Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What We Learned on Monday: Still No News in Arizona

The second week of the 2010 preseason was wrapped up on Monday night as the Tennessee Titans completely shut down the Arizona Cardinals, 24-10.

Things were looking good on Jeff Fisher's side of the field, with Vince Young, Chris Johnson & Co. looking good early on. Not to mention solid special teams play from everyone.

But, on the other side of the field Arizona's head coach Ken Whisenhunt was left scratching his head. One things is for sure after tonight's matchup: Ken still has no idea who his quarterback will be come week one of the regular season.
Both Matt Leinart--the favorite to win the job--and Derek Anderson put up acceptable statlines, but neither really grabbed anyone's attention. Mistake-free football was played, but there were several relatively easy plays that should've been made, passes that should've been completed. Only they weren't.

Leinart looked shaky under Tennessee's pressure, and although he threw for 105 yards, Anderson missed some open receivers as well.

Let's just say that this is anyone's job for the taking, and we may not know the starter until a few days before the game. In my opinion, I think Leinart, in the end, will be given the starting job based simply on the fact that he's been waiting his turn for four years.

But, with limited receivers to his disposal and lack of accuracy under pressure, Derek Anderson will take over the starting role halfway through the season. The former Pro Bowl quarterback has a stronger throwing arm and has a much easier time shaking off defenders. Plus if I was Whisenhunt I would feel more comfortable having a proven winner (led Cleveland with a 10-6 record in '07; fell just short of playoffs) under center, rather than a career-long benchwarmer.

In reality, it really doesn't look like we learned much after Monday's game, did we? Well, other than the fact that Chris Johnson isn't messing around, and will do everything he can to break 2,000 again this season.

Photo credit: (AP Photo/Frederick Breedon)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Haynesworth Saga: Shanahan Fires Back

More drama in D.C., and yes, it also happens to involve the most expensive defensive tackle in league history: Albert 'not-worth-the-money' Haynesworth.

Not only has Big Al complained about the Skins' new 3-4 scheme, but now he has also been complaining after the Redskins "downplayed" Haynesworth's apparent headaches this past week. We later found out he has been diagnosed with a condition which causes muscle deterioration.

After missing several days of practice last week, head coach Mike Shanahan described it to the press as 'headaches.' But, again, it was later discovered to be much worse than that.
I can certainly see why Haynesworth was so upset with Shanahan and the Washington staff, downplaying his condition the way they did, but they were unaware and, frankly, tired of his excuses. Personally, I'm happy that Shanahan finally lashed back and set Albert straight.

Mike told Fanhouse.com that Haynesworth will not be playing without practicing again. He has gotten away with it in the past, but Shanahan is sending him a message by saying it "wont happen again under this regime."

Finally we get to see a coach publicly rip a player like this. This needed to happen, and it needed to happen to Haynesworth.

Obviously this time Haynesworth has a legitimate argument against the Redskins, but this may have been the final straw. Especially after he publicly stated that he is going to sit out next offseason's workouts, as well.

If I'm Washington, I'm doing everything I can to get Haynesworth out of town. Perhaps Dan Snyder should just sell the team, that may turn this franchise around quicker than anything else.

Photo credit: (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Seattle's Mike Williams Looking to Make a Case for Comeback Player of the Year in 2010

An article written by Jim Trotter in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated on how former first round pick Mike Williams is attempting to turn around his disappointing NFL career in Seattle's camp this season.

The former Detroit Lion, Oakland Raider and Tennessee Titan has been out of the league since 2007 but signed with Seattle in April, which has reunited him with his college coach at USC, Pete Carroll.

The 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft (Detroit Lions) has caught just 44 passes for 539 yards and two touchdowns in 30 career games (only seven starts).
Williams, though he admitted he has been a bit rusty in camp thus far, made a great play on his lone catch in last night's preseason game against his former team Tennessee. Williams turned a short catch in to a 51-yard touchdown.

Just before Williams was released by Tennessee in 2007, he reportedly weighed 270 pounds but is now back down to 235-240 and looking better than ever.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Recapping Thursday's Action

Last night there were six teams in action to kick off week one of the NFL preseason.

To some fans preseason doesn't mean anything and they may not enjoy it because they don't know who most of the players are. But to me, preseason is much more than that.

Not only does it mean the return of football, which also means we are that much closer to those lovely Sunday afternoons in the fall, but it also gives us fans a chance to spot out which teams have hidden talents on the bench. Which is always fun to do in my opinion.

The stars are certainly still the focal point, but it's nice to see those other guys get a chance.
The most exciting of the three games was between the defending champion Saints and Tom Brady's Patriots. New England and New Orleans both saw their backup quarterbacks have solid games. Patrick Ramsey (Saints) went 7/11 with 111 yards, the 24-year old Brian Hoyer (Patriots) went 8 of 13 for 106 yards. Neither threw any touchdown passes, but they did lead the team down the field a couple of times and stayed mistake-free, which is always something coaches love to see.

Coming off a season in which he started just five games (only 14 starts in four NFL seasons with New England), Laurence Maroney ran the ball well, gaining 30 yards and two TDs on eight carries.

Welker-esque Julian Edelman caught six passes for 90 yards while second-year receiver of the Saints, Adrian Arrington caught four passes which went for a total of 87 yards.

All in all, a great game to watch especially for the preseason. Very little mistakes committed on both sides of the field. Zero turnovers and a total nine penalties. Can't argue with that.

The other two games (Panthers@Ravens, Raiders@Cowboys) didn't quite matchup but it was hard-hitting football nevertheless.

In Dallas, Tony Romo's offense struggled throughout the game. Again, it's only preseason, but it's never good to see names such as Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice get gobbled up in the backfield by 2009's 29th ranked rushing defense. The Barber/Jones/Choice trio combined for 21 yards and zero TDs on 10 attempts. The leading rusher? Romo's backup Stephen McGee. Yes, a quarterback, who gained 15 yards on two scramble attempts.

The kicking game looked good as the 23-year old David Buehler went three for three, scoring all nine of Dallas' points.

Kyle Boller's 148 yards and one TD, journeyman RB Michael Bennett's 68 yards on the ground and Oakland's six sacks as a team led to a 17-9 victory over the 'Boys.
Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen looked solid in his Carolina Panthers debut, with the only dark spot coming on an interception thrown to Baltimore's Tom Zbikowski. Flacco looked great, though newly acquired Ravens Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth didn't have much of a chance to show off their skills, catching just one pass each. If Flacco's 120 yards on just eight completions are any indication, though, I doubt Baltimore will have much trouble getting by with the passing game this season.

Despite limited playing time from the first team defense, Baltimore sacked Carolina's quarterbacks seven times and forced two turnovers.

Six more teams (Bills@Redskins, Jaguars@Eagles, Chiefs@Falcons) will be facing off tonight as the rest of the 10 week one games will be played out from Saturday through Monday night.

Stay tuned for more preseason recaps/thoughts.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Top Rookie RBs to Keep an Eye On in 2010

When it comes to the National Football League, it's pretty tough attempting to gauge how rookies will fare in their first season, let alone their career.

A perfect example would be Emmitt Smith, who just got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend. Quite a few experts, including Mel Kiper JR. himself, didn't think Smith had the size to be a successful running back in this league. What did he end up doing? Oh, nothing big. Just finishing his career as the league's all-time leading rusher.

Other more recent guys, i.e. Steve Slaton and Matt Forte had great rookie campaigns but have fallen since then.

This year's rookie class seems to be pretty deep when it comes to running backs. Here's the guys you may want to keep an eye on this pre- and regular season.

Top Five (rankings, stats according to ESPN.com's fantasy game):

1. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers

Taken with the 12th overall pick in the draft, Mathews' stock is rising with the absence of Canton-bound Ladainian Tomlinson, who left for New York this offseason. San Diego's other running back Darren Sproles seems to have the most success as a third down back/return man, meaning Mathews should get quite a few carries. He is the only rookie running back who is projected for 1,000 yards this season.
2. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions

Despite playing his ball in Detroit this season, I think Best has the most upside out of all of this year's running back class. The fastest back drafted, Best is the biggest threat coming out of the backfield as well and is owned in 100% of ESPN's fantasy leagues. Don't be surprised if Jahvid (projected for 660 rushing yards, 364 receiving yards and six TDs) has a solid preseason and starts ahead of Kevin Smith week one, especially because of Smith's injury.

3. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

With Marshawn Lynch's days in Buffalo numbered, Spiller could see more touches come his way as the season progresses. Despite being the first running back selected (No. 9 overall), Spiller is only projected for 800 yards and four touchdowns.

4. Montario Hardesty, Cleveland Browns

Last year's eighth-best rushing offense gets a huge boost from Hardesty after being taken in the second round. Projected in the top 50 backs, Hardesty is projected for 800 yards and eight TDs in 2010. Hardesty wont be the opening weekend starter, but will see quite a few carries come his way considering Jerome Harrison has yet to carry the load full-time and may need some help carrying the team.
5. Ben Tate, Houston Texans

With Steve Slaton disappointing, Houston needed to get another top-tier running back in the draft, which is why they selected Tate in the second round. Tate, projected for 600 yards and eight TDs, has a lot of potential and could easily land the starting role in the preseason. Tate's combination of size and speed gives Houston the perfect feature back for years to come.

Also published on Bleacherreport.com

Monday, August 9, 2010

News and Notes from the First Football Game of the Season

With seven new players being inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH on Saturday, and the 2010 preseason kicking off on Sunday, this weekend was a huge success for football fans everywhere.

You no longer have to watch countless hours of football on Hulu, or even resort to watching baseball games, to pass the time until the season kicks off in September: the preseason is here.

The Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals faced off in Canton's Fawcett Stadium for the annual "Hall of Fame Game."

The biggest headline was, of course, seeing Terrell Owens in a Bengals uniform for the first time. Not all that surprising, quarterback Carson Palmer seemed to be favoring Owens over Cincy's No. 1 wideout Chad Ochocinco.

Owens caught two passes in the first two series on offense, and was thrown to a couple of other times. Ochocinco didn't catch any passes in his only quarter of play. I doubt anyone really thought this was a big deal at all, because it really isn't. But if this is a sign of things to come then we may run in to some problems later on down the road.
Other news from Cincinnati is that Adam "Formerly Pacman" Jones played very well in his debut, making two tackles and playing solid coverage on the opposing receivers.

Despite seeing an impressive performance from rookie linebacker Brandon Sharpe (6-yard interception returned for a touchdown in fourth quarter), and the Cowboys' 16-7 victory, not all was well in Dallas. Second-year tight end John Phillips, who caught four passes for 60 yards in the game, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee.

Luckily, with that being the only big blow for Dallas, head coach Wade Phillips can be relatively happy with his team's performance. We all got to see impressive performances from Tashard Choice, Stephen McGee and the defensive reserves, who sacked the quarterback four times and intercepted three passes.

All in all, great first preseason performances from many guys looking to impress the coaches.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tweet of the Day: Thurman Thomas

Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas brought up a great point on his twitter account. With the preseason starting tonight, the former Buffalo Bill and Miami Dolphin pointed out that Darrelle Revis, Jets' shutdown corner, is still holding out of camp while all 32 of the draft's first round picks are signed and in their respective camps.

His exact  words:

"All these kids have signed their contracts and REVIS HAS TO HOLDOUT... JETS STINK"
Personally, I completely agree with Thomas. I hate seeing guys holdout, let alone 25 year olds that have played just three NFL seasons like Revis. For this reason, I am very glad all the first rounders have signed contracts and aren't holding out.

I'm sure New York would love to have Revis in camp, but it doesn't seem as though they are too worried about it at the current moment.

Friday, August 6, 2010

One Player From All 32 Teams Who Must Step up this Season (Part I: AFC North)

American football is the ultimate team game.

If all 11 players on the field do their job, one team can dominate the rest of the league each and every week. But, at the same time, there are certain players who make a bigger impact than others.

Here are four players, one from each of the teams in the AFC North, who will have to bring their A games this season if they want his respective team to go all the way this season.

Baltimore: Tom Zbikowski

With All Pro safety Ed Reed likely out for at least the first six weeks of the season, Baltimore's defensive success will hinge on the performance of the secondary. Baltimore's defensive backfield suffered a second huge blow with the news that cornerback Domonique Foxworth will miss the entire season with a torn ACL which he suffered in camp.

In four starts for the Ravens last season, Zbikowski recorded 14 tackles and intercepted two passes. This is his chance to prove himself as he is entering his third NFL season.
Cincinnati: Cedric Benson

Benson ran in to more trouble this offseason, but will not be suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell, fortunately for him. Despite the addition of future Hall of Fame wideout Terrell Owens, I think Benson is one of the most important pieces of this offense. Palmer has weapons with Owens and Ochocinco, but that just means defenses are going to adjust their gameplan to stop the two All Pros, in my opinion. Cincinnati is going to have to keep the offense as balanced as possible, so Benson will still get his carries and will need to put up numbers much like his 2009 campaign if the Bengals want to be able to wrap games up late in the fourth quarter.

They can finish the regular season with a great record just by having Palmer air it out to Ochocinco and T.O., but if they expect to play well in the playoffs, the success of Benson is extremely important.

Cleveland: Shaun Rogers

Cleveland's defense ranked 29th against the pass and 28th against the run last season. In my opinion this was because Cleveland's 3-4 scheme lacked a consistent nose tackle hold the front seven together. The 350 pound tackle missed five games, recording just 27 tackles and two sacks this past season. When healthy, Rogers can really do some damage to an offensive and wreak some havoc in the backfield.

He looks to be close to his regular self so far, meaning we could see another 2007 or 2008-esque campaign (played all 32 possible games in those two seasons while making a combined 87 solo tackles and 11.5 sacks).
Pittsburgh: whoever wins the quarterback battle in camp

It's likely that Ben Roethlisberger's suspension will be downgraded to four games instead of the original six, but Pittsburgh's quarterback for the first four weeks will need to play mistake-free ball in order to put Roethlisberger in a good position once he does return. Right now it looks as though the battle is between Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich.

Next: AFC East

Broncos' Camp Littered with Injuries

Surprisingly, the progress of Denver's first round pick Tim Tebow has not been the talk of Broncos camp so far this month. Instead, it has been all the major injuries that have hit Josh McDaniels' team.

First it was the league sack leader from '09, Elvis Dumervil, who sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times, who went down with a major injury and may miss the entire season. Dumervil's torn pectoral muscle, suffered during Wednesday's practice, will keep him out of Denver's lineup for quite some time.
Today, newly acquired running back LenDale White, who signed a two-year deal with the team on Wednesday, left practice early. His possible injury doesn't look serious, but it's not good to see either.

But the biggest news of the day in Denver is Jarvis Moss' broken hand. Moss, Dumervil's replacement at outside linebacker, is expected to miss at least two weeks. He should recover well from the injury but he will certainly still be limited when he does return to practice.

What Moss' early exit did do for the Broncos defense is give some other guys such as Akin Ayodele and Mario Haggan some reps at the position.

We will surely be keeping an eye on McDaniels' defense over the next few weeks and see how the other linebackers adjust to the early injuries.

Canton-Bound: A Look at this Year's Hall of Fame Class

In the beginning of August each year the NFL opens the doors to welcome in a few new members of the league's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This year's very deep class includes the greatest receiver to ever put on an NFL uniform, and the league's all-time NFL rusher.

We've been waiting for this for five years and it has finally come, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith will both be joining fellow legends in the Hall.

Others being inducted are cornerback Dick Lebeau, running back Floyd Little, guard Russ Grimm, linebacker Rickey Jackson and defensive tackle John Randle.

Here's a closer look at each inductee's career:

Jerry Rice; San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks WR

Rice is basically football's Michael Jordan. He caught practically every single ball thrown his way and did it with class. Having two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Montana and Young, obviously) throwing him the ball may have given him a slight edge over other receivers, but I certainly think that Jerry's graceful, acrobatic catches made their jobs a whole lot easier.
Rice's career numbers blow his competition out of the water. Jerry finished his 21st and final season with 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards and 197 receiving touchdowns. All of which are still league records. His 13 Pro Bowls, 10 All Pro selections and 14 1,000 yard seasons are astonishing, not to mention his speed and outlandish athletic ability.

Rice even managed to put up 1,000 yards on 92 catches at age 40, in '02 with Oakland.

Emmitt Smith; Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals RB

Much like Rice, Smith dominated his position for years. After being told he was too small to make it in the league, Smith went out in his rookie season in 1990 and ran for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns. For the next 11 years after that he ran for over 1,000 yards before finishing his last three seasons on limited carries with Dallas and Arizona.

Smith broke the career rushing yards record, held by Chicago great Walter "Sweetness Payton, and ended his 15-year career with 18,355 yards, 164 touchdowns and 8 Pro Bowl appearances. He was part of one of the greatest trios in history alongside Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and receiver Michael Irvin.
Dick LeBeau; Detroit Lions CB

Probably known better for his blitzing schemes as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator (2004-present), LeBeau made a name for himself in the defensive backfield as well.

The three-time Pro Bowler played all 14 of his seasons in Detroit. And in 185 games played he intercepted 62 passes, good enough for a tie with Dave Brown for eighth all time.

Floyd Little; Denver Broncos RB

Little's numbers may not look all that impressive in comparison to today's Hall of Famers, but his 6,323 rushing yards was good enough for seventh all time when he retired from the league after nine seasons in 1975.

Little only had one season of 1,000-plus yards ('71) and one season with double digit touchdowns ('73), but was named to five Pro Bowls. The little man (5'10," 195 pounds) was drafted No. 6 overall in the 1967 draft and is currently in Denver's Ring of Fame.

John Randle; Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks DT

Randle dominated opposing offensive lines for years, attending seven Pro Bowls and being named to six All Pro teams in the process. Randle, along with Bruce Smith, was one of the best pass rushers of the decade in the 1990s.

Randle's 137.5 career sacks is tied (with Richard Dent) for sixth-most in history, and the most among all defensive tackles. In nine of his 14 seasons Randle recorded 10 or more sacks, plus three more seasons with seven or more.

Randle wasn't exactly the biggest defensive tackle out there (6'1" 290 pounds), but he could beat guys with his speed and athleticism, not to mention he was a great trash talker and could get inside opposing players' heads with ease, and entertain us fans at the same time.
Russ Grimm; Washington Redskins G

In my opinion, it's much tougher judging offensive linemen when it comes to the Hall of Fame. I mean, there really isn't many stats to go by when comparing these large men, who have one of the toughest and most important job on the field: protecting the quarterback.

What I tend to look for in offensive linemen is consistency, which Grimm had early on in his 11-year career. He was also named to four Pro Bowls and three All Pro teams while in Washington, his only NFL team.

Grimm was named to the 1970s all-decade team. But, to tell you the truth, I think it's his three Super Bowl rings (four counting the one he won as a coach for the Steelers in '05) that has finally pushed Grimm over the top and in to the Hall.
Rickey Jackson; New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers LB

Jackson, most likely because of the fact that he spent 13 of his 15 NFL seasons with the lowly "Aints," was one of the most underrated linebackers of his era.

The six-time Pro Bowler recorded 128 sacks, which puts him 10th on the all-time list, and made 1,173 tackles. Jackson was surely a sideline-to-sideline playmaker, recording 100-plus tackles five times and forcing 40 fumbles in 227 games.

Possible inductees for 2011 HOF class (first-year eligibles):

Jerome Bettis
Curtis Martin
Marshall Faulk
Deion Sanders

You can watch the induction on Saturday at 7 P.M. on ESPN and NFL Network...the Hall of Fame game between the Bengals and Cowboys is the following evening (kicks off pre-season).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Team Spotlight: 2000 Tennessee Titans

A new daily post I have decided to add to the blog is "Team Spotlight."

This post will basically be a blast from the past in which I honor a team from the past and write a couple paragraphs describing their season. I feel as though it's a good way to pass the time until the season gets underway. Today's team: the 2000 Titans.

Just one year after a franchise record 13-3 campaign and a Super Bowl appearance, Steve McNair led Tennessee's high-powered offense to another 13-3 season and another AFC Central division title.
Tennessee wasn't the most high-scoring team out there (13th in points scored), but the defense was second in the league in points allowed (191) behind only one of the greatest defenses in league history: the Baltimore Ravens.

Tennessee finished the regular season with the best record in the league, giving them the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Jeff Fisher's only three regular season losses were to the Jags (finished fourth in Central with 7-9 record), Bills (finished fourth in East with 8-8 record) and the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens who finished second to the Titans in the Central with a 12-4 record.

Despite the superb regular season, Tennessee's deadly trio consisting of Steve McNair, Eddie George and Derrick Mason, all of which could have Hall of Fame consideration in the future, was not enough to stop an early playoff exit. For the second time in the season, Tennessee fell to its arch rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. This time, though, when it mattered most.

The league's No. 1 and No. 2 defenses were facing off in Adelphia Coliseum for a chance to play for the AFC Championship game. Everyone expected a low-scoring affair, and that's just what we got in the first half of play. The lone two scores of the first two quarters were short runs by Eddie George (2-yard run in first quarter) and rookie Jamal Lewis (1-yard run in second quarter).

We witnessed more of the same in the third quarter, seeing the two teams exchange field goals giving us a 10-10 deadlock heading in to the fourth quarter.
That's when Baltimore's defense showed up, and Tennessee's did not.

A blocked field goal of Al Del Greco's was returned 90 yards for a touchdown by Baltimore's Anthony Mitchell. That certainly swayed the momentum in Baltimore's favor, giving them a one touchdown lead. The knockout blow came when Eddie George and All Pro linebacker Ray Lewis went head-to-head.

Lewis snatched a McNair screen pass right out of Eddie George's grasp, and took it all the way to the house for a 50-yard game clincher. Thanks to some great defense, Baltimore stole the almost sure-win from Tennessee even after quarterback Trent Dilfer through completed just five of 16 passes for 117 yards.

The loss was a painful blow to Titan nation, but that doesn't take away from one of their most successful seasons in the franchise's history.