Thursday-and-Long: Green Bay Should Give Thanks for Aaron Rodgers
But since this is a day on which we're supposed to appreciate all the good things we have in life and take a little break from dwelling on the bad, I hereby invite the good people of Green Bay to fry up some Thanksgiving cheese curds, sit back and watch their man Rodgers dismantle the Detroit Lions. And as you watch, take a second to think to yourselves, "Hey, we could have it a lot worse."
The knock on Rodgers is that he's part of the sack problem -- that he holds the ball too long while he looks for the big play downfield at the expense of the often smarter, safer play that's right in front of him. And while this may well be a legitimate gripe, there are uglier warts you could potentially find on a 25-year-old second-year starting NFL quarterback.
Besides, think about what Rodgers is dealing with. The Packers' offensive line appears to be built out of a particularly soft kind of cheese, such as a Brie or a Camembert, only without the tough outer crust. Running back Ryan Grant is solid, but he's not a real option in the passing game. The Green Bay wide receivers, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, are athletic downfield deep threats, and Rodgers is the kind of quarterback who can (and often must!) scramble, let a play develop and still make the throw, even on the run. Tight end Jermichael Finley, who can play in the slot and provide a shorter-range option when necessary, just missed three games (most of a fourth) with an injury. Add that all up, and it doesn't sound so foolish that a guy might be more inclined to take a few shots down the field.
And it's not as if he's getting them beat there. Rodgers is fifth in the NFL in passing yards, third in yards per attempt and sixth in the league with 19 touchdown passes -- and he's only thrown five interceptions. Just one guy in the league has started all 10 games at quarterback and thrown fewer, and yes, you can be pretty sure somebody in Green Bay has mentioned to Rodgers that the one guy is Brett Favre.
But Rodgers doesn't care. It may not seem fair that 40-year-old Favre and the Vikings get to have this dream season while he and the Packers have had to bleed and sweat and grunt their way to 6-4. But he's doing it anyway. Rodgers just keeps picking himself up off the ground and completing passes. At 25, he's playing and putting up numbers like one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and he's got his team in the playoff hunt warts and all. And today, he gets to fire away at the worst pass defense the league has.
So Happy Thanksgiving, Aaron Rodgers. And Packer fans...watch, enjoy, and give thanks. Let the old man have his one last big year in Minnesota. The guy you have has been an awfully good replacement, and he's going to get even better.
Speaking of Thanksgiving games, what in the world is Giants co-owner John Mara complaining about? He's upset that his team has to fly out to Denver and play a game just four days after playing (and finally winning) one on the East Coast. Says this puts the Giants at a competitive disadvantage, especially because the Broncos played at home Sunday and haven't had to fly anywhere. But first of all, Mara was presumably on board with the rest of the owners when they approved the plans for the NFL Network and its Thursday night games. Did he vote thinking his team would never get picked for one?
Something's amiss with the Giants. The attitude around the place is all kinds of wrong. They've been wracked with injuries, sure, and that's a big reason for their struggles. But sometimes you just get a bad vibe from a team, and this year's Giants -- one of the league's biggest disappointments to date -- give off such a vibe. They seem to focus on the wrong things, whether it's Brandon Jacobs complaining that people like Ahmad Bradshaw's running style better than his or the defense fretting over the loss of fading linebacker Antonio Pierce or the owner complaining about having to play on a Thursday. Things just feel screwy around that place these days. Personally, I know they're favored and that the Broncos are in a free-fall, but I think the Giants lose this game tonight, and I don't think they make the playoffs.
Bills fans undoubtedly enjoy fantasizing about somebody like Mike Shanahan or Bill Cowher coaching their team next year, which is the reason the Bills don't mind letting it be known that they've contacted those guys. But the idea of a team that makes so little money off of its stadium that it has to play a home game in Toronto every year coming up with the cash to pay a Super Bowl champion coach in a competitive market is far-fetched, to put it kindly. There have been some whispers around the league connecting Marty Schottenheimer to the job, which makes a little more sense. But I wouldn't be surprised if, when the dust settled, the three leading candidates for the job were interim head coach (and defensive coordinator) Perry Fewell, well regarded special teams coach Bobby April or -- if the offense can manage to improve over the final six weeks -- even fresh-faced offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, who's well liked by the owner and undoubtedly would come cheap.
Hat Tip of the Week -- Sheldon Brown, Eagles CB
An Eagles secondary that was already without defensive backs Joselio Hanson (drug suspension) and Ellis Hobbs (season-ending injury) didn't know how much it could expect Sunday from Brown and his strained hamstring. And in truth, Brown was limited against the Bears and aggravated the injury in the first half. But especially after Asante Samuel hit the bench with a neck injury, Brown insisted on playing, and he said he did so for a reason. "I'm playing mind games with my teammates," Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I want them to know there is no excuse." The Eagles have held up pretty well this year considering an incredible rash of injuries that started with Stewart Bradley in training camp and seems to have infected every part of the defense. If they're to keep it up, toughness has to be a big part of the equation, and the example Brown set by playing on one leg Sunday night can only help.
Three for the Road -- Back on the horse! The three road teams I liked last week -- Miami at Carolina, San Diego at Denver and Tennessee at Houston -- went a combined 3-0 for a brilliant recovery from the week before. The record now stands at 8-4 in the four weeks since I started doing this, and we'll keep it up. Road teams in the NFL went a respectable 7-9 last week but are still just 69-91 for the season -- a combined winning percentage of .431. That (and the fact that I don't like the Giants in Denver) means it was pretty hard to find three non-obvious picks for Week 12. But here they are, the three road teams I like this week:
1. Washington at Philadelphia. Out on a limb here, and nobody's getting rich this year picking the Redskins. But this is a hunch based on a banged-up Eagles secondary, a better-than-you-think Redskin defense and the fact that Washington actually outgained Philly 308-262 in the first meeting five weeks ago. Plus, the Eagles are due for one of these, no?
2. Arizona at Tennessee. Yes, the Titans are hotter than summer on Venus, but did you know the Cardinals are 5-0 this year away from home? They're the only team other than New Orleans and Indianapolis that has yet to lose a road game. For a defending conference champ with a three-game division lead, they don't get a whole lot of attention.
3. New England at New Orleans. Second time in three weeks I'm going to try with the Pats in prime time in the house of an undefeated opponent. The Saints have injury problems in the secondary, and when that's the case you don't want to see Brady, Moss and Welker come to town. This time, I'm just hoping Belichick remembers what the punter is for.
It's Just a Fantasy -- Three guys I wish I had on my fantasy team this week:
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Detroit. Seriously. He's the highest-scoring QB this year, and did you see how good the Lions just made Brady Quinn look?
2. Thomas Jones vs. Carolina. If the Jets want to take some of the heat off of rookie QB Mark Sanchez, there's no better way than to hand the ball off to their quasi-star RB, who could gain big chunks against a Panther defense that's still weak in the middle of the line.
3. Randy Moss vs. New Orleans. It's Monday night. That's Randy's time.
My game this week is the Cardinals-Titans game in Nashville. Storylines abound, from Kurt Warner's (is-it-or-isn't-it-a) concussion to Vince Young's renaissance to Chris Johnson's run at the rushing title to whether the Titans can really win 10 in a row and get into the playoff race. I'm looking forward to seeing whether Jeff Fisher's turbo-option offense, with its super-speedy quarterback and running back, can outscore Arizona's aerial attack. And anybody who has any ideas for a good place to eat in Nashville on Saturday night, let me know. I'm sure they have a few.