Skip to content

NFL morning after: It’s the Texans and everyone else in the AFC

Baltimore Ravens v Houston Texans Getty Images

Is seven weeks into the season too early to declare home-field advantage wrapped up? Probably. But let’s be real about the state of the AFC right now: It’s the Texans and everyone else.

The Texans are so much better than the rest of the AFC that only a string of major injuries to key players (like Houston had last year) can prevent them from clinching home field for the playoffs, probably with a couple games left in the regular season. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Houston.

Entering Sunday, the Texans and Ravens were tied for the best record in the AFC at 5-1, and their meeting at Reliant Stadium looked like a possible AFC Championship preview. But on Sunday the Texans absolutely humiliated the Ravens, jumping out to a 29-3 halftime lead and coasting through the second half to win 43-13. If the Ravens are the second-best team in the AFC, then I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger gap between the first and second-best teams in either conference in NFL history.

The Texans are such a complete team. They pass the ball well with Matt Schaub throwing to receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels. In Arian Foster they have one of the NFL’s best running backs. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt is my choice for Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL right now. Johnathan Joseph has been slowed by a groin injury this season, but when he’s at full speed he’s among the NFL’s best cornerbacks — and he looked like he’s getting closer to full speed when he picked off Joe Flacco and returned the interception 52 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.

All of that is half of the reason the Texans are so far ahead of the pack in the AFC. The other half is that every other team in the AFC is deeply flawed. Only the Texans, Ravens and Patriots have winning records, and it’s looking like a year when 8-8 may be enough to make the playoffs in the AFC. All those AFC teams hovering around .500 may look to some people like just the kind of parity everyone likes about the NFL, but it looks more like mediocrity to me.

The Texans’ loss to the Packers a week ago is a strong demonstration of how much better the NFC is than the AFC this season: If the Texans were in the other conference, they wouldn’t be the favorites to earn home-field advantage. But as the one and only really good team in a mediocre conference, the Texans have the clearest path to the Super Bowl of any team in the NFL.

Here are my other observations from the seventh Sunday of this NFL season:

Chris Johnson may be the most inconsistent player in NFL history. Johnson was absolutely sensational for the Titans in Sunday’s win over the Bills, carrying 18 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including one 83-yard run on which he looked like he could give Usain Bolt a competitive race. Johnson’s game-breaking ability is unmatched; previously in his NFL career Johnson has had touchdown runs of 91, 89 and 85 yards, and he’s the only player in NFL history with four career touchdown runs of 80 yards or longer. But for the Titans, it’s maddening that a player with the talent to run like that has so many absolutely terrible games. In the first six weeks of this season, Johnson had four different games in which he failed to gain even 25 yards. In those four games, Johnson’s total stat line is 48 carries for 69 yards and zero touchdowns. How can a player who’s good enough to gain 195 yards on 18 carries in one game be bad enough to total just 69 yards on 48 carries in four other games? It’s inexplicable.

Browns rookie defensive lineman Billy Wynn committed one of the dumbest penalties of the year. On a fourth down from the Colts’ own 22-yard line in the second quarter, the Indianapolis offense stayed on the field. Obviously, all they were going to do is try to draw the Browns’ defense offside: No NFL team ever goes for it on fourth down in that situation. Which obviously means that all the Browns had to do was not jump offside. And yet Wynn jumped offside, giving the Colts a free first down. Penalties don’t get much dumber than that.

Wynn’s penalty wasn’t even the Browns’ dumbest fourth-down decision. Browns coach Pat Shurmur made one of the bonehead calls of the year when he sent out his punter on fourth-and-1 from the Colts’ 41-yard line while trailing 17-13 with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. That’s a situation where you have to go for it. You simply cannot give the ball away because you don’t trust your offense to gain one yard with the game on the line. The Browns, of course, ended up losing by that same 17-13 score. Shurmur is coaching for his job right now, and these are the decisions that get coaches fired.

We’re running out of superlatives for Robert Griffin III. Even in defeat, Griffin is doing amazing things as the Redskins’ quarterback. After Griffin completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns, plus 89 yards rushing, players on the Giants’ defense declared Griffin the best quarterback they’ve faced this season. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora described Griffin as “flat-out unbelievable.” It’s amazing how good this guy is, at just 22 years old.

Last year we were running out of superlatives for Cam Newton. If you want to make the case that no one should get too excited about Griffin, all you have to do is point to Newton. Last year Newton was doing many of the same things Griffin was doing, making plays with his arm and his feet in an unbelievable rookie season for the Panthers. But this year Newton just doesn’t appear to be the same player. It’s not that Newton has been terrible, but in games like Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, he just hasn’t been able to make plays when the Panthers need him. Becoming a great pro quarterback is a lot of work, and while Newton may achieve greatness eventually, he’s not there yet. Maybe a full year of film on Newton has better prepared NFL defenses to stop him, or maybe Newton let all the fame get to his head last year. But he’s not playing as well as he did in 2011.

The Jets aren’t going down without a fight. After they lost their best player, Darrelle Revis, to a season-ending knee injury and then lost their next game 34-0 to the 49ers, I thought the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the league the rest of the season. But I was wrong. The Jets are playing tough, competitive football. On Sunday in New England the Jets were (at least according to the Vegas lines) the biggest underdogs in the NFL. And yet they took the Patriots to overtime. Rex Ryan turns a lot of people off with all his bluster, but the guy is a damn good coach.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano had the biggest win of the day. Not because his team beat the Browns to improve to 3-3 and surpass last year’s win total, but because he was sent home after four weeks in the hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia. For Pagano, that’s an important step to getting where he wants to be: Back to coaching his team.

Permalink 56 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Features, Rumor Mill, Top Stories

Irsay trial postponed to October 30

Irsay AP

Colts owner Jim Irsay has received a two-month reprieve in a court of law.  That may not matter much in the Court of Goodell.

Per the Associated Press, a judge has postponed from August 28 until October 30 Irsay’s trial on misdemeanor charges of driving while intoxicated and driving with a Schedule I or II controlled substance in his body.

For a player with a first offense, the NFL typically would defer the imposition of discipline until after the criminal case is resolved.  With the NFL hoping to show that owners are held to a higher standard, Commissioner Roger Goodell possibly will impose a suspension or other discipline on Irsay before the start of the 2014 regular season.  Adam Schefter of ESPN previously reported that league insiders believe a six-to-eight-game suspension will be imposed.

And while that indeed would amount to a higher standard for owners, the NFL has declined to address whether Irsay will be placed in the same substance-abuse testing program that applies to plays.  If/when that ever happens, Irsay would be subjected to the same protocol of up to 10 urine tests per month, and eventually a one-year suspension, if violations would continue.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jay Gruden not sure if Stephen Bowen will be available for Week One

Stephen Bowen AP

Washington defensive end Stephen Bowen remains on the active/physically unable to perform list as he returns from microfracture knee surgery.

And it’s uncertain whether he’ll be available when Washington begins the regular season in 17 days.

Head coach Jay Gruden said Thursday that “it’s hard to say” whether Bowen will be able to play in the club’s opener at Houston on Sunday, September 7, the team’s Twitter feed reported.

The 30-year-old Bowen was limited to just 10 games in 2013 for Washington. A season ago, he was the club’s starting right defensive end in Jim Haslett’s base 3-4 scheme. At present, former Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher is listed as the starter at right end, with Chris Baker the starting left end.

Per NFL rules, if Bowen remains on active/PUP by Saturday, August 30, the club will have to decide whether to place him on reserve/PUP, which would necessitate a minimum six-game absence, or make another transaction, including keeping him on the active roster.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Five questions: New England Patriots

Bill Belichick, Tom Brady AP

The Patriots winning the AFC East has almost reached the death and taxes level of certainty, which means the big question for them is always about something bigger.

Can they win the Super Bowl?

They’ve certainly got a chance to get there in a conference that many believe is set up for another title game clash between Bill Belichick and Peyton Manning. Winning that game for the first time since 2011 and challenging whoever survives in the NFC will take the right answers to the five questions we’re posing about the Patriots.

1. Can Gronk stay healthy?

If you can answer an unimpeachable yes to this question, you should probably do whatever you can to get in touch with the Patriots because they’d likely pay good money for help keeping tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field for an entire season.

The last time he did that was during the 2011 season, when he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gronkowski played in seven games last year and the Patriots had 25 touchdown passes for the entire season.

During that brief period when Gronkowski was healthy last season, the Patriots were a buzzsaw on offense. They found the slogging much harder when he was out of the lineup recovering from back surgery or after he tore his ACL, though. The latter injury will him from cutting loose in a preseason game and Week One isn’t guaranteed, so there will be at least a few more weeks of wondering about when he’ll get the full green light.

And then it will be many more weeks for Patriots fans to worry about losing him every time he takes a hit.

2. How good can Darrelle Revis make this defense?

One need only look at the revolving door of cornerbacks that the Patriots have employed recently to know how much Revis changes things for New England. We’re not sure yet if he’ll be playing one side of the field or following a particular receiver each week, but it’s a good bet that Belichick will be doing things differently now that he has one of the league’s best corners to use on every snap of the ball.

It helps that he has so many other pieces to put in play around Revis. Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Donta’ Hightower have gained experience, Devin McCourty has transitioned well to safety, Jerod Mayo is back from last year’s pectoral injury and they’ll have Brandon Browner after he serves his four-game suspension. It adds up to the best defensive group on paper for New England in some time and Revis is the piece that could make it special.

3. Will time catch up to Tom Brady?

Brady turned 37 this year and he’s coming off a season that saw him take 40 sacks while posing his lowest completion percentage in a decade, all of which can be seen as reasons to argue that a quarterback could be starting the decline phase of his career.

Others would point to Gronkowski’s absence and a shortage of reliable wide receivers as reasons why Brady was less successful than in past seasons. The receiver question hasn’t been settled as the team is still hoping for Aaron Dobson and/or Brandon LaFell to provide a steady threat next to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who Brady jokingly called pygmies this summer.

The gut feeling here is that a better cast of characters would lead to better things from Brady, but age catches up with all of us sooner or later.

4. Can their defensive tackles hold up?

If Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Dominique Easley are all healthy, they should make for an imposing trio in the center of the defensive line. It’s a big if, though.

Wilfork tore his Achilles last year and turns 33 in November while Kelly is coming back from a torn ACL and nearing his 34th birthday. Easley is a first-round pick and much younger, but he suffered the second torn ACL of his playing career last season. When Wilfork and Kelly went down last year, the Patriots defense took a serious hit and a similar turn of events this year would mitigate the good things discussed above.

5. How many fumbles is too many for Stevan Ridley?

Ridley lost a fumble in the team’s preseason game against the Eagles, an unhappy reminder of the four fumbles he lost last season. Those fumbles landed him in Belichick’s doghouse for a time and kept Ridley from building on a strong 2012 season.

LeGarrette Blount left as a free agent, but Shane Vereen and fourth-round pick James White are on hand as options should Ridley’s fumbles become a problem again this season. With free agency looming for the 2011 third-round pick, that would probably work out worse for him than it would for the Patriots.

Permalink 13 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jay Gruden says false start calls on RG3 were “a little insane”

grudenrg3 AP

Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III picked up two false start penalties in the first quarter of Monday night’s preseason game, and coach Jay Gruden wasn’t happy about it.

Gruden wasn’t unhappy with Griffin. He was unhappy that the officials were so strict about the false start rules that they flagged Griffin for merely moving while barking out signals before the play.

“We’ve just got to make sure we don’t have him do any sudden movement with his hands or try to really move his head and shoulders,” Gruden said, via the Washington Post. “But that to me was a little insane.”

Gruden said it’s hard for a quarterback to yell loud enough to be heard over the crowd while being perfectly still.

“In a loud stadium, in order to enunciate your words, sometimes you have to move your chest to yell. Am I right? ‘HUT!’ ” Gruden said. “Sometimes you yell, and that’s what he was doing.”

If the officials are going to call false starts that strictly in the regular season, Griffin will need to find a way to yell without moving.

Permalink 46 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Kyle Cook retiring after six seasons

Kyle Cook AP

Center Kyle Cook never caught on with another team after being released by the Bengals in March and now it looks like he won’t be doing it in the future either.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Cook has decided to retire after six seasons. Cook went undrafted out of Michigan State in 2007, made his debut with the Bengals the next season and moved into the starting lineup in 2009. He started 66 games before his release, including all 16 last season.

Caplan writes that Cook was the best free agent center available, an opinion he shares with PFT’s Michael Wilkening, and that makes one wonder if he could be persuaded to rethink his decision if a team came calling after an injury during the regular season. Cook wasn’t great last season, but that kind of experience has value at an important spot on the offensive line.

The Bengals drafted center Russell Bodine in the fourth round and the signs coming out of Cincinnati are that he’ll be the starter come September 7.

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Half-baked plan: Both Blount and Bell to play tonight

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Steelers are going to take their time deciding how to handle running backs LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell after last night’s marijuana possession arrests.

And they’re definitely going to wait longer than a day.

According to Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will play both of them tonight against the Eagles.

Bell, who was also charged with DUI, has paid his own way to Philadelphia to join the team, so apparently he’s going to get something for his money. Blount was on the team charter.

The move to play them seems dicey in light of potential punishment, but the Steelers also have to pick a roster after tonight’s game, and having their regular runners in there will give them a better chance to evaluate the rest of the offense.

Permalink 60 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

PFT Live: Steelers talk with Ed Bouchette, 49ers talk with Matt Maiocco

Britain Steelers Vikings Football AP

Two Steelers players were caught with grass in Pittsburgh, they’re tearing up the grass in Santa Clara and we’ll be talking about all that and much more during Thursday’s edition of PFT Live.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will join Mike Florio to discuss the arrests of running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount on Wednesday and the possible fallout if they are charged with marijuana possession and, in the case of Bell, DUI in the future. That will include Pittsburgh’s plans for the pair when they face the Eagles in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area will also be on hand to discuss the work underway at Levi’s Stadium to replace some of the sod after 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh stopped Wednesday’s workout at the team’s new stadium because of problems with the field. They’ll also talk about the team that the 49ers will be putting on that field during Maiocco’s visit.

It all gets started at 1 p.m. ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

Permalink 6 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Raiders have no worries about Khalil Mack

Khalil Mack, Kellen Moore AP

Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney got a lot of attention for his sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during last week’s preseason game, but there was no such acclaim for Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack after his own sack.

That’s because Mack’s sack came against backups for the Lions, which isn’t exactly what you’d call a crowning achievement for the fifth overall pick in the draft. Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Mack has had a “ho-hum” training camp for the Raiders and that the rookie “has looked slow getting off the line of scrimmage,” something that Mack says is because he’s thinking too much in the heat of the moment.

None of that is a cause for concern for Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who said he believes Mack will be an impact player in 2014. Safety Charles Woodson said that Mack just needs time to digest everything in front of him before he starts making plays.

“He has a lot on his plate,” Woodson said. “Not just from the standpoint of him being a high pick and everybody expecting that ‘wow’ factor out of him, but as far as the plays, knowing the positions and different things they have him doing, there is a lot expected of him in that sense, too. You just allow him to grow as a player … This guy is going to be OK, and I think the sky is the limit for him.”

Clowney and plenty of other highly touted rookies have has rough moments during their first preseason outings as well, so there’s nothing unusual about it taking some time for things to come together for Mack. Based on his college exploits and size/speed mix, there’s every reason to believe big things will follow once they do.

Permalink 25 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jason Garrett: DeVonte Holloman advised to end career after neck injury

DeVonte Holloman AP

One of the Cowboys’ young defensive players has reportedly received some unfortunate news.

Second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman has been advised by doctors to give up football due to a neck injury, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Thursday, according to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Holloman injured his neck in the Cowboys’ Saturday exhibition vs. Baltimore. Moreover, he suffered a spinal contusion last season.

The 23-year-old Holloman appeared in nine games (two starts) for Dallas in 2013, recording 26 tackles and two sacks. A South Carolina product, Holloman was a sixth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2013.

Permalink 17 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

49ers already replacing the sod in their new stadium

levis-stadium-dirt-field-aerial

The 49ers are going to have some dirt and grass stains on their brand new Levi’s, as they’re already replacing the sod in their state-of-the-art stadium.

After one concert, a soccer match and one preseason NFL game, the field was already in such dire shape the 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh pulled his team off the field last night during a practice.

 

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, crews were at work this morning stripping up the old sod to put in new, in advance of the next game there Sunday.

The previous grass was installed in April, and didn’t root down well enough to keep multiple players from slipping and sod to come up in chunks at last night’s public practice.

The 49ers issued a statement Wednesday night saying the team had “determined the appropriate measures necessary to have the field ready for Sunday and look forward to hosting the San Diego Chargers.”

They have more than that on tap, as two high school games are schedule there on Aug. 29, followed by a soccer match between Mexico and Chile on Sept. 6 before the regular season opener against the Bears on Sept. 14.

Such quick turnarounds for sod aren’t uncommon, but it’s still a dramatic blemish for a brand-new building.

Photo credit: KNTV

Permalink 21 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Tom Coughlin: Want excitement? Move extra points to the 1

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Giants coach Tom Coughlin says the NFL went in the wrong direction in its preseason extra point experiment.

Coughlin says that if the idea is to make extra points a more exciting play, moving kicks back to the 15-yard line while keeping two-point conversion attempts at the 2-yard line wasn’t the right way to do it. Coughlin says the NFL should have moved all point-after attempts to the 1-yard line, to encourage coaches to go for two.

I didn’t think much of it when it was suggested,” Coughlin said, via Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger. “There are some ways to change that part of it if the intent is to make it more exciting. I think that certainly would be one of them. I think you have to be aware of the fact that it’s a 33-yard field goal in November when the wind’s blowing and it’s snowing here and it’s… in Miami it’s 75 degrees. It’s a little different in different parts of the country. You do have to be aware of that. I would say probably the ball will stay at the two, extra points. But if you really want to make it interesting put it at the one.”

Coughlin makes a good point: If the ball were spotted at the 1-yard line, NFL coaches would be much more tempted to go for two more often, on the theory that a run up the middle is more likely to be successful from a yard away than two yards away. (And additionally under the theory that a pass is more likely to be successful when the defense has to stack the line of scrimmage to stop a run up the middle.)

The NFL is expected to make some change to the extra point rule, and probably sooner rather than later. Coughlin’s idea of moving the ball to the 1 may make more sense than the preseason experiment of moving the ball to the 15.

Permalink 98 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Chargers preseason tickets going for next to nothing

pennies-on-the-dollar-3

Each week during the regular season, we monitor the Chargers for blackouts.

But in the preseason, it’s hard for some people to give away the tickets they’ve already paid for.

According to Jonathan Horn of U-T San Diego, the secondary market for Chargers tickets underscores the (lack of) value of the preseason for consumers.

They found tickets for next week’s fourth exhibition game as low as $6.55, with most seats available on StubHub going around 85 percent off face value.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the game features the Cardinals, who will be back 11 days later for a real game on Monday Night Football, or that few if any stars will appear.

“It’s got all the factors of being a dud,” said ticket broker John Nelson, owner of Premier Tickets in Mission Valley. “I’m prepared to take $10 a ticket just to get something.”

Considering it’s the secondary market — meaning they’ve already sold that ticket once — it’s hard to know how much NFL owners care about the low demand.

But it’s also a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the preseason at a time when there’s little movement from owners to shorten it.

Permalink 31 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Will Packers keep three quarterbacks?

Akeem Ayers, Karl Klug, Scott Tolzien AP

One year ago, the Packers had Vince Young, B.J. Coleman and Graham Harrell competing to back up starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But by the beginning of the 2013 regular season, all three reserves were gone.

A total backup QB reshuffling isn’t in the cards this season for Green Bay, which has two capable reserves in Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien. But as Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in a story published Wednesday, the Packers may have to decide whether to keep one or two backups behind Rodgers.

The competition between Flynn and Tolzien is “neck and neck,” Packers QBs coach Alex Van Pelt told the Journal Sentinel.

Rodgers expressed similar sentiments.

“I think they’re both playing well and it is close,” Rodgers said, per the Journal Sentinel. “I think they have made the No. 2 decision difficult and also keeping three quarterbacks difficult.”

According to Journal Sentinel, Flynn has practiced as the top backup this week and looks likely relieve Rodgers in Friday night’s dress rehearsal against Oakland.

There are downsides to keeping two or three quarterbacks. If the Packers keep just two, they will have let go of either Flynn, who’s risen to the occasion in relief of Rodgers throughout his career; or Tolzien, who may have more long-term upside than Flynn.

However, if the Packers go with three quarterbacks, they will lose a depth chart spot at another position.

That said, the Packers look to be a facing a more pleasant decision than a year ago, when it was quite clear Rodgers’ backup might not be on the roster.

Permalink 42 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Le’Veon Bell made his own way to Philadelphia

Le'Veon Bell AP

Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were both in a car pulled over by police on Wednesday and are expected to be charged with possession of marijuana after 20 grams of it were found in the vehicle, but only Bell is also facing potential DUI charges since he was behind the wheel.

Bell was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital to have his blood drawn to test for marijuana in his system, which meant that he didn’t make it on the team’s charter flight to Philadelphia for Thursday’s game against the Eagles. Missing the charter won’t mean that Bell is staying at home, however.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Bell made his own way to Philadelphia. Blount, who did not have any blood drawn, was on the team’s charter flight.

The team is aware of the incident on Wednesday, but offered no further comment about either player’s status for Thursday night’s game or anything else having to do with their status.

Permalink 81 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: 49ers don’t want to trade holdout guard Alex Boone

alexboonerhino

Considering the 49ers either did or did not offer holdout guard Alex Boone a new deal that would pay him like a top-12 guard in the NFL, his situation is still very much in limbo.

Thus, teams are calling to ask about his availability.

But according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers are not interested in trading Boone.

One source suggested that they only way they’d do it is if someone offered a first- or second-round pick, a high price considering the new contract that would have to accompany it.

And that’s almost a de facto “no sale” sign, unless some team is truly desperate.

Boone has two years left on his current deal, and is scheduled to make $2 million this season. He’s held out of the first four weeks of training camp, which led to fines of $30,000, which means he will shortly chew up about half that amount.

The 49ers have been talking up backup Joe Looney, and by putting out word that they don’t want to deal Boone, perhaps they might make a move to keep him.

Permalink 21 Comments Feed for comments Back to top