NFL Nation: Kyle Eckel

Peyton Manning and Drew Brees Getty ImagesPeyton Manning and Drew Brees lead two of the most powerful passing attacks into Super Bowl XLIV.
The Colts and Saints arrive in Miami on Monday, when the hype for Super Bowl XLIV will kick into high gear.

Eager to do our part, we locked NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, who analyzes the Saints for ESPN.com, and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky, who tracks the Colts, in a room and asked them to talk through several of the top issues.

We’re sure to revisit many of them in the week to come, so consider this a tasty platter or appetizers. Tuck a napkin in your collar and dive in.

How much of a factor is it that the Colts have a recent Super Bowl championship on their resume, while this is the first Super Bowl appearance in a not-so-glorious franchise history for the Saints?

Pat Yasinskas: I’m not going to even try to bluff my way through this one or downplay this aspect. This is a huge factor and the Saints are clearly at a disadvantage here. By my count, they’ve only got four players who have even appeared in a Super Bowl (with other teams, of course). That’s safety Darren Sharper, cornerback Randall Gay, fullback Kyle Eckel and long-snapper Jason Kyle. Gay is the only one of those guys with a Super Bowl ring.

If you really want to pad the list, I suppose we could throw in tight ends Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas, who were on the injured-reserve list when their teams went to Super Bowls, and fullback Heath Evans, who went to a Super Bowl with New England. But Evans won’t play in this one because he’s on injured reserve. That’s it. Not a long list of guys who have been there and done that.

The Saints haven’t been here before, but they have to act as if they have. They’ve got strong veteran leadership in players such as Sharper, Drew Brees and Jonathan Vilma. They’ll have to follow their lead. Just as important, the coaching staff has to set the tone that the Saints shouldn’t stroll into Miami with their eyes wide open. They need all eyes focused only on winning the game.

Paul Kuharsky: I’m not expecting the Saints to be overwhelmed or unfocused by the hype or events of Super Bowl week. They were smart to get their game plan drawn up and installed during the week after winning their conference, same as the Colts did.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday itself that can prove to be the big difference. It’s great to have people tell you about the unnatural start time, the long delay between warm-ups and pregame festivities and the extended halftime to make room for The Who. It’s another thing to go through it yourself. Edge: Colts. Not only have they done it, they’ve done it in this very venue.

I also think the adrenaline that shoots through guys when kickoff finally arrives can make it hard for them to settle down. Indianapolis will be better prepared for that, and if the Colts settle down more quickly than the Saints, New Orleans has to hope by the time its feet hit the ground it’s not facing a two-score deficit.

Understandably, the first thing people talk about with these two teams is the passing game. But both the Colts and the Saints can run the ball a little bit. Which team has the better running game?

[+] EnlargeSaints Running backs
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images Mike Bell, left, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are part of a running game that balanced New Orleans' offense.
PY: I’m going with the Saints. People tend to overlook their running game, but it’s a big reason why they’re in the Super Bowl. One of the best things Sean Payton did in the offseason was realize his running game was inconsistent and just plain bad last year. He made a conscious commitment to make the running game better this year and the most impressive thing might be that he and general manager Mickey Loomis were able to avoid the temptation to go out and sign Edgerrin James or draft Beanie Wells.

They realized they already had some good backs in the building with Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell and they added Lynell Hamilton for a bit of depth. They had a good offensive line already in place, and Payton altered his play calling to have a more balanced offense that allowed the Saints to protect leads and run out the clock.

New Orleans doesn’t have one dominant back. Thomas can do a bit of everything, Bush provides speed and a receiver out of the backfield and Bell and Hamilton give the Saints some power. This makes for a very solid combination.

PK: I like the Saints' running game better as well, but as we’ve discussed thoroughly in the AFC South blog this season, the Colts aren’t looking for conventional production in this department. They need their runners to pick up blitzes, put together some efficient runs, work well in play-action, and not put the team in bad spots with runs for losses. The home run plays are far more likely to come out of the passing game.

It’s important to note that the Colts, the NFL’s lowest-rated running team in the regular season, just out-rushed the Jets, the league’s top ground game, in the AFC title game. Indy has survived a lot of quality running backs too, including the Titans' explosive 2,000-yard runner Chris Johnson. While he torched the rest of the league, averaging 5.8 yards a carry, he managed 4.1 and 147 total rushing yards against the Colts in two Tennessee losses.

The Colts may give up some yards, but overall they are more than capable of containing Thomas, Bush, Bell and Hamilton well enough to win.

The quarterbacks are obviously the marquee names in this game and they will be dissected all week.

PK: I have a great deal of appreciation for Drew Brees, but even if he wins this game, we’re not going to be calling him Peyton Manning’s equal. Both quarterbacks are excellent leaders. Both are supremely accurate. Both have a quality stable of weapons.

But things begin to stray from there. Manning has four MVPs, including this season’s, and he won it over Brees, who finished second. Manning has a lot more big-game experience and a title on his resume. And while he wasn’t always at his best on the playoff stage, he’s playing at a level right now where a lot of people feel, reasonably it seems, that he may just be unstoppable.

In the AFC Championship Game, against the Jets and the NFL’s top-rated defense, he needed some time to figure out what New York was trying to do. Once he did, he shredded the Jets with 377 yards and three touchdowns. His in-game adjustments, with help from coordinator Tom Moore, are unparalleled. And like a lot of defensive coaches before him, Gregg Williams is talking about sending people at Manning and hitting him. These days, it very rarely works out the way against Manning and the Colts, as it did against Brett Favre and the Vikings.

PY: Paul, let me start by saying I respect the heck out of Manning and all he has achieved. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and, quite possibly, the best quarterback ever. And I’ll gladly agree that he probably is playing at his highest level ever right now.

That said, why can’t we call Brees his equal if the Saints win this game? Seriously, I believe the only thing really separating Brees and Manning right now is a Super Bowl ring. Look at Brees’ numbers the past few years. He’s right there with Manning. I honestly remember watching him in training camp last year and thinking, “This guy is the closest thing to Peyton Manning I’ve ever seen’’ and Brees has only continued to improve since then. He has carried a franchise on his shoulders and that franchise is the New Orleans Saints -- enough said about that.

As for the MVPs, that’s a wonderful thing. But I think some of that is overrated and the Manning name carries a lot of weight in elections. I’m not trying to tear down Manning at all. But I think you have to at least let Brees in the same sentence if he can win this game. I’ll offer a compromise here. If the Saints win this game, can we at least say the two best quarterbacks in the league are from teams in the South?

PK: Well, beyond four MVPs to none, if the Colts win Manning will be up two Super Bowls to none, and while he’s only three NFL seasons ahead of Brees he has led his team to the postseason 10 times to Brees’ three. Lots of cushion there in my eyes. But I’ll go with you on the South divisions ranking one and two if Brees gets his hands on that Lombardi Trophy.

We talked quarterbacks, of course we have to talk pass rushes. How much will the guys chasing Manning and Brees influence this game?

PK: For a long time the Colts' defense was at its best when the offense got a lead and made the opponent one-dimensional. That did a lot to get the run game out of the mix against a defense keyed around speed, not size, and put Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in those maximal pass-rushing situations.

It doesn’t have to be that way now. This version of the Colts is still fast, but the defense is a bit bigger with Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir manning the middle of the line. It has a second big-hitting linebacker in Clint Session to go with Gary Brackett and boasts defensive backs who can come up and hit as well as run and cover.

Jon Stinchcomb (against Mathis) and Jermon Bushrod (against Freeney) will be dealing with some serious speed. If Freeney's ankle injury holds him out or limits him, that will hurt. Raheem Brock is a quality third end, but he won't necessarily prompt the Saints to help Bushrod with a tight end or back, so the vaunted Saints' passing attack may not have to sacrifice a weapon in protection. If the Colts bring a fifth rusher to help, as they have much more often in Larry Coyer’s first season as their defensive coordinator, the timing up front can get all out of whack no matter who's at end.

If either defense can prompt some happy feet, it could be an edge.

PY: Absolutely. The pass rush is going to be a deciding factor in this game for both teams. No doubt Indianapolis has a great pass rush and that’s a challenge for the entire New Orleans offense, particularly Bushrod. He is a backup who has been forced to play all season because of an injury to Jammal Brown.

Bushrod has his limitations. But he has held up all right against players such as Julius Peppers and John Abraham. DeMarcus Ware has been the only guy to really tear him apart. Admittedly, a lot of that has to do with the rest of this offense more than it does with Bushrod’s skills. The Saints account for him on every play and they’ve been able to cover him because the rest of their offensive line is so good. They’ve given him help from tight ends, fullbacks and running backs and the offense is designed so that Brees rarely takes deep drops and he gets rid of the ball very quickly. Plus, it’s tough to fluster Brees.

Sure, it’s tough to fluster Manning too, but that’s not going to stop the Saints from trying, and their pass rush is better than a lot of people think. Defensive end Will Smith is one of the most underrated players in this game and Bobby McCray’s a pretty good pass-rusher too. With Sedrick Ellis and Anthony Hargrove, the Saints are capable of getting a push in the middle and Gregg Williams is not afraid to bring the blitz -- although I don’t see him doing it a lot in this game. The Saints beat up Favre and Kurt Warner in their two playoff games. I know Manning is seen as sacred by a lot of people, but I don’t think Williams and the New Orleans defense view him that way.

PK: However it unfolds, I root for a classic. We should have good seats, I want the good storylines too.

PY: I’m with you my friend. Nothing better than the Super Bowl -- good football, good weather and good entertainment. Remember how great Bruce Springsteen’s show was at halftime last year? Oh, that’s right, you didn’t make it. Hope The Who helps make up for that.

PK: Could be another tricky day for you and the team you’re following. But it’ll be fun to join together to see how it unfolds.

Bush, Greer out for Saints

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
7:41
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Some big names appear on the New Orleans Saints' inactive list for Monday night's game against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.

Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports running back Reggie Bush, receiver Lance Moore and both starting cornerbacks, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, are out.

Bush had been listed as questionable with a knee injury. There was a belief that Greer, who plays the critical left side, would be able to play through a groin injury. Old friend Randall Gay will replace Greer.

Also scratched:
I will have the Patriots' inactive list as soon as it's official.

Eagles: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
8:15
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Biggest surprise: I guess putting quarterback Michael Vick on the commissioner's special exemption list might qualify, but it might only be for a day or two. The Eagles kept A.J. Feeley on the 53-man roster, probably so they can keep trying to trade him. As long as Vick's on that exemption list, he can't practice with the Eagles. But they can take him off the list at any time. The Eagles are known for cutting ties with former draft picks rather quickly if they don't see steady progress. They've done that with cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu and defensive end Bryan Smith. Tom Heckert hinted that the Eagles might try to bring at least one of those players back on the practice squad.


I noticed that some folks had fullback Kyle Eckel and defensive tackle Dan Klecko projected to make the team. Eckel didn't help himself by whiffing on a blitz pickup in the final preseason game and Klecko was one of the reasons a Jets rookie running back ran wild. Biggest surprise may have been the fact that Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett both made the 53-man roster. The Eagles have seven wide receivers right now. But something could certainly change on that front. They're in the same boat as the Giants at wide receiver. I think the Eagles might downsize at receiver if they can find a third tight end they like.

No-brainers: There was no way to keep rookie Brandon Gibson and veteran defensive end Jason Babin off this team. Babin, a former first-round draft pick, performed so well that he received a restructured contract and Gibson simply made plays throughout camp. He outperformed first-round pick Jeremy Maclin. I think Danny Amendola is a fun player to watch, but he's NOT Wes Welker. He's not anywhere close to Welker, but he may be good enough to make the Eagles' practice squad. I think he could be a decent punt returner. Can't hold up as a receiver. The drop in the end zone against the Jets didn't help.

What's next? Well, we have to see how this quarterback situation plays out. I don't think a team's going to give up anything significant for Feeley at this point in his career. It wouldn't surprise me if Vick's back with the team by Wednesday. He's making too much progress right now to suddenly take him out of the locker room.

The Vick postgame report

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
11:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Michael Vick ran for a 2-yard touchdown, but was sacked four times Thursday night.

I know it's hard for many of you to accept this, but the Eagles' preseason has come to a close. In what may have been the most entertaining preseason finale of the evening, the Jets beat the Eagles, 38-27. Michael Vick had several snaps in the first half and then he took over full-time for most of the second half.

He was 7-of-11 for 26 yards and an interception. He also ran for his first touchdown as an Eagle. Vick looked pretty explosive on several running plays, but he got in trouble in the second half when he raced around and was sacked for a 22-yard loss. He fumbled on the play, but he made the recovery. He's still rusty, but he doesn't look that much different than the player we saw in Atlanta in 2006. He's definitely going to be a weapon for the Eagles.

How did you guys think Kevin Kolb looked? I thought he looked solid at times, especially when he threaded the needle on a touchdown pass to former Cowboys tight end Tony Curtis. Excellent throw. I think the Eagles may have been showcasing Kolb tonight in case a team's interested in trading for him.

Here are some things that caught my eye regarding Vick's evening:
  • I think Vick looks pretty comfortable on those little swing passes and wide receiver screens. He and Brandon Gibson have already developed a nice chemistry. Unfortunately, running back Lorenzo Booker has a difficult time winning one-on-one matchups with safeties in the open field. Vick does a good job of getting the ball to Booker in spots where he doesn't have to slow down.
  • On a third-and-8 early in the second half, Vick tried to hit Danny Amendola on a deep ball down the left sideline. It's not like Amendola's a big target, but Vick could've done a better job of disguising where he was going with the ball. It's obvious he hasn't lost any arm strength, but he hung the ball up too long, allowing the Jets safety to race over and make a play on the ball. Vick had the one interception in the first half. He was trying to make a play. I can live with that in his first extended action since Jan. '06.
  • On the 22-yard loss, Vick simply tried to do too much. He's still one of the most exciting players in the league to watch, but when you've raced around for 25 yards or so, you have to throw the ball away. Vick took a huge loss on the play, and the Jets ended up with great field position after a nice punt return. One of the announcers said, "The electricity of Michael Vick can come back to haunt him." I don't know about that, but it wasn't a good play. The other huge mental mistake he made came in the second half when he took a delay of game down near the goal line. He simply didn't have good awareness on the play, but Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg need to help him there. Why do the Eagles have so much trouble getting into plays in the red zone? Feel free to answer.
  • On a third-and-6 in the third quarter, Vick drove the ball to Amendola on an underneath route. Vick's getting a lot of zip on his short passes, and that's allowing the receivers to quickly get upfield. Late in the first half, Vick rolled left and lofted a pass to Gibson in the end zone. It was almost a great play, but Gibson couldn't get his feet down. The ball seemed to float a little bit on Vick, but it was still an athletic play.
  • On his touchdown run, Vick faked the handoff and simply raced up the middle. Even on a short play like that, you can tell how much pressure he puts on a defense. I think he's going to be highly effective inside the 10-yard line, where the Eagles have really struggled. We'll see how Donovan McNabb reacts when he's replaced by Vick inside the 10-yard line.
  • Early in the fourth quarter, Vick didn't see anything and he took off running. He ended up with 16 yards and he froze at least one defensive back. I just keep thinking about how much time opposing defensive coordinators are going to spend getting ready for Vick. And that will take time away from preparation for the Eagles' base offense.
  • I'm not sure who missed the Jets' MarquesMurrell when he blitzed off the end. No one had a clue he was coming. He nailed Vick and caused a fumble. Vick has to do a better job protecting the ball, but he really didn't have much of a shot on that play.
  • If not for that big sack, Vick would've ended up with more than 50 yards rushing. Even after the two-year layoff, he's once again the best running quarterback in the league.
  • Vick took some punishment in Thursday's game. Fullback Kyle Eckel completely whiffed on one play, allowing Vick to get sacked in the fourth quarter. Eckel has to be better than that. It was a delayed blitz and he just didn't see the linebacker coming. The good news is that Vick took that hit and another hard one from a safety, and he jumped up pretty quickly after both of them. He needs to be more decisive when he's in the pocket. He took a couple hits that weren't really necessary.
  • All in all, I was pretty impressed with Vick. The decision making will get better. The athleticism is already there. If used properly, Vick is going to make some big plays this season. Will there be a quarterback controversy at some point? I would never bet against it.

Wednesday Beastlines

October, 22, 2008
10/22/08
12:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys

Jones has spent millions. But then again, that's what Jerry Jones does, isn't it? He is like the parent who can't discipline a problem child and, instead, buys the child a toy or gift in an effort to get him to behave.

Eagles

Giants

  • Ralph Vacchiano says the Giants are about to begin a "brutal" 10-game stretch. The teams remaining on the Giants' schedule are a combined 39-26.

Redskins

  • After listening to Vinny Cerrato's new radio show, Jason La Canfora pounded out this story on Rock Cartwright's outstanding special teams play.

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