Posted on: October 8, 2011 11:05 am

League loses good football man

I was getting on a plane when I saw the news:

Raiders owner Al Davis was dead.

I didn't know Davis very well, only dealing with him occasionally at league meetings, but I always found him fascinating.

He knew football.

I loved that about him.

Yes, he had his faults. And, yes, there are still questions about how he finagled ownership of the Raiders, but Davis was a football man turned owner.

That made him intriguing to me.

I've read countless books about the Raiders and their mystique. I loved the "Just Win, Baby" approach.

In recent years, it's been far from that for the franchise. Did Davis mettle too much? You bet. But remember he was a football man through and through. There are some who insist Davis ran the defense for years after he left coaching.

He couldn't get away.

We lost a big piece of NFL history Saturday.

Just Sad, Baby.

Category: NFL
Tags: Al Davis
Posted on: October 6, 2011 5:31 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 7:12 pm

Week 5 matchups to watch: Newton vs. Williams

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton vs. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- Williams is one of the best at scheming against rookie quarterbacks. He fooled Blaine Gabbert some last week, causing one interception, and look for him to try to do the same to Newton. In his first four games, Newton has made some big plays but he's also made some rookie mistakes. If he can avoid them here, he could have another big game.

Lions left tackle Jeff Backus vs. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers -- Backus did a decent job on DeMarcus Ware last week after having a rough go of it against Jared Allen the week before. Peppers is another tough challenge. Peppers didn't do much against Jordan Gross last week, so this is another chance to make some noise in the opposing backfield.

Lions right end Cliff Avril vs. Bears right tackle Lance Louis -- Avril is one of the better pass rushers in the league. He has speed and power. Louis has started at guard, but moved to right tackle last week in the second half and did a nice job in place of Frank Omiyale. This will be a tough test for Louis.

Packers tight end Jermichael Finley vs. Falcons safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore -- Finley is off to a torrid start for the Packers. He is a move tight end who can stretch a defense. He will put a lot of pressure on DeCoud and Moore, two younger safeties who have to play better. They have ability, but for some reason they haven't played as well as expected.

Patriots receiver Wes Welker vs. Jets corners (maybe Darrelle Revis) -- The Jets did a great job on the Patriots offense in the playoff game last January. But Welker is lighting up every secondary he faces. The Jets might put Revis on him some, which would be a change. He's on pace for 140 catches, so they have to do something.

Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley vs. Titans offensive tackle David Stewart -- With James Harrison out for the Steelers, Woodley has to come up big pressuring Matt Hasselbeck. The Titans have protected Hasselbeck pretty well this season, but the Steelers can get after him some if Woodley can win against Stewart, who is one of the better right tackles in the league.

Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer vs. Texans outside linebacker Mario Williams -- Williams had two sacks last week against the Steelers and has done a nice job adjusting to the move to outside linebacker. Veldheer has been one of the better left tackles in the league this season, his second in the league. This should be a good one to watch.

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung  -- Pierre-Paul is having his breakout season in his second in the league. He is an explosive edge player who also plays the run well. Okung is also a second-year player. He has improved from last season, but he still has a way to go. If he can neutralize Pierre-Paul, it would go a long way to improving his reputation.

Falcons center Todd McClure or Joe Hawley vs. Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji  -- If the Falcons want to get the running game going, they have to handle Raji. That means McClure or Hawley, depending on McClure's knee, have to be physical at the point.  Neither is considered strong in the run game, so this could be trouble for Michael Turner.

Bills WR Stevie Johnson vs. Eagles corner Nnamdi Asomugha -- There's been a lot of talk that Asomugha hasn't played that well. That's not true. He just hasn't played to his normal standards. Johnson is off to a fast start and he's the Bills best receiver. The Bills are rolling on offense, so this could be a shootout. Can Asomugha handle Johnson? Will he even play him in man? 

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 5
Posted on: October 3, 2011 3:27 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 1:10 am

Monday Musings: Saints too aggressive at end

Saints coach Sean Payton is one of the league's most-aggressive play callers.

But sometimes he can be too aggressive.

Take the end of the Jaguars-Saints game Sunday. His team was leading 23-10, but Payton kept throwing. Drew Brees was picked off once and the Saints had a tough time using up the clock. The Saints had three possessions starting from 11:43 left to 2:07 left. They ran 12 plays, not counting fourth down. Eight of those plays were passes. They didn't get any points, and had a 50-yard missed field goal by John Kasay. It just didn't make any sense. A

fter the game, Payton said they had some problems late and said it was "my fault."  Drew Brees defended the style.  "We wer executing our offense," Brees said. "Twenty-three to 10 is not anything. You have to distance yourself. Never play conservatively when the game is that close. We were still calling plays, pushing the ball down the field." I know that's who they are, but at some point they have to be able to milk clock. Isn't that why they drafted Mark Ingram in the first round?

I asked some defensive players about it, but they waved me off. Publicly. Privatley, you could tell they were not happy about it. I believe Payton is the best at calling plays in the NFL. But sometimes he gets a little too arrogant in how he's calling them. That appeared to be the case in Jacksonville Sunday.

---The Eagles are in big trouble. Not only are they 1-3, but they had some significant injures Sunday. They lost defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, one of their top run stuffers, for the season with a torn triceps. Pass rusher Trent Cole, who was playing as well as any defensive end in the league, is expected to miss three weeks or so with a calf injury and left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman, will likely miss a couple of weeks with a hamstring. Three key players on the two lines going down will be tough to overcome. Dream Team? Not now.

---Amazing stat: Tom Brady passed Joe Montana on the all-time touchdown list Sunday with 275 to put him eighth all time -- only 124 behind Peyton Manning. That's 124. Unreal.

---There wasn't much doubt the Bears would feed Matt Forte against the Panthers. Carolina has problems stopping the run and the Bears were taking heat for not running it enough. Forte responded with a 205-yard rushing performance. Want to bet Mike Martz goes back to throwing it against the Lions this week anyway?

---The Bears defense isn't very good. They've given up over 500 yards the past two weeks. Isn't that a unit that has Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher?

---So Santonio Holmes wants the ball more? Wonder where that story came from? Hmm. His agent, maybe?

---Rookie receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones are having good starts to their careers, both coming off 100-yard days. That should help the draft stock of Oklahoma State's Justin Blackman, South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, three good-size receivers who are expected to go in the first round. Count Jacksonville as a team that will take one of those receivers if it gets a chance.

--In four games, Seattle's Mike Williams has 79 yards receiving. So much for that great comeback continuing from last season. Williams looks heavier to me than a year ago. That was the problem when he was a first-round pick with the Lions.

---Why can't the Eagles play in the fourth quarter? They have been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter of their last three games. By they way, they've lost all three.

---Broncos need to ditch those stupid Tim Tebow plays. Way too predictable. They ran him once for a minus-1 yard against the Packers. Oh, boy.

---Nice move by the Packers to re-sign receiver Jordy Nelson to a three-year deal. The way the Packers are playing it's hard to believe so many people in Green Bay once wanted general manager Ted Thompson fired.

---Looks like the Patriots have found a good, young back in rookie Stevan Ridley. He runs hard. He ran 10 times for 97 yards against the Raiders. The rookie from LSU was on my Better-Than Team this spring of guys I liked better than the scouts. Hey, I got one.

---I thought it was an insult for teammates to speculate that running back Peyton Hillis didn't play last week because he's not happy with his contract, rather that strep throat. Of all the players in this league, Hillis would be the last I would think would play that card.

---I really like Leslie Frazier as a coach. But the Vikings coach needs to sit Donovan McNabb down now and play Christian Ponder. The Vikings aren't going anywhere, so get on with the future.

---Whatever Charles Woodson takes to stay young, I want some of it. He's 35 and continues to make big plays. The guy is a star. He had another interception return for a touchdown Sunday against the Broncos

--The interception Jason Campbell threw to Patrick Chung in the end zone Sunday might have been the worst I've ever seen. There wasn't an Oakland player in the area. The Raiders had a chance to go up 14-10 there. That can't happen.

Posted on: October 2, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: October 2, 2011 5:20 pm

Saints: Keep Jaguars around

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If the New Orleans Saints are to be a Super Bowl contender again, they had better learn to put teams away.

They dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars for most of Sunday's game, yet had to hold on to escape with a 23-10 victory.

Here's how dominant the Saints were: They rolled up 503 yards to 274 for the Jaguars and had 30 first downs to 15, yet kept giving the Jaguars chance after chance.

Jacksonville, which is a limited offensive team that was starting a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, couldn't quite get totally back into the game,

A good team with a good offense does.

The Saints are a good team. But they must learn to put teams away and soon.

That's what we've come to expect from Sean Payton's teams. But on this day, it wasn't the case.

Luckily, the Saints got away with one.

Posted on: October 1, 2011 1:03 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 1:03 pm

RIP, DInger

Former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who passed away Friday night after a battle with cancer, came across as a gruff, angry, ornery man.

He was a lot softer on the inside.

Heimerdinger could always been seen on the practice field jumping on his quarterbacks, but when away from the field he was always open, understanding and accessible.

He was also insightful.

Known to most as "Dinger," he was on his way to being a head coach when he was diagnosed with cancer last year. He coached through the early diagnosis, but word spread quickly that things weren't looking good for the coach.

I didn't know him well, but my contact with him always made me come away thinking how helpful and logical he could be when talking offensive football.

One of my favorite "Dinger" stories involves time I spent in his office talking offense last summer. One of the topics: Why do teams always want to run the football after throwing an incomplete pass on first down?

"You sound like my father," Heimerdinger said.

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Because I just had that same conversation with my dad," Heimerdinger said. "He asked the same question. He didn't understand it either."

I still don't. But Heimerdinger's explanation was simple. You want to get it to a manageable third down.

"Believe me, third-and-6 is a lot better than third-and-10 in this league," Heimerdinger said.

"Yeah, but first-and-10 after completing a pass on second down is better than both," I said.

Dinger laughed.

It's the last time I talked to him. 

Neither he nor I knew it at the time, but the cancer was probably already growing in his body.

Less than a year later, he is gone -- way too early.

RIP, Dinger. 

Category: NFL
Posted on: September 29, 2011 7:05 pm

Week Four match-ups to watch

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub vs. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu -- Schaub puts up big passing numbers and Polamalu struggles against good passing quarterbacks who can move him with their eyes. He is good when a team can't throw -- see last week against Indy -- but he struggles when a good passing quarterback is under center. How do the Texans take advantage of his aggressive approach?

Saints guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans against Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton -- Evans and Nicks are the best guard tandem in the NFL. Both are big and tough. Knighton is a 330-pound player who has played well the first three weeks of the season. Nicks told me Thursday he plays games weighing closer to 360. Knighton is tough to move off the spot, so if the Saints want to run the football the guards will have to handle him.

Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross vs. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers -- Peppers gets to face his former team. You know he's juiced. Gross is a top-level tackle and these two have to know each other's tendencies. It will be interesting to see who gets the best of this one. The other thing is Peppers often flips to the other side, which would mean he would work against Jeff Otah some as well.

Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware vs. Lions left tackle Jeff Backus -- Backus had a tough go of it with Jared Allen last week. Allen had three sacks, although two were the fault of Backus. Ware has five sacks in three games, and he's the best pass rusher in the league. Backus will have his hands full.

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs vs. Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson -- Suggs is off to a fast start with four sacks, but Ferguson is a top pass protector. If the Jets are to have success throwing the football, Ferguson has to keep Suggs off Mark Sanchez. Suggs seems to be playing with a lot more explosiveness than he did a year ago.

Bills offensive line vs. Bengals defensive line -- The Bills line has surprised some with how well they've played this season, especially left tackle Demetrius Bell. But this Bengals line is made up of young impressive players. They come in waves. If the Bengals are to upset the Bills, it will be this group that decides it.

Bucs running back LaGarrette Blount vs. Colts middle linebacker Pat Angerer --Blount has played well the past two weeks for the Bucs after doing nothing in the opener. It's no coincidence that the Bucs have won both games. Angerer, who is now the starting middle linebacker with Gary Brackett done for the season, had 20 tackles last week against the Steelers. He has to be big in the Colts' chances of slowing Blount.

49ers tight end Vernon Davis vs. Eagles safeties Nate Allen and Jarrad Page -- The Eagles are benching Kurt Coleman and putting Allen in as the starter opposite Page. Allen has more range, so it should help the pass defense. Davis had a big game last week against the Bengals, and I expect Alex Smith to go to him early and often in this one. Can Allen and Page slow him down? It's going to be tough.

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen vs. Chiefs left tackle Brandon Albert  -- Allen is not happy the Chiefs let him go, and he said so this week. He is coming off an impressive performance against the Lions where he had three sacks. Albert, a former first-round pick, hasn't lived up to the hype, although he is improved this season. Look for the Chiefs to chip on Allen.

Patriots receiver Wes Welker vs. Raiders corners -- Welker is Tom Brady's go-to guy and leads the league in catches. He had 16 catches last week. He's often in the slot, which will make it interesting to see how the Raiders play him. Do they drop Stanford Routt or Chris Johnson inside on him? My guess is Routt gets him.

Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Week 4
Posted on: September 26, 2011 4:03 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 4:10 pm

Monday Musings: Vick off base

Mike Vick needs to stop crying.

He doesn't take any more late hits than any other quarterback in the league. He just takes a lot of shots because he holds the football, always looking for the big play.

Vick was way off base when he whined about the shots after the Eagles loss to the Giants Sunday. Vick's problem is that quarterbacks who hold the ball will take a lot of shots.

Quarterbacks who hold it and run take even more. Quarterbacks with a bad interior of the line on top of it compound the number of hits.

Vick has been knocked out of the past two games, but both injuries came in the pocket. But both times he was hit while holding onto the football.

I think Vick has made great strides as a passer. But the next big step is getting the ball out on time.

If that happens, he will take fewer hits.

Maybe a concussion and an injured hand on successive weeks will help get that message through to him.

Vick is expected to miss possibly three weeks with the broken hand. Maybe if he spends that time watching the tape he will see how much safer it can be to quit looking for the big play all the time and take the check-down.

--Green Bay Packers corner Sam Shields hangs out with Chicago Bears receiver Devin Hester in the off-season. It's a "U" think since both played at the University of Miami. But that didn't stop the two of them from getting into a fight, punches thrown, in Green Bay's 27-17 victory over the Bears. "That's what goes on all the time in football," Shields said. "Hey, at UM, we fight all the time like that. So it's nothing new. He pushed me during a route, and he kept pushing me in the face, and I pushed back. He kept pushing and he just got caught.''I asked Shields if he planned to hang out with Hester again, and he said he would. But this I thought to be interesting: He didn't shake his hand after the game.

----By now, you probably know that Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio is on shaky ground. His team is 1-2 and this is likely a win-now situation or he's gone. But what's interesting about that is this: He is the only person of substance inside the Jaguars building that is not in the final year of their contract. That includes general manager Gene Smith, his staff and all the assistant coaches. Owner Wayne Weaver opted against giving Del Rio's assistants extensions, which puts them in tough positions since they know that with Del Rio's head on the chopping block they have to be prepared to move on. As for Smith and his staff, that makes little sense. If he has the keys to rebuild the team, which is what Weaver has said many times in the past since promoting him to run things, shouldn't he have more years on his contract? I think Smith deserves that. If Del Rio is let go -- and facing New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the next four games he is staring 2-5 or 1-6 in the face - expect to see either offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter or defensive coordinator Mel Tucker named interim coach. As for the future, who knows?  But if Smith is going to remain in charge with building this team into a contender, he needs more job security. If he isn't, then is begs this question: Is Weaver ready to turn to a coach/general manager type?

---I've been saying for years that the Ravens lack of speed outside showed up every week and hurt their passing game. Say hello to Torrey Smith. When the rookie came out of Maryland, the book on him was that he could fly but had problems with his hands. In his first start Sunday against the Rams, he showed off that speed with three touchdown catches in the first quarter. Smith will help open up a Ravens offense that needs it. Joe Flacco threw for a career-high 389 yards against the Rams. Anquan Boldin as a compliment to Smith's speed will make for tough covers for opposing defenses.

---Count Dolphins coach Tony Sparano as officially in trouble. The Dolphins are 0-3 and Sparano has lost 21 of his last 35 games, including six in a row. With the Dolphins courting Jim Harbaugh this past spring, then settling on Sparano for another year, there's no doubt his days are numbered. Nice man. But business is business.

---Amazing stat: The Jaguars are the only team in the NFL to hold opponents under 300 yards in each of the first three games. Too bad their offense averages 9.6 points per game.

---The Patriots are scoring a lot of points. They're also giving up a ton of yards. The pass rush is non-existent and the secondary has issues. That will make for a lot of shootouts, which we've seen already. New England didn't sack Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick and he carved them up Sunday. For all the talk of how good they do things in terms of personnel, how come they can't find a pass rusher?

---Packers tight end Jermichael Finley had three touchdown catches against the Bears, showing off his ability to beat any type of coverage. He creates real match-up problems for teams. Finley is the prototype tight end for the modern game, a big, speedy player who runs like a receiver.

---The Ram are 0-3 and in the middle of a brutal stretch of games. When I spent time with the Rams this summer that was a big concern of the staff. They thought their team might be better, but take a step back in terms of record because of the schedule. The early-season injuries haven't helped. But let's table any talk that coach Steve Spagnuolo is in trouble. He isn't.

---I am still amazed that Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn't let Jay Cutler audible out of bad plays. I know it's worked in the past when he was with the Rams, but this is a different era. Defenses are much more complex. It's time to change that.

---Is there a better coach than Tom Coughlin of getting his team to play better when nothing is expected of them? It's been that way his entire career. Coughlin coaches better as an underdog.  The 2007 Giants are proof of that. Upsetting the Eagles as 9-point underdogs on Sunday is more proof.

---Andy Dalton and Cam Newton both looked like rookie quarterbacks Sunday. That will happen. There still learning how to play the position.

---If the Steelers don't play better on the offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger might not make it through the season. Imagine if Roethlisberger couldn't move around the way he does?  

---I have to give credit to Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. He has played well the past two weeks, proving me wrong. Three games does not make a season, though.

Category: NFL
Tags: Mike Vick
Posted on: September 25, 2011 7:21 pm

Pack D is back

CHICAGO -- Warning to the rest of the NFL: The Green Bay Packers are starting to look like the version you saw in the playoffs last winter.

The first two weeks of the season saw a Green Bay team that looked lifeless on defense, giving up over 400 yards passing to two quarterbacks in consecutive weeks -- one rookie Cam Newton.

There were questions about the pass rush. There were questions about the secondary.

Nothing like a game against Jay Cutler and the Bears passing game to fix it.

The Packers came into Soldier Field and dominated the Bears on the same field they won their spot in the Super Bowl last January before going on to win the whole thing. The Packers won 27-17, but there was never really a moment when you didn't think they were in control.

The Green Bay offense did its share again, but the defense started showing signs of being the unit that flashed in the playoffs.  They picked off Cutler twice and limited the Bears to almost nothing in the second half.  The Bears couldn't run the ball, getting held to 4 yards.

That meant they forced Cutler to throw it all day -- which he struggled to do.

The return of corner Tramon Williams from injury helped. He missed last week with a shoulder bruise. 

With Aaron Rodgers and that high-powered offense scoring at least 27 in each of their three games, you know that unit is almost a given. Now that the defense is coming alive again, the Packers have that Super look again.

Category: NFL
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