Big-Play passers: Many NFL fans would be quick to pick New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees as the passer with the most completions
for 25-plus yards this year. But many of them would be surprised to learn that
the New York Giants' Eli Manning is tied with Brees at 36. Rounding out the top
five are the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (31), the Cowboys' Tony Romo (30) and the
Colts' Peyton Manning (29). Meanwhile, the Ravens' Joe Flacco (18) and the
Broncos' Kyle Orton (19) have the lowest number of big-play passes out of the
quarterbacks who have started 13 games this season.
Pivotal and ironic: On the surface, this weekend's matchup between
the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills looks like a potential snoozer. But it's a pivotal
game for New England. A win by the Patriots and a loss by the Bengals at San
Diego would likely elevate New England to the frontrunner position for the No. 3
seed in the AFC because both clubs would have an identical overall record and
conference record, so you'd have to drop all the way down to the strength of
victory tie-breaker to differentiate between the two clubs. Heading into this
weekend, the Patriots hold a huge 61-point edge over Cincinnati in victory margin,
largely due to their 59-0 dubbing of the Titans earlier this year. So how's this
for ironic? If the Patriots dislodge the Bengals from the No. 3 spot, head coach Bill Belichick's decision to keep playing his
starters during lopsided games could suddenly look smart instead of mean-spirited. On the
flip side, if the Patriots lose and the Dolphins defeat the Titans, Miami would
be the new leader in the AFC East race--regardless of whether the Jets win or
lose--and the Patriots would drop into a wild card spot with two games remaining. In
a two-way tie between the Dolphins and the Patriots, Miami would have the edge
due to a better division record. In a three-way tie that includes the Jets,
Miami has the edge due to a 3-1 record against the other two teams.
Joseph Addai has caught a career-best 48 passes this season.
Larry French/Getty Images
He's back: I've watched Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai as the season
has progressed, and he's looking like more like the runner who exceeded
the 1,000-yard threshold during his rookie season than the 12-game starter who posted a
mere 544 yards last year. And that's great news for the Colts as they look ahead
to the playoffs. While Addai isn't averaging 4.8 yards per carry like he did back
in 2006, he's running with more decisiveness, hitting
holes quickly and breaking tackles to tack on a few extra yards after contact. And he's already caught a
career-best 48 passes this season with three games remaining on the schedule.
In 2008, the former first-round pick was stutter-stepping in the backfield and
waiting too long to commit to a running lane.
Without a doubt, the Colts sent a subtle message to Addai when they used their
first-round pick on running back Donald Brown--and Addai's responding well to the
Rushing tendencies: If you break down the direction of rushing plays into
three zones--to the left of the left guard, to the right of the right guard and
to the middle that spans the space in between--it's interesting to note which teams
favor those areas of the field the most with their rushing play selection. The
Ravens (153), Browns (146), Vikings (145), Redskins (136) and Patriots (135) are
the top five teams that prefer the left side to the other two zones. The clubs that
opt for the right side most often are the Jets
(219), Bengals (185), Saints (169), Steelers (168) and the Giants (164). So who likes to run it up
the gut more often instead of taking it outside of the guards? Without a doubt
it's the Jacksonville Jaguars with 230 runs--63.7 percent of their rushing
attempts. The Dolphins (172), Chargers (164), Panthers (158) and the 49ers (149)
also heavily favor the middle of their offensive line.
Player spotlight: Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has completed just
53.9 percent of his throws during his first season in Kansas City, a significant
drop-off since last year when he completed 63.4 percent for New England. But how
much of that is Cassel's fault versus the receivers he's working with this year?
Well, Chiefs receivers have dropped 9.2 percent of his throws--a 4.2 percent
increase over what Cassel experienced while throwing to the Patriots receivers.
But he's obviously had his problems getting his timing down with his new targets
in Kansas City as well. So far this season, 17.8 percent of his passes have been
poor throws that were off-target--an increase of 4.8 percent over last year. His
numbers in other key areas that contribute to incompletions--passes knocked away
by a defender (10.1 percent), batted down at the line (3.5 percent) and
intentional grounding (3.7 percent)--are all within 0.3 percent of his 2008
I was right...and wrong: Earlier this year, I predicted big problems
for the Seattle Seahawks rushing attack. "Seattle hasn't put forth a
convincing argument that they have a solid situation at running back with
former-Cowboy Julius Jones backed up by T.J. Duckett," I wrote in my 7
Points column back in May, roughly two weeks following the NFL Draft. And
guess what? The Seahawks are currently ranked 28th in the league in rushing with
three games left in their season. Duckett was cut at the end of August, and
Jones' 3.6-yards-per-carry mark will tie his worst season if he doesn't step it
up during the final three contests. He's scored just two rushing touchdowns and
is averaging a mere 45 rushing yards per game. But while I was right about the
Seahawks' running game, I may have missed the mark in suggesting that the
Seahawks bolster their attack with the addition of veteran free agent Edgerrin
James--who averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 46 attempts over a seven-game
span after eventually being signed by Seattle. James obviously never got in sync
with the Seattle offense, but we won't ever know if he could have achieved
better results if he had been signed back in May rather than thrown into the mix
in late August.
Hold it right there: Eight clubs are averaging at least one offensive
holding penalty per game. The Cardinals and the Steelers lead the league with 19
calls followed by the Bengals (16), Packers (15), Cowboys and Saints (14 each),
and the Chiefs (13). At the other end of the spectrum are the Eagles, Dolphins
and Browns with just five each while the Chargers have drawn a league-low four
flags for that infraction.
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com.
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