By Neil Keefe
The football season is almost half over and some teams are still searching for an identity. New York’s two teams seem to know who they are, but the Patriots don’t, while the Vikings and Saints looks like they have switched identities and records this season. Question marks still surround the .500 Eagles and Cowboys, and now question marks are starting to pop up around the first-place Ravens.
Phil Simms, NFL analyst, host of NFL Monday QB on CBS Sports Network and part of Inside the NFL on Showtime, joined CBS Local Sports to give his take on the biggest stories around the NFL following Week 7.
CBS Local Sports: Eli Manning orchestrated another fourth-quarter comeback on Sunday when he connected with Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown. At this point, Eli has become seemingly automatic in the final two minutes of either half. Is Eli the best quarterback in the league at the two-minute drill?
Simms: I don’t know if I really want to go down the whole NFL, but I know he’s one of the best that’s for sure. I think there are two things about Eli. It’s, of course, his talents working with an extremely talented group of receivers who are maybe the best in the NFL as a whole group, and playing in a system that’s very aggressive. I think the other thing is that Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride have kind of cultivated a system and an environment where throwing the ball down the field and making big plays isn’t a big deal to them. So when they get in these game-winning situations it’s just not a big deal. It’s something they’ve done in practice and something they’ve done many, many times in games.
CBS Local Sports: The Patriots were double-digit favorites against the Jets, but were barely able to survive with an overtime win. The Patriots have three losses, and yes they’re by a combined four points, but now everyone is talking like the Patriots are just another team. You were in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon, have the Patriots lost their status as an elite team?
Simms: No, I don’t think anybody should say they’re just another team. I’m not going to say that’s ridiculous, but it’s pretty close to ridiculous. Winning close games is an art, and the one thing this year is that the offense really in crunch time isn’t getting the first down or score when you want them to. The defense continues to struggle against the pass, but overall, I think almost everybody looks at them and knows that it’s a process. They’re 4-3 and I think I would be surprised and most people I talk to would be very surprised if the Patriots are not right in this when the end of the year comes.
CBS Local Sports: As for the Jets, are you seeing the positive progression from Mark Sanchez that you would normally see at this point in a quarterback’s career?
Simms: Well, I’ll say this: I don’t doubt his talents. And I think when he’s been given the chance that he’s performed very well. This year the team is built on the foundation of defense and running the ball, which hasn’t quite worked out for the Jets. I think what’s very encouraging to them is that they played the Colts two weeks ago and a run defense that was struggling and they took advantage of it, and this past weekend they played the Patriots, who are struggling against the pass, and overall they took advantage of it. I think that’s a really big sign for the football team: when the offense kind of picks it up and plays like they are since it’s going to help the defense.
And I can’t talk about the Jets without saying this too: the offensive line is really coming around for them. That’s going to be the most encouraging thing of all when you talk about the Jets is that their offensive line is starting to show a little dominance.
CBS Local Sports: Tim Tebow hasn’t really had an impact on the Jets’ season on the field through seven games and maybe he won’t at all this year after all of the offseason hype. Are the Jets using Tim Tebow properly and should they be using him at all?
Simms: I think you should use him. There’s no doubt. Look, you have him on the team and he does have a skill set. Nowadays you see another receiver come in for third down and you see a different running back coming in to protect the quarterback. We see linebackers change because one can cover receivers better than another one. So there’s a situation for Tim Tebow. I think we all know what it is: picking up third-and-shorts, fourth downs and bringing in a different element to the offense when he comes in. Maybe we’ll see more as time goes along, but they’re trying to get him in there. It’s just not as easy as we all think it is.
CBS Local Sports: The Saints came back against the Buccaneers on the road and then were able to hold on for the win on the final play of the game. Now at 2-4 with back-to-back wins, but with the Broncos, Eagles and Falcons up next, are the Saints still capable of making a run?
Simms: If I had to say yes or no, I’d say no. It’s going to be very difficult because of the competition they are going to play against. The thing that has to worry you about the Saints more than anything is they’re 2-4 and the defense has shown just no signs of really coming together and having spurts where they can be dominant to help the football team. That would be a big concern and I don’t know how you can correct it or fix it up enough where you can go on a three-game winning streak or a four-game winning streak, so I think it’s going to be hard for the Saints.
CBS Local Sports: It seemed like the Vikings might be in rebuilding mode for a few years as Christian Ponder matured into an NFL quarterback, but they are ahead of schedule at 5-2. Are the Vikings for real and do they have a chance to win the NFC North over the Packers and Bears?
Simms: Do they have a chance? Yes. I wouldn’t put those chances very high though when I talk about the Minnesota Vikings. It’s kind of nice to see in the NFL in this day and age of everything about the offense and the quarterback that we have a few teams like Seattle, Arizona and Houston playing some good defense and Minnesota and Chicago playing some really good defense. What’s impressed me about the Vikings is that they’re a big physical team again and they’re a tremendous factor up in that dome with that crowd noise and that defense and the good pass rushers they have.
Christian Ponder and their offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, have done a good job. Ponder has tried to make a few plays, but its backfired on him in the last few weeks. But I think what they’re doing and they’re doing very well is they’re complementing their defense. They’re playing a certain style and we’re seeing that that style wins games in the NFL and gives you a chance to win a lot of games.
CBS Local Sports: Were you shocked at what happened to the Ravens in Houston on Sunday as the Texans embarrassed them, and will the major injuries to their defense be too much for them to overcome despite being 5-2?
Simms: Shocked? Maybe not shocked, but surprised with the outcome being as big as it was. Everything went against them that day. Emotionally, the Ravens were missing a few guys, but also emotionally, the Texans were trying to show everybody the game against the Green Bay Packers was just not who theyare. Against the Ravens, the Texans were physical, fast and just caught the Ravens and beat them in every aspect of the football game.
One thing I’m not going to do is over judge one game. It was a tremendously bad week for the Ravens, but there is also a little bit that concerns me with them: the defense giving up runs. If the defense is going to give up points, is the offense good enough to really go out there every single week and put up a bunch of points on the board? It’s has to be proven to me. I have to see it.
CBS Local Sports: The Cowboys sit at 3-3 with the Giants on tap in Week 8 while the Eagles also sit at 3-3 with the undefeated Falcons waiting in Week 8. These two teams always have high expectations and are once again having letdown seasons. Who has been the more disappointing team this year and which team has a better outlook over their last 10 games?
Simms: I would say the Eagles are the more disappointing one. I thought, “OK, with the second year for some of these coaches like Juan Castillo, the defensive coordinator, whose been fired, it will really help what they were doing.” I thought, “Michael Vick understands the team and how they should play and it’s going to work.” And it has not.
If I had to pick one of the two teams looking forward, I still think the Eagles have a chance. They have a lot of big playmakers and a lot of things have been in place down there on the offensive side for a long time. Michael Vick has been there long enough where he should really be able to execute this offense. So if I had to pick one of the two, who can do it here in the future, without hesitation, I’ll take the Philadelphia Eagles.
NFL MONDAY QB is a weekly studio show that airs every Monday at 6:30 pm, ET (encores at 1:00 AM, ET) on the cable channel CBS Sports Network. Led by Simms, along with CBS NFL analysts Rich Gannon and Steve Beuerlein, NFL MONDAY QB brings together an elite roster of quarterbacks to break-down the week’s games – purely from a quarterback perspective – focusing on how quarterback play impacted the games.
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