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Tag:Matt Moore
Posted on: February 16, 2012 6:01 pm
 

Sherman doesn't think Fins are 'that far away'

ShermanBy Josh Katzowitz

For a guy who lost out on the Buccaneers head coaching job to Greg Schiano and instead had to take a job as the Dolphins offensive coordinator, it’s nice to see Mike Sherman maintaining his sense of humor.

I mean, the idea that Sherman said he doesn’t think the Dolphins are far away from a Super Bowl is absolutely hysterical. Good one, Mike, you slay me every time!

Oh … he wasn’t kidding? OK, then.

"I've watched the tape, I don't think we're that far away," Sherman told reporters today, via the Miami Herald. "We're missing a couple of pieces here and there and we have a chance to build upon what Jeff Ireland has put together here. After watching the tape, I feel like we get a couple of pieces here and there and we'll be close."

So, um, what?

"We'll have some very explosive potential with the talent we have on offense," he said. "We have to fill some holes but overall we have some explosive players and that's exciting. If you have explosive players, you should have explosive plays."

Right, right.

OK, I’m obviously being snarky with his comments, because last year, Miami was nowhere near qualifying for the postseason (or a winning record, for that matter). To think the Dolphins can completely turn around their organization in a year with a first-time head coach in Joe Philbin and a starting quarterback in Matt Moore and/or Chad Henne who is not exactly elite and a defense that was almost exactly average last year seems a bit … oh … optimistic.

But it’s not like the Dolphins have to climb out of hole the Rams or the Buccaneers find themselves in. There were times last year, especially when Tony Sparano’s job was on the line, that the team actually played well. And Sherman is right that there is talent.

The emergence of Reggie Bush was one of the more underplayed stories in the AFC East this year, and Brandon Marshall is a top-flight receiver. Assuming the Dolphins go after a free agent quarterback in the offseason (perhaps a guy like Peyton Manning?), Sherman might have a decent point.

The Dolphins aren’t Super Bowl bound anytime soon, but perhaps they can put together enough to compete for a division title.

"I never think much more than this year so next year or the following year, we're going to be as good as we can be this year," Sherman said. "We'll see what happens and see how it goes. I don't think anyone would have picked the Giants necessarily to win the Super Bowl this year."

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Posted on: February 2, 2012 11:10 am
 

Matt Flynn to Miami still would be a risk

Flynn

By Josh Katzowitz

People can’t seem to help but get excited about Packers and soon-to-be free agent quarterback Matt Flynn. Although he’s only started two career games in four seasons, all spent backing up Aaron Rodgers, his time on the field has been productive. Hell, it’s been record-setting, like when he set franchise marks with 480 passing yards and six touchdowns in Green Bay’s Week 17 win vs. the Lions.

Since that performance, the Redskins and Dolphins reportedly have had interest in obtaining his services, and though Miami could very well go after Peyton Manning if the Colts cut him loose, receiver Brandon Marshall reached out to Flynn about making the move to south Florida.

"Obviously, Matt [Moore] had a great year," Marshall said at the Pro Bowl. "You don't want to take anything away from Matt, but I think we really [should] bring in somebody who can compete and make the team better."

That person, in Marshall’s mind, could be Flynn, but there are two things to remember before Miami fans welcome Flynn with a ticker-tape parade in South Beach.

In like Matt Flynn
1) Flynn has taken significant snaps only twice in the past two years. Sure, he performed well in both cases -- he nearly beat the Patriots in 2010 -- but it’s still only two games. That isn’t much of a sample size.

2) Current Dolphins starter Matt Moore had a solid year, taking over for Chad Henne as Miami’s quarterback. Yes, Flynn probably has a more exciting name, though certainly not a better resume, and he has more upside than Moore. But Moore has proven he’s a solid quarterback in the league. We can’t say that yet about Flynn.

But here’s why the Flynn-to-Miami rumblings make sense. New coach Joe Philbin is coming off a strong reign as the Packers offensive coordinator, and though most of us don’t know how Flynn performs on a daily basis at practice, you can be sure Philbin knows exactly what Flynn can do. And if Philbin wants Flynn, how could anybody argue that?

“With Matt Flynn, know what he can’t do, and make sure you build the offense around things he can do,” Lombardi told Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post. “Obviously, Joe Philbin knows him.”

Still, that doesn’t mean Flynn isn’t a risk. After all, remember the $63 million contract the Cardinals bestowed on Kevin Kolb last offseason, even though Kolb only had a limited resume? How well did that work out for Arizona?

“I don’t think it’s risky to go get him. I think it’s risky to give him $60 million, or give him $20 million over two years like Kevin Kolb,” Lombardi told the Post. “I think there’s a lot of chance for failure there.”

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:58 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Draft needs

A. Luck should be a No. 1 selection in next year's draft. Who will select him, though (US Presswire).

By Josh Katzowitz

As we enter the final weekend of the season, a number of squads are just playing out the string, hoping to put a solid performance on film, ready to clean out their lockers and look ahead to next year. While only four games on this week’s schedule mean absolutely nothing in terms of the postseason, quite a few of those teams are just looking to play spoiler.

And looking to the 2012 draft, where they can begin to rebuild their team or shore up that one position that could put them over the hump for next season. That’s why we’re taking the 10-worst teams in the league this year and finding one major flaw that needs to be fixed from April 26-28 in New York City’s Radio Music Hall.

For these teams -- and their fans -- the time has come to salivate at the prospects of landing the exact right guy that could change their fortunes for years to come.

10. Bills: Defensive line -- I didn’t like the Ryan Fitzpatrick $59 million extension earlier this year, and I hate it now. But I think Buffalo has other concerns for the moment, and they come on defense. For one, Buffalo has a tough time stopping the run. First-round pick Marcell Dareus has been a bit inconsistent at the nose tackle, but he also has the ability to play like a monster. The 3-4  ends, though, need to be better. Injured tackle Kyle Williams obviously will help when he returns next season, but the ability to rush the passer once in a while also would help (Buffalo’s 25 sacks ranks 30th in the league).

9. Dolphins: Quarterback -- Look, the Dolphins have some talent. They proved that when Tony Sparano’s job was on the line, and they started winning games. They proved it by nearly beating Tom Brady, and they proved it by nearly beating Tim Tebow (that last point was a joke). While Matt Moore has been much better than expected after taking over for Chad Henne, he’s a Band-Aid. I think most of us would agree that Henne isn’t the answer as the starter, and perhaps, he and Moore could have a battle to see who could back-up a legit starting quarterback. Reggie Bush established himself as a 1,000-yard rusher, and with a talented quarterback like Robert Griffin III (if he lasts that long in the draft), the Dolphins could begin pushing for AFC East crowns.

8. Browns: Pass rushers -- Cleveland got two defensive linemen early last year (tackle Phil Taylor in the first round and end Jabaal Sheard in the second), and they’ve done a nice job on the left side of the defensive line. But the defense ranks 25th in the league in sacks, and defensive end Jayme Mitchell hasn’t had a great season. Marcus Benard, coming off a solid rookie season last year, is on IR, and if the Browns could get one more high-end rusher in the draft, they’d have talent and depth.

7. Redskins: Quarterback -- It’s probably time for Mike Shanahan to come to the realization that his quarterback picks the past two years have been disastrous (Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck). He said the other day that the rebuild of this franchise has taken more time than he thought, but a standout quarterback obviously would help that process along. Shanahan also said that there was no question in his mind that he’d be back next season, but unless he finds a way to invigorate his offense, that might be a different story this time next year.

6. Chiefs: Right tackle -- Looking across Kansas City’s depth chart, there’s not one position group that so obviously needs to be overhauled. The Chiefs have talent, even if some of those positions don’t have much depth. But right tackle Barry Richardson has badly struggled this season. According Pro Football Focus, Richardson is the worst-rated offensive tackle in the league (the decision to cut Jared Gaither near the end of the season was a bad one). Left tackle Branden Albert is solid, but the right side of the line needs to be reworked.

Minnesota's secondary has been a big concern this year (US Presswire).5. Buccaneers: Run defenders -- The Buccaneers tried to shore up their defensive end spots last draft, taking Adrian Clayborn in the first round and Da’Quan Bowers in the second round. Considering Tampa Bay ranks dead last in sacks, the experiment hasn’t paid off immediate dividends. But the Buccaneers are also terrible against the run, and even though tackle Albert Haynesworth has played better than most of us had a right to expect, there are still huge holes to fill in the lineup.

4. Vikings: Secondary -- The Vikings rank as the 31st-worst defense in the NFL, but in reality, their front seven has talent (for instance, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway). Minnesota lost Antoine Winfield (its best corner) early in the year, Chris Cook has legal troubles, safety Jamarca  Sanford has struggled badly and the rest of the safeties have been ravaged by injuries. It’s no  wonder opposing quarterbacks dominate the Vikings defensive backs. On the season, Minnesota has recorded seven interceptions, worst in the NFL. The Vikings need to find somebody who can force turnovers in order to improve this unit.

3. Jaguars: Receivers – Oh, how they need receivers. Yes, Blaine Gabbert has been, by far, the worst rookie quarterback to play this year, but Jacksonville, even with new ownership and a new coach, probably needs to give him more than a season to see if he’s a quarterback of the future. He also needs somebody who can catch his passes. Here are Jacksonville’s top-three receivers: Mike Thomas, Jarret Dillard, and yeah, nobody else. In fact, there’s a good chance running back Maurice Jones-Drew will end up as the team’s leading pass-catcher this season. Hard to blame Gabbert completely when his receiving corps is so bad.

2. Colts: Running backs -- Assuming Peyton Manning returns healthy next season -- admittedly, a huge assumption -- his receivers should continue to be fine (this, of course, depends on what happens with free agents Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon). But we’ve seen this year that without a running game, a Manning-less Colts squad has very little chance of doing anything (mostly because Manning makes up for SO many team deficiencies). Joseph Addai, who’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry and probably won’t get to 500 rushing yards on the season for the second year in a row, might be released into free agency, and Donald Brown, while improved, isn’t a legit No. 1 running back. The Colts obviously have a big decision to make regarding Manning and Andrew Luck, but taking a running back probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.

1.Rams: Offensive linemen -- There’s been talk that maybe the Rams should grab Luck if they end up with the No. 1 pick. Which, with Sam Bradford on the team, would be ludicrous. Instead, St. Louis should be focused on how to put together an offensive line that doesn’t lead the league in sacks allowed. The biggest problem, not including injuries to Jason Smith and Jacob Bell that have hurt the unit, has been the line’s interior. Linemen aren’t the sexiest position, but damn, St. Louis needs to find some that can stay healthy and keep Bradford and Steven Jackson out of danger.

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Posted on: December 24, 2011 4:40 pm
 

Patriots come back on Dolphins, clinch bye

D. Branch scores a TD to help New England to its comeback win against Miami (AP).By Josh Katzowitz

All is right in the world. Well, in the AFC, at least. Especially if you’re a New England fan.

Despite falling behind by 17 points at halftime, the Patriots battled back in a hot third quarter and escaped with a 27-24 win in order to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs and secure at least one home game. 

It was a surprising turnaround for New England, simply because the Patriots looked so bad in the first half. But Tom Brady, who completed only 3 of his first 14 passes, went on a streak in which he connected on 19 of 25 to help score 17 unanswered in the first 13 minutes of the second half. Somehow the Patriots defense, the worst in the league, mostly shut down Miami in the final two quarters.

While the running game never got much going -- probably because the Patriots were without three starting linemen (Logan Mankins, Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer) -- Brady and his receivers heated up in the final 30 minutes.

After taking a 27-17 lead, Matt Moore -- who finished 17 of 33 for 294 yards, three scores and an interception -- tossed a touchdown pass to Davone Bess with 1:48 to play to cut the lead to three. But all the Patriots needed was one first down, and they got it with a Brady-to-Welker pass.


Follow all the Week 16 action live: Inactives | Scoreboard

1 p.m. ET games:
CLE-BAL | DEN-BUF | TB-CAR | ARI-CIN | OAK-KC | MIA-NE | NYG-NYJ | STL-PIT | JAC-TEN | MIN-WAS

4 p.m. ET games:
SD-DET | PHI-DAL | SF-SEA




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Posted on: December 24, 2011 2:37 pm
 

Dolphins surprise punchless Pats, up 17-0 at half

Miami is having no problems with New England so far today (US Presswire).

By Josh Katzowitz

It has not been a good day for the Patriots. First, they lost left tackle Matt Light to an ankle injury in warm-ups (!) and then, his replacement, Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins, injured his knee in the first quarter.

The Dolphins have not been very forgiving.

With New England having the ability to clinch a first-round playoff bye with a win vs. Miami, the Dolphins are the only ones who seem to care about winning today, taking a 17-0 lead into halftime.

Reggie Bush, in going over the 1,000-yard mark on the season, has 16 carries for 81 yards, while quarterback Matt Moore has thrown for 179 yards and two touchdown passes. Meanwhile, the Patriots rush game has been anemic (33 yards), and Tom Brady has been less than mediocre, completing 7 of 19 passes for 87 yards.

While the Dolphins began playing better earlier this season once it was clear former coach Tony Sparano would not return, they’ve obviously saved their best for interim coach Todd Bowles against perhaps the best team in the AFC (though I’m not sure a “best team” in that conference even exists).

 “I don’t have any expectations, really,” Bowles said earlier this week. “I’m just trying to get the guys to play hard and play better and play fast and try to come out with wins.”

His team is halfway there.


Follow all the Week 16 action live: Inactives | Scoreboard

1 p.m. ET games:
CLE-BAL | DEN-BUF | TB-CAR | ARI-CIN | OAK-KC | MIA-NE | NYG-NYJ | STL-PIT | JAC-TEN | MIN-WAS

4 p.m. ET games:
SD-DET | PHI-DAL | SF-SEA




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Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:17 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Thanksgiving preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Lions vs. Packers
The nice thing about having a defense built around your four-man front is that when facing a seemingly unstoppable passing attack, you don’t have to concoct a complicated gameplan and hope that your speed-oriented defenders can somehow give the performance of a lifetime. Because an erupting front four, by nature of alignment, can cut off the lifeline of any pass play by flooding a quarterback’s face, you can stick with your traditional zone concepts on the back end.

This is the standard, obvious approach for the Lions. And really, it’s their only prayer for upsetting the undefeated Packers. The Lions selected Nick Fairley in the first round because they knew that with Ndamukong Suh already inside, they would have at least one favorable one-on-one matchup on every passing down. Those visions have started to play out in recent weeks, as Fairley, in limited reps, has shown uncommon quick-twitch burst for a man of his size.



A way teams have lately combated (or tried to combat) Detroit’s interior quickness is with draws and misdirection runs and screens (think receivers running ghost reverses during a handoff or quarterbacks faking the action one way and going to a ballcarrier the other way). The idea is to let the defensive tackles take themselves out of position with their quick penetration and to get Detroit’s incredibly fast-flowing linebackers going in the wrong direction.

This approach, however, is not conducive to Green Bay’s personnel. The Packers are good at screen pass execution, but none of their running backs have the initial quickness or speed to execute delay-type plays. Thus, expect the Packers to combat Detroit’s inside pass-rush by spreading the field and putting Aaron Rodgers in three-step drops.

Normally, offenses spread the field to stretch the defense and make it easier for the quarterback to recognize blitzes and coverage concepts. That’s not necessary against a basic zone scheme like Detroit’s. But what spreading the field still does is create more space for the defensive backs to cover. Detroit’s defensive backs have improved this season, but they’re still not dynamic or deep enough to contain Green Bay’s receiving corps in large open areas.

Final note: much of Aaron Rodgers’ presnap brilliance derives from his use of dummy snap counts. However, those won’t be relevant if the Ford Field crowd is as loud as expected. The Packers may want to consider going hurry-up. They know they won’t be able to communicate vocally anyway, so they likely installed a bunch of hand signals in practice this week. They’re prepared.

What’s more, they know that a hurry-up can swing momentum and take the crowd out of it, plus it would prevent the Lions from rotating their defensive linemen -- a tactic they rely heavily on.

Cowboys vs. Dolphins
Both teams come in riding a three-game win-streak, thanks largely to the play of their quarterbacks. Tony Romo has posted passer ratings of 113, 148 and 112 his last three outings. Matt Moore has posted 133, 75 and 147.

Romo is having, by far, the best season of his career. He’s been accurate, poised in the pocket and sound in his decision making. These are the effects of his improvements. What analysts don’t focus on often enough are the improvements themselves.

Romo is doing a better job at diagnosing defenses in the presnap phase and adjusting his protections in response. Consequently, postsnap, he’s not surprised by blitzes, plus he’s recognizing coverage shifts and how they impact his receivers’ route combinations. These had been Romo’s areas of weakness.

As for Moore, he’s been steady, but the Dolphins would be foolish to think they don’t still need to look for a quarterback after this season. Lately Moore has often thrown out of base personnel, which means he’s been going against base defenses. That’s fine, but it won’t be as easy against the Cowboys, whose base personnel includes a versatile superstar in DeMarcus Ware and superb pass-defending linebacker in Sean Lee.

Dallas has the resources to take away Dolphins underrated receiving fullback Charles Clay, and Rob Ryan is willing to mix things up no matter what personnel he has on the field. Remember, Moore has only had half a week to study Ryan’s multitude of defensive looks.



Ravens vs. 49ers
Because Ray Rice is averaging less than nine carries per game in his team’s three losses this season, there’s the assumption that the Ravens must run the ball in order to win. But last week against Cincinnati, the Ravens won on the strength of their passing attack. They got 104 yards rushing on 20 carries from Rice, but 59 of those yards came on one run.

Overall, the sustaining element that a run game is supposed to provide simply wasn’t there. The Ravens struggled in short-yardage -- though not on the goal-line, where Marshal Yanda stood out and where Rice has been effective all season -- and could not pound on the ground when trying to protect their fourth quarter lead.

There’s still hope for the run game this season. Aside from overrated left tackle Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore’s front five is adequately suited for this zone-blocking scheme -- especially now that left guard Ben Grubbs is back. Rice and Ricky Williams are smart runners, and Vontae Leach is a top-three fullback.

That said, don’t expect a breakout this week. San Francisco has the best run defense in pro football (by a wide margin, in fact). The brilliant play of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman is the primary reason why.

Willis and Bowman pose additional issues for the Ravens. Against the Bengals, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron compensated for the lackluster run game by calling play-action rollouts for Joe Flacco. That forced the Bengals linebackers to be decision-makers and pass defenders – which they’re capable of, but not simultaneously. Willis and Bowman won’t be manipulated like this. Both hunt up coverage assignments extremely well and both have the athleticism to cover Baltimore’s underneath mismatch creators, Rice and Ed Dickson.

The Ravens’ best chance at offensive success Thanksgiving night is to go max protect and take downfield shots with Torrey Smith and Lee Evans. Their best chance at overall success is to protect field position and wait for their defense to make a big play in a low-scoring game.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 12 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:42 am
 

Which free agent QBs could fit Bears needs?

Cutler, Martz

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Now that Bears coach Lovie Smith has officially confirmed the news that Jay Cutler broke his thumb* while trying to make a tackle after an interception during Chicago’s win against the Chargers on Sunday, we wonder where the Bears offense goes from here.

*You can see video of the play here.

The Bears QB Future
The quick reaction from across the league has been definitive: the Bears are screwed. And it’s hard not to disagree, especially when you consider Caleb Hanie is the new starting quarterback and fifth-round pick Nathan Enderle (if you haven’t heard of him, that’s OK -- he played his college ball at Idaho) is his backup. That could be a recipe for disaster.

Hanie has played a total of seven games in his three-year career, and in the regular season, he’s completed 8 of 14 passes for 66 yards. But his real moment to shine occurred during last year’s NFC championship game (you might remember it because Cutler injured his knee, couldn’t return to the game and got toasted for it by his colleagues on Twitter) when he completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in Chicago’s 21-14 loss.

The Bears most likely will have to sign a third quarterback for the roster (or a fourth, assuming they don’t place Cutler on IR, and for now, the Bears don’t have a timetable for his return), and they’ll have to troll the free agent market to do so. Chances are, they won’t get somebody more prepared to play in this offense than Hanie, but an experienced quarterback could add depth and keep Enderle from having to come into the game.

Here is a list of five potential free agents the Bears could target.

BulgerMarc Bulger: This one seems the most obvious, because Bulger worked under Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz when Martz was the head coach in St. Louis. In order for an incoming free agent to have any chance of playing this season for the Bears, he most likely would need to have knowledge of Martz’s style of play. Bulger has that. But Bulger has made it clear he’s not interested in returning to football. He told the Ravens at the beginning of season to give him a call if Joe Flacco suffered an injury, but since then, Bulger has told at least one team that he’s not interested in playing football anymore. Unless Bulger was guaranteed that he would be a backup, the Bears probably should move on.

Chances of this happening: 10 percent

Trent Edwards: After he didn’t make the Raiders squad out of training camp, Edwards actually had a chance to sign with the Dolphins once they lost Chad Henne. But Edwards took one look at that franchise and said thanks, but no thanks (Matt Moore, by the way, is forever grateful). Edwards actually had a decent year as the Bills starter in 2008, but he eventually lost that job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. The problem with Edwards, though, is that he’s not been especially good for the past three years. I mean, if Kyle Boller beats you out of a backup job, that’s not a very good sign.

Chances of this happening: 8 percent
T. Collins struggled in last year's NFC championship game (US Presswire).
Todd Collins: Just because Collins is 40 years old (!) and got yanked for Hanie after Collins briefly replaced Cutler in the NFC championship game last year (as seen in the picture at left) doesn’t mean the Bears shouldn’t look at him anyway. Collins spent a season with Martz, so he should know the offense relatively well. The problem is that Collins has never been anything more than an NFL backup, and if you had to pick between Collins and Enderle, you might be better suited to go with the rookie. But for some reason, I think there’s a chance Chicago could turn back to Collins if things get desperate.

Chances of this happening: 20 percent

Jake Delhomme: If the Bears were looking for a Collins alternative who is four years younger with infinitely more NFL success, they could do worse than Delhomme. That said, Delhomme was a disaster last year in Cleveland and eventually gave way to Colt McCoy. Though there reportedly was interest in him by the Browns and the Dolphins this year, Delhomme isn’t doing much of anything these days (except for sending John Fox congratulatory text messages). Fortunately, the Bears coaching staff would have the ability to watch film from Delhomme’s stay in Cleveland last year. And that should be enough to force the coaches to toss Delhomme’s number in the trash.

Chances of this happening: 5 percent

Brett Favre: Stop it. Just … stop it.

Chances of this happening: 0.5 percent

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Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

 

1. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.


3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).


It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:


If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.

MUFFED PUNTS

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.

WORTH 1,000 WORDS


GIF O' THE WEEK

No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com