2009 NFL Season – Week 8 Preview

favre_brett

The return of former Packers legend and current Vikings QB Brett Favre to Lambeau Field is probably the most anticipated event of Week 8 of the 2009 NFL Season

I am dubbing Week 8 of the 2009 NFL Season, “Homecoming Week”.  Every fall at high schools and colleges around the country, homecoming is a special time in autumn for old friends/family to bond while sharing good memories, enjoying some great football action and of course eating.  Make no bones about it… people love gathering around to watch the NFL.  In fact, according to the latest Nielsen ratings, last week’s FOX doubleheader game (mostly Falcons-Cowboys) was the most-watched sporting event since Super Bowl XLIII with 28.4 million viewers –- beat the Angels-Yankees series-clinching ALCS Game 6) by 12.9 million viewers.

Halloween this weekend will bring its usual bags of candy, ghosts and goblins.  But everyone around the NFL is talking about some “Back to the Future” games where old stars are returning to places of past glories, past playoff match-ups will be replayed and rivalries will be renewed around the league.  If you can believe it, Green Bay, Wisconsin will be the epicenter of the NFL universe this week.  Without a need to say, the league’s biggest homecoming will occur Sunday at Lambeau Field as former Packers great QB Brett Favre will return for the first time ever in another team’s uniform.  This is Brett’s homecoming, let’s be real about it,” says Green Bay safety Atari Bigby.  “It’s going to be special.  Everybody wants to see this.  Everybody’s going to tune in to this game.”  How big is Favre’s return??  Both Fox Sports and the NFL Network have been promoting one-on-one sit-downs with No. 4 on Sunday morning.  Plus Fox, who is broadcasting the game, will have a camera dedicated to shooting every move Favre makes during his return to Lambeau Field on Sunday.  The camera will be set up at the 50-yard line and its video will stream live on NFL.com and FoxSports.com    

Amidst a nasty battle between Favre and Packers GM Ted Thompson, the 19-year veteran quarterback left Green Bay in a huff after 16 magical years to play for the NY Jets and the starting job was handed to Aaron Rodgers (currently ranks second in the NFL with a 110.8 passer rating), right before the start of the 2008 season.  As everyone probably knows – most likely from ESPN’s Monday Night Football Favre-fest – back in Week 4, Favre already re-acquainted himself and his new team to his old team as the Vikings defeated the Packers 30-23 in Minnesota -– No. 4 had 271 yards and three touchdown passes in the win. However this Sunday will be something real special as Favre – holder of numerous Packers records including most games (255), wins (160), attempts (8,754), completions (5,377), yards (61,655), touchdowns (442) and passer rating (85.8) – will return to the frozen tundra as the starting quarterback of the hated Vikings.  Favre fans loyalties will be stretched farther than Vikings and Packers No. 4 jerseys on some plus sized cheesehead’s back.  It will be real interesting to see if cheeseheads will cheer, boo, hold-up signs of encouragement or discouragement for their departed folk hero, who put Green Bay back on the football map in the 1990’s then broke their hearts in the summer of 2009 by signing  with the Vikings. 

Earlier this season, Favre said this of the 2009 Minnesota Vikings, “Physically, and from a talent level, this is the best team I’ve ever been on.” Well…Brett a few members of your Super Bowl winning Packers squad from 1996 have begged to differ.  Former Packers TE Mark Chmura, a member of the ’96 team, said “It all starts with Brett — Brett’s not as good as he was”.  Chmura added, “I mean, you’re talking about the No. 1 defense in the league at that time, maybe one of the best defenses ever to play the game.  Don’t get me wrong. Favre is still a good quarterback, but he was unbelievable in the day. When we played back then, teams feared us. I don’t know if teams fear the Minnesota Vikings today. We knew no one could beat us at home, absolutely nobody.”  In planning for Favre’s return several restaurants are only serving “Waffle” fries in honor of the NFL’s biggest waffler and Green Bay’s mayor decreed that Friday in the town would be called “Flip-Flop Friday” (year after year the legend said that he was going to retire then inexplicably came back near training camp).

Favre said of his return to Wisconsin, “My career with Green Bay speaks for itself, that won’t change.  For three hours, I’ll be on the other side.  Do I know what that feels like? I have no idea”.  It will be interesting to see if the man that was one of the originators of the Lambeau Leap will venture into the stands after being part of a Vikings’ touchdown…probably not.  But most Packers fans I have talked to will always remember Favre winning games for their team in the snow of Lambeau Field. One puzzled fan recently told Yahoo Sports, “I have a real problem with that. It was hard enough to see him with the Jets. But to see him in purple! I still believe he belongs to us.” With a win, Favre (89 wins at Lambeau) can become the second quarterback to win 90 games at a stadium since 1970 – Broncos QB John Elway won 95 games at Mile High Stadium.

The great thing as we move closer to the midpoint of the 2009 season is that self separation has begun and teams in the next couple of weeks will either legitimize their “Contender” or “Pretender” status.  The NFL has turned into the land of the Have’s (15 teams over .500 including 3 undefeated teams) and the Have Not’s (12 teams under. 500 including 3 winless teams) with only five teams  stuck at .500 in the league’s ever shrinking middle.   There are currently three undefeated teams through the first seven weeks –– Denver Broncos (6-0), Indianapolis Colts (6-0) and New Orleans Saints (6-0) –- which is the first time since the 1970 merger.  You have to wonder how much longer each of these squads can keep chasing the ghosts of the perfect 1972 Miami Dolphins, but each team is showing weekly that they are special. 

The Saints last week overcame a 24-3 deficit to defeat the Miami Dolphins 46-34 in one of the league’s best games so far this season. The Colts led by rookie head coach Jim Caldwell and 3-time MVP QB Peyton Manning have won 15th straight games.  With a win against San Francisco in Week 8, the Colts can tie four other teams with the fourth-longest regular season winning streak in NFL history (Patriots hold the record at 21 games from 2006-08). Plus Colts QB Peyton Manning with five completions against the 49ers can become the fourth player in NFL history with 4,000 career completions.  And the Denver Broncos led by energetic rookie head coach Josh McDaniels have turned the NFL on its ear with a defense that leads the AFC in yards allowed (262.5 yards per game).  All three unbeatens will be tested this week as none of them face a team under .500 and know you teams always get up to face the “bully”. 

The Broncos will travel east to visit the Baltimore Ravens (3-3), who are fighting mad over some bad officiating – so their defense says – and three consecutive losses.  The Colts will probably get their toughest test of this season as the upstart San Francisco 49ers (3-3) come to town.  The Niners have also hit a little skid after being one of the hottest teams in the NFL during the first few weeks of the season, but tough head coach Mike Singletary and returning former starter QB Alex Smith will try to fire up their team to face the NFL’s closest thing to cyborg-winning robots.  Caldwell recently said of his winning team, “This team is going to get better as time goes on.  The effort and execution are both improving every single week.  The thing I’m really pleased about, overall, is that we just keep getting better every week.  Any time you get a win in this league, it’s big.”  The undefeated Saints probably have the toughest assignment of three unblemished teams as the Atlanta Falcons (4-2) will travel to the Louisiana Superdome for an NFC South Monday Football showdown. 

Favre-a-palooza is not the only interesting storyline going into Week 8, so here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for this week.

Former high draft picks returning to starting quarterback roles – Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (playing against Jaguars) and San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith (playing against Colts) will look to not only reinvigorate their teams, but also their own once-promising careers in their first starts in a while.  Young (18-11 as a starter) got his job back this week as Titans owner Bud Adams lobbied with hesitant head coach Jeff Fisher for him to start after the Titans remained winless under veteran Kerry Collins (5 TDs and 8 INTs  in ’09).  Smith, formerly the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, has been re-inserted back in the starting lineup by Iron Mike II after he threw 3 TDs in relieving former starter Shaun Hill in the second half of a close 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans last week.  The former Utah star will have his work cut-out for him as the Colts boast one of the NFL’s best pass defenses.

Rematches from last year’s NFC Divisional Playoffs – I wonder if the Carolina Panthers remember the way the upstart Arizona Cardinals rolled into Bank America Stadium and easily disposed of their hosts by a score of 33-13.  You know Panthers QB Jake Delhomme — probably on the NFL’s shortest leash right now due to throwing an NFL-high 13 INTs — will be trying to erase his 6 turnover performance in the playoffs that many are calling a career-ender.  The Cardinals (4-2) fueled by a 3-game winning and a surprisingly strong defense — seven interceptions, have forced eight fumbles and have 16 sacks already this year — will look to push the Panthers (2-4) almost out the door of the playoff picture. Also looking to exact revenge  are  the New York Giants (5-2), who  will visit the Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) in a key NFC East divisional matchup.  The big game on Philly Sports Sunday (World Series at 8 PM) will also be a  return battle of two teams from last year’s playoffs (Eagles 23, Giants 11).

Don’t forget about the Toilet Bowl – Every week we talk about the NFL’s best match-up.  But this week I wanted to give some “love” to possibly the NFL’s worst pairing since the Cleveland Browns’ 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 5. The St. Louis Rams (0-7) will travel to Motown to face the Detroit Lions (1-5) in a match-up of two teams that have 1 game between them this season.  The game will be a battle pitting the only team to ever go 0-16 in NFL history (Lions in ’08) against a team that is threatening to equal that mark.  Collectively these two lower level teams have won just five wins in their past 39 games. The poor Rams have lost 17 straight games going back to 2007 and each week not even Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson (635 rushing yards – 2nd in NFC) can save them from defeat.  The Rams hold a lead in the all-time series record (41-37-1), but the Lions have won 4 of their last 6 meetings. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your outlook, the ‘Toilet Bowl’ did not sell out by Thursday’s deadline and will be blacked-out on local TV.  At least fans can bring signs to the game unlike at FedEx Field where the dysfunctional Washington Redskins play.

NFL is a Passing League First – Whatever to the power running game throughout the NFL?? Hard to believe that in 1967, New York Jets QB Joe Namath (4,007 yards) became the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.  Well Namath’s feat did not go in vain as seven passers reached the 4,000-yard mark in 2007, which is the most in any NFL season.  However the record for most 4,000-yard passers in a season has a good chance of being broken as through seven weeks, 10 quarterbacks led by yardage leader Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub (2,074 yards) are on pace to throw for 4,000 yards. 

Six Divisional Games – Even though there are six teams on a bye this week including quality teams the Bengals (5-2), Patriots (5-2), and Steelers (5-2), don’t fret as there are still some good divisional rivalry games to sink your teeth into.  Nothing means more to teams and fans than beating familiar foes that they will face twice a year.  Division games usually are the most compelling and heated.  This week’s games include the following division rivalry match-ups:  Dolphins (2-4) at Jets (4-3); Giants (5-2) at Eagles (4-2) ; Jaguars (3-3) at Titans (0-6); Raiders (2-5) at Chargers (3-3); Vikings (6-1) at Packers (4-2) and Falcons (4-2) at Saints (6-0) on MNF.

McNabb reaching some serious milestones – With almost every Philadelphia Eagles passing record already on his mantle, we already knew that current Eagles starting quarterback Donovan McNabb was the greatest quarterback to ever play for the Birds – Sorry Jaws.  But now McNabb after achieving some major milestones in the Eagles’ 27-17 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, some are debating over whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his career is completed.  McNabb became one of just four players in NFL history to have at least 30,000 passing yards (30,088), 200 touchdowns passes, 3,000 rushing yards (3,169) and 20 rushing touchdowns (27).  With those stats, McNabb joined an exclusive club of quarterbacks with those milestones including NFL legends and Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway, Fran Tarkenton, and Steve Young.

Ochocinco’s Top 10 – One of the funnier moments of this week was the appearance of Bengals talkative receiver on the “David Letterman Show”.  No. 85 used his bye week to promote his new book including reading his “Top Ten Revelations in Chad Ochocinco’s Autobiography” on the popular late night show.  It was hilarious to watch live, but it is almost as good in print.  So without further adieu here is the list

Number 10: This book is all about my life as a hockey mom from Alaska.

Number 9: I was once put on the disabled list when they found an ocho in my cinco.

Number 8: During the season my QB Carson Palmer and I sleep in bunk beds.

Number 7: I’m going to ask Tom Hanks to play me in the movie.

Number 6: There’s nothing like winding down after a big game with a Red Bull and a DVR of “Tyra.”

Number 5: I like tacos.

Number 4: Brett Favre is so old, his Social Security Number is 1.

Number 3: Terrell Owens doesn’t like it when you criticize his teammate.

Number 2: I’m planning a special touchdown celebration that involves pulling a dancing raccoon out of my pants.

Number 1: I thank the Lord every day that I don’t play for the Lions.

Remember there is no Sunday Night Football game on NBC this week as everyone will have their eyes on my Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series against the New York Yankees. 

Also make sure that you cast your Pro Bowl ballot for your favorite players.

Featured Game

NEW YORK GIANTS (5-2) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-2), 1PM EST on FOX

Broadcast Team: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa (Field reporter)

Though some national media outlets will tell you that Green Bay, Wisconsin will be the place to be on Sunday, November 1st  for Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau.  Most sports fans will agree with legendary actor W.C Fields who used to always say, “I’d rather be in Philadelphia”.  The reason for sports fans flocking to South Philadelphia will be for a sports extravaganza featuring the Philadelphia vs. New York City.  With pleasant expected conditions of only a 30% chance of precipitation and temperatures in the 60s, Philadelphia fans maybe looking at one of the best sports days in the city’s history.  The Philadelphia Eagles will take on the New York Giants in an NFC East grudge match at 1:00 PM EST at Lincoln Financial Field then sports fans can return to their tailgates to recharge for World Series Game 4 featuring the New York Yankees vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. 

Eagles-Giants games are almost always close physical games and I don’t expect Sunday to be any different.  This week’s meeting will be the first time these two teams have played each other since the Eagles surprised the home team Giants in the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs by a score of 23-11.  The game also will take on significance as the Eagles are only one-half a game behind the Giants in the current standings and a win will vault them back to the top of the NFC East.  In recent weeks both teams have had to fight through some hard times, but you know Sunday that they will be bringing their “A” effort.  The G-Men have lost two straight games (Saints and Cardinal) after fattening up on a string of early season cupcakes.  And the Eagles also are looking for consistency as they have looked like a potential playoff team in wins over the Panthers, Chiefs, and Buccaneers.  But in a win over the Washington Redskins last week and a horrific loss to the putrid Oakland Raiders in Week 6, the Birds’ lackluster play made everyone watch even more Phillies baseball. 

In breaking down the game, the Philadelphia Eagles offensively will follow the lead of their head coach Andy Reid (over 100 career regular season wins).  The Giants are known to play the run well (Top 5 in the NFL), so to the surprise of no one expect the Eagles’ pass-first offense (rank 7th in the NFL in throws per game) to continue.  The Birds probably will be without RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), so look for rookie RB LeSean McCoy to get several touches on screens and for them to go after a Giants defense that has struggled in pass coverage.  Especially safety C.C Brown, who has had difficulty in coverage since safety Kenny Phillips went on injured reserve (knee) and cornerback Aaron Ross has been missing with a lingering hamstring injury.  It will be very important that Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (63-110, 768 yards, 6 TDs, and 1 INT) starts faster than he did in recent erratic performances against the Raiders and Redskins. 

The Giants are susceptible to three and four-receiver formations as they are known to sit back in coverage, so expect to see a lot of receivers DeSean Jackson, rookie Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant.  Without Westbrook, the Eagles surely will look to get the ball in the hands of their main playmaker Jackson, who has 5 touchdowns this season (3 receiving, 1 punt return, and 1 rushing) all 50+ yards.  Plus tight end Brent Celek, who leads NFC TEs with 386 receiving yards.  Of course any big plays from McNabb, Celek, Jackson and the rest of the Birds’ offense will start with solid offensive line play.  I believe the O-line is one of the biggest keys of this game as the Giants defensive line is fast and relentless and loves getting after the passer.  With a rotation that features Pro Bowl players Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck (3.5 sacks in ’09) along with many other fresh players including DE Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants thrive on pressuring the quarterback.  However even though new Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan’s unit is ranked #1 in the NFL in terms of yardage (262.0), in recent weeks when his D-line has not gotten pressure, opposing quarterbacks had big games.  Saints QB Drew Brees threw for 369 yards and 4 TDs in a dominating 48-27 win and he was not sacked once in that game.

On defense, Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be concentrating on getting pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning (120-203, 1633 yards, 12 TDs, and 6 INTs), because as Eli goes so go the Giants.  The last time these two teams met in the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs, Manning was inconsistent, completing 15 of 29 passes — and only six to the outside receivers –- while the Giants had the ball five times inside the Eagles’ 20, and came away with just three field goals to show for it. Manning is getting a very good relationship with Plaxico Burress replacement receivers Steve Smith (NFC leading 45 receptions for 594 yards and 4 TDs), Mario Manningham (watch for drops), and rookie Hakeem Nicks (1st Giants receiver with a touchdown reception in four consecutive games since 1948).  Even though the Eagles’ top-ten pass defense rarely gives up big plays – 4th in the NFL in allowing gains of 20+ yards through the air -– it will be imperative that the Eagles pressure Manning. So the Eagles will look to DE Trent “The Hunter” Cole (6.5 sacks, 2nd in the NFC) and newcomer MLB Will Witherspoon (8 TKLs, 1 INT for a TD, 1 sack and 1 FF in win over Redskins) to supply most of the heat on Peyton’s little brother.  The Eagles are currently ranked first in the NFL in turnover ratio (+11) so any pressure usually leads to big defensive plays especially in the secondary led by Pro Bowl cover corner Asante Samuel (4 INTs, tied for 3rd in NFL).

To take that pressure off Eli, who surprisingly has had success against the Eagles in Philly (has won 4 starts in row), the Giants will look to re-establish a dominating run game that has recently taken a couple of weeks off.  The Giants have a new Thunder-n-Lighting combination their backfield with workhorse Brandon Jacobs (120 rushes for 464 yards, and 3.9-2 ypr plus has an average of 5.45 ypr since Week 5) and Ahmad Bradshaw.  It will be interesting to see if Bradshaw is even close to 100% after a cracked metatarsal in his foot was found this week.  Despite the injury, Bradshaw says he will play against the Birds so you know all eyes will be on him and the Giants veteran O-line.  Speaking of the Giants offensive line, against the Cardinals this group’s 38-game consecutive start streak was ended as OT Kareem McKenzie (groin) had to be replaced by rookie William Beatty who struggled at times blocking one-on-one and penalties. 

LV’s Pick: Though the Giants lead the all-time series against the Eagles by a count of 79-67-2 and the G-Men have won three of the four last regular season meetings, there is something special in the air around Philadelphia this week.  There is nothing better to a Philadelphia Sports fan than “sticking it” to an NYC team, whether it is the Mets, Knicks, or Rangers.  I expect the home crowd to be amp’d from pre-game introductions on and McNabb (won 9 of past 13 starts vs. NYG (incl. playoffs) is going to rise to the occasion of playing in the national spotlight for the second week in a row.  It will be a typically close NFC East slugfest, but the Birds win – Eagles 20, Giants 17.

2009 NFL Week 8 Games

Sunday, November 1

49ers (3-3) at Colts (6-0)

Broncos (6-0) at Ravens (3-3)

Browns (1-6) at Bears (3-3)

Dolphins (2-4) at Jets (4-3)

Giants (5-2) at Eagles (4-2)

Jaguars (3-3) at Titans (0-6)

Panthers (2-4) at Cardinals (4-2)

Raiders (2-5) at Chargers (3-3)

Rams (0-7) at Lions (1-5)

Seahawks (2-4) at Cowboys (4-2)

Texans (4-3) at Bills (3-4)

Vikings (6-1) at Packers (4-2)

 

Monday, November 2

Falcons (4-2) at Saints (6-0)

 

Byes: Bengals (5-2), Buccaneers (0-7), Chiefs (1-6), Patriots (5-2), Redskins (2-5), Steelers (5-2)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Trade for Roy Williams looking like a colossal mistake for Cowboys

In baseball everyone remembers bad trades like the 1990 deal where the Boston Red Sox traded future star Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for aging setup man Larry Anderson.  But the NFL has also seen its fair share of one sided trades throughout the league’s 90-year existence.  To name a few doozy’s that some fans will want to remember and some forget:  Cowboys trading RB Herschel Walker (along with 1 other player and picks) to the Vikings for 4 players and 8 picks including 3 first-rounders that led directly to Dallas winning 3 Super Bowls, Colts trading future Hall of Fame RB Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams for 2nd and 5th round picks in the 1999 draft and the Redskins trading underachieving DT Sean Gilbert to the Carolina Panthers for first round picks in 1999 and 2000.

But after the 1-year anniversary and almost half of the 2009 season being completed, I am ready to add the infamous 2008 trade deadline deal that sent receiver Roy E.  Williams from Detroit to Dallas to the “One-sided NFL Trades” list. The trade’s details were  Williams (along with a 7rd pick) to the Dallas Cowboys and 1st Rd, 3rd Rd, and 6th Rd picks in the 2009 NFL Draft going to the Lions.   At the time of the trade in October of 2008, a lot of fans and media thought that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had swung a great deal for a possible No. 1 receiver and purchased some “T.O Insurance”.  But as the weeks on the NFL calendar pass, this trade is looking more like a colossal mistake by Dallas. 

Throughout the 2008 season, the Cowboys were growing tired of inconsistent aging receiver and lockerroom pariah Terrell Owens so Williams looked like the perfect motivational tool and possible replacement wrapped up in a 6’3, 215 package.   The Cowboys beat-out NFC East division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, in the race to grab Williams and Jones even handed the “perceived” superstar a brand new five-year contract extension worth $45 million, including more than $20 million guaranteed.  On his trade to Dallas Williams, who was a high school and college star in the state of Texas, said “I’m more happy to be a Dallas Cowboy than when I got my first bike”.  He added with a huge smile, “Going from 0-5 to 4-2, you can’t ask for anything better than that”.

It seemed like a great plan by the Cowboys to slowly acclimate Williams to their playbook and quarterback Tony Romo for the remainder of the 2008 season, then unleash him as their featured receiver in 2009, once Owens was jettisoned.  But the 27-year old former Texas Longhorn has proven to be an even bigger pain in the rear than Owens (averaged  78 catches, 1196 yards, and 13 TDs in 3 years with Dallas), because he has not produced on the field.  Of course everyone tacked Williams’ pedestrian 2008 numbers (19 catches for 198 yards, and 1 TD in 10 games and 7 starts) and being a non-factor as the Cowboys narrowly missed the playoff to a steep learning curve. 

But after spending over a year with the Cowboys including mini-camps, OTAs, training camp, and practices, Williams looks worse than ever.  He looks tentative in traffic, has dropped too many passes (just 12 catches on 30 targets — 40% catch rate), looks uninterested at times, and clearly has lost the confidence of a few of his teammates, namely Romo.  Through 6 games, Williams has 12 catches for 230 yards and 1 TD, which is nowhere near a featured receiver’s production.  In his defense, Williams has not been the same since being “blasted” over the middle (ribs) in the Cowboys 17-10 loss to Denver in Week 4.  But the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league and surprisingly for the Cowboys it has been formerly little known small-school receiver Miles Austin that has risen to the occasion of replacing T.O than big-ticket receiver Williams (career numbers: 262 catches for 3,884 yards and 29 TDs over a 6 years).

Austin has been one of the 2009 NFL season’s best stories rising from tiny Monmouth (NJ) College to making the NFL as a special teamer then finally getting his shot this season.  The tall (6’3) and fast (4.4) receiver burst on the scene in a Week 6 win over the Chiefs producing 10 catches for a franchise record 250 yards and 2 TDs (both 50-yard plus bombs).  Austin saved the Cowboys’ hides with a 60-yard tackle-breaking game-winning TD reception in overtime and became the 10th player in NFL history to record at least 10 catches, 250 yards and two touchdowns in a game.  Austin then proved the Chiefs’ game was no fluke as he looked like the second coming of Cowboys hall of famer Michael Irvin in a Week 7 win over the Atlanta Falcons (best six catches for 171 yards and 2 TDs).  Out of nowhere Austin and his eye-popping numbers (21 catches for 502 yards, 23.9 ypr average and 5 TDs) have moved former starter Patrick Crayton to the bench.  And almost everyone watching the Cowboys would agree that Austin and not Williams is Romo’s number #1 passing option.  Heck…many would argue that Williams is behind tight ends Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett too at this point.

For the Cowboys’ sake, hopefully Williams is just having a tough time learning to be the go-to-guy on a team that expects to win.  But for now his 1-time Pro Bowl player — 82 catches for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006 for Detroit — is looking like he will never achieve that status again or be an impact player.  This season Williams’ production has slipped to averaging 2.4 receptions and 46 yards per game, which is astronomically down from his career highs of 5.6 and 81.9 in 2006.  If Williams doesn’t turn it around soon, he will join former Cowboys trade flameout WR Joey Galloway in the Cowboys annals as another receiver that Jerry Jones traded for with high expectations, but got little in return.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Power Rankings – Week 7

breaston

Fueled by a 3-game winning streak, WR Steve Breaston and the Arizona Cardinals are moving up our NFL Power Rankings

This is one of my favorite times on the NFL calendar right before the midway part of the season.  Teams are starting to separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” and each week certain teams are getting closer to the playoffs while others get closer to preparing for the 2010 NFL Draft. 

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Broncos (6-0), Saints (6-0), Colts (6-0), Vikings (6-1), Steelers (5-2), Bengals (5-2),  and Patriots (5-2); “Teams on the Cusp” — Giants (5-2), Falcons (4-2), Cowboys (4-2), Cardinals (4-2) and Eagles (4-2);  “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Jets (4-3),  Texans (4-3), Jaguars (3-3), Bears (3-3),  Niners (3-3), Ravens (3-3), and Chargers (3-3);  The “Pretenders”, who are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Bills (3-4), Dolphins (2-4), Seahawks (2-4), and Panthers (2-4); and lastly  the “Putrid” (i.e. These teams  should just skip to the 2010 NFL Draft) – Redskins (2-5), Raiders (2-5), Chiefs (1-6), Browns (1-6), Lions (1-5), Rams (0-7), Buccaneers (0-7), and Titans (0-6)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (6-0) – In the return of Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, head coach Jim Caldwell’s team thumped the winless Rams for their 15th straight regular season win.  At least the poor Rams were able to end Peyton Manning’s 300-yard passing game streak at six games.  Next up for the NFL’s most efficient team is hosting the inconsistent Niners and their new quarterback Alex Smith.

2.  Saints (6-0) – “Who Dat, Who Dat is gonna beat them Saints”… it appears no one right now.  The Saints further legitimized themselves by coming back from 21 points down to beat the physical hard-running Dolphins.  The Superdome will be rocking as NFC South rival, the Atlanta Falcons, come to town for a huge Monday Night Football extravaganza.

3.  Broncos (6-0) – Head Coach Josh McDaniels’ ascending squad continued their unbeaten ways as they rested-up during a much-needed bye week.  In a highly anticipated physical football game, the Broncos will travel east to face an angry and rested Ravens team.

4. Steelers (5-2) – The Men of Steel made it four wins in a row as their defense rose to the occasion and helped give the Vikings and venerable quarterback Brett Favre their first “L” of the season.  Mike Tomlin’s team gets a timely bye week to heal-up for the second half of their Super Bowl Champion defense season. 

5.  Vikings (6-1) –Driven by All-World running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikes were on the verge of producing their 7th straight win.  However they got too bogged down in the redzone and the Steelers won fueled by their defense.  In probably the most hyped NFL reunion game ever – Thanks ESPN – No. 4 will return to Lambeau to face a Packers squad looking to avenge a loss to the Vikes earlier this season.

6.  Patriots (5-2) – The Patriots returned to Merry Ole England to give English NFL fans a glimpse of their version of the “Boston Massacre” as the winless Tampa Bay Bucs didn’t have a chance.  After a long flight back across the Atlantic, the Patriots can give their many veterans over 30 a much-needed rest during the bye.

7.  Bengals (5-2) — Revenge-minded RB Cedric Benson showed the Chicago Bears that they made a big mistake as the Bengals had a surprisingly easy victory over the Bears.   The bye week should give loquacious WR Chad Ochocinco the opportunity to Tweet away to his many followers.

8.  Cardinals (4-2) – The Cards proved that there is no kryptonite on the Eastern Coast as QB Kurt Warner led them over the Giants in a physical game.  The Cardinals will host the reeling Carolina Panthers in a rematch of last year’s divisional round playoffs when Arizona embarrassed Carolina 33-13.

9. Giants (5-2) –  After their second straight loss to another contending NFC team, this time the Cardinals, everyone is wondering if the G-Men fattened up on too many early season cupcakes.  The classic NYC-Philadelphia rivalry will be on full display in the “City of Brotherly Love” as the Phils meet the Yanks in the World Series and Big Blue will battle the Birds at the Linc.

10. Packers (4-2) – Quietly the Packers are showing that they are a dangerous team and this week they took care of business against the horrible Cleveland Browns.  QB Aaron Rodger and the Packers’ faithful will need to keep a lid their emotions as former Packers legend Brett Favre returns to Lambeau for an ultimate NFL grudge match.

11.  Eagles (4-2) – It was by no means a pretty sight, but the Eagles fueled by some big plays from WR DeSean Jackson and newcomer LB Will Witherspoon put away the descending Redskins  and their beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn on Monday Night football.  In a statement game, the Birds and QB Donovan McNabb will battle hated NFC East rival the NY Giants.

12. Cowboys (4-2) –In a statement game, the Cowboys stepped back into the NFC East hunt as they got offensive with the Atlanta Falcons in their 2nd straight win.  If the Cowboys want to prove their consistency and avoid a letdown, WR Miles Austin and the ‘Boys will need to take care of business at home against the reeling Seahawks.

13.  Falcons (4-2) – The Cowboys used their bye week to get ready for Matty Ice and the Falcons as they thumped them in Big D.  Mike Smith’s Dirty Birds will need to put last week behind them as they travel to Bourbon Street to face hate NFC South rival, the New Orleans Saints, on Monday Night Football.

14.  Jets (4-3) – It was so easy in a win at Oakland for rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the J-E-T-S that the young signalcaller had time to chow-down on a hot dog on the sidelines.  Next up is an AFC East grudge match as the Jets host the run-happy Miami Dolphins.

15.  Texans (4-3) – You never know which Texans team is going to show, but this week RB Steve Slaton and the rest of the gang came to play in an entertaining win over the Niners.  In a game to see who can jump from the NFL’s parity filled middle, the Texans travel to Western New York to face an equally confounding Bills squad.

16.  Bears (3-3) – It wasn’t even close as the Bengals, led by motivated RB Cedric Benson, feasted on the Bears in Cincy.  In a classic Midwest Battle that the Bears better not lose, the lowly Cleveland Browns will come to Soldier Field looking for their latest loss.

17.  Ravens (3-3) – John Harbaugh’s team probably used their bye week to lick their wounds from 3 straight losses.  Look for a motivated Ravens squad to return from their bye as they host the undefeated Denver Broncos in a match-up of two young energetic coaches.

18.  49ers (3-3) – The Niners waited too late to go with former first-rounder QB Alex Smith in a loss to the Texans that probably burned Niners head coach Mike Singletary’s britches.  The Niners will look for first rounder Michael Crabtree, emerging TE Vernon Davis, and new starter Smith to breakout as the Niners travel to Indy to face the dominant Colts.

19.  Jaguars (3-3) – Hopefully during their bye week the Jags found some consistency as they have been too up and down this season.  In a must-win game, the Jags will try to avoid a letdown against the struggling host Tennessee Titans.

20.  Chargers (3-3) –In a game where only a win was acceptable, the Chargers thumped the Chiefs leading RB Larry Johnson to lose his mind.  In an AFL old-time grudge match special, the Oakland Raiders will surely be an inhospitable host to the Chargers.

21.  Bills (3-4) – Just when you thought the Bills and their head coach Dick Jauron were gonna be cooked like some hot wings, they pulled a surprise with a convincing road win over the Carolina Panthers.  In a game pitting the NFL’s current superstar receiver (Texans Andre Johnson) versus the fantasy football former best receiver (Bills Terrell Owens), the Buffalo will host Houston in a “Loser Leaves Town” match.

22.  Seahawks (2-4) –The Hawks dearly needed a bye week as their roster was starting to look like a MASH unit.  The rested Seahawks will look to spoil the Cowboys current win streak (2) when they travel to Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar playpen.

23.  Panthers (2-4) – After a bad home loss to the Bills, it may finally be time for the Panthers to pull the plug on NFL interceptions leader, Jake Delhomme (13 iNTs).  The Panthers will look for revenge for last season’s playoff debacle as they travel west to face the ascending Arizona Cardinals.

24.  Dolphins (2-4) – After jumping out to an early 21-point lead, fueled by rejuvenated RB Ricky Williams, the Dolphins let the Saints fight back for a hard earned victory.   Next up is a trip to the Meadowlands to face AFC East rival, the New York Jets.

25.  Redskins (2-4) – The Philadelphia Eagles played ugly, but the Redskins were even worse in another bad loss that surely is another nail in the coffin of melancholy head coach Jim Zorn.  If Zorn and the rest of the Redskins are smart, they will leave town during their bye week as their fans are seeing red over one of the NFL’s ugliest situations.

26.  Raiders (2-5) – One week after shocking the Philadelphia Eagles, it was the same old Raiders as the Jets came to town and gave Al Davis’ team a 35-0 shutout thumping.  We will have to see if formerly benched quarterback JaMarcus Russell and the Raiders can rebound as they travel face-off against AFC West rival, the San Diego Chargers.

27.  Chiefs (1-6) – The Chargers were not having any upset talk as they quickly disposed of the reeling Chiefs.  During their bye week, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley will need to figure out how to keep a lid on unproductive nasty Tweeting RB Larry Johnson.

28.  Lions (1-5) – The Lions and aching stars QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson probably got some rest during their bye week.  In truly the NFL’s “Toilet Bowl”, the Lions will host the winless St. Louis Rams in a game that will have implications at the 2010 NFL Draft.

29.  Browns (1-6) – The Packers put a beat down on the host Dawgs as each week we find out just how “bad” the Browns really are.  In a game that only NFL legends George “Papa Bear” Halas and Paul Brown could love, the Bears will host the Browns.

30. Titans (0-6) – During the bye week, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher tried valiantly to stand by QB Kerry Collins  but it is only a matter of time before owner Bud Adams gets his wish and V.Y is back in the starting lineup.  This week is as good as any for the Titans to finally get a “W” as the inconsistent Jacksonville Jaguars come to town.

31.  Rams (0-7) – Let’s face it …Steve Spanuolo’s squad shouldn’t even be allowed to stay in the same hotel as the Indianapolis Colts – lost their 17th straight game.  In another ho-hum win, the Colts and Robo-Quarterback Peyton Manning thumped the Lambs.  Next up is the “Toilet Bowl” as the Rams look to get off the schnide as they travel to Motown in search of a win over the Lions.

32.  Buccaneers (0-7) –The poor Bucs must have made fans in London, England throw-up their Fish and Chips as they were destroyed by the New England Patriots in the NFL’s 3rd regular season trip overseas.  During the bye week, the Bucs better get youngster quarterback Josh Freeman ready, because there is nothing else to play for at this point in the season.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Season – Week 7 Review

benson

After a fantastic 189-yard”revengeful” performance against the Chicago Bears, Cincy RB Cedric Benson is Week 7’s  Game Ball winner

I will start with a “Cheerio” this week as the NFL returned to London, England for the third year in a row.  Unfortunately for the NFL’s English fans viewing our version of football, they were not treated to an entertaining game.  The New England Patriots (5-2), led by QB Tom Brady and WR Wes Welker, continued their dominating ways by disposing of the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 at sold-out Wembley Stadium — 17 consecutive games against NFC opponents, the longest streak of any team against the other conference since the 1970 merger.  With the 2009 “Own the Moment” season quickly nearing its halfway point, weekly fans are getting more clarity about who are the true “Contenders” and who are the “Pretenders”.  But Week 7 should have been called “Blowout Week” around the NFL as 6 teams lost by 20 points or more and 11 teams won by 10 points or more. 

However despite the ever-increasing number of blowouts in an NFL world where anyone can see the Grand Canyon sized divide between the  “Have’s” and “Have Nots” (after 7 weeks of play there  are three undefeated teams – Colts, Broncos, and Saints and  three winless teams – Rams, Titans, and Bucs) there were a few match-ups that lived up to their hype.  With only two divisional grudges on this week’s slate, the highlight of Week 7 had to be the 8 inter-conference games pitting the AFC and NFC, where conference bragging rights were at stake. After the dust settled it was the AFC, once again, that dominated the NFC with 6 wins and 2 losses.  The AFC’s dominance this week, held true a distinct pattern that we have seen this decade.  Despite the New York Giants winning in 2007, clearly the AFC has picked up their collective games as they have won all but two Super Bowl titles (other NFC title was the Buccaneers in 2002).  The AFC has the Indianapolis Colts led by Robo-Quarterback Peyton Manning seem to win 12 games every year (beat-up on the winless Rams this week), the Patriots who have won 3 Super Bowl titles this decade (thumped the Bucs in London, England) and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (ended the Vikings winning streak this week).

Even though two of the three big AFC franchises stumbled early (Steelers and Patriots), you knew they would get back in the race at the top of the NFL and they have so far.  The AFC’s Big 3 is almost always in the mix come playoff time and do not expect anything different this season.  Each team has a quality quarterbacks making timely throws, solid running games providing balance, and attacking defenses who turn turnovers into points.  The Steelers won their 4th straight game, this time disposing of one of the NFC’s two unbeatens (Steelers 27, Vikings 17). The Steelers fueled by their resurging defense – wonder if the return of Troy “The Hair” Polamalu has anything to do with it – bent but didn’t break in their victory that put the first “L” on the Vikings (outgained Pittsburgh 386-259, but only scored 10 Points offensively).  Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defenders were able to stop Vikings QB Brett Favre (34 of 51, 334 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT), All-World RB Adrian Peterson, emerging receiver Sidney Rice, and the rest Vikes offense deep in Pittsburgh territory when it mattered most – 3 big defensive stands. 

The Steelers were able to turn back Peterson 3 times (from the half-yard line) on a crucial early game goalline stand that left the score 13-10 in favor of the home team.  But the two biggest game-changing plays happened when the 2008 Super Bowl champs needed it most, especially with their offense sputtering at times.  Other a short Peterson touchdown run, there no passing touchdowns and easily the Vikings biggest play was a Percy Harvin 88-yd kickoff return.  Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley’s 77-yard fumble touchdown return after Favre was stripped in the 3rd quarter and LB Keyaron Fox’s 82-yard interception touchdown return of a Favre dump-off pass late in the 4th quarter were the keys in ending any of the venerable quarterback’s comeback magic this week. Favre said after his team’s first loss of 2009, “There were a lot of what ifs, a lot of reasons we didn’t win, the red zone was one of them. (The Steelers) are physical, and they were as good as we thought they’d be”.  The Steelers held Peterson to only 69 rushing yards – 25th straight game without allowing a 100-yard rusher – produced 3 turnovers, and kept Favre out of the endzone for the 1st time this year in the win.

Even in a weekend of AFC dominance, one NFC team continues to “March On” and that is the NFC South leading New Orleans Saints.  The Saints continued the best start in their franchise’s history by beating the Dolphins in a thrilling comeback as they increased their record to 6-0.  Brees and the unbeaten Saints fell behind for the first time all season, then overcame a 21-point deficit Sunday to beat the Dolphins 46-34 (biggest comeback in franchise history). The NFL’s highest-scoring team topped 40 points for the fourth time (most since 1950) and outscored the Dolphins 22-0 in the fourth quarter to seal a crucial road victory.  Brees, who have looked like a miniature version of Johnny Unitas at times this year, had his worst game of the season – 3 INTs, a lost fumble and five sacks — but it didn’t matter as the Saints won again.

Brees this week used his legs rushing for 2 TDs including a crucial quarterback sneak at the end of the first half that cut the score to 24-10 in favor of the Dolphins.  To their credit, the Saints’ staff made the right adjustments at halftime that eventually won them the game.  “It can be a season-defining win,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “This was a test we hadn’t faced yet, and we couldn’t be happier with the way we responded.”  Brees was not the only hero of the game as their Saints defense produced the stops that allowed their offense to comeback.  After a first half where the “Wildcat” was running wild (for the game, America’s most talked about formation netted 30 yards on 14 plays), the Saints dug in and limited the Dolphins to only 10 second-half points.  The Saints biggest play happened early in the 3rd quarter when Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper (NFL leading 6 INTs) scored on an interception return for the third time this season. The 42-yard INT to the ‘House came after Sharper took a deflected from Dolphins WR Ted Ginn Jr.

The Saints defense preserved the win for New Orleans finest too as CB Tracy Porter picked off a Chad Henne pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown with just under 2 minutes remaining.  Miami’s RB Ricky Williams, who had 3 TDs, said of the loss the NFC’s best team, “This was our game to win, we fought and we fought. They just fought harder at the end.” Everyone knows that it is too early to make season long assertions right now. But New Orleans has shown week in and week out that they are a tough team with a lot of weapons offensively and defensively.  I can tell you, they have made a believer out of this one-time naysayer.  I cannot wait for the Saints to host the Patriots in Week 12.

Here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for this week before we go to the awards.

New Colts’ head coach is the real deal — Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell has led the Colts to a 5-0 start this season.  With a Colts win on Sunday against St. Louis Rams, the Colts improved to 6-0 and Caldwell tied the mark for the best start by a rookie head coach since 1970.  Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels already tied the mark on Monday night in the Broncos’ 34-23 victory over the San Diego Chargers.  With wins in Week 8, Caldwell and McDaniels can break a tie with former head coaches Chuck Knox, Red Miller, and Mike Martz.

Titans owner wants to see Vince Young now — Though the hapless Titans were on a bye this week, their owner Bud Adams made it clear he wants Vince Young to replace Kerry Collins now.  Adams, 86, has always been in Young’s corner and may be giving head coach Jeff Fisher a mandate. Fisher would not commit to Collins (completing 54.8 % of passes with 5 TDs and 8 INTs) at his press conference Monday — the first time he’s wavered on the decision all year. Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Young, who counts $14.2M against next year’s salary cap, will get his chance against the Jaguars on Sunday. The third overall pick of the 2006 draft, Young went 18-11 in 29 starts over his first three seasons, but he’s been the backup since suffering a knee injury in the second half of the Sept. 9, 2008 game (2008 season opener) against the Jaguars. “I have been wanting (Fisher) to play Vince Young more because Collins has been having his problems out there,” Adams said. “I just think we need to find out how well (Young) can do.

Tough Injury Loss for the Jets — Mercurial Jets RB Leon Washington broke his leg (fibula) in a blowout win over the Oakland Raiders.  The Jets will probably place Washington on IR and they will need 3 players (rookie Shonn Greene, Brad Smith, and Danny Woodhead) to replace the variety of skills that he offers to the team.  Other key injuries around the NFL were Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), Steelers DE Travis Kirschke (calf), Redskins TE Chris Cooley (broken foot –season), Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons (high ankle), Colts RB Donald Brown (shoulder), Vikings WR Bernard Berrian (left leg), Saints DT Sedrick Ellis (sprained right knee), Dolphins CB Will Allen (ACL- season),  Niners ILB Takeo Spikes (sprained right shoulder), Colts WR Reggie Wayne (strained groin), Redskins QB Jason Campbell (sprained ankle), Giants TE Kevin Boss (stiff neck), Texans WR Andre Johnson (chest contusion) and Rams CB Bradley Fletcher (torn ligaments in right knee – season).

Nice road ahead for the Arizona Cardinals – After their tough 24-17 win over the NY Giants on Sunday Night Football, the road back to playoffs is a favorable one for Ken Whisenhunt’s team.  Only two of the Cardinals’ 10 remaining games are against teams with winning records. Their next five opponents – Carolina Panthers (2-4), Chicago Panthers (3-3) , Seattle Seahawks (2-4), St. Louis Rams (0-7) and Tennessee Titans (0-7) — are a combined 7-24.

Hey Raiders do you want a re-do on that pick – In his first action since ending his 71-day holdout, Niners first-round WR Michael Crabtree played a ton his team’s close loss to the Houston Texans.  Crabtree was in for 48 of 54 of the Niners’ plays and had five catches for 56 yards in his NFL debut.  Conversely Raiders WR Darius Heyward-Bey (7th overall pick), who was taken three spots ahead of Crabtree by noted need for speed aficionado Al Davis, only has 7 catches for 64 yards and 0 TDs plus at least four drops through 7 games.

Game Balls

Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson – “Revenge” is a dish best served cold and that is exactly what Benson gave the Chicago Bears.  After accusing Bears management (GM Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith) of bad-mouthing him out the door, Benson took matters into his own hands was spectacular in the Bengals surprisingly easy 45-10 win over the reeling Bears.  The former Bears first round pick who was quickly jettisoned after a couple off the field incidents, regained his lead in the NFL rushing title race with a career-high 189 yards  on 37 carries and 1 TD.  The former University of Texas star seems on a Pro Bowl pace right now as he has rushing stats 164 carries for 720 yards (4.4 ypc) and 5 TDs.

Honorable Mention

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo — The Cowboys (4-2) continued their climb back in the NFC East divisional race with a dominating 37-21 home win over the Falcons – second straight win.  The main cog of the Cowboys’ offense was spectacular completing 21-of-29 passes for 311 yards and 3 TDs plus he added 31 yards on the ground.  Romo also seems to have his T.O replacement in emerging receiver Miles Austin.

Dallas Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware — The Cowboys defensive menace recorded two sacks Sunday in the ‘Boys win over the Falcons and now has 4 sacks for the season.  Ware finally seems comfortable rushing the passer again and the Cowboys rewarded his hard work by giving him a new six-year deal including $40M in guaranteed money.  The 6-4, 262-pound three-time Pro Bowl linebacker now has 57.5 quarterback sacks for his career.

Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer – While everyone was talking about the effort of RB Cedric Benson, Palmer “quietly” show that he is getting back to his old form in a big win over the Bears.  Palmer was pinpoint as he completed 20-of-24 passes for 233 yards and 5 TDs.

New England Patriots FS Brandon Meriweather – The former product of the “U” had two interceptions across the pond, including returning one for a touchdown in the Patriots’ 35-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pittsburgh Steelers LT Max Starks — The Steelers strong tackle is finally meriting his big salary.  Starks held Vikings Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen to just one tackle and no sacks in the Steelers win over the Vikings.  Starks and his O-line mate also helped the Steelers produce a 5.3 YPC average in the running game.

SF 49ers QB Alex Smith – It was remember me time as the former first overall pick from 2005 shine after replacing starter Shaun Hill at halftime.  Smith responded by completing 15-of-22 passes for 206 yards and 3 touchdowns (all to emerging TE Vernon Davis) plus rallied the Niners from 21 points down.  Unfortunately the Niners came up short losing to the Houston Texans by a score 24-21.

Other Honorees: Steelers linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox (scored 4th quarter touchdowns to drive the Steelers over the Vikings); Buffalo Bills Safety Jairus Byrd (two interceptions spurred the Bills to a surprising road win over the Panthers); New Orleans Saints PK John Carney (became the fourth NFL player to score 2,000 points in his career); Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin (showed that his 250-yard breakout at Kansas City in Week 5 was no fluke, by producing 171 yards and 2 TDs in the Cowboys win over the Falcons); Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (reached career milestones 30,000 yards passing and 200 career touchdown passes in the Eagles win over the Redskins);Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (caught only two passes but had 69 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 27-17 win over the Redskins.  Jackson also ran for a 67-yard touchdown and scored both Eagles’ offensive touchdowns); The NY Jets RB’s (led by rookie Shonn Greene’s 144 yards and 2 TDs, the Jets RB’s became the first NFL team since 1975 – Buffalo Bills — to rush for 300 yards in back-to-back games).

 Lloyd’s Lackey

Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson — Things just went from bad to worse for LJ in Kansas City.  The two- time NFL rushing leader and former workhorse has definitely slowed down since his heyday of about 4 to 5 years ago.  Time, off the field problems, and injuries have definitely caught up with him (30 on Nov. 19th). But the bigger story is that after another pedestrian effort (16 rushes for 49 yards with a long of 9 yards) on Sunday in a 37-7 loss to the Chargers, Johnson got on the offensive via Twitter against Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Here are some of his excerpts: “my father got more credentials than most these pro coaches….google my father!!!”; “My father played for the coach from “remember the titans”. Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefly. Our coach. Nuthn”.  It is never a good idea to jump-on your head coach, but then LJ decided to call some reporters a bad word for homosexuals and Tweeted much more. Now NFL spokesman Greg Aiello revealed that the league is investigating LJ’s recent tirade on Twitter.  Plus the team basically told the volatile runner that he cannot practice and is not at their complex.  I don’t think it will be long before LJ is on the free agent running back scrap heap with older RB’s Warrick Dunn and Shaun Alexander. 

Dishonorable Mention

Dallas Cowboys WR Roy Williams – The former Detroit Lions first rounder returned to the line-up in Week 7 (rib injury) and produced 1 catch along with several drops.  Williams just doesn’t seem like he will ever live-up to the amount the Cowboys traded for him and now Miles Austin is clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver.  Williams has just 12 catches on 30 targets (40% catch rate) this season and looks like he is a colossal bust.

Oakland Raiders DE Richard Seymour – Predicted his team would make the playoffs after their “lucky’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.  And the Raiders responded by getting shutout 35-0 by the NY Jets.

NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez – I know it was a snooze fest in a dominating 38-0 win over the Raiders, but did you really have to eat a hot dog with mustard on the sidelines.

Minnesota Vikings FB/TE Jeff Dugan – Unnecessarily ran down NFL Back Judge Richard Reels on Percy Harvin’s Kickoff for a touchdown in the 4th Quarter of the Steelers’ win.  Also Dugan had a bad tripping penalty near the goalline that negated a Brett Favre touchdown pass.

NY Giants rookie OT William Beatty – Playing in place of starter Kareem McKenzie (ended Giants O-line’s 38 consecutive starts streak), head coach Tom Coughlin gave Beatty mixed reviews.  The youngster from UConn was beat off the edge by Cardinals OLB Clark Haggans for a sack and also had a bad false-start penalty late in the fourth quarter.

Panthers QB Jake Delhomme – Was terrible in Carolina’s 20-9 home loss to the Buffalo Bills as he threw more 3 interceptions.  The former Super Bowl starter is now on pace to throw a mind-boggling 35 interceptions and has 13 INTs for the season.  The NFL’s 32nd rated passer may soon be watching one of his former backups (AJ Feeley or Matt Moore) playing. 

Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell – Returned to his pitiful ways in a horrible loss to the NY Jets.  Russell had 2 INTs, 1 lost fumble, and was benched for journeyman QB Bruce Gradkowski.

Chicago Bears DT Tommie Harris – Inactive for lack of effort in practices and for overall being in head coach Lovie Smith’s doghouse.  The former Bears defensive leader was told he was not need this week and he may soon be looking for another team despite his huge contract.

NFL Week 7

SUN, OCT 25 

Bengals (5-2) over Bears (3-3), 45-10

Bills (3-4) over Panthers (2-4), 20-9

Cardinals (4-2) over Giants (5-2), 24-17

Chargers (3-3) over Chiefs (1-6), 37-7

Colts (6-0) over Rams (0-7), 42-6

Cowboys (4-2) over Falcons (4-2), 37-21

Jets (4-3) over Raiders (2-5), 38-0

Packers (4-2) over Browns (1-6), 31-3

Patriots (5-2) over Buccaneers (0-7), 35-7

Saints (6-0) over Dolphins (2-4), 46-34

Steelers (5-2) over Vikings (6-1), 27-17

Texans (4-3) over 49ers (3-3), 24-21

MON, OCT 26

Eagles (4-2) over Redskins (2-5), 27-17

Byes: Broncos (6-0), Jaguars (3-3), Lions (1-5), Ravens (3-3), Seahawks (2-4), Titans (0-6) 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Johnson is trying to “Tweet” his way out of KC

Larry_Johnson

LJ is trying to aggravate beleaguered Chiefs head coach Todd Haley even further with his recent comments on  Twitter

Things just went from bad to worse for volatile running back Larry Johnson in Kansas City.  The one time NFL rushing leader and workhorse has definitely slowed down since his heyday of about 4 to 5 years ago.  Time, off the field problems, and injuries have definitely caught up with Johnson (30 on Nov. 19th). 

The former Penn State power back only had 874 yards on 193 carries with a 4.5 ypr average and 5 TDs in 2008, but you know he would be more than happy with those mediocre type numbers this year.   After another pedestrian effort (16 rushes for 49 yards with a long of 9 yards) on Sunday in a 37-7 loss to the Chargers, Johnson got on the offensive via Twitter against Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. 

Though Tweeting is sometimes unconfirmed for some athletes, I am pretty sure it was Johnson pulling his Blackberry on Haley.  Just read the following excerpts and you will see what I mean.

“my father got more credentials than most these pro coaches….google my father!!!”

“My father played for the coach from “remember the titans”. Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefly. Our coach. Nuthn”

It is never a good idea to jump-on your head coach, but doing so in a public form only fans the flames even more.  Johnson’s alleged tweets are pretty inflammatory stuff and you can only expect things to get more heated between Haley, Johnson, and overall Chiefs organization.    

The Chiefs are pretty downtrodden right now with a record of 1-6 and Johnson isn’t doing much better (132 rushes for 358 yards, 2.7 ypc, and 0 TDs).   Also remember it was the fiery Haley who was the coach that got into it verbally with Anquan Boldin last year on the sidelines during the Cardinals’ Super Bowl run. 

 So expect some kind of fine, suspension, or some other disciplinary action to be coming Johnson’s way.  If I were backups Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles, I would be getting my legs ready for more running after the Chiefs’ bye week.

2009 NFL Season – Week 6 Power Rankings

payton

After a huge win over the New York Giants, Sean Payton and his high-flying Saints have not only garnered respect, but they have also moved up this week’s Power Rankings

This is one of my favorite times on the NFL calendar right before the midway part of the season.  Teams are starting to separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” and each week certain teams are getting closer to the playoffs while others get closer to preparing for the 2010 NFL Draft. 

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Vikings (6-0), Broncos (6-0), Saints (5-0), Colts (5-0), Falcons (4-1) and Giants (5-1); “Teams on the Cusp” — Steelers (4-2), Bengals (4-2),  and Patriots (4-2); “The Contenders”, who are teams that are a step above average — Eagles (3-2), Bears (3-2), Cowboys (3-2), Cardinals (3-2), and Niners (3-2); “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle that either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Ravens (3-3), Jets (3-3),  Texans (3-3), Jaguars (3-3), Dolphins (2-3), and Chargers (2-3);  The “Pretenders”, who are also in the middle of the pack but are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Seahawks (2-4), Panthers (2-3),  Raiders (2-4), Bills (2-4), and Redskins (2-4); and lastly  the “Putrid” (i.e. You should just skip to the 2010 NFL Draft) – Chiefs (1-5), Browns (1-5), Lions (1-5), Rams (0-6), Buccaneers (0-6), and Titans (0-6)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (5-0) – Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s team got a well-deserved bye week and maybe injured players SS Bob Sanders and WR Anthony Gonzalez will be back after the off week.  Some will say the Colts have their second bye in a row as they travel to St. Louis to face a winless Rams squad.  Don’t expect a letdown from Peyton Manning (should get his 6th straight 300-yard passing game this season) and his guys.

2.  Vikings (6-0) – In one of Week 6’s marquee games, the Vikings were able to squeak past the  Ravens as Baltimore’s young kicker missed a makeable field goal at the end of regulation.  In a game that will truly tell everyone just how good QB Brett Favre and his young Vikings are, the new rulers of the NFC North will travel to Pittsburgh to face a resurgent Steelers squad.

3.  Saints (5-0) – The Superdome was rocking as the  undefeated Saints showed the bottom-feeding Giants the door in a blowout win that put New Orleans near the top of the NFC.  The Saints road to legitimacy gets harder this week as they face a physical hard-running Dolphins team in Miami.

4.  Broncos (6-0) – After a dominating road win over the Chargers on Monday Night Football — could have been a classic letdown situation — I am finally ready to jump on the Broncos and head coach Josh McDaniels bandwagon.  The Broncos will remain undefeated for sure this week as they have a bye.

5. Giants (5-1) – Well I guess we got our answer on whether the Giants were fattening up on cupcakes at the beginning of the season.  The Saints throttled the Giants by a lopsided score, so it will be interesting to see how Tom Coughlin’s team responds. The G-Men return to the Meadowlands this week to face the high flying Cardinals, who have seemed to be back on track offensively and defensively.

6. Steelers (4-2) –For the 12th time in a row, the Steelers push aside the woeful Cleveland Browns this time at Heinz Field.  The resurgent Steelers will probably get their sternest test of this young season this week as the high-profile Vikings and QB Brett Favre come to town.

7.  Patriots (4-2) – Playing in the snow, QB Tom Brady and the Patriots had one of the greatest passing days in NFL history as they  embarrassed the  Tennessee Titans, who  some say they quit .  Next up for the Patriots is a trip across the Atlantic to Merry Ole England to feast the winless Tampa Bay Bucs.

8.  Falcons (4-1) – In a match-up of two of the NFL’s best “Young Guns”,  the Falcons led by Matt  Ryan delivered when it mattered most in a win over Chicago Bears and strong-armed QB Jake Cutler.  In a tougher than you would think battle, the Falcons travel to Dallas to face a well rested Cowboys squad, who are looking for some consistency.

9.  Bengals (4-2) – A week after a big AFC North win at Baltimore, the Bengals were surprised by the offensive minded Houston Texans.  In a highly anticipated inter-conference battle, the Bengals and revenge-minded RB Cedric Benson (going against the team that released him) will host the Bears and their new pass rusher DE Gaines Adams. 

10.  Bears (3-2) – On Sunday Night Football, the Bears continually turned the football over in the redzone which was their downfall against the Atlanta Falcons.  Next up is a respect game against the host Cincinnati Bengals and loser will fall right back to the NFL’s parity-filled middle.

11.  Cardinals (3-2) – The Cards continued to shake their Super Bowl hangover by pounding NFC West rival, the Seattle Seahawks.   Next up, QB Kurt Warner and rest of the Cards will need to prove that they can win a game in the Easter timezone as travel to Pittsburgh to face the resurgent Steelers.

12.  49ers (3-2) – Head Coach Mike Singletary and his staff were probably  overtime during the bye week to improve a team that has been a  little inconsistent as of late.  Look for the return of injured running back Frank Gore and debut of just-signed first rounder Michael Crabtree as the Niners travel to Houston to face the inconsistent Texans.

13.  Ravens (3-3) – John Harbaugh’s team were just a field goal away from putting an “L” on the undefeated Vikings, but it was not be and the Ravens have now lost 3 straight games.  Look for the Ravens to enjoy their bye week as they try to find a breakout receiver and their once fearsome defense.

14.  Eagles (3-2) –  In probably the biggest upset of the week, the Eagles went across country and laid an egg in against the supposed pushover Raiders – well at least the Fightin’ Phils are picking up the Birds slack.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid better find his running game and quick as his team travels to FedEx field to take on the reeling Redskins and their beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn.

15. Packers (3-2) – It wasn’t even close as the Detroit Lions served as the Packers homecoming team  in a lopsided win.  The Packers and freewheeling quarterback Aaron Rodgers continue their tour of the NFL’s underbelly as they travel to Cleveland to face a horrible Browns team.

16. Cowboys (3-2) – Hopefully  head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett put the Cowboys bye to good work as it maybe win or leave if the ‘Boys continue their inconsistent ways.  In a statement game, the Cowboys will host the hard-charging Atlanta Falcons and QB Matty “Ice” Ryan.

17.  Dolphins (2-3) – I am sure during the bye week that the  Dolphins were adding even more wrinkles to their Wildcat offense.  In a game that could prove to be a season saver, the Dolphins and their rushing attack – average of 177  yards per game — will host the undefeated Saints.

18.  Jets (3-3) – Head coach Rex Ryan and rookie QB Mark Sanchez are finding out how tough the NFL can be as they lost in overtime to  Buffalo Bills in a game the J-E-T-S were “supposed” to win.  Gang Green will look to avoid being the Raiders second straight upset victim as they travel to Oakland this week.

19.  Texans (3-3) –  Head coach Gary Kubiak’s team continued their inconsistent ways as they surprised the Bengals in an offensive road victory in Cincy.  In a battle of upstarts, the Texans will host the emerging Niners and the loser will definitely fall to the NFL’s middle.

20.  Panthers (2-3) – The Panthers continued their climb back to respectability with their second straight win this time over the winless Tampa Bay Bucs.  In a game that can get them back to .500, look for the Panthers to ride their stellar running game against the injured Buffalo Bills.

21.  Jaguars (3-3) – The NFL’s most inconsistent team was back up to their old tricks as they bounced back from a shutout loss to beat the winless Rams in overtime.  The Jags should put their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, on ice during the bye week because as he goes, so goes the team.

22.  Chargers (2-3) –Head Coach Norv Turner’s team put up a mini-fight but in the end you could clearly see that the AFC West division leading Denver Broncos were hungrier on Monday Night Football.   In a must-win game, the Chargers will travel to Kansas City to face a Chiefs squad coming off their first win of the season.

23.  Seahawks (2-4) –The Hawks showed that they are a  “Pretender”  even with QB Matt Hasselbeck at the controls as they were throttled by the Arizona Cardinals in a huge NFC West battle.  The Seahawks will have a much-needed bye week to get players like Hasselbeck and DE Patrick Kerney healthy  again.

24.  Bills (2-4) – The Bills surprised the  J-E-T-S in overtime as kick Rian Lindell made the most of his second chance to win the game.  In a battle of two teams that either are going to get back in the race or fall down with the NFL’s dregs, the Bills travel to Carolina to face a hungry Panthers’ squad.

25.  Raiders (2-4) – Al Davis’ team put aside all of their drama for one week to out-hustle the arrogant Philadelphia Eagles, who left their game plan and intensity back in Philly.  Now that head coach Tom Cable doesn’t have to worry about the Po-Po knocking  on his door any longer, you have to wonder can the Raiders pull another home-win shocker against the fluttering Jets.

26.  Chiefs (1-5) – Even though it was more of an indicator of the ineptness of Redskins head coach  Jim Zorn, the Chiefs had to be ecstatic about their first win of the season.  The Chiefs will try to make it two upsets in a row as they host the angry San Diego Chargers.

27.  Redskins (2-4) – After a horrible home loss to the formerly winless Chiefs, the Skins handed the team’s offensive reins to offensive consultant Sherman Lewis.  Before a Week 8 bye, the Redskins will try to salvage their lagging season in a crucial home Monday Night Football battle against the embarrassed Philadelphia Eagles.

28.  Lions (1-5) – Not even former Packers killer QB Daunte Culpepper could keep the still rebuilding Lions from being torn apart by the Packers.  I am sure during the bye week that the Lions will try to focus more on the fact that they have already won a game this season rather than their many holes.

29.  Browns (1-5) – It was the same old story for the Dawgs as the Steelers tamed them once again as QB Ben Roethlisberger had a career day throwing the football.  The Browns will try to pick-up the pieces as they host the surging Green Bay Packers in a match-up of two Midwest teams going in opposite directions.

30.  Buccaneers (0-6) – Once again the Bucs fought hard, but they just didn’t have the depth or overall talent to beat the rebounding  Carolina Panthers.  For the Bucs, It must be a hard thing knowing that you are going all the way to London, England to be the New England Patriots next “homecoming” opponent.

31.  Rams (0-6) – Steve Spanuolo’s squad gave it their all , but unfortunately they came up short against MJD and the Jaguars in overtime.  The road doesn’t get any easier for the Rams as they host the well-rested and scary Indianapolis Colts who are hitting on all cylinders on offense and defense.

32. Titans (0-6) – In an embarrassing loss that the NFL has not seen in years, the Patriots ran the score-up (59-0) on the Titans and some say Jeff Fisher’s team just plain “quit”.  During the bye week, Fisher better clean-up his horrible secondary and start thinking about playing former rookie of the year QB Vince Young since veteran thrower Kerry Collins could only manage -7 yards passing against the Patriots.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The NFL Trade Deadline passes with only two minor trades

gibson

There were only two trades at the NFL’s trading deadline and one involved young receiver Brandon Gibson going from the Eagles to the Rams for veteran LB Will Witherspoon

The 2009 NFL trade deadline came and went on October 20th at 4:00 PM EST with the same amount of fanfare accorded to the league’s annual Supplemental Draft (i.e. “Snooze Fest”) each July.  While names like San Diego Chargers LB Shawne Merriman, Cleveland Browns QB Brady Quinn, Kansas City Chiefs DT Glenn Dorsey, Philadelphia Eagles WR’s Kevin Curtis & Reggie Brown, Kansas City Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe, Buffalo Bill WR Terrell Owens, Cleveland Browns WR/KR, Josh Cribbs, Houston Texans CB Dunta Robinson and others were bantered around by the media there were only two minor trades with none involving the aforementioned set of high-profile players.  Remember unlike major league baseball GM’s, football personnel men don’t like to part with “their” players.  Most football GM types always fear injuries and lack of depth over a grueling 17-week regular season, so they usually keep players around, usually on their team’s inactive list, until the offseason even if they have no intention of really playing them – See  Eagles WR Reggie Brown and Bucs QB Byron Leftwich.

In looking for their third option in replacing injured MLB Stewart Bradley, the Philadelphia Eagles traded for former St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon.  In return the Eagles shipped promising 2009 6th round pick WR Brandon Gibson and a 2010 5th round selection to the Rams.  Witherspoon should step-in right away to help combat a foot injury suffered by LB Omar Gaither and poor play in coverage by newly-signed veteran LB Jeremiah Trotter.  Witherspoon (29) has played 8 seasons in the NFL at both the weakside and middle linebacker positions with the Rams and Panthers, this season he had 33 tackles for the Rams. 

The Eagles thought that young receiver Gibson was expendable as he was buried on the team’s depth chart behind DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, Jeremy Maclin, and Reggie Brown.  Gibson had emerged in training camp and the preseason as a good target, but the team never found a role for him — inactive for all 5 regular season games – even though he was never placed on their practice squad due to fears that another team would grab him. “I think [Gibson] is going to have a great career in the NFL,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said after the trade. Gibson now joins fellow former Eagles WR Danny Amendola in a depleted Rams receiving corps – starters Donnie Avery (hip) and Laurent Robinson (ACL –season) are both out.

The other trade on deadline day involved the Kansas City Chiefs continuing to clean house of the Carl Peterson/Herman Edwards regime.  The Chiefs sent underachieving DT Tank Tyler, who was a former third-round pick and an ill-fit for their new scheme, to the Carolina Panthers for a fifth-round pick in 2010.  Tyler had gotten some attention when the Chiefs were featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks during the 2007 preseason, but he never lived up to his hype as a quality “Space Eater”.  Tyler had started just two games for the Chiefs this season and now the Panthers will be looking for him to help replace NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu (out for the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon).

The only personnel moves left now for teams are 1) Claiming Players off Waivers, 2) Raiding other teams Practice Squads (players taken must be on their new team’s 53-man roster for a minimum of 3 weeks) or 3) Signing street free agents (higher profile players still available include WR Joey Galloway, WR Marvin Harrison, LB Derrick Brooks, and WR Matt Jones).