December 5th, 2011
Million-dollar backfield? Cardinals sure hope so
The recent death of Hall of Fame RB John Henry Johnson helped revive one of the great football nicknames of yore — the famed "Million Dollar Backfield" that included Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry.
But the nickname had earlier origins. It was actually the Cardinals — whose original home was in Chicago — that had the first Million Doillar Backfield. Pat Harder, Elmer Angsman, Paul Christman and Charley Trippi formed this group in 1947, which led to an NFL title SS Chung among Patriots inactives_539, the most recent in franchise history. They were called this because owner Charles Bidwill had signed Trippi to a $100,000 contract, which was the largest of the day. And though Bidwill tragically died days after signing Trippi and wasn't able to see the title come to fruition, the foursome was at its best in the '47 championship game as Trippi and Angsman scored all four TDs in the 28-21 victory over the Eagles.
Fast-forward 64 years, and the Cardinals are in full rebuilding mode. Yet again.
But if there is a ray of hope, it's in their backfield. Really Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants, it might be a $5 million backfield if you add up the compensation this season of Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams, Tim Hightower and LaRod Stephens-Howling — the question now is whether the inflation will be worth it.
Drafting Williams near the top of Round Two threw some folks for a loop, considering the logjam the team appeared to have at running back. But the Cardinals had him ranked as their 15th-best player (and top running back) and want to have the kind of rushing attack that can physically pound opposing teams, much like what Ken Whisenhunt had when he was calling plays for the Steelers.
There's a case to be made for this type of approach.
The Cardinals, you probably are aware, don't currently have a starting quarterback. They will go after Kevin Kolb hard once league business opens, and if that falls through they will go after another veteran QB. John Skelton and Max Hall proved they are not NFL-ready, although they are still development-worthy.
It's a lot easier to run block than pass block, so the retirement of OG Alan Faneca should be easier to overcome Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, even if his replacement won't have that kind of talent or résumé.
If you look at the Cardinals' schedule, they might be able to win a few games right away. They face the Panthers, Redskins and Seahawks, all of whom ranked in the 20s against the run last season. Typically, the rookies who can adjust to the NFL the quickest — especially in this lockout-plagued season — are running backs on offense and defensive linemen on defense. Williams might be able to step in and produce immediately.
Right now, it's a four-man backfield, but it's not clear if it will stay that way. The drafting of Williams, many felt, meant curtains for Wells. But it would be early and surprising if the team gave up on him after only two seasons, even if they have been disappointing.
You could see Wells getting some first- and second-down carries. Williams will too, so perhaps they will alternate series. Hightower can be the goal-line back, although the leg-churning and powerful Williams showed quite a nose for the endzone in college as well. Stephens-Howling has handled the third-down role well, and he's a factor on special teams. You could make the case that the four-man operation makes a lot of sense for a rebuilding offense, even one that has a special talent in WR Larry Fitzgerald. The argument might be that having three or four quality runners only makes Fitz more dangerous.
If it does go down that way, the Cardinals might not be alone in that approach. Witness that of the Patriots — the team many others try to mimic — and what they have done to date this offseason. They not only drafted two running backs in the first three rounds in Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley to go along with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, but they also selected two offensive linemen and a blocking tight end. And they have Tom Brady Pro Bowl OG Mankins reports to Patriots_528, for crying out loud!
After all, if this approach if good enough for New England, why can't it work to a degree in Arizona? Kolb or whomever else the Cardinals land at QB, they are not going to be world beaters in Year One. Kurt Warner isn't coming back, and the next Cardinals quarterback won't be in that kind of an offense.
The power run game is the safest offensive play in football. It's man against man. It's what Whisenhunt likes and knows the best. The Cardinals had all sorts of problems with identity and execution last season, so who's to say this can't be effective?
It might not be the Million Dollar Backfield exactly, but this quartet could help bring the club back to respectability. It's the surest and most direct way to remake this team.
Patriots injury update
What made the Patriots' 14-2 record so impressive was that they did it with key players on injured reserve. Here's a look at some of last year's injured players who are expected to be 100 percent when camp starts.
DE Ty Warren: Warren missed all of 2010 with a hip injury and took time during the lockout to get his college degree. He should regain his starting spot on the D-line in 2011. Warren hasn't started all 16 games since '07 Vrabel leaving Chiefs to take job with Ohio State_127, but he certainly will improve the D-end spot that saw multiple starters shuffle through last season.
CB Leigh Bodden: Rookie Devin McCourty's emergence lessened the blow of Bodden's shoulder injury, but the Patriots struggled covering the wideout opposite McCourty. Bodden, who recently said he is in the best shape of his life Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, should change that and give the Patriots one of the better corner tandems in the league.
RB Kevin Faulk: The veteran tore his ACL in Week Two after signing a one-year deal last offseason. Faulk is a leader but likely will be the No. 5 back on the depth chart after New England added two running backs in the draft. If he proves he is healthy, the Pats ikely will try to re-sign him for one more season.
OT Nick Kaczur: A back injury cost Kaczur the 2010 season. The Patriots' top reserve at tackle, Kaczur has started 62-of-68 career games. The uncertain futures of Matt Light and Logan Mankins could convince the Pats to hold on to Kaczur but he is also owed a lot of money next season and could be a cap casualty.
PK Stephen Gostkowski: An injury in Week Nine sent Gostkowski to injured reserve, just when he had hit nine consecutive field goals after a 1-for-4 start to the season. The Patriots missed his big leg on kickoffs and will be pleased to have him back.
Rookie Meter: Patriots, Bucs impacted by rooks
With a win in Week 16 Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, the Buccaneers became the first team since the NFL merger to start 10 different rookies at some point in the season and finish with a winning record. The Bucs received a big impact from rookies, even with a few of their top picks landing on injured reserve.
Here are the teams that have gotten the most out of their rookie class this season, giving credit to teams that had impacts from multiple rookies, not just one.
1. New England Patriots
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. St. Louis Rams
The turnaround Rams have the Offensive Rookie of the Year being protected by a rookie at left tackle. Sam Bradford is on the verge of possibly leading the Rams into the playoffs and broke the record for most completions by a rookie, and OLT Rodger Saffold has emerged as one of the top rookie O-linemen. WR Danario Alexander and TE Michael Hoomanawanui have four TD catches between them, and defensive players George Selvie, Jerome Murphy and Jermelle Cudjo have made impacts.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
5. Cleveland Browns
6. Oakland Raiders
Honorable mention: Packers, Eagles, Colts
Now, onto the Meter.
1. Rams QB Sam Bradford (first round, first overall)
Bradford not only brought his team one step closer to the playoffs with a 25-17 win over the 49ers, he may have locked up Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. The No. 1 pick had been struggling of late, but he had a big game in a must-win for St. Louis. Bradford set an NFL record for most pass completions by a rookie in a season while completing 28-of-37 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown. A good game in Seattle next week to clinch the division should be enough to give Bradford the title.
2. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
The for-all-intents-and-purposes Defensive Rookie of the Year has had to hold off secondary members Devin McCourty and Eric Berry. Suh did so on Sunday when he recorded five tackles and his rookie-leading ninth sack. He has 13 tackles for loss and a whopping 16 QB hits this season.
3. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
He didn't have huge yardage numbers, but Williams made the best of his catches. Two of his three receptions in Sunday's win went for scores. He had 44 yards receiving, putting him just 76 short of 1,000. He continues to lead rookies in every receiving category, and the big-play rookie averages just over 15 yards per catch.
4. Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount (undrafted)
Blount had his best game while helping keep the Bucs' playoff hopes alive. He didn't find paydirt but rushed for 164 yards on 18 carries, an astounding 9.1-yard average. The bruising back will finish the season as the best rookie running back in the league.
5. Patriots CB Devin McCourty (1, 27)
McCourty had a quiet game, considering his recent play, in the Patriots' win over the Bills. The corner recorded four tackles and forced a fumble on a Ryan Fitzpatrick scramble. He is tied for the rookie lead with six interceptions this season and should get a good test in the season finale from Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall.
6. Chiefs FS Eric Berry (1, 5)
The Chiefs drafted Berry for his big-play abilities, and he showed that on Sunday with a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was his fourth pick of the season. He added four tackles, and his fifth tackle for loss on the year for the AFC West champs.
7. Browns CB Joe Haden (1, 7)
Imagine if Haden had been starting all season, he could be battling Suh for defensive honors. The former Gator had five tackles, an interception and his first career sack on Sunday. He is tied with McCourty for the rookie lead with six picks and has 17 passes defensed this season.
8. Browns SS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
The tackling machine totaled just two in Sunday's loss to the Ravens. He did record his ninth pass defensed of the season. The hard-hitting Ward has 98 tackles and four tackles for loss on the year.
9. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul (1 Three-and-out with Patriots radio color commentator Gino Cappelletti_321, 15)
It was a tough afternoon for the Giants' defense in their loss to the Packers, but Pierre-Paul did his part with three tackles, including a tackle for loss. On the season he has 4½ sacks, seven tackles for loss and six passes defensed, a pretty good number for a D-lineman.
10. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (2, 42)
Gronkowski and fellow rookie TE Aaron Hernandez have been swapping places at the bottom of this Meter, but "Gronk" gets the nod this week after a two-touchdown performance last week gave him nine on the year, just one behind Williams for the rookie lead. Gronkowski led the Patriots with four catches for 54 yards in Hernandez's absence and was on the field for almost every snap, helping block for an offense that rushed for over 200 yards.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Lions RB Jahvid Best (1, 30)
Three-and-out with Patriots radio color commentator Gino Cappelletti
Each week we'll talk to former Patriots star and current broadcaster Gino Cappelletti. This week, Gino discussed how the Patriots' offensive game plan worked against Pittsburgh and all the blitzing the defense did in Week 10.
PFW: How did the Patriots' offense come alive against the Steelers?
Cappelletti: They went after them with the short passing game for a while. Then for the first time in a while they started to stretch the field and that helped with the underneath passing. They got a nice result off a deep post with Brandon Tate. We saw them open up the passing game a little more than they had. (Tom) Brady had probably one of his best games throwing the ball Cheap Alpinestars AX-03 Moto Shoes - Black/Blue Sale - A5015, and prior to that he had been off the mark a little bit. Everybody just played so well, there had to be a reason for it. It was probably in their week of practice and preparation, and the game plan their coaching staff had worked.
PFW: What did the defense do to slow down the Steelers last week?
Cappelletti: The front seven blitzed like crazy and it really worked for the Patriots. They had 22 blitzes until they got the touchdown from James Sanders on the interception return. That's quite a few blitzes. They were doing it with safeties and cornerbacks Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, it was at least a five-man rush most of the time, sometimes bringing six or seven guys. The blitz played a big role for them and they were very effective with it. They had (Ben) Roethlisberger beside himself Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants Cheap Alpinestars Leather Glove GP PRO - Black Sale - A5023, he didn't know where to go. It was good to see them go in with energy, and it worked. They executed perfectly.
PFW: What will the Patriots' defensive strategy be for this Sunday with the Colts coming to town?
Cappelletti: It will be a different strategy for Sunday. We saw so many blitzes last week, you'd like to think the Colts will prepare for it and the Patriots won't be blitzing a lot. But I think they are going to feed off last week's game. (Peyton) Manning doesn't have the receivers that he had for a while but he's still got some good ones. He looked for Dallas Clark a lot and you don't just replace guys like that. You're not as sure with someone who is new or younger and not having the guys you've played with for a long time.
Forgotten: Harold Jackson
A few days ago the name Harold Jackson came up in conversation. I knew of him — recalled his greatness — but admit he hadn't crossed my mind in years. Forgotten? I had to call my editor at Pro Football Weekly to make sure I wasn't the only one suffering from Harold-Jackson-related amnesia.
Such a great player, such a complete wide receiver, and at a time when defenses still ruled the league … how had he managed to escape our consciousness?
When Jackson retired from pro football in 1983, only one receiver — New York's Don Maynard — owned more career receiving yards. An invite to Canton seemed assured. But for a quarter-century Jackson waited for that call and his phone never rang. Time passed, other names emerged, and Harold Jackson slipped all our minds.
A closer look at his career accomplishments suggests the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Senior Selection Committee needs to take action …
As a rookie in 1968, Jackson had no place in George Allen's Rams offense. He played in two games and didn't catch a single pass. After the season, Los Angeles dealt him to Philadelphia where he instantly found a home. The 5-10, 175-pound outside threat led the league in receiving yards (1,116) and ranked fourth in both receptions (65) and touchdown receptions (nine) — one of the all-time great sophomore efforts for a receiver. The following season Jackson collected 194 yards in a game against the Giants, but it meant very little to the big picture; the Eagles began the season 0-7 and won just three games, a trend that continued during Jackson's four-year stay.
After leading the league in receptions and yards in 1972, Philadelphia dealt Jackson back to Los Angeles for 33-year-old QB Roman Gabriel. Jackson was devastated. "I absolutely cried when I heard I got traded because I did not want to leave Philadelphia," he told a writer several years ago. "… I may have been one of the only players that never got booed while playing in Philadelphia, especially in the early 1970s."
In 1973, both players found success. Gabriel earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors — his last good season — and Jackson set a career-best with 13 touchdown catches. In an October win over Dallas he caught seven passes for 238 yards and four scores. Unfortunately, when the teams met again in Jackson's first playoff appearance, the outcome was reversed. Jackson caught just one ball (40 yards) and Dallas won Alpinestars A-10 Air Flo Pants, 27-16.
The following year, Chuck Knox again guided the Rams into the playoffs, and this time they beat Washington in the opening round. In the NFC championship game against Minnesota, Jackson was marvelous (three catches for 139 yards) but fell just inches short of the goal line for what would have been the deciding score; instead, Minnesota won, 14-10, and earned the right to play Pittsburgh in Super Bowl IX.
At 31, Jackson earned a trip to his fifth Pro Bowl (1977). Following that campaign Los Angeles again traded its top receiver, perhaps thinking he was near the end of his rope — he wasn't. In four seasons with the Patriots he caught 156 passes for 3,162 yards, and had no fewer than five TD catches in each of his first three seasons.
When the 1970s came to a close, Jackson had gained more yards per season than Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann and more touchdowns per season than Dallas' Drew Pearson — the two first-team receivers chosen ahead of him for the decade's All-NFL team (Jackson didn't even make the second team, as Harold Carmichael and Paul Warfield were instead recognized).
After failed stints in Minnesota and Seattle, Jackson became the Patriots' wide receivers coach in 1985 Patriots-Packers prediction_343, and during the 1987 NFL strike he attempted a comeback at the age of 41, but it didn't take (this has created some debate as to when his 25-year clock for Senior Selection Committee consideration should have begun).
If his 10,000-plus yards and 76 touchdowns (more than James Lofton Sale Alpinestars Motorcycle Jackets - Cheap Alpinestars Jackets Store, Art Monk and Charlie Joiner) are not enough to sway Hall of Fame voters Patriots-Bills matchup of the day- Thursday_326, then they might consider the fact that he gained 17.9 yards per catch over 16 seasons. By comparison, DeSean Jackson — arguably the NFL's best deep threat today — has a career average of 18.2 yards and still owns fresh legs. In 1979, at the age of 33, Jackson averaged 22.5 yards on 45 receptions (only his teammate, 24-year-old Stanley Morgan, had a better average that year).
Jackson must now compete for attention amongst ignored Hall of Fame greats such as Jerry Kramer and Alex Karras — in some respects, a stiffer challenge than earning entrance into Canton on the main ballot. A long shot, to be certain, but I can say this — he won't slip my mind again.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010).