Rivera to defense: 'Stick to your job'

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera counted 14 plays during Sunday's 38-10 loss at Baltimore on which at least two defensive players were out of position.

Those are mistakes that have led to Carolina's defense dropping from fifth in the NFL after two games to 23rd after four. Those are mistakes that have led a unit that gave up only 21 points in the first two games to give up 75 in the past two.

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Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsThe Panthers' defense, which needs to see improvement according to coach Ron Rivera, allowed Baltimore's Steve Smith two TD passes.
Those are mistakes that have taken Carolina from one of the NFL's best run defenses to one of the worst, 27th with 140.8 yards allowed per game.

That kind of undisciplined behavior is Rivera's biggest concern as the Panthers (2-2) prepare for Sunday's home game against the Chicago Bears.

It's a legitimate concern. Teams that can't stop the run typically aren't good teams because that opens the floodgates against the pass and impacts almost every other facet of the game.

So what happened between Games 2 and 3? Rivera doesn't blame it on the loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who was placed on the inactive list for Game 2 and then the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved.

Rivera said it's simply a matter of pressing.

"Guys trying to make plays, guys are pressing to make plays, for whatever reason," he said on Monday. "When a team gets up on you a little bit, now all of a sudden it's, 'Hey, we just need to make one play. Somebody needs to make a play.'

"Now all of a sudden there is a sense of urgency, maybe too much urgency. You're trying to force the issue. ... Those things you can't consistently do and expect to win."

Rivera said that -- along with the running game that ranks 29th in the league offensively -- has to be fixed quickly or "it could be a long season for us."

Carolina coaches spent tireless hours Monday reviewing why the team has become so undisciplined before thinking about preparing for Chicago.

Rivera announced he was replacing starting right cornerback Melvin White with Josh Norman, something he typically wouldn't do until Wednesday, to send a message.

White allowed former Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith to catch touchdown passes of 61 and 21 yards.

The return of weakside linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) could help. But Rivera wouldn't use Davis' absence against Baltimore as an excuse.

"No. It's more about doing your assignment, doing your job, and doing it the right way," he said. "It’s more about being more disciplined, about trying to stop trying to make the plays you don’t need to make. This is a downhill gap control defense. In our defense, you’re assigned a gap to control. Certain things change your gap you control, whether you’re running a stunt, or running a blitz, or they pull.

"Those things change it; you don’t change it."

Rivera said nobody is without fault, including middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"Luke's made a couple of [bad] plays, also," Rivera said. "Everyone is culpable in this situation. That's what's disappointing. It's little things in terms of trying to do more than you're supposed to do, trying to do too much.

"Again, stick to your assignments, stick to your job. Take care of your responsibility first. Those are things we've got to correct and those are things we've got to demand from players."

Or it indeed will be a long season.
It is clear that Dennis Allen’s tenure as the Oakland Raiders' head coach was a failure.

The Raiders were 8-28 under Allen and have lost 10 straight games, the longest current losing streak in the league. The Raiders were clearly justified in relieving Allen of his duties Monday night.

However, I hardly believe this is the end of Allen in the NFL. He will resurface.

Allen, who Oakland hired in 2012 after one season as the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator, is just 42. I’m sure he will attract defensive coordinator jobs in January. In fact, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday night that his two former teams -- Denver and New Orleans -- would welcome Allen back, perhaps in some role this season.

Allen’s contract with Oakland runs through next year, so he doesn't need to rush to get another job. But I expect him to be a team’s defensive coordinator next year as he tries to rebuild a promising career.
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast as episode No. 25 will take a look at the first quarter of the season. Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and new regular Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter), Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter), Mike Triplett (New Orleans Saints reporter) and Scott Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers reporter) to talk biggest surprises and disappointments thus far. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature and vote for your first quarter NFL MVP.


Time for Patriots coaches to reassess

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There are many places one could start when assessing the embarrassing performance turned in by the New England Patriots in their 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It's all fair game, from quarterback Tom Brady to the overmatched defense.

But we're starting on the sidelines with Bill Belichick and his coaching staff.

This is what Belichick said in his pregame radio interview on the Sports Hub: "I think our guys are ready to go. It's been a long week, but I feel like we have improved in a lot of areas, so hopefully, we will see that tonight."

We didn't. Instead, we saw one of the ugliest games of Belichick's 15-year coaching tenure, another slow start and, ultimately, a postgame locker room in which some players acknowledged they don't know what they are right now, on either side of the ball.

That seems to be true with the coaching staff as well, specifically on offense.

This is a time of identity crisis.

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Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Patriots' 41-14 loss to the Chiefs on "Monday Night Football" was one of the ugliest of Bill Belichick's tenure with the team.
The Patriots, under coordinator Josh McDaniels, have long prided themselves on being a game-plan offense that varies its attack on a weekly basis to exploit the opposition's weakness. The key has been having the varied and talented personnel to pull that off, but after Monday night, it seems obvious that those forces aren't currently in alignment.

One example: The Patriots entered with the intention of throwing the ball -- likely with the belief that the Chiefs' linebackers and secondary depth were areas of vulnerability -- as evidenced by having Brady in the shotgun on 17 of 23 first-half snaps (including penalties). It was a risky approach given the environment, a raucous Arrowhead Stadium that set the outdoor record for loudest crowd roar, for a team with just three pure receivers active.

In going that route, the Patriots never truly committed to a running game or gave an offensive line starting rookies Bryan Stork (center) and Cameron Fleming (right guard) a chance to establish itself physically and settle things down. By halftime, when it was 17-0, it was too late to truly try.

Maybe it's not a coincidence that the Patriots' most consistent offensive performance this season, Week 2 against Minnesota, came when the game plan seemed most simple. The Patriots loaded the field with heavy personnel that day, got the play-action passing game going and achieved the desired balance.

On Monday night, there was hardly any balance -- seven runs at halftime against 15 pass attempts. By game's end, after Brady was pulled in the fourth quarter for rookie Jimmy Garoppolo, it was 16 rushes against 30 pass attempts.

Considering some of Brady's struggles, it again speaks to the identity crisis on offense and leads us to the conclusion that maybe the coaches are out-thinking themselves based on their personnel.

Brady completed just one of seven passes more than 10 yards down the field Monday and has now connected on a league-low 32 percent of such passes. Furthermore, according to ESPN's Stats & Information, Brady's off-target percentage (25.5) is second highest among quarterbacks to start every game this season and is four percentage points higher than he's had any season since 2006, when ESPN began tracking that data.

Some of that is on Brady himself, as his 11.6 total QBR on Monday was his lowest in a game since 2007. But it also speaks to the players around him -- from the offensive line to those catching the passes -- as nothing is clicking.

How to start the process of getting back on track?

Brady talked after the game about "finding out what we do well consistently" and then building from there, and it obviously starts with the coaching staff correctly identifying what that is. This is a position Kansas City's Andy Reid, whose offensive plan kept the Patriots off balance all day, has been in before.

"I've got the ultimate respect for Bill Belichick. We know the quality not only the coach that he is and the coaches that he has, but also their players," Reid said. "Sometimes, things get a little one-sided in the National Football League, but he still has a very good football team. I think they prove out with time."

Maybe it will, but an ugly performance like Monday's still leaves a mark.

Belichick thought the Patriots were ready to go, but they clearly weren't, which further speaks to the overall disconnect between the sideline and the field.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Andy Reid started rattling off the things the Kansas City Chiefs did well in their Monday night thrashing of the New England Patriots and didn't really know where to stop. There were that many things the Chiefs did well in their 41-14 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.

Reid lingered a little longer in one area, and that was a pretty strong hint about his feelings. The Chiefs got 199 yards rushing, 28 more receiving, plus three touchdowns from running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, and this seemed to please Reid as much or more than anything.

"It's a heck of a thing to bring [Charles] off the bench as a relief pitcher," Reid said. "He's a pretty good player."

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Knile Davis
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaKnile Davis' 107 rushing yards against the Patriots included a 48-yard attempt.
Charles was technically the starter and Davis the reserve Monday night, but beyond that the lines were blurred. They both played a lot early in the game, a rotation the Chiefs haven't used since Davis joined the team as a third-round draft pick last year.

There was much to like about the results, with Davis rushing for 107 yards on 16 carries and Charles 92 yards on 18 carries. What may be more meaningful to the Chiefs than the stats was this: They got as much from Davis as they did Charles.

"We knew before the game started that I was going to get some reps and Knile was going to get some reps," Charles said. "Knile is starting to believe in himself. He's starting to feel comfortable, and I'm happy for him."

The two players complement each other. Both are fast and big-play threats. Charles had the three touchdowns Monday night (one rushing, two receiving), Davis a 48-yard run.

But Davis is bigger, more powerful and wears down a defense faster. Charles has the ability to make defenders miss.

The Chiefs can use them from varying formations, something that makes them difficult to defend.

"They're both explosive players," Reid said. "They're completely different players, but they're both explosive players. That makes my job easy. Just give them the ball."

A rotation also allows the Chiefs to keep both players fresh. Charles is remarkable in that he's only 200 pounds but has shown little sign that the tremendous physical burden he's carried in recent seasons is taking its toll.

Within each game, though, he's bound to be better in the fourth quarter when he's sharing the load with Davis.

"You can keep throwing fastballs at the defense," Reid said. "It allows you to have two fresh backs in the fourth quarter."

The key is that the Chiefs aren't losing effectiveness when Davis enters the game. He rushed for 132 yards last week in Miami and was every bit as devastating to the Patriots as Charles was on Monday night.

The Chiefs were able to get Davis involved early. So even before the game got out of hand, the Chiefs had two backs who were carving up a defense.

"I had a few carries early in the game so I was able to get into a rhythm early," Davis said. "We both feed off each other. When he's in, I know he's going to do his thing. When I'm in, I'm going to do my thing."
Dennis Allen's turn on the hot seat is over -- he was fired by the Oakland Raiders late Monday -- and it is time for the man who brought Allen to Oakland to take his place over the flame.

Allen's removal as Raiders coach probably won't be be a cure-all for the bumbling franchise. While the firing was justified, don't expect any quick fixes. The Raiders just aren't ready to compete, which brings us right back to Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.

In his first act as GM, McKenzie hired Allen, who was a 39-year-old upstart defensive coordinator in Denver. McKenzie giddily recalled calling his wife to inform her he had gotten "his guy" after the interview with Allen, and in the time since, McKenzie has been steadfast in standing by Allen.

Go ahead and stand by your guy, your hire. But now that the decision to relieve Allen of his duties has been made, fingers need to point to McKenzie.

Yes, Allen didn't get much out this team. The Raiders were 8-28 during his tenure of just more than two seasons. Only Jacksonville, with six wins, has had less success during that time span. The Raiders have lost 10 straight games, a current NFL high. They are 0-4 for the first time since 2006, when they went 2-14.

[+] EnlargeReggie McKenzie
AP Photo/Johnny VyRaiders general manager Reggie McKenzie takes the hot seat now that his coaching hire, Dennis Allen, has been fired by owner Mark Davis after just more than two seasons.
What cooked Allen was the lack of competitiveness the Raiders showed while he was coach. Three of their four losses this season were lopsided. The Raiders lost nine of the 36 games Allen coached by 20 or more points. Oakland owner Mark Davis is on the record saying he was tired of the lack of competitiveness.

The fact that the Miami Dolphins scored 38 unanswered points, despite having been in London four less days than the Raiders in Week 4, was clearly the final straw.

Davis had seen enough. Allen had to go. Yes, Davis' father -- the legendary Al Davis -- was famous for giving coaches the gate. Allen was the seventh Oakland coach since Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay in 2002.

But this isn't a case of Davis showing his father's patented impatience. It was just time.

Now, McKenzie is on the clock. Let's face it; Allen had very little to work with. The Raiders had several starters last season who are not on NFL rosters this season.

This year, with a clear salary-cap picture, McKenzie spent money on several veterans who have made Oakland the NFL's oldest roster. Yes, the Raiders, who have not had a winning record since 2002, are both rebuilding and old at the same time. What kind of plan is that?

Oakland has a few nice pieces, particularly rookie quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack, but there isn't a great nucleus here. This is McKenzie's third season as Al Davis' replacement as the top personnel man in Oakland. His roster should be better. The Raiders' issues can no longer be blamed on Al Davis, who died nearly three years ago. It's on McKenzie now.

McKenzie and Allen took over a team that won eight games in back-to-back seasons. The Raiders have matched that total in 2¼ years. McKenzie has to come up with some answers, or he will likely join his guy as one of Oakland's failures.

Bill Belichick: We're 'going to play better'

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
In an embarrassing 41-14 loss to the Chiefs on Monday night, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has one big takeaway: We need to do everything better.

On both offense and defense, the Patriots were outplayed and outcoached by the Chiefs.

Offensively, the Patriots were pulling and swapping linemen around and the passing game could not get going other than a few passes to wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

“We need to do everything better offensively,” Belichick said during his postgame news conference at Kansas City. “We had like five first downs in the first half or something like that. We did a lot of things wrong and we turned the ball over in the second half. So pretty much, we need to do everything better.”

All eyes have been on the Patriots’ offensive line that saw two rookies, center Bryan Stork and right guard Cameron Fleming, make their first starts in the hostile, record-setting, noisy environment of Arrowhead Stadium. Left tackle Nate Solder was benched for Marcus Cannon as well as right guard Sebastian Vollmer. The issues were endless on the line.

When asked about the Logan Mankins trade after playing two rookies and seeing the offensive line struggle at all positions once again, Belichick was not willing to talk about it.

“We can send around a lot of hypothetical questions, but we are where we are and we need to do better,” Belichick said.

Belichick also benched quarterback Tom Brady after a late-game interception that was returned 39 yards for a touchdown by Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah. Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo saw some action in the fourth quarter.

“I think our team competed,” Belichick said. “I thought we competed there at the end. That’s what they should do.”

The Patriots have another marquee matchup on national television on Sunday night against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals.

“We have to have mental toughness and we are going to have to have a good week in a short amount of time,” Belichick said.

The Patriots were viewed as a top team in the AFC that could compete for a Super Bowl, but the attention on the end-of-season goals is not something Belichick dwells on. He is moving on to next week.

“I never make predictions going into the season,” Belichick said. “Never have. Never will.

“Our team is going to play better than they played tonight. Have to go to work and we have to do that.”

Patriots QB Tom Brady: 'Bad performance by everybody'

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
For Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, this was a Monday night he will want to forget. A 41-14 loss to the Chiefs on national television left the future Hall of Famer embarrassed.

“It was a bad performance by everybody and just want to make sure we never have this feeling again,” Brady said during his postgame news conference at Kansas City. “I think there’s not much we are doing well enough on a consistent basis -- run game, pass game, consistently when we have to throw it, have to run it, convert on third down, red area. It’s all a problem.”

Brady finished the game 14-of-23 for 159 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah. Brady looked out of sync especially on a pass intended for wide receiver Julian Edelman that was overthrown and picked off by cornerback Sean Smith. Whether it was miscommunication, play calling, lack of rhythm or inconsistency, Brady and the offense just didn’t have it.

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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesTom Brady completed 14 of 23 passes for just 159 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
As the game went on, Brady continued to force passes, blaming himself after the game for pressing too hard on the pass that Abdullah returned for a touchdown.

Through four weeks the Patriots have shown an anemic offense that seemed to regress against the Chiefs and they have a tough road ahead of them.

“There’s no one that’s going to dig us out of this hole,” Brady said. “We kind of created it for ourselves. We are going to have to look each other in the eye, see what kind of commitment we are willing to make for each other and try to do a lot better.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Patriots next week as they take on the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off of a bye week. Meanwhile, the Patriots have a short week, which Brady said he was glad to have so that the team can move forward.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Brady said. “We’ve got a great football team coming in this week that is undefeated. We have to play our best game certainly to beat them.”

Brady is more than aware of the team’s struggles and a brutal loss on Monday night puts the Patriots in the spotlight.

“There’s going to be a lot of negativities,” Brady said. “Everyone is going to tell us how terrible we are. That’s just the way it goes in the NFL. But we have a lot of character in our locker room.

“I know we are not going to quit. If there’s one thing, I can assure you of that. There’s not a guy in that locker room that’s going to quit. We stick together. We work on the things that we need to work on. We all feel we have a good football team. We just didn’t play like a good football team tonight. We will see what we are made of this week.”

Andy Reid fired up about decibel levels

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Kansas City Chiefs' 41-14 victory over New England:
  • Chiefs coach Andy Reid sounded almost as pleased the fans set the world record for crowd noise as he was about the victory: “I never thought I’d be fired up about decibel levels, but I am," he said.
  • Running back Jamaal Charles played for the first time in two weeks and played well, scoring three touchdowns. But he acknowledged afterward his injured ankle was sore. “I’m ready to get off it and ice it up," he said.
  • Donnie Avery has a strained groin, which could tax a thin wide receiver group if he can’t play in Sunday’s game against the 49ers in San Francisco.

'Unfamiliar territory' for Patriots

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Observed and heard in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

A different type of loss: Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, one of the team's captains, said simply: "They beat us like we stole something." Players talked about how this was the type of loss they aren't used to absorbing. "A little bit of unfamiliar territory, especially for myself since I've been here we haven't had quite a loss like this," captain Matthew Slater said, before pointing out that the team was still tied for first place in the division.

Support for Brady: This was one of quarterback Tom Brady's worst games, with two interceptions right into the hands of Chiefs defenders. "The great ones find a way to respond to situations like this, and I have 100 percent confidence that he'll get us going in the right direction," Slater said.

Weakside runs part of the problem: The Chiefs totaled 207 rushing yards and Bill Belichick said some weakside runs specifically hurt the Patriots. "They got some good yardage on the weak side," agreed linebacker Jerod Mayo. "Obviously they were moving some people. ... it's not just one person, or a side, it was all of us. At the end of the day, you have to tackle the guy with the football. Let's not over-complicate it."

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: The Patriots were embarrassed. Credit to the Chiefs, who played mistake-free football and took it to New England in all facets, while at the same time acknowledging that the Patriots were outclassed from the sideline to the field. New England drops to 2-2.

Starts with the coaching staff. There is a lot of blame to go around after this one for the Patriots, and we'd start with the coaching staff. There was very little attempt to establish the run. They are trying to play a style they haven't proven equipped to execute. Defensively, they couldn't stem the tide against a running attack that manipulated players out of their gaps while taking advantage of specific matchups. Andy Reid and his staff were at another level compared to Bill Belichick and his staff. This is not the brand of Patriots football we've grown accustomed to seeing in Belichick's 15 years as coach.

First look at Garoppolo as Brady is replaced. There is no quarterback controversy in New England. Some might go there after Tom Brady wasn't at his best and Jimmy Garoppolo led a touchdown drive upon entering the game with just over 10 minutes remaining. We aren't.

Gronkowski's playing time. Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to work himself into the mix. After playing 38, 28 and 42 snaps in the first three weeks, he was on for 31 of 49 snaps in this one.

Game ball: Special teams captain Matthew Slater was one of the few brights spots for the Patriots.

Stat of note: The Patriots are now 22-24 all time on "Monday Night Football," with this marking their first loss to the Chiefs in four Monday night games.

What's next: The Patriots host the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night. The Bengals are coming off their bye.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 41-14 win over the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium:

What it means: The Chiefs pulled out of the hole they had put themselves in with their 0-2 start. They're now 2-2, but, perhaps more importantly, the way the Chiefs buried the Patriots makes it easy to see some real possibilities from their season. Their next two games are at San Francisco and at San Diego, but those games no longer look like insurmountable obstacles. If the Chiefs can just split them, they should be in good shape going forward.

Stock watch: The Chiefs utilized Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis liberally in the same game for the first time, and the results were impressive. Each rushed for more than 90 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry. Charles also scored three touchdowns, two as a receiver. Safety Husain Abdullah returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown. Tight end Travis Kelce led the Chiefs in receptions (eight) and receiving yardage (93). Quarterback Alex Smith was 20-of-26 for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

Turning them over, finally: The Chiefs forced three turnovers, their first three of the season. Abdullah's interception return was the first defensive touchdown of the season for the Chiefs. Turnovers and defensive touchdowns were a key part of the Chiefs' 9-0 start last season. If they can get back to regularly forcing them, the Chiefs might have a good thing going on defense.

Game ball: Chiefs fans were outstanding from start to finish. They were loud throughout but never more boisterous than in the second quarter, when they set the new Guinness Book of World Records mark for crowd noise at an outdoor stadium with a level of 142.2 decibels. It's a great time to be a Kansas City sports fan, as the Royals play their first playoff game in 29 years on Tuesday night.

What's next: The Chiefs begin a two-game West Coast swing on Sunday with a game against the 49ers at the new Levi's Stadium.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- This week would be different for the Arizona Cardinals if almost any other team was next up on the schedule.

But they’re preparing to take their undefeated record to the Rocky Mountains to face the Denver Broncos, the defending AFC champions who are quarterbacked by a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

If that won’t keep a team’s focus and avoid a hangover after a bye week, nothing will.

“It’s a good thing that we’re playing against Denver because if you’re playing against a team that ain’t doing so well, you’ll be lollygagging into the week,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “But since we’re playing a high opponent at their place, that juice is already going. Guys know it.”

So does Arians, who was Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s position coach from 1998-2000 with the Indianapolis Colts. He, along with the rest of football, hasn’t lost track of his former pupil and has watched Manning develop into one of the best ever at the position -- especially at home.

Since 2001, Manning is 76-22 at home -- which includes a 16-2 record in Denver, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“It’s much different playing him at home than on the road,” Arians said.

Foote noticed there was better communication during Monday’s practice, which was Arizona’s first contact since beating San Francisco on Sept. 21.

The Cardinals returned to the field for the first time since Wednesday wearing pads. About midway through practice, Arians had his charges take them off. But that was all the Cardinals needed to get back into the swing.

“Just hit each other,” Arians said. “That’s why we had pads on today. We didn’t have them on last week because we didn’t need to but we’ll have them on twice this week to make sure we’re game ready.”

Some Cardinals took preparations into their own hands.

With the extra week to prepare, Foote began watching film on Denver last week. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie began Monday. The Broncos were also off last weekend so Arizona didn’t have a game to study during the weekend, but it didn’t matter. Arizona’s coaching staff began breaking down film of the Broncos last spring because they didn’t change coordinators and Arians knew Manning wasn’t going to alter the offense much.

It isn’t often that Arizona has been part of a game with hype and build-up, at least this early in the season. The Cardinals weren't going to let a bye week derail what's already been started.

“I’m excited,” Foote said. “We’re geeked up. It’s no secret people are starting to talk about us. We got to keep going.”
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If a head coach wants to change his quarterback, as Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone did Monday, he should be allowed to make the move without having to call an organizational meeting to discuss, debate and vote. It shouldn't be as complicated as getting a bill passed by Congress; it should be a one-man, executive decision. That's how Marrone did it in Buffalo, replacing EJ Manuel with Kyle Orton.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan and John Idzik
Bill Kostroun/AP PhotoIf Jets coach Rex Ryan wants to make a change at quarterback, what sort of role would general manager John Idzik play in that decision-making?
With Geno Smith slumping, the New York Jets could approaching a quarterback decision in the coming weeks, except in their case it's fair to wonder if coach Rex Ryan truly has the power to make that call. He was asked the question twice Monday, and each time he gave a cryptic answer that suggested he doesn't have the ultimate authority. If he doesn't -- if general manager John Idzik is pulling the strings from his bunker at One Jets Drive -- Ryan is just a puppet coach. And that would be troubling.

"To say who's going to outright make that call or whatever, I'd rather not say those things, but it would be a team decision," Ryan said at his news conference.

A short time later, Ryan was asked the same question during his weekly radio spot on "The Michael Kay Show" on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. This time, it was presented in the context of an in-game decision. Once again, Ryan dodged.

"You know what? I'd rather not get into this," he said. "It's always a Jet decision and I'm going to leave it at that, no matter how many times you ask me."

That response triggered images of Ryan calling up to Idzik's booth at halftime, asking if he's cool with the idea of bringing in Michael Vick. Idzik isn't that demanding, is he? All I know is the man monitors Ryan's news conferences and likes to stay involved in all aspects of the organization, staying abreast of seemingly trivial matters that could be handled by underlings. Yeah, he's hands-on.

There could be two explanations for Ryan's wishy-washy response. Maybe he did it to appease Idzik, allowing his boss -- the man who could determine his fate at the end of the season -- to be a part of the process.

Or maybe Ryan really doesn't have the power to make a quarterback change. That would be unusual because most head coaches have the contractual right to choose who plays and who sits.

Either way, it's bad form because of the perception it creates: A head coach with diminished power.

In Buffalo, Marrone made the decision and informed his general manager, Doug Whaley.

"I went to Doug, I said look, 'This gives us the best opportunity to win,'" Marrone told reporters. "We talked about it. We looked at some things, and we were in full agreement on it."

The key words: Best opportunity to win. Every decision should be based on what gives the team the best chance to win now. If Ryan decides at some point Vick gives the Jets the best chance, he should be allowed to make the call without having to convene a special session of the Woody Johnson cabinet. If Ryan is over-ruled, it's a bad situation because that's no way to run a team.

If Ryan is forced to play Smith longer than he wants -- and we're not suggesting he wants to dump him right now -- it would signal another rebuilding year, another year devoted to developing Smith. Ryan, his players and the fans deserve the chance to be better than that.

Packers' run defense bottoms out

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No one had to tell the Green Bay Packers where their run defense was ranked after Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears.

"I'm aware what the numbers are," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "Nobody likes it."

The Packers' run defense went from bad (27th in the league) before Sunday to the worst.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesFacing the Green Bay Packers' last-place rush defense was a pick-me-up for a previously struggling Chicago Bears rushing attack.
After giving up 235 yards rushing -- the third-highest total since Dom Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009 -- the Packers found themselves dead last in the league, allowing an inexcusable 176.0 yards per game, through Sunday's Week 4 games.

Lest you thought the Bears were a rushing juggernaut, you should know this: Before Sunday, they ranked 32nd in the league in rushing yards per game.

"Give Chicago credit, offensively they did some really good things," McCarthy said. "They played well. They're a good offense. But giving up that much yardage, there's no excuse for that. We understand that. But there are things we can definitely work on and improve on."

There's not much time to do it this week. The Packers will hold only one practice, on Tuesday, during an abbreviated week in advance of Thursday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, who, by the way, rushed for 241 yards in a win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

When Capers was hired following the 2008 season, his directive was to fix a run defense that finished 26th in the NFL that year. The next season, Capers' unit led the league in rushing defense. Since then, they have not finished a season ranked better than 14th in that all-important category.

"I think fundamentally, since day one of my football career, my coaches have always said, 'Stop the run,'" Packers safety Micah Hyde said Monday. "That's just something you have to do in football because if you getting ran all over, then you can get [gashed] throwing it. So you stop the run, you can switch things up from there and make it a one-dimensional game, and that's always easier on a defense. That's just what we try to do. We weren't successful yesterday. That's evident, but we can build off the positive things."

You can question the Packers' decision to eschew two of their bulky defensive linemen -- Ryan Pickett, who was out of football until he signed last week with the Houston Texans, and the still unsigned Johnny Jolly -- or blame part of the problem on the injury to nose tackle B.J. Raji (who is on injured reserve), but McCarthy and several players insisted on Monday that they still have the right kind of personnel to stop the run.

"We've done it before," defensive tackle Mike Daniels said.

Not this year.

In order so far, the Packers' opponents have put up rushing yardage of 207 (Seahawks), 146 (Jets), 115 (Lions) and 235 (Bears).

"I don't think anybody disagrees with our approach," McCarthy said. "We're utilizing our players, we're playing to our players' strengths. Everything we've adjusted is in the best interest of our players."

Capers tried something new against the Bears, using 6-foot-4, 332-pound rookie Mike Pennel (the team's biggest defensive linemen) for the first time. The rookie was credited with two tackles.

"We're just growing together," Pennel said. "We're learning. The vets are keeping us on our technique and everything. A lot of people hitting us with a lot of different things. We just have to trust in our coaching and we'll get better at it."




Thursday, 9/25
Sunday, 9/28
Monday, 9/29