Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Sure they got some ticky-tacky penalties called against them, but I can’t decide if the Eagles are just a bad team, badly coached, or still haven’t found team chemistry.  Two things seem certain.  First, this should have been an easier game for them.  Supposedly they have the best two corners in the game in Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel.  The Eagles should have continually gone after Matt Forte while those two prevented any big plays and kept the passing game in check.  After all, Jay Cutler has receivers like Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Roy Williams, Johnny Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher to choose from.  Instead the Bears ended up 7-for-14 on third down, while Forte victimized the Eagles for 133 rushing yards.  Second, if DeSean Jackson is an elite receiver, then elite must mean “fast, thin guy with no hands.”   Eight targets and just two receptions Monday night, and a crucial fumble have added to what is quickly becoming a forgettable season for him.  Monday night’s 18 yards was his season low.

The last four minutes of this game underscores the problem Pittsburgh has with itself: egos and an overinflated sense of talent.  How Mike Tomlin wasn't steaming after a ridiculous delay of game penalty with a little under two minutes cost the Steelers a field goal try to extend their lead is beyond me.  Then the defense sat back, and Joe Flacco picked them to pieces.  For the second time in two years, the Steelers lost a game to the Baltimore Ravens on what was essentially the last play of the game. The Steelers pass rush did a decent job, but without Lamar Woodley, it just wasn’t the same.  Hines Ward was lost to what likely was a concussion, and the Steelers found themselves down to three receivers for the game.  However, one thing to notice was the sudden growth in the Pittsburgh offensive line.  Ben Roethlisberger had the kind of time that allowed him to pick apart the Raven’s secondary, run the no-huddle successfully, including empty backfield sets, and drive for two touchdowns to give Pittsburgh the lead with under five minutes to play.  Roethlisberger was sacked just once, and pressured rarely.  That kind of growth could be huge down the road.  There is no way to underscore how bad this loss could be for them though, as they have to sweep the Bengals to put themselves into serious contention for a wild card, assuming they don't win the division.  What has to concern teams about the Ravens offense is they have two very big and physical receivers that are not easily moved from their routes.  If Joe Flacco can avoid the big turnover, and Torrey Smith can learn to catch, the Ravens can go far.

Philips Rivers finally put together the kind of game both Chargers fans and fantasy owners have been waiting for all year.  Unfortunately, it was after he played a first half that was the same as the rest of this season.  Two early first half interceptions by the Green Bay defense went for touchdowns and, the Packers never looked back.  Vincent Jackson finally looked healthy again, but I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t who Vincent Jackson is; a 50-60 catch guy who is a major deep threat and can put up 1,000 yards, but will serve a team with giant games and many duds.  After all, this is his seventh season and he’s never once topped 70 receptions.  With 34 right now, he’s most likely to end up there again assuming he keeps his health.  Aaron Rodgers rushed for 52 yards, added 247 yards passing and four touchdowns, and ended up the top fantasy quarterback for Sunday.  The Packers gave up 460 total yards of offense, 375 through the air.  The Packers have a one-dimensional offense and a very porous defense.  One bad day from Aaron Rodgers will mean a loss, and come playoff time there is almost no way I can see the Packers running the table unless they learn to run the ball more effectively and play better defense. 

I said I liked New York’s chances to beat the Patriots were they fully healthy.  Turns out they didn’t need to be.  Eli Manning proved that he is indeed in the elite mixture of quarterbacks this year, at least when it comes to the fourth quarter.  It wasn’t the best game he’s ever played, nor was it a game where his QB rating would make anyone checking the sports pages take note.  But with 1:36 remaining and eighty yards in front of his team, Eli Manning closed the distance in 1:21 and hit Jake Ballard, with a one yard touchdown pass.  The Patriots dropped a second straight game, something that has happened just three times since 2003.  The AFC’s version of the Packers, the Patriots are struggling not because of injury, but because defenses have no figured out a way to throw off the timing-based, five-wide offense the Patriots have executed for so much success.  Yesterday, Tom Brady took more five and seven step drops than I remember him ever doing the past three years.  They don’t have a true deep threat in among their receivers, and are missing the kind of speed and size that other teams have.  Last note, the season may have started with Aaron Hernandez as the top receiving tight end, but it is Rob Gronkowski that has Brady’s trust when it matters.  Out of the six passes Brady threw on their final scoring drive, four went to Gronkowski, including the touchdown pass to take the lead with 1:36 to go.

Though I had billed the game as A.J. Feeley versus John Skelton, it was Sam Bradford who returned from injury to start the game.  Bradford was a game-time decision and found his way onto the field.  Neither quarterback played great football.  Bradford didn’t manage a touchdown pass. Skelton showed how green he was allowing safeties by the Rams’ defense in two consecutive drives.  But you also have to give Skelton credit.  With under nine minutes to go and his team down seven, the rusty Skelton engineered a four minute drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald.  That in turn allowed Patrick Peterson to again deliver a punt return touchdown to give Arizona the victory, the second such time he’s done that this year. Brandon Lloyd had another 13 targets, but was only able to haul in five of them.

Tim Tebow wasn’t the difference in this game.  That being said, he didn’t turn the ball over, rushed for 100 yards, and threw two touchdowns to keep Denver in the football game.  Willis McGahee added a 60-yard touchdown run, his longest run from scrimmage since 2009.  McGahee is starting to silence critics (yours truly as well) as to whether he can be a serviceable starting running back, even with his bad knees.  Carson Palmer started to look more like the Palmer of a few years ago, but three interceptions was just one too many, as his final interception was followed up by the McGahee touchdown scamper.  Given time, Palmer might find his groove with a few of these receivers, but the loss of Darren McFadden AND Jason Campbell has been too much for Oakland to overcome so far.  They are now 1-2 in the division, but still have two games against San Diego forthcoming.  Thursday's game at San Diego looms larger for the Raiders, losers of two straight.  Palmer will have had enough time to get this offense under his belt, but Darren McFadden still won't be ready to go.  For the Denver faithful, I can see the reason they might be excited.  But before you celebrate Tebow’s 2-1 record this year, note that the top receiver on the Broncos team had three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.  That was Eric Decker.  There is a limited passing game that comes with Tebow, and his toughest games are yet to come, with games at Kansas City, versus the New York Jets, at San Diego, at Minnesota and at home against New England.  Sickly, as a fantasy option, he becomes highly valuable.  I think I just regurgitated in my mouth as I consider the impact mediocre quarterbacks who have great running ability change the dynamics of fantasy football.  There may come a time soon where it might be worth considering whether quarterbacks should get the same points for rushing yardage.  Otherwise, horrible performances will be rewarded, and that goes against all sports logic.

Cam Newton fans will have to forgive me, but Andy Dalton is my ROTY.  It isn't even close.  While Cam has continued to amaze and is putting up yardage galore, look at what Andy Dalton means to this Bengals team.  Last year at this point, they were a polar opposite 2-6.  The team was mistake prone, and even got blown out by a 4-12 Buffalo team.  This year, not only are they playing well on defense under coordinator Mike Zimmer, but Jay Gruden has worked his limited options in the offense to near perfection.  Remember, this team went from having Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens to having Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and rookie A.J. Green as its receiving options, with Jermaine Gresham developing into a solid tight end.  Andy Dalton has 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions.  His QB rating for the year is a solid 85 and he's completing just over 61 percent of his throws.  He's a fantasy backup right now, but one of the most consistent you can have.  The Bengals next three games are all divisional ones, starting with Pittsburgh.  A victory at home against the Steelers would set them up at 7-2 to at least be a Wild Card.  Meanwhile, the defense that allowed 17 first half points didn't allow Tennessee any in the second half.   Only one Tennessee drive in the third quarter went more than three plays. Chris Johnson put up over 100 yards from scrimmage on the day and began to look a little more CJ-like.  However, he still didn't factor into the scoring.

Every time I peeked at this game it was third down and Colt McCoy was running for his life.  The Browns continued to be haunted by opposing running backs, as both Arian Foster and Ben Tate each tallied over 100 yards rushing.  Matt Schaub threw only 23 passes, seven of which were targeted at Foster, who hauled in five.  The recipe for winning in Houston seems to be simple, protect the football, run as much as you can, and keep Schaub from making the kind of mistakes he's made in the past when he's tried to do too much.  In fact, the only games the Texans have lost this year have involved Schaub throwing more than 30 times in the game.  In games where Schaub has thrown 30 or less times, the Texans are 6-0.  Chris Ogbonnaya was Og-Bon-Awful.

The 49ers have made three trips across the continental United States and returned with three victories.  Jim Harbaugh has just about wrapped up the Coach of the Year award for that feat alone, as once thought-to-be-bust quarterback Alex Smith had another game where his QB rating crossed 100.  Not since 2006 has he had three plus games where his QB rating was over 100, and never has his cumulative rating been higher than 85.  Currently, it sits at 97.  Frank Gore is averaging just over one catch per game.  That is down from four catches per game just two years ago, meaning Smith isn't simply targeting guys out of the backfield.  Obviously the development of Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and the arrival of Braylon Edwards has taken away looks from Gore.  For the Redskins, Roy Helu has breached the starting lineup and put up nearly 150 yards of total offense, 105 of which came from his 14 catches.  He averaged 4.1 yards per carry.  Look for more Helu going forward, but keep in mind this is a Shanahan offense.  With Santana Moss still out, only Jabar Gaffney has stepped up of the receivers.  He’s had four catches every week since Moss went down.

The Dolphins had led at least four different times this season late in the fourth quarter and watched their defense squander away games.  This time Miami gave us four quarters of football, while Kansas City gave us their best impression of those Pamplona bull runners.  Coming off a huge Monday night win against San Diego, the Chiefs did everything but make the big play, while Matt Moore gave Miami the kind of game that gives fans hope he’s developing into a possible future leader.  He finished with a near perfect passer rating, and threw three touchdowns.  Problem is, we’ve seen this Moore before.  He ended 2009 rolling off three straight wins for the Panthers, including a 41-9 drubbing of the New York Giants.  Those same Giants repaid him to start 2010, and he went 20-of-46 for 307 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions in two of three games before he was removed for Jimmy Clausen.  In fairness to Moore, a whole off-season had passed, and he wasn’t given a very long leash after Carolina draft Clausen, but still, he wasn’t able to beat Chad Henne this year coming out of training camp.  Miami has now given Indianapolis the fast track on Andrew Luck.  Don’t know who feels good about that, but apparently some people do. 

Somehow the New Orleans Saints rattled off 195 rushing yards against the Tampa Bay defense.  The Saints don’t have a 100-yard rushing performance for the year yet, and are the same Saints that tallied 56 total rushing yards against the Rams.  Drew Brees now has over 3,000 passing yards, and could viably reach 6,000, making him the first quarterback to ever hit that milestone in a season.  He is likely to break his record high of 5069 passing yards as it is.  He also has over 50 more attempts than the nearest contender.  The Buccaneers played almost every aspect of the game well except on third down.  They converted just two of 12 third down plays, and that was the difference in the ball game.  Mike Williams got eight targets for the Bucs and caught six of them but for only 46 yards.  LeGarrette Blount played his first game in almost a month, and though he averaged five and one-half yards per carry, he was only able to manage 72 yards.  His new role as a possible third down back resulted in just two receptions, while Kregg Lumpkin got four.  Perhaps it's not really a reason to get too excited.  Christopher Ivory  re-appeared for the Saints due to Mark Ingram’s injury and performed well, leading all Saints rushers, but the touchdown went to Pierre Thomas, who is likely to be the man they rely on in clutch situations during Ingram’s absence.

Matt Ryan looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback, and that truly is saying something this year.  Julio Jones had only three receptions but they totaled 131 yards and accounted for two touchdowns.  Michael Turner didn't get his average load of carries (27) but that probably had to do with the fact Indianapolis can't stop a tortoise from gaining four yards per touch.  Jacquizz Rodgers had 10 carries for 44 yards.  Yet even with 163 total rushing yards, Jones accounted for all the major damage.  Curtis Painter was ineffective for three quarters and eventually sat for Dan Orlovsky.  The only news is that Austin Collie led the team in receiving yardage and tied for the team high in receptions.  I guess the best news for Collie owners is that next year he might be fully back to health and have a great quarterback under center again.  By the way, both quarterbacks managed less than four yards per attempt.  It's safe to say that if you drafted your fantasy team with any emphasis on the Colts, you're suffering.  Godspeed.

Sometimes you just have to believe in the announcer jinx.  Right after the Dan Dierdorf declared that Fred Jackson hadn't fumbled all year long, eh fumbled twice and lost his first of the season.  The rest of the game spoke for itself.  The Jets defense pressured the Bills into mistakes and missed opportunities.  Shonne Greene ran effectively enough to keep Buffalo's defense honest, and Santonio Holmes managed to provide fantasy owners with a touchdown, making him worthy for another start next week.  Ryan Fitzpatrick looked confused more often than not even though the Jets didnt register a sack. With the Patriots second loss, the Jets have risen again to possible AFC East prominence and their matchup with New England this weekend couldnt' be bigger.  The Bills once potent offense has suddenly struggled with Steve Johnson barely managing to be a factor.  After scoring each of the first three weeks of the season Johnson has found the end zone just once since.  He's still the top receiver in terms of targets and averaged 28 yards per catch on Sunday, so keep the faith he'll return to make a difference soon enough.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for the Cowboys is the precipitous fall their rushing defense is having the last two weeks.  After being rated first in rushing defense for multiple weeks, the Cowboys have yielded 185 yards to LeSean McCoy and now 135 yards to Marshawn Lynch.  Whereas the Cowboys appeared to simply be missing the right chemistry on offense, now the defense is faltering in the trenches.  Perhaps the biggest loss of the season for them is ILB Sean Lee, their leading tackler, interception leader and stalwart inside run defender.  Lee was lost in the first quarter of the Philadelphia game, and since then the results have been hard to ignore.  There's hope in Dallas that he won't need season-ending surgery on his dislocated wrist, and he's going to try to practice this week with a cast.  With Miles Austin once again hitting the sidelines, and this time likely until December, Laurent Robinson will continue to have great upside for those who picked him up.  If he's available, go get him.  Yes, right now.  Unfortunately for Seahawks fans, Tarvaris Jackson had one of those games that affirms why Minnesota was willing to take their chances with Donovan McNabb.  Three interceptions on a 17-for-30 day soured the ground game the Seahawks had going.