I was originally going to start the article this week with my concerns on the Collective Bargaining Agreement due to a certain injury that happened Sunday afternoon, but that changed Sunday Night (it will be #1 in the 12 pack). The Arizona Cardinals came out in front of the nation at Giants Stadium and dominated the New York Giants. The score was 24-17, but that does not tell the story of the game. The Cardinals held the New York Giants explosive offense in check and made quarterback Eli Manning uncomfortable all night long. Manning threw three picks and was sacked three times. The Cards two Pro Bowl players, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Adrian Wilson were all over the field, 2nd year defensive end Calais Campbell chalked up another sack plus he got his big paws up to knock down two Manning passes. He looks like he wants to join Dansby and Wilson in the Pro Bowl.
On the offensive side of the ball the Cardinals were not as explosive as usual, but they found a way to get enough points to win. The running game showed signs of life with Chris “Beanie” Wells getting the majority of the carries; he averaged 4.8 yards per touch. Coach Whisenhunt, who has been criticized for his offensive play calling at times this season, put together his best game of the season. Coach Whiz’s best play call of the game didn’t even result in a positive play; Antrel Rolle took the snap in the Wildcat formation and instead of running like everyone expected Rolle dropped back and threw a bomb pass to Larry Fitzgerald who was wide open. Fitz dropped the pass, but it did not matter because there was a penalty on the Cards. I hope we see that again later in the season.
The one worry I have about the Cardinals offense is that even though the running game improved, Tim Hightower and “Beanie” Wells both put the ball on the turf once. The two of them continuing to fumble doesn’t allow Coach Whisenhunt to put full trust in the running game and here is an example. With 3:52 left in the game Arizona had 1st and 10 at their own 42 yard line. The Giants possessed all three time outs, but a couple Cardinals first downs would have iced the game. In this situation I believe that Coach Whisenhunt wanted to run the ball down the Giants throat and try and grind out the rest of the game, but he can’t. Wells and Hightower have not proven trust worthy and Coach Whiz feels that it is less likely the Cardinals would turn the ball over throwing. The results were three passes, two of them incomplete and the Redbirds only ran a minute off the clock before the Giants got their hands on the ball again. It didn’t hurt them this time because the defense stepped up, but the Cardinals running backs must start holding onto the ball so Coach Whisenhunt can trust them to carry the ball at any time during the game.
Now lets hit the Week 7 12-Pack:
1. New York Jets running back Leon Washington was lost for the season due to a gruesome broken leg where the bone popped through the skin. Washington, the Jets most dynamic offensive player is in his fourth NFL season and was looking for a new contract. He held out the first day of training camp, but LW, who is one of the NFL’s stand up guys, couldn’t take being away from his teammates and changed his mind (I will never again complain about a player holding out to get his contract taken care of). Under the old rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) Leon would have been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, but with the uncapped year looming the rules have changed. Instead of unrestricted free agency starting after four years in the league, players now have to be in the league six years to hit the open market. This takes away any leverage players have when trying to renegotiate contracts because teams know they have them trapped for six seasons. This doesn’t affect the first round picks who get enough money to support their family for life, but the later round players (Washington was a 4th-round pick) out play their lesser contracts and deserve more money. Leon’s recovery time is supposed to be 12 weeks and he should be ready to start the 2010 season, but who knows if he will ever be the same player. I don’t see it being a problem physically, but mentally I can’t imagine that Washington will ever run with the same confidence again after going through such a horrific injury. In the NFL where the average career is four years, under the current rules most players won’t even see a second contract. It is imperative for the Players Association to hammer out a new CBA with the owners so we don’t see more situations like the one with Leon Washington on Sunday.
2. Right now the NFL has tons of players that have that “it” factor. You can turn on pretty much any game on Sunday and see incredible athletes making incredible plays. Currently my favorite players to tune into are Vikings WR Percy Harvin – you never know where he is going to be lined up and every time he touches the ball it can go the length of the field, Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco – I can’t wait to see what he does next, Ravens RB Ray Rice – the most complete running back since LT in his prime, Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown – there is nothing more fun than watching the Fins run the Wildcat offense, and Colts QB Peyton Manning – the past couple of years I thought Tom Brady was going to be the best QB of our era – I was wrong.
3. We had an Alex Smith sighting on Sunday afternoon. The 49ers former #1 overall replaced 49ers QB Shaun Hill Sunday and he almost led an incredible comeback as the 49ers lost a heartbreaker to the Houston Texans 24-21. Smith has always had the physical tools; strong arm and moves great for a QB. The questions have always been mental and throwing accuracy. He showed improvement in both areas on Sunday. The 49ers defense is very good, but in the NFL you can’t just rely on that, your offense needs to be able to put points on the board. Smith showed chemistry with tight end Vernon Davis and he gives the 49ers the best chance to win. Maybe he won’t be a bust after all.
4. One theme that I’ve been hitting on throughout the season is how bad the bottom of the league is this year. The Browns, Rams, Raiders, Chiefs, and Buccaneers lost by a combined score of 183-23. It makes for some awful football and some great teams for people to bet on. I can’t wait to see how high Vegas makes the lines for the games these teams play in next week.
5. Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin showed his plus 200 yard effort against the Kansas City Chiefs was no fluke. This week he caught six passes for 171 yards and two TD’s in the ‘Boys match-up with the Atlanta Falcons. In the past two games Austin has 16 catches, 421 yards, and four touchdowns. To put that in perspective if you used just those two weeks Austin would be 20th in the league in receiving yards. He is currently averaging an unbelievable 23 yards per catch and has the fans in Dallas saying TO who????
6. We are down to three undefeated teams; the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, and New Orleans Saints. Who will make it the longest? I believe that Denver will lose its first game next week @ Baltimore. The Saints have the Falcons at home on Monday Night Football next week, if they win that they don’t have another challenging game until they play the New England Patriots in Week 12. The Indianapolis Colts have a couple of tricky games in the upcoming weeks against the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, and Baltimore Ravens. I see New Orleans making it to that Week 12 match up with the Pats and then Tom Brady and co. will end the Saints undefeated season.
7. I like to throw in my non-NFL thoughts every once in a while. On the college football scene what a game between Michigan State and Iowa Saturday night. I never expected there to be such a well played, quality football game coming out of the pathetic Big 10. That game along with the Miami-Florida State game have been the best two college football game I have seen all season. TCU is for real, for the second straight season they demolished BYU. The Horned Frogs defense is incredible and they have speed all over the field on offense. If they were able to pull of an undefeated season I would have no problem if they played in the BCS Championship Game. They are just as worthy as an undefeated team from the Big East or Big 10. In MLB congrats to my New York Yankees for making the World Series. I am excited to watch the Phillies and Yanks go head to head, it should be a phenomenal match up.
8. The showcase game on Sunday was the Minnesota Vikings traveling to the Burgh to take on the Steelers. The Viks had their first hiccup and Brett Favre finally came down to earth. #4 had two turnovers in the 4th quarter that led to two Pittsburgh defensive touchdowns. Brad Childress I hope you learned your lesson when you let Mr. Favre throw the ball 51 times he is going to make mistakes and they usually are big ones. Only giving the ball to Adrian Peterson 18 times is unacceptable. Childress, who was an offensive coordinator under Andy Reid, showed the same tendency that Reid’s Eagles had last week against the Raiders; they both forgot that the best players on their team are the guys lined up behind the quarterback.
9. The Buffalo Bills have won two straight games and it has not been pretty. Last week they beat the New York Jets in a turnover filled game, this week they snuck past the Carolina Panthers. Bills Head Coach Dick Jauron has decided to stay with the Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback instead of going back to Trent Edwards. I love the move, even though Ryan has not put up big #’s Buffalo has won with him behind center and that is all that matters. If the Bills stop winning Jauron can always go back to Edwards for a spark.
10. Here come the New England Patriots. I’ve been talking about them throughout the season, the Pats were finding ways to win games, but something just didn’t seem right. New England got the perfect cure, games against the Titans and Buccaneers. Now the Patriots have a bye week and hit the meat of their schedule sprinting full speed ahead.
11. It is time for the Carolina Panthers to pull the plug on quarterback Jake Delhomme. The only thing holding Head Coach John Fox from making the switch is that AJ Feeley, Josh McCown, and Matt Moore are behind Delhomme on the depth chart, not very attractive options. With the new contract that the Panthers gave Jake this off-season they have set their team back 2-3 years.
12. Week 7 was revenge week for a couple players. Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner got to stick it to the New York Giants for giving up on him too early (the move has worked out for both teams), Bengals RB Cedric Benson ran all over his former team the Chicago Bears, and New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees showed the Miami Dolphins what they missed out on when they chose to sign Dante Culpepper over him a couple of years ago.
Leon Washington – The New York Jets lost their most dynamic offensive player. They don’t have anyone on the roster who can do everything that Leon could do, they will have to replace him with a committee of different players.
Will Allen – The Miami Dolphins lost their starting cornerback for the rest of the season. Now the Dolphins will be starting two rookie CB’s for the rest of the season (Vontae Davis and Sean Smith).
Dominque Rodgers Cromartie – The Cardinals CB hurt his ankle in Arizona’s Sunday Night game against the New York Giants. If he has to miss time he will be missed. After struggling early in the season it seemed that DRC had finally turned the corner.
New York Jets RB Shonn Greene had a huge game for the New York Jets after Leon Washington went down. Greene rushed for 144 yards and 2 TD against the Oakland Raiders and will be asked to carry the ball 10-15 times per game the rest of the season.
San Francisco 49ers WR Michael Crabtree made his debut against the Houston Texans. He had a solid game with five catches for 56 yards. To put that in perspective Darius Heyward-Bey, who the Raiders took before Crabtree, only has four catches on the season.
Week 8 Look Ahead
Houston Texans @ Buffalo Bills…The Bills look to win their 3rd straight game and the Texans try and push forward to their first playoff berth in team history.
Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens…The Broncos get two weeks to prepare for the Ravens as they try and move to 7-0.
Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets…A rematch of the very exciting Monday Night game from Week 5.
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles…These hard hitting NFC East match-ups are always fun to watch.
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers…This is the game we have all been waiting for. Brett Favre returns to Green Bay to take on the Packers.
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints…The Atlanta Falcons look to get themselves back in the NFC South division race.