start. He has nine touchdown catches in five games. It's unlikely the 49ers will play Rogers on him alone much, but Rogers is having a good year and might find himself in man coverage some. Rogers has good size, which you need against Johnson. He had a pick for a score last week against the Bucs and did a nice job in man coverage. Can he handle "Megatron?"

Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth vs. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney  -- Whitworth is one of the better left tackles in the league, but he had a rough go of it last week against Jacksonville's Jeremy Mincey. Freeney is a major step up in terms of speed from Mincey. Whitworth will likely have to get some help.

Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. Jaguars right tackle Eben Britton or Guy Whimper -- Woodley was off to a slow start this season, even earning some criticism, but he had a good game last week against David Stewart of the Titans. Britton will play right tackle if left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has a shoulder, can't go and Whimper is forced to play the left side. If Monroe goes, it's Whimper at right tackle. Whoever starts will have to get help against Woodley,

Panthers receiver Steve Smith vs. Falcons corners Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson -- Smith is putting up huge numbers with Cam Newton at quarterback. The Falcons are having problems on the back end. Grimes got beat for long touchdown by James Jones last week. Look for the Panthers to challenge these two down the field with Smith.

49ers right tackle Anthony Davis vs. Lions defensive end Cliff Avril -- Davis, a first-round pick two years ago, is playing better than he did last season, but Avril is a good edge rusher. Davis might need help in pass protection. His size should help him handle Avril in the run game. The 49ers might run that way.

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen vs. Bears left tackle Ja'Marcus Webb -- Allen leads the NFL in sacks with 8 1/2. He is playing with a relentless style again. Webb, who is starting on the left side for the first time this season, has had some bad moments in pass protection. He has talent, but he is a work in progress.

Packers receivers vs. Rams corners -- The Packers are explosive on offense and they have one of the best receiving groups in the league. The Rams are without their top three corners for the season, which means Al Harris and Justin King will start. King has had major problems and in coverage and Harris is 37.

Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo vs. Eagles left tackle King Dunlap -- Orakpo is a handful as an outside rusher in the 3-4. He owned Rams tackle Rodger Saffold two weeks ago and Dunlap isn't in that class. He is starting because Jason Peters down. The Eagles better help on Orakpo.

Texans tight end Owen Daniels vs. Ravens safety Ed Reed -- With Andre Johnson out, the Texans don’t have to double Johnson. That means Reed can be free to take away Daniels, the best receiving threat with Johnson out. That could force Matt Schaub to go elsewhere.

Steelers left tackle Max Starks vs. Mincey -- These two Gators are coming off impressive games last week. Starks was re-signed last Wednesday and started against the Titans and played well. He had just three bad plays. Mincey had a good game against Whitworth, getting a sack and five tackles. He plays hard all the time, which will make for a fun battle.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 6
Posted on: October 10, 2011 1:55 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2011 2:06 pm

Monday Musings: Is Kolb a flop?

Quarterback question of the day: Did the Arizona Cardinals give up too much and overpay Kevin Kolb?

It's a legitimate question five games into the season. The Cardinals are 1-4 and Kolb hasn't come close to looking like a long-term franchise quarterback.

He has been wildly inaccurate, and he's completing 58.7-percent of his passes. He has thrown five touchdown passes and six interceptions. His passer rating is 77.2, which is down near the bottom of the league and he turned it over three times in the Cardinals loss to the Vikings Sunday.

When I evaluated Kolb last spring, I saw the inconsistency in his game. He was accurate at times, but sometimes went wild. The Cardinals are seeing that wildness now.

The Cardinals could have taken a quarterback last April in the first round of the draft, but opted to make the move for Kolb.

It could be a move that sets this team back in a big way if Kolb doesn't get it going.

It's not like he doesn't have anybody to throw to since Larry Fitzgerald is his top guy. I do understand the Cardinals tackles aren't very good, and the pressure has been plenty, but Kolb hasn't played like a guy who can be the foundation of this franchise for years to come.

Where have you gone, Kurt Warner?

 Does anybody really believe the Jets denial that some of their receivers didn't complain about the play-calling? I don't. A report in a New York newspaper said that receivers Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason went to Rex Ryan and complained about the way the games were being called. The Jets moved to defuse the situation by sending out  a statement. It read: "The New York Jets deny a report this morning that wide receivers Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason have gone to Head Coach Rex Ryan individually in the past few weeks to question offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s system." They should be questioning Schottenheimer. I think he is vastly overrated as a coordinator in part because he's chummy with a lot of media members. I ask this seriously: Do you ever come away from a Jets game thinking how impressed you are with the offense?

 About those receivers: Who besides Holmes scares down the field? Burress and Mason sure don't.

 Titans corner Jason McCourty was credited with 14 tackles against the Steelers. That's not a good thing for a corner. 

 Jamal Westerman is a better pass rush than Bryan Thomas. Might be better for Jets. He had two sacks against the Patriots. He's quicker.

 Just when we think the Texans are ready for the big stage, they lose at home as a favorite. I won't believe until they show me they can win a game like this week's at Baltimore. Show some toughness -- for once.

 If Darrius Heyward-Bey can continue to play the way he did Sunday, catching seven passes for 99 yards and a touchdown, the Raiders can be explosive on offense. With Heyward-Bey and Jacob Ford, they have two of the fastest receivers in the league. Just the way Al Davis liked it.

 You have to love the toughness of Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He ran for 136 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Jets Sunday. Not bad for a player who wasn't drafted. By the way: He was on my Better-Than team the year he came out. Got one right there.

 Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow was 4 of 10 for 79 yards off the bench against the Chargers. But did run for a score and also bobbled three snaps. It's time for the Broncos to play Tebow. But let's not get caught up in the hype. He is far from being an NFL quarterback. Time will show that. Tebow looks like a paper being blown around in a windstorm when he plays quarterback.

 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had a passer rating of 127.2 and threw three touchdown passes against the Bucs. He's playing a high level.

 Keep an eye on 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith. He had two sacks against the Bucs and the rookie is starting to really come on.

 The Jack Del Rio watch is on. I think he makes it to the bye week. The Jaguars play at Pittsburgh, then host the Ravens on a Monday night and then play at Houston before the bye week. If they lose all three, even a patient man like Wayne Weaver would have to know it's time. I've known Weaver for a long time and he will not tolerate an embarrassing loss on Monday night football. If Del Rio goes during the season, the word is linebackers coach Mark Duffner would be the interim coach. There is growing sentiment inside the building among other coaches and front-office staff that the time is right for Del Rio to go. 

 Wonder how many in Philadelphia are questioning the move of Juan Castillo from offensive line coach to Eagles defensive coordinator? The Eagles are bad on defense.

 Matt Ryan has to play better than he did in the second half against the Packers. I still think the problem is the play-calling. The Falcons need to play more like the Packers. 

Category: NFL
Tags: Kevin Kob
Posted on: October 9, 2011 11:43 pm

Rodgers does it again

ATLANTA -- He was taking shots. His starting tackles were on the bench, injuries putting them there and he was behind a team that wanted more revenge that a scorned lover.

So Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers did what he always does:

He fired a shot, one of those ear-level, zip-by-the-head throws that make him who he is as a quarterback. This time, it turned into a 70-yard touchdown pass to James Jones that gave his team the lead for good on its way to a victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

For good measure, Rodgers followed it up with a 29-yard shot to Greg Jennings on the next series.

Game over.

Rodgers loves this place.

This is the same spot where he put the stamp on his greatness envelope last January when he led the Packers to an upset of the top-seeded Falcons on their way to the Super Bowl.

This wasn't as pretty, but he did throw for 396 yards, getting up after some big shots to do so.

Is there a better quarterback in the NFL right now?

I'd say no, not even you, Mr. Brady.

Category: NFL
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