Thoughts from Sunday's games
1. Pittsburgh-Houston: Huge win for Houston for a number of reasons, not the least of which is winning the game without Andre Johnson. You get the feeling they had a psychological letdown when Johnson went out of the game. I thought when Kubiak gathered the offense on the sideline early in the third quarter to talk to them, they responded and played better.
You can also see the value in Wade Phillips' idea of simplicity leading to aggressiveness in the defensive front. With less practice time this year, it gives players a chance to perfect their skills and make fewer mistakes. The Houston defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the game. In fairness to the Steelers, they were playing undermanned in the offensive line. The other impression I had was the Pittsburgh defensive line is not playing at the level it had in the past. Is it age?
2. Tennessee-Cleveland: Matt Hasselbeck told me they were going to get the ball to their playmakers. One is Jared Cook -- a big, fast and athletic player. He caught only two balls -- for 93 yards and two touchdowns -- but they did target him six times. Chris Johnson also carried the ball 23 times for more than 100 yards.
In watching Tennessee, I like how the team is playing a tough, physical game which, to me, is an image and refection of its head coach, Mike Munchak. I was very impressed with Munchak when I interviewed him this summer. I thought Munchak was a straight-talking, no-nonsense guy who had a clear vision of what kind of program he was going to run.
3. Buffalo-Cincinnati: What has disappointed me about the Bills -- and I am sure it has to disappoint them, too -- is their defense. I thought they would be better than the way they have played. With Marcell Darius and Kyle Williams in the defensive line, I thought they would play the run better. Instead, they gave up 171 yards rushing against Cincinnati. Their defense could keep them out of the playoffs.
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4. Philadelphia-San Francisco: You can see the influence of Jim Harbaugh on Alex Smith. He is playing sound football. The run defense in Philly is a problem despite the change in the linebackers and safety. San Francisco had 164 rushing yards.
It was ironic to see rookie Alex Henery missing two makeable kicks of 33 and 39 yards in the fourth quarter while David Akers was kicking for San Francisco. Akers did miss a 44-yard field goal and saw a 45-yarder blocked. But what killed Philly in my opinion was two key turnovers. The first came in the fourth quarter on a fumble by Jeremy Maclin (remember, he dropped a pass against Atlanta when they were going in for a fourth-quarter score). The other was the backward throw by Ronnie Brown on the goal line that resulted in a fumble and no points for the Eagles. It has to qualify as the dumbest play of the year. It was an example of a player trying too hard.
A lot will be made of the Eagles loss and why they are losing right now. The reality is they are beating themselves. Now is not the time to panic, but instead to stress staying the course and improving on the fundamentals on what you are trying to do and playing smart -- in other words, know the situation you are in during the game and act accordingly.
5. Green Bay-Denver: Hard to believe, but Aaron Rodgers is playing better than he did last year. I have seen players like Peyton Manning improve every year in different areas, even though you thought they were at the top of their game. It seems to me Rodgers is even better this year in his decision making, accuracy and getting the Packers into the right play.
Nice to see the Packers honor their former players at the game today. What's nice for them, in turn, is to see a terrific Packers team play.
6. Chicago-Carolina: Chicago's 31 runs was probably predictable after not running the ball too much the previous two weeks. The Bears gained 224 yards in the process. However, don't expect to see this kind of production each week. Carolina is playing with two backup linebackers and two young defensive tackles.
7. Minnesota: The Vikings have to be getting close to playing Christian Ponder.
8. Detroit-Dallas: Can a wide receiver win the MVP award this year? Calvin Johnson has been phenomenal. Some of those catches on throws from Matt Stafford remind me of Y.A. Tittle to R.C. Owens and the alley-oop play they made famous while playing for the 49ers in 1957. Somebody should pull those plays out this week and show them on TV.
|Calvin Johnson is beginning to fulfill the potential NFL scouts saw in him when he has drafted No. 2 overall in 2007. (AP)|
9. New Orleans: The Bush-for-Sproles switch looks better every week for the Saints. Sproles gained 10.7 per rush and 11.2 per pass reception on Sunday. He is a better runner than Bush, and you don't lose much in the passing game and return game.
10. Baltimore: One of the reasons Baltimore wanted to sign Bryant McKinnie to play left tackle was to team Ben Grubbs and Michael Oher on the right side -- like they were two years ago, when they were a formidable duo.
11. Don't double Wes Welker and make the Pats beat you with the rest of their team. George Allen taught me that in my first year with the Redskins in 1977. He always believed you take away what the opponent does best and make them beat you "left-handed." A good idea!
12. It's nice to watch Hakeem Nicks' development as a receiver for the Giants. Excellent size and good hands. He is a guy who doesn't have top speed but shows some similarities to Larry Fitzgerald in that you can throw him the ball when he is covered and he can make a play. I am not saying he is Larry Fitzgerald, though.
Also, I know Eli Manning gets criticized a lot in New York, but I would take the guy in a minute if I needed a quarterback.
What did not make The NFL Today
More games in the U.K.
What the NFL is doing is taking the next step in gauging the interest of football in Great Britain. By expanding the games there initially to two to four, they can judge things such as attendance, sponsorship possibilities from inside the U.K., and TV ratings. If they are successful, the next step in my opinion is to go to eight to 10 games, which would be the equivalent of a season. Remember, the commissioner is on record as saying he would like to see a team in London in the future. Also, by incentivizing teams to commit to a three-consecutive year run of one home game a year played in the U.K., the fans in the U.K. can possibly develop a following for particular teams.
Aaron Curry trade
Curry was the fourth pick in the NFL Draft and has struggled to live up to his draft status in Seattle. When Curry came out, I interviewed 25 teams, and every one of them told me Curry was a top-10 pick. After watching tape, I agreed. He was active, instinctive and aggressive. I thought he would be a good strong-side linebacker who would be effective as a blitzer and good enough in coverage.
After talking with people familiar with the situation, the thought is that he might have been a victim of a couple of factors. Among them, the pressure of being a high pick, high expectations, loss of confidence, two different coordinators and a change in systems, as well as playing in a number of positions instead of letting him playing one position and gaining confidence playing that one position.
With that being said, I think moving on to a new situation might reinvigorate his career and let him become a solid NFL player, not a top-10-pick type, but a player who would give you a solid starter at the position. In watching games Sunday, there are two players who remind me of Curry -- A.J. Hawk of Green Bay, who is a solid NFL player but not a top-10-ability guy. The other is Jason Babin of the Eagles. We drafted him in the first round while I was with Houston, but it took a number of years for him to find his niche -- which he did in Tennessee and now Philadelphia as a wide defensive end.
Cam Newton vs. zone defense
I thought he would struggle vs. the Bears' cover-2 defense based on last week's game against Jacksonville. I also thought he would target the tight end vs. Chicago, which he did. He threw the ball to the tight ends 12 times for seven completions for 91 yards, but what was surprising to me was that he could connect with Steve Smith for eight receptions and 181 yards. I am sure Chicago was not happy about that. I have to give Newton a lot of credit for his ability to make plays. I am anxious to study this tape to see how he did it.
You can follow Charley Casserly on Twitter @CasserlyCBS