In Week 12, three quarterbacks were shown the bench, and another was injured. The 'Beast of the East' may be in the AFC, and there are some bruising running backs in the NFL right now that make tackling look like a lost art. Taking a look back at the week that was:
Kirwan's unsung heroes
Offensive coordinator, Falcons
The Falcons didn't score a TD in their first game against the Panthers but came back in the rematch and posted 45 points. Carolina came into Atlanta on a four-game winning streak, giving up 14.5 points a game, but Mularkey's game plan, play-calling and the execution by his players resulted in 392 total yards and 38 points without Matt Ryan throwing a touchdown pass. Mularkey is a creative play-caller and a guy who deserves another chance to be a head coach in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator, Texans
Houston has struggled on defense this season, but in Cleveland the Texans held the Browns to two field goals. The Browns benched Brady Quinn after two interceptions and got another from Derek Anderson. Cleveland finished with just 240 total yards, the three interceptions and lost two fumbles. Smith is in his 21st year in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator, Patriots
The Patriots' had their second consecutive 500-yard day of offense. What gets lost in the talk of both of Matt Cassel's 400-yard passing days is that both weeks the team rushed for more than 100 yards using backups and rookies to run the ball. McDaniels has been with the Patriots since 2001 and will be a hot head-coaching candidate this offseason.
*Note: For nine years, Pat Kirwan has written the Unsung Heroes column during the season to bring attention to the people behind the scenes that help make some of the extraordinary things happen in the NFL on any given weekend.
At the end of the year, the Unsung Hero of the Year is presented a trophy made in the name of Chip Myers, a longtime NFL assistant coach and former player who passed away just days after he was elevated to his first coordinator position with the Minnesota Vikings. Chip was well respected by everyone in the coaching ranks and embodied all the virtues assistant coaches need to be successful. He was humble, a good teacher, a loyal friend and a tireless worker.*
A look back before going forward
A few of the hot topics discussed on Friday that played themselves out on Sunday ... and worth looking back at:
Rematch games: The concept of rematch games in the division should not be taken lightly because sweeping an NFL team is a tough assignment. The Raiders, Falcons and Patriots avenged early season losses on Sunday. Only the Bengals were beaten in a rematch game. NFL players and coaches don't fear a second chance against a team they lost to the first time around. The Raiders were beaten at home, 41-14, by the Broncos in Week 1, but went into Denver's stadium and whipped the Broncos 31-10. The Falcons couldn't score a single touchdown the first time they played Carolina but had no trouble scoring six in the rematch. The Patriots got beat by the "Wildcat" when they faced the Dolphins in Week 3, but tamed it this time and beat Miami.
Road worries: Teams made a U-Turn on the road on Sunday and erased the struggles it can present. Only four of the 16 road teams entered with winning records away from home, but 11 of them came out with a victory.
Pat's fantasy advice: The three players I thought would have big games all hit it pretty good. Matt Forte had 22 touches for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch had 25 touches for 104 yards and a touchdown. And old reliable, Peyton Manning, looked 100 percent as he connected on 32 of 44 passes for 255 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
Coach of the year? It is my opinion that Bill Belichick is doing the best coaching job of his career and the development of Matt Cassel supports that argument. A second consecutive game of 400 yards passing, eight tackles from inexperienced linebackers, and a touchdown run from an undrafted rookie sure is impressive for the 7-4 Patriots. They remain on course for 10 wins.
The quarterback shuffle never ends
You would think by week 12 the quarterback situation in the NFL, barring injuries, would be settled, but it remains as volatile as ever. The Eagles benched Donovan McNabb, the Browns took Brady Quinn out of the game and Detroit yanked Daunte Culpepper. Throw in an injury to Marc Bulger and the season of QB discontent continues. For any number of reasons we have already seen 69 different quarterbacks throw a pass in an NFL game this season, and there are still five weeks in the regular season left.
A king's ransom for Cassel
The game plans, the results, and the growth and development have been remarkably similar. Last week I thought Cassel, a free agent in 2009, would at minimum be looking at the deal Matt Schaub got when he was traded to Houston from Atlanta. But another 400-yard game and a 14-yard touchdown run raised his value even higher.
Of course, some will say he may be the next Scott Mitchell, but the counter is that he may be the next Tom Brady. Did the Panthers know more about Jake Delhomme when they signed him away from the Saints? No. What if he was a rookie like Matt Ryan? Where would the buzz be for Cassel then? He has already thrown 359 passes and should finish the season with more than 500. He has better statistics than Ryan, Jason Campbell, David Garrard and even Ben Roethlisberger.
Some team is going to take a chance on Cassel. It's not even that much of a chance when you look at some of the starters around the league now. I would say this past weekend bumped Cassel's value by a million dollars a year. While the U.S. economy struggles his value just keeps going up.
Tackling a lost art?
The tackling in the NFL can frustrate coaches and astute fans, but is it really much worse than it used to be? Watch an old game with Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Barry Sanders, or Jerome Bettis running tha ball and you will see missed tackles, poor angles to tackles, broken tackles and a lot of bad defense ... or maybe just some great running backs.
I watched most of the Giants game tapes and it is clear that their offensive line sustains blocks better than any team in the NFL, and by the time defenders get off those blocks it is too late for a good tackle. Ray Lewis is a Hall of Fame linebacker but he struggled to get in position to make good tackles when the Ravens played the Giants in Week 11.
There are a number of defensive backs who like to throw themselves at ball carriers rather than form tackle, wrap up and finish, which can be frustrating to watch. But ball carriers should be given credit for making tackles more difficult.