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Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates May be Best Aerial Combination in Football

When Vincent Jackson decided to hold out from the Chargers, most people figured quarterback Philip Rivers would rely more heavily on tight end Antonio Gates during the season. Even with that knowledge, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the duo would get off to such an incredible start.

Through four games, Philip Rivers is third in the NFL with 1,328 passing yards and second with nine touchdown passes. Tight end Antonio Gates has caught six of the nine touchdowns and leads all receivers and running backs in touchdowns scored. Gates is second amongst tight ends with 24 catches and first by far with 386 yards. He’s averaging nearly 100 yards receiving per game and 21 of his 24 catches have gone for first downs. Only one other player (Brandon Lloyd for Denver) has as many catches of 20 or more yards this year (they both have eight). Gates is dominating like few other tight ends have and is on pace for the best offensive season a tight end has ever had.

TOP QUARTERBACK-RECEIVER TANDEMS IN THE NFL

    > Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates: 24 rec, 386 yards, 6 TDs, 21 first downs
    > Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne: 33 rec, 456 yards, 2 TDs, 25 first downs
    > Matt Ryan to Roddy White: 32 rec, 362 yards, 2 TDs, 18 first downs
    > Joe Flacco to Anquan Boldin: 27 rec, 355 yards, 3 TDs, 19 first downs

As much as A.J. Smith was ridiculed for being the “Lord of No Rings” after not signing Vincent Jackson, it sure looks like he knew what he was doing. Smith signed Gates to a six-year $39.8 million dollar contract in the off-season and Rivers to a seven-year $98.25 million extension last year. He’s not cheap, he just knows who his real MVPs are.

Jay Cutler Leaves with Concussion After Being Sacked Nine Times in First Half

Sunday night was not Jay Cutler’s game. The Bears quarterback was sacked nine times in the first half by the Giants. Niiiiiine times. Ed Rooney thinks that’s a lot. To put things into perspective, the Bears ran 27 offensive plays in the first half. Seven were runs and the remaining 20 were passes. Cutler was sacked nine out of the 20 times he went back to pass. That’s 45% of the time.

Some of the sacks were due to poor blocking, some to not having enough protection to counter a blitz, and some were due to Jay Cutler holding onto the ball too long. The last sack of the half — the one that knocked Cutler out — can probably be placed in the third category. Defensive back Aaron Ross got a hold of Cutler and brought him to the ground, with Cutler’s head getting jammed straight to the turf. Just imagine the picture below about two nanoseconds later.

After halftime, Todd Collins came out for Chicago because Cutler had suffered a concussion. Collins may have led the Redskins to a miracle playoff run in 2007 but I wouldn’t count on a repeat if I were a Bears fan. Cutler probably will miss week five’s game against Carolina and could wind up returning for a week six contest with the Seahawks and his team holding a 3-2 record.

The one consistency with Mike Martz teams is for all the stats they rack up, his quarterbacks generally throw the most interceptions in the league and take the most sacks. Sunday night’s debacle was costly for Chicago. I don’t believe I’ve seen a more one-sided performance by a pass rush since the Giants abused the Eagles’ line to the tune of 12 sacks back in 2007.

Photo Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Kyle Orton: Titans Are Cheap

Kyle Orton was his usual, efficient self in a 26-20 Broncos victory over the Titans on Sunday afternoon.  He completed 70 percent of his pass attempts and threw for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns.  While surely satisfied with the victory, it would appear that Orton didn’t consider Tennessee to be a respectable opponent.  After the game, the Broncos quarterback said there was some foul play going on during Sunday’s game.

I think they are cheap, and it was one of the cheapest games that I’ve ever seen out of some of those players,” Orton said. “When we’ve got (guard Chris) Kuper getting punched with his helmet off, it’s ridiculous.”

It doesn’t sound like it was Shaun Smith ball grabbing status, but clearly something was going on that had Orton fired up.  When I first read the comments, my initial reaction was, “call the whambulance.”  After giving it some thought, I have no problem with Orton coming to the defense of the guys that protect him on Sundays.  If you’re going to say something about dirty play, you might as well do it after a win.  At least we know he’s not trying to protest the outcome of the game.

It’s common knowledge that stuff like this goes on every week throughout the NFL, so it had to have been exceptionally bad to warrant a comment after a victory.

Aaron Rodgers Wants to Spread Out Packers Offense

The Green Bay Packers were a 14 point favorite against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field Sunday but only wound up winning 28-26. They blew a pair of 14 point leads, turned the ball over in the second half, and hung on for victory. The outcome was a surprise because the Packers seemed to be headed for a blowout after scoring touchdowns on three of their first five drives.

Then the second half happened.

The Packers’ offense was held scoreless by the Lions after halftime. After going 8-9 with three touchdown passes in the first half, Aaron Rodgers went 4-8 with two interceptions. He was unhappy with the team’s offensive performance after the game and suggested a few changes. “Offensively we’ve got to find our identity again,” Rodgers said. “I think we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got our best players on the field at all times and find ways to get them the ball.”

Particularly, Rodgers wants to spread out the defense and exploit mismatches. He said afterwards “We had great production last week getting in the shotgun, spreading them out. Chicago is a tough scheme. I think Detroit runs their scheme well but I don’t think we gave them a chance spreading them out to find those mismatches.”

Between Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Jermichael Finley, the Packers probably will have a lot of success spreading opposing defenses out. However, they also need to balance things out because it will be hard to run such an offense when the snow and rain comes later in the year. Additionally, Rodgers hangs onto the ball long as a quarterback, so a spread offense wouldn’t bode well for his health. Just ask Jay Cutler about that. The spread will be useful some of the time for the Packers, but they can’t do it all the time.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mike Roemer

Josh Scobee the Hero for Enigmatic Jags

Through four weeks of the NFL season, there might not be a more enigmatic team than the Jacksonville Jaguars. They beat the Denver Broncos 24-17 in their opener, but then they proceeded to get hammered 38-13 at San Diego and 28-3 at home against the Eagles. Quarterback David Garrard has always been significantly better at home than on the road, but even that discrepancy can’t explain the pathetic showing against Philadelphia. Their 1-2 record and consecutive blowout losses had them a 7-point underdog at home against the mighty Colts, who were second in the LBS Power Rankings. Jacksonville managed to get things turned around and pulled off a 31-28 win in one of the biggest shockers of the weekend.

The Jags really made a move when they got the ball with seven and a half minutes left and the game tied 21-21. Starting at their 43, Jacksonville drove down to the 3-yard line but then were moved back because of a false start penalty. Despite the penalty, Garrard found Maurice Jones-Drew for an 8-yard touchdown on a critical 3rd down play that made the difference between a three or seven point lead.

Even with their lead, the Jags tried their best to blow it. Cornerback David Jones dropped what should have been a game-ending interception on a second down pass by Peyton Manning. The Colts converted on a 4th down to keep their drive going and ended up scoring a game-tying touchdown with 48 seconds left. The game appeared to be heading to overtime but Jacksonville moved the ball 36 yards to the Indy 41, setting up a 59 yard prayer to win the game. Somehow, kicker Josh Scobee barely eked the ball over the crossbar to give the Jags a 31-28 win.

The win proved that the Jags aren’t nearly as bad as they showed the previous two weeks, but they’re too inconsistent to be considered a playoff threat. The Colts showed they can put up points, but giving up 31 points proves their defense has some holes. As for Josh Scobee, his kick was the third longest game-winning field goal in history. That was one heck of a boot.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux

Arian Foster Benched by Gary Kubiak for First Quarter in Coach’s Decision

Fantasy football owners and Texans fans were stunned by the news that running back Arian Foster was benched to start the game in Oakland. Foster, who won the AFC Offensive Player of the Month Award, had fantasy owners in panic as he started off the game on the bench for no apparent reason.

Houston decided to play Derrick Ward and Steve Slaton at running back and allowed both men to carry the ball their first four drives of the game. The first drive ended with a 33-yard touchdown by Ward. Their next drive led to a punt, the third drive resulted in a touchdown pass (set up by a nice 23-yard run from Slaton), and it wasn’t until Houston punted on their 4th drive that we finally saw Foster.

The NFL’s leading rusher had his first carry with six minutes left in the second quarter. Foster posted just 13 yards on three carries before halftime but came out with a vengeance in the second half. On the second play of the second half, Arian Foster busted through a hole for a 74-yard touchdown — his longest career run — to break a 14-14 tie. Foster split the load on the team’s next drive, but then he regained his role as the feature back after that.

Arian Foster finished with 131 on 16 carries and added 56 yards on three receptions (plus a receiving touchdown). His strong performance bailed out fantasy owners who were freaking after the unproductive first half. He also bailed out the Texans and Gary Kubiak who were struggling with a tie game until Foster broke free.

So far there hasn’t been any news explaining why Foster was benched. Because it was a surprise benching, the best guess is it was due to a violation of team rules. Often times when there are surprises like this, it’s related to a player screwing up on a road trip by being late to a meeting, flight, or curfew. Knowing that the team was on the road in Oakland, it’s plausible something happened along these lines. Good thing it didn’t cost the Texans in the win column.

UPDATE: Foster was benched for missing a team meeting and being late to another.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Broncos Need Knowshon Moreno Back As Soon as Possible

Marc Mariani’s muffed kickoff return.  Often times, we have a tendency to overlook a team’s glaring holes when they come away with a win.  I’m sure Josh McDaniel’s won’t do the same, as the Broncos head coach needs to realize his team has to run the ball more effectively if they want to win more games.

Knowshon Moreno was inactive once again for Denver on Sunday as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury.  As a result, Correll Buckhalter and the newly acquired Laurence Maroney split the rushing responsibilities.  Here’s how the tandem did:

Maroney – 11 carries, 5 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 fumble

Buckhalter – 6 carries, 3 yards, 0 touchdowns

For those of you math geniuses, that’s 0.45 yards per carry for Maroney and 0.50 yards per carry for Buckhalter.  Not including Kyle Orton’s scrambles, the Broncos ran the ball 17 times for 8 yards — an average of 0.47 YPC.

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