Thoughts on Sunday's games:
1. Buffalo -- The Bills were held to 146 yards passing. In talking to defensive coordinators, they felt the way to stop Buffalo's offense was to jam their receivers at the line of scrimmage -- be physical with them, disrupt their timing. This makes Ryan Fitzpatrick hold the ball. The thought is the Bills tackles are not good enough to hold up against good ends on the pass rush. The other point is to do a good job of limiting the receivers' yards after the catch, which people have been able to do. The reason this strategy works is because the Bills don't have exceptional receivers that are hard to press. Buffalo's run defense continues to struggle (163 yards allowed) and their defense can't put pressure on the QB (no sacks). I think people have the formula to beat Buffalo. Buffalo, in my opinion, has peaked and will struggle from here on out.
2. Houston -- Hits the break at 7-3 with a lot of momentum. They play teams with a winning record in their final six games: Atlanta and Tennessee at home, and Cincinnati on the road. Andre Johnson is 90 to 95 percent now and is expected to play after the bye. There is not a team playing better all-around football than the Texans. The defense continues to play well. They continue to put pressure on the QB. Brooks Reed had another sack; the team had four. Once again, Arian Foster had a solid day with 17 carries for 84 yards and Matt Schaub was efficient (11 for 15, 242 yards, two touchdowns). They are heading for a first-round bye and possibly the best record in the AFC.
3. Atlanta -- It's easy to second guess head coach Mike Smith for a couple of his decisions late in the game, but I "first guessed" him. I didn't agree with his decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 29-yard line. The smart play in this spot is also the right one -- punt the ball back to the Saints and let your defense do the work. Another decision of his I disagreed with is on having his team go for an onside kick with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter. I understand that you're down 23-20 and want to get back into the game, but it's better to kick the ball deep. The Falcons were lucky that the Saints had a field goal nullified by a penalty.
4. Philadelphia -- The Eagles have crashed back down to earth after a devastating loss to a Cardinals squad helmed by John Skelton at quarterback. Michael Vick had another two interceptions in this loss, but what really got to me was his inaccuracy -- connecting on only 16 of 34 passes. Vick missed a wide-open Brent Celek for a sure touchdown. And on the last drive of the game, he missed another two receivers who were open.
Not all of the blame should go on Vick for the loss. Philadelphia's defense definitely played a part in blowing a fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time this season. There were three plays where either a linebacker or safety got beaten. Chester Taylor beat Jamar Chaney in man-to-man coverage for 17 yards to set up a makeable fourth-and-2. On a third-and-10, Larry Fitzgerald beats safety Jaiquawn Jarrett for 37 yards. Then after the Eagles forced a third-and-5, safety Kurt Coleman failed to tackle Early Doucet. If Coleman makes that tackle, Arizona probably settles for a field goal, and Philadelphia would have kept the lead.
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5. Chicago -- The Bears beating the Lions isn't shocking. The fact that they completely destroyed them shocked me. Chicago focused more on pass protection for this contest, which worked; Jay Cutler was sacked only twice. The real story for Chicago is how its defense and special teams came to play. Devin Hester had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. (Why does anyone kick to him?) And the defense found the end zone twice on its own, thanks to Cedric Tillman and Major Wright picking off Matthew Stafford. Chicago appears to be hitting its stride, just like it did at this time last year, which says loads about the job Lovie Smith is doing. Given the way his team is playing, I'll bet the Bears could be just the team that can give the Packers all they can handle.
6. Washington -- Mike Shanahan's decision to start Rex Grossman under center was one that everyone saw coming ... including the Dolphins. The fact of the matter is that no matter who you have at quarterback for the Redskins, he won't succeed because they don't have talent on offense. Grossman did have two picks, but neither could really be considered his fault. If Grossman handles the majority of snaps in practice, those mistakes will diminish. And the former Chicago signal caller at least throws the ball downfield, which John Beck hardly ever did when playing this season. That's got to count for something for Shanahan, right?
7. Dallas -- What a day for the Dallas offense. DeMarco Murray continues to shine and clearly should be the starter, even when Felix Jones returns. He gained 135 yards on 20 carries. Once again, he showed the ability to run inside and outside, giving the defense problems. Dez Bryant had a big day with six catches for 74 yards, including a very impressive 34-yard touchdown grab where he took the ball away from the defender. Also, newcomer Laurent Robinson continues to dazzle with two touchdowns, including a 58-yard scoring reception. Tony Romo had a near-perfect day, going 23 of 26 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys are 5-4 -- only one game back of the New York Giants, whom they still haven't played this season. The Cowboys are at Washington, home to Miami on Thanksgiving and at Arizona -- with 10 days to prepare for that game. This will test the Cowboys' maturity. If they can win these three games -- and they'll be favored in all three -- they will put themselves in a great position going into their last four games (they'll play the Giants twice and Philly once).
8. Denver -- This one defies any logic. The Broncos won despite completing only two passes. In fact, they ran it 55 times. Tim Tebow was 2 of 8 for 69 yards with one touchdown pass of 56 yards to Eric Decker. He did not turn it over. The Broncos ran the option and had some designed runs for him. This is not a formula for success in the NFL, but it did work against Kansas City. What is absurd is Tebow's passer rating -- 102.6. Completing 2 of 8 is a bad day in my mind, and I am sure most people would agree. The more Tebow plays, the more people will get a read on the Broncos' offense. Tebow will eventually have to win games throwing the ball. Their next game will be Thursday against the Jets. The Jets are coming off an emotional game against the Patriots and will have a short week to travel to Denver. It is a veteran defense, so they will still try to install some difficult defenses for Tebow. You have got to believe that Rex Ryan will make Tebow throw the ball and won't get beat by two completions.
9. San Francisco -- The Niners stayed one game behind the Packers for the best record in the NFL. More important, they kept pace in the NFC with an impressive victory against the New York Giants. They did it mostly without Frank Gore, who left the game injured after gaining zero yards on six carries. But rookie Kendall Hunter was impressive once again. He has a burst and can run inside and outside. The Niners didn't stray from their formula -- they moved the ball on the ground and Alex Smith was efficient throwing it. San Francisco also showed once again it can make teams one-dimensional by shutting down the Giants' running game. However, what did show up was the Giants' ability to throw the ball effectively. The scouting report on the Niners secondary was they played a lot of zone but were very effective closing on the ball. Eli Manning seemed to have some success going at the Niners secondary. In its final seven games, San Francisco will face two teams with a winning record -- Baltimore on the road on Thanksgiving and Pittsburgh at home. Baltimore will be tough because of its defense and the short week. But Pittsburgh is the game that interests me because the Steelers are the closest team to Green Bay as far as an offense goes. I want to see how they'll match up against the Steelers' passing attack.
10. Tennessee -- Very impressive victory. The Titans are 5-4 and just keep hanging around in playoff contention, even though no one mentions them among possible playoff teams. Mike Munchak has done an excellent job getting this team to play hard and overachieve, considering they have lost their best receiver in Kenny Britt and running back Chris Johnson has not been very productive this year. Johnson had his best day of the year -- rushing for 130 yards on 27 carries -- but it was against a Carolina defense that has struggled to stop the run all year. It still doesn't look like Johnson has the burst and explosion he has showed in the past.
Here's some of what we didn't talk about on The NFL Today:
1. Albert Haynesworth -- Tampa Bay claimed his contract, which has a salary of $1.5 million fully guaranteed, of which they will pay about half of that. The only way out of that salary for them is if they cut him and somebody else claims him. He has a contract for 2012 that has a base salary of $6.7 million with a roster bonus of $400,000 due on Aug. 1, 2012, and a $100,000 workout bonus.
The tough part of the contract for me to swallow is his incentives for 2011. He will be paid $1 million for playing 20 percent of the defensive plays. He played 23 percent of New England's defensive plays. If he averages about 10 plays per game, he would get the bonus. He also has other play-time incentives: $590,000 each for 45, 50, 55, 60 and 65 percent. I never looked at stats and incentives as a GM once the season started. I didn't think it was an honorable thing to do after you have made an agreement with the player.
In this case, it is different. You inherited the contract. I would evaluate how Haynesworth plays. If he plays well and we are winning, I would then go to him and try to get next year's contract adjusted. If we are not winning and he is not playing well, I would cut him and not let him get the $1 million incentive.
I thought he was out of shape when he was with the Patriots. He has had injury problems, too. I am not sure you can count on this guy. Tampa Bay runs an upfield scheme that is more suited for his talents, but getting him during the season will make it difficult for him to learn this or any system.
2. Ryan Clark -- His hit last week was clearly helmet to helmet and the $40,000 fine was the minimum for a repeat offender. Pittsburgh has claimed they have been "picked on" by the officials. The stats don't back that up. The Steelers have been penalized seven times for unnecessary roughness or roughing the passer through Week 9. That is the same as 14 other teams. The Steelers have been called for unnecessary roughness seven times through Week 9. There are five other teams that have been called for seven or more unnecessary-roughness fouls. The Steelers are one of only five teams that have not had a roughing-the-passer penalty called against them this season going into Week 10. I think this shows the Steelers have not been "picked on."
3. Fred Jackson -- I talked to him about returning to play the Cowboys. He grew up a Cowboys fan and his favorite player was Emmitt Smith, whom he has never met. I asked him about his contract, which Buffalo said they would address, but haven't yet. He is due to make $1.8 million in 2012, the final year of his contract. He said he is not concerned about it. He said all he can do is play his best, and that he has confidence in his ability to get the job done and the contract will take care of itself. The most interesting part of the conversation was the fact he was returning to play on the site -- literally -- of where he grew up. He grew up in a house his family rented on the site of Cowboys Stadium. The land was bought from the home owners, so his family did not receive any of the money. It truly was going to be an emotional day for him, and responded with a big game running the ball (114 yards on only 13 carries).
4. Penn State -- With the events that came to light, it made me think of what I would have done as a general manager this past week. I would have had a meeting with my owner and team attorneys. I would have asked the attorneys to draw up a policy for the team that would have outlined how we should have handled the situation that occurred at Penn State. I would want to know what our legal obligations and liabilities would be for each member of the organization, starting with our interns to myself as general manager. I would have wanted a written policy in the hands of all employees in their hands by the close of business by Friday. The question I most would want answered if an incident similar to the one witnessed at Penn State is witnessed by an employee -- from an intern to all the way up to the general manager -- is do they go straight to the police or do they report it to your supervisor? And how is it handled from there? When I asked NFL teams how they would handle it, they all said things should follow a chain of command, with the obvious conclusion being the team would report the incident to the police, but none thought an intern or other employee should initially call the police, but should instead report it to their superior.
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