Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 16

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Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 16

Host Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson previewed today’s NFL games on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. Highlights:

On what concerns the panelists going into today’s matchups …

Jackson: “Kirk Cousins – a backup quarterback – is playing. The last two backup quarterbacks put up 82 points against the Cowboys between them. I think Kirk Cousins is licking his chops to get after the Dallas secondary and if they don’t win today, a lot of people will be getting pink slips.”

Carter: “My concern today is matched by (head coach) Sean Payton’s concern with his New Orleans Saints – the concern of going on the road. They are playing a quality team that matches up well against them and looking for some vengeance to take over the NFC South.”

Johnson: “My concern would be the same as Tom Brady’s – can’t score on the red zone, New England Patriots. With Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) out of the lineup, they are only scoring 38 percent which, right now, is the lowest in the National Football League. They can’t figure out how to get into the end zone.”

Ditka: “Success is about taking advantage of opportunity. The Bears are in position to take advantage of opportunity. You’ve got two games. You control your own destiny, that’s unique. 14 games played, two to go. You can win two games and you are in the playoffs.”

Colts at Chiefs – Which team will make a statement in today’s game?

Johnson: “When you go outdoors and you are a dome team, and especially in this type of weather, you have to prove to everybody that you can play in this type of environment. It is a perfect opportunity for (QB) Andrew Luck to show that he’s not Peyton Manning. Because, if you put too many of these things together, that’s what people will start to say – ‘he’s just another Peyton Manning, here we go again.’ It is big for them to prove they can win in this environment.”

Jackson: “Andrew Luck is now the quarterback of this football team, but it is still a Peyton Manning-like football team. They don’t run the ball well, don’t defend the run well, but Peyton Manning let them play with the lead. They’ve been playing from behind an awful lot this year. The loss of Reggie Wayne took them down about a touchdown in scoring. I’m looking today at special teams – 31st in punt coverage, 26th in kickoff coverage. Against the Chiefs, who may have the best special team in the National Football League.”

Berman: “I would say one thing, those Colts wins earlier this year, they weren’t all Reggie Wayne. It was physical. They beat San Francisco physically. So don’t sleep on them. Don’t sleep on the Colts.”

How will Andrew Luck fare against the Chiefs, the noise and Arrowhead environment?

Jackson: “I don’t think he’s going to fare very well. The noise is problematic, the stadium and the place he is playing is problematic, but he’s being asked to do too much. I talked about the team being built for Peyton Manning and still trying to make that adjustment. He was the leader in rushing touchdowns last year, tied for the lead in that this year. He’s also leading his team in rushing first downs. He’s also leading them in yards per rush. That’s not his job. This is not an option offense. They are not calling his number. He’s got nobody else to go to, to help him offensively. That’s the problem for him at Arrowhead today.”
Ditka: “He is the whole team. Kansas City is too balanced – they have a good offense, they have a good special team. I don’t think the Colts can stand up to them. (Andrew) Luck is good, but he is not a one-man show.”

Carter: “What I don’t like is – this team is very similar to Peyton’s teams in their lack of physicality – inability to run the ball and not great on defense.”

Johnson: “This year, dome teams going outdoors – 1-9. You go back to last year, against the New England Patriots, they had to go there in November, they were slaughtered. New England hung 59 on them.”

On whether the Dallas Cowboys will recover from their inconsistency throughout the season …

Jackson: “Their history tells me that they cannot. I said in week 2 that they would be 8-8. At 7-7, they certainly could be headed to 8-8. I see this as (head coach) Jason Garrett vs. Jason Garrett … When the Dallas Cowboys are ahead in a football game, they still throw the ball 65 percent of the time. Everybody else in the National Football League when they have a lead, they run the ball 47 percent, almost 50 percent of the time. So, the Dallas Cowboys are unusual in the amount of throws that they make when they have a lead.”

Carter: “This defense, 300 yards a game. Before you even go on the field, you know you have 300 yards of passing a game. It is hard to win. How are they going to get better when you know the defense will give up 300 yards passing, probably 120 yards rushing? With that amount of offense in the NFL, it is hard to win games consistently and that’s why they are 500.”

Johnson: “When you think of the Dallas Cowboys of the olden days …they had leaders on both sides of the ball. Yes, there is Jason Witten, Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware, and I played with all three of them. They are just guys that go to work, do what the coaches ask and just try to play their game. They don’t have that guy that can just grab everybody and get them going in the right direction.”

Ditka: “They have no concept of how to play defense. That’s bad. That goes back to coaching.”

Carter: “The Cowboys has been one of my favorite teams since the 70s – their helmets, everything. They always had star players. Besides (WR) Dez Bryant, what kind of stars do they have on the team?”

On what each panelist learned from a Dez Bryant “Soundtracks” segment Countdown

Carter: “Dez Bryant is as close to (Cowboys Hall of Fame wide receiver) Michael Irvin in everything he does than any player that has put on the uniform. That’s part of the reason why he wears No. 88. Now the problem is, Dez doesn’t have the horses that Michael had to go with it. When Michael used to go up and down the sideline to say the same thing, he was saying it to Troy Aikman, Emmith Smith, Darren Woodson, all these great players.  I like Dez Bryant, and I’ve talked to too many people in the organization who like the kid. The kid’s got a good heart. The kid wants to win … He’s trying to win. Regardless of how much money you make, you’re trying to win these games. Pro football is about winning.”

Johnson: “I didn’t learn anything from watching it because I already knew it. Firsthand knowledge, I lived it. I played the position. I understand exactly the emotion that Dez Bryant had on the football field … The interesting thing about all of this is that, you can never be right. Even though he walked off the field, and I will never do that, had he stayed on the sideline and said anything to any of his players, he’d have been in the wrong anyway.”

Jackson: “The thing I learned from the ‘Soundtracks’ is how involved he is in wanting to win football games … You do not leave the football field without your team.”

Ditka: “Where would this team be without him on offense?”

Previewing keys to the Patriots-Ravens matchup …

Jackson: “You have 23 catches between (Danny) Amendola and (Julian) Edelman, most of them took place in between the 20-yard lines. But when you get into the contested area, down in the red zone, where you have to throw balls up and hope that your guys are going to come down with them. When you are talking about guys who are 5’10”, 5’9”, it is impossible for them to make those plays. Statistically this year, no one has thrown more balls to shorter people than Tom Brady.”  

Johnson: “If you look at the Baltimore Ravens and what they are capable of doing, if they run the football and keep the football out of (QB Joe) Flacco’s hands, they have an opportunity to win the game.”

Previewing keys to the Bears at Eagles game …

Ditka: “This is not too hard to figure out. Minnesota put 47 points up, 382 yards, Matt Cassel carved this defense apart. I know they both don’t have defense. The Bears have a little bit better set of offensive weapons with big receivers, tight ends and (running back Matt) Forte.”

Carter: “You look at last week’s game, people talking about (QB Jay) Cutler making the comeback and the coach making the decision. Late in that football game, in the fourth quarter, with Chicago down by seven, 11 minutes to go,

Cutler makes a bad read, throws into coverage, and (WR) Alshon Jeffrey turns into superman. That’s why I don’t trust Cutler.”

Following reporter Josina Anderson’s feature on Green Bay Packer Jermichael Finley, who is rehabbing from a severe neck injury and plans to return to football against the wishes of his five-year old son, Countdown panel discussed the pressures of football vs. family.

Jackson: “I think he will take his family’s wishes into consideration, but you are the guy taking the risk – when you go out on the field. That’s why none of us can tell another person when they are to leave the game of football or if they need to go on. There are all kinds of considerations that Jermichael has in his mind. Some of them, you heard at the end, financial. He’s prepared to do this. This is the thing that he’s best at. Is he willing to give it up while he is in his prime? He said he doesn’t want to do that … Jermichael’s risk has become greater. That’s under consideration for him.”

Johnson: “It is different for everybody. Jermichael Finley has already won a Super Bowl, although he didn’t play in the game. He wasn’t a first round pick. He hasn’t really gotten to the big money. He has a five-year-old son that he loves dearly. But how much does a five-year-old really understand that your dad is really working trying to secure the family for the rest of his life?”

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Mac Nwulu

I joined ESPN in 1998 and since then, it's been a great experience managing PR and communications for a range of ESPN initiatives and properties, including soccer, NFL and The Undefeated, ESPN’s site focusing on sports, race and urban culture and how they intersect.
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