Around The League: Week 13

Len P takes a look at happenings around the NFL. This week includes; Marshawn Lynch, James Sanders, Andy Reid's possible firing, A major agent changing teams and plenty of feedback from league sources.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Survival tactics:
One of the prime stories that will play out between now and the end of the season is whether the Houston Texans, currently in first place in the AFC South, can maintain their lead and claim the first playoff berth of the franchise's 10-year existence. And, of course, a major part of that subplot will be whether the team can do it with rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, a fifth-round pick who hadn't taken a snap until Matt Leinart's shoulder injury last week.

   Not surprisingly - what else are they supposed to say - Houston players have been outspoken in their support for the rookie signal-caller.

   "He's been here from the start, knows the offense, and gives us the best chance," right offensive tackle Eric Winston said.

   The offensive game plan, although the Houston coaches have downplayed it, likely will be shorter than it was under Matt Schaub or Leinart. But certainly the importance of the Texans' running game can't be underplayed.

   The Texans rank third in the league in running the football, and have developed an admirable 1-2 punch in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. But more than anything else, it's Houston's commitment to running the ball that has become the Texans' hallmark. Houston isn't among the league leaders in yards per attempt, or in rushes of 20 yards or more, but the Texans officially lead the NFL in rushing attempts (35.3 per game) and unofficially in their resolve to run the ball.

   "The perception is that (coach Gary) Kubiak wants to throw the ball, but remember his (lineage)," Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior told The Sports Xchange earlier in the season. "He's a run-first guy."

   Indeed, Kubiak was the offensive coordinator in Denver when the Broncos mastered the one-cut/zone-blocking style he brought with him to Houston, a scheme opposing defenses (especially linemen) detest, because of features so much cut-blocking on the backside of the play. At their practices this week, Atlanta defensive linemen, who face the Texans on Sunday, were reminding each other to be wary of the backside blocks.

   The Falcons are 8-0 under coach Mike Smith against rookie quarterbacks, and are No. 2 in the NFL in defense versus the rush this season, so it figures to be very interesting to see how they handle a Houston offense that likely will skew pretty heavily toward the run.

Whither Donovan?:
   Unless a lot of people in the league are fibbing to us - and it would hardly be the first time - there isn't a lot of interest in adding Donovan McNabb to a roster for the balance of the campaign.

   The Sports Xchange spoke the last few days to the teams that would appear to be the usual suspects and perceived very little buzz about McNabb, released by Minnesota this week.

   At 35, an age that isn't necessarily old by quarterback standards, the six-time Pro Bowl performer might have to wait until the offseason for offers, if they are forthcoming then. The stories that came out of Washington and Minnesota the last two years - concerning McNabb's alleged lack of preparation and conditioning, and "diva" element - aren't apt to help a guy who might have to accept a No. 2 role somewhere.

   "People are going to have to look into all those things and make a determination as to whether or not they want him," said an NFC personnel director. "And I can't see it this year."

Making his mark:
    There was some question before the 2011 draft as to whether DeMarco Murray could handle anything more than a secondary change-of-pace role in an offense, and some doubts even after the Dallas Cowboys tabbed the Oklahoma standout in the third round.

   For all his brilliance in college, Murray had an injury-marred career at Oklahoma, and there were skeptics about his ability to be an every-down back. But in his last four starts (he has started five straight games overall), Murray, who battled through some injury problems earlier in the season, has averaged 22.3 carries. And he has registered a pair of 100-yard games in those four outings.

   Clearly, Murray is a lot tougher runner than people felt.

   "When a guy has the kind of 'long speed' he does, there's a kind of a misperception that he isn't necessarily a physical runner," Dallas left tackle Doug Free told The Sports Xchange. "But that isn't the case with him. He'll bang it up in there ... and if he hits a seam and gets into the open, he can take it a long way."

Under pressure:
     It almost seems that there are as many offensive coordinators on the hot seat as head coaches these days, and it will be interesting to note how many changes are made in the offseason by franchises that don't also switch head coaches.

   Dirk Koetter of Jacksonville, operating like most Jaguars coaches on a one-year deal, almost certainly is a goner. Brian Schottenheimer has been under fire for the uneven performances of Mark Sanchez with the New York Jets, but it was recently reported that he quietly received an extension in the offseason. Cam Cameron in Baltimore has caught some flak over the roller coaster play of the Ravens' offense. Ditto Kyle Shanahan in Washington and Detroit's Scott Linehan.

   But unless there are head coach changes in some of those spots, the odds are that the coordinators will survive.

   "You just don't see many cases like the one in Cincy (where Jay Gruden replaced Bob Bratkowski, even though Marvin Lewis kept his head coach job) a lot," one AFC coach told The Sports Xchange. "Unless it's pretty much (mandated) by the owner, guys usually keep their jobs."

More for Marshawn:

      Seattle officials were already working on a contract extension for tailback Marshawn Lynch, but his 148-yard performance against Philadelphia on Thursday night might have iced the cake. Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks want to run the ball with physicality, and they feel Lynch provides that. Plus they have not perceived any of the alleged immaturity Lynch exhibited during his time in Buffalo. Lynch has now rushed for 100 or more yards in four of his last five games and, even though he is under contract for another season, he has already reached easily-attained incentives that void the final year of his deal and he can become a free agent this offseason.

Short-timer:
      Only a few months ago, prominent agent Jimmy Sexton merged his Memphis-based firm with that of fellow agent Pat Dye Jr., in Atlanta, to create SportsTrust Advisors. Now comes word that Sexton is making another move, this time to the giant Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which has become a major player in the NFL representation arena, with agents Tom Condon, Ken Kremer and Ben Dogra. The addition of Sexton, who has several key players (like Tim Tebow) but also an ample stable of assistant and head coaching clients in both the NFL and the major college ranks, further broadens CAA's already impressive influence.
    
Lack of quarterbacks:
     Even though there are 32 quarterbacks enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, this will mark the sixth consecutive year in which a player from the game's most conspicuous position isn't a finalist. When the Hall announced the 26 semi-finalists two weeks ago, it was the third year in a row in which not a single quarterback survived the "reduction" process. Not since Ken Stabler has there been a quarterback among the semi-final group. The former Oakland star actually was on the semi-finalist list three consecutive years, 2007-09, but never advanced to the finalist round. The Hall of Fame hasn't inducted a quarterback since 2006, when Troy Aikman and Warren Moon were selected.

Punts:
     Although the team won't, and essentially can't, hire a general manager until after the season, the Raiders have begun background work on determining salaries of current league GM's to ascertain how much it will cost to being in someone to oversee the football program. The legwork is necessary, of course, because the team basically operated for so many years without a general manager under the late Al Davis. ... To the list of colleges who have some interest in Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz as a head coach candidate, add Illinois, where Ron Zook was pink-slipped this week. ... The Falcons credit the play of James Sanders, at least in part, for their better performance in third-down situations. Sanders has started the past three games in place of the injured William Moore, and provided a little more range against the pass. Atlanta has allowed a conversion rate of only about 25 percent on third-and-long plays the past month. ... Ndamukong Suh has appealed his two-game suspension handed down by the league this week, but the truth is that some people close to the Detroit defensive tackle actually feared he could be banished for the rest of the regular season. Then-Tennessee tackle Albert Haynesworth received a landmark five-game suspension for stomping on the head of Dallas center Andre Gurode in 2006. ... The rookie starting quarterbacks in the league have compiled a record of just 13-23, but those who have played against them have lauded their collective poise. "You've got to hand it to 'em, they don't blink," said Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, whose team has beaten two rookies, in Cam Newton and Christian Ponder. ... Philadelphia executives continue to insist to The Sports Xchange that embattled coach Andy Reid won't be fired.

The last word:
     "We're starting to define a little better what we want to be on offense. We can be more explosive and still run the ball with Michael (Turner), and grind it out. It's not an 'either-or' thing, you know? I mean, you can have the best of both worlds, and that's what we're trying to do." - Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White, who has 17 catches for 267 yards the past two games, on the Falcons' offense, which has struggled to find its identity at times in 2011.

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