Palmer: Anything can happen, even on a routine play

Jesse Palmer
11/1/2011 1:32:21 PM
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The center-quarterback exchange is supposed to be automatic, especially in the NFL. That wasn't the case for the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football with the game on the line.

With possession of the football deep in Chiefs territory, the Chargers were trying to center the football with a running play to set up a potential game-winning field goal. But center Nick Hardwick and quarterback Philip Rivers were unable to execute the most basic function of any offensive play, and as a result, the Chargers turned the football back over to the Chiefs, inevitably losing the game in OT.

How does this happen? Rivers and Hardwick have been taking snaps together every day in practice since the start of training camp! Having played the QB position, I can tell you that it is incredible what sort of things can happen on snaps when the pressure builds and the game is on the line in critical situations. QB's must always remind themselves in short yardage and goal line situations to secure the snap. Because the line of scrimmage is crowded, and the center oftentimes is covered by a defender, centers have the tendency to be short with the snap, since they're sometimes more focused on getting off the ball and exploding into the defender. As a QB, you have to ride the center with your top hand, and keep the palms of your hands touching together in order to keep the pocket consistent.

Rivers didn't do that Monday night, and instead let his hands get separated momentarily. Rivers actually closed his hands before feeling the football hit his top hand, which is a no-no, and as a result the football hit the ground and was kicked around before being recovered by Kansas City. I couldn't believe my eyes Monday night. Judging by Philip Rivers' facial expression on the sidelines, he couldn't believe it either. Believe your eyes, after being outscored 89-10 in their first two games, the Kansas City Chiefs have now won four in a row and are tied for the lead in the AFC West division.

Mystery Saints

Trick or treat! Are the New Orleans Saints hiding behind the mask? I don't know what to believe of Sean Payton and the Saints at this point of the season. Two weeks ago, they hung 62 points against the Indianapolis Colts, but then lost to a then-winless St. Louis Rams team this weekend! In fact, it was only the second time in NFL history in the past 30 years that the league's highest scoring team lost to the team's lowest scoring team!

One thing I did learn is that despite the Saints talent, they are not good enough to overcome major mistakes to win games (see the Philadelphia Eagles first five weeks of the season). On Sunday, New Orleans turned the football over twice, and QB Drew Brees was sacked six times. The Saints run defence was extremely porous, giving up 159 yards rushing to RB Steven Jackson (Jackson's first 100-yard rushing game in the past three seasons). What's even more troubling for the Saints is that they have become a Jekyll and Hyde team this season in regards to playing in and out of the Superdome. All three of the Saints' losses this year have come on the road, and if the Saints expect to contend for the NFC South title, they will have to begin to find ways to win in loud, hostile environments.

It's amazing how small the margin for error is in the NFL, as there is no such thing as a "gimme win". You have to bring your "A" game in each and every week regardless of who you are playing or you will get beat. One thing the NFL has that many other professional sports leagues do not is parity, and we saw a great example of that this past Sunday.

Rejuvenated Eagles

It appears that the sleeping giant has woken up. After losing four straight, the Philadelphia Eagles have won two games in a row, both within their division, and the entire NFL had better take notice.

The Eagles dismantled NFC East division rival Dallas on Sunday night 34-7, but more importantly found their identity on offence in the process. I can remember all off-season, people talking about Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson, and this high octane passing offence in Philly. The Eagles need to be a run-first team, and RB LeSean McCoy needs to be the motor of the Eagles offence. McCoy rushed for a career-high 185 yards on Sunday night, and has scored a TD in all seven of the Eagles opening games (joining Emmitt Smith as the only two running backs to do so in the past 15 years). Because of McCoy's running ability, bigger opportunities in the passing game are opening up for Vick and the Eagles wide receivers as evidenced by Vick's 21-for-28 night versus the Cowboys.

The Eagles defence appears to be playing faster now then they were at the start of the season.  First-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is getting through to his players, and they are beginning to understand the intricacies of his schemes, and as a result, the players are playing more confidently.  When players know what to do, they play fast because they aren't afraid of making mistakes.

That is now the case for the Eagles who have allowed only 17 points combined in the last two games. I'm not willing to re-cast Andy Reid's Eagles as the "Dream Team", but they do appear to be rolling. If the Eagles can maintain their focus, it spells trouble for the rest of the NFC East.

Statement Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers have once again become the team to beat in the AFC. Heading into yet another titanic match-up with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday, the Steelers decided to make a statement to the rest of the NFL: enough is enough. Best of all, they won by playing Steelers Football 101.

The Steelers offence was sick and tired of hearing about Brady and the explosive Pats offence, so instead, they did what they do best. The Steelers ran the football and opted for a more conservative, high percentage, short passing game and as a result, were able to possess the football. The Steelers held possession for 39 minutes against the Pats, thus not allowing the dangerous Tom Brady to get onto the field and have possessions. Ben Roethlisberger has not posted his two best passing games in back to back weeks, more evidence to suggest the Steelers offence is finding traction.

The Steelers D was equally as impressive. After starting the season with the oldest opening day starting defence in NFL history (over 31.5 years of age per player on average), many wondered whether the Steelers were getting too old to compete with the elite offences in the NFL. This "old group" showed everyone that isn't the case on Sunday. The Steelers were able to play physical and generate constant pressure on Brady, sacking him three times. A consistent pass rush kept Brady and the Pats offence out of rhythm. Brady threw for only 198 yards, and his best weapon at wide receiver, Wes Welker, had only 39 yards receiving!

What's even more improbable is that the Steelers did all of this without linebackers James Harrison, James Farrior and Jason Worilds playing in the game! Mike Tomlin and the Steelers had their struggles early this year, starting 2-2, but have now ripped off four wins in a row and own the AFC's best record at 6-2. There is a monster game looming on Sunday against division rival Baltimore (who embarrassed the Steelers 35-7 in Week 1). It's my favorite regular season game to watch every year. Can't wait. Nor can the Steelers, I'm sure.

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