Saturday, January 12, 2013

NFL '12 Dread News - Week 18

A couple of running backs made the postseason dread stars list as the playoffs got underway with 4 games in the Wild Card round. One of them - Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch - we've all heard of. He was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team after having the best season of his career. The other? Well, prior to last Saturday night you might not have heard of him before. He's just happy to have a job in the NFL .....

..... Of course, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, you have heard of DuJuan Harris before. His name came up several times during his solid college career at Troy (including winning my first ever player of the week award in Week 1 of the 2008 season). And it came up again during my Week 14 NFL report last season when he was a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars. This season the Jaguars' new coaching staff (you know, the one that just got fired after leading the team to their worst season ever) decided they had no use for Harris. He was cut near the end of training camp. And after the Steelers then took a quick look at him and said, "No, thanks," Harris found himself unemployed.

According to an article from the Associated Press (link below) earlier this week, DuJuan was able to land an interview for a job as a salesman at a Mercedes-Benz dealership - where they no doubt took one look at those dreads hanging halfway down his back and said, "And you want to work for us looking like that?" He ended up going to work at a different (more dreads-friendly) auto dealership, but thankfully it wasn't long before he got a call from the Green Bay Packers - a team that never met a player with dreads they didn't like. As a result of what has happened ever since, let's hope Harris' days as a car salesman are forever a thing of the past.
I was kind of upset when the Jaguars let Harris go; but for real, what could he have done for them this season that would have made any difference? The Packers, on the other hand, can offer him something he never would have gotten much of in Jacksonville - space. When playing defense against the Packers, priority one is to prevent the big pass play. So there aren't as many defenders crowding the line of scrimmage as there would be against teams with weak passing attacks (such as the Jaguars). Now I'm not going to say that Harris is one of the better RBs in the league. Obviously he isn't. But the thing he's best at is that he's shifty and can easily make defenders miss. So playing for the Packers has allowed him to play to his strength.

Harris' family and friends no doubt couldn't have been more proud (and they probably couldn't believe it either) last Saturday night as they watched DuJuan get the ball on 7 of the 11 plays of the Packers' first TD drive in their 24-10 home victory over the Vikings. After rushing for gains of 4, 4, 1, and 4 yards as well as catching short passes for gains of 16 and 12, DuJuan finished the 82-yard drive with a highlight reel 9-yard TD run (photo below) to put Green Bay ahead to stay 7-3 late in the 1st quarter. Harris picked up 50 more total yards in the rest of the game to finish with an even 100 - just enough to be on the dread stars list. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a get-to-know-you article on DuJuan a couple of weeks ago. If you like, you can read it by clicking the link below.
As for Marshawn Lynch, he and his teammates also advanced to round 2 of the playoffs; but they were very fortunate to come away with a 24-14 victory over the Redskins - the Seahawks' first playoff win on the road in 29 years. Lynch had an up-and-down game (mostly up), finishing with 141 yards and 1 TD. But the way the game began it looked like the Seahawks would be going home instead of to the 2nd round. The Redskins sliced through their supposedly excellent defense with no trouble at all in the 1st quarter, taking a 14-0 lead on TD drives of 80 and 54 yards. But on the third to last play on that second drive rookie QB Robert Griffin III aggravated the knee injury he first suffered back in Week 14. From then on it was a whole new ball game. 

Griffin's mobility means everything to Washington's offense, and with the knee ailing it was obvious he was going to be pretty much immobile for as long as he stayed in the game. So the question became: would the offense be able to do anything? Well, it was the worst case scenario for Redskins fans. The Redskins not only didn't score the rest of the game, they barely even moved the ball, picking up just 4 first downs on their next 6 possessions. That left it up to their defense to win the game. And they might have pulled it off if not for another key play midway through the 2nd quarter.

With the score 14-3, Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson fumbled at the Seattle 44-yard line on a 1st and 5 play, with the ball rolling toward the sideline. Had a Washington player been there, it likely would have been a scoop and score. But instead it was Lynch who got to the ball first, and not only did he recover the fumble, he advanced it for a 20-yard gain. Five plays later the Seahawks were in the end zone with their 1st TD of the game to close within 14-10.
With the score 14-13, Lynch broke loose for a 26-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the 2nd half. But 7 plays later, on 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line, the Seahawks came away with nothing when Marshawn fumbled after being hit hard on a carry up the middle (photo above). Washington maintained the 1-point lead until midway through the 4th, with the Seahawks finally going in front on a 27-yard TD run by Lynch (photo below) on 3rd and 5. A successful 2-point conversion on the next play made the score 21-14. 
No longer in the lead, the Redskins suddenly found themselves needing to score. But on the very first play of their next drive Griffin was sacked for a 12-yard loss by rookie DE Bruce Irvin (photo below). It was the only tackle of the game by Irvin, who was on the field only because star DE Chris Clemons suffered a serious knee injury earlier in the game. On the next play after the sack Griffin further injured his knee while trying to recover a bad shotgun snap. The Seahawks recovered at the 5-yard line, setting up a FG four plays later that put the game out of reach. After those first two drives ended with touchdowns, the Redskins never advanced the ball beyond their own 41-yard line the rest of the game.
Seahawks CB Richard Sherman wasn't challenged much during the game (0 tackles, 0 PBU), but he was in the middle of the action after the game, getting into a scuffle with Redskins OT Trent Williams, the details of which you can read by clicking on the link below.
Richard really needs to slow his roll - because the next time somebody might actually punch him instead of just shoving him in the face. For real though, the only way to silence a cocky CB is to humiliate him during the game. That hasn't happened to Sherman yet, and it's easier said than done. But I wouldn't mind it a bit if it were done next week, when he faces Falcons WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Cincinnati Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who introduced himself on the NBC telecast of the game by his nickname - "the law firm" - broke free for a 29-yard run (photo below) on his 2nd carry of the game at Houston (it would have been much more if he actually had any speed) but was unable to make it three RBs on the dread stars list. He was held to 34 yards on his other 10 carries in a tough 19-13 loss to the Texans. Last week I referred to the Bengals as the red-hot Bengals. Actually though, that was only half true. While the Bengals' defense has been hot, their offense certainly has not.
Cincinnati finished the regular season on a 3-game winning streak but averaged only 235 total yards in those 3 games. The defense, meanwhile, scored a TD in each of those victories. Those trends continued last Saturday, but the winning streak did not. The Bengals' only TD came on a pick 6 by CB Leon Hall, and the offense managed just 198 total yards. Still they might have won if QB Andy Dalton hadn't overthrown WR A.J. Green, who was open deep for what should have been a 36-yard TD on 3rd and 11 with just under 3 minutes remaining in the game. After failing to convert on 4th and 11 on the next play, the Bengals never got the ball back as the Texans picked up two first downs and ran out the clock. S Reggie Nelson had a busy game for the Bengals with 10 tackles (9-1) and 2 TFL (but it's not good when your safety leads the team in tackles); rookie LB Vontaze Burfict had 6 tackles (4-2); and DT Pat Sims finished with 4 tackles (4-0).

As a wide receiver, you don't get paid to block (unless, that is, your name is Devin Aromashodu); but as TV announcers have mentioned countless times it often is the good blocking by a WR that turns a good gain into a really big play. Exhibit 'A' of that was the performance by WR Torrey Smith in the Ravens' 24-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday at Baltimore.

Smith's 2 receptions in the game - a 22-yarder in the 2nd quarter and a 9-yarder in the 4th - contributed to the Ravens' first and last scoring drives of the day. But he made more of an impact as a downfield blocker on their other two scoring drives, throwing key blocks on a 47-yard catch and run by RB Ray Rice to the 2-yard line (setting up a TD on the next play) late in the 2nd quarter and again on a 20-yard catch and run for a TD by TE Dennis Pitta in the 3rd. Now if Smith had been lazy and/or sloppy with his blocking, Rice likely would have been tackled before getting the ball into the red zone on his play, and Pitta definitely would not have scored on his. Nice job, Torrey.
The Colts, who have been shaky almost every time they've played on the road this season despite a respectable 4-4 road record - ended up with 419 total yards. But they could not finish their drives, instead settling for 3 FGs. They also missed a FG attempt and had 2 turnovers, one of which was a FR by DE Pernell McPhee. LB Dannell Ellerbe (photo above) nearly made the dread stars list after recording 9 tackles (8-1), including 1 TFL. Round 2 figures to be much more difficult for the Ravens as they travel to Denver to play the Broncos, the same team that whipped them right there in Baltimore back in Week 15.


The once anemic number of players with dreads in the AFC West has risen significantly lately, with 8 players added in the last two drafts. The division also got a big boost during the offseason with the signings of free agents Atari Bigby and Philip Wheeler.

Added two more rookies in the 2012 draft - Omar Bolden and Danny Trevathan - after selecting Nate Irving and Quinton Carter in the 2011 draft. Carter unfortunately went on IR after Week 3. I haven't seen Irving's dreads up close, but he may have them reduced; they don't seem to be as long now as they were when he was in college. Bolden took a kickoff return to the house (photo below) in the preseason, but his longest return in the regular season was 33 yards. He, Irving, Trevathan, and David Bruton play mostly on special teams. Sadly, CB Syd'Quan Thompson, who tore an ACL during the 2011 preseason, was cut at the end of this preseason. He had the best dreads on the team. Hopefully he'll be back somewhere else next season.
ACTIVE: CB Omar Bolden, S David Bruton, LB Nate Irving, LB Danny Trevathan
INACTIVE: CB Mario Butler (PS), S Quinton Carter (IR), LB Jason Hunter 

Tyson Jackson brings Chiefs' grade down a notch because he kept his sick dreads reduced all year. The on-again, off-again dreads of Steve Breaston were on again this season. Come on Steve, why don't you let them grow really long this time. Breaston btw fell out of favor with the former coaching staff. Hopefully the new staff will be able to get him back to making plays. With his skills, Dexter McCluster would be dynamite with a team like the Patriots; but so far Chiefs have mostly wasted his talent, unable to get the ball to him in space often enough. Again, hopefully the new coaches can help him with that. Jamaal Charles (photo below), coming back strong after missing most of 2011 with a torn ACL, is back to being one of the best RBs in the league and back to ranking near the top of my 2012 dreaded dozen list. Rookie Junior Hemingway finally activated in Week 17 after spending the whole season on the practice squad. Other than Jackson, only bad news came in preseason, when the super long dreads of rookie DBs Dominique Ellis and Terrance Parks didn't make the team (or the practice squad either). Maybe next year.
ACTIVE: WR Steve Breaston, RB Jamaal Charles, WR Junior Hemingway, DE Tyson Jackson, S Kendrick Lewis, WR Dexter McCluster, DT Dontari Poe, LB Leon Williams

If I had a dreaded dozen for the best dreads (instead of the best players with dreads), Philip Wheeler (photo below) would rank near or at the top of that list. After playing mostly special teams with the Colts, he was on the field for almost every snap defensively in his first year with Raiders and had a very nice season. Slowed by injuries, Denarius Moore not as productive this year as he was as a rookie; but he has the talent (if not the QB) to be a big-time player. One of my favorite players, rookie S Aaron Henry, failed to make the team. Keep an eye on DE Lamarr Houston. After growing his hair out all season, he converted to either braids or dreads (I couldn't tell which) in Week 17. Hopefully we'll welcome him to the house for next season.
ACTIVE: TE David Ausberry, CB Coye Francies, WR Denarius Moore, LB Philip Wheeler
INACTIVE: LB Jerrell Harris (PS), CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (PS)


The sickest dreads on the team - Atari Bigby and Richard Goodman - ended up on IR - Goodman after Week 8 and Bigby after Week 12. Chargers' grade drops a bit due to Goodman on the field with reduced dreads too often. Cam Thomas' dreads (photo below) easily visible now (when he doesn't reduce them, that is), but D-line mate Vaughn Martin now an ex-dread. Free agent Gary Guyton added to roster in December.
ACTIVE: LB Gary Guyton, DT Cam Thomas
INACTIVE: S Atari Bigby (IR), WR Richard Goodman (IR)


1. With his dreads partially reduced, Bengals S Reggie Nelson tackles Texans TE Owen Daniels at the Houston 25-yard line after an 18-yard reception on 2nd and 8 during 1st quarter. It was one of Nelson's team high 10 tackles (9-1). ...... Three plays later ......

2. ..... Rookie WR Keshawn Martin eludes the tackle attempt by CB Nate Clements but can't stay inbounds and picks up a 16-yard gain on a reverse to the Bengals' 38-yard line. Texans kicked a FG four plays later to take a 3-0 lead. It was Martin's only play from scrimmage. He also had 2 punt returns for 14 yards.

3. CB Adam Jones makes the tackle to save the TD, but it's a 22-yard reception by WR Andre Johnson to the 5-yard line early in 3rd quarter. Texans scored a TD two plays later to increase their lead to 16-7.

4. Adam Jones calls it a day late in 3rd quarter after injuring his hamstring. He finished with the 1 tackle and also 1 PBU.

5. The law firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis waits helplessly on the sideline as Texans' offense runs out the clock, not giving Bengals a final chance late in 4th quarter. Green-Ellis, whose season last year ended with a loss in the Super Bowl, gained 63 yards rushing on 11 carries and had 2 catches for -9 yards. For 2nd straight year Bengals were eliminated by Texans in 1st round of playoffs, this time by the score of 19-13.

6. Packers LB Erik Walden just misses getting a sack as Vikings QB Joe Webb throws the ball away on 3rd and 2 midway through 1st quarter at Green Bay.

7. S Mistral Raymond makes the TD-saving tackle, shoving WR Greg Jennings out of bounds at the 2-yard line after a 32-yard catch and run on 4th and 5 during 2nd quarter. It was Raymond's only tackle of the game. Packers settled for a FG four plays later to up their lead to 10-3.

8. RB DuJuan Harris tries to get past LB Erin Henderson and S Harrison Smith, but Smith is just able to trip him up on Packers' opening drive of 2nd half. Still it was a 14-yard reception to the Vikings 20-yard line, and Packers got the TD 5 plays later to take a 24-3 lead. Harris finished with a career high 100 total yards - 47 rushing and 53 receiving - and scored 1 TD. ......

9. ..... On the first play of Vikings' next drive Erik Walden tackles superstar RB Adrian Peterson for a 4-yard loss. Walden finished with 3 tackles (2-1), 2 of which were TFL (the other was a sack). Peterson was 'held' to 99 yards rushing...... Three plays later .....

10. ..... S Morgan Burnett hops on the back of TE Kyle Rudolph and drags him down at the MIN 45-yard line after a 13-yard reception. It was 1 of 4 tackles (3-1) by Burnett. The drive ended 7 plays later with a sack on 4th and 3. Packers could have run up the score if they wanted to but took it easy after taking that 24-3 lead and held on for a 24-10 victory.


11. After the pass was knocked away by Colts CB Vontae Davis on 3rd and 6, Ravens WR Torrey Smith can't catch the deflection, and the pass falls incomplete late in 1st quarter at Baltimore, forcing Ravens to punt on next play. Davis had 3 PBU in the first 20 minutes of the game. Once Ravens figured out not to throw in his direction they started having success. Smith finished with 2 catches for 31 yards and, as mentioned before, made key blocks on a pair of big plays by Ravens' offense.

12. LB Dannell Ellerbe can't quite get the sack but does force QB Andrew Luck into a 16-yard intentional grounding penalty late in 2nd quarter (Luck was out of the pocket but the pass fell just short of the line of scrimmage). The penalty also included a 10-second runoff, leaving :12 on the clock. But Colts picked up 25 yards on the next play to get into FG range and kicked a FG on the final play of the half to cut Ravens' lead to 10-6.

13. Dannell Ellerbe stops RB Vick Ballard during 3rd quarter, with a little help from rookie LB Courtney Upshaw. Ellerbe finished the day with 9 tackles (8-1), while Upshaw had 3 (3-0).

14. Colts Coach Pagano, who was Ravens' defensive coordinator last season, gives a hug to Dannell Ellerbe after the game. A remarkable, storybook season for Pagano and the Colts came to an end with their 24-9 loss to Ravens.

15. Seahawks sick WR Sidney Rice goes high to make the catch, and then .....

16. ..... beautifully gets both feet inbounds as he lands (it would have been better if the photographer had gotten the shot of Rice getting both feet inbounds, but he missed that part of the shot so you'll have to take my word for it) despite Redskins CB Cedric Griffin's efforts to shove him out of bounds at the 12-yard line. It was Sidney's only reception of the game, good for 27 yards, and four plays later Seahawks got on the board with a FG to cut Washington's lead to 14-3.

17. S Earl Thomas is tackled by WR Josh Morgan after a 2-yard return of a deep pass he intercepted on 2nd and 7 during 2nd quarter, keeping score at 14-10. Thomas also had 4 tackles (0-4) in the game.

18. Sidney Rice greets some Seahawks fans who made their way down to the front row to celebrate near the end of the game. The 24-14 victory was the Seahawks' first playoff road victory in 29 years.

19. "Guess I'll have to intercept you later," CB Richard Sherman tells QB Robert Griffin III as they meet after the game, after Griffin threw very few passes in Sherman's area during the game. The teams' next regular season meeting will be in 2014. It's on to round 2 for Sherman, while RG3 is facing a long recovery after tearing a knee ligament during the game. Get well ASAP, Robert.

There are no weekly honors this week. I'll do a single dread stars list, house of dread, and head dread for the entire postseason after the Super Bowl.

WEEK 18 TDs: DuJuan Harris (GB), Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
WEEK 18 INT: Earl Thomas (SEA)

Patriots embarrassed Texans when they met at New England in Week 14. Will it be any different this time? It's going to be a cold one in Denver as Broncos meet Ravens. It has been said around these parts that Packers don't match up well against 49ers. We'll see about that. And let's hope Atlanta fares better against Richard Sherman than they did against that other Sherman a while back.

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