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October 24, 4:00 PM ET
Chat with Gary Horton

Gary Horton
  (4:03 PM)

Hello! Yesterdays games, I thought, really ran the gamut. Some where almost unwatchable, some were captivating and I went to bed last night with the conclusion that teams are really starting to separate themselves in terms of the elite ones vs. the have nots. Also, the running game seems to have reemerged on Sunday. Maybe that is something we will see continue after all these huge passing days. I'm ready for your questions!

monte (palestine,tx)

Hey Caveman,Do you think the patriots are the team to beat in the afc, Can they get past the ravens if they match up in the playoffs?

Gary Horton
  (4:05 PM)

I think they are clearly the two best teams in the AFC. I tend to always lean towards the Patriots side because of their ability to adjust to each opponent on a weekly basis. I also think by the end of the season they will have really good balance between the run game and passing game. Having said all that, I think Baltimore has a gameplan that as Tom Jackson always says is "portable" ... you can take it on the road, take it outside in all climates, etc. That bodes well as we near the playoffs. They are physical on both sides of the ball and they can run the ball. Baltimore's defense can control a game. I worry a little about the Pats defense, esp. vs. the pass. Much like I do the Packers. Can you count on them to outscore their opponents every week. What happens if Brady were to have an off day in January? Could the defense come up big enough to keep them in the game?

Scooter,minny [via mobile]

your thoughts on how ponder did on sunday?

Gary Horton
  (4:07 PM)

I thought he played pretty well. It was a typical Minnesota gameplan when they are at their best. A lot of AP running the ball which takes pressure off the QB and sets up play action. Ponder looked composed and I liked him outside the pocket when he had to throw on the run. That is not easy for a rookie and he did it pretty well. If I was a Vikings fan, I would be fairly optimistic today that maybe this guy is going to develop into a good one. My only worry in Minnesota is the veteran talent around him may be gone by the time he is really ready to be a franchise type QB.

J.B. (PA)

Is it me or was Ponder more impressive in a loss than Tebow was in a win? I think Ponder actually has a better upside.

Gary Horton
  (4:10 PM)

I think that is a fair statement. For Ponder, you saw some consistency and production for all four quarters. In Tebow's case, if the game had ended midway through the fourth you would have said he has no chance. All of his good plays seemed to be at the end of the game. Obviously lack of consistency, in my opinion, will be his biggest test. Denver can't win with that gameplan with any consistency. Defenses will quickly adjust. But in the case of Ponder, because of AP, teams have to be focused on stopping the run. That will give Ponder good matchups on the outside. I don't know which guy will be more successful the rest of the season but your statement is a valid one.

sam (NJ)

Mark Sanchez clearly does not have the arm strength to be a top-notch NFL quarterback. What were the jets thinking drafting him fifth overall?

Gary Horton
  (4:12 PM)

I think school is still out on this one but I understand what you are saying. Sometimes I see him and just don't think he will reach that elite status. Part of it is arm strength and part decision making. For every play we love about him, he is also capable of making a head scratching throw. However, in fairness to Sanchez, his supporting cast is not playing as well this year as they have in the past. He doesn't have a great run game and he hasn't had a great receiving corp unti yesterday when he found Plax in the red zone. And he hasn't used Dustin Keller enough. I just happen to think we are going to get a roller coaster ride from the Jets all season. Not sure if that translates into a playoff run or not. But even yesterday vs. San Diego, that's a game they could have easily lost. But they did some some resiliancy.

Gary Horton
  (4:13 PM)

As for taking him so high in the draft ... we're seeing now with these young QBs, and so many teams without a good backup, the feeling is you can't be competitive if you don't have a young QB to build around. I watched the QBs yesterday and wondered how many have a backup that they could actually depend on to keep things going if the starter went out. Not very many could.

kevin Helton (fresno, ca)

what are your thoughts on murray real deal or fluke, and do you think he has a good shot at taking over even when felix jones comes back?

Gary Horton
  (4:16 PM)

To be honest, I've heard it both ways today. I haven't really had a chance to study this game yet but I've heard from lots of my colleagues and they are split on whether it was a one game aberration or not. Rememer, one run was 91 yards. That sort of boosts the stats. The organization really likes Murray and I think they feel the 1-2 punch of Murray and Felix could be very effective. One thing I do know, if they could establish the run game like they did yesterday, that makes this offense so much better. Romo on play action and also with good outside matchups becomes a different QB.

Mitch (NC)

We're starting to see some good running finally. Do you think the NFL is going to slowly turn back into a run league now that defenses are getting better adjusted? Not to mention the weather getting colder.

Gary Horton
  (4:18 PM)

You would think so. As you said, we're nearing bad weather so the run game becomes critical. But so many offenses are really pass-minded right now and so many of them have personnel that dictates spread offfenses, so I think the passing game sets up the running game, instead of the opposite. I've watched so many teams on film where they line up split wide, show a pass formation, and then run the ball effectively out of that. We're seeing lots of trap plays, counters and draws and not the old school run game. It still looks to be very effective. One of my goals this week is to watch more film and talk to guys around the league I trust to see if the trend you are talking about is taking hold or did we just have a week where some guys got hot.


Thoughts on the Saints last night and potential to make another SB run? Most analysts seem to be focusing more on how terrible the Colts played (fair enough), but I thought the defense was much more solid and the team as a whole looked as close to 2009 form as they have since the SB.

Gary Horton
  (4:21 PM)

I came away with a different feel than a lot of poeple. We know the Saints have a good pass offense. We know Indy is not very good defending the pass with so many injuries and their pass rush seems to have disappeared. Brees will get his big plays, we know that. If I'm a Saints fan, what excites me is the run game. It was against a small defense that doesn't play the run very well, but they had three backs, Ingram, Sproles and Thomas, that were all productive and they all have different skill sets. To me, the future of this Saints team will be decided on offensive balance. If they can run the ball, Brees will be deadly with his vertical passing game and seam routes. They will be almost impossible to stop. I agree, the defense looked better but I'm not sure you don't have to credit a lot of that to the inept play of the Colts.

Miles (Fort Lauderdale)

who's more likely to win their first game:Rams? Dolphins? Colts?

Gary Horton
  (4:24 PM)

I'd say St. Louis probably has the best chance for a breakthrough. They play in a mediocre division with the exception of San Fran and the other two teams are a disaster at the QB position. St. Louis still has Jackson at RB. Miami and Indy could have a breakthrough I suppose, but I just don't see where it would come from. I'm not sure they will be competitive down the stretch.

Chad (Guam)

Are Suh and the rest of the Lions line dirty players? Aside from the alleged trash talk to Matt Ryan I saw Suh shove the Falcon's center VERY late and Corey Williams give Ryan an elbow to the head after his encroachment penalty.

Gary Horton
  (4:26 PM)

It was funny.. I was in meetings today with the analysts and it was a mixed bag on that. For the most part, ex players will say just keep your mouth shut. Trash talk and dirty hits are just part of the game. There isn't much sympathy for players saying "I lost respect." But we weren't in that huddle. People react to Suh because he is such a good guy off the field and so well respected and people have trouble connecting the dots on the guy they see on the field who certainly can look like a dirty player.

Vinnie (ATL)

Are the Packers peaking too soon? Could they hit a December lull?

Gary Horton
  (4:28 PM)

I don't think they are peaking. Their defense still has a lot of issues. Their offense will not peak because Rodgers is so consistent and he has so many weapons. They are so well prepared on a weekly basis. What we see now is what we will get every week unless injuries come into play. The defense must improve. We know they are giving up way too many yards vs. the pass but yesterday the run defense wasn't very good either. If that side of the ball every solidifies watch out ... they will be great. My biggest fear for the Packers is if Rodgers ever has an off day and can't outscore the opposition, can the defense hold up?

Gary Horton
  (4:30 PM)

By the way ... Rodgers was I think 24 of 30 completions on Sunday and only one of the incompletions was overthrown or underthrown. Only one was his fault.

Lewis (Flint, Michigan)

Matt Stafford has been off the last two weeks. Is his Offensive line to blame?

Gary Horton
  (4:32 PM)

I feel the same way. He just doesn't look like the same guy lately. He still has his chemistry with Calvin Johnson but the lack of a run game is really putting pressure on him. He can't use his play action package and he is trying to manufacture some semblance of a run game ... like dumping the ball off to his TE's ... but defenses know that and frankly they are teeing off on him without worrying about the run. That leads to a lot more hits. Right now he can't keep a defense honest.

Sean (Auburn)

Can the bucs inconsistencies be blamed on age or do you think more is going wrong than being young?

Gary Horton
  (4:34 PM)

They are a team that is hard to get a handle on. Some weeks I love Josh Freeman and the youthful excitement. They are close to turning the corner. But then he has an INT prone game and granted they didn't have a legit run game, but all of a sudden they look like an immature team. Couple that with the 48-3 loss to San Fran. and I just don't know what to expect from them. That doesn't bode well in a division with Atlanta and New Orleans. You are probably right .. it's a young team with a lot of growing pains, but I think they are heading in the right direction. I'd just like to see more consistency from Freeman.

Al (Stamford, CT)

Hi Gary, what do you think of the Bills coming off the bye; next game and the rest of the season? They get wounded Redskins this week at home. Sounds like a W to me.

Gary Horton
  (4:36 PM)

I think when you are a team like Buffalo that has not had much success in recent years, you can't take any team for granted. But I do like this team on offense. They have size and great balance. They also have a legit run game. I think they are really a good teaching coaching staff. That can manifest itself during a bye week where they clean up and correct problems. They are not a great defensive team but they are good at making adjustments and that keeps them in games.

Squall (Balamb Garden)

I don't think there's any question the 49ers will make the playoffs, but can they compete with the Packers and Saints, or are they doomed to be an also-ran despite their success?

Gary Horton
  (4:39 PM)

I think there is reason to be optimistic. First of all, they will be the first team to probably fill up a playoff spot. If they continue to win in that division and play at home in January, they are going to have a shot. I don't know that any team can go to Green Bay and win that time of year but I have watched a lot of film on the 49ers and I am really impressed at how well coached they are and how they adjust their gameplan on a week to week basis. They are just a really smart football team. They certainly have holes but they really buy into Harbaugh's plan. Unlike last year, where Seattle won the division by default, this is a legit team that people respect. We may not see them as a juggernaut but I think they will go into January with a lot of people feeling like they belong there.

Aaron (WI)

How does a team stop Rodgers?

Gary Horton
  (4:41 PM)

That's a great question. If you blitz him, nobody is better at finding man to man matchups on the outside. He is so good at reading progressions. He can go to his 4th or 5th option. He is uncanny at finding those single coverage guys. However, if you sit back in zones he can nickel and dime you to death. He has great patience and put the ball in small windows. Probably what you need to do is all out pass rush and leave seven guys in coverage and play lots of combo schemes, maybe some D-linemen dropping out ... try to confuse him. Try to keep him in the pocket ... he is the most underrated scrambler out there. Other than that, it should be easy!

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

What is the Worst NFL Football Game that you have seen this season?

Gary Horton
  (4:43 PM)

Cleveland 6, Seattle 3. Watching paint dry would have been more exciting. Neither offense was good. Neither looked explosive. It just wasn't very good football. After that, probably a lot of the Colts games. I have so long admired how they built this team that it is hard to watch them right now.

Gary Horton
  (4:45 PM)

Thanks for all the great questions! If you look ahead to this Sunday it doesn't look like a real attractive slate but we do have some interesting matchups. Our MNF game ... San Diego at KC ... is suddenly more attractive as KC seems to be climbing back into the race. In this week every week brings better games than we think. It should be fun. We'll chat again next week!