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Gridiron Preseason Preview: Rams at Chiefs

Posted: 26 Aug 2011 03:26 AM PDT

A Rams team that’s trying to turn the corner in 2011 can look across the sidelines at its next preseason opponent for inspiration.

The Chiefs produced one of the NFL’s biggest turnarounds last season, rising up from a dreadful 4-12 campaign in head coach Todd Haley’s 2009 debut to record 10 wins and a surprise AFC West title. The Rams also displayed dramatic improvement during the course of 2010, posting a 7-9 mark in Steve Spagnuolo’s second year in charge after registering only a single victory the previous season.

St. Louis fell just short in its playoff quest, but the early returns of this preseason suggest the club could be a prime contender in the NFC West for the upcoming year.

The Rams enter Arrowhead Stadium for Friday’s matchup between these two Missouri inhabitants off two straight impressive wins, following up a 33-10 trouncing of a depleted Indianapolis squad with last week’s 17-16 edging of visiting Tennessee. The winning points against the Titans came on the game’s final play, with kicker Josh Brown booting a 42-yard field goal as time expired.

St. Louis’ first play from scrimmage was pretty exciting as well, with quarterback Sam Bradford connecting with a wide-open Brandon Gibson for an 83- yard touchdown just 15 seconds into the contest.

Bradford finished with 138 yards on 8-of-15 passing and was intercepted once before being removed at halftime. The 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is expected to play around three quarters in Friday’s tilt, as is the plan for the Rams’ first team offense and defense.

Third-stringer Thaddeus Lewis completed 8-of-10 throws for 74 yards for the Rams and engineered the 12-play, 67-yard late drive that was capped by Brown’s kick.

Kansas City hasn’t looked as sharp as its in-state foe through the early portion of the preseason, having lost to Tampa Bay and Baltimore by a combined 56-13 score in its first two outings.

The Chiefs have had trouble generating offense in both defeats, mustering a mere 137 total yards and six first downs against the Buccaneers and producing just 288 total yards versus the Ravens.

Starting quarterback Matt Cassel hit on only 6-of-14 passes for 73 yards before being replaced by backup Tyler Palko midway through the second quarter of last week’s setback. The 2010 Pro Bowl selection will see considerably more time in this one, with he and the Chiefs’ starters likely to remain on the field into the second half.

Palko went 8-of-13 for a team-best 95 yards and led Kansas City to its only touchdown against the Ravens, a four-yard pass from the journeyman to Terrance Copper. Rookie linebacker Justin Houston was the Chiefs’ bright spot on defense, with the third-round draft choice recording a pair of sacks.

Kansas City did sustain a significant injury in preparation for this week’s clash, with inside linebacker Brandon Siler tearing his Achilles in Tuesday’s practice.

The Chiefs and Rams squared off in regular-season play during Week 15 of the 2010 regular season, with Kansas City coming away with a 27-13 home win. St. Louis leads the all-time preseason series by a 12-8 margin and handed the Chiefs a 17-9 loss at the Edward Jones Dome in the most recent exhibition encounter between the clubs, which took place in 2009.

Eagles Fly High in Preseason 24-14 Beat Down of Cleveland

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 09:39 PM PDT

Casey Matthews Turned it Around This Week..

The Philadelphia Eagles ‘dream-team’ has had a rough welcoming into the pre-season, splitting the first two games by large margins, and then finishing the third by blowing out the Cleveland Browns 24-14. This game sheds a substantial amount of light on the Eagles current roster, and what Andy Reid is likely to do heading into the regular season. This game should quiet some of the heavy critics of the Eagles, but with the the good, there is still some bad.

Here are some quick thoughts following the game:

The Offensive Line is Far From Perfect: - Any one who has been following the Philadelphia Eagles over the last three seasons is well aware that the offensive line is the weakest part of the team. The Eagles tried to stem that problem by drafting three offensive lineman in the 2011 draft, the most notable being Danny Watkins in the first round. There is no question that Watkins helps, but he is by no means the solution.

Ronnie Brown Was a Great Pick-Up: - Originally when the Eagles signed Ronnie Brown as a free agent, I immediately raised my eyebrows. Philadelphia already had enough running backs on the roster to cover there offense and then some. But Brown has made me a believer. On every carry, Brown is going 250%, and fighting for every single yard. He won’t be starting over LeSean McCoy, but he is a great third down back.

Casey Matthews Looked Like His Brother: – The typical Philadelphia media overreaction was in full-force last week following Casey Matthew’s terrible performance against Pittsburgh. It seemed like the entire fan base went from adoration to panic, and the talks of finding a replacement had already started. Matthews came out of this game, and was literally playing like his brother. He was hitting the ball carrier, playing downhill, and still making the smart coverage plays. On a few plays — I honestly believed I was watching Clay.

The Eagles Special Teams is Much Improved: – Do we all remember last season when every time the Eagles would kick off or punt the ball, we would hold our breath waiting for that imminent disaster of a touchdown return? It seems that Bobby April has changed the entire face of Philadelphia special teams. There are no longer huge torching runs by other teams, but contained and turnover agressive players that are playing to win games. This is a huge step in strengthening the core of the Eagles, and the returns with DeSean Jackson will only make it better.

Kurt Coleman is Not Going to Be a Push-Over: - Kurt Coleman filled in towards the latter end of last season following Nate Allen tearing his ACL. When he was handed the starting role as a rookie, he was rough around the edges. This pre-season, Coleman looks much more developed in reading the play, moving towards the ball carrier, and making sure the quarterback knows he is still there. Considering the Eagles’ depth is weak at safety, Coleman may have more playing time than anticipated, and I have no issue with that.

The Eagles May Have a Rushing Defense Issue: – Much like the Eagles offensive line woes, the starting set of linebackers have been tabbed as one of the weaker parts of the team. With having a young and unproven set of starters, there will be occasional slip-ups. During the game, the Browns had a pretty easy time running the ball with Peyton Hillis, (albeit Hillis), and the Eagles defense struggled to contain him. This may only be temporary and something the Eagles defense needs to work out on there own, but it does not bode well for the future.

The Eagles Secondary is as Good as Predicted: – The three-man super tandem of Nndami Ashomugha, Asante Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are simply amazing to watch in action. It seems that Juan Castillo is not afraid to move the three around the field, as there were plays where Samuel was playing safety, and other plays where Ashomugha was playing up at the line. The end result is all the same — Covered receivers. Turnovers. A no-fly zone in Philly.

Michael Vick Still Has It: – For all those doubters of Michael Vick — Think again. It seems that Vick has wasted no time picking up exactly where he left off in 2010. This is Vick’s first actual off-season with the Eagles where he if the definite starter, and it reflects directly in his play. He showed great down field vision, and even with some questionable blocking, was able to get some great passes off. The same goes for his scrambling ability, which earned him one rushing touchdown on the day.

Looking forward, the Eagles take on the New York Jets in their fourth and final pre-season game. This will be a true test to the Eagles first team offense and defense, as the Jets could easily be a Super Bowl team this upcoming season, and it will be a good gauge of the team’s talent. My current attitude is so far so good for Philadelphia, and I hope the trend continues into next week and beyond.

Browns Front Office Doing Things the Right Way – Finally

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 09:25 PM PDT

By Browns Gab Columnist Derek McQuaid

Tuesday our own Matt Loede reported that Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and the Cleveland Browns have reached an agreement on a seven-year, $84 million contract extension. The extension includes a reported $44 million in guaranteed money.

The huge payday makes Thomas the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL and all but ensures that the four year veteran will finish off his career as a Cleveland Brown.

All that money – roughly $32 million to be exact – Browns fans wanted the team to spend this off-season, didn't go to the 'big-name' free agents that were available. Fans wanted established talent in Cleveland, and understandably so. When free agents like Ray Edwards (Falcons), Santonio Holmes (Jets) and Nnamdi Asomugha (Eagles) went to the perspective teams, many fans were left scratching their heads wondering why President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert weren't making the same moves for the Browns. After all, it's easy to look at the so-called "Dream Team" in Philadelphia and wonder, "Why couldn't the Browns do that?".

Instead of blowing money on veteran free agents, Holmgren and Co. spent money on areas they knew were critical to the team's success this season and into the future. So far the off-season moves look like this:

Usama Young (FS) – signed via free agency
Brandon Jackson (RB) – signed via free agency
Dimitri Patterson (CB) – signed via free agency
Richmond McGee (P) – signed via free agency
John Greco (OG) – acquired via trade w/St. Louis Rams for undisclosed 2012 NFL Draft pick.
Brett Johnson (CB) – claimed off waivers from Seattle Seahawks
Billy Yates (OG) – resigned (placed on reserve/retired list on 8-15-11)
Brian Schaefering (DL) – resigned
Marcus Benard (LB) – resigned
Evan Moore (TE) – resigned
Jayme Mitchell (DE) – resigned

Click HERE to read the rest

Dallas CB Orlando Scandrick Gets New Deal

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 09:20 PM PDT

At only 24 years old, Orlando Scandrick is already a player of experience. He was drafted in the 2008 draft and immediately took hold of the slot cornerback position. Now it seems all the growing and work that Scandrick put in is paying off, literally. Scandrick signed a 5-year extension on his current deal that will essentially make it a 6-year, $26 million dollar deal with $10 million guaranteed. Now he will have to earn it.

The knock on Scandrick has been that he is always in a position to make a play, he just never does. He has the most difficult defensive position on the field. Covering the slot receiver is like being on your own coverage island. You don't often get help in man coverage, and the receiver has the whole field to work with. On the outside at least you have a sideline and often a safety not too far away. While Scandrick has played well so far this camp, catching the eye of both Dave Campo and Rob Ryan, he knows that he will have to rise to new expectations now.

"I think it was a weight lifted off of me. Sometimes you practice to not make mistakes and be solid. But I'm practicing now to make plays. I've got the contract and now going to take the next step," Scandrick said Wednesday evening. "It's a humbling experience. With more money comes instant maturation and that's what I'm going to need. I'm going to do everything in my power to represent the Cowboys as best I can."

He will need to. This contract all but signals the last year for longtime starter Terrance Newman. It is likely that this will be his last season with the Cowboys. With the kind of money they have offered Scandrick, and fellow fourth year man, Mike Jenkins needing a new contract soon, the Cowboys won't be able to hold onto all three next year.

Cowboys fans have already had mixed feelings over Scandrick, this contract will only add more pressure and more eyes will be on him. He has the ability, now he just needs to put it all together.

Giants-Jets game Moved From 7 to 2 PM Due to Hurricane Irene

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 08:49 PM PDT

After spending most of Thursday stating that they wouldn’t make any adjustments to Saturday’s game schedule, the Giants and Jets have rescheduled their preseason showdown according to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News.

The two teams will now play their annual preseason game at 2 p.m. at the newly renamed MetLife Stadium, instead of facing off at 7 p.m.

The Giants announced the move via Twitter, tweeting:

“Due to the obvious concerns regarding weather forecast, game time for #Giants-#Jets on Saturday at MetLife Stadium has been moved to 2 pm.”

Titans Coach Mike Munchak Says Team Won’t Trade RB Chris Johnson

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 03:32 PM PDT

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports with Chris Johnson contract talks still at a stalemate, Coach Mike Munchak acknowledged at some point the Titans will have to consider adding another running back to the mix. But he said the Titans would not trade Johnson, even if Johnson asks for a trade at some point.

"I would think we wouldn't do anything. We would think he is under contact for two more years; he is going to be a Titan, hopefully longer than that," Munchak said after practice on Thursday. "I don't think that is anything we'd give any consideration to. He is with us, one way or the other, and hopefully it is on the field."

2011 Division Previews: NFC West

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 09:05 AM PDT

New Sheriff In Town: Captain Comeback

NFC South

1. San Francisco 49ers (8-8) – The stage is set for the team with the most urgency to win now in the NFC West.  A change at the helm could be the biggest move in the division aside from Kevin Kolb being traded to Arizona.  Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback, will greatly influence Alex Smith with his presence alone.  Smith, on his final leash, gets just what he needs to help revive his sputtering career – a new coach with a track record of success.  No longer does the former No. 1 pick have to fear “Samurai Mike” roaming the sidelines with his bulging eyes.  Surely, a more QB-friendly and approachable Harbaugh will do wonders for his confidence.  Just as much, it doesn’t hurt that the guy in charge is known for making something out of nothing.  Harbaugh turned a dismal Stanford program, known more for their academics than athletics, into a BCS Bowl winner.  He owned USC.  On top of that, he did it with just Andrew Luck and a crew of “leftover” (recruits passed by big-time schools) athletes.  Thus, you cannot overestimate the arrival of “Captain Comeback” to the Red & Gold, for not only Smith, but the team in general.  And it’s not like he’s dealing with “leftovers” and afterthoughts in the Bay Area.

While there’s no shortage of talent with this squad let’s just say the 49ers underachieving last season was, well, an understatement.  Before the team reached their first victory in ’10, they lost three games by a combined eight points to three (two division winners, defending Super Bowl champs) playoff teams.  After the first win of the year, the Niners lost the following game by a field goal.  Talk about frustration.  It’s evident early setbacks doomed the team that they couldn’t recover, however, it’s a whole new story in ’11, as the club will begin its candidacy for a division crown with nine of their first ten games at Candlestick or as winnable road affairs.  Much depends upon Harbaugh’s impact on Smith.  I think a lot of it does.  If you look at things from strictly a skill standpoint, the 49ers possess the best running back (sorry, Steven Jackson), pass catchers, offensive line (sorry, Tom Cable – Seahawks), and linebackers.

Overall, they have the most playmakers and the most to gain (or lose, depending on your fanhood) after last fall’s debacle.  Added is a pair of fresh playmakers (Braylon Edwards, Kendall Hunter), a revamped and improved secondary, a pass-rushing linebacker via draft, and of course, a new demanding leader on the sidelines.  Realistically, two things need to happen in order for the 49ers to capture the West: get out of the gate strong (schedule more favorable this time around) and have Smith play above-average football.  It’s not a stretch to see this club comeback and make an impressive turnaround under a coach who has led comebacks and turnarounds throughout his entire football career.  The question is: can the underachieving Smith follow in Harbaugh’s footsteps and become more like his overachieving coach?

2. St. Louis Rams (7-9) – A team heading in the right direction.  Franchise quarterback, check.  Young and aspiring head coach, check.  Workhorse running back, check.  Bonafide pass-rush, check.  Improvement during draft and free agency, check.  So, why won’t Sam Bradford and the Rams improve upon last season’s win total?  It’s very easy to see what stands in the way of progression in the “W” column.  Mainly, the first seven games are brutal.  If they are not facing an NFC East club, it’s one of the last two Super Bowl champs, or the Baltimore Ravens.  That could hinder the route to .500 much like the 49ers last year.  It’s a shame that the downfall to 2011 could be something they hold no control over.  Yet, you can make a case for the Rams playing better football without gaining more victories.  Undoubtedly, they added to Bradford’s arsenal with rookie tight end Lance Kendricks (second round, Wisconsin) and free-agent wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker (Jaguars).  That’s not even to mention the expected rise of a healthy Danario Alexander, first-year players Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, plus the return of Donnie Avery.  Steven Jackson will feel better taking a break, as the club acquired two veteran back-ups, Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood, to help ease the load.  Other key arrivals include a tough guard (Harvey Dahl), consistent safety (Quintin Mikell), and first-round pick Robert Quinn.  The future looks promising for the squad from “The Lou”, but it could be too daunting for a jump from second to first place in the West to occur during Bradford’s second run.

3. Arizona Cardinals (6-10) – Is Kevin Kolb the next Kurt Warner?  Well apart from accuracy and poise inside the pocket, Cardinal fans realize that if Derek Anderson, John Skelton or Max Hall are no longer legitimate options under center for their team this season – it’s all that matters.  Well, that is, as long as Kolb stays upright.  In 2010, Ken Whisenhut’s group allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL.  Cause for concern?  I think so.  Although Kolb will make things better, you still have to consider he’s lining up behind a subpar line and dealing with a suspect backfield.  With Ryan Williams out for the season, Beanie Wells is going to receive the majority of the carries at running back.  Keep in mind, Wells has never toted the rock for more than 176 times in a season as a pro.  Thankfully, the Cardinals have Larry “sticky mitts” Fitzgerald hauling everything in sight.  Along with Fitzgerald, tight end Todd Heap was scooped up in free agency to provide a second veteran target for Kolb.  Second-year man Andre Roberts looks like he’s going to develop into a playmaking wideout, and third-round pick Rob Housler could have an immediate impact a la Aaron Hernandez during his rookie campaign in New England.  On the defensive side, cornerback Patrick Peterson just adds to a very talented unit.  I’m interested to see how much of a boost he will bring returning punts.  From Adrian Wilson to Darnell Dockett, and Calais Campbell to Daryl Washington, it’s a 11-man crew with potential.  Yet, in the end, I don’t see enough balance from the run game and consistency from the defense getting to the quarterback for the Cards to contend in the NFC West – even though there’s star power in Arizona.      

4. Seattle Seahawks (3-13) – Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst?  Seems like a similar predicament the Cardinals were involved in last year at quarterback.  Despite going all in during free agency, upgrading a myriad of positions, Pete Carroll’s gang forgot to upgrade the most important position in football.  How are you going to get your money’s worth out of Sidney Rice and Zach Miller with a mediocre passer throwing them the ball?  Nothing in the careers of Jackson or Whitehurst suggests that they can instantly become a worthwhile NFL starting QB.  With point taken, will the team have to rely upon Marshawn Lynch to duplicate the Saints playoff game each Sunday?  I would feel better about Lynch’s prospects if fragile left tackle Russell Okung could stay on the field.  This is of utmost importance, seeing that the right side of the line features two rookies.  So, if the plan is to be a conservative ball-control offense, that indicates a strong defense must be in play?  Not exactly.  While the run defense has the potential to be strong with Brandon Mebane anchoring the interior, you have to wonder where the plays will come from outside of safety Earl Thomas.  Marcus Trufant is past his prime, Lofa Tatupu is gone, and Aaron Curry has yet to live up to his fourth overall pick status.  This is said with consideration to Chris Clemons, who provided the Seahawks with consistent penetration (11 sacks) off the edge in ’10.  With a less than stellar back-seven, the defense leaves much to be desired.  Coach Carroll is left with a conundrum: defend the NFC west title or sneakingly transition into the future by positioning behind the catbird’s seat of the “Andrew Luck Sweepstakes” next April.  Either way, he’s going to have fun this season, as Raheem Brock can already attest to.

Collins to Start Week One for the Colts if Manning Isn’t Ready

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 08:29 AM PDT

Colts executive Bill Polian confirmed that Kerry Collins — not Curtis Painter — will start in Week 1 if Peyton Manning (neck surgery) can’t. The decision isn’t sitting well with some Colts.

“We don’t even know him, we ain’t vanilla, man, we ain’t no simple offense,” Reggie Wayne said. “So for him to can come in here and be the starter, I don’t see it. I think that’s a step back.” We wouldn’t have very high hopes for Collins as a starter either. At age 38, his extreme lack of mobility would be a major problem for the Colts’ suspect offensive line.

Packers RB Ryan Grant Agrees to Take a Pay Cut

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 08:19 AM PDT

Earlier this month, Packers running back Ryan Grant agreed to a restructured contract that reduced his base salary by $1 million, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

Grant’s salary dropped from $3.5 million to $2.5 million, but that amount is fully guaranteed, which assures Grant of a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. Grant also received a $1 million roster bonus this month, and has $750,000 in per game roster bonuses ($46,875 each) throughout the 2011 season.

The 28-year-old Grant, who missed all but one game during the Packers’ Super Bowl season with an ankle injury, will be a free agent after the season.

Prior to his injury, Grant was coming off back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons and had a career-high 11 rushing touchdowns in 2009. The Packers have improved depth with 2010 sixth-round pick James Starks (who rushed for 315 yards during the 2010 playoffs) and 2011 third-rounder Alex Green.

Panthers Owner Richardson Decrees to QB Newton – “No Tattoos or Piercings”

Posted: 25 Aug 2011 07:54 AM PDT

By Panthers Gab Columnist Trey Woody

Apparently Jerry Richardson sat down with Cam Newton about certain expectations for his appearance on the team. Newton was asked if he had any tattoos or piercings to which he replied, “No sir, I don’t have any.” Richardson then promptly said, ” We want to keep it that way…we want to keep no tattoos, no piercings, and I think you’ve got a very nice haircut.” In any other profession that holds a dress code like this could be expected, but this is the NFL. How does a chosen form of expression really affect a player’s performance?

Not only does Cam have the team, the fans, and all of the organization’s hopes riding on his performance, but now he has to deal with making sure he doesn’t tarnish his clean-cut appearance? Hogwash. To Jerry Richardson’s credit, it does make sense to want the face of your organization to have a distinguished look about him. However, I do not think it is fair to ask such a thin. Especially from a player who has yet to become what all of footballdom has already bestowed upon him.

Does anyone really think it matters if Cam gets a tattoo or two? Maybe he prefers to keep his simple doo instead of growing a mane? Who knows. What do the fans really think about it?

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