NFL Nation: Kordell Stewart

The Steelers have 11 games remaining. They have yet to play one snap against a division opponent this season. In other words, no one has mathematically eliminated the Steelers (2-3) from anything.

But Pittsburgh's performances on the road, including Thursday night's 26-23 loss at Tennessee, have been disturbing. The Steelers' history in their current situation makes their playoff picture even gloomier.

Over the past 20 years, the Steelers have had a losing record after five games just five times. Only once -- the 2002 season -- did the Steelers rebound to make the playoffs. It was 10 years ago when Tommy Maddox replaced Kordell Stewart in Week 4 and guided Pittsburgh to a 10-5-1 record.

The other times (1999, 2000, 2003 and 2006) resulted in a division finish no higher than third. This marks the first time that the Steelers have started the season 2-3 under coach Mike Tomlin.

The only time Ben Roethlisberger began with a 2-3 record was 2006. That was the year when he was involved in a motorcycle crash during the offseason and then had to miss the season opener because of an emergency appendectomy.

So, coming back from a 2-3 record isn't impossible. Pittsburgh's track record just says it's a major challenge.

NFL32: Browns quarterback situation

May, 11, 2012
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The quarterback controversy has already begun in Browns minicamp, Damien Woody thinks the Jets should skip "Hard Knocks" and Herm says Vince Young will be more than just a backup in Buffalo.

If Jaguars change coach, who's next?

November, 17, 2011
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Jack Del RioAP Photo/John RaouxIf the Jaguars replace Jack Del Rio, it makes sense to hire an offensive-minded head coach.
Ten weeks into most NFL seasons we have a good sense of head-coaching jobs coming open and the prime candidates for them.

This year feels different.

Jim Caldwell may coach a potential 0-16 team. But to hear Bill Polian talk, the Colts’ coach may well survive. In Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio’s got one year left on his contract and a lame-duck staff.

It’s widely held that Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver will make a change if he judges the team to have shown insufficient improvement this season, and it’s hard to envision a giant turnaround now for the 3-6 Jaguars based on how poorly the offense is producing.

As for prime head-coaching candidates, I sense no buzz about the hot, young offensive assistant who’s the next big thing. In previous years -- no matter if they panned out or not -- we’ve seen guys like Josh McDaniels, Jason Garrett, Todd Haley and Ken Whisenhunt tabbed as up-and-comers who were ready.

Who are those guys now?

While Northern Florida might hold out hope that Weaver will want a name and would be able to lure one, I don’t see Bill Cowher or even Jeff Fisher heading for EverBank Stadium.

The franchise should re-sign general manager Gene Smith, allow him to decide on Del Rio and make the recommendation on the next coach.

And if Smith's in the market, that next coach should be a young offensive mind who likes Blaine Gabbert and has the best shot at developing him. Smith needs to hit a home run finding the next Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton or, this year aside, Andy Reid.

I asked around this week, talking to a couple coaches and an executive about which NFL assistant qualifies as a QB guru who’s ready to be a head coach.

Through those conversations, I present this list of possibilities:

Mike Mularkey, Atlanta offensive coordinator -- Mularkey posted a 14-18 record as Buffalo's head coach in 2004-05. But he’s got enough distance from that now that he could be worthy of a second act.

He took over as offensive coordinator in Atlanta in 2008, when quarterback Matt Ryan was a rookie. He has a bruiser of a running back in Michael Turner to go with Ryan. Ryan became just the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 3,000 yards, and the Falcons won 11 games.

There is a connection to Smith: Mularkey’s son, Patrick, is a scouting assistant in Jacksonville’s player personnel department.

Jay Gruden, Cincinnati offensive coordinator -- Gruden’s done fantastic work this season with rookie QB Andy Dalton. But is one good year enough to vault him to a head coaching job?

He worked on his brother Jon’s staff in Tampa Bay from 2002-08, but as an offensive assistant he wasn’t a year-round guy. He stacked the work on top of his duties quarterbacking and then coaching the Orlando Predators of the AFL.

Jay Gruden has head coaching experience in the AFL and the UFL, where he led the Florida Tuskers to the 2010 championship game as head coach and GM.

Word is he’s different than his brother, calmer with a better presence with his players.

Rob Chudzinski, Carolina offensive coordinator -- His first tour as an offensive coordinator came in Cleveland from 2007-08. The 2007 Browns won 10 games with Derek Anderson shining at quarterback.

Now Chudzinski’s been lauded for his work with Cam Newton, revising and shaping the offense to feature what the rookie quarterback does best. He’s got a strong background with tight ends, too, and is regarded as a rising star by many around the league.

He’s also a quieter, unassuming type.

Tom Clements, Green Bay quarterbacks coach -- Clements worked in the same post for New Orleans (1997-99), Kansas City (2000) and Pittsburgh (2001-03). During those stops he worked with Tommy Maddox during his comeback player of the year season in 2002 and with Kordell Stewart and Elvis Grbac during their best seasons.

He also worked as offensive coordinator in Buffalo in 2004 and 2005.

With Green Bay, Clements guided Brett Favre in his final Packers' years while helping prepare Aaron Rodgers. He’s also had a hand in the progress of highly regarded backup Matt Flynn.

But does he have the qualities of a good head coach?

Pete Carmichael, New Orleans offensive coordinator -- He’s in his third year as Payton’s top offensive lieutenant after three seasons as the Saints' quarterbacks coach.

Carmichael’s been closely involved with an offense that has excelled with Drew Brees as quarterback, with a specific role in routes, protection schemes and quarterback responsibilities.

Like Clements in Green Bay, Carmichael works for a strong coach with an offensive background and so he doesn’t function as the play-caller. While very smart, he comes across as bland and that could be a big issue for a guy expected to be the face and the personality of a franchise.

Playoff reseeding takes a back seat

February, 11, 2011
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With labor unrest and a Super Bowl seating fiasco, the NFL has more important things to worry about than reseeding the playoffs to prevent another losing team from getting a home playoff game as a division winner.

Making significant changes to the existing structure would stand as an overreaction, anyway. The Seattle Seahawks were, after all, the first team in NFL history to win its division with a losing record. This was the exception, not the rule.

I could see it happening periodically in the future, however.

Realignment into four-team divisions for the 2002 season increased the likelihood. As the NFC West proved this past season, a division needs only four teams in transition to produce a champion with a losing record.

Between 1990 and 2001, divisions produced four losing teams four times. The difference then was that divisions had more than four teams.

A quick look back at the "offending" divisions -- those with at least four losing teams -- from 1990 through this past season ...
.
The 2001 AFC Central featured the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and a Pittsburgh Steelers team that went 13-3 with Kordell Stewart at quarterback.

The 1997 San Francisco 49ers went 13-3, including 1-0 with Jim Druckenmiller as the starting quarterback. The rest of the NFC West that season? Not so good.

Eric Pegram and Bam Morris carried the rushing load for the 1995 AFC Central champion Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals went 7-9 that season despite getting 28 touchdown passes from Jeff Blake.

The 1990 Chicago Bears won the NFC Central with quarterback Jim Harbaugh posting a 10-4 starting record. Harbaugh finished that season with 10 touchdown passes and four more scores on the ground.


Jay Cutler and Julius PeppersUS PresswireThe Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Jay Cutler. Is he the reason Chicago is on the brink of the Super Bowl? Or does the credit go to Julius Peppers and the defense?
Let's play a game of addition.

  1. The starting quarterback is the most important player on any football team.
  2. The Chicago Bears finished the regular season 11-5, won the NFC North division title and will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
  3. Jay Cutler is the biggest reason why.

So, in this case, does 1+2=3? Did the Bears need Cutler as their quarterback to advance this far? Was he the key to their resurgence this season? Or could they have followed the same path without making the 2009 blockbuster trade that cost them three high draft choices? In today's Double Coverage, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert discuss that very question.

Kevin Seifert: Jeff, you've been covering the Bears for years. You saw them go to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. You've lived through Kordell Stewart, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. You've seen a team win in spite of its quarterback, and you've seen quarterbacks single-handedly lose games. Let's start it off this way: How much credit do you think Cutler should get for the Bears sitting one step from the Super Bowl?

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) talks with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, right, and coach Lovie Smith
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrived in Mike Martz's offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Cutler deserves plenty of credit, Kevin. As much as we want to hammer Cutler for his mistakes -- more on that later, I'm sure -- you can't overlook the fact his quarterback rating was above 100 six times in the regular season. And you guessed it: the Bears won all six of those games.

So if the most important player on the field was arguably the best player on the field nearly half the time, I find it impossible to minimize the positive impact Cutler had on the Bears' playoff run. Is he going to run for public office after he's finished playing football? No. Does he care that we're talking about him today, either good or bad? No. But to sit back and say Cutler was simply along for the ride wouldn't be doing his contributions much justice.

And by the way, thanks for bringing up Chad Hutchinson. I was trying to suppress that memory. What's next? Are we going to break down the NFL career of Jonathan Quinn? I could talk bad Bears quarterbacks all day.

KS: Any time. How about this: Cade McNown, Henry Burris, Shane Matthews and Steve Stenstrom. That pretty much covers it for our generation, I think.

Anyway, I agree it would be wrong to overlook some of Cutler's individual performances this season. He bounced back from some early hits in Week 2 to throw three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys in a 27-20 victory. He forgot about the early interception against the New York Jets and went on to throw for another three touchdowns in a 38-34 victory. His performance against the Philadelphia Eagles -- four touchdown passes, 146.2 passer rating -- was superb. And don't forget his late-game drive against the Detroit Lions in Week 13, the one that locked up the division title.

But I think the question at hand is whether the Bears would have won 11 games with, say, Orton at quarterback. To me, Cutler was not among the top two reasons for the Bears' success this season.

More important was the defense, which limited opponents to 17.9 points per game, and the best special teams in the NFL. As a result of those two factors, Cutler and the rest of the Bears' offense had the best head start in the NFL. No offense had a better average start of its drive (33.7-yard line) than the Bears'.

Do you think the Bears win those games with Orton?

JD: I must first admit to being a card-carrying member of the Kyle Orton fan club. Is there a more underappreciated quarterback in the NFL? That being said, I think you could make the playoffs with a guy like Orton, but the Bears are in a better position to potentially win a Super Bowl with a guy like Cutler.

Let me explain.

I firmly believe if Orton quarterbacked the Bears in 2009 they probably would have won three more regular-season games (against the Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers). They would have finished 10-6 and perhaps earned an NFC wild-card playoff berth. Cutler cost the Bears those games because of a barrage of turnovers and terrible decisions. But that's where the ride would've ended with Orton, in my opinion.

Could Orton have beaten the Cowboys, Eagles or Jets in 2010? Maybe. But with apologies to Jim Mora, we're talking playoffs, Kevin, playoffs!

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireThe Bears' defense, led by Julius Peppers, gave the offense a head start on most drives.
Believe me, I know Cutler's only career postseason victory came against Seattle this past weekend, and he could easily go out Sunday and throw five interceptions against the Packers. But he could just as easily throw five touchdowns.

That's why the Bears are better off with Cutler -- because Orton hit his glass ceiling as an NFL quarterback. Cutler has not. Look at how Cutler tore up the Jets. The defense struggled, and it needed a lift from the quarterback position to beat a tough opponent. Cutler delivered. I'm not saying Orton is incapable of leading a team to victory over playoff-quality teams, but the chances Cutler can do it are greater.

Sorry, Kyle. I loved your neck beard. But I have to go with Cutler on this one.

KS: It's all fantasy talk, of course. We'll never know if Orton would have played well enough last year to compel the Bears to keep offensive coordinator Ron Turner this season. We also don't know if Mike Martz would have wanted Orton this season.

But the Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Cutler. Has he provided them enough value for those picks? Or could they have used those draft picks to improve themselves in other areas?

It would be wrong to say that Cutler hasn't had a positive impact on the Bears this season, but I'm not willing to say he was the key to the Bears' division title, either. But if the Bears go to the Super Bowl, no one is going to care about that distinction.

JD: And you know Cutler is happiest when nobody cares!

I guess it's possible Jerry Angelo would have turned those two first-round selections into starting-caliber players. But I've seen the Bears use high draft choices on the likes of Michael Haynes, Roosevelt Williams, Mark Bradley, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Michael Okwo, Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias. So to assume Angelo would've waved his magic draft wand and taken the right guys? Well, that would be misguided, to say the least. Despite all the warts, I'm happy with Cutler and feel the Bears are now in a better position to win their first Super Bowl since the 1985 season because of him.

I could talk bad Bears draft picks all day.

KS: Spoken like a longtime Bears follower. Basically what you're saying is that while Cutler has demonstrated some flaws, his acquisition nevertheless prevented the Bears from making another series of draft mistakes! Perfect. I love it.

On that note, Jeff, this has been fun. I think we can agree Cutler has made a positive impact on the Bears' run to the NFC Championship Game. Could they have done it without him? That's up for debate.

Is Vince Young on Dolphins' or Bills' radar?

January, 5, 2011
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The Tennessee Titans are parting ways with quarterback Vince Young, a Heisman Trophy finalist, rookie of the year and two-time Pro Bowler who apparently lost a battle of wills with head coach Jeff Fisher.

The Titans announced they will either trade or waive Young before next season. They must wait until Feb. 7 to waive him. He can't be traded until March 4. Young reportedly has a $4.25 million roster bonus due March 10.

[+] EnlargeYoung
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesVince Young could be a good fit in either Miami or Buffalo.
Young won't be unemployed next season. Could he find a home in the AFC East?

We can rule out the New England Patriots and probably the New York Jets, too.

Young could be considered an upgrade over Mark Sanchez, but Sanchez is the Jets' franchise quarterback. The Jets also have a wildly uncertain offseason ahead with so many soon-to-be free agents and high-priced older players.

But the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills look like possible landing spots.

The Dolphins are down on Chad Henne, their supposed quarterback of the future who was benched during the season and never generated faith within the organization. In a radio interview Tuesday, star receiver Brandon Marshall criticized Henne's unwillingness to challenge defenses.

Young would provide the Dolphins with a totally new dynamic -- a mobile quarterback with a winning track record. Young not only would stimulate Miami's disenchanted fans, but also a stagnant team that ranked 30th in points, 21st in total offense, 21st in rushing offense and 16th in passing offense.

But the Dolphins can't make any decisions about whether Young would be a fit until they determine what to do with head coach Tony Sparano. He's still in place, but owner Stephen Ross reportedly has been flirting with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

The Bills would be another intriguing possibility. Head coach Chan Gailey is a big fan of incumbent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Gailey has had success in the past with running quarterbacks.

Gailey was the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator when Kordell Stewart was there and impressively used Tyler Thigpen while the Kansas City Chiefs' play-caller.

Plus, Bills owner Ralph Wilson isn't averse to chasing a big name. The Bills pursued Michael Vick before the 2009 season, according to Vick's adviser, Tony Dungy.

Then again, with the third pick in April's draft, the Bills almost certainly will have the option to select Auburn quarterback Cam Newton if they wanted him badly enough.

Would you like to see Young wearing your team's colors in 2011?

Gailey: Wildcat must feature passing threat

August, 24, 2010
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The Miami Dolphins unleashed their Wildcat offense out of desperation.

Trying to build something under new head coach Tony Sparano after a 15-loss season, they opened the 2008 campaign 0-2. Their passing game couldn't stretch the field, but they did boast a deep and talented backfield.

If only they could figure out a way to utilize multiple running backs on a given play ...

Sound familiar, Buffalo Bills fans?

New head coach Chan Gailey has a quarterback known as Captain Checkdown, a stable of running backs and nothing to lose. He also isn't afraid to get creative. After all, he helped create the "Slash" role for Kordell Stewart with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Gailey was asked Monday whether the Wildcat was possible in Buffalo.

"Oh, yeah," Gailey replied. "We consider everything. We're not so polished in one area that we can stay in that and beat people. We're going to have to consider everything."

In explaining his Wildcat philosophies, however, Gailey raised an important point that would apply not only to the Bills, but also any team interested in running the specialty offense, which features speed motion and a direct shotgun snap to a running back.

"Wildcat is an interesting proposition," Gailey said. "I don't know how long that thing will last if you don't throw out of it. You have to be able to throw out of that formation to make it last because pretty soon they're going to put everybody up there on defense.

"Defensive coaches are catching up slowly but surely. They'll get there. They're a smart group. You have to be able to have some diversity out of it in order to make something like that work."

Another significant problem for Buffalo -- and a major difference from Miami's situation in 2008 -- is they might not have the offensive line to pull it off. While a passing component is important, the Wildcat is based on a nasty ground attack. When the Dolphins relied on it in 2008, they often put tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey next to each other on an unbalanced line.

Nonetheless, Gailey's comments got me thinking about the backgrounds of Wildcat-style playmakers around the AFC East.

Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch each have thrown one pass in the NFL and it has gone for a touchdown. But the prime candidate to be a Wildcat threat is rookie C.J. Spiller, who possesses a combination of elusiveness and, apparently, an arm. Spiller threw a pair of touchdown passes at Clemson.

The New York Jets have a pair of threats. They've lined up running back LaDainian Tomlinson (seven career NFL touchdown passes) and receiver Brad Smith (played quarterback at Missouri) in Wildcat roles at training camp.

The New England Patriots haven't dabbled much in the Wildcat for a couple of obvious reasons. They don't seem to have a versatile enough running back, and it makes little sense to remove the ball from Tom Brady's hands even for a play or two.

But the Patriots could get tricky with receiver Julian Edelman, an option quarterback at Kent State. He was more dangerous as a runner than he was as a passer, but so is Ronnie Brown. The threat of being able to do both is enough to keep a defense honest, which was Gailey's point.

"You're trying to create some kind of diversion for the defense so that they don't know where the ball is going all the time," Gailey said. "If you can do that, you've got a chance to create more open spaces for the guy that does have the ball, and hopefully they don’t know who has it all the time."
Of all the reasons Brett Favre might cite for playing one more season, I think we've found the most interesting. Jason Vida of ESPN's Stats & Information points out that Favre certainly won't want to be known as the best quarterback in the history of the NFL to throw an interception on the final pass of his career.

Favre
Favre
As you might have heard, New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Favre at the end of regulation in the NFC Championship Game, and the Vikings did not get a possession in overtime. If that turns out to be the last pass of Favre's career, he would immediately jump to the top of a well-researched list Vida recently sent my way.

So check it out as we continue to count down the minutes until the start of training camp:

10. Kordell Stewart (Dec. 28, 2003)

9. Jake Plummer (Dec. 31, 2006)

8. Scott Mitchell (Nov. 25, 2001)

7. Jim Harbaugh (Nov. 12, 2000)

6. Trent Green (Nov. 23, 2008)

5. Phil Simms (Jan. 15, 1994)

4. Drew Bledsoe (Oct. 23, 2006)

3. Ken Stabler (Oct. 21, 1984)

2. George Blanda (Dec. 21, 1975)

1. Sonny Jurgensen (Dec. 22, 1974)

Pressure all on Andy Reid now

July, 28, 2010
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Andy ReidHoward Smith/US PresswireThere are plenty of new faces on Andy Reid's roster heading into the 2010 season.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- In the NFL’s often unforgiving circle of life, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid has been handed a rare second opportunity -- a chance to hit the refresh button on his team and his career.

And there he was on the first day of training camp at Lehigh University, in his usual command position on the practice field, about 50 yards behind the middle linebacker, all alone, looking at his own reincarnation.

Gone was Donovan McNabb -- Reid’s first training camp in his 12-year head coaching career without the quarterback he drafted in the first round in 1999.

Gone was Brian Westbrook -- the veteran running back who provided much of the late-game heroics and pyrotechnics that often bailed out the Eagles and their head coach.

And there were all the new faces, including Kevin Kolb, who will have the fewest career starts -- just two -- of any prospective starting quarterback in the NFC this year. In all, the Eagles jettisoned 14 players from their 2009 roster -- more than any team in the league.

Kevin Kolb
Howard Smith/US PresswireKevin Kolb takes over at quarterback for the departed Donovan McNabb.
When the veterans arrive on Thursday, there will be 32 new players in camp.

How green are these Eagles? The training camp roster boasts only one non-kicker over the age of 30, the fewest in the NFL.

"There’s a little bit of unknown, which I kind of like," said Reid of his new team, average age 24.1 years old. "I like that."

Now, there is a first. The NFL’s head coaches -- among the planet’s greatest control artists -- rarely embrace the unknown, or at least admit it in public.

Assessing his rebuilt roster, Reid called it "a great challenge." What might be more challenging is convincing his championship-starved fan base that this roster overhaul can work. In Philadelphia, with McNabb now playing for the division-rival Washington Redskins, and so much inexperience wearing midnight green this season, there is little love of the unknown created by Reid.

More like fear.

And that translates into one thing: a whole lot of pressure on Reid. Yes, the head coach was given a three-year contract extension in December. But now failure to bring a Super Bowl title to Philadelphia can no longer be blamed on McNabb’s shortcomings, Westbrook’s injuries or aging veterans such as Brian Dawkins who are long gone.

It’s on Reid now.

"There are some big-name players that have been proven players on this football team that aren’t here," said Reid. "It’s important that the young guys step up and they go."

If they don’t, it will be difficult to try to peddle to Eagles fans that the team was victimized by inexperience. Going young was the franchise decision.

(Read full post)

Gailey doesn't do backfields by committee

July, 21, 2010
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The Buffalo Bills have three identifiable running backs on their roster: a 2008 Pro Bowler, a 1,000-yard rusher last year and the ninth overall draft pick in 2010.

With such talent in the backfield, folks have wondered how new head coach Chan Gailey will delegate the touches among Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

Those who assume Gailey will spread around carries with a semblance of equity shouldn't be so sure.

In fact, if Gailey doesn't designate a workhorse and ride him hard, it would be the first time he declines to do so since his rookie season as an offensive coordinator in 1988.

In an ESPN fantasy football column, Matthew Berry provides an enlightening look at Gailey's history with running backs since the Dallas Cowboys hired him to be head coach in 1998. The chart also included Gailey's subsequent play-calling gigs with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.


As we can see, Gailey doesn't split carries. True, he had Emmitt Smith in Dallas, but Gailey saddled up Lamar Smith in two seasons with Miami and Larry Johnson, who played only 12 games for Kansas City in 2008.

Not included in Berry's chart are Gailey's pre-Dallas stops as offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos (1988-89) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-97).

The trend of one dominant back generally remains.

In his first season as an NFL playcaller, Gailey had a pair of over-the-hill backs in Tony Dorsett and Sammy Winder. Dorsett had 181 carries for 703 yards, while Winder ran 149 for 543 yards. The next season, however, rookie Bobby Humphrey took over with 294 carries, nearly three times as many as Winder.

Jerome Bettis was Gailey's go-to guy in Pittsburgh. Eric Pegram managed 509 yards on only 97 carries in 1996, but the Steelers' second-leading rusher the next season was quarterback Kordell Stewart.

Gailey's track record shows an obvious preference for one back taking 300-plus handoffs.

Bradford, McNabb and the Rams

March, 4, 2010
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Evading a question is one thing. Issuing a flat denial is another.

So, if the Rams quickly move for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb when the trading period opens at midnight ET, I'd be a little surprised.

McNabb
McNabb
Bradford
Bradford
"There's been no talks about Donovan," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo told Sirius radio's Scott Ferrall on Wednesday night.

Pressed further, Spagnuolo said, "No, there were no conversations."

Separately, Rams vice president Kevin Demoff used an NFL.com chat to explain how difficult it can be to draft good quarterbacks after the first round -- something to keep in mind as the Rams decide whether to draft Sam Bradford first overall.

"One thing that should be noted is the success rate of quarterbacks drafted in the second round is far worse than that of those drafted in the first round," Demoff wrote. "The only second-round quarterback to make the Pro Bowl in recent memory was Drew Brees, and he would have been a first-rounder if there had been 32 teams in the NFL when he was drafted."

Kordell Stewart (1995 draft) and Jake Plummer (1997) went to Pro Bowls as second-round choices, although neither enjoyed exceptional careers by elite quarterback standards.

"I believe at the end of the year, 18 of the 32 quarterbacks starting in the NFL were first-round picks, and the next most prolific round was undrafted," Demoff wrote. "If you look at the playoffs last year, nearly all of the starting quarterbacks were first-rounders, with the exception of Brees, Brady and Warner, who all could be in the Hall of Fame. The percentages are much better in the first round, but with the reward comes great risk."

From 1996 to 2006, about 41 percent of first-round quarterbacks became Pro Bowl players. The rate dropped to 22 percent in the second round, 13 percent in the third round, 6.7 percent in the fourth round and zero percent in the fifth and seventh rounds. Nearly 17 percent of sixth-rounders became Pro Bowlers (Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger and Derek Anderson).

I did not count quarterbacks drafted from 2007 forward, figuring they were still early in their careers. Also, quarterbacks drafted earlier probably received extra chances to succeed.

About selecting QBs in second round

February, 22, 2010
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The earlier item showing where teams target positions among the first 32 draft choices raised questions about quarterbacks in particular.

Fourteen of the 37 quarterbacks drafted in that range since 1995 went first or third overall. None went in 15 of the 32 highest spots, including 13th through 16th or 27th through 31st.

"The interesting point on second-round QB picks will be who they were, how long until they were a starter (if ever) and if they stuck with their drafting team," Bcook122 wrote in response. "I'm hoping this year's crop may yield a good prospect without having to exact one of those two first-round picks the Niners have."

The first thing I did was break out all second-round quarterbacks selected in the last 30 drafts, figuring this would provide big-picture perspective. One of the quarterbacks in question, Drew Brees, appeared on the previous list because the Chargers selected him 32nd overall before the NFL expanded to 32 teams. Some of the best ones -- Boomer Esiason, Randall Cunningham and Neil Lomax -- were drafted between 1981 and 1984. Another, Brett Favre, went in 1991.

The next step involved narrowing the search range to all drafts since 1995.

NFL teams have drafted 17 second-round quarterbacks during that period, including Brees. The Dolphins (three) and Lions (two) drafted five of the 17, including four since 2007. Eight of the 17 were drafted since 2006. Three of the 17 have gone to Pro Bowls, but Brees is the only one with a career passer rating higher than 77.9.

The chart ranks these 17 quarterbacks by regular-season games played. Of course, the earlier a quarterback is drafted, the more chances an organization will generally give him.

AFC North all-decade team

January, 28, 2010
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Jamal Lewis/Jerome BettisMatthew Emmons/US PresswireRunning backs Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis combined to rush for 15,806 yards during the 2000s.
The AFC North earned three Super Bowl titles this past decade, which means there were plenty of great players in the division over that span.

Here is our AFC North all-decade team.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.

Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)

Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)

Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.

Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)

[+] EnlargeOchocinco
Frank Victores/US PresswireChad Ochocinco is just 48 yards short of reaching 10,000 career receiving yards.
Receivers: Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and Hines Ward (Steelers)

Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.

Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)

Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)

Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.

Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)

Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)

Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.

Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)

Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)

Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.

Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)

Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)

Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.

Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireRay Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
Linebackers: ILB Ray Lewis (Ravens), ILB James Farrior (Steelers), OLB Joey Porter (Steelers), OLB Terrell Suggs (Ravens)

Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.

Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)

Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)

Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.

Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

"He's like everybody: A little bit in shock."

That's how Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo described the initial reaction from quarterback Jay Cutler upon completion of Thursday's historic trade. And if I didn't know any better, I'd say Angelo was still a bit stunned himself as he conducted an evening teleconference.

  Bears land Cutler
  NFL.com Video
  The Broncos traded Jay Cutler to the Bears.

I'm guessing that when Angelo woke up Thursday morning, he had no idea he would acquire a quarterback that would end the Bears' organizational drought at the position. He couldn't have predicted that with one mid-afternoon decision, he could upend his reputation as a conservative talent evaluator who eschewed bold moves in favor of developing his drafted players.

"Really, it came together unexpectedly," Angelo said. "... This is the first time for me. You look at the history of the league. I can't recall situation quite like this. How it matriculated and came to the point it got to, I can't answer to any of that. All we did is react to a situation that we felt could help our football team."

The Cutler drama has played out for more than a month, and so Angelo has had plenty of time to think rationally and thoroughly about the issue. But when Denver announced that Cutler was on the trading block this week, Angelo reacted with a swiftness and aggression he has rarely displayed since the Bears hired him in 2001.

The Bears performed background work on Cutler's history of immaturity, but Angelo said they didn't speak to him directly until after the trade agreement. With at least three other teams hounding the Broncos, there wasn't time to dally. A man who has always cherished his draft picks increased his offer to a staggering two first-round picks, plus a third-rounder, to drop everything and follow his gut instinct.

"The rarity of this opportunity made it unique," Angelo said. "Really, being in this situation as long as I have, you just know when things are right. Part of it is ... feeling you've done a lot of homework. And we talked internally quite a bit as an organization. We try to measure twice to cut once, and everybody felt good about this. But we just said as an organization that we were only going to get into it to win it."

This is the same general manager who, up until this week, was prepared to enter a critical year with the unproven Kyle Orton as his quarterback. He's the same guy who has tried to get it done with Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart and Rex Grossman and Brian Griese. Jerry Angelo is the same man who chose a defensive coaching overhaul this winter over replacing some members of his aging defense. And a few people are still wondering how he expects his passing game to succeed with Devin Hester and Earl Bennett as his starting receivers.

Angelo, however, has made clear since the end of the 2008 season quarterback was his primary focus. That he stood by Orton for the ensuing three months generated further questions about his judgment, but he deserves credit for recognizing the rarity of Cutler's availability and taking full advantage.

"You can't minimize the importance of the position," he said. "We've talked about that. I know personally that's been something that's been my goal for the organization, and I felt that this was the right thing to do."

Shocking, but true.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Albert Haynesworth was not impressed. He played them twice and stopped them mostly, albeit not often enough to beat them when it mattered.

Haynesworth, the Tennessee Titans' all-world defensive tackle, couldn't believe the meager Baltimore Ravens were advancing to the AFC Championship Game.

 
  Larry French/Getty Images
  Joe Flacco has run the Baltimore offense efficiently his first season in the league.

"I think their offense is weak," he said after the Ravens ousted the Titans, 13-10, at LP Field in the divisional playoffs. "I don't think they have much of an offense. We shut down the run. We shut down pretty much the pass."

Bitterness stoked Haynesworth's comments. Boredom has done the same for many others.

Baltimore's offense doesn't exactly defibrillate the Sunday soul. It is based on such hardcore football tenets as ball control, field position and clock management.

"Nothing that'll make you put your seatbelt on and have a sweat towel off to the side for," said ESPN analyst and former Pro Bowl quarterback Kordell Stewart.

But the Ravens are more intricate than three runs and a visit from the long snapper. Although they'll never be described as prolific, the Ravens head into Sunday's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers with one of the NFL's more straightforward and efficient offenses.

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has designed a system unassuming rookie quarterback Joe Flacco can handle mainly because a run play never is the wrong play.

Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice propelled the Ravens to an average of 148.5 rushing yards a game, fourth-highest in the league. They ranked 28th in passing offense, trying the third-fewest throws.

The Ravens committed 21 turnovers, a decent figure. Yet when subtracted from their league-high 34 takeaways, their plus-13 turnover margin ranked third.

The Ravens came up with three takeaways deep in their own territory to beat the Titans.

"They had about two or three pass plays and that's about it," Haynesworth lamented. "We gave them a lot of stuff. The offense gave the ball away and kept them in the game."

Podcast: Football Today
Jeremy Green takes an early look at the AFC Championship Game with ESPN.com blogger James Walker.

With the Ravens' incandescent defense providing support, the need for Flacco to take chances is minimized. So often the Ravens' defense would steal the ball, perhaps score on its own and usually set up the offense with a short field.

Or, with the high likelihood of a three-and-out performance from Baltimore's defenders, a simple Sam Koch punt looked good enough that the Ravens would run on third down and be content to flip the field that way.

"It's doing all the right things to put your team in position to win," said Marc Trestman, a former offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach for seven NFL teams and now head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.

"It would be just totally inappropriate for them to put all the weight on the shoulder of Joe Flacco at this point in his career. They don't have to because they have elements that are dynamic: Their ability to play defense, the ability to get the football, the ability to get to the quarterback, play special teams and run the football."

(Read full post)

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