AROUND THE LEAGUE
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
"He's been here from the start, knows the offense,
and gives us the best chance," right offensive tackle Eric Winston
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
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
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
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
"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."
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
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.
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
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.
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
from Len Pasquarelli
Around The League: Week 13
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