Tag Archive: Chicago Bears


NFL Weekly Picks: Week 3

Hey guys, sorry I didn’t have time to get my weekly picks post up last week. I just moved back to Minnesota so now that I am settling in hopefully I will be able to get into a groove with all of these weekly posts that I want to do. So, without further ado, here are my NFL Weekly Picks!

Eagles over Chiefs- I think the Eagles’ offense will be too much for the Chiefs to slow down, but it may come down to whether or not the Eagles defense can stop anyone. Thus far the answer to that question is no. Still, I’m going with Chip Kelly and the home team Eagles in this match-up, especially since the Chiefs have Dunta Robinson on their roster.

Packers over Bengals- The Bengals got a solid win against the Steelers last week but the Packers offense looked borderline unstoppable last week against the Redskins. The Bengals defense is a significantly better unit, but I think the Packers will be able to put up enough points to win this one. If Andy Dalton plays well he could make things interesting though, and I’m not sold on the Packers defense yet. Still, it’s tough to bet against Aaron Rodgers in this match-up even on the road.

Rams over Cowboys- This might surprise some people, but the Rams are a good football team and they gave my Falcons a run for their money last week. The Cowboys couldn’t quite figure out the Kansas City Chiefs, and while the ‘Boys have a lot of talent on offense the Rams are a talented defensive football team that I think has a chance to match-up with the Cowboys on offense. Of course, if Dez Bryant goes off for 180 yards and a touchdown like Julio Jones did last week then I would be completely wrong on that. Still, I have a feeling the Rams will play well in this game and I think they can beat Tony Romo and the Cowboys on the road.

Chargers over Titans- I’m realizing I’m picking a lot of road teams here so far, but I think the Chargers are the better football team in this match-up and it’s tough not to go with Philip Rivers over Jake Locker here. If Locker can pass accurately and use his legs effectively they could give the Chargers defense some problems, but most of us know the likelihood of both of those things happening consistently for four quarters is not likely.

Vikings over Browns- This would have been a more interesting game prior to the Trent Richardson trade, and there is something funny about the Browns making this trade with the Colts just days before they travel up to Minnesota to play the Vikings given that the Vikings are the team that traded down with Cleveland to allow them to move up to number three overall and select Richardson in the first place. The Browns offense has been struggling even with Richardson in the lineup, and it’s hard to imagine them being better without him even with Josh Gordon returning from suspension. The Browns do have a good defense though, so I expect both teams to score less than 20 points. The Vikings have the offensive advantage in this match-up though thanks to Adrian Peterson and a solid game from Christian Ponder, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and Jerome Simpson should be enough to win this one for the purple. However, it is worth mentioning that this is the kind of game the Vikings traditionally find a way to inexplicably lose.

Patriots over Buccaneers- The Buccaneers aren’t in great shape right now and while the Patriots have barely managed to defeat two rookie quarterbacks in consecutive weeks I don’t think Tom Brady and that offense are going to stay out of synch for more than a couple weeks. That should play to the Bucs advantage this week, but I don’t think it will be enough to get them a victory.

Saints over Cardinals- Originally I had the Cardinals winning this game, but it’s tough to travel into the Superdome and get a victory, particularly since the Saints defense looks significantly better through two weeks than it ever did last season. Carson Palmer has reinvigorated the Cardinals offense, and their defense is still respectable despite the loss of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, but I don’t think it will be enough to go into the Saints’ house and beat Drew Brees on his home turf.

Redskins over Lions- The Lions have shown plenty of flashes through the first two weeks, but I think they are going to come up short against a Redskins team that will likely be very motivated and focused after starting 0-2. It remains to be seen if the ‘Skins defense can get on track, but going up against the Eagles and the Packers in the first two weeks isn’t exactly a fair barometer for a defense, especially since they were essentially the NFL’s guinea pigs against Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offensive scheme. I think the Redskins will be motivated and hungry this week, so I’m giving them the edge over the Lions.

Giants over Panthers- I definitely didn’t expect the Giants to start the season out 0-2, but if Eli Manning can’t stop throwing interceptions they may be in for a long year. However, I am well aware that not all of those turnovers are his fault and I expect he and the Giants to get back on track against the Panthers. It would be really nice if David Wilson would get his act together and stop fumbling the ball, but the addition of Brandon Jacobs back into the fold should help provide at least a little stability in the running game. Maybe Cam Newton and the Panthers will surprise me, but I think the Giants are going to be motivated after starting 0-2 just like the Redskins are. I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about the Panthers yet or not.

Texans over Ravens- The Ravens offense has been ineffective thus far this season and I don’t anticipate them getting back on track against the talented Texans defense. If Andre Johnson can play the Ravens will get to see the Texans explosive combination of Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson AND DeAndre Hopkins who was one of my favorite wide receivers in last year’s loaded draft class. He caught the game-winning touchdown last week against the Titans, so I think the Texans are ready to beat the Ravens on the road this week.

Dolphins over Falcons- It pains me to do this, but the Falcons got way too banged up last week to go on the road and beat the Dolphins in my opinion. I think Ryan Tannehill is about to go off, and Lamar Miller may have a big day as well. Not only that, but Brent Grimes is a sure bet to pick off Matt Ryan in this game and I just don’t think the Falcons will be able to overcome Roddy White not being at 100%, Steven Jackson being out (though Jason Snelling will hopefully get a lot of touches), Kroy Biermann being out for the year, Bradie Ewing being out for the year, AND Sean Weatherspoon being out until Week 11. That’s a lot to replace and account for in one week, and while I think they will be able to survive those set-backs long term I’m not sure they can get away with it this week, so I give the advantage to the Dolphins at home.

Bills over Jets- In the battle of rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Geno Smith I’ve got to give Manuel and the Bills the edge in this one. The Jets defense is still a quality unit despite the departure of Darrelle Revis, but Geno Smith made some questionable decisions and poorly executed throws in the elements against New England last week, and I have been shocked by how well EJ Manuel has been playing thus far. The Bills coaching staff has done a great job managing him thus far, and I trust Nathaniel Hackett to gameplan well more than I trust Marty Mornhinweg to do the same, so I am going with the Bills in this one. May the best rookie QB win. I must say, I was shocked and critical of the Manuel pick at 16 overall, but defeating Geno Smith (who I expected to come off the board first of all the quarterbacks) would be a pretty big vindication for EJ Manuel and the entire Bills organization. It would also make me look stupid, so that’s probably why it will happen.

49ers over Colts- This is an interesting one and it will be worth monitoring just how involved Trent Richardson will be in this game given that he is unfamiliar with the system and has no chemistry with the team at all, but the 49ers are the better squad and are likely very pissed off after the way they lost that game to division rival and offseason Cold War opponent Seattle on Sunday Night. The 49ers should come out firing and it will take a terrific performance from Andrew Luck to leave Candlestick with a victory.

Seahawks over Jaguars- #BecauseJaguars and #AllRussellWilsonEverything

Bears over Steelers- I thought Marc Trestman might give the Bears offense a tune-up and he appears to have done just that, and it makes me happy to see Jay Cutler playing well. The Steelers offense is completely devoid of playmaking at this point and I don’t anticipate they will be able to take advantage of the Bears defense enough to come away with a victory even at home.

Broncos over Raiders- The Broncos are playing some terrific football right now and they are looking especially sharp on the offensive side of the ball so far. They simply have more talent than the Raiders do at this point, though I think Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden may give the Broncos defense a few headaches. It would be a truly fantastic upset if the Raiders were able to come away with a victory against the Broncos on the road, I just don’t see it happening.

Thanks for reading, hopefully I do better this week than I did during the openers. Enjoy the games this weekend!

–Tom

Current 2013 Pick Record: 9-6

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NFL Quick Hits

This is a feature I’m going to try every week where I post some hopefully brief thoughts on the past weekend of NFL games. I don’t know if I’ll have time to do the same with College Football games, but I will post them if I have time to write them all up. Hopefully you guys enjoy this segment.

1- The Falcons Are Who We Thought They Were- I’m sure most of you guys know I’m a Falcons fan by now, and that loss to the Saints was tough. The Falcons scored on their opening drives in both halves, but otherwise were very inconsistent on offense. I’m wondering why they ran the ball so infrequently despite Steven Jackson having solid success on the ground, and I’m also wondering how they managed to hold Drew Brees and the Saints to 23 points despite a lackluster pass rush. I’m not too worried about the offensive line yet, I think they will gel and become a stronger unit, but the amount of pressure in Matt Ryan’s face and the inexplicable avoidance of the run game and quick-hitting pass game to try to counter the pressure was frustrating. Brees was on point as always and I was impressed with the Saints dramatic improvement on defense. Rob Ryan has done a great job with them up to this point, and the pressure they got on Ryan and the looks they were showing him pre-snap stuck out to me. The Falcons will be fine, but I don’t think they are a 13-3 team like they were a year ago. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think they are in the 10-6/11-5 area. We shall see.

2- Peyton Manning Needs To Stop Playing On Rookie- The way Manning was playing on Thursday night it is evident to me he was just playing Madden on a rookie setting, and a veteran with his resume should be playing on All-Madden at least, and preferably with a number of the sliders raised manually beyond that. Manning was obviously masterful, and that was despite having no running backs with a yard per carry average over 3.8 and only gaining 65 total yards on the ground. Joe Flacco came down to Earth after his fantastic playoff performances and it’s clear to me that he is missing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta right now. Torrey Smith is a stud, but he can only do so much without a significant threat to take some pressure off of him. Dallas Clark surprised me with 7 catches for 87 yards, and if he can keep that up the loss of Pitta shouldn’t be quite as significant. I am a huge Demaryius Thomas fan and had a top 20 grade on him out of Georgia Tech and he has completely lived up to my expectations for him. I definitely expected Decker to be the #2 guy and Welker to be the 3rd option, but if the first week is any indication then Welker is going to get a lot of love from Manning this year. I don’t think 2 catches for 32 yards will be a typical week for Decker by any means, but I think I definitely underrated Welker’s potential impact coming into the year. I was also blown away by how well Duke Ihenacho and Shaun Phillips played. I liked Ihenacho out of San Jose State but realized some of his athletic limitations, however he had 12 tackles (including ELEVEN solo stops), 1 tackle for loss and 3 pass deflections as well as some pretty nice hits in this game. Phillips had 2.5 sacks and 3 QB hits on the night and definitely helped make up for the absence of Von Miller for at least one night. The Broncos looked like they were in mid-season form, but I don’t think the Ravens are going to have that much trouble on offense or defense for the entire season. They have lots of new faces on their roster and they need time to gel, and Manning took full advantage. Don’t hit the panic button yet Ravens fans.

3- EJ Manuel Is Making Me Look Stupid- I was pretty clear that I was not a fan of EJ Manuel at FSU and while it is still very early in his career my analysis of him is looking quite foolish right now. I have been very impressed with how Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have managed Manuel starting from his first pre-season snaps. They haven’t asked him to go out there and be Tom Brady, but much like Cam Newton his rookie season they will likely open up the playbook and let him attack more as he becomes more comfortable. I was happy to see Robert Woods get his first NFL catch and his first NFL touchdown, but Manuel got to see first hand that there’s almost nobody better than Tom Brady when the game is on the line. He may not have had a great day statistically, but when it counted he took the Pats down the field and got them in position to win the game. Danny Amendola predictably had a good game, I loved what Shane Vereen did and I was very sad to see that he is going to miss significant time due to a broken wrist (which he apparently suffered on the first play of the game!). I am hoping that Spiller was given limited touches because of his lost fumble, and not because he is inexplicably being mismanaged again in 2013. Regardless, Bills fans should be very encouraged by the early returns on EJ Manuel.

4- “Same Old Bungles”- That is for my good friend Ryan Koons who is now an active duty marine. He is a die hard Bengals fan and whenever they manage to lose a game like this that is what he would always say. I have to say I really thought those days were behind Cincinnati because on paper I thought they were ready to win the AFC North. However, Andy Dalton continues to make me wonder about just how far the Bengals can go with him as a quarterback even in spite of the absolutely fantastic play of AJ Green. The Bengals have tons of talent on defense, they’ve got weapons on offense, but if they are going to win close games and go deep in the playoffs they need Dalton to play better and limit his turnovers. The run game deserves some ire as well as the Bengals only averaged 3 yards per touch and totaled 63 yards on the ground. On the other side I thought Jay Cutler, overall, had a good game and Brandon Marshall was fantastic. The Bears running game was sluggish as well, and hopefully that offensive line will slowly gel and improve over the course of the season. I know that probably makes Bears fans nervous because they’ve been waiting for that offensive front to improve for years, but I’m hoping this is the year for their sake.

5- Reggie Bush Is Dangerous, Christian Ponder Is Not- The Lions put up 38 points on the Vikings defense and a lot of that is due to Reggie Bush totaling 90 yards on the ground (4.3 ypc) and 101 yards and one touchdown as a receiver (with a long of 77). That’s very impressive production, and it comes despite only hauling in four of his eight targets on the day. Matt Stafford had another high attempt, high yardage day and while it wasn’t the most efficient performance it certainly got the job done. I wouldn’t expect too many four catch, 37 yard days for Calvin Johnson, but Bush, Nate Burleson and Joique Bell took the pressure off of him this week. On the other side Christian Ponder continues to prove his doubters right as he threw 3 interceptions, got sacked three times and lost a fumble on the day. He also spoiled a fantastic game for Jerome Simpson who had 7 catches and 140 yards which I certainly didn’t expect from him. Adrian Peterson had a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry but gained only 15 additional yards on his next 17 carries, but still managed 93 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as 18 yards and another touchdown receiving. I will be the first to admit that I liked Ponder out of FSU (clearly I’m 0/2 on scouting Florida State quarterbacks right now) but he doesn’t have the same velocity he had prior to the injuries he sustained his senior year, he isn’t making good decisions and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Cassel start at some point this season for the Vikings. That’s not a good sign, and it likely means the Vikings will be looking to draft a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft. I have been patient with Ponder and he occasionally shows signs of life, but unfortunately now that he’s in his 3rd year these kinds of struggles won’t be tolerated anymore. He’s got to step up his game and quick.

6- Pryor Makes Oakland Offense Almost Competent- I really feel like I am ruining any credibility I have as a quarterback scout but I liked Tyler Wilson a lot out of Arkansas and I didn’t like Terrelle Pryor out of Ohio State, but I am glad the Raiders elected to start Pryor over Matt Flynn. Pryor’s legs gave the Raiders life in this game and while I don’t think it will get them to the playoffs it should make them more competitive than they would have been with Flynn at the helm. I didn’t get to see as much of this game as I wanted to because the feed went out for it multiple times at the bar I was watching the games at (for some reason it was streaming online, not sure why), so outside of Pryor impressing me as a runner and Andrew Luck being a stud I don’t have too many thoughts on this game. Sorry guys.

7- Nolan Nawrocki Your Crow Is Ready- I know it’s early, and I know it’s only his first start, but it was fun to see Geno Smith rally the Jets to an unlikely win against Tampa Bay week one. I’m not going to say he made some unbelievable plays on that final drive to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but if Sanchez was the QB on that final drive I don’t think the Jets would have won that game. Smith isn’t known for his scrambling, but his athleticism was obvious at the NFL combine and he gave the Jets a chance to get lucky thanks to his skill set. He wasn’t mind-blowingly efficient by any means, but it was definitely a solid first start based on what I was able to see. Unfortunately for Bucs fans Josh Freeman struggled (though the Jets do still have a good, well-coached defense) and despite 154 yards from Vincent Jackson he only managed 210 yards on 31 attempts, was sacked three times and threw one touchdown and one interception. I wasn’t a Freeman fan coming out and his first season it really looked like he might make me eat my words, but he seemed to plateau after that rookie season and hasn’t quite been the same since.

8- Kaepernick Is The Truth- I wasn’t wild about Kaepernick’s throwing motion or accuracy coming out of Nevada, but Jim Harbaugh has done a fantastic job with him and that offense is now tailor made for him. It certainly helps having weapons like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis (even though Davis had a drop or two that he shouldn’t have) while Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are injured, but his athleticism, pure arm strength and seemingly improving accuracy really stood out to me against the Packers. Green Bay had absolutely no answer for the Kaepernick-Boldin connection and while they managed to keep him bottled up as a runner he shredded them for 412 yards and three touchdowns as a passer. The Packers will have to go back to the drawing board now to try to figure out how to slow Kaepernick down if they meet again in the playoffs. I thought Aaron Rodgers was great as usual even if he did come up just short, I still love Randall Cobb, and I was happy Jermichael Finley bounced back from that drop that led to Rodgers only interception with some solid catches, good yards after the catch and that impressive touchdown. The Packers should be fine and I think they will be a playoff team, but I’m sure they and their fans are annoyed that another referee controversy led to a do-over for the 49ers that led to an Anquan Boldin touchdown. Maybe I’m alone here, but I think the NFL downgrading Bill Leavy for that mistake is ridiculous. Leavy is a veteran official and while he made a mistake this just reeks of an overreaction to me.

9- RGIII Was Rusty, The Eagles Offense Wasn’t- The Eagles defense made this interesting in the second half as RGIII and the Redskins started to knock some of the rust off, but in the first half RGIII had a lot of issues fading away from throws and not stepping into his passes. He still did some of that in the 2nd half, but he was definitely much more crisp and effective once his receivers stopped dropping passes and Kyle Shanahan adjusted to get him into a rhythm with quicker, easier throws. Michael Vick was impressive, though he’s still the same Michael Vick that will hold onto the ball too long and take unnecessary risks with his body at times. LeSean McCoy looks like an ideal fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and he should have a huge year. I was also happy to see that one of my favorites from a couple years ago Mychal Kendricks looked much better (based on what I saw live) and was pressuring RGIII pretty consistently. I’m not sure he’s great in coverage, but it was fun to see him rushing some of Griffin’s throws. Additionally, that interception Cary Williams made on that out route that Griffin threw was nothing short of fantastic. What a terrific play.

10- Oh Philip Rivers, You Poor Bastard- Rivers was absolutely fantastic in the 1st half and he started off the 2nd half in the same fashion. He had the Chargers up 28-7 and seemed poised for a statement victory in week one of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, much like he and the Bolts have in the past, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Rivers and the offense began to sputter, the Texans woke up on offense, and the rally was complete once Brian Cushing read Rivers’ eyes beautifully and made a diving interception that he then returned for a game-tying touchdown. The Texans would go on to move the ball down the field and position Randy Bullock for a game winning 41 yard field goal. Andre Johnson continued to show why he is one of the best in the game with a 12 reception, 146 yard performance, Owen Daniels chipped in 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Hopkins added five receptions and 66 yards. I thought Arian Foster seemed determined to make a big play all game and didn’t seem focused on doing the little things. He was palming the ball and holding it away from his body, he dropped multiple catchable balls, and almost seemed to be showing off and looking to make someone look foolish. Maybe that’s just me over-extrapolating, but he seemed off tonight. I’d be surprised if Gary Kubiak doesn’t talk to him about how he’s holding the ball after he and the other coaches watch film.

Alright, so that was a LOT less brief than I expected it to be. I guess I had more to say than I anticipated, though I shouldn’t really be surprised since I am so long winded anyway. Sorry that was such a long post, hopefully you enjoyed it anyway!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

Here is my write-up on the Falcons-Bears game from Sunday, September 11th. For those of you who read my blog consistently you may know that I am a Falcons fan. I feel that I was relatively objective when writing this post, but knowing a team as well as I know the Falcons is sure to create some bias. Hopefully you enjoy the post in spite of this, as I took pages of notes on this game as I watched it live. Enjoy!

Falcons Offense:

The Falcons offense was ineffective at best today. Matt Ryan passed for 319 yards but had to do it with 31 completions on 47 attempts, which is never a good sign for an offense that prides itself on ball control and effectively running the ball. The Falcons only ran the ball 14 times today and while it was for 110 yards they got 53 of them on a huge run by Turner up the middle where he was largely untouched before he was caught from behind. Ryan averaged 6.8 YPA, which is not bad but not great either, and threw an interception on a forced pass to Tony Gonzalez that Brian Urlacher made a terrific play on to bring in the pass. There were a number of dropped balls in this game additionally. Roddy dropped at least two, I believe Harry Douglas had at least one, perhaps two drops, and Turner and Snelling each had a drop if I remember correctly.

The Falcons offensive line was also clearly overwhelmed by the Bears pass rush and it showed as they tallied 5 sacks, 14 QB hits, 9 hurries and forced two turnovers courtesy of Ryan (one INT and one fumble recovery). Early in the game Ryan was willingly taking shots to deliver catchable passes, but he was getting pressured and hit so consistently that he gradually became more and more uncomfortable in the pocket and started fading away from his throws which led to less precise ball placement, more air under his passes and therefore became less effective passing the ball.

When he had time the Bears were usually only rushing four (though they regularly applied significant pressure with four down linemen rushing) which meant Ryan was looking to pass against seven defenders dropping into coverage. That led to a lot of check downs which was frustrating to watch considering how much emphasis the Falcons front office and coaching staff placed on creating more explosive plays downfield. Julio Jones flashed the ability to help in this department by showing the ability to get vertical and make catches in traffic as well as taking shorter passes and getting yards after the catch which is something the Falcons have been sorely lacking.

However, despite spreading the ball around fairly well, Ryan still checked down a lot to his running backs and at times forced the ball to Tony Gonzalez which is something he really needs to stop doing. At times he will key on one receiver (frequently Gonzalez) and throw the ball to him despite the coverage keying on his eyes, which is how Urlacher was able to make that interception on a pass intended for Gonzalez. But I also recognize that he was checking down because of the lack of separation the Falcons’ wide receivers were creating downfield, which is equally as frustrating. The Bears were playing quality coverage on all of our receivers, our offensive line couldn’t slow down their pass rush, and Ryan was forced to dink and dunk all day. That meant we needed to string a lot of plays together with no mistakes to get a potential scoring drive, but we had so many penalties (9 penalties for 65 yards) on the offensive side of the ball such as false starts and holds that a number of promising drives were killed as a result of them. It seemed every time the Falcons fought their way into Bears territory they had an unnecessary penalty such as a false start, hold or penalty after the play ended that either led to a field goal attempt or to a punt looking to pin the Bears back in their own territory.

The Falcons have a lot to clean up before next week on the offensive side of the ball. Most notably they have to find a way to keep Ryan upright because if they can’t give him time and room to step up in the pocket to avoid the outside pass rush (which was a problem today with Joe Hawley and Garrett Reynolds making their first career starts at Center and Right Guard respectively) it is going to be a very long season and there won’t be time to stretch the field as those routes take longer to develop. As a result of their defense’s poor play and their inability to score a single offensive touchdown against the Bears the Falcons’ run game was abandoned which is never a good sign for Atlanta, and re-establishing that despite Michael Turner’s clear lack of explosiveness and burst is going to be critical.

Overall I thought the offense struggled mightily today, only managing six total points. We didn’t see more explosive plays thanks to limited pass protection for Ryan and limited separation downfield from the receivers, and the offense overall was inconsistent at best. When they did finally seem to have something going a penalty or sack would derail the promising drive, leading either to a punt or a field goal.

Falcons Defense:

The Falcons defense was very underwhelming to me. I was hoping to see a much improved pass rush and hopefully some better pass coverage, but I was not impressed with either. John Abraham provided the majority of our pressure as usual, but I did not hear Ray Edwards’ name called once. I was hoping that he, along with Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, would create more consistent pressure. I think the pass rush was better than last year for the most part, however the Bears offensive line is a group we should have handled pretty easily, and far too often I thought deep completions downfield were a result of Cutler having plenty of time to survey the field and plenty of space to step up and deliver a catchable ball. So, while Abe impressed me (and drew a number of uncalled holding penalties as usual) I was underwhelmed by our defensive tackles and outside of some pressure from Biermann, Edwards and even some flashes from Sidbury I was not impressed by the defensive line from a pass rushing standpoint.

The secondary was our biggest problem area in my opinion, and that really hasn’t changed much since last year. I think it should be pretty clear to everyone that Dunta Robinson got vastly overpaid and really is not a #1 corner type of player. At times I wonder why he is even a starter. I thought he might just be best in a man coverage type scheme, but routinely he struggles whether in zone, man, press or off coverage. He opens his hips the wrong way, he doesn’t recover well once he’s made a mistake, he doesn’t close on the ball well, he lets running backs break contain when his only job is to force them inside to the pursuing defenders, and he misses tackles in the open field far too often. What exactly is the upside to playing him? I have to ask, because I don’t know. He’s better than the other corners we would start, which explains why Cutler was picking us apart (especially in the first half), but I think he is definitely upgradable and I don’t think he should be on our team in another two years. Thankfully, Brent Grimes makes up for some of his inadequacy with great plays on the ball, great instincts, better tackling, and amazing athleticism to recover, close and make plays on passes. He was one of the bright spots for the Falcons yesterday.

One problem I saw yesterday was not that the defense wasn’t getting any opportunities for turnovers, but rather that they weren’t capitalizing on them. I counted three dropped interceptions yesterday (Two by Thomas DeCoud and one by Sean Weatherspoon) and if DeCoud had brought in both interceptions it would have prevented a field goal and Matt Forte’s touchdown on a screen pass, which occurred just two plays after DeCoud dropped an interception if my memory serves. That is a serious problem, because if the pass rush rattles Cutler enough to make a mistake (which they did at times, even if it wasn’t as consistent as Chicago’s pressure) then the pass coverage needs to take advantage of it. Because they didn’t, 10 points went up on the board that could have been avoided, and instead of being down 30-12 late in the game it could have theoretically been a 20-12 game with only one possession necessary to tie the game. That is a huge difference, and it was one of the main reasons why the Falcons were unable to keep this game close.

One positive on the defensive side of the ball was the Falcons run defense. I thought it looked quite good for the majority of the game. I still think that the Falcons have issues tackling, as evidenced by Sean Weatherspoon when he attempted to shove Matt Forte when he was running down the sideline for an eventual touchdown instead of even attempting to wrap him up, but they were swarming to the ball, gang tackling at times, and they played fundamentally sound run defense for the majority of the game. That was great to see, because at least the front seven was doing its job and taking Matt Forte out of the game from a running perspective. Forte had a solid game running the ball accounting for 68 yards on 16 carries (4.3 yard average) with 27 yards coming on a single carry. Excluding that for curiosities sake, the Falcons only allowed him to run for 41 yards on his other 15 carries (an average of only 2.73 per carry) which is definitely good. The Falcons only gave up 88 yards on the ground (a 3.3 yard per carry average) and allowed no touchdowns on the ground which was good to see. However, Matt Forte shredded the defense catching passes out of the backfield with 5 catches, 90 yards and a touchdown. So while they slowed him down as a runner he showed his value as a pass catcher.

Long story short, the Falcons have a lot to work on. Their pass coverage was largely atrocious and there were plenty of big holes for receivers to take advantage of in zone coverage, and rarely were many Falcons in position in man coverage. The Falcons like to run zone, and that really proved to be problematic for Dunta Robinson and Chris Owens from what I was able to see. The pass coverage is going to have to come a long way, and an improvement in the pass rush will help that. But the pass rush isn’t going to be collapsing the pocket on every play, and I think it was better than it was last year even if it was less consistent than I would have liked in the first half. The secondary needs to hold up their end of the bargain, especially when it comes to capitalizing on turnovers. That didn’t happen, and it resulted in a pretty pathetic defensive display and an eventual loss.

Chicago Bears Offense:

The Bears offense looked like a juggernaut in the first half as Jay Cutler was carving up the Falcons secondary for significant chunks of yardage, he regularly had plenty of time to throw and this was all happening without much of a running game from Matt Forte and the offensive line. I thought Roy Williams looked great as he was making tough catches away from his body and providing Jay Cutler with a nice, big target that only needed the ball in his general area for the pass to be completed. A lot of people were skeptical about Williams and whether or not his addition would be significant, but I think he had a good game even if his stat line (4 catches for 55 yards and no touchdowns) wasn’t earth shattering. He did his job and each of the four times the ball was thrown to him he caught it. That’s all you can ask of a wide receiver.

I thought the Bears used Devin Hester more effectively yesterday. I don’t think you need to throw to him 5-10 times a game (they targeted him 5 times) but using him on bubble screens, a reverse and maybe a fade and post route would be how I would deploy him. He’s just so dangerous that if he can make a guy miss and get into the open field you never know what will happen, which is exactly what he did on a screen against the Falcons. He made a guy miss, got into the open field and just kept working back across the field, using his blockers and avoiding tacklers until he was pushed out at the one (though I personally thought he scored) which led to an easy 1 yard touchdown pass on play action from Cutler to Matt Spaeth in the back of the end zone. 53 of his 60 yards came on that one screen play, but that is what Hester brings to the table. He might get tackled four times for a total gain of seven yards, but he only needs one touch to change the landscape of the game.

Matt Forte continued to impress me which is nothing new. I’ve loved watching him play since he was at Tulane and I thought he was going to be a great back. I actually wanted the Falcons to draft him in the 2nd round instead of signing a free agent running back (like Michael Turner). That’s not to say that Michael Turner hasn’t been an effective back for the Falcons, but I thought Forte’s game would have been a great compliment to a quarterback like Ryan who is very smart and usually knows when to check down to his running back. I also thought his value was significant because even on a day when he was bottled up as a runner (save one 27 yard run) he was able to dramatically change the game as a pass catcher. Add it all up and he had 158 total yards rushing and receiving plus a touchdown, which is production you would take any day of the week from your running back. I really love watching him play and I think he is really the guy that makes this offense go.

Jay Cutler may have gotten a lot of grief for how he handled his injury in the conference championship game, but regardless of that he is still a quality NFL quarterback. Maybe he is lacking in toughness, and I am still personally bewildered by his footwork at times, but the guys arm is special. He has great arm strength, zip and there are times when he throws an off balance pass down the seam in perfect stride with his receiver and you just can’t help but marvel at how he made that throw. I personally think he could be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league without much debate if he improved his footwork and his mechanics from that standpoint, but even still he is very effective especially when he gets in a rhythm which the Falcons allowed him to do in the first half. He was very efficient as he completed 22 of his 32 pass attempts for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception that was returned for Atlanta’s only touchdown of the game. It was a bit of a fluke interception, but I still think it was on Cutler for throwing it instead of taking a sack, etc. I have always been a supporter of Cutler because he was the guy I thought would turn out the best of the trio of QB’s in his draft class. It’s hard to say he didn’t end up the best of the trio he was compared with considering the problems Vince Young and Matt Leinart have had in the NFL, but he could still be much better. But he didn’t have a very consistent rushing attack to take pressure off of him in this game and he was still efficient and effective which warrants mentioning in my opinion.

The Bears offensive line was better than I expected it to be, but considering the seemingly random assortment of parts that make up their offensive line that still isn’t saying a lot. It’s a definite testament to Mike Tice’s ability to coach up offensive linemen that the group played so well as a unit, only surrendering four sacks and 6 additional QB hits according to the stat sheet I’m looking at. In contrast, the Falcons offensive line allowed 5 sacks and 14 QB hits, plus 9 hurries and it is widely considered the better unit. They didn’t provide a lot of running room for Forte and Bell to run through, but I think that is something that might improve as the season progresses if the offensive line can stay healthy and mesh together as a unit. It will never be a good or a great unit in my opinion, but I think it can be solid.

Chicago Bears Defense:

The Bears defense continues to be the staple of their team. For years the defense has been responsible for dismantling powerful offenses to keep their lackluster offense in the game as long and often as possible. Now, with a potentially more dangerous passing attack and a running back who can threaten defenses just as well with the run as he can with the pass, the defense doesn’t have to win games by themselves. Their pass rush yesterday was as terrifying as ever, and Rod Marinelli continues to prove just how good of a defensive line guru he really is. The Bears cut Tommie Harris and brought in Amobi Okoye to replace him as he had not been effective for the Texans and no longer fit their scheme, and he provided some pressure along with Henry Melton at defensive tackle to collapse the pocket, and even ended up with a sack. Melton had an astronomical 5 tackles, 2 sacks and an almost unbelievable SEVEN hits on the quarterback. While they obviously played well from a statistical standpoint, I think part of the reason they were creating so much pressure was because Peppers was causing so many problems off the edge for Sam Baker and the Falcons offensive line. He forced Ryan to step up a number of times and a few times there just wasn’t any room to step up because the defensive tackles got such good penetration. The Bears defensive line was fantastic in this game, and that is a testament to their front office, their scheme, their personnel and definitely to Rod Marinelli.

The Bears run defense was more problematic than their pass defense was, but their team is built to stop the pass (especially deep passes) more than it is built to stop the run in my opinion. This was demonstrated by giving up 110 yards on only 14 carries to the Falcons. 53 of those yards came on one huge run by Michael Turner, but even still they gave up 57 yards on only 13 carries (an average of 4.38 per carry). So, their run defense could use some improvement, but they weren’t terrible in my opinion.

The real strength of the Bears defense was their pass defense. Their defensive line was nasty, but their secondary was also quite good. I think they look better than they actually are when you consider the personnel they are employing (I’m not a huge fan of Tim Jennings or Major Wright), but with that pass rush and some corners who can play man to man coverage (especially if they do it as well as Charles Tillman does) or zone coverage then they can be very effective. They caused a lot of problems for Matt Ryan because the pass rush applied pressure so quickly that the secondary was still covering the Falcons receivers effectively, meaning he had to either check down, take a sack or force a throw against good coverage. Being a pretty smart player, Ryan regularly elected to check down or take a sack. The Bears are very good at taking away big plays, but a big test for them will be seeing how well they do when they are forced to take away big plays from a team like the Packers. They have so many weapons in their passing game (Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, to name a few) that I think it will be hard to eliminate all of the big plays like the Bears did with the Falcons. The Falcons have Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, but unlike the Packers they don’t get vertical nearly as well as the Packers’ offensive weapons do. That was one reason the Bears were able to take away so many vertical plays: there just weren’t that many legitimate deep threats beyond Roddy and Julio.

Overall I was impressed with the Bears. A lot of people thought that they were going to finish in 3rd in their division and that there was no way they would see the playoffs having to go against the defending Superbowl Champion Packers twice a year plus deal with the up-and-coming Detroit Lions team in their same division. But they showed that while their offense is still a work in progress at times they can still play defense effectively. I don’t know exactly how their season will play out, especially since I don’t know if their pass rush will always be as consistently effective as it was against the Falcons yesterday, but I do think that they have a great shot at 8-9 wins which is more than a lot of people expected them to get based on what I read.

Sorry this post was so long, I had pages and pages of notes on this game. Hopefully you enjoyed the read, and thank you for reading! I’ll have my Missouri-Arizona State post up next.

–Tom

Hi everyone, sorry my posts have been a bit infrequent lately. I am currently in Mexico on vacation with my family and I don’t have internet in the house I am staying at. I didn’t bring my phone with me either, so in a way it is nice to get away from it all for a while. However, I watched the Sugar Bowl at a restaurant that had a TV and paid attention to some specific players and also noticed some who performed well. So despite not having internet where I am staying here are my notes on Arkansas and Ohio State from the Sugar Bowl!

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas– Mallett had a bit of a tough night. He had his ups and downs and his receivers dropped at least five catchable balls, some of them which would have been big plays, but he had his share of very inaccurate throws himself. He was routinely pressured, so credit Ohio State’s defensive line and blitz packages for that, but he did not do a good job of finding hot reads and getting the ball out quickly in this game. He held onto the ball too long and eventually had to take a sack or throw an off balance pass that was either somewhat catchable or in the dirt. He has a pretty good sense of when to move up in the pocket when the pressure is getting there, but once the pressure forces him out of the pocket he was not accurate in this game. He had no interceptions all season when throwing outside of the pocket until this game when he threw his only interception of the night late in the fourth quarter after being forced outside the pocket yet again. He had a number of impressive throws in this game though, particularly on fade routes. He showed nice touch, good arm strength and impressive accuracy to put the ball on the right shoulder and where only his receiver could make a play on it a number of times on fade routes. However, he had a few bad decisions too like he always does. He isn’t afraid to throw into double coverage and even without his feet set he is sure he can throw the ball pretty much wherever he wants, which isn’t always the case. His footwork still leaves a lot to be desired for this reason, because when he sets his feet he can put the ball wherever he wants it thanks to his terrific arm strength and good (but inconsistent) accuracy.

Like Jay Cutler, when he is on he is really on, and can sling the ball all over the field. But he was noticeably frustrated against Ohio State because his receivers dropped some passes they really should have caught, and it culminated with Mallett forcing a pass into coverage and getting picked off by a defensive end dropping into coverage. Suffice it to say, I’m still not a Ryan Mallett fan. I think his ceiling in the NFL is a Jay Cutler type of QB who can really sling it when he is having a good day, but unless he improves his footwork he will always be inconsistent from game to game and season to season. However, Mallett’s floor is also a low one in my opinion, because I have no idea what kind of character he possesses and I have heard there are a number of scouts and GM’s who have significant enough problems with his character to not have him on their draft board at all. If these rumors are true and Mallett turns out to have character issues (not because of off-field incidents, but more like Jimmy Clausen’s character issues about being too cocky/arrogant, etc.) then I think it will hurt him on draft day like it did Clausen.

I’m still unimpressed with Mallett as a leader and as a “clutch” player late in games because I still don’t think I have seen him get the ball late in a game and methodically drive his team down the field for a late touchdown or field goal to take the lead. The announcers mentioned a three play, 73 yard touchdown drive before the punt block occurred, but that is a misleading statistic. The first two throws on that drive were pretty easy throws to open receivers, and the third throw, while impressively placed between the cornerback and the safety down the sideline, was caught by Greg Childs who made the safety miss and then was clear to jog into the end zone for the final 30+ yards of the drive to take the lead. Not exactly a magical drive from Mallett I wouldn’t say. Anyways, I was wondering if he had it in him to make a couple of good decisions and throws in this game to win it late (even though they got really lucky with the short field from the punt block) but a dropped pass and then an off balance throw that was easily intercepted by a defensive end took care of that threat. Because Mallett is not a proven “winner” in my opinion I don’t see him developing into one once he gets to the NFL. There are too many things going against him: Poor footwork, inconsistent accuracy/ball placement, inconsistent decision making, potential character concerns, little experience leading come-backs late in the 4th quarter and significant evidence to say that he is a “System Quarterback” given the fact that none of the QB’s Petrino has coached in his system have gone on to have NFL success. I said earlier this year that I thought Knile Davis was the best prospect on Arkansas’ offense and I still feel that way. It will be interesting to see how the draft process unfolds for Mallett, and even though I’m not a fan I would feel like a jerk if I didn’t wish him good luck the rest of the way. Honestly, he may need it.

Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State– I have probably not hidden the fact that I am not a Terrelle Pryor fan either, so I have to start this post off by saying that even though he had a great statistical performance in this game I am still not a fan at all. He had a ton of production in this game, and like he usually does he converted some huge first downs for Ohio State with his legs and I believe he ended up with well over 100 yards rushing, which is impressive considering Arkansas’ ability to create sacks and negative plays (for those who don’t know, in college when the quarterback is sacked the yards lost are considered a negative rushing play and taken out of their rushing total. That is why some pocket passers will end games with negative yards rushing even though they rarely, if ever, crossed the line of scrimmage). He even looked pretty good as a passer in the first half. I was surprised how well he handled some of Arkansas’ pressure, but I can’t say I have a lot of faith in their secondary so it’s not a surprise that some of his receivers were getting separation. I’m still not sold on him as a passer, but he got the ball out under duress better than I thought he would. Like last year in the Rose Bowl he impressed me by saving his best performances for big games, so you have to give him credit for that. I may not be sold on him as a NFL QB, but I will always like players who despite all the things that may happen leading up to a game (such as getting suspended for the first five games of your senior season for selling old memorabilia from your career) can still put on a show when it counts.

That’s not to say he locked this game up with his arm, he was really ineffective in the second half, probably because Arkansas started to mix in more zone instead of pressuring him. Scrambling QB’s are tricky to prepare for because sometimes if you blitz them and you get to them you can force turnovers, but if they can escape pressure (like Pryor was able to for the entire first half and even in the second half) then there will usually be a lot of room to run or a wide open receiver as a result of a broken play. Mike Vick was great at escaping from pressure (especially against average or worse defenses), as is Pryor, and at picking up first downs because of his legs. Despite some of the impressive throws Pryor had in this game I am still not sold on him as a passer. When it was crunch time he converted with his legs, not his arm, and he didn’t seem comfortable reading zone coverage and had to exit the pocket and scramble to buy more time so one of his receivers could come open. I’m not sure how good his anticipation is as a QB, and because I watched this live I won’t be able to evaluate it until I re-watch it later, but it seems to me he wouldn’t have struggled to find receivers to throw to against Arkansas’ more zone-heavy scheme in the 2nd half if he could anticipate where his receiver would be and throw him open in the hole in the zone. Because he wasn’t able to do that he had to extend plays with his legs and I can think of probably three or four horrible throws that were off his back foot with tons of air under them that he had to thank God that they went out of bounds. He had a couple of potential interceptions dropped by the Arkansas’ secondary additionally, and at least one of them was an absolute “gimme” where two defenders went for it and neither came away with it.

So, while Pryor played well overall and had a very productive game with what was probably about 350 yards of total offense by himself I am still not sold on him as a NFL QB. He is a great athlete and he has good arm strength but very inconsistent accuracy. He just isn’t a very good passer from the pocket when it comes down to it. His pocket presence is not very good because his tendency is always to run or scramble when pressure comes instead of stepping up into the pocket, keeping his feet set and throwing his receiver open. He seemed to struggle reading zone coverage, I’m not sure how well he does finding his hot reads and I still don’t trust his decision making. So while he had a great game and got Ohio State (and the Big 10) a much needed BCS win against an SEC team he still hasn’t impressed me as a passer. For his sake I hope he comes back next year and serves his suspension just on the off chance he develops some more.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas– I am a huge fan of Knile Davis. He had a good game against Ohio State even though he had a costly fumble in the 2nd half. He was fighting for extra yards and even though he had the ball tucked away safely in one arm he should have covered it up with two to make sure it didn’t get stripped. I believe Arkansas recovered it anyway, but still it was a mistake on his part. Other than that I thought he played great. He showed impressive burst, acceleration and pretty good vision all game. He tried to bounce one or two runs outside (that I can remember from just watching it live) that I didn’t think he should have but mostly he was good at getting North and South from what I remember. He had another 100 yard game, his sixth of the season even though I believe he only started nine games all year. He really helped take Arkansas from a dangerous passing offense to a juggernaut balanced offense this year with his emergence, and though Mallett had a huge hand in making big plays in the passing game a lot of it was set up by Davis forcing teams to creep up and respect the run.

If Mallett leaves as I expect him to I am really excited to see if Davis can have a huge season next year even though Tyler Wilson will be stepping in at QB. Wilson showed some flashes of what he can do in Petrino’s offense against Auburn with a 400 yard, four touchdown performance in a loss but I think it’s clear that even though Mallett is extremely physically talented a player with less physical gifts like Wilson (who actually showed some pretty nice zip on his passes in that game from what I remember) can still operate the offense and make it explosive. So congratulations to Knile Davis on a fantastic season and I really hope he has a great junior season and that he stays healthy so he can end up being picked in the 1st round next year. The SEC should have a ton of talented RB’s to watch next year by the way: Knile Davis at Arkansas, Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles at South Carolina, Trent Richardson at Alabama (assuming Ingram leaves), Brandon Bolden at Mississippi, Vick Ballard at Mississippi State, Tauren Poole at Tennessee, and Washaun Ealey at Georgia. It should be fun to watch as some of those programs start to feature those running backs a lot, especially now that the conference has some young, promising talent at QB.

Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas– Adams had a huge game statistically but it could have been even bigger if he didn’t drop three catchable passes. I love his speed in the slot so that he can turn a short drag route into a twenty yard gain and his speed to challenge down the seam or down the sideline vertically. Plus he is elusive after the catch and plays with a feisty attitude which I like. However, his hands just aren’t quite what you want in a wide receiver yet. The first deep shot of the game was to Adams and it bounced right off his hands which really set the tone for Arkansas in the first half. The whole time the announcers talked about how Ohio State has been good at preventing the big play all season which is why they don’t give up a lot of yards but they had an early opportunity to make a big play and get some momentum but Adams let it bounce right off his hands. He dropped two other passes that I can remember, one that would have been for a touchdown, and that really hurts his grade for his overall performance in this game. If he didn’t have those three costly drops I would have said he is exactly what the Falcons needed at wide receiver because of his ability to stretch the field, make guys miss for yards after the catch and because of his tendency for explosive plays.

However, I think he should go back to school, work on his hands all summer and hopefully he will come back with Tyler Wilson to form a new big three of Wilson, Davis and Adams now that Mallett and Childs should both be gone. This kid has a ton of potential but as stupid as it sounds for a wide receiver, he just has to improve his hands. He has the speed and burst to improve as a route runner (I’m not sure how good he is at this point) and that can be coached up, but if he wants to improve his hands that is on him. There are plenty of examples of receivers who didn’t have great hands who came into the NFL and improved them over their first three seasons, and if Adams wants to be one of those guys all he needs is the work ethic. However, there are even more guys who had tons of potential because of their speed and play-making ability in college who never capitalized on it in the NFL because their hands held them back. I really hope Adams doesn’t end up being the latter.

DeMarcus Love, OT, Arkansas– Love had a tough game. I can honestly say I didn’t pay too much attention to him because I was trying to see how Mallett, Davis, Adams and D.J. Williams were doing but when I did notice him it was usually bad news. He had a lot of trouble with Cameron Heyward and that isn’t surprising, I think Heyward is a top 20 lock, and probably the #2 3-4 DE prospect after Marcell Dareus in this entire draft. His strength and power gave Love a lot of issues, and routinely Love got beaten by Heyward which led to pressure on Mallett before the play could really develop. That’s not good for Love’s draft prospects because I’m not sure he has the lateral agility and athletic ability to stick at left tackle, but at right tackle teams are going to be looking for a guy who can be a road-grader in the running game and take away whatever pass rushers they are up against, unless of course they have to face a guy with good/great speed off the edge. I will have to re-watch this game closely to see how Love does, but depending on his athletic ability and how well he gets to the second level I have a feeling his NFL future may be inside at guard. But like I said, I need to re-watch this game before I come to any conclusions about Love as a prospect. I just noticed that he struggled mightily at times in this game.

D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas– I like D.J. Williams as a prospect, and I think he has developed into a solid blocker. I don’t know that he will ever be a great blocker but being able to be solid blocker will really help his value as a prospect, because without that ability he would be a horrible fit in an offense that asks their TE’s to block a lot like Atlanta’s. Now he is a potential fit because of that ability, and he seems to have a good work ethic so there is reason to hope that he could improve with coaching. His real value comes as a receiver though. I have heard him be compared to Tony Gonzalez which is a comparison I don’t like at all, but he is a good receiver. His hands are pretty good even though it was his drop that preceded Ryan Mallett’s game ending interception for Arkansas. I see him let passes into his pads at times though which is a bad habit, but he has good hands overall in my opinion. I’m not sure how much he will be able to challenge down the seam in the NFL because I don’t really buy that he has 4.6 timed speed, but he is good at finding holes in the zone and he catches the ball effectively in traffic. He is also very hard to bring down after the catch, and he routinely picks up extra yardage not with speed and great elusiveness but by lowering his shoulder and running through tacklers. I personally think Lance Kendricks is a better TE prospect but that probably has something to do with me seeing a lot of him over the past three years, and I think that if Rudolph declares he will still get picked before Kendricks and Williams. I would be surprised if those two were not the next TE’s off the board barring additional junior declarations.

Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State– I am a big Heyward fan and I really think he should be off the board in the top 20 selections. He is the perfect 3-4 DE in my opinion and if a team in the top 20 needs one he should be high on their wish list. He has great size, he’s really strong and he has great hand usage to shed blocks. I’m not sure he has the best motor, but he stands up well at the point of attack versus the run and is quick enough that he can penetrate into the backfield with one move and close on the ball carrier. He seems to be a pretty good tackler, though I haven’t scouted him enough to be sure of that. However, when it comes to the basics of playing DE in a 3-4, he has them down. He is strong enough at the point of attack to control two gaps, he is very good at shedding blocks because of his strong and active hands, he is at least a solid tackler and he has good quickness for his size to penetrate and make plays in the backfield when given the opportunity. And if that 3-4 team goes into a nickel defense and has four down lineman he can play LE or DT depending on whether it is a running or passing situation, potentially making him even more valuable.

I just think he is a very well-rounded player and he had a great game against Arkansas. He was pretty much a one man wrecking crew and he could not be blocked with just one guy, regardless of whether he was playing outside at DE or inside at DT. Like I said before, I like players that show up big in big games and Heyward certainly did that against Arkansas. He was constantly pressuring Mallett, penetrating versus the run and generally wreaking havoc whenever he was in. And perhaps even more impressive was the fact that it was extremely noticeable when he came out because of his elbow that was bothering him. Arkansas moved the ball much better as soon as he came out, and when he came back in his impact was immediately felt. It is rare for a defensive lineman to have that kind of impact on a game, but Heyward did and it really impressed me. If I was a big fan before I am an even bigger fan now. I’m not sure he will test all that well as far as 40 time and what not, but he has great size, good short area quickness and he is really strong, so even if he doesn’t run the fastest 40 for a guy his size he shouldn’t be docked too much for it. I look forward to seeing him at the Senior Bowl if he does indeed go. I imagine it will be more of the same of him dominating blockers one on one for the most part if he does.

Thanks for reading, hopefully you can watch and enjoy the remaining bowl games! I will do what I can to put up predictions for the Cotton Bowl and the National Championship game, but internet access is infrequent for me. That is why I wasn’t able to put a prediction post up for the Sugar Bowl. For the record I did predict their comeback in the second half, just ask my Mom (who watched the game with me and lost a 50 cent bet about Arkansas’ potential comeback).

–Tom

Donovan McNabb Benched?

McNabb's Eagles used to torment my Falcons on a yearly basis but even I know he doesn't deserve to be treated this way.

I know this isn’t exactly “NFL Draft” related, but it’s something I felt that I needed to talk about. I am honestly shocked and a frankly a bit disgusted that the Redskins have decided to bench Donovan McNabb. Now, I would definitely not call myself a fan of McNabb’s. In fact, for many years when he was on Eagles teams that knocked my beloved Falcons out of the playoffs I despised him. But despite my hatred for him and those Eagles teams who always got in the way of my team come playoff time I always respected him because he was and is a quality NFL QB. The Redskins made a play to bring him in and like the Redskins always do they raised expectations too high with veteran acquisitions with too little well-developed talent to ever live up to the expectations of the front office, the media and the fans.

Now, I still believe McNabb is a good QB and his play this season will not change my mind about that. Why you ask? Let’s consider what he is working with on the offensive line. He has a rookie protecting his blind side in Trent Williams, and despite his high draft status he can’t be expected to step up to the NFL level and dominate talented DE’s that he will face, especially in a division with the Giants who have been pressuring QB’s consistently for years, the Eagles who usually have a stable full of quick edge rushers, as well as the Cowboys who have one of the best in the business at getting after the passer in DeMarcus Ware. In addition to Williams the Redskins are starting Kory Lichtensteiger, Casey Rabach and Will Montgomery in the middle of their offensive line. Lichtensteiger was a fourth round pick by the Broncos two years ago who moved to guard because he didn’t have much experience snapping in a traditional pro-style offense, Rabach is a former third round pick of the Ravens who has, to put it lightly, not had a very good season of pass protection. Montgomery is a former seventh round pick of the Panthers, and he plays next to Jamaal Brown, the former Saints left tackle who they tried so hard to get rid of last season. Not exactly a stellar group of players blocking for him, they have needed significant help up front for a couple of years but they have continued to ignore it, even while drafting Trent Williams. They could use an upgrade at LG, C and RG and depending on how Brown looked at RT they could use help there as well.

Not only that, but McNabb doesn’t have a whole lot of talent around him. Two guys who were supposed to contribute, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, have produced nothing since being drafted and it is probably fair to label them busts at this point having been picked in the second round. Santana Moss is still there, as is Clinton Portis, but as most people know Portis has not been healthy much this season and that has left Ryan Torain as the lead back. However, it is well known that the Redskins need a wide receiver capable of being a go-to guy on offense which they currently lack. So besides their woeful offensive line they have little talent outside at the skill positions outside of TE where they have reliable targets in Chris Cooley and Fred Davis (even though Davis can be inconsistent).

So is it really fair to blame McNabb’s career high 15 INT’s entirely on him? I don’t think so. That makes this benching all the more confusing. Yes he has had a down statistical season, but if you are going to bench McNabb you should bench at least three members of the offensive line, Ryan Torain, Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong so they can see what they have in other players. Because if Rex Grossman and John Beck, two NFL journeymen who have little value as potential starting QB’s if they have any at all, warrant exploration, then anyone on that roster has a legitimate case to get some playing time over the next three weeks.

If Shanahan actually releases McNabb not only would the Redskins shoulder a substantial cap hit, he would put a quality starting QB on the free agent market.

There is one intriguing thought I had about all of this. If the Redskins, despite the contract extension they gave McNabb and any evidence I or anyone else can come up with to support the idea that this season really isn’t a great reflection of McNabb’s ability as a NFL QB, do ultimately decide to release him there will be a number of teams lining up for his services, the first of which should be the Minnesota Vikings. I think it is pretty obvious that Brett Favre should have retired last season, and I don’t think that he should come back for another year. It’s a shame that his career may have to end this way, but it really is his own fault for coming back one year more than he should have. But without Favre the Vikings will be searching for a new QB. I, like most people, am convinced that Tarvaris Jackson is not the answer at QB for the Vikings. I am not even sure he is a reliable enough option for an interim-only basis. Joe Webb will get his first career start on Monday Night Football against the Bears in TCF Bank Stadium, so that will be a good opportunity for the Vikings to evaluate whether or not he is worth keeping as a developmental QB or as a potential #2 at some point.

Beyond that, though, the Vikings literally have no talent at QB. They should be in the market for a veteran to take the reigns for at least a year and a young QB to develop into an eventual starter this year, and should McNabb become available I imagine the Vikings would spare no expense to get him to Winter Park to sell him on the organization. If they were able to get McNabb it would save the Vikings from potentially spiraling into the bottom of the NFC North with the Detroit Lions for a couple of seasons. He won’t fix the offensive line, the defensive line or the secondary, but he would solidify the QB position which is probably their most pressing need at the moment, and that’s something. Not to mention having McNabb would be a great buffer for whoever they draft to play QB in the future because ideally he would play well enough for at least a year or hopefully two years to keep fans from clamoring for the young gun to play.

So it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out. Hopefully the Redskins don’t just release McNabb, but if he doesn’t want to play there anymore and they do cut him then I’m sure the Vikings would be more than happy to scoop him up. God knows McNabb deserves a team who will treat him with some respect. Maybe the Vikings could be that team.

Thanks for reading,

–Tom