NFL Nation: Aaron Rouse
ALBANY, N.Y. -- The New York Giants are going through an identity crisis. Just when we had them pegged as a perennial playoff team, they went out and lost eight games in one season.
There are plenty of players on the roster who own Super Bowl rings from the '07 season, but some of them also took the field in disgraceful losses to the Panthers and Vikings to close out '09. Coach Tom Coughlin seemed invincible two years ago, but it's not a stretch to say that his job's on the line heading into this season. Co-owner John Mara has suggested that's not the case, but it's hard to envision Coughlin surviving another .500 season.
The good news for Giants fans is that Coughlin's been here before, and he's come out on the other side. He told me Monday that two books he read over the summer -- a biography of Harry Truman and a remarkable story involving four Navy SEALs -- have had a profound effect on him. He'll spend the next three weeks in training camp attempting to inspire his players to be "uncommonly good."
"I don't remember anyone saying I was on the hot seat when we were 5-0," he said Monday. "But believe me, the most intense pressure comes from within. The outside stuff doesn't affect me."
Coughlin has personally challenged veteran players such as defensive end Justin Tuck to get out of their comfort zones and take larger leadership roles. He also brought in fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to create more energy on the practice field. The former Bills assistant can be heard from across the University at Albany campus shouting at his players and he even tried to throw a block for cornerback Corey Webster during an interception return Monday.
"With our group of players, a coach has to do something phenomenal for us to wholeheartedly follow you," Tuck told me Monday. "[Fewell] had to win our trust. But every day, he shows us how much he loves the game with his actions. And when you see a guy with that much energy, it's hard not to get behind him."
Shortly after Fewell was hired, Tuck stopped by his office to say hello. When he walked into the room, he said Fewell grabbed a marker and started drawing plays on the board.
"He went through a bunch of different scenarios and then asked me how I thought they might work this season," said Tuck. "I got more and more excited as he talked about all the possibilities."
Tuck didn't want to give too much away, but he did disclose that one of the scenarios involved him and Osi Umenyiora both playing linebacker at the same time. But keep that confidential if you would.
THREE HOT ISSUES
The good thing is that Fewell's going to be up front with all of his players and let them know where they stand. Coughlin remembers how the Giants came at teams with waves of pass-rushers in '07 and '08. Tuck, Umenyiora, Kiwanuka and first-round rookie Jason Pierre-Paul have the talent to be a special group. But last year players along the defensive line started trying to do too much individually and didn't play as a unit. I don't see any circumstance where Umenyiora embraces a reserve role, so that will put the coaching staff in an interesting situation. My guess is that Umenyiora meets the challenge and wins back his job.
"Osi's in for a fight because Kiwi's not going to back down," said Tuck. "Those two are going to push each other and I think that's a good thing."
2. Is former second-round pick Will Beatty ready to take over at left tackle?
Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese love creating competition and it's going to be interesting to see if David Diehl can hold onto his left tackle spot. The good news for Diehl is that he's going to end up starting on the offensive line no matter what happens in that competition. Coughlin's going to do whatever's best for the team, and I think that will ultimately be Beatty at left tackle and Diehl at left guard. Beatty, a second-year player, has shown a lot of quickness in the first three practices of training camp.
It won't be a completely smooth transition, but I believe he has the athletic ability and size to succeed at left tackle. The Giants have had a lot of continuity along the offensive line, but that won't keep Coughlin from pulling the trigger on a move. In talking to Reese, I get the feeling he's enjoying this competition quite a bit.
3. Can the Giants re-establish the running game?
The Giants went from the No. 1 rushing team in the league in '08 to a No. 17 ranking in '09. They averaged almost a full yard less per carry in '09, which put too much pressure on Eli Manning and the passing game.
Tiki Barber told me early last season that he'd advised Brandon Jacobs to learn how to protect his body more on runs. It may have been solid advice, but Jacobs appeared tentative in '09 and began to doubt himself as the season unfolded. If he looks tentative early in this season, I believe a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw will be prepared to take over as the featured back.
I've been impressed with how quick and decisive he's looked in camp. And Andre Brown appears to have regained his speed after missing last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Brown should be a good change-of-pace back and he has soft hands that could make him a decent option on third down.
I think the most pleasant surprise so far is the Giants appear to have a ton of competition at cornerback. Aaron Ross missed so much time last year because of hamstring issues that he sort of faded out of the picture. Now, he's getting his hands on lots of footballs and he's regained that quickness that we saw a couple seasons ago. The problem for him is that Terrell Thomas and Webster have both been excellent in this camp. Webster was a disappointment last season, but he's been one of the best players in camp through three practices.
It's hard to give up on someone after three practices, so I'll go with an injured player in safety Kenny Phillips. He has an excellent attitude, but the fact that he's on the physically unable to perform list isn't a great sign. He was on the verge of stardom before a serious knee condition required microfracture surgery. The Giants brought in plenty of insurance for Phillips this season, but it would be really disappointing if he's not able to make a full recovery.
- If you think the Giants are going to slowly bring along Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph, think again. They want Joseph breathing down Rocky Bernard's neck this season. And so far, Joseph's done a tremendous job soaking up a lot of information. But when Coughlin's standing a few feet away, Joseph had better know when he's supposed to be in a drill. Reese told me Monday afternoon that Pierre-Paul and Joseph have to help out immediately.
- I thought former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck would look a little stiff since he hasn't done any live scrimmaging since his ACL surgery last December. Instead, he's moved around really well and seems to be comfortable in Fewell's defense.
- Second-year tight end Travis Beckum's going to get every opportunity in the world to contribute, but it's not good to flat-out drop a ball when Rhett Bomar threads the needle in team drills.
- Defensive end Dave Tollefson is one of those steady players who refuses to go away. Nothing flashy, but he's relentless in pursuing the quarterback. I noticed that he's added a little inside spin move to his game. Some of the young offensive linemen haven't known what to do with him.
- Sixth-round draft pick Adrian Tracy is a fish out of water at linebacker. The former William & Mary defensive end has some athleticism, but he could use a redshirt (practice squad) year.
- Former Cowboys defensive end Chris Canty is in remarkable condition in this camp. Even Coughlin marveled at how Canty breezed through sprints. Canty has some close friends with the Cowboys (Jay Ratliff, Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher) and he'd like to send a message that Jerry Jones made a mistake in letting him walk.
- I've given up trying to cut Sinorice Moss. I already have him on my 2013 projected Giants roster. It's crowded at receiver again, but the little guy won't go away. And he had a really nice day Monday.
- If Ramses Barden ever finds a way to take his practices to the games, the Giants will have a remarkable weapon in the red zone. Manning told me Monday that Barden has won him over. He has some Plaxico Burress-like tendencies -- and I'm talking about the good tendencies. Even when he's covered, Barden has a knack for making catches. He's just an enormous target.
- Reese refuses to give up on linebacker Gerris Wilkinson. The former Georgia Tech player has teased the Giants with his athleticism, but his career has been hampered by injuries and inconsistency.
- Fullback Madison Hedgecock has a little competition in rookie Jerome Johnson. Hedgecock drops way too many passes. If Johnson shows anything in the passing game, this thing could get interesting.
- I don't know if he'll hold off Bulluck, but middle linebacker Jonathan Goff looks so much more confident to me in this camp. He's doing a great job communicating and he's done a nice job in coverage.
- Clint Sintim went through some growing pains last season, but he looks the part of a starter now. He hasn't let any of the Giants' misdirection plays fool him.
- Either Antrel Rolle is really, really good at safety or I spent too much time watching C.C. Brown and Aaron Rouse chasing cars last season. I think Rolle's an excellent fit for Fewell's defense. If Phillips can return to form, he and Rolle could be one of the best tandems in the league. Deon Grant was a good pickup because of his durability. He just doesn't miss any games, and the Giants need more of those players.
- I know Steve Smith had a breakout season, but Hakeem Nicks looks like a No. 1 wide receiver to me. I thought it was telling that he was the one receiver whom Manning asked to join him at the Manning Passing Academy. Those two are putting on a show early in camp.
The Giants’ pass rush was middle of the road last year. That is unacceptable considering the talent they have at the defensive end position and the overall resources they dedicated to their defensive front last offseason. Did this dip in production stem from coaching or the players? Surely it was a little of both, but with Perry Fewell taking over the defense, expect a step up from the perimeter rushers. Fewell stresses fundamentals and is considered a players’ coach. One worry up front is the defensive tackles’ run defense, which clearly was not up to par.
There are issues at linebacker though. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was released, which is a move I agree with. Never the most physically gifted player, it appears as though what Pierce did have from an athletic standpoint began to fail him. Much more range and playmaking ability is needed in the middle against both run and pass, especially considering the tight ends and pass-catching running backs in the NFC East.
The Michael Boley experiment on the outside did not yield enough overall, but he was particularly poor against the run. Boley is more of a run-and-hit player and running at him directly exposes his weaknesses. Perhaps his best role would be as a sub package linebacker; they need to create competition for his starting weakside spot on early downs.
While the Giants have several mediocre options for both the Mike and Will linebacker spots, I don’t see a lot of upside with that crew outside of Boley. On the strong side, Danny Clark isn’t flashy, but he is tough and effective. He is an unrestricted free agent and hopefully the Giants lock him up, but his backup, Clint Sintim, does has more ability, speed and potential. However, neither of these two project well to the middle or weak side.
Having a new coordinator could yield immediate results, but Fewell’s scheme is based a great deal on speed and range. With that in mind, New York needs to find one linebacker with elite playmaking abilities, maybe Rolando McClain in the draft or Karlos Dansby in free agency.
I see safety as the No. 1 personnel need here, followed immediately by a difference-maker at linebacker. A nose tackle-type would be third, as the foursome of Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins were all underwhelming, but there is ability among this defensive tackle rotation. Robbins can push the pocket, but more was needed from him stopping the run and his stamina is questionable. He is an unrestricted free agent and could be replaced. A second linebacker to battle for a starting spot would be ideal.
This sounds like a long list, but the Giants are set on the offensive side of the ball, so expect their resources to be dedicated to fixing this once-proud defense.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
"I'm not concerned about it," Sheridan said. "I know you guys are very concerned about it, but I'm not concerned about it. You guys do a great job of being concerned about it, but I'm not."
This is either the most focused guy in the league or Sheridan has attended the Jim Zorn school of denial. There's no doubt that Sheridan's job is in serious jeopardy. You can certainly give him the benefit of the doubt on the injury to talented safety Kenny Phillips and the late-season loss of linebacker Antonio Pierce. But there's no good reason for why some of the most feared pass-rushers in the game came up empty for much of the season. A secondary comprised of men such as C.C. Brown, Aaron Rouse and Bruce Johnson was torched, in part, because Pro Bowlers Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck couldn't get to the quarterback. And almost as disturbing, the Giants were gashed in the running game by the Cowboys, Eagles and Panthers. This is suddenly a defense without an identity -- and someone will have to pay the price.
Sheridan was asked Thursday what he would say to Coughlin if the head coach asks him why he should keep his job:
“The same reason why he gave me the job, because he thinks I’m competent and do a conscientious, diligent job,” Sheridan said. “That’s what I told him when I interviewed for it before. I said, ‘To me the most important thing is competence, that you can give [the players] a plan on a weekly basis that will put them in the best position to defend and beat your opponent. That’s why he gave me the job. And if he’s evaluated I’m still competent in that area, that’s what I would tell him."
Sheridan has said that he "absolutely" thinks he'll return as the team's defensive coordinator. Again, he's either living in denial or Coughlin has privately assured him that his job is secure. I highly doubt the latter part of that statement.
On the second down play, Michael Vick lined up wide and then took a pitch from quarterback Donovan McNabb before throwing an incomplete pass toward Reggie Brown. Rouse got a hand on the ball to knock it away. But again, do you really need to turn to a razzle dazzle play when you're on a team's 2-yard line?
Giants are very fortunate to only give up the field goal on that possession. First team to 35 wins this game.
- Hopefully some of the Giants were watching what Bears defensive back Charles Tillman was doing to the Eagles on Sunday night. I think Knowshon Moreno is susceptible to the strip and that's why players such as Michael Boley and Aaron Rouse should be punching at the ball while someone else is wrapping up. If the Giants can cause a turnover early in this game, they can get out to another quick start. And the Broncos have shown a tendency to fight each other when things go south.
- I could see Danny Ware having a big game for the Giants. If offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will stick with the running game, the Giants can lean on an undersized Broncos defensive line. I would not be surprised at all to see the Giants go for over 150 yards rushing. And that will help control the clock and keep Brandon Marshall off the field.
- Speaking of Brandon Marshall, you have to stay alert at all times. For some reason, the Redskins busted coverage twice on him, allowing long touchdowns. Rouse and Michael Johnson can't let Marshall get over the top of them. I'm sure defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will have someone shaded to Marshall's side. Marshall also hurt the Cowboys with his ability to run after the catch. The Giants can't get caught gambling for an interception. If you have to let the guy make a 15-yard catch, so be it. Make the Broncos put together a 15-play drive to score. Don't give up the deep ball.
- If this one's tight in the fourth quarter, Sheridan has to do a better job of calling plays. This team's attention to detail (communication) has been disturbing at times. The Giants can't get caught in the wrong coverage against the Broncos because Orton will make them pay. And by all means, get some shots on the quarterback early. He has a gimpy ankle, so it's not like he's going to be moving around much in the pocket. This is a game where one of the defensive tackles needs to collapse the pocket. We haven't seen enough of that.
- Rotate, rotate, rotate. The Giants are playing on a short week and as CEO John Mara complained about, they're making a tough road trip. In this type of altitude, the Giants have to use their depth. Why don't we see if Rocky Bernard can actually earn his free-agency money? I haven't seen much production out of him this season. This is a game where players such as Jon Goff and Clint Sintim need to see significant snaps. Turn those young guys loose.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Surprising move coming out of Green Bay this morning: The Packers released safety Aaron Rouse to make room for free-agent safety Matt Giordano, who worked out and signed with the team Tuesday.
Rouse started last Sunday’s game against Cincinnati and was expected to continue replacing injured starter Atari Bigby. Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes Rouse struggled in last week's game, but given the injuries to Bigby and fellow starter Nick Collins (sprained clavicle), it’s surprising to see the Packers shedding any depth at the position.
Giordano spent the past four seasons with Indianapolis. I’ll circle back on this move, and take a closer look at the Packers’ safety situation, once we hear from coach Mike McCarthy later Wednesday.
Assuming the good health of all involved, Green Bay would seem to be set at safety in 2009. Pro Bowler Nick Collins would start at one spot and Atari Bigby would start at the other, with Aaron Rouse in reserve. So why are the Packers so focused on the position in free agency?
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains why free agents Mike Adams and Anthony Smith visited this week: The Packers want a safety with experience in the 3-4 and also know that both Collins and Bigby could be unrestricted free agents after the 2009 season. (Bigby is currently a restricted free agent but hasn't signed an offer sheet.)
Smith had not reached a contract agreement as of Thursday evening, and Adams is making other visits. (UPDATE: Adams returned to Cleveland and signed a three-year contract, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.) The Packers also have interest in free-agent linebacker Kevin Burnett, but thus far safety has been the primary focus of their activity.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Burnett could visit Green Bay this weekend, reports Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, if he does not strike a deal elsewhere before then.
- How unlikely is it that Chicago pursues receiver Terrell Owens? Writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The Bears would bring back the Honey Bears before they would consider signing Terrell Owens."
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune agrees that the Bears' free-agent approach all but rules out a run at Owens or another other veteran receiver: "A team that decides to stay out of the bidding for veteran, quick-fix free-agent offensive help such as Kurt Warner or T.J. Houshmandzadeh doesn't wake up one day and think signing a 35-year-old playmaker is a good idea."
- Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reviews the Minnesota's remaining options for free agency.
- A Minnesota legislator has introduced a bill that would use revenues from a new casino to pay for a new Vikings stadium, according to Mike Kaszuba of the Star Tribune. The bill is considered a long shot.
- Detroit is looking for another option at backup quarterback, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News. Currently the depth chart has three players: Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson.
CHICAGO -- Green Bay should probably start accounting for the nickel blitz from Bears defensive back Danieal Manning, who has now disrupted two plays by hard-charging the left side of the Packers' line.
The play has given the Bears their best staring field position of the game at the Green Bay 48-yard line.
It's interesting that some members of the Chicago Bears are now admitting how limited quarterback Kyle Orton was upon his quick return to the lineup last month.
Orton's first game back after spraining his right ankle was Nov. 16 against Green Bay, when he completed 13 of 26 passes for 133 yards in a 37-3 loss. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner, for one, said Orton's ankle impacted his play more than coaches realized it would. Here's what Turner said this week, according to Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald:
"We've obviously looked at that tape a bunch, and I don't know if we realized going into it that he was going to be as bad as he was injury-wise. He couldn't move at all. He couldn't push off it to throw. I think his timing and everything else, his confidence right now, is so much better than it was at that time."
Turner's sentiments could be viewed as a defensive mechanism for a quarterback that hasn't been as productive since the injury. But there is no disputing the numbers. We'll get into it in more detail over the next few hours, but Orton's passer rating is 67.8 after the injury as opposed to 90.1 before.
It's more likely Turner's sentiments are genuine, which make them an admission that the Bears overestimated the condition of Orton's ankle prior to the Packers game. Either that, or they decided they would rather have a significantly limited Orton at quarterback than a healthy Rex Grossman. Probably a combination of both.
Let's continue our spin around the NFC North:
- Orton stands to lose $375,000 in escalators if he can't pull his season completion percentage above 60 percent, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Green Bay coaches aren't tipping their hand this week about the status of cornerback/safety Charles Woodson, according to Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Woodson practiced at both positions Thursday. It's possible he'll return to cornerback Monday night against Chicago, with Aaron Rouse starting at safety.
- Green Bay receiver James Jones has only recently gotten over the injury hump after spraining his knee during the preseason, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at the possibilities of Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson winning the MVP award.
- Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on fans hoping for his return to the lineup: "I can't really say what I want to say. That's how it is. That's part of the game. It's a bandwagon type of league." Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press looks at Jackson's newfound hero status.
- Detroit coach Rod Marinelli on the increased media attention as the Lions approach 0-16: "This is elevator music to me." John Niyo of the Detroit News breaks down Marinelli's reaction.
- I wholeheartedly agree with this take: Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press thinks the Lions need to empty their playbook and take more chances in an effort to avoid 0-16.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
One of a coach's primary responsibilities is to maximize the time his best players are on the field, regardless of position or scheme. That philosophy, for example, explains why Chicago made kick returner Devin Hester a full-time receiver in the offseason.
But where is the appropriate balance between getting those players on the field and maintaining integrity around them?
That question can be applied to the three top teams in the NFC North this season, all of whom have faced quandaries on utilizing some of their best players. And it makes for a pretty interesting "Have at it" question as well. Do you like the way these teams have dealt with this issue? Or do you think they should have been handled differently?
Let's look at some team-by-team examples:
Chicago: Hester was the NFL's top kick returner in 2006 and 2007, and the Bears hoped to capitalize more consistently on his big-play abilities in their offense. Hester has steadily improved as a receiver, but his returning production has dropped off dramatically. Did you think the shift to receiver wiped Hester out as a returner? Other Chicago examples include the use of tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen. Have the Bears done that enough?
Here's a look at Hester's receiving and return numbers entering the season and in 2008:
Green Bay: The example that stands out is the shift of Charles Woodson to safety, where he replaced the injured Atari Bigby. The Packers inserted nickel back Tramon Williams at cornerback. The move eliminated one of the NFL's best cover men from a coverage-intensive position, but the Packers judged their overall defense to have a better chance with Woodson at safety and Williams at cornerback than if backup safety Aaron Rouse were inserted into the lineup. Did these changes take things too far, considering the 414 passing yards the Packers gave up Sunday to Houston? Another example was the shift of linebacker A.J. Hawk to the middle following the season-ending injury to Nick Barnett.
Here's a look at the Packers' passing defense in Woodson's two starts at safety:
Minnesota: The Vikings have faced a two-year battle to get the most out of their Adrian Peterson-Chester Taylor tailback duo. They've tried a rotation, they've made Taylor their exclusive third-down back and now are working hard to mix things up more on first and second downs. On rare occasions, they play together in the same backfield. Do you like the approach the Vikings are taking now?
Here's is a breakdown of the duo's touches during the Vikings' three-game winning streak:
This is a bit of a nebulous topic, so you can take it in whatever direction you want. Let us know your thoughts, either in the comments section below or in the mailbag, and I'll publish a representative sample, along with my own take, Friday morning. Have at it.
It appears Detroit coach Rod Marinelli is taking the possibility of his team going 0-16 quite seriously.
According to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press, Marinelli displayed a team photo on an overhead screen during a Monday meeting. The message was clear: No one wants the caption to acknowledge the 2008 Lions as the first NFL team to finish 0-16. At least one player, running back Aveion Cason, told the Free Press that Marinelli said: "We're not going 0-16."
Marinelli's first opportunity to make good on that statement is Sunday against Minnesota. Many of you will remember that in 2001, an 0-12 Lions team got its first victory of the season over the Vikings at the Silverdome. Cason said that victory was like "winning the Super Bowl."
There is no textbook for how to handle a team that has played so poorly, but from this vantage point it's nice to see Marinelli confronting reality rather than using more of the coach-speak that has grown increasingly bizarre in recent weeks. If nothing else, Marinelli has given a team with no immediate future a tangible focus for the final month of a lost season.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Tuesday morning:
- Lions receiver Mike Furrey (concussion) told several media outlets he was "disappointed and upset" to be placed on injured reserve this week. Furrey insisted he would be ready to play soon and is the second Lions player, along with quarterback Jon Kitna, to indicate he was shelved for the season with a relatively mild injury.
- Green Bay is giving serious thought to leaving cornerback Charles Woodson at safety because of injuries to safeties Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In that scenario, Tramon Williams would replace Woodson at cornerback.
- Packers center Scott Wells might miss Sunday's game against Houston because of a concussion, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes that Bears quarterback Kyle Orton is hampered by a lack of talent at receiver.
- After looking at tiebreaking scenarios, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times suggests the Bears will have to win their final four games to ensure a playoff spot.
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune compares Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte to retired hockey player Dino Ciccarelli, who was known for exaggerating the impact of his opponents' actions in order to draw a penalty. (It's a good read, but difficult to summarize in one sentence).
- Vikings coach Brad Childress said Artis Hicks will retain his starting job at right tackle when he returns from a right elbow injury, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
As the losing continues this season, there have been some media suggestions that the NFL should strip Detroit of its annual Thanksgiving tradition and provide the nation with a more, er, competitive national game. A reasonable person can certainly make the argument that an 0-11 team isn't good for ratings.
Then you can read Drew Sharp's passionate column Wednesday in the Detroit Free Press and understand what the tradition means to those in Detroit. Sharp takes you through the history of the game -- Ford and Chrysler were two of the NFL's original sponsors -- and reminisces about Thanksgiving trips to see the Lions with his father.
Moving or rotating the game would permanently end an NFL tradition, Sharp writes -- not to mention leave the Lions off national television indefinitely. Yes, much of the nation will make fun of Detroit on Thursday, but there is more to it than that:
Everybody gets it in Detroit. This isn't good football. Thanksgiving is just one more occasion when this city stoops over, sticks a bull's-eye on its backside and coaxes another swift kick. But you cannot attach a price tag -- or even a win-loss record -- on that bond between past and present or between father and son.
Continuing around the NFC North on the day before Turkey Day:
- Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper is looking for a breakout game that proves he should be the team's starter next season, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune notes that Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte has become less productive with each passing week, raising short- and long-term questions about a situation that leaves Frerotte backed up by Tarvaris Jackson and John David Booty. Souhan: "The New York Giants running backs have nicknamed themselves Earth, Wind and Fire. The Vikings quarterbacks are more like Pestilence & Famine."
- Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press follows Vikings linebacker Ben Leber and guard Steve Hutchinson during a visit to Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview.
- Green Bay right tackle Mark Tauscher had an MRI test on his right hamstring to determine the severity of the injury he suffered Monday night in New Orleans. There is some concern that Tauscher could miss several games, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The Packers are also dealing with injuries to several safeties, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Atari Bigby (ankle), Aaron Rouse (ankle), Nick Collins (knee, toe) and Charlie Peprah (calf) are all hobbled.
- Chicago defensive coordinator Bob Babich continues to shuttle between the press box and the sideline during games. Sunday in St. Louis, he was in the press box, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald thinks the Bears need to ride tailback Matt Forte as hard as they can in December.
|Crystal LoGiudice/US Presswire|
|Drew Brees torched the Packers for 323 passing yards and four touchdown passes in a 51-29 drubbing of the Packers.|
NEW ORLEANS -- Atari Bigby sat at his locker with his head buried in his hands. Al Harris spoke as if in a daze. Nick Collins admitted he was "embarrassed" and questioned whether his team was ready to play.
"We got our [tail] whupped in front of the whole country," Woodson said. "When you see the backup quarterback come in, you know you got your [tail] whupped. It was a rough day."
The Packers' revered pass defense didn't just have a down day on "Monday Night Football." It was on the short end of perhaps the best passing day of the season, a near-perfect performance from Saints quarterback Drew Brees that made the Packers look like a bunch of bullfighters.
Olé, Bigby said as Saints receiver Lance Moore ran around him for a 70-yard scoring pass in the first quarter.
"We got embarrassed, we got whupped, however you want to put it," Collins said. "It was an old fashioned butt-whupping. We know we're better than that, and we can't ever let that happen again."
Collins wasn't sure why, but he nevertheless seemed convinced the Packers arrived in New Orleans unprepared for their task.
|Watch highlights from the Saints' 51-29 win over the Packers.|
"You can't explain it," he said. "We just weren't ready to play today. That's just all it was. We knew it was going to be a shootout. We just weren't ready. We just didn't have the fire tonight."
That's a disturbing admission from a prominent player on a team that needed a victory to keep pace in a mediocre division. Could the Packers have been overconfident, motivated by last week's now-distant thrashing of Chicago and the national attention on their pass defense? It's not like the Saints snuck up on anybody Monday night. Brees entered the game with more yards in his first 10 games than any quarterback in league history.
"We felt we could come in and have a better showing against this team," Woodson said. "But they turned out to be everything that everyone thought they were."
The Packers' defensive scheme relies on a certain level of physical superiority from the secondary -- the idea that Woodson and especially Harris can handle receivers in man coverage. Perhaps the Packers thought they could disrupt Brees' timing with his receivers, but the Saints clearly had them outmatched.
"They're a good secondary," Brees said. "They're a very good secondary. Arguably one of the better secondaries in this league, if not the best. [But] we felt like, with all the man-to-man matchups we would get, that if we could get the ball in the hands of our receivers, we could break a tackle and make some big plays."
Consider it mission accomplished for the Saints, whose own defense performed the way the Packers' defense hoped to. New Orleans intercepted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers three times and knocked down 11 other passes, leaving the Packers unable to keep up.
The Packers' offense had entered the game ready for a shootout.
"We thought we could score on them," Rodgers said.
But no one counted on the defense giving up the fifth-most points in team history.
"Just no excuses," Harris said. "If our offense scores 29 points, we have to hold them to 28. We didn't hold up our end of the bargain."
Other notable items from the Packers' postgame locker room:
- Both Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy suitably noted the urgency Green Bay now faces. The Packers, of course, trail Chicago (6-5) and Minnesota (6-5) in the NFC North and will need help to make a move in the division over the final five games of the season. "We just need to win football games," McCarthy said. "It's November. It's time." Said Rodgers: "Every game for us is a must-win."
- The Packers played all but two plays without right tackle Mark Tauscher, who strained a hamstring and did not return. Tony Moll replaced him and Tauscher's status for Sunday's game against Carolina is uncertain. Tauscher blew out his knee at the Superdome in 2002 and missed 14 games.
- Rodgers used his previously injured right shoulder to knock Saints cornerback Jason David out of bounds after an interception in the third quarter. "I was pretty upset," Rodgers said. "And I gave it all I had."
- The Saints had 416 yards on only 54 plays, an average of 7.7 yards per play. "We expected more from our defense," McCarthy said.
- The Packers got away from their running game in the second half as the deficit grew. Tailback Ryan Grant had 64 yards in the first half and 3 yards in the second. The Saints "peeled back their ears" and rushed Rodgers with renewed v
igor, McCarthy said. It's no surprise that all three of Rodgers' interceptions and both of his sacks came after halftime.
NEW ORLEANS -- You just got greedy, Sean Payton.
The Saints coach got too creative with an offense that has been steamrolling the Packers all night and just cost himself a chance, at least temporarily, to seal this game.
Green Bay safety Aaron Rouse just intercepted an ill-advised double-pass -- from Drew Brees to Lance Moore, who tried to throw to tailback Pierre Thomas. The play ended another Saints threat in the red zone. Rouse returned it to the Packers' 43-yard line to at least give the Packers another chance to stay in the game.
Luckily for Payton, the Saints defense forced the Packers to punt.
NEW ORLEANS -- Whew. Let me catch my breath and then I'll give you a few first-half observations.
OK. I'm fine now.
- Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman made a little noise at the end of the second quarter, twice getting into the backfield to force two incompletions from Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The pressure forced New Orleans to settle for a 30-yard field goal at the end of the half.
- Before that, however, Brees completed 13 consecutive passes. He finished the half 13 of 16 for 194 yards and two touchdowns. And he gets the ball to start the third quarter.
- The Packers, who entered the weekend with an NFL-high 16 interceptions, didn't get a hand on a pass until Nick Collins made a play on Brees' final pass of the half. Brees really hasn't given them any other opportunities.
- The Packers offense has been strong but is having to work much harder for its scores. Tailback Ryan Grant has 83 all-purpose yards, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers made a nice move to squeeze into the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run. (Note that Rodgers landed squarely on his previously-sprained right shoulder. If he was in pain, he didn't show it.)
- There was one point, earlier in the game, when I wondered if Rodgers' shoulder was bothering him. In the first quarter, he threw low to a wide-open Greg Jennings about 20 yards downfield. But, sometimes a low throw is just a low throw.
- The Packers are rotating safeties Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse, as they have done for several games. But before Kampman started getting into the backfield, nothing was working for their pass defense.
- Tony Moll finished out the first half at right tackle. Given how long starter Mark Tauscher stood on the sidelines, it would be a surprise to see him come back.
- Someone just walked past me and suggested the team with the ball last will win. Sounds about right to me.
1:00 PM ET San Diego Buffalo 1:00 PM ET Dallas St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Washington Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Houston New York 1:00 PM ET Minnesota New Orleans 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Baltimore Cleveland 1:00 PM ET Green Bay Detroit 1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Jacksonville 1:00 PM ET Oakland New England 4:05 PM ET San Francisco Arizona 4:25 PM ET Denver Seattle 4:25 PM ET Kansas City Miami 8:30 PM ET Pittsburgh Carolina