Week 11 in the NFL is (almost) in the books, and Bryant McFadden and Ovie Mughelli of 120 Sports are here to break down the major storylines. McFadden won two Super Bowls while playing cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Mughelli was an All-Pro fullback with the Atlanta Falcons in 2010.
What happened to the Broncos this week?
McFadden: Two key interceptions by Peyton Manning didn't help, but mainly the Rams -- who really have an underrated defense; remember they beat Seattle and San Francisco this season -- were just the more physical team. Time of possession was a big factor as well -- the Rams held the ball for over 35 minutes. On the Broncos side, they never got a chance to establish the run, while injuries to Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas and Montee Ball left them thin. Once you don't have to really worry about Denver's ground game, it becomes a whole lot easier to keep Peyton in check.
Mughelli: What happened is that, no matter how good you are, if you can't stay upright, it doesn't matter. Peyton's great, but he's a bit of a statue and not as mobile as many of the other quarterbacks in the league. The Rams' defensive line can fly around and they were able to get to him Sunday. Also on the St. Louis side, it was good to see Tre Mason finally getting a chance to show what he can do with a significant workload (29 carries for 113 yards). He was drafted in the third round this year from Auburn and has a lot of potential to make an impact right away.
Who's the best of the worst in the NFC South?
McFadden: I still gotta go with New Orleans -- they played a solid team this week in Cincinnati, so I wouldn't read too much into that loss (although the fact that they lost two in a row at home is definitely worrisome). I still don't really trust the Falcons. They barely beat a struggling Panthers squad this week, and their defensive efficiency rating is still down at the very bottom of the league (per Football Outsiders). The Saints have a couple of tough games coming up against the Ravens and Steelers, but things soften up after that as they play all (currently) sub-.500 teams until the end of the season.
Mughelli: I played for the Falcons and was a fan of the Panthers growing up in North Carolina, so it's tough to see these teams do poorly. Atlanta has certainly dealt with some injuries and it's certainly clear that Cam Newton just doesn't look right this season, mentally or physically). The most surprising thing recently, though, is watching the Saints lose at the dome two weeks in a row. But I still trust Drew Brees and the Saints more than I do those other teams. If they can get Mark Ingram going again, then they can come out of that division, although it may not be pretty.
Who impressed you more Sunday: Ryan Mallett or Drew Stanton?
McFadden: I'm more impressed with Mallett making his first NFL start and making things happen against a team that played lights-out defense last week. He was efficient -- 20-of-30 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, with only one interception. It helped that Alfred Blue (subbing in for the injured Arian Foster) ran the ball very well (156 yards on a hefty 36 carries), taking some of the pressure off. But we should probably reassess Mallett in a few games when defensive coordinators have had a chance to study him and work up more detailed plans of attack.
Mughelli: With Carson Palmer out, I didn't think Stanton would be able to necessarily handle the pressure right away. But he did a good job. Even with the early interceptions Sunday, he calmed down and played within himself against one of the best -- if not the best -- defenses in the NFL. He had over 300 yards passing, plus two TDs. But mainly, he managed the game well.
Are the Packers the most potent NFL offense?
McFadden: Right now, no question. Aaron Rodgers is playing like an MVP, Eddie Lacy is finally turning a corner and they have all their big play receivers healthy right now. After a rough start to the season, the offensive line is stepping up big time and protecting Rodgers. He has all the time in the world to throw and hasn't even been knocked down all that much over the last couple of weeks.
Mughelli: I've said this on the 120 Sports show -- everyone wants to talk about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but Rodgers could be better than them all right now. He can take care of the ball, is an underrated runner and has tremendous arm strength. Now with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb playing at the top of their games right now, running excellent routes, all the weapons are in place. Lacy is the cherry on top. The way he ran on Sunday -- barreling into the line and running people over -- reminded me of Jerome Bettis, but with more speed.
At this point, should the Vikings reinstate Adrian Peterson?
McFadden: It wouldn't matter to Minnesota, because they're not making the playoffs anyway. The only person it matters to is Peterson himself, so he can showcase what he can do to other teams who can think about picking him up (this assumes the Vikings are going to part ways with him in the offseason). It's a tough situation.
Mughelli: With the Vikings getting a new stadium, I'm not sure it's worth the risk. As we saw with Jonas Gray this week -- a guy off the practice squad who scored four TDs against the Colts -- it's certainly possible to get a solid running back from a place you might not expect. I think Peterson still has something left in the tank, but with all the media and all negative attention he would bring, it may not be the wisest move for a team that's trying to rebuild a bit. Seattle could be a good destination for Peterson, however, if Marshawn Lynch ends up leaving in the offseason.