Detroit Lions

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2011 NFL Season: Week 5, Ehh…Not So Much!

For the first time in a long time, I can say I was largely bored by the Week 5 action. There simply were not many great games played this week. Perhaps a bit of the separation between teams is beginning. Perhaps conditioning on older teams is beginning to kick in. Are the fogeys starting to get their legs?

If nothing else, I’m fairly certain that you’ll need garlic, silver, and a very, very, very long stake to kill the Packers this season. In fact, that might only kill off a few of them. Last year, they won with 38 guys and 15 “what’s his names.” This year, with 53 guys they’re just pounding the living daylights out of game plans, and opponents and their smack talking fans.

The Lions aren’t scared, but the Lions haven’t played this team.

The Falcons had the Packers by the holes in their Swiss speedos…and they let ‘em off the hook.

Cam Newton threw the worst pass of his career on Sunday. It so happens that it was his first pass of the game. And, it so happens that instead of winding up in the waiting hands of Steve Smith, it wound up in the hands of the New Orleans Saints. The pass was returned deep into the red zone and led to an opening touchdown. The Panthers played uphill for the rest of the day. By the time they mustered up the strength to take the lead late in the 4th quarter, the defense was running on fumes and gave up a decisive score. The Panthers dropped another close game, 30-27. The team seems to be getting close. Losses this season have been by 7, 7, 5 and 3 points respectively. Next up, a desperate Atlanta Falcons team.

We’re going to find out a lot about the resiliency of these teams on Sunday. The Falcons are hosting and should win by 10-14 points, but the Panthers have exceeded expectations all season.

Do you want to play this team?

Frank Gore: Opening Up A Can of Whoop! on the Bucs

The Lions do. The Bucs didn’t. If you had high expectations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, it’s probably time to put those on the shelf until 2011. The team has three marginally impressive wins (I’m being kind) over Minnesota (1-4), Atlanta (outdoors), and Indianapolis (sans Peyton Manning). The Bucs lost an eagerly anticipated matchup with the Lions in their home opener and this weekend, they laid the egg of all eggs. Last year, Tampa was strong enough to go West and return with a 21-0 win over the Niners. This year, the Bucs were forced to walk the plank in an embarrassing 48-3 rout.

In other news around the league:

  • Quick Pass Roethlisberger passed for five touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans. Four different receivers caught touchdowns. Slow Pass Roethlisberger apparently missed the bus. Steelers 38, Titans 17. If he gets rid of the ball on time and uses all of his weapons, the Steelers will score lots of points for the rest of the season. Mike Tomlin’s fake punt call opened the floodgates. Kudos to the coach with the cojones.
  • The Giants figured out a way to do the unthinkable. Big Blue blew a chance to take tremendous strides in the division by losing a home conference game to the lowly Seattle Seahawks. While the Cowboys and Redskins watched at home, and the Eagles stuggled elsewhere in the state of New York, the Giants were busy finding inventive ways to put their guests in unique scoring positions. The Giants also hosted a Coming Out Party for Stanford’s Doug Baldwin (8 rec, 136 yds, 1 td).
  • The Andy Reid Reject Bowl took place between Arizona and Minnesota. There were no winners there, except for Donovan McNabb. Statistically, he did enough to keep the train on the track. Kevin Kolb was abysmal. Thankfully for Kolb, he is benefitting from a media white out that has yet to call for his head. Kolb may well be the NFL’s leading affirmative traction candidate.
  • Kolb, Part Deux.  The national media may have already been instrumental in duping the Cardinals into believing he was worthy of his juicy contract. Kolb is not a proven winner and he faces a significant up hill climb. It’s too bad he only has Larry Fitzgerald. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start reading articles about how Larry has lost a step or doesn’t know the playbook or gives up on plays or something — and if we do, they’re sure to come from ESPN (Chris Mortensen — Week 9?)
  • The Vikings need to get better at the QB and the WR position. McNabb’s not a Back Foot Betty (Favre, Romo, Kolb, etc.), but he just throws too many balls in places that defy explanation. Berrian is fast but he has not used his speed wisely in tight spaces. He isn’t getting separation and has demonstrated poor route running and pass catching over the first month of the season. He has to step his game up.
  • One thing that struck me about the San Diego Chargers is that Philip Rivers has always been blessed with well-rounded backs. LT2, Darren Sproles and Michael Turner were not one-dimensional. LT and Sproles were excellent blockers. Turner has been known to throw a knock-out block or two as well. Tolbert is solid, but he’s not as proficient as Turner across the board. Matthews is on the rise, but he has yet to arrive. The overall versatility of LT2, Sproles, and Turner gave the Chargers a much bigger matchup edge than they have now. The well has not run dry, but it is simply not as deep.
  • Matt Cassel’s ribs are healed. Four touchdowns and a close relationship with Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston mean big things for the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles isn’t there, but Jackie Battle has stepped in and played well. The Chiefs look a little different this season, but they have some pieces and are still in the fight. Following historically bad losses to Detroit and Buffalo, the Chiefs have rebounded with wins over mediocre teams and are in position to challenge in the AFC West.
  • The Chiefs and the Jets are both 2-3. The teams in the AFC West ahead of the Chiefs are Oakland and San Diego. The teams ahead of the Jets are New England and Buffalo. If the Chiefs are definitely out, so are the Jets. Right?
  • The Jets. Ehh!!! The Jets. Losers on the road at New England. Losers on the road at Baltimore. Losers on the road at Oakland. There is a reason why this was called “The Make or Break Portion of the Schedule.” Up next: Miami, San Diego, bye, @Buffalo, New England, @Tebow, Buffalo. And then there’s that Week 15 game vs. the Eagles. It’s early, but this team is going to be CHALLENGED to make the playoffs as a 3rd entry from the AFC East. Put simply, if the Jets get in, it will come at the expense of either the Steelers, Chargers, Raiders or Ravens. They’ve already lost to the Raiders and Ravens. It doesn’t look good.
  • I’ve got nothing on the Eagles.
  • Quiet as it’s kept, the Houston Texans dropped another game in which the performance of QB Matt Schaub was decisive. Last week, Arian Foster did the heavy lifting vs. the Steelers. Schaub has to prove he can get it done in big games. Next up: Rested Rapacious Ravens Relentlessly Ripping Ravaging and Rolling with Ray Rice.
  • Congratulations to the Raiders for beating the Houston Texans 25-20. “Just Win, Baby!” Nicely done.

Week 6 is sure to provide more fireworks. Looking forward to the Lions-Niners, Cowboys-Patriots, Panthers-Dirty Birds, among others.

Bobby Carpenter

2011 NFL Season: Comebacks, Comedowns, and “Come On” (Week 4)

The story of Week 4 was the dramatic comeback of the Detroit Lions over the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas. The Lions were being soundly beaten in all three phases of the game and trailed 27-3 in the second quarter. The Cowboys were poised to restore hope in the Lone Star State and serve notice that they could deliver convincing wins against quality opponents. Instead, following consecutive Pick Six plays off passes by Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys proved they remain uniquely positioned to lose games in frustratingly compelling ways. The Cowboys fell 34-30 and headed into the bye week with the same old questions and the same old answers.

The second big story of Week 4 unfolded in Cincinnati where the brash Bengals, led by coach Marvin Lewis, upset the undefeated Buffalo Bills, 23-20. The Bengals held Harvard’s Finest (Ryan Fitzpatrick) out of the end zone for the first time all season. With the smartest guy in the room unable to manufacture much offense, the visitors were left to lick their wounds. The Bills should have seen this coming. In 2010, the undefeated Houston Texans took a flight to Cincinnati and returned home without Owen Daniels and without their unblemished record. The Bengals, a team that has come to bank on physical, imposing wins over the Ravens, pushed themselves within striking distance with a 2-2 record.

Ok, maybe the second biggest story of the week was the 49ers surprising win over the Philadelphia Eagles. A few quick things about the Niners: Jim Harbaugh is a Michigan man and he’s cut out for this coaching business. He routinely handed Pete Carroll his lunch while both were at Stanford. Jim stole the keys from Pete’s Ferrari and drove it all around northern California every time the Cardinal “shocked the world.” The 49ers were a team with great expectations in 2010. The failure of Alex Smith to mature was at the root of much of their trouble — and the team seemed to lack mental toughness and depth in the running game. Remember Favre’s improbable pass to Greg Lewis in 2009? That was the last time the 49ers were where they thought they should be — until Sunday. The Eagles continue their tailspin, but the story of this game was the resilience of the 49ers; the maturation of Alex Smith; the depth of the Niners running game; and the toughness of a defense shaped by Iron Mike Singletary.

In other news:

  1. My Steelers stunk up the joint in Houston with a disheartening road kill look-alike game vs. the Texans. Andre Johnson left the game in the 2nd quarter. His injury provided no relief as Arian Foster ran all the way to Knoxville on the Steelers front 7. The Steelers need to bounce back. The Texans need to sustain momentum as they approach the middle of the most physical stretch of games in franchise history (Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore).
  2. Matt Cassel’s ribs have healed. Look for him to make some noise with Breaston and Bowe until defenses figure out that the Chiefs have changed their offensive script for 2011.
  3. The Redskins are hard on the eyes, but Ryan Torain is a fun player. It would be nice to see Shanahan forego the merry-go-round approach to his running game, but it works. The offense gets yards; the GM gets an expendable player that he can cut at the end of each season. Exit stage left.
  4. What are the Miami Dolphins doing? Really. If you know, please call them and let them know.
  5. The Panthers almost won a close one in Chicago. I know you cannot “play the schedule,” but I can’t help thinking this team is going to start winning some of these close games. Newton continues to impress with his accuracy. Shockey continues to inflame with his tenacity. The refs should have come under fire for that call that took a touchdown off the board.
  6. The Raiders were simply ROBBED by the referees in the 3rd quarter against the New England Patriots. Officials picked up a flag on 3rd down that would have put the ball at the 1-yard line. Oakland was in the midst of creating a Decision Moment for the Patriots front line. Darren McFadden and Michael Bush were enjoying considerable success on the ground. While nothing is guaranteed, it is likely that Oakland manages to punch that in and draw within a touchdown of the Patriots. The Decision Moment never game; the game never tightened; the Patriots won…and all of this was done with nary an explanation.
  7. The Packers look like they would run over a nun.
  8. The Jets are all talk. Funny thing about talking smack — when that’s how you derive your identity, you don’t always play better by shutting up. You have to talk the talk all the time — even when you can’t back it up. And that’s when teams go from FEARING you to LAUGHING at you. It’s a slippery slope. Another beat down in Foxboro and the Jets will be comedic fodder for the indefatigable New York media.
  9. It’s too bad the Colts don’t have Peyton Manning.

Bye weeks begin in Week 5. Not soon enough for Dallas. Too soon for the Ravens. Just in time for the Rams and Browns. Jackson and Hillis could use a little rest before resuming their commitment to deliver pain to defenses around the league. (Through Torain and Hightower in that mix.)

 

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2011 NFL Season: Trends, Ends, and Bends (Week 3)

When does a season really take shape? Is it in the beginning when surprising teams get off to hot starts? Is it when elite teams hit their stride and begin to pile drive the competition? Or is it late in the season when the scramble for playoff position is at full tilt? Each season is different, but I think I can say there are some things I know about the 2011 season.

  1. The Buffalo Bills are for realfinally. I’ve liked this team for several years now and they’ve been a disappointment. This team has more confidence, better offensive coaching (Chan Gailey), and more playmakers at key positions. Can they outlast the Patriots and Jets? I think they’ll have to beat one or both of them on the road to make the playoffs.
  2. The Minnesota Vikings are a mess. The entire team is playing the second half of games as if they are expecting the worst. And their fans are doing the same thing. In the first half of games this season, the Vikings have outscored the Chargers, Buccaneers and Lions by a combined score of 54-7. The second half of games has been a merciless parade of broken tackles, three-and-outs, “too smart” playcalling, and sloppy play. Leslie Frazier bears full responsibility for this. The team has the talent. He has to get inside his player’s heads and clear out the cobwebs.
  3. The Atlanta Falcons are overrated…and so is Matt Ryan. Guys who are mediocre outdoors and on the road are mediocre, period. When Michael Turner is unable to get off on the ground, the Falcons have trouble scoring and winning. Roddy White could have won that game yesterday. It’s not all on Matt when they lose, but it’s not all on him when they win — and they can’t seem to win consistently outdoors and on the road.
  4. However, the luck of the Bucs is due to run out soon. For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won big games vs. conference opponents that harbor dreams of making a post-season splash. For the second consecutive week, Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown an interception in the end zone. That has to stop. Focus up young man and take what the defense gives you!!
  5. Cam Newton can win games. The Panthers played in a virtual monsoon for part of their game vs. Jacksonville. The Panthers have issues on their offensive line and only one professional wide receiver. Still, Newton has found a way to provide leadership and stability. For a team playing without Thomas Davis and John Beason, getting off the field on 3rd down is going to be a stiff challenge. Carolina has the toughest schedule in the entire league this season and it will get much more difficult as the year progresses.
  6. Running Mike Martz’ system requires mental toughness. I don’t believe there is a coordinator in the league that puts more pressure on his QB’s than Martz. Whether it’s calling protections with limited blocking, reading blitzes, calling audibles or making accurate and timely throws, Martz’ demands may just be too high for Jay Cutler and this group of Bears.
  7. Why did the Vikings run the ball with Toby Gerhart on 4th down vs. the Lions? Why???????
  8. The Steelers have a +/- turnover ratio of -9. This team doesn’t have the overall talent to play at that level. If that number doesn’t change, the Steelers are going to miss the playoffs. Between Roethlisberger’s fumbles, interception and missed field goal, Pittsburgh lost roughly 19 points. A game that might have been a blowout, especially given that starter Kerry Collins was knocked out, wound up as a tightly contested game that I will remember for Pierre Garcon’s dropped touchdowns as much as anything else.
  9. Before this season, the Steelers have ranked in the bottom half of turnover ratio only 6 times since 1988. Each time, they’ve missed the playoffs. This morning…they rank dead last in a league of 32 teams.
  10. The Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004. That was a long time ago. What’s missing? The power running of Corey Dillon. Even before Dillon, the Pats could rely on Antowain Smith to get short yardage conversions, maintain possession and keep defenses honest. Dillon, of course, was particularly valuable in the Red Zone. When the Patriots lose, it’s because they’re throwing a few too many passes against teams that either have a slew of good DBs or they have a good pass rush or both (Bills ’11, Jets ’10, Ravens ’09, Saints ’09, Giants ’07). They don’t lose often, but when they do — that’s why.
  11. The Giants’ Victor Cruz really is that good. I know most people have never heard of this guy, but if you live in New York, you must remember his breakout performance in last year’s pre-season game vs. the New York Jets. Yeah, it was pre-season. Yeah, it was a year ago. But, Cruz showcased the savvy, strength, agility, and speed against the Eagles that he did against the Jets. He never saw the light of day behind Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon. The Giants were DEEEEEEEEEEEP at wide receiver. Cruz is just one more high-quality player at the position.
  12. Big men with bad feet. Antonio Gates. This is going to be an ongoing problem isn’t it?
  13. James Harrison is a strong man. If anyone threw Dallas Clark around like that on the street, the police would have been called hours ago.
  14. I don’t care much for Mike Shanahan. I think he definitely knows what he’s doing. Two rings bear that out. Still, I thought Washington has the pieces in place to make a run last year. The best player on that offense, when his hands cooperate, is Fred Davis. The best player on that defense, once he masters that scheme, is Brian Orakpo. That’s not a bad tandem to build around.
  15. So let me get this straight. Some people think the Eagles would be better off with a guy who couldn’t beat the lowly Seattle Seahawks. If Tarvaris Jackson can beat Kolb (as a Seahawk) and Warner (as a Viking), maybe he knows something about the Cardinals that even Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t know.
  16. Andy Dalton and Cam Newton are both 1-2, sort of. Guess what. Andy Dalton has been credited with a win he didn’t deserve. In Week 1, the Bengals beat the Browns, but Dalton was knocked from the game with his team trailing 14-13 at halftime. Dalton didn’t return to the game. The Bengals won under the leadership of Bruce Gradkowski. Dalton is 0-2 in his other starts and mustered all of 8 points vs. the San Francisco 49ers. I’m not sold.
  17. I was wrong about Matt Schaub. Maybe I don’t watch enough Texans games…maybe I do. It seems to me that Schaub almost always manages to put up big numbers (thanks to Andre Johnson and a Shanahan-based offensive system), but never does enough to win the big game. Week 1 wins at home vs. the Colts are not big wins, especially if the game is played in Houston as it was in 2010. On the road vs. the Saints — make me a believer! Couldn’t get it done. At home vs. the Ravens in ’10 — make a believer! Couldn’t get it done. Winnable games with a playoff spot on the line in 2010 — make a believer!! Couldn’t get it done!!!
  18. If your name is Matt, I’m not feeling you, unless…. Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan, Matt Cassel! No thanks. Matthew Stafford! I’m buying that guy. He’s a baller. If he ever begins to go by Matt Stafford, we’re done. Matt’s come up short almost all the time. Hasselbeck is the only Matt to even win a playoff game. As highly regarded as these players are, you’d think they were setting the world on fire. Let’s put this in perspective…the four Matt’s have been in the league for a combined total of 28 years and have amassed a combined post-season record of 5-9.
  19. I was for the Raiders before I was against them. The Raiders swept the otherwise powerful AFC West in 2010. While the national media continues its infatuation with the San Diego Super Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, the Silver & Black have quietly emerged as the team to beat once again in this division. Oakland is poised to make the post-season in 2011 if they can remain focused and out of the 9-7 morass that will get dicey if they face a tie-breaker with the Bills in late December.
  20. All I know about the Jets rush defense is that they are not nearly as good as Rex Ryan would have you believe. Call it The Kris Jenkins Effect. In last year’s Super Bowl, we saw a bit of the Cullen Jenkins Effect. Of course, it was overshadowed by the B.J. Raji Effect, but nonetheless, the Jenkins men cast a large shadow in the trenches. The Jets have been without Kris Jenkins off and on for much of the past 2 years. They have been their most formidable with Jenkins, but now it’s all catching up with them.
  • 27 – 121 – 1
  • 27 – 112
  • 32 – 234 – 4

In last year’s AFC Championship Game, Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall pounded the Jets for 121 yards on 27 time consuming carries.  The Jets were unable to overcome the Steelers running game and were forced to retool for this year. A week ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars crawled into town led by Luke McCown. En route to a 32-3 blowout, Maurice Jones-Drew was still able to scratch out 88 yards on 18 carries. The team ran for 112 yards on 27 carries in a losing effort. The writing was on the wall. Yesterday, the Raiders dispensed with any notion that the New York Jets have a stout run defense. Darren McFadden bought space in Rex’s head like a desperate shoe salesman with a web cam and a penchant for panty hose. 171 yards later, the Jets are looking for a new story to tell. They are not the bullies of the AFC. They weren’t at the end of last season and they are not at the beginning of this season. Rex has work to do and so do the men in the trenches. Kris Jenkins is not walking through that door.

On to the next.

“Rex is our quarterback!!” — Mike Shanahan

From former Washington Redskins LB and Washington Post columnist, LaVar Arrington:

Easily be the biggest story of the week and perhaps the biggest decision to date by Mike Shanahan was his benching of Donovan McNabb on Sunday, down by six points with 1:50 in the game. Mike Shanahan put Rex Grossman into the game for the final, potentially game-winning drive.

Now, I’ve been asking questions about some of Shanahan’s decisions all year. I tipped my hat to the coach for how Albert Haynesworth played last week, but this week he will not be so fortunate.

The decision to pull your leader and your franchise QB out on the final drive of a very winnable game will affect this team far beyond the scoreboard of Sunday’s loss. As a former player, I can guarantee the players in that locker room are now wondering what is the line of thinking of their coaches. They are wondering why McNabb did not have that last opportunity to try and win it.

The Bizarre Crumpled Face of "The Best Chance to Win"

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2010 NFL Pre-Season: Early Thoughts

It’s that time of year again.  The NFL season opens on Thursday with a highly anticipated rematch of the defending champion New Orleans Saints and the team that thoroughly dominated them in the NFC Championship Game, the Minnesota Vikings.  Darrelle Revis is on the roster and ready for a visit from Anquan Boldin.  And Anquan’s not coming alone.  He’s bringing a 10,000 pound offensive line, that “other” defense, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  These are great bookends to the first week.

Anquan Boldin Discussing Exit Strategies

"Don't Leave Me Hanging on the Island!"

But before we get ahead of ourselves, I have a few takeaways from the pre-season.  Last pre-season, I was impressed by a few teams.  There was something about their intensity, passion and power that stood out.  The Jets were not on that list.  I did put a spotlight on the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals.  Not bad…those teams went 33-15.  That was much better than their combined 20-27-1 record in 2008.  I was also down on Denver.  When they started out 6-0, I was thinking — “Hmmm, might have missed on that one.”  When they finished 2-8, I felt better.

So, who do I think is the real deal this season? (more…)

A Look Back at the 2005 NFL Draft

Back in April, the NFL concluded the 2010 draft.  This year’s draft was punctuated by the prime time debut of Round 1 at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall.  The draft was extended over a three day period and received wide acclaim from fans and media, alike.

It is too early to say who the winners are for the 2010 draft.  Some draft picks never make it out of camp; some never fulfill the promise of their rookie contract.  Still others exceed the greatest expectations.  It has been widely stated that the average career of an NFL player is 4-5 years.  Given that, let’s take a look at the 2005 NFL Draft.

The Rules of the Game

There are as many ways to evaluate the success of a draft class as there are to evaluate players.  What matters most?  Years as a starter, Pro Bowl selections, All Pro selections, team wins, championships, value at selected position, value over next selection?  There are a lot of criteria to consider.

I’ll leave that final determination to you.  For my own purposes, I admit using a subjective mix of all of those criteria.   Here is a link for you to make your own decision.

Top Dog of the 2005 NFL Draft

1. Dallas Cowboys.   The Cowboys used two first round selections to grab DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears.  Ware has become a dominant defensive force in the league.  He has been selected to four Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro three times.  He is arguably the best player at his position in the entire NFL.  Ware, to the Cowboys credit, was taken just before Chargers LB Shawne Merriman.

DeMarcus Ware: 2005 Draft Cream of the Crop

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2009 NFL Season: Week 13 Picks

After going 13-2 two weeks ago (missing on Oakland over Cincinnati and Kansas City over Pittsburgh) and following that up with a 10-6 week (including a 41-17 prediction of New Orleans over New England), there is no doubt that I am on fire!!

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NFL Running Back Challenge: Guess Who!

In the NFC North, a division that features the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, the running game has been a staple of offenses for decades.  Arguably no division in football has a stronger tradition than this one.  Granted these teams have been playing longer than most.  Nonetheless, when your honor roll includes names like Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and others, it is tough to argue.

Associated Press -- Tom Dahlin

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The Denver Broncos: Six and So, So…So What!

The Broncos against the World!

Do you believe in the Broncos yet?  How many more wins will it take before you convert to the faithful?  Do they have to beat your team?  Do they have to beat your team on the road?  Do they have to beat your team in perfect health?  Do they have to beat your team or some other “proven favorite” by 25 points?  Or can they just win, baby?

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2009 NFL Season: Power Running 101

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Adrian Peterson Sends Julian Peterson Into Outer Space

Not everyone in this league runs hard.  Not everyone in this league tackles well.  And sometimes, we’re fortunate enough to see what happens when someone who does not tackle well runs into someone who actually does run hard.  Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (center of the picture – holding the ball in his left arm) runs very, very hard.   (more…)