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Published: January 8, 2010
The 2010 NFL playoffs get under way Saturday when the No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals host the No. 5 New York Jets at Paul Brown Stadium . The game is one of three matchups this weekend that consist of teams who met in Week 17.
Saturday’s game will display two of the league’s top defenses, which could make for a low scoring game between the Bengals and Jets. Here are five factors for success for Cincinnati as they look for their first playoff win since 1991.
Forget Last Weekend
This will be a completely different matchup between the Bengals and Jets.
Yes, to say the Bengals were embarrassed by the Jets last weekend would be an understatement. The 37-0 loss was ugly , but shouldn’t be a concern entering Saturday’s game.
The circumstances for the outcome of last weekend’s game were completely different for both teams. While Cincinnati would still be playing at Paul Brown Stadium with a win or loss, New York simply needed a win to play in the postseason. The Bengals had to decide whether or not the No. 3 seed would be worth risking using all of their key players, which is why Cedric Benson, Domata Peko, Chris Crocker, and Robert Geathers got the night off.
This time around, expect a hard-fought matchup between two of the best defenses in football. For two teams who rely heavily on their running game, the winner may be decided by who shows up with the better passing game.
How much will the passing game struggle after Ochocinco’s injury?
Before last weekend’s game against the Jets, Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco tweaked his knee during pre-game warm-ups. That injury has caused a concern considering how important he is to the passing game. After an MRI and treatment from doctors, he is expected to be good to go on Saturday.
Ochocinco ended a streak of 120 straight games with at least one reception after being hassled all game by Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. This will be one of the key matchups in Saturday’s game and could be the difference maker if the passing game plays a factor in the outcome.
On the season, Ochocinco leads the Bengals with 72 receptions for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns. He has been the only consistent player in the passing game for Cincinnati, who finished 26th in the NFL, averaging just 180.6 yards per game.
Will The Bengals Struggle Again on Defense Without Rey Maualuga?
The Bengals knew they were in trouble when Maualuga fractured his ankle against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16, considering how much of an impact the rookie has had during his first season. Their biggest fear came true when Cincinnati’s defense struggled against the Jets running attack, allowing 257 yards rushing.
Before Sunday’s game against the Jets, the Bengals contained the No. 2 ranked rushing defense, allowing their opponents to average just 87.7 yards per game on the ground. Their performance against New York dropped them to seventh and it showed how much of an impact Maualuga’s absence had on their defense.
Force Mark Sanchez To Throw More
Last season, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan helped their teams to the playoffs as rookies—which seemed unheard of until a few years ago. This season, the only rookie quarterback to be starting in the 2010 postseason is Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez is just like most rookie quarterbacks in the NFL—riddled with inconsistency. However, he has the support of the league’s best running game (172.2 yards per game) and the No. 1 overall defense—which can make his job much easier.
The less Sanchez has to throw, the better chance the Jets have of winning. He’s thrown for 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his first season, but is 5-2 in games without an interception.
The Passing Game Will Be A Factor For Both Teams
One thing is obvious regarding Saturday’s game between the Bengals and Jets; don’t expect a strong performance in the passing game from either team.
The Bengals and Jets have both relied heavily on their running game and defense throughout the season. While New York is at the top of the league in yards per game on the ground (172.2), Cincinnati isn’t too far behind them in ninth (128.5). Both teams also rank in the top-five when it comes to overall defense.
As good as the Bengals and Jets are in these categories, they both struggle with the one area that is considered important when trailing—the passing game. Both teams have passing games that rank near the bottom of the NFL (the Bengals are averaging 180.6 yards per game through the air, while the Jets are averaging just 148.8).
Then again, most teams don’t need a strong performance from their passing game if they’re already winning. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance one team will be playing from behind on Saturday and will need to rely on their receiving corp.
Dan Parzych is the Cincinnati Bengals Examiner for Examiner.com
He is also the founder of WhoDeyBengals.com
Questions? Comments? email@example.com
Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com
Published: January 7, 2010
Having the ability to finish 7-9 after losing three top players on your team is not just good, it’s spectacular. But don’t get me wrong. I was one of the many Dolphins fans screaming in anguish after dropping the final three games of the year.
But how do you balance the amazing comeback with the apparent need to improve?
You could look at the Miami Dolphins team in many different ways. The only statistical category that we were not ranked 18 or lower in was our offensive rushing attack; we placed fourth. But in pass offense, pass defense, and run defense we placed 20th, 24th, and 18th respectively.
Let’s start with our passing attack. I believe we found our quarterback, so we can only blame our wide receiving core. Our top receiver, Davone Bess, was ranked 45th in the NFL in receiving yards. Our savior also placed 22nd in receptions.
Many people have been claiming that drafting a receiver is the way to go. But with the Dolphins picking Ted Ginn with the eighth pick a couple of years ago, hopefully that bad taste in our mouth remains. It would be stupid to draft a wide receiver when you have an upcoming free agent class which is filled with them.
Brandon Marshall, Terrell Owens, Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers. That is a short list, containing some of the best (not necessarily the best) wide receivers available in the offseason of 2010. The fact that we have our “Best quarterback since Marino” is too much to ignore his main problem; the lack of a deep threat receiver who can catch a pigskin.
Our run defense was seemingly amazing, constantly being put next to our UFL-caliber secondary. But it was not.
Being ranked 18th is not acceptable. With Randy Starks having a Pro Bowl-caliber year, he looks like a young star that could pay dividends in the near future. Our veteran linebackers are on their way out, with Jason Taylor and Joey Porter showing signs of age.
They had good years, don’t get me wrong. With Porter and Taylor being 33 and 36 respectively, if we don’t win with them soon, we might die soon without them.
Cameron Wake is an up-and-coming player, coming from the minor league of the north. His position is a perfect one for the 3-4 system.
With Navorro Bowman from Penn State, Sergio Kindle from Texas, Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap from Florida, and Pierre-Paul from USF projected to still be available, there are many options for our run defense in the draft.
But there still is the possibility of getting Kyle Vanden Bosch and Adewale Ogunleye in free agency. DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman are also available.
And here comes the pass defense. Ranked 24th in the league, they are giving up 234.6 yards through the air, and depressingly, the statistics are not deceiving.
Gibril Wilson seems to be the biggest free agent miscue by the Dolphins since Ernest Wilford. Before I get torn apart by comments, that was a joke. I know that Wilford was terrible, and I know that that was not so long ago.
He signed a five-year $27.5 million dollar contract. Renaldo Hill was almost as good, when the Broncos had a great steal by signing him.
The bright lights, which were dimmed somewhat this year, are rookies Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. With Will Allen going down early, they had to assume the positions of veterans a little early.
And if you will wonder how different it would have been with Allen, don’t. Will Allen, in his only five full games, only allowed one 100-yard receiver.
With Yeremiah Bell having a great year, and Allen hoping to come back, the only questionable position battle is between Wilson and Chris Clemons. Let’s hope for the best.
Texas safety Earl Thomas is projected to be available, and lets hope he is. In 13 games so far this year, he has eight interceptions.
Darren Sharper and Dre Bly are great veterans, who will also be available this year, and could influence one of the youngest secondaries in the league.
Let this be a good offseason, and let’s come back next year with a better, rejuvenated team. Arlington, 2011. When all the Dolfan’s dreams will come true.
Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com
Published: January 7, 2010
In Miami last weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2009 season came to a fitting conclusion in the waning moments of the final regular season game—Ike Taylor intercepted a pass.
It was his first interception since Dec. 7, 2008, and, amazingly, the first pick of 2009 from a Steelers starting cornerback. (I’m not counting Deshea Townsend’s earlier pick, because he wasn’t a regular starter.) Sure, there were only 36 seconds left in the season, but they finally got one.
It was a proper microcosm for the 2009 season; someone made a play when it ultimately didn’t matter. It was too little, too late.
But it was something else about Taylor that struck me, something I noticed a few weeks ago, before he shaved his hair into whatever pattern that was. During the Baltimore game, the camera gave a wide shot of the Steelers sideline, and Taylor was standing facing the field with his helmet off.
On the middle of the back of his head was a tiny but noticeable bald spot.
And that is the real story behind the 2009 season. Suddenly, dramatically, and with devastating results, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense got old.
Though his hairline says otherwise, Taylor, at 28, is a relative youngster on a defensive unit that features half a dozen starters who are now into their 30s. The age of the defense was a primary factor in several losses this season, including all the blown fourth quarter leads. Even in Miami, where the defense played one of its best all-around games of the season, they nearly collapsed one last time, giving up two touchdowns in three minutes of the final quarter to an offense headed by none other than Tyler Thigpen.
With 2009 now in the rear-view mirror, the organization must take a hard look at a group that was for many years the strength of the team. The defense still put up respectable statistics and certainly doesn’t lack playmakers. A healthy Troy Polamalu in 2010 would go a long way towards repairing what happened in ’09.
Here’s what happened—several dependable and reliable players suffered a noticeable decline or were hampered by injuries. How much age has to do with this is anyone’s guess. But it didn’t take a football savant to see that, on plays that mattered most, the defense was juuust a step too slow. Too little, too late.
The principal offenders were Townsend and James Farrior, a pair of 34-year-olds who seemed to have lost a step or three overnight. On the front line, Brett Keisel was productive but battled injuries and fatigue, while Aaron Smith’s season was over before it really got started.
James Harrison had another strong season (10 sacks) but seemed to wear down, initially after Smith got hurt and then again late in the year. Ryan Clark, usually so steady at safety, was on the wrong end of several big plays. Of course, you could say that about almost every player on the back seven.
A strange thing about the defense was that many young players failed to get a chance to perform, even as those playing in front of them were floundering. This may be because the defense is difficult to learn—rookies don’t often crack the defensive lineup—but I thought several players deserved at least a shot at more playing time. Guys like Ryan Mundy, Keyaron Fox, Joe Burnett, and Ziggy Hood weren’t on the field enough.
With depth being a major question at several positions, including cornerback, safety, and defensive tackle, the team may be in a precarious position this offseason due to some curious signings the previous two summers.
Before the 2008 season, they gave Farrior, who was 32 at the time, a five-year extension. Before this season, the Steelers gave James Harrison, who is now 31, a similar five-year extension. Both moves had good merit; Farrior was a key figure and leader in the locker room, and Harrison, after all, was the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
But the moves seem like head-scratchers when looking at how the franchise typically handles situations like that, when defensive players are getting older or declining. That is, they are rarely, if ever, signed to long-term deals.
The team let Joey Porter walk in 2006 when he was 29. All-time sack leader Jason Gildon was 31 in 2003, his last season as a Steeler. Clark Haggans was out of Pittsburgh by age 30; 28-year-old Larry Foote was not re-signed last year. Levon Kirkland was gone at 31, Greg Lloyd at 32.
Some think the Steelers are cheap because of the way these players were cast off. But many of those moves were prescient. Few, if any, of those players made an impact after leaving Pittsburgh (with Porter being a notable exception).
Another recurring theme in ‘09 was that untested and unproven players failed to step up. This was a digression from past seasons, where special-team guys and up-and-comers routinely stepped into the starting lineup without missing a beat. This past season was a different story.
There’s a reason Tyrone Carter has been a back-up safety for 10 seasons, and the Steelers found out the hard way.
Pressed into starting duty, Carter was frequently caught out of position and became a huge liability in pass coverage. He did have one huge game (Denver) but that was overshadowed by his poor play in most of the other 10 games he started. He also affected the play of Clark, who was forced to cover more ground from sideline to sideline.
William Gay looked sharp early in the season but his play declined steadily the rest of the way. He didn’t have a single interception despite getting thrown at almost twice as much as Taylor. Gay didn’t provide much run support either. He raised eyebrows only when he was trucked by Adrian Peterson in the Minnesota game.
That brings us to an interesting final point: Gay ascended to the starting position because former cornerback Bryant McFadden—for whom fans were positively pining this season—was not re-signed. Was it because McFadden was a “Cowher guy” and Gay is a “Tomlin guy”?
No one can say for sure, but it’s clear that the team, as a whole, seems to be stuck in a transition phase. The offense has taken on a completely new identity under Tomlin, while the defense still has the same characteristics it had during the Age of Cowher.
Except—you guessed it—the players are all older. A key free agent this offseason, one who’s already generating some buzz to either be re-signed or franchised, is nose tackle Casey Hampton.
His age? 32.
Check back early next week for Part Two, which will include a review of the offense and the recent coaching staff shake-up.
Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com
Published: January 6, 2010
Three years ago, people would have read that headline and said “No way”. Now, things are different.
Alex Smith, the former Utah Utes quarterback, has taken a while to get his legs in the NFL. Throughout the numerous struggling seasons that resulted in average and below .500 records, Smith has come through the other side a better man.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. Well, this is one of those stories.
Stats wise, Smith wasn’t living up to expectations. Taken as the first overall pick in the 2005 draft and signed to a $49.5 million contract, Smith’s football skills vanished almost as quickly as he received his first paycheck.
In his rookie season with the 49ers, Smith threw for 165 passes, but only completed 84 of them. One touchdown on the season capped off a year that 49er fans would like to erase from the history books.
Just like many rookies in the NFL, Smith struggled in his first year. That is obviously understandable. Look at Matt Stafford or Mark Sanchez—their numbers aren’t exactly great, but it’s all about getting practice and confidence building, right?
That statement wouldn’t prove more true than in the 2006 season, when Smith’s stats sky-rocketed and won him the starting position for the 2007 season.
257 completions on the year, along with 16 touchdowns and 2890 yards, were the more realistic numbers that a first round pick should be producing.
The next few years varied. In 2007, he fell back into his 2006 slump and only played seven games. 2008 marked the year of injury, and 2009 was an average year, but a better one than expected.
The 49ers finished this season 8-8. It was a better year than the 49ers expected to have, but it wasn’t what they had dreamed of heading into the regular season.
Many people had San Francisco down as their sleeper team of 2009. I know I did. With players like Frank Gore and Patrick Willis, you’d be stupid to bet against them.
Overall, Mike Singletary seemed please with San Francisco’s season. At least they finished with a winning record, and at least they avoided injury.
As for the future, well, it lies in the hands of the players right now. Smith is no doubt the starter for the team, and if the coaching staff think they can mix and match him with Shaun Hill, then they are only doing themselves more trouble than favors.
Frank Gore is still going strong, and is the true team leader of a team that he has seen the highs and lows of.
Patrick Willis is capping off a more than impressive year. Leading the NFL in 2009 with 147 tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles, Patrick Willis may be the sole reason why the 49ers defense held up in some close games this season.
The future is looking more than bright for the 49ers at this stage. They may not be Super Bowl caliber yet, but with the weak division that they are in, and the Arizona Cardinals not being as dominant as they once were, they may just take the NFC West next year.
Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com
Published: January 5, 2010
The revived Houston Texans defeated the New England Patriots, 34-27 this past Sunday in Reliant Stadium.
The Patriots (10-6) loss to the Texans (9-7) in the regular season finale will ultimately prove to be meaningless.
However, the severe injury that Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker suffered this weekend will be a substantial obstacle for the Patriots to overcome.
Welker, 28, a two-time second-team All-Pro selection who is the only player in NFL history to record at least 110 receptions in three consecutive seasons, tore both the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee after he caught a pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the first quarter.
Welker is out indefinitely and his status for the 2010 season is currently in jeopardy as well.
Despite his diminutive frame and unassuming appearance, Welker is absolutely one of the grittiest, toughest and most accomplished players in recent times.
Welker, a star at Texas Tech University who was signed by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2004, was a vital piece to the Patriots still explosive offense unit.
There is zero question that Welker’s absence will hinder the Patriots offensive production in some capacity.
“We’ve been going through that all year – people up, people down,” said Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas of New England’s injury-plagued campaign.
“Will we miss Welker? Yes we will. But the guys behind him have to step-up and make plays.”
The individual who can “step-up” and “make plays” and compensate for Welker’s detraction is promising rookie receiver Julian Edelman.
Edelman, 23, who played quarterback at Kent State University and was selected by the Patriots in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, has demonstrated in his limited playing time on the gridiron that he can thrive as a slot receiver.
Edelman was impressive when he replaced a wounded Welker in the Patriots week two starting lineup last September.
Although the New York Jets outmuscled New England and emerged with a 16-9 victory, Edelman led all receivers with eight catches for 98 yards in the first start of his professional career.
Before he broke his arm in the Patriots unsportsmanlike 59-0 blowout of the Tennessee Titans, Edelman was leading all rookies with 21 receptions.
A team can not improve when they subtract a prolific threat like Welker from their roster.
Nevertheless, with Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick still present, the Patriots remain a very formidable opponent for any team they may encounter in the playoffs.
No matter how New England’s postseason eventually unfolds, they will not win or lose because of the loss of Welker.
Conversely, the Patriots will not succeed or fail because of the advanced role of Edelman.
Football is the personification of a team game and Welker was only one man out of 53.
The Patriots season will simply be decided by the collective performances of those 53 players.
Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com
Published: January 5, 2010
The 2009 NFL regular season was a great one. We saw a 2000-yard rusher, two teams that nearly went undefeated, and plenty of drama.
As the playoffs begin, I want to take a look at who should win the regular season awards. We’ll also look at some awards that the NFL doesn’t give out.
Let’s start out with some fun before we get into the real discussion:
Biggest Hits of the Year (in no particular order).
Vote on which you think is the best in the poll on the right.
Best Play of the Year
This was one of the best plays I have ever seen. How did Lewis keep his feet in bounds?
There are a number of players who had remarkable seasons in 2009. Chris Johnson ran for over 2,000 yards and broke Marshall Faulk’s record for total yards from scrimmage.
Drew Brees led the league in passer rating, passing touchdowns, and completion percentage. Brett Favre had nearly identical numbers to Brees, but won fewer games. Peyton Manning led his team to a 14-0 start before Indianapolis rested its starters.
Andre Johnson had nearly 1,600 yards receiving and led the NFL in targets.
While I do think that defensive players should be considered for MVP, I didn’t see any performances from players on top-flight teams deserving of the award this year.
My pick: Drew Brees. Not only did he put up ridiculous numbers, Brees has played a huge part in taking the Saints from being mediocre in 2008 to being a top-flight team in 2009.
Offensive Player of the Year
The players up for this award are the same as those mentioned above in the MVP discussion.
Since this award is less dependent on overall team performance, I’m giving this one to Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans.
Johnson had one of the best offensive seasons for a running back in NFL history with 2,509 yards from scrimmage, an NFL record. Johnson often carried the hapless Titans offense single-handed as the team struggled to put the ball in the air.
Defensive Player of the Year
Darren Sharper had an incredible season ball-hawking for the New Orleans Saints while snatching nine passes and scoring three touchdowns.
Patrick Willis had a ridiculous season leading the NFL in tackles while also posting four sacks, eight passes defended, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and a touchdown.
Elvis Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks.
While each of those players is very deserving of an award, one player stands out above everyone else: Charles Woodson, cornerback for the Green Bay Packers.
Woodson was absolutely dominant this season: 74 tackles, 18 passes defended, nine interceptions, two sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and three touchdowns. He is my NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
There are just a few rookies on the offensive side of the ball that stand out.
Knowshon Moreno had 947 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, both tops among rookie running backs.
Among receivers, Austin Collie, Percy Harvin, and Hakeem Nicks stand out as the top performers. Collie had seven touchdowns, most for rookie receivers while Nicks and Harvin led all rookies in receiving yards.
All of the rookie quarterbacks struggled, so none of them are up for consideration for this award.
My pick: Percy Harvin, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings.
While Harvin proved to be a great receiver this season, he also made an incredible impact in the return game. For a Vikings team that has not had a decent return man this decade, Harvin was a game-changer. He scored two touchdowns and averaged over 27 yards per return.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
This award has already been given to Brian Cushing, linebacker for the Houston Texans and I agree with that decision.
Cushing had 134 total tackles, five sacks, fourteen passes defended, two forced fumbles, and four interceptions. He was the best all-around rookie defender.
Runners-up for this award would be Jairus Byrd of the Bills who had nine interceptions, Clay Matthews who had 10 sacks for the Green Bay Packers, and Brian Orakpo who had 11 sacks for the Washington Redskins.
Coach of the Year
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints. Payton led the Saints to a great season and can be given a lot of credit for hiring Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator.
Runner up: Jim Caldwell, Indianpolis Colts.
While many will want to give this award to Tom Brady, I’m going to go with the underdog. Yes, Tom Brady had a great season coming back from a major knee injury. But we all knew that was going to happen, didn’t we?
Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans is my comeback player of the year, hands down.
Young is a guy many thought would be out of the NFL after what transpired last season. After being benched and going through a deep depression, it seemed the Titans were ready to move on without him.
After a terrible 0-6 start, the Titans threw Young out there in desperation. What did Young do? Only what he’s been doing his whole life: Win football games.
Young set a career high for quarterback rating with an 82.8 rating while leading the Titans to an 8-2 record as the starter. This was the Vince Young we thought we would see after his rookie season.
I hope to see more good things from Young and the Titans next season.
Best “Out of Nowhere” Performances
These players came from absolutely nowhere to put up huge seasons:
1a. Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings.
1b. Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys.
These two receivers both increased their yardage totals by over 1,000 yards between 2008 and 2009 and became star receivers. Great seasons for both.
2. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs.
If the Chiefs could look into the future, they would have dumped LJ a lot sooner. Charles rushed for over 1,000 yards…in the second half of the season alone.
Had he played all season, who knows, he could have topped 2,000 yards with Chris Johnson. For a guy they called “too small” and “too fumble prone” this was an awesome, out of nowhere performance.
The Chicago Bears gave up two first round picks to get Jay Cutler. Cutler threw 26 interceptions and led the Bears to a 7-9 record, worse than in 2008.
Kyle Orton, who won nine games with the Bears in 2008, had the best statistical season of his career in Denver.
Cutler may have more upside than Orton, but he is not worth two first round picks. He makes too many bad decisions to be a true difference-maker at quarterback.
Best Draft Pick
Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens. What a great value he turned out to be. If NFL teams had a crystal ball, he may have gone in the top five, or even first overall.
Worst Draft Pick
I think we all knew this when it happend, but Darrius Heyward-Bey was an awful draft pick. He can’t catch, which makes it difficult to succeed as a wide receiver. He looks to be 2009′s Troy Williamson.
2009 was a great NFL season, let’s hope it continues in the playoffs.
Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com
Published: January 5, 2010
Following the 2008 season, James Loften was demoted from the Oakland Raiders receivers coaching position. At the time, the media thought Loften was fired and it was theorized the reason for the termination was because he did not get the most out of the Oakland receivers.
It was a tough year for the Raiders, as usual in this day and age. Though looking at things realistically, the Raiders had gone through two head coaches and three play callers (Lane Kiffin, Greg Knapp and Tom Cable). Keeping a consistent passing game is a tough chore, no matter the talent level. Loften could hardly be blamed.
If you recall, Loften had been previously interviewed for the Raiders head coaching position that ultimately went to Lane Kiffin. This was not to satisfy the Rooney rule so minority candidates got a shot. Loften is fully qualified to be head coach of an NFL team. His reputation has him painted as demanding and he works his players hard.
Not only was Loften’s removal a surprise, no one was quite sure what to make of Loften’s presence still hanging around the Raiders facility in 2009. In what capacity, we still don’t know. He is not listed on the team’s web site or media guide.
My guess is he is simply being allowed to serve out his contract in some administrative capacity.
At the beginning of the 2009 season the question was posed if Sanjay Lal was going to make a bigger impact as the Oakland Raiders receivers coach than Loften did.
Let’s look at the statistics for the receivers and tight ends. We’ll leave the receiving stats for the running backs out of the mix for clarity’s sake.
Zach Miller 56/778
Johnnie Lee Higgins 22/366
Chaz Schilens 15/226
Ashley Lelie 11/197
Javon Walker 15/196
Ronald Curry 19/181
Tony Stewart 11/91
Zach Miller 66/805
Louis Murphy 34/521
Chaz Schilens 29/365
Johnnie Lee Higgins 19/263
Darrius Heyward-Bey 9/124
Todd Watkins 8/90
Tony Stewart 10/78
Not a lot of difference with the exception of the emergence of rookie Louis Murphy and Schilens stepping it up, coming back from a foot injury to collect more yards in eight games than he did all of last season. New passing game coordinator Ted Tollner also played a significant role in designing plays.
As far as coaching the receivers, it is obvious where the strong points are (Miller, Schilens, Murphy), where the mid-range is (Higgins) and where the weak spot is (Heyward-Bey).
So a good question is, would Loften have made a difference in helping DHB grow as a professional receiver? Maybe, but in all probability, what we are dealing with is a very raw talent in DHB. He came into the league unprepared to deliver anything but sub-par numbers.
Even though to the rest of us, it seems clear DHB’s consistent playing time has amounted to very little growth as a professional receiver, Sanjay Lal would probably argue against that notion and insist DHB has made tremendous strides.
That would be the company line, but considering all DHB has to show for his efforts is nine total catches on the season, it is hard to make a case for his development.
The explanation that DHB “clears space” as the X receiver is ridiculous.
Bottom line is Lal doesn’t really have much leverage so he just does what the boss (Al Davis) expects. That would be to nominate his first round draft pick to get the most playing time available regardless of where he truly is in terms of the pecking order of roster talent available.
This is why James Loften was demoted. He did the right thing to do in ’08, which was play the best talent he had available. If he was receivers coach in ’09, my bet is he would recommend to the head coach that DHB not start.
If starting and playing DHB so much was really what Lal wanted, who knows. We can fault him for being a company man to preserve his job. Ultimately, the decision to play him so much did not help our bad QB in Jamarcus Russell, nor did it help the team in the majority of cases.
No Oakland Raiders fan lacks an opinion on the weak performance of rookie DHB. The fact is the Raiders really lacked depth at receiver in ’09, opting to start two rookies (DHB and Louis Murphy). Veteran speedster Jonnie Lee Higgins played intermittently and Javon Walker played so sparingly he had barely noticeable stats. Journeyman Todd Watkins filled in admirably for the few random plays he was utilized.
Top threat, Chaz Schillens, took a while to get going after recovering from injury most of the season but came on strong to finish on a good note. Training camp favorite Nick Miller was injured all season and never got to show what he can do.
Javon Walker, while not the talent he once was, would have at least given the team more options had he been allowed to play. The reason Walker was not allowed to play was because he upset Al’s applecart by getting off-season surgery without informing the team.
So Al’s version of punishment was to simply bench Walker. His two-million in ’09 salary went unearned.
Rookie Louis Murphy, a bargain in the $300,000 range, was the most productive receiver on the team all season to compliment tight end Zach Miller.
Still, we have to ask if starting rookies over veterans at the receiver spots was a good strategy. Typically, rookie receivers in the NFL need to ease into the role and benefit from mentorship.
From the looks of things, no mentorship emerged and of the two rookie receivers, only Murphy was able to handle the adjustment to the pro game.
With Walker a candidate not to stick for another season and Higgins not a fully bona fide threat to defenses at this point, the most obvious course of action would be to bring in some new blood to challenge for playing time in 2010.
It would not be surprising if Al drafted another receiver or two, brought in a few free agents to challenge in camp but come next season, we can expect DHB (2.4 million in ’09) to once again resume his starting role. There is no way Al will give up on him after one lackluster season.
If Sanjay Lal is still the receivers coach we can expect his “yes sir” recommendation for starting DHB yet again.
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Published: January 4, 2010
It’s that time in the NFL—the remaining 12 teams are gearing up for the playoffs as they compete for the Lombardi trophy. Looking back at the 2009 NFL season, who should be considered the favorite to win it all? Who was the worst in football? Read on to find out…
Cumulative Power Rankings
(Based on entire season)
Runners Up: Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Chris Johnson
Runners Up: Darren Sharper, Elvis Dumervil, Darrelle Revis
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Published: January 2, 2010
The NFL should have learned a lesson from the most recent NHL lockout, and the multiple lockouts other major sports have been hit with. If and when a league halts play due to money grubbing…what does that say to the average fan?
“We’re not making enough money. Profits are only up 5 percent this year. We need to make x millions more, lets fight the players in negotiations, and push for more dollars to stay in our bank accounts. If they won’t bend, we’ll shut down for the next season so we get our way.”
Whether that’s the thought process of owners during a lockout or not, it’s irrelevant. The “court of public opinion” way that the sports loving public tends to view lockouts is not very open-minded.
As a fan, if a league I watch frequently stops playing because of dollar disputes, it says to me that money is bigger than the game.
The NFL, and any other professional sports league is indeed a business, but a special type.
I doubt many people would stop buying Barbies if Mattel refused to give employees a certain benefits package, and stoppage of the product occurred temporarily, but then resumed a year or two later.
Sports though, are different.
People still remember the baseball strike, one which led to the cancellation of the season and the World Series. The World freakin’ Series, people.
Needless to say, baseball fans and purists alike stopped running through the turnstiles all across the country, and baseball was left with a black eye.
Steroids saved the sport, but still, the strike and the lockout left many fans disgruntled with the players and owners.
The NFL is approaching a crossroads. Many veterans have spoken out about the need for a rookie player contract cap, and it is reasonable to push for one.
Lets consider a few things.
Rookies making more than Pro Bowl-established veteran players is ridiculous.
No wonder the veterans are barking up the tree of the NFL about the issue. When a top pick is drafted No. 1 overall, and gets about $50 million for his contract (usually about $20 million-$25 million bonus guaranteed) it sends the wrong message.
That hypothetical player will receive $25 million up front and hasn’t played a down in the NFL yet. It sends the message of reward before work.
Sure, the players coming out of college worked their tails off to get to the NFL, but it is not the same as handing an established NFL vet that same $25 million-$50 million. They have probably 4-5 or more years of great play, while rookies have yet to step on a football field.
It’s one of the few things that bothers me about the NFL.
One of the other things that bothers me, is the potential of an uncapped year or more in the NFL.
It would destroy the level playing field that the NFL generates parity from. How else could little Green Bay compete with New England, New York, Dallas, Detroit, Washington, etc.?
An uncapped season would be horrible for the NFL as a whole.
The NFL would crown Dallas, New England, and Washington nearly every year, because their owners have the money to throw at Free Agents and they would be almost unstoppable.
Not to look into a crystal ball, but it isn’t like one needs one to know an uncapped season or, more than one, would be devastating.
However, there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel that is the question of the outcome of player vs. owner CBA negotiations.
The MLB and NBA’s cap systems, if they were to mix, would be perfect.
The MLB gives teams compensation for the loss of free agents who leave for another team. The NBA locks rookie salaries.
If the NFL could reach a “happy medium” of the two, that would benefit both parties.
NFL franchises locking themselves down to a quarterback for guaranteed big contracts who swing and miss (see Leaf, Ryan) kill their ability to manage the cap, unless they have a master of a general manager who can navigate the rocky financial waters that lie ahead.
Caps on rookie contracts prevent overspending by teams, promote giving money to veterans who have proven their ability on the field, and would save franchises money in the short and long term, almost immediately.
I would propose a cap change of this type:
For rookies, cap first-round picks with a salary to reach no higher than $20 million over no more than four years.
This would allow for financial recovery for teams who pick poorly so that they do not slump for a decade with an overpaid, under-skilled player, and would also set up players to get more money in the long run.
For example, a rookie in 2012: (the earliest anything like this could go into effect)
No. 1 overall pick, quarterback. Guaranteed contract capped at $20 million, four years.
Let’s say this player has great success, and earns a considerable raise at the end of his contract.
The player would no longer have a rookie cap, having played out said contract, so they could sign for as much as any team is willing to offer them.
For hypothetical purposes, and to move this article to my next point (compensation for free agents) lets say they leave their drafted team, enter free agency, and get a nice raise.
What would happen to the team which drafted the player? Should they have to go through a dry patch with spotty play just because their market was too small, or another team offered more? No.
In the MLB’s free agency, if a player leaves his team, and is signed by another team, depending on their positional rank, the team the player left is given a compensatory draft pick, often in the first three rounds.
The NFL could apply a similar tactic.
Lets get back to our hypothetical quarterback who’s now raking in big bucks from a top team. He was obviously a top target free agent, which would indicate that replacing him will be a task not easily done.
The NFL could do what the MLB does, and compensate the teams that free agents leave with additional draft picks in certain rounds.
If the player is a top three player according to the signings of his position in free agency, (if 10 quarterbacks are signed to teams and he’s the No. 2 most paid or signed No. 2) give his previous team a pick to compensate the loss so that they can fill his void on the team accordingly.
Or, what the NFL could do is simply assign a team’s draft pick to a free agent signing. A player like Tom Brady leaving New England for example, would demand at least a first-round compensation in this system, given his rank at his position, and his importance to his team.
If the NFL could implement this type of compensation and rookie contract caps in a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, it would be a great addition to an already sturdy product, on and off the field. The NFL and its players would be better for it.
I do not believe there will be a strike or an uncapped season in the near future, as both parties should understand the importance of keeping the sport favorable in the eyes of fans and advertisers, and that they realize the damage it would do to the league.
However, there is a chance of a CBA not being reached, and while the lockout is a possibility, I think there would be a better chance of an uncapped season.
In the end, the NFL has to decide, would it like to suffer the fall the NHL has taken, or would it like to concretely establish its dominance over the long term with a reasonable agreement between both parties and secure the stability of the sport?
I think the correct choice is the obvious one. Do the right thing, NFL. Reach an agreement in the near future to prevent a messy battle of player vs. owner.
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Published: December 31, 2009
One weekend remains in the chase to the top…..arrr bottom of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Most of the chips are in place and we can get a fantastic handle going into the Senior Bowl, Blue vs Grey Classic and the Combine.
Again I’ll remind you that this could be the most unpredictable draft we’ve seen in years. The collective bargaining agreement that hinges the fate of over 200 would be unrestricted free agents and the possibility of a record underclassmen exoduses in search of what could be the last of the super pay days for rookies make this a once in a generation sensation.
#1. St Louis – Ndamukong Suh DT NEB
If the Rams don’t pull out a victory over San Fran this week the top pick is all theirs and leads to what I believe will be a prognosticators worst possible nightmare. You could easily make a case for 3-4 different players with as many holes as the Rams have.
As it stands Suh is the guy right now, St Louis has a history with Nebraska players over the last ten years and it makes sense to take the best player in the country. I wouldn’t rule out a trade, maybe to Cleveland for Brady Quinn and their pick
#2. Detroit – Russell Okung OT OKST
This pick is also up for grabs with the Lions already paying Matt Stafford a boat load of cash.
I wouldn’t be shocked if they trade down and save some money. If they stay put someone to protect their franchise QB will be tempting and Okung is a beast. Gerald McCoy will also be an option but I stand firm in my belief Shaun Rogers is on his way back to town.
#3 Kansas City – Derrick Morgan DE GT
Morgan is oozing skills; guys that attack the QB like he can don’t come along every year. While I think Eric Berry might be a better fight or Golden Tate might be a huge weapon I don’t think they should pass up making their line almost unstoppable by drafting Morgan
#4. Tampa Bay – Eric Berry S TEN
Raheem I hope that win against New Orleans felt good because it cost you Big Suh.
I like Berry here as the best player on the board and to a few teams the best player in the draft. If rumor holds true that Bill Cowher is their next head coach this guy can fly around and be their Rod Woodson type hard hitting safety.
#5 Washington – Sam Bradford QB OKA
They have options and Bruce Allen will talk shop with anyone interested in this pick. I like Bradford just because they are going to make a splash, although they could be stuck with Jason Campbell if they can’t find a taker as he’d be a restricted free agent in an uncapped year. Other options could include C.J. Spiller or Anthony Davis
#6 Cleveland – Gerald McCoy DT OKA
They have a ton of needs but keeping this defense steady with the possible loss of Shaun Rodgers is a must and McCoy fits that bill. Holmgren will turn one of those QB’s into a decent option and they have weapons with Cribbs, Massaquoi, and Harrison. If Mangini stays and has a say don’t count him out of talking Mike into trading down.
#7 Seattle – Anthony Davis OT Rutgers
Seattle is hurt the most by Jake locker staying in school as they are likely to go with Matt Hasselbeck again next year. Matt has to stay healthy and needs some protection to do it. Davis is a rung bellow Okung but is still a heck of a prospect at 6’6 325 and can help a team that has had a few injury issues up front since their Superbowl run.
#8 Buffalo – Jimmy Clausen QB ND
I’ve been saying since he was fired from the Fighting Irish Charlie Weiss is the next coach of the Bills and it make sense that Jimmy Clausen is their man, TO has a few years left and nothing would make him happier to have both those guys helping out a horrific offense.
#9 Oakland – Joe Haden CB FLA
The Raiders win totals since 2004- 5,4,2,4,5, and 5.
I think Al Davis falls in love with his speed flat out. Tim Tebow is an option and no one would put it past the Raiders to make a reach pick but at the end of the day putting someone who can ball hawk across from Nnamdi Asomugha is a must at this pick.
#10 Denver (from Chicago) – Rolando McClain LB ALA
Denver could go a few ways here, their secondary is old but LB outside of D.J. Williams is a bigger question mark for me. McClain provides none stop motor, not overly flashy but well rounded. Joe Haden and Taylor Mays would also be fantastic selections. I would not be surprised if Sam Bradford falls past Washington and Josh Mac jumped at the chance to get his QB of the future.
#11 San Francisco (from Carolina) – Taylor Mays S USC
San Fran’s Offense is on the up swing. Its Defense is on the verge of being very very good. Taylor Mays maybe is the guy to push them over the top, along with Dashon Goldson their stud rookie and an improving pass rush I think next year is the year they catch Arizona. Mays is someone who can spy Kurt Warner and make big plays against the likes of Boldin and Fitzgerald.
#12 Jacksonville – Carlos Dunlap DE FLA
We know they like Tim Tebow but I get the sense everyone believes he will slip into round two. Having seen Dunlap up close they know what their getting here, a QB heat seeking missile that they lack.
#13 Tennessee – Earl Thomas S TEX
Their secondary was exploited all year due to injuries so it makes sense to add depth. Thomas ranks above Mays on some draft boards and the savvy Titans get a big time play maker. I could see Dez Bryant or Golden Tate here to give them someone across from Kenny Britt.
#14 San Francisco – Trent Williams OT OKA
After helping the Defense with Taylor Mays they will look to help Alex Smith have time to develop their spread offense. Williams is well rounded and at 6’5 300+ he should be able to grow into a Pro Bowl tackle.
#15 Miami – Golden Tate WR ND
Chad Henne is now the man is south beach but he needs help, we all hear Bill Parcels hates first round WR’s and after Teddy Ginn who could blame him? Golden Tate is a Percy Harvin clone as far as what he can do on the football field. Add him to a potent wild cat spread and give Henne a deep threat and that offense becomes a force.
#16 Pittsburgh – Terrence Cody DT ALA
Sixburgh got run all over this year, and Mount Cody is the answer to stopping the bleeding and opening lanes back up for that vaunted pass rush. They do need help in the secondary and if any of the Mays/Thomas/Haden trio fall they would also be tempting.
#17 Atlanta – Dez Bryant WR OKST
Matty Ice had issues this year when teams double covered Roddy White; Michael Jenkins just isn’t the answer. Bryant is a huge talent and getting him at this value shouldn’t be passed up. They do have needs on defense so don’t rule out a Brandon Spikes either.
#18 Houston – C.J. Spiller RB Clemson
I have every faith Steve Slaton will be back to normal next year but Gary Kubiak can’t run that risk with the lack of depth they showed late in the season. Spiller is a do everything type and the one two punch will only open things up further for Andre Johnson.
#19 Baltimore – Bruce Carter LB UNC
Sometimes the right player lands with the right team and it’s a no brainer, Carter is a guy Ray Lewis can finally pass the torch to. A beast that came out during UNC’s bowl game, his stock is soaring.
#20 NY Jets – Jermaine Gresham TE OKA
Gresham can be safety blanket for Mark Sanchez who desperately needs someone who can open up the outsides by exploiting the middle of the field. Gresham should not have any lingering issues from missing his senior season but he will feel it in the pocket book as he could have been a top 10 guy last year.
#21 Seattle (from Denver) – Colt McCoy QB TEX
They can’t simply keep ignoring Matt Hasselbeck’s injury issues. McCoy can sit and learn for most of next year and take over as soon as Hasselbeck shows once again he just cant stay on he field.
#22 NY Giants – Patrick Robinson CB FLST
The G-Men have to address their secondary and Robinson is the best value at this pick, they’d love to get one of those top safeties but a cover guy who can stay with the likes of DeSean Jackson isn’t so bad after all.
#23 Green Bay – Mike Iupati OL Idaho
This would be a great addition for the Packers attempt to get Aaron Rodgers uprite, his experience in cold weather at Idaho and his positive attitude will make him an instant fan favorite in the trenches for Green Bay
#24 Arizona – Cameron Heyward DL OSU
The 6’6 290lb second team all Big Ten selection can help a team that still gets gashed against the run. Arizona has developed a solid pass rush and ball hawk DB’s so finding guys who can be stout against the likes of Gore and Jackson is a must if they wish to return to the Superbowl.
#25 Cincinnati – Jason Pierre-Paul DC SFLA
Cincy lost some luster when Antwan Odom went down mid season. Finding a legit pass rusher is a priority. Brandon LeFell or Marty Gilyard could also be appealing but I doubt you replace Chris Henry with a first rounder and put that kind of pressure on a kid.
#26 Dallas – Sergio Krindle LB TEX
Jerry Jones has seen this beast grow up in his back yard and addressing an ageing LB core led by Keith Brooking is a necessity this offseason.
#27 New England – Ricky Sapp DE Clemson
Their line struggled without Richard Seymour, with all the picks Bill Belichick has horded this upcoming draft they can retool an aging dynasty. As always the Mad Genius will be moving up and down thru out the rounds.
#28 Minnasota – Brandon Spikes LB FLA
Spikes will be a good fit in case E.J. Henderson has issues recovering from his horrific leg injury late this season. A leader Minnesota is lacking without their play caller on the field. Getting younger on the defensive line is also something the Vikings will be looking to do, would Mount Cody be a perfect fit if he drops?
#29 Philadelphia – Navorro Bowman LB PNST
Nothing flashy this year, look for an emphasis of the D side as their offense is clicking. Bowman would be a fantastic leader and playmaker able to blitz and chase with that scary secondary behind him.
#30 San Diego – Brandon LeFell WR LSU
Phillip Rivers loves tall WR’s and LeFell is a monster at 6’3 210. D-line is an issue but health really effected them this year and I don’t think it’s going to be a problem next year.
#31 New Orleans – Jahvid Best RB CAL
Reggie Bush may cost them too much to keep around next year, so Best can give the offense a playmaker in Reggie’s mold.
#32 Indianapolis – Dan Williams DT TEN
The Colts close out round one with help on the D-line that has battled injuries closing out the last few years. I’d like to see them draft Tim Tebow and turn him into a TE that runs the Wild Cat, what do you think?
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