NFC West: Keith Brooking
- Rough start for center Jason Brown. The Rams wanted to establish Steven Jackson and the running game early. They were facing the NFL's top-ranked defense in rushing yards allowed, but Jackson was healthy and running with authority. The Rams have invested heavily in their offensive line, including at center, where Brown was a marquee signing in free agency a few years back. Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff won this battle early. He knocked back Brown and shed him quickly to take down Jackson for a loss on the Rams' opening drive. The Rams ran it on the next play even though it was second-and-13. Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking beat Brown on this play, bringing down Jackson for a short gain.
- Failure at every level on 91-yard run. Tashard Choice nearly had a shot at a 98-yard touchdown run on the Cowboys' first offensive play, but safety Quintin Mikell barely tripped him up. DeMarco Murray went 91 yards for a Cowboys touchdown later in the drive. Quarterback Tony Romo facilitated the run by selling a quick pass right before handing off. Center Phil Costa blocked defensive tackle Justin Bannan, then took on weak-side linebacker Chris Chamberlain. Tight end Jason Witten erased strong-side linebacker Brady Poppinga. The fullback, Tony Fiammetta, locked up middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Safety Darian Stewart flew toward the play with no apparent purpose, skidding past Murray as if trying to beat a throw to first base. Mikell whiffed in the open field, and Murray was gone.
- Bad luck, questionable awareness. The Rams were almost universally applauded for adding veteran depth behind Jackson at running back. Williams provided good value in the opener when an injury felled Jackson. A couple lapses in the passing game have really hurt. The first came during a Week 2 game against the New York Giants, when Williams mishandled a backwards pass and was slow to realize the play remained live. The Giants returned it for a touchdown. In this game, Williams fumbled along the sideline to ruin a perfectly executed screen as the Rams, down only 14-7, moved inside the Dallas 35-yard line. Williams was not careless with the ball, but securing it with both hands before impact might have prevented the Cowboys' Abram Elam from knocking it out. The fumble proved even more costly when Rams tackle Jason Smith injured his neck while tackling Elam.
- Didn't see much from Chris Long. I decided to watch the Rams' defensive end exclusively on the Cowboys' seven-play, 62-yard touchdown drive right after Elam's fumble recovery. Rookie right tackle Tyron Smith won all four matchups with Long on the drive, including once when he put Long on the ground, and again when he sealed a running lane near the goal line. Tight end Martellus Bennett held up fine in pass protection against Long on two other plays, including once when James Hall collected a sack from the other side of the line. Fiammetta, the fullback, picked up Long on Romo's quick touchdown pass to Witten.
- Your 2011 Rams offensive line. At one point, I noticed Brown, the Rams' center, fall to the ground without a defender in the area. This seemed puzzling. I slowed down the play to see what happened. Brown snapped the ball and moved to his left. Right guard Harvey Dahl trailed him. Brown slowed and was in the way. Dahl shoved Brown in the back, knocking him down. Dahl did not block anyone else. Quarterback A.J. Feeley completed a pass to Michael Hoomanawanui for a first down to the other side, so everything worked out OK. But the lasting visual was seeing one Rams lineman knocking down another.
Not much more to say except, "Bring on the Saints."
|Best of the best: Michael Strahan, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Randy Moss.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Ranking the 25 best NFL players of the decade seemed easy.
AFC West blogger Bill Williamson sent an initial list to me for review. The list appeared strong. I suggested a couple minor tweaks.
The hard part came when we considered those who fell just short of the list.
Guard Alan Faneca has gone to eight Pro Bowls this decade. John Lynch and Will Shields went to seven. Brian Dawkins, La'Roi Glover, Kevin Mawae, Olin Kreutz, Matt Birk, Larry Allen, Chris Samuels and Zach Thomas went to six. Ronde Barber, Keith Brooking, Al Wilson, Julian Peterson, Donovan McNabb, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Chad Ochocinco were among those with five.
None of them made the top 25 list. Had all of them made it, only six spots would have remained for the 25 players you see in the chart.
We settled on five quarterbacks, four receivers, four offensive linemen, three linebackers, three defensive ends, two running backs, two safeties, one cornerback, one tight end and zero defensive tackles (few dominated consistently for extended periods).
Seven of 10 league MVPs this decade made the top 25. Marshall Faulk, Rich Gannon and 2003 co-MVP Steve McNair were the exceptions.
Ben Roethlisberger made the list despite only one career Pro Bowl appearance. It's not his fault Manning and Brady play in the same conference.
The Cardinals' roster became a little more whole when Kurt Warner agreed to terms on a new contract. I've updated each NFC West team's 26-column roster to include that move and every other move in the division to this point.
The Seahawks' and Rams' rosters have the most potential for turnover through unrestricted free agency in the division. I calculate turnover potential by adding the following totals for each team:
- Unrestricted free agents signed from other teams
- Unrestricted free agents leaving for other teams
- Players acquired by trade
- Players lost by trade
- Unsigned unrestricted free agents
I then subtract the number of UFAs who have re-signed with each team. The higher the remaining number, the higher potential for change through free agency. This is an imprecise method of measurement but it does give me a feel for which teams are experiencing significant turnover. The teams with the four highest numbers all have new head coaches.
The league average was 9.9 through the Warner signing. Denver (22) and Detroit (21) had the highest numbers, followed by the Seahawks (17), Rams (16), Patriots (15) and Jets (14). The 49ers (10) and Cardinals (8) are right around the league average.
The Broncos are in high gear. By my count, they have signed 10 of the first 39 unrestricted free agents who have changed teams this offseason. Seven of the 10 are in their 30s. The rest of the league has signed a combined three UFAs in their 30s from other teams: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Seahawks), Moran Norris (49ers) and Keith Brooking (Cowboys).
Note: I have not updated starting lineups recently. That information is incomplete.