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Sunday Six: Painful week for quarterbacks, great week for tight ends

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Three starting quarterbacks left games Sunday with concussions. It was only a matter of time for Michael Vick, who is missing four of his starting five offensive linemen and is a risk taker by trade. Alex Smith of the 49ers and Jay Cutler joined Vick as men taking shots to the head.

It is a good thing that the safety measures are now in place for these men not to return to the game for their own good, but it does make me wonder how many quarterbacks in years past sat out for a few plays and went right back in the game. I expect these kinds of medical issues to continue and actually increase when you consider what the first twelve games played this weekend told us about how quarterbacks play and how much risk and contact they face.

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In 12 games, quarterbacks ran 75 times, and those runs usually end up in a tackle. Just ask Cutler about the tackle he found himself in just before halftime.

There were 63 sacks in the 12 games, with the Broncos sacking Cam Newton seven times alone. As dangerous as the tackles and sacks were, quarterbacks took a combined 94 hits in the dozen games.

There are a lot of offensive linemen injured right now in a passing league and things will be rough on QBs for the rest of the season.

Finally, would all of the quarterbacks please get rid of the ball quicker, throw it away if you have to, and please learn to slide? We almost lost Peyton Manning on a slide that went bad.

Tight ends

As the weather gets cold and wet, teams will continue to want to throw the ball. That means tight ends will play bigger roles in the offense.

It was good to see how prominent tight ends were this past weekend. I counted 168 targets, 120 receptions and 15 touchdowns in the first 12 Week 10 games. The greatest display of tight end talent and production was in the Falcons-Saints game when Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham combined for 23 targets, 18 receptions and four touchdowns. Greg Olsen (Carolina), Jason Witten (Dallas) and Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota) were also dominating as they combined for 29 targets, 24 receptions and three touchdowns. Some teams use their tight ends by committee and the numbers don't pop out at you like Baltimore, where Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson caught all seven balls thrown their way for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Things should only pick up for the tight ends the rest of season.

Two special coaches

I can't say enough about the great work Bruce Arians of Indianapolis and Joe Vitt of the Saints are doing. Both men were put in very tough situations and they are getting the job done. The Colts and Saints are winning games while holding down the fort for their missing head coaches. I talked to Lance Moore of the Saints about coach Vitt and he said the team rallies around Vitt, loves that he talks to the players like men, and emphasizes balance in the offense. Vitt's presence is probably why in the last two games the run game is alive and well. Up in Indianapolis, Arians is doing so well guiding his rookie quarterback that he will be a hot candidate for his own head coaching job at year's end. In the meantime he is pushing the team toward the playoffs.

Not wild about Jets' QB rotation

A couple of things that went on this weekend made me scratch my head once again. In the second quarter of the Jets-Seahawks game with the score tied 7-7, Mark Sanchez takes over at his own 38-yard line and completes a pass for six yards. Second and 4, in comes Tim Tebow, who runs for three yards. Then Tebow again for three yards, and in comes Sanchez, who completes a pass for 43 yards. Sanchez deserves a lot of credit for coming off the bench and executing.

Before you know it the Jets are at the 7, first and goal. Two runs up the middle by Shonn Greene with Sanchez under center, and Sanchez has the team third and goal at the 1. Here comes Tebow again, and what happens? A false start and the Jets are back at the 6. In comes Sanchez to clean up the mess, and he throws an interception.

The Jets have managed to make their offense dysfunctional. Either play Sanchez or Tebow, but this in-and-out routine is making things worse than they already are for the Jets. This just in: the Tebow plan hasn't fooled anyone yet.

Three guys jumping out at me

There are so many good performances going on the NFL right now that it is impossible to mention all of them. Take Peyton Manning, for example. I sat with Dan Marino yesterday and watched Manning tie Dan for second all-time in touchdown passes, and barring injury, I expect Manning to eventually break Brett Favre's record of 508. The top receivers in Denver are all 25-27 years old and will be in place for the next few seasons. The other two quarterbacks that just jump out are rookie Russell Wilson and Josh Freeman of the Bucs. Wilson won again at home, where he is now 5-0. Wilson's 15 touchdown passes are not only the most by a rookie QB this season, and that includes Andrew Luck and RG3, but he has also done it in the fewest throws of any rookie QB. Freeman had a rough 2011 and his critics thought he was a bust. In the last five games he has 1,467 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

Keeping an eye on a few things

  What happened to the automatic review of all scoring plays when Trindon Holliday returned a punt 76 yards for a score, or was it a score? Last year we had nine blocked punts all season.

  We came into Week 10 with 14 blocked punts, and of course, we had another one by Tampa Bay for a 29-yard touchdown. The reality of 2012 is that special teams are a liability. Look no further than the Oakland Raiders in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Oakland muffed a punt that the Ravens turned into a touchdown. Baltimore faked a field goal for a touchdown and then returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown.

  I believe we are going to see two rookie quarterbacks lead their teams to the playoffs this year (Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson). Could the Raiders get a year off from the early East Coast away games? They are 0-3 this season and average 16 points a game when they get off the long plane ride.

  How good is Danny Amendola? When he plays with Sam Bradford for the Rams, the team is 10-12-1 or a hair under .500.

  The Saints are now officially the most dangerous team with a non-winning record. Brees and Co. can put 30 points on any team, the run game is looking effective and the defense has 15 sacks in their last four wins while going 4-1.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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