Archive for November 20th, 2011

Right when he was finally beginning to live up to expectations for the red-hot Bears, Jay Cutler is in jeopardy of losing the rest of his season, according to multiple reports.

Cutler stepped up with a great performance with Matt Forte struggling Sunday against San Diego, as the Bears won their fifth straight game to keep pace with Detroit in the playoff race. But he reportedly broke his right thumb while being blocked after throwing a fourth-quarter interception to San Diego’s Antoine Cason.

Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune reports that Cutler will miss 6-8 weeks, which would keep him out until the playoffs in the best-case scenario.

The irony is that, back in September, Cutler wondered aloud whether he’d make it through the season because he was taking an unprecedented number of hits. But as we pointed out earlier today, his offensive line has done a fantastic job keeping their quarterback upright in recent weeks. Cutler, who was sacked 11 times in the first two weeks of the season, has taken only five sacks during Chicago’s current five-game winning streak.

Now it appears he won’t make it through the season, with a playoff appearance very much in doubt. But the injury had nothing to do with his highly-scrutinized line. Instead, it came as the direct result of his own mistake.

Now, unless they look for a veteran free agent like Jake Delhomme or Trent Edwards, the Bears will be stuck with the inexperienced Caleb Hanie as they battle for a playoff spot in the deep NFC. Hanie, who went undrafted out of Colorado State in 2008, has thrown 14 regular-season passes in his career. But you’ll remember him best for his cameo appearance in last year’s NFC championship game. After Cutler went down with a knee injury, Hanie completed 13 of 20 passes in the second half of a 21-14 loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay.

Here’s a look at Chicago’s schedule the rest of the way:

Week 12: at Oakland
Week 13: vs. Kansas City
Week 14: at Denver
Week 15: vs. Seattle
Week 16: at Green Bay
Week 17: at Minnesota

They can probably beat Kansas City, Seattle and Minnesota and get an extra win against either Oakland or Denver with Hanie at quarterback, which would be enough to grab a wild-card spot. But there’s no guarantee that Cutler could be back in time for wild-card weekend. Can a Hanie-led Bears team win on the road in January?

For that reason, sticking with the status quo is risky. But with the options on the open market very limited and the trade deadline passed, the Bears’ options are severely limited.

Unless they decide to pursue a certain gunslinger who’s had a ton of experience in the NFC North and is now spending his days in Mississippi. (Sorry, had to throw it out there.)

Best old man losing face: Norv Turner can’t take much more of this. He’d much rather be driving 20 mph in an 80 mph zone with his left blinker on, or maybe attempting to use the self-checkout at the grocery store before failing miserably and needing the assistance of a high school student.

(via Mike Tunison)

Teaser award: Chris Johnson is now the worst best running back in the NFL.

That sentence doesn’t make sense, right? You probably read it in disbelief, stubbornly clinging to Johnson’s previous seasons and thinking that despite his recent numbers, he’s still talented and explosive.

And he is, but he just isn’t that player anymore. He’s not even a shadow of the player he was a year ago, but the raw, elite talent is still there somewhere, because it couldn’t possibly just vanish, could it? Yet here we are once again discussing another pathetically terrible outing for the man we once referred to as CJ2K.

This time, though, it feels different. It feels like he’s just another average NFL running back, and that feels sad.

Johnson’s had bad days this year, and many of them. He’s eclipsed the 60-yard mark just three times on the ground, and after today he’s teetering dangerously close to being below 50 rushing yards per game (50.9). That’s because Johnson had only 13 yards on 12 carries today during Tennessee’s loss to Atlanta.

Let me write that again, which is something writers do when they’d like you to fully grasp the obscene absurdity of a statistic.

Chris Johnson–the same Chris Johnson who had eight 100-yard games last year, and four 130-plus yard games in what at the time was considered a “down” year — had 13 yards on 12 carries today. That’s embarrassing enough, but it gets worse. Much worse.

Matt Hasselbeck is a 36-year-old man with creaky joints and bones, and he left in the second half with a sprained elbow. Yet in one scrambling play Hasselbeck had more rushing yards (17) than Johnson had in 12 attempts. Wait, it gets worse.

Jake Locker entered the game with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but that’s all the time he needed to gain 11 yards on a scramble of his own, falling just two yards short of Johnson. Yes, it still gets worse, and it involves another quarterback, the only other quarterback that played in this game.

Johnson averaged just 1.08 yards per carry, while Atlanta’s Matt Ryan scrambled six times for three yards, and an average of 0.5 yards per carry. So Johnson was only just over a half-yard better per carry than a quarterback who had half as many yards as he had carries. All of this woeful, sub-par NFL running back play happened just one week after Johnson teased us with 130 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown. C.J. is now quite literally the worst RB in the NFL, and among backs with at least 80 carries he’s dead last in yards per carry.

To those who wasted a first-round pick on Johnson in their fantasy league, please accept my heart-felt condolences. If we could re-draft every fantasy league today, what’s Johnson’s average draft position? 10th round?

Worst attempt at being a fully functioning, cohesive NFL offense: The Chargers started the final quarter of their eventual loss to Chicago down by only a touchdown, and still very much within reach during a crucial game with the Broncos suddenly surging in the AFC West.

So, logically, they ran four plays throughout the entire fourth quarter, and two of them were interceptions. The wayward Philip Rivers has now thrown a career-high 17 interceptions this year, with the final pick coming when he was scrambling out of the pocket and he hooked a nine iron while trying to throw the ball away.

That’s right, Rivers can’t even throw the ball out of bounds properly.

The Bears started out the 2011 season slow, losing three of their first five games while Jay Cutler was continually harassed by opposing defenses.

The Chargers started out the 2011 season fast, winning four of their first five games with their only loss coming in New England.

Since then, the Bears haven’t lost, while the Chargers haven’t won.

The two collided in Chicago Sunday, with a predictable result. But what we couldn’t have predicted was that the Bears would beat the desperate Chargers despite their best player, Matt Forte, struggling to run productively. Forte had just 59 yards on 21 carries. San Diego sold out to stop Chicago’s most dangerous weapon, daring Jay Cutler to beat them.

And he did.

Cutler threw two touchdown passes while sneaking for a third. His third-quarter touchdown strike to Johnny Knox, which put the Bears in full control with a two-score lead, was a thing of beauty.

But Chicago might not have won without Philip Rivers doing what he does best: throwing the ball to the other team. Rivers threw two more interceptions — both in the fourth quarter — to increase his league-leading total to 17. His end-zone pass intercepted by Chicago’s Major Wright was a back-breaker — he had no business attempting that throw, and the pick killed the momentum San Diego had acquired when the defense intercepted Cutler three plays prior.

The Bolts ran four plays in the fourth quarter — two interceptions and two incomplete passes. They also had a fumble in the third quarter that directly led to that Cutler-to-Knox touchdown. That was the turning point of this game, as costly mistakes once again killed a Chargers team that has an NFL-high 23 turnovers. (Unsurprisingly, the Bears are near the top of the league with 23 takeaways.)

What’s also amazing is that San Diego continues to get dominated at the line of scrimmage. While the banged-up offensive line held up against pressure, it wasn’t able to open up holes for Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, and thus the Chargers where one-dimensional against a ball-hawking defense.

And the front seven, which has recorded just 18 sacks through 10 games, wasn’t able to sack Cutler once. The Bears didn’t miss fallen guard Chris Williams. After giving up 18 sacks and a flurry of hits in the first five weeks (and 11 sacks in the first two weeks alone), Cutler’s been sacked just five times during Chicago’s five-game winning streak.

If Cutler can stay upright, Forte can stay hot after a small speed bump and the defense can keep making plays, this Chicago team has the look of one that might be on track to play in an NFC championship game rematch with Green Bay on Jan. 22.

Best use of beer boxes: Let this be a lesson to everyone. Happy drinkers are proud drinkers, and they take great pride in flaunting their beer of choice to the world.

Unless, of course, you drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, a sinister alcoholic tonic.

Best reason to never, ever be an NFL referee: You’re spending your Sunday as you always do, planted in front of a television and watching 12 hours or football. Others who do not acknowledge the existence of a sport played with an egg-shaped ball do normal human things on Sundays, like laundry, long bike rides, and cookie baking.

Ron Winter spent part of his Sunday buried underneath 300-pound men…

Best turnaround: Matthew Stafford completed five of his first eight throws, which isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either. The problem is that two of those throws went to Panthers defenders, and that’s terrible. At that point Stafford had thrown five interceptions over his last three quarters of football, and combined with Cam Newton the two quarterbacks in the Detroit-Carolina game threw three interceptions in the game’s first 13 pass attempts. It was a display of truly inept quarterbacking.

It was at this point when we all watched as Stafford fidgeted with his protective glove guarding his broken finger, and we prepared to witness another long afternoon for the leader of a regressing Lions offense.

Then after the first quarter Stafford incredibly completed 26 of his next 29 pass attempts for 269 yards and five touchdowns, and we stopped writing our Lions song eulogy that used “Dust in the Wind” as background music.

Best magic fingers: Lions tight end Tony Scheffler has fought pirates after a touchdown this season, and he’s knelt in prayer to pay his respects to Tim Tebow, our lord and savior.

Today he went with happy fingers, and only he knows why.

Worst post-contract nose dive: Combined, Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 11 interceptions through Week 8, with Stafford accounting for just four. And combined, the quarterbacks of two of the hottest and most talked about turnaround teams earlier this season have now thrown 13 picks in the three weeks since then.

At least Stafford has the finger injury as an excuse, and he didn’t even need it after his aforementioned turnaround. Fitzpatrick, though, is healthy, and with every sack and interception he’s ruining the financial future of every quarterback who wants to be shown the money.

Since signing a six-year contract extension valued at $59 million with $24 million guaranteed in late October, Fitzpatrick has thrown eight picks, and he’s averaged 182 yards per game over the last three weeks. He’s also led a Buffalo offense that’s had a particularly glaring decline that started with a Week 9 divisional loss to the Jets, scoring just 26 points during that stretch of putrid play.

Most creative tackle: Having long grown tired of making it rain, Pacman Jones has now developed a fondness for hair, and specifically flowing, wavy dreadlocks…

(via Jose 3030)

Best new job application: The Packers have habitually spread the ball around this year to the point where both Gagnon and I are always prepared to receive a pass every Sunday between slices of pizza and sips of hangover-curing coffee. But an adventure to the back of their goal-line playbook that ended in a B.J. Raji rushing touchdown entered a new realm of the ridiculous.

With his one-yard first quarter score during Green Bay’s win over Tampa Bay, Raji matched the combined rushing touchdowns this season by Ryan Grant and James Starks, the Packers’ two platooning running backs. This gets even crazier when we look at some charts with a bunch of numbers to discover that the Packers have eight rushing touchdowns, and only one of them was scored by a guy that’s named either Grant or Starks.

Is Raji Green Bay’s new dual-threat player? We can only hope, because that means we’ll get to see The Raji far more often, and there’s nothing more entertaining than fat guy dancing.

Best mock: Nate Burleson thinks that Cam Newton should go suck on some Kryptonite…

(via Mike Tunison)

Best Marshawn Lynch impression: Remember that incredible 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch last January during Wild Card Weekend that sunk the Saints? Of course you do. How can you forget an NFL running back using star power to shed the evil turtles who dared to stand in the way of his mission to save the princess?

Well, Marshawn, LeGarrette Blount will see your star power, and match it with his flower power. Dude spits out fire, and Green Bay defenders.

There’s at least six busted tackles on this unbelievable 54-yard run.

The Bills continue to plummet

Thoughts from the early slate of games in Week 11:

Buffalo’s fall continues

At one point today, it looked as though the Bills and Lions were going to fall to a combined 11-9 after starting the season a combined 9-1. Detroit recovered from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat the Panthers and maintain their position in the playoff race, but Buffalo never stood a chance in Miami.

So while the Lions are surviving on life support, the Bills are probably dead. They’ve lost three straight games and four out of their last five after a 4-1 start. This loss drops them back into third place in the AFC East, just two games up on Miami.

And it’s not just the losing. It’s the way in which the losses are coming. They’ve been outscored 106-26 by less-than-dominant opponents in their last three games. In the three weeks since he signed a lucrative long-term contract extension, Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown eight interceptions, while Fred Jackson, who was arguably the league’s best running back in September, has faded as a result of injuries to the offensive line and poor play from his cohorts.

Now the Bills have to travel to New York to play the Jets, who crushed them in Orchard Park just two weeks ago. They also have an extremely challenging road game in San Diego wedged between two tough matchups with the Titans and Dolphins, while drawing the suddenly tough-to-beat Broncos and the Patriots in New England to close out the season.

A few weeks ago, we figured the Bills would at least wind up as a wild-card team while making a run at a fairly open division crown. Now, we have a hard time seeing how this team can finish the season with more than six or seven wins.

Sans Lewis, Baltimore’s defense steps up

The wildly inconsistent and unpredictable Ravens won a game they were supposed to win, which is saying a lot considering recent missteps against inferior opponents. And in doing so, Baltimore may or may not have had a season-defining moment that may or may not set the team straight down the stretch.

As you can tell, I’m wary of overreacting, because the Ravens have tricked us with supposed statement wins in the past, but maybe beating a weaker team — and one that has always given them trouble with that cover-2 defense — was what the doctor ordered.

What made this win special was that the defense stepped up when it mattered most, despite not having leader Ray Lewis in the lineup. With Cincinnati threatening to tie the game in the final minutes, the pass rush assaulted Andy Dalton, forcing him into an intentional grounding penalty and sacking him on the Bengals’ last gasp. With the game on the line, Dalton didn’t have any room to breathe.

Credit the Bengals for coming very close to beating the Steelers and the Ravens in back-to-back weeks, but they can’t afford moral victories in the strong and deep AFC North. On the bright side, they’ll be at home for their next meeting with Baltimore, in Week 17, but with tough games against Pittsburgh (on the road) and Houston (at home) in the upcoming weeks, that season finale might not matter unless Cincinnati is able to win as an underdog.

Should we be concerned about the Cowboys?

One week after completely dismantling the Bills, the Cowboys were flat in Washington. A win’s a win, but should Cowboys fans be worried that it took their team 70 minutes to get past one of the league’s coldest and most depleted teams?

Tony Romo put up nice numbers again, but he failed to outplay Rex Grossman, and the Cowboys defense should be embarrassed after letting Jabar Gaffney catch seven passes for 115 yards and a score. Washington led for the majority of the game and had a chance to win it on the first series of overtime, but Graham Gano missed from 52 yards out.

And Dallas also got lucky on its game-winning field goal drive. With the play clock hitting zero prior to a Dan Bailey attempt, Romo, who’s the holder, tried to call timeout despite the fact Dallas had none remaining. That would’ve been a 10-yard penalty, but the Redskins bailed the Cowboys out by signalling for a timeout just a split second before Romo did. Had Washington not tried to freeze Bailey, Dallas would’ve either had to kick from 49 after a penalty or would’ve had to rush the kick.

The Redskins always play the Cowboys tough, but these aren’t the regular Redskins. Washington had scored a grand total of 20 points in its last three games going into Sunday’s affair. And yet Grossman and his ragtag group of journeymen teamed up with an anonymous rookie running back to put up 336 yards on Dallas’ defense.

Maybe it was just an off day, but with stronger opponents looming and the Giants still leading the division, the Cowboys might not be able to afford many more days like today.

Today we learn that a man who can communicate with bears is still a mere mortal capable of missing a football game due to an injury. We also learn that being a Seahawks fan requires equal parts delusion and hope.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens

And we begin with the expected but still notable Ray Lewis injury update.

We all thought Lewis was such a screaming maniac that he’d play with a severed limb. We were wrong, and the toe injury that forced him to miss practice earlier this week will indeed keep him on the sidelines today during a key divisional game.

Jason La Canfora of NFL Network reported Friday that Lewis will likely miss two games, meaning the Ravens defense could be without their veteran anchor against the 49ers and a rushing attack averaging 130.9 yards per game. And since often we’re very much in the business of blatant trolling rumor mongering, we’ll also pass along the baseless rumors that Lewis could be done for the year.

One more item in a game filled with developing injury activity: A.J. Green is ready for some football, but the Bengals’ team doctors might not agree with his self diagnosis.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Tony Grossi had a question in his weekly mailbag that illustrates the depressing lows reached this season by both the Browns, and Andy Reid. A reader is already wondering if the Browns should ditch the newly-hired Pat Shurmur nine games into his tenure as the coach of a crappy team, and chase after Reid this offseason.

The answer? A definitive “no.”

Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions

Sure, the Lions crushed Tim Tebow and the Broncos 45-10 back in Week 8. But Tebow still ran for 63 yards, exposing Detroit’s inability to contain a mobile quarterback.

That will be a focus and likely a problem again today against Cam Newton, the Panthers rookie quarterback who has seven rushing touchdowns, and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers

Despite his inconsistent accuracy and a linger thumb injury, there’s been one constant this year for Josh Freeman: his ability to stay upright. As Mike Spofford of notes, prior to last week he hadn’t been sacked more than twice in a game, and the Bucs offensive line is tied for first in the NFC, allowing just 15 sacks.

This game likely won’t end well for Tampa, but at least we’ll have an intriguing matchup to watch with Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji chasing a quarterback who doesn’t go down often.

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The league-leader in sacks allowed is Buffalo’s offensive line (just 10), and much of that is the result Ryan Fitzpatrick’s penchant for releasing the ball in a prompt and timely manner. The challenge facing Miami’s defense today is to create pressure despite the quick rhythm of the Bills’ passing offense.

Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings

Jared Allen has been credited with at least half a sack in every game, and with 13.5 sacks he’s still on pace to break Michael Strahan’s single-season sacks record. What’s most impressive is that Allen’s getting to the quarterback at a record-setting pace while playing on a bad team that isn’t allowing him to thrive in typical high-leverage pass rushing situations.

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins

LeRon Landry’s Achilles has flared up and it’ll keep him out of Washington’s defensive backfield today, which shifts the focus up the middle to O.J. Atogwe. The Redskins’ offseason acquisition has four interceptions in his four career games against the Cowboys.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

John Skelton’s stats during his two games as Arizona’s starting quarterback this year don’t leap off the page. But if Tim Tebow has thought us anything, it’s that winning easily overshadows a limited sample size that should restrict our judgment.

That’s where the problem will begin for the Cardinals when Kevin Kolb is finally healthy. Kolb has had seven tries to win a game as a starter in a Cards uniform, and he’s been successful just once. Meanwhile, Skelton has had six tries, and he’s been unsuccessful just twice.

The odds of Skelton beating the NFC West leading 49ers today are slim, but if he does then he could force Ken Whisenhunt to put production over paycheck.

Oh, and for the fantasy addicted, Frank Gore is expected to play, but his workload will be limited.

Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams

Maintaining a level head is difficult while supporting a team that wins games it has no business winning, and loses games it has no business losing, and the latter could happen today. Godspeed, Joseph Okabe of 12th Man Rising.

Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons

The sacks a team allows and the average per game rushing total offensively are two stats that rely heavily on the offensive line. Logical and reasonable thinking leads to the conclusion that if a team excels in one area, it’ll be at minimum efficient in the other, and anything less is a little baffling.

Friends, met your 2011 Tennessee Titans, a team that’s allowed the third fewest sacks, but ranks last in rushing. Thanks, Chris Johnson.

San Diego Chargers at Chicago Bears

Apparently someone in Chicago bought a billboard this week featuring a picture of an intense and focused Ron Burgundy alongside the words “go f— yourself San Diego.” I would like to kiss this person’s toes.

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka will get to run after Vince Young tonight, with the former Titan replacing Michael Vick. Kiwanuka doesn’t have fond memories of his first opportunity to sack Young during his rookie season.