NFL Alphabet Preview: Week 6


NFL Alphabet Preview: Week 6

Welcome back to another edition of Alphabet NFL Preview, where all thoughts and opinions are subject to appeal.


The biggest game of the week takes place in San Francisco, where the 49ers host the Giants in a rematch of last years NFC Championship. And to no ones surprise, the spotlight is shining on Niners return man Kyle Williams, who famously muffed two punts in the title game, effectively costing San Francisco its first Super Bowl appearance since 1994.

Of course after what happened last year I definitely want to get back at these guys," Williams said this week. "We look at it as if they have something that we should have had. We're going to make sure we don't leave anything on the field again.

Yes, especially the ball.


When Greg Schiano was hired by the Buccaneers last winter, it was in large part thanks to a glowing recommendation from Bill Belichick. You see, Belichick and Schiano are boys; a mentor and protg, to use the parlance of our times. So how fitting is it that within his first month as a head coach, Schianos a) been accused of breaking an unwritten rule by Tom Coughlin and b) accused of messing with the Redskins headsets on Washingtons game-winning drive in Week 4?

Ahh, Bill must be gushing. But hed certainly be a little more proud if Schiano can find a way to pick up a few wins.

After defeating the Panthers in Week 1, Tampa has now lost three straight. But if there was ever a time to start a winning streak, it would be this week at home against the lowly Chiefs and a quarterback starting his first game since December of 2009.


When it comes to game day, most quarterbacks want the ball in their hands. Many of them DEMAND the ball. Carson Palmer says: . . . eh?

Despite the fact his Raiders rushing attack ranks dead last in the NFL, Palmer doesnt see any reason to modify the offense.

"Running the ball is what we want to do," he said. "Obviously we want to do it better than we have and that's why we continue to work at it.

The good news for Oakland is that they play the Falcons this week. Atlanta ranks 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed and 31st in yards per carry.

The bad news? Theyre still the Raiders.


Times are tough for Cam Newton. His Panthers are 1-4 heading into the bye week; he just lost his Pro Bowl center (Ryan Kalil) for the season; hes thrown more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4); hes already fumbled as many times (5) as he did all of last season; his PETS' HEADS ARE FALLING OFF.

The guys gone from superhero to psychosomatic.

But worry not Panthers fans, because things are finally looking up for Newton. Thats because . . . Jake Delhomme understands what hes going through.

Theyve sort of hung the moon on Cam in Charlotte, Delhomme told the Associated Press. The expectations on him to lead this franchise are incredible. We have to remember hes 23 years old. Hes still a kid.

You have to admire the genuine concern Jake has for Newton, but its hard to imagine a less inspirational shoulder to cry on. Its a little like pulling aside a struggling young reliever and saying: Listen, I think you should talk to Daniel Bard. Hell make you feel better . . . he understands what youre going through.

E is for EGO

Brandon Weeden has thrown nine interceptions in Clevelands first five games. In related news, the Browns are 0-5. But Weedens not too concerned, saying this week that finding a rhythm is just a matter of getting over his ego.

"It's an ego thing," he said. "I just need to get rid of the ego and take what they give me and move on and not be as stubborn. Just throw the football away and move on."

Listen, I know where Weedens coming from. I cant imagine how hard it must be to stay grounded when you can wake up every morning, look in the mirror and say: "I am the NFLs only winless quarterback. I have a league-high nine interceptions and a league-low 55.4 completion percentage. I am Weeden, hear me roar! But he needs to come back to Earth.

And Sunday provides a great opportunity. Not only will Weeden be at home, but hes also up against a Cincinnati defense that he played last month. For the first time his NFL career, hell have first-hand familiarity with an opponent and that can only help.

As will feeding the ball to Trent Richardson until his arms and legs fall off.


Its been an unbelievable comeback season for Adrian Peterson, who's still only eight months removed from tearing his ACL but has maintained his standing among the NFLs running back elite.

However, this week in Washington, Petersons mind will be put to the test as much as his body. Hell channel Mike McD walking back into KGBs apartment, channeling Buckner walking back into Shea. This week, Peterson plays on the same FedEx field where he destroyed his knee last winter, and thats bound to conjure up some uneasy feelings.

Probably the same way he feels when looking at pictures Brad Childress.

G is for GO TIME

As has been the case for the better part of the last decade, the Dallas Cowboys are a mystery; a team capable of beating the leagues best and being embarrassed by the absolute worst on any given Sunday. And sure, you can probably say that about every team in this parity-heavy era of NFL football, but the 'Boys have perfected the art of mind-numbing inconsistency.

With that being said, by this time next month, well have a better idea of what this current collection of Cowboys are all about. This Sunday, they play in Baltimore. Next Sunday, theyre at Carolina. Then they host the Giants, visit the Falcons and play in Philadelphia.
At that point, well have a much firmer grasp on where Dallas fits within the NFC playoff picture, and in turn, which round in which we can expect them to choke.


As I wrote last week, now is the time for the Rex Ryan to make the switch to Tim Tebow. I mean, its only a matter of time before he starts anyway, right? Right. So why not give him the start at home against the beatable Colts and try to build on that momentum heading into next week in New England?

It makes sense, but Ryans long lost his sense on this season. That might also explain why he continues to ride Shonn Greene, the leagues most ineffective runner (which is saying something in a league that also employs Chris Johnson). This week, Rotoworld reported that Greene whos averaging only 2.9 yards a carry has forced exactly one missed tackle on his 79 rushing attempts this season. ONE MISSED TACKLE.

That ties him for last in the NFL with the replacement ref who was attacked by Belichick.

I is for ISLAND

Browns cornerback Joe Haden returns to the field this week after missing four weeks for testing positive for Adderall, but there wont be time for him ease back into things. Thats because on Sunday, Haden will be on an island with one of the best receivers in the game A.J. Green. Through five games, Green is tied for fifth in the NFL in receptions. He's fifth by himself in receiving yards, fourth in targets and tied for second in touchdown catches. Its no easy task. But if Hadens successful in shutting down Green, the Bengals offense may very well fall apart.

J is for JINXED

It's a tough go for the Packers this season. What with the Fail Mary that screwed them in Seattle, the non-fumble that almost burned them against the Saints and Greg Jennings' nagging groin. And now just as Cedric Benson was getting into the flow as Green Bay's reliable feature back, he's been placed on the IR.

But good news, Packers fans! It gets worse from here.

Packers at Texans, Sunday Night Football.

K is for KG

Ive thought this for a while, and will write about more extensively at some point, but as time goes on, the parallels between Kevin Garnett and Ray Lewis are pretty unavoidable.

"Keep watching," Lewis said this week, when asked about his increasing age. "I've heard that my whole career. I've never picked up a phone, I've never texted a person that writes about me. I've never had a conversation before. I don't even pay it no attention, I just keep rolling.

Thats pure KG. (In this analogy Paul Pierce is Ed Reed and Rajon Rondo is Ray Rice.)

By the way, this weeks game against the Cowboys is the first leg of a huge two-week stretch for Baltimore. They travel to Houston next Sunday.

L is for LET DOWN

I used this last week for the PackersColts game, and it turned out to be the game of the week. This week, Ill use it again for the Colts, and ask the question: Is there any way they can avoid a letdown after that ridiculous win over Green Bay? I know, questions like that are rhetorical BS of course theres a way. But it wont be easy going from a home game against the Packers (a game that youre playing to honor your recently ill coach) to a road game against the Jets, where the atmosphere will be more disgruntled and downtrodden than anywhere else in the league.

Either way, while RG3 continues to garner most of the attention within this QB-heavy rookie class, Andrew Luck continues to prove that hes the real deal. A guy that will take the Colts to great heights and leave all the fans who led that Twitter riot after Week 1 scrambling for the delete button.

M is for MUTINY

There was a time when players were scared of Roger Goodell. When he ruled this league with an iron fist and everyone just tip-toed around trying not to upset their heavy-handed leader. And make no mistake, Goodell loved it.

But while he stills unafraid to flex his muscles when it comes to punishment, the inmates are done backing down to the warden.

For me, the issue of player health and safety is personal. For the league and the Commissioner, it's about perception and liability," Browns linebacker and BountyGate suspendee Scott Fujita said this week. The Commissioner says he is disappointed in me. The truth is, I'm disappointed in him. His positions on player health and safety since a 2009 congressional hearing on concussions have been inconsistent at best.

Drew Brees publicly took the side of his former teammate: "It seems like so much of his suspensions have been based upon speculation and rhetoric, and maybe the testimony of some pretty unreliable sources. That's the unfortunate thing. It seems like his decision changes quite a bit, at least the reasoning behind what his decision is. That's the disappointing part of it for all of us.

Take this, combined with all the public players outcry about the replacement refs, and the Commish is losing his grip.


I found this one in the Thesaurus. It means futilehelpless and just might be my new favorite word in the English language.

Anyway, you ever wonder what it would be like to watch a boxing match between two guys with no arms? Of course you have. And I imagine it will be something like the experience of watching the Cardinals rushing attack take on the Bills defensive line.

First of all, the Cardinals backfield has been decimated by injuries, with Beanie Wells out until at least Week 12 and his backup Ryan Williams down for the season. Meanwhile, the Bills have the third-worst defense against the run in the league thanks to struggles from Super Mario Williams and Marcel Dareus plus they just lost former Patriot Mark Anderson (whos more of a pass rusher, but still) for the foreseeable future. Bottom line: Its going to be a mess in the trenches over in Glendale. Things are going to be downright nugatory!

Although something tells me that the Cardinals points off Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions will more than even out any struggles in the ground game.


The Chargers host the Broncos on Monday night, and Norv Turner says he expects the San Diego crowd to play an huge role in disrupting the flow and communication of Peyton Manningss no-huddle offense.

"Monday night I expect our fans to have a big part in it. It's part of the reason that we've had a lot of success against Manning," Turner said. "They're an off-the-line or a no-huddle team and the crowd can affect that greatly."

Only one problem with that: Chargers fans.

Not there arent large chunks of prideful diehards who will try to make life hell for Manning on Monday night, but on the whole . . . theyre still checked out. In fact, theres still a question of whether the game a Monday night showdown against Peyton Manning! will be sold out. Theres even a chance that it gets blacked out.

Might want to make other plans, Norv.


Did you hear that Mike Vick owns a dog? Yes, Michael Vick owns a dog. As a father, it is important to make sure my children develop a healthy relationship with animals, Vick said this week. I want to ensure that my children establish a loving bond and treat all of Gods creatures with kindness and respect. Our pet is well cared for and loved as a member of our family.

First of all, I get what hes saying, but if the point is just for his kids to have a healthy relationship with animals, did he have to get a dog? Why not a cat? A hamster? Hell, an eagle.

Second of all, we can only hope he takes care of that pup better than hes taking care of the ball.

When the season started, Tom Brady led all active NFL players with 80 career fumbles. Thanks to Vicks eight on the young season, hes now vaulted into the lead with 84 two ahead of Brady.

This week, Vick and the Eagles host the Lions, who lucky for Philly ranked 30th in the NFL in takeaways.

Is this the new Randy Moss?

He's been almost entirely phased out of the 49ers offense, and hasn't caught a touchdown since Week 1, yet Jim Harbaugh couldn't be more pleased with what he's getting from Randy Gene. But come on, we really think this can keep going without a serious issue?

I hope so, but if I know Randy, I know that a big-time, highly publicized game like Sunday's against the Giants might be the perfect time for him to explode.


I make a ton of predictions within this column every week, so I figure its time to start holding myself accountable. So, heres what I got right AND wrong in last weeks Alphabet Preview.

Right: Brady Quinn replaces Matt Cassel; Billy Cundiff loses his job; the Ravens D will own the Chiefs O; Lions give up fewer than 35 against the Vikings.

Wrong: Tebow replaces Sanchez; the Ravens' O will own the Chiefs' D; the Browns will win; the Bengals will dominate Tannehill.

Thats 4-4. Not bad. Especially if youre in the NFC West.


This week in Miami, a few of Brian Hartlines Dolphins teammates suggested that Hartlines ability as a receiver is often underestimated because hes white. And of course, theyre right. Its the same way people underestimate Patrick Chung because hes Asian, and underestimated Shaquille ONeal because he was Irish. It just come with territory in todays United States.

No, but seriously, of course Hartline gets a bad rap for being a white receiver. The same thing happens to white cornerbacks. But after his 12-catch, 235-yard performance a few weeks back, I dont think anyone selling him short or white anymore.

This week, Hartline draws a tough match-up against Cortland Finnegan, Jannoris Jenkins and the upstart Rams secondary.

Now everybody sing:


Only one team in the NFL can boast three players who have been targeted 40 times or more this year. Any guesses?

Wait, whats that? Did I hear someone say the Vikings?

Well, youre wrong. Its the Falcons.

Tony Gonzalez (47), Julio Jones (46) and Roddy White (45) rank 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively, in targets this season and help make up an offensive attack thats vaulted Matt Ryan who ranks second in touchdown passes, second in QB rating and third in passing yards into the forefront of the MVP race.

This week, the Falcons have a favorable matchup against a Raiders defense that ranks 30th overall and 27th against the pass.


Last weeks upset special Cleveland over the Giants looked great for about a quarter, as the Browns jumped out to a 17-7 lead. But then Brandon Weedens ego got in the way and the wheels came flying off.

For this weeks U.S., Im going with another road team: The Lions, at the Eagles. Last week in Pittsburgh, the Eagles continued to prove that theyre unable to stay out of their own way and that as the season moves along, theyre going to eventually pay for it. Meanwhile, the Lions are coming off a bye week at 1-3, with any chance to make something of this season riding on a solid performance. Matthew Staffords well-rested, Megatrons ready to go they might even get Jahvid Best back. Add it all up, and take it to the bank.

Final Score: Lions 31, Eagles 27.


When Maurice Jones-Drew was in the midst of his holdout this summer, and constantly arguing how integral he was to the teams success, my reaction was simple: How integral can you be to the teams success when your team never has any success? I mean, come on. The Jags have missed the playoffs for four straight years. How much worse could they be for not forking over the big bucks to Mojo?

Maybe vindicated is too strong of a word, but integral definitely is. With Jones-Drew back in the mix, the Jaguars (1-4) are off to their worst start since 1995 a.k.a. their first season in existence.

But lucky for Jacksonville, theres no way theyre going to lose this week. Yeah, thats right. Theyre on a bye.


No matter how dominant the Texans are early this season, well all be waiting on disaster. For injuries to slowly but surely the same way they do every year chip away at the Texans attack until they eventually back into the playoffs with T.J. Yates as their starting QB.

Last week against the Jets, the championship mummy started to unravel, as Houston lost star linebacker Brian Cushing for the season with a torn ACL. They can probably overcome that one, but a few more big hits and were looking at another lost season for the Texans.

X is for XEROX

Robert Griffin III took a monster hit last week, one that left him with a concussion and a questionable status heading into Sundays game with the Vikings. But hes since been cleared to play.

With the sensitivity that surrounds concussions these days, and the fact the Redskins cant really afford to lose RG3 for any substantial period of time, you might think that the Redskins would take it easy on the rookie this week. Maybe call some plays that keep him better protected and less likely to be beheaded in action.

Youd be wrong. The 'Skins arent changing a thing this week. Their going to battle with a carbon copy of their pre-concussion game plan.

"If I went into a game thinking I had to call a different game because if he got hit he's going to be hurt, then he shouldnt be playing," Kyle Shanahan said this week. "If hes cleared, hes cleared hes OK. Thats my assumption.

Y is for Yes, Please

More Mike Mayock. It's shame that he's relegated to Thursday Night Football every week, when there's so much awful commentary eating up the airwaves on Sundays. Yeah, I know it's not that easy. There are contracts and all sorts of awful politics involved. But football is better when Mike Mayock is describing it and I'll even take Brad Nessler, too.

Z is for Zzzzzz

That's you, after somehow making it through this whole preview.

Enjoy the games.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins


Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – While it’s still early in the careers of all the young Bruins rookies making their way this season, it sure looks like 22-year-old Danton Heinen is among the B’s youngsters that are here to stay. The former University of Denver standout didn’t make the cut at the end of training camp this season and he failed early last year when it was clear he wasn’t ready during an eight-game audition with the big club.

But Heinen continued to look ready while scoring a pair of goals and three points in the three games on a pivotal road trip through California last week, and is now tied for fifth on the Bruins in points despite missing four games in the AHL. In all, Heinen has four goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating in 15 games this season, and is on pace for a really strong 21 goals and 52 points in his first full year.

This has been a really nice step forward for Heinen after being a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring.


“Last year’s playoff did a lot for him. When I saw him playing there, he was a different player than when he’d left [Boston],” said Bruce Cassidy. “There was a willingness to stay in the battle and his growth when it comes to winning pucks…you’ve seen it here. A lot of the things he’s down well are his second and third efforts on the puck where last year I thought he was pushed off the puck pretty easily [at the NHL level].”

There could be a period when his offense slows down or some other part of his game drags his minutes down, but right now he looks like he’s well on his way to establishing himself in a key role with the Black and Gold. The difference has been Heinen increasing his speed and also adding a little more tenacity to the skill and offense package that he was always bringing to the table.  

“I don’t want to say that because when we get our guys healthy then we’ll see where we’re at,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Heinen was a keeper at the NHL level at this point. “But I think he’s certainly shown he’s a much more consistent player than he was last year. He’s probably a bit ahead of the other younger guys because he has gone through a bit of it [at the pro level]. The fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of different situations, play left or right wing, and moved up in the lineup while being very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Schaller down in the lineup, as a coach it’s to have a guy like that who can move around and fit in a lot of different places.

“So he’s certainly helped himself [to stay in the NHL]. I think it’s too early to say if he’s here for good, but I don’t envision him leaving [Boston] anytime soon with the way that he’s played.”

Only time and consistently good play will allow the playmaking Heinen to truly lock up his spot on the NHL roster, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision any scenario where the fifth-round pick isn’t playing an increasingly important role for the Bruins. 


Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo


Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 


According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field."