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The Notebook: Denver's first-strike capability, Dareus' dominance & more

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Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White imagines what it'd be like to stop the Broncos offense. Also in this week's Notebook, Gio Bernard's big brain fart, a breakout year from Marcell Dareus, Tavon Austin, the Terio dance and more.

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The Broncos have the NFL's highest scoring offense, averaging 41.2 points per game. More than 13 points separate the Broncos from the Bears, the second-most prolific offense at 28.8 points per game. I assumed that for a team to put up those kinds of numbers, it's essential to get off to a good start.

The Broncos scored at least a field goal on their first drive in six out of nine games this season. That's good, but you know what's even more impressive? Denver has scored on its first offensive drive of the second half in seven out of nine games, including their win Sunday over the Chargers. Six of those seven drives resulted in a touchdown, the other one ended with a field goal.

One of the two games where the Broncos didn't score on the first drive after halftime was against the Colts, their only loss of the season so far. They didn't score on the first drive of that game either.

That's what you call pressure. When you can almost assume that the Broncos will score points on the very first drive of the second half, it changes the calculus for head coaches trying to make decisions at the end of the first half. If its fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes left in the first half and the ball is in the red zone, do you take the points with a field goal? Or, do you keep trying for that touchdown, knowing the Broncos will likely score on you after halftime?

Don't even think about the scenario where the Broncos have the ball at the end of the first half with a chance to score and the first possession of the second half coming.

As a defensive guy, I shudder just thinking about it.

Free Jim Harbaugh!

Watching the Panthers beat the 49ers and this question kept popping in my head: "Who confiscated Harbaugh's ... courage?!"

OK, I get that for a lot of reasons, including an offensive line that is underachieving right now and injuries still effecting the skill positions. The 49ers passing offense won't look like it did in the first game against the Packers for quite a while. Harbaugh was calling running plays that don't convert in several instances with his team facing third-and-short. They had a chance to pull away near the end of the first half. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Carolina 2-yard line, up 6-0, he decided to kick a field goal instead. Vernon Davis was out of the game at that point, being checked for a concussion, so the offense was down one of its best players. Instead of being aggressive, Harbaugh played it safe.

Where did this version of Harbaugh come from, and how can we get the other guy back? It doesn't take a riverboat gambler to throw the ball on third-and-2 or go for it on fourth down at your opponent's 2-yard line, it just takes a set of ... courage:


The 49ers players squandered opportunities to win that game, like the fumble by Hunter and the interception at the end by Kaepernick. However, the game should have been all but decided at that point. Until Harbaugh gets his courage back that offense will continue to sputter and cost them games.

Call Vince Young

(Taps mic)

*Erykah Badu voice*

Hey Packers: I think you need to caaaaaall Vince Yoooouuuuung


And tell him come ooooon help you fix that shit.

Seriously, why not? He doesn't have to start, but he would make a hell of a safety net should Scott Tolzien get hurt.

Can Tavon carry the Rams?

Tavon Austin must have been inspired by that great urban poet "Quint Black" before the Rams game against the Colts and decided to "shake dem haters off" repeatedly in Indianapolis.

Austin has caught a lot of heat for his lack of production so far this year. This kid was supposed to be the next Percy Harvin. Instead, his stats have been anemic and his impact before Sunday had been negligible. He has lost more than 250 yards on returns due to penalties, and his offensive coordinator seems to think a bubble screen innovative. But nobody wants to hear excuses, they want to see results.

They got their wish Sunday. Austin was a blur, returning a punt 98 yards for a touchdown (no flags) and catching two touchdown passes for a ridiculous 138 yards. His big day was a major catalyst for the Rams shocking most football fans and beating the hell out of the Colts in their own stadium.

Austin has shown flashes of this all year. Unfortunately, he has also struggled because of a lack of concentration as well as being snake bitten on his returns. Now, he has to strive for some consistency. He may not have a big game like that every week, but if he can cut out the dropped passes and his return team can cut out the penalties, this Rams team may go from moribund to pretty damn fun to watch on offense the second half of the season.

Breakout year for Dareus

I can see double-digit sacks in Dareus' future.

I never understood or agreed with the folks who seemed to think Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was headed toward being a bust. I thought he got a little too heavy last year, but he also had 5.5 sacks each of his first two seasons in the NFL. I'm not quite sure people understand how hard that is to do as an interior lineman. Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for example has never had more than five sacks in a season, and he has only done that once, last year.

Through 10 games Dareus is already up to five sacks on the season after notching another one Sunday against the Steelers. Pittsburgh won the game, but Dareus showed up all over the field. That new system in Buffalo may have been a bigger benefit to Dareus than anybody else on that defensive line, including Mario Williams.

Now that he is being unleashed, its going to be interesting to see just what kind of numbers Dareus can put up. I can see double-digit sacks in his future.

Big day for pass rushers

If you like watching defensive ends rush the passer, then the Rams win over the Colts had to have had you hyped. Re-watching the game, I had to stop myself from yelling out the Rick Flair WOOOOOOOO when I saw Robert Quinn from the Rams and Robert Mathis from the Colts putting on a show and leaving offensive tackles in the dust.

Both guys came home with two sacks, so Mathis keeps his 1.5 lead in sacks over Quinn with 13.5 sacks on the year. Quinn, however, got the sack and caused a fumble that was returned for the touchdown that started the Rams' rout of the Colts in Indy.

Advantage: Quinn

Scraping bottom in the NFC East

Seems like just yesterday we were cracking jokes about the winless Giants team. Today, they are tied with Washington at the bottom of the NFC East with a 3-6 record after winning three in a row. The Giants haven't exactly beaten world beaters, but after starting 0-6, I'm sure they will take it.

Washington fans on the other hand ...

Weren't y'all playing for first place in the division not too long ago? Sheesh.

Arizona needs more Ellington

I have two questions for the Arizona Cardinals.

1. How much more does Andre Ellington have to do for you to name him the starter?

2. How much less does Rashard Mendenhall have to do for you to bench him?

With 4:53 left in the game and the Cardinals holding on to a 10-point lead, Mendenhall fumbles again on their 5-yard line. I say again because that was his third fumble of the year and the second one he lost.

The Cardinals usually aren't good enough to overcome turning the ball over, even though they hung on to beat the Texans. It behooves them to put themselves in the best position to take care of the ball and score. Somehow, I think starting a guy who is averaging 7.2 yards a carry would help accomplish both goals.

Making a bad situation worse

I was all set to argue Bengals running back Gio Bernard's case to start in my Notebook again this week, right up until he pulled one of the biggest brain farts in recent memory in overtime.

Lets be honest right off the bat, the Bengals had no business having a shot to win that game Sunday anyway. Their quarterback Andy Dalton appeared to be channeling Trent Dilfer during his Bucs years for most of the game. Their defense played well most of the day, but still gave up two touchdowns to one of the worst, most off-kilter offenses in the league right now. The only reason Bernard was even in position to have that epic brain fart was because the Ravens defensive backs thought it would be fun to play volleyball and set the football rather than spike it on the last play of the game. A.J. Green caught what was probably his easiest touchdown of his career.

And yet, there they were. Trying to convert a fourth-and-2 from the Ravens 33-yard line, Bernard caught a little swing pass to the right side of the line. Turns out that was probably not a good play call because Ravens safety James Ihedigbo was right in Bernard's face as he caught the ball. The Bengals aren't going to get the first down, which means it will probably be the Ravens ball around their own 35 or so, not really a big deal.

This is where the brain fart comes in.

Instead of going ahead and trying to fight for the first-down yardage, Bernard decides he will reverse field and try to make something happen like he did on his fantastic touchdown run last week against the Dolphins. He ended up losing 11 yards, which gave the ball to the Ravens on their own 44-yard line. That was almost a full first down Bernard gave them by losing all that yardage for no reason. The Ravens promptly drove down the field and kicked a field goal to win, via GifdSports:


I probably blame Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis more than anybody for that loss. It was a gift sent from heaven that the Bengals were even in overtime. They could have punted it with the Ravens still sucking pretty bad on offense. I also believe kicking a field goal would have been a better move than the play they ran.

Having said that, even if you go for it on fourth-and-2, you had damn sure better throw the ball past the sticks.

They put Gio in a bad situation, but at the same time, he has to know you can't make a bad situation worse.

Gio is a better back than BenJarvis Green-Ellis, and its not really close, but when you do something that stupid there just isn't any way to argue that he should be the starter.

Forcing it

I understand wanting to work guys who have been injured back into the game plan. However, I don't understand what the Panthers were trying to prove last week with Johnathan Stewart. At the end of a razor close game, why in hell would you trust him with the ball rather than Mike Tolbert who has been your closer for most of the year?

That move almost cost the Panthers big time as Stewart fumbled with 2:12 left in the game and the Panthers clinging to a hard fought one-point lead.

Luckily for them it was recovered by, guess who, Tolbert.

For a few years now people have wondered if there were enough footballs to go around for all of the Panthers running backs. I don't know if there is or there isn't. What I do know is they shouldn't screw everything up by forcing Stewart into a role that Tolbert has been thriving in this season.

Stop Terio

Attention all NFL players: The Terio "dance" is dead. You "Ohhhhh" killed it. A kicker, Justin Tucker of the Ravens, did it after kicking the game winner over the Bengals in overtime for Pete's sake!

Time to come up with something new, fellas:


Cutler, Henne, Steven Jackson, etc.

- So Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was seen during their loss to the Lions limping and grabbing for his recently surgically repaired groin because ... he had an ankle injury?


Sure man, sure.

- In Week 9 of the NFL season Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie sixth-round pick running back Mike James rushed for 158 yards on 28 carries against the Seahawks in Seattle. This past Sunday, Steven Jackson, the Falcons' free-agent addition, picked up ...11 yards on nine carries against the same Seahawks defense at home in Atlanta.

Jackson has always had the physique of a big fullback; its a shame he is starting to run like one.

- If Chad Henne tried to blow a game could you even tell? I mean as crazy as it sounds the Jaguars probably should have blown out the Titans on Sunday. But for some reason Henne kept trying to throw it to the Titans secondary. I say try because while he threw two interceptions there were at least two, maybe three, other passes that he threw that looked like they were intended for Titans players. Next thing you know the Jaguars are hanging on for dear life at the end of the game. I seriously wouldn't be able to tell if he is just that bad or if he was doing it on purpose.

That would be one hell of an investigation if someone did accuse him of point shaving.

- And then there were none. Even though both teams did their best to give their respective games away late, the Jaguars and the Buccaneers got off the schneid this week nothing their first win of this season. I would hate to be in the meeting rooms of the Titans and the Dolphins this week.

- Tip of the cap to Giants running back Andre Brown. Fresh off injured reserve, he rushed for a career-high 115 yards on a work horse load of 30 carries. Having come back from two broken legs and a ruptured Achilles, this guy is a living breathing rumbling stumbling testament to the rewards of perseverance and hard work.

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