Carson Palmer is back playing in the NFL, although he received a rude welcome back this past Sunday. With the Oakland Raiders trailing the Kansas City Chiefs 21-0 in the 3rd quarter, head coach Hue Jackson decided to insert Palmer into the game, after acquiring him only five days earlier via trade with the Cincinnati Bengals. Palmer had not played a snap of football since last season, having missed the entire off season and opening seven weeks due to retirement. As you might expect, Palmer struggled Sunday, completing only 8 of 21 passes, while throwing three interceptions, one of which got returned for a TD.
Some wondered whether or not it was a good idea for Jackson to play Palmer after only being with the team for three meaningful practices, and I have absolutely no problem with Jackson's decision. The game on Sunday was virtually already out of hand by the time Palmer entered the game, after starting QB Kyle Boller had already thrown his 3rd INT of the game (of which one also got returned for a score). At that point, Hue Jackson needed to put Palmer in the game. The Raiders potentially gave up two 1st round draft choices for Palmer, and he needs reps having played so little football this year. Palmer needs to get back on the field, seeing and feeling the game.
The Raiders gave up so much to acquire Palmer because they expect him to at least be the starter while Jason Campbell recovers from a broken clavicle (maybe their permanent starter after giving up so much), and the Raiders have a lot to play for right now. Hue Jackson's team is sitting at 4-3, right in the thick of the race for the AFC West division, and their next two games are against division opponents, so this is arguably the most important stretch of games this season. Keep in mind, Palmer is in his 8th year in the NFL, so one bad game isn't going to shake his confidence.
Did anyone actually think Palmer would come in the game and light it up on Sunday after being away from football for so long? I still expect it to take some time in order for Palmer to feel comfortable in this new Raiders offence. The Raiders have a bye this week, however the offence is staying in town for practices on Tuesday and Wednesday to help find their timing with Palmer. Being the veteran he is, it will be interesting to see how quickly Palmer is able to pick up the Raiders playbook before their next game against Denver.
Best in the Game
The debate rages on regarding whether or not Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the game right now. I believe he's the best football player in the NFL right now, hands down. To me, there isn't another player in the NFL who looks more "automatic" than Rodgers each and every Sunday. He is so dialed into what head coach Mike McCarthy is calling offensively, and seems to always be one step ahead of the defence.
Rodgers is having a season for the ages, completing 72 % of his passes, having thrown 20 TD vs. only three INT's. As a result, he is easily the most efficient QB in the NFL. Rodgers is coming off one of his best performance of the season, having completed 80 % of his passes in a 33-27 win over division rival Minnesota.
While watching him carve up the Vikings on Sunday, I began to wonder: what would I do if I were a defensive coordinator in order to stop Rodgers? The best defensive play-callers in the world aren't good enough to stop him on a bi-seasonal basis, so the answer obviously isn't an easy one. One thing I do know is this: you better have a good pass rush with four players, or you have no chance. There were times early on Sunday, that DE Jared Allen, the NFL's leader in sacks, was able to speed rush off the edge and pressure Rodgers, and that was about the only way the Vikings got he and the Packers off the field.
The Packers simply have too many playmakers at the TE and WR positions, so you must have as many defenders in coverage as possible to stand any chance. The only way a defense can get seven men in coverage every play is if they aren't blitzing anyone, which means they are only rushing four defensive linemen (or three-plus a LB in a 3-4 scheme). Rushing four players is only the first part of the plan. The 2nd part of the formula is mixing up coverages. Rodgers has tremendous football IQ, and if you don't mix up your coverages in order to attempt confusing him, you're dead in the water.
There isn't a team in the NFL that has the depth in the secondary to play man-to-man against Green Bay, but you still must mix it in, along with various other zone coverages in order to keep giving Rodgers new looks. Defensive variation with respect to looks and coverage is key, but at the end of the day, personnel has more to do with stopping Rodgers, which means that a lot of it is out of the coaches' hands. No defence has been able to stop Rodgers and the Packers offence yet this year. Perhaps the Packers are the only ones who can stop themselves on offence.
Were you able to stay up Monday night, and get through the entire Ravens vs. Jaguars game? I did. Barely. The Ravens offence didn't help though.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens O managed to generate a paltry 146 total yards in a losing effort to a then one-win Jacksonville team. The Ravens offensive performance was so bad, that Flacco actually had more receptions in the 1st half then the Ravens had 1st downs. It wasn't as if there was one glaring issue for the Ravens. They couldn't protect Flacco, and often times he wasn't able to extend plays with his legs. Wide receivers struggled to get open versus man-to-man coverage. The few times Flacco's wide outs did get open, Flacco wasn't able to deliver them the football accurately. What may have been the most surprising statistic of all however, was that Pro Bowl RB Ray Rice only carried the football eight times! Rice had a bad day himself, fumbling the football early, and also dropping passes out of the backfield.
We know that the Ravens have a championship-calibre defence. On Monday, the Ravens D held a Jags offence led by a rookie QB out of the end zone, limiting the Jaguars to only 12 points. Every offence has an off night in the NFL, but after such a poor performance on Monday, one must wonder whether or not the Ravens have the offensive prowess to make a Super Bowl run. I watched the Jags take away the Ravens' best WR Anquan Boldin, and the Ravens didn't have anywhere else to go with the football. WR Torrey Smith is talented, but only a rookie, and is still learning the finer intricacies of route running in the NFL. TE's Ed Dixon and Dennis Pitta are only 2nd year players also learning something new each and every day. The Ravens don't yet have the personnel on offense to strike fear into their opponents.
Head coach John Harbaugh now has a new set of concerns, as his teams offensive struggles may begin to cause dissention in the Ravens locker room. LB Terrell Suggs was very outspoken after the game, questioning offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's play-calling. Don't expect things to get any easier in Baltimore, as the Ravens still have the top five defences in the NFL on their schedule to play. Stay tuned.
The Comeback Kid
Of the six QB's making their first start of the NFL season on Sunday, only Tim Tebow led his team to victory. In fact, the Broncos became the first team since the AFL-NFL merger to come back from a 15-point 4th quarter deficit with 3:00 remaining in the game! It's fair to say the Miami Dolphins are not the '85 Chicago Bears, however once again, Tebow demonstrated the intangibles he possesses that simply cannot be coached. Tebow is the ultimate competitor and a leader that his football team responds to. He doesn't possess the quickest delivery in the NFL, nor the strongest arm, but Tebow doesn't quit and the game is never over in his mind.
There are many fans around the country that continue to wonder whether or not Tebow will ever be a successful starting QB in the NFL, and I'm still one of them. I'm not sold yet on Tebow-mania. But I am impressed. Tebow has only started four games in his short career, but already has tied the great John Elway for most 13-point 4th quarter comebacks in Broncos history! Next up for Tebow, the Detroit Lions featuring Ndamukong Suh. Tebow has passed his first test, I can't wait to see how he does this weekend.