Prime Cuts

Slices of great NFL content from around the web

He’s no CPOY, but the Slot Machine deserves mention

Peterson, Peyton astound, but don't forget these other comeback tales
sportsillustrated.cnn.com

It’s good to have friends in high places, and in Denver, nobody resides in the same stratosphere these days as Peyton Manning. At least in part, a relationship with the Broncos new quarterback was how Stokley’s improbable return to the NFL unfolded.

Let us also not forget that Stokes played some role (host, bicyclist partner for game of catch) in making Peyton's initial visit to Denver a familiar, and thus comfortable one. Does Peyton still sign with Denver without Stokley's presence and hospitality? Probably so. But we can't know for certain, and it doesn't matter.

He won't get any votes for Comeback POY, but for having headed to Duke in February and opened his home to buddy Peyton in March, we say, Thank You, Brandon Stokley.

Rex Ryan baffles everyone yet again

Jets play Tim Tebow for a drive; nobody understands why
www.usatoday.com

The five-play drive included two rushes from Tebow, a sack, and a delay-of-game penalty that set up a third-and-16, which resulted in a scrambling Tebow throwing the ball away.

All of this had Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden scratching his head.

“I’m not sure what they wanted to accomplish there,” Gruden said. “Sanchez moved the team in his first two possessions, and they had good field position. That was a mystery to me. I’m just not quite sure what they want to accomplish with Tim Tebow as a quarterback in this offense. Clearly, they’re confused, I’m confused, and I think a lot of people at home are, as well.”

Rex Ryan finally gave Tim Tebow a series.  Yes, a series.  Tebow pretty much bombed, but then he watched Sanchez throw four interceptions and botch a fumble in the last minute of the game.  So I must simply disagree with Gruden that Sanchez moved anyone anywhere--all season.  Why Ryan never made a move to Tebow in the red zone this year when the games mattered is beyond me.  Tebow may not be a great quarterback, but the very thing Ryan is known for--grounding and pounding--is the very thing Tebow excels at.  Rex Ryan truly baffles the mind (and the feet).   

Something tells me had Tebow known Ryan was going to play him just enough to confuse the hell out of everyone, Tebow would have taken the deal to Jacksonville in a second.  If I'm Tebow (did I just write that?), I'm doing everything in my power to get my hulking ass down to Jacksonville next year and start anew in a place that has the time and the ticket-sales capacity to give the spread option a serious go.  

Something also tells me that the quarterback of the New York Jets is not currently on their roster.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Manning: D.T. Still Huge

Spreading the Ball Around
www.denverbroncos.com

“I know Decker had a good day today,” Manning said after the team’s win against the Ravens. “D.T. probably didn’t have the numbers that he’s been having, but his presence, I can assure you, is a huge part of what is going on out there.”

Translation: "I know the weakest link in the opponent's pass coverage, and I'm going to exploit it."

In a related note, Ravens cornerback Cary Williams is still experiencing some lingering pain from the second-degree burns suffered during yesterday's contest against Denver.  

Brandon Weeden to have misfortune of facing Broncos on Sunday

Cleveland Browns' Pat Shurmur will stick with QB Brandon Weeden despite bad game vs. Redskins
www.cleveland.com

Browns coach Pat Shurmur said today he’ll stick with Brandon Weeden despite his poor outing against the Redskins.

He said he still think he’s the long-term answer at quarterback. “Yeah, I’m looking forward to him having a much better game in Denver.’‘

Judging by this column, and this throw-by-throw critique, it doesn't appear there's a whole lot of patience being provided Weeden in Cleveland; wait 'til the old rookie gets a load of the best pass defense he'll have faced all season, by far.

The glow of yesterday's win and last night's Patriots loss is still warm, but it's never too early to predict that the Broncos are going to annihilate the Browns next Sunday.

Man-child Brandon Marshall keeps from going off

Brandon Marshall upset by Chicago Bears' latest loss
www.nfl.com

Marshall grew more upset when asked about the offense’s struggle to move the ball against the Packers.

“It’s been the same way all year. It’s the same thing every single game. We need to be held accountable,” Marshall said. “What I got to do is try my best to keep it together and not let this affect me because it’s starting to affect me more than it should. And I love this game, I’m very passionate about this game, and right now it’s affecting me way too much.”

Marshall cut off questioning off at that point, stepping down from the podium and wiping away a tear before disappearing behind a door.

Remember, the Bears started the season 7-1.  Now they're fighting just to get a wild card.

It's actually surprising Marshall kept his cool the way he did.  At least his mental health seems to be improving, unlike his team's playoff chances.

Josh McDaniels to the Bears, anyone?

Signs point to huge win for Broncos

Injuries have forced the Ravens to lean on a patchwork defense
www.baltimoresun.com

Weak-side linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who had elevated his play in Lewis’ absence, is in danger of missing his third straight game with an ankle injury. Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, whose season has been marred first by a torn Achilles and now by a torn biceps, is also a game-time decision.

Only four defensive players — McClain and defensive backs Cary Williams, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard — have started all 13 games for the Ravens. That number will probably decrease by two as McClain is out today and Pollard likely won’t play because of a chest injury.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has missed just one game, but shoulder and knee injuries have contributed to his looking ordinary at times. Second-year defensive end Pernell McPhee, who was second on the team last year with 6.5 sacks, has just a half-sack this year, and he has played just nine games because of injuries.

Peyton Manning.  Ravens injuries.  Ordinary Ngata.

Even a Ray Lewis pep talk isn't saving the Ravens now.

I don't advocate gambling (unless you're betting family members), but with the Broncos being only a 2.5-point favorite, if you're simply an addict, you've got a real chance here.

Sunday will be Caldwell’s debut as NFL play-caller

Film Room: Quick Reels
www.footballoutsiders.com

Cameron didn’t do a lot schematically to make life easier on Joe Flacco. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell should be able to fix this. He’s never been a play-caller at the NFL level, but it doesn’t take any experience to know that in order to throw on Denver, you have to intertwine some routes. The Broncos have one of football’s best man-to-man outside tandems in Champ Bailey and Tony Carter. Plus, Chris Harris is one of the few nickelbacks capable of hanging with Anquan Boldin one-on-one in the slot.

Caldwell is no spring chicken, and this won't be his first rodeo; but it will be his first time ever calling plays in the NFL, and at any level since 1999 (he'll do so from up in the coaches' booth). Many have suggested this week that Caldwell's task will be a simple matter of giving Ray Rice more touches, and letting Joe Flacco go no-huddle. Pete Prisco thinks it won't quite be that easy.

Meanwhile, Jack Del Rio has drawn hefty praise for the wide variety of defensive looks he's shown opponents this season. Think he'll have a few wrinkles up his sleeve to greet Caldwell and the struggling Joe Flacco?

As this week draws on, we're finding it increasingly hard to think this will be such a difficult game for Denver, what with Baltimore's turmoil on offense and the mountain of injuries facing its defense. What do you think?

Check this epic hit piece on the Ginger Hammer and his NFL

Absolute Power
www.grantland.com

Further, Tagliabue emphasized that Goodell had done the right things the wrong way and that, as an investigator, Goodell pretty much makes Torquemada look like the chairman of your local ACLU. By vacating the suspensions levied by Goodell, Tagliabue may have defused a number of the inevitable lawsuits, and created a kind of détente with the NFL Players Association. (The NFLPA might well have settled for any finding that just made Goodell look ridiculous, which Tagliabue certainly did.) It is devoutly to be hoped that Vilma, whose lawyer may never stop crowing from the rooftops, goes ahead with his defamation suit against Goodell, because the discovery process alone in that one would be surreal.

You have to love Charlie Pierce, especially if you're a fellow liberal asshole from New England like I am.  He uses his standard big/obscure words (like mountebank!) and employs his trademark rational thought.  Like the best liberals, he doesn't automatically reach the predictable ideological point that the players are "martyrs for union solidarity and the rights of due process."  They're no such thing, of course, and they pretty clearly behaved in a discreditable manner.  The NFL (and Brother Ginger) were far worse, though.

Read the article, and give it a thought.  It'll probably be the smartest thing you read all day.

Middle of Baltimore D is wide open

Injuries at inside linebacker impacting defense's options
www.baltimoresun.com

The Ravens may have to meet the Denver Broncos Sunday without their top three inside linebackers in Ray Lewis (torn right triceps), Jameel McClain (neck stinger) and Dannell Ellerbe (right ankle, left foot, both thumbs). That would leave the defense with just three healthy inside linebackers in Josh Bynes, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Albert McClellan.

Ayanbadejo, Bynes and McClellan have carved out a niche through their play on special teams, but are not being asked to absorb the assignments that Lewis, McClain and Ellerbe would normally run on defense.

Lewis and Ellerbe were apparently limited practice participants today, but at less than optimal health, they may provide better play than did their three backups (Bynes -2.3, Ayanbadejo -3.1, McClellan -1.6) last week, according to PFF. McClain, who has already been ruled out, was a brutal -5.8, and the four inside backers combined for four missed tackles in the loss to Washington. Should dovetail nicely with the strengths of Denver's offense.

Joe Flacco isn’t elite with regard to facts either

Champ Bailey, 'one of the greatest,' has Ravens' respect
www.baltimoresun.com

“They’ve always been an aggressive defense that can get up and stop the run and has some good pass coverage on the outside and secondary and has the outside guys that can rush,” the fifth-year quarterback said. “Obviously, I don’t think we’ve played against Von and he adds another element to those guys being able to head to the passer and have a guy on each side and also be a very good player in the run. You guys are a good defense. They can do all those things—stop the run, get to the passer, cover the pass well—so it will be a good challenge for us.”

It's nice that Joe Flacco respects his elders, and he's right about Von Miller, but we're not sure what universe he's living in--one in which the Broncos have always gotten up and stopped the run.   In fact, here's where the Broncos have ranked in yards per carry on defense since 2005 (Flacco came into the league in 2008):

  • 2005 - 15th
  • 2006 - 14th
  • 2007 - 31st
  • 2008 - 30th
  • 2009 - 27th
  • 2010 - 29th
  • 2011 - 13th

If by "great" Flacco means completely "average" or even "ugly," well then, he's right on the money.   Lucky for the Broncos, this year is turning out to be quite different.