Sunday Countdown: Week 6 Guide

  • ESPN.com | October 16, 2011

Countdown Confidential

By Rachel Nichols and Ed Werder

No excuses for Giants' D: Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was an economics major at Harvard, but you don't need an Ivy League degree to know how dangerous the Giants' pass rush is these days.

New York leads the league with 18 sacks -- still, if there's any team prepared for that, it's the Bills. Fitzpatrick has been sacked just three times this season, thanks to some stout offensive line play, as well as the presence of running back Fred Jackson.

Several times this season, quick screens to Jackson have gotten Fitzpatrick out of trouble, and against the Giants -- who are struggling defending opponents' backs -- expect to see even more of Jackson than usual.

Either way, New York defensive end Justin Tuck said that after the way the Giants lost to Seattle last week, they simply have to do better this week against the run … and the pass … and just about everything else -- without blaming the coaching staff or their defensive schemes.

"The first thing that people want to do now that we have lost a football game is point fingers," Tuck said. "Regardless of what the play call is, you have to play above the X's and O's. Coaches are human and they are going to call some plays that may not be a play that they should have called -- you just have to play above that."

-- Rachel Nichols

Romo not changing approach: When it comes to impulse control, Tony Romo acknowledges that perhaps he can improve. But Romo disavows any willingness to be transformed into a game-managing quarterback whose performance fails to determine the outcome. Romo trusts his ability and wants to be the reason the Cowboys win or lose.

"As a quarterback in the National Football League you have to be aggressive in certain situations and other ones you have to understand what the score is and what is going on," Romo said. "If you don't pull the trigger you're going to be average, and no one wants to be average. And we're not going to be around here."

The Cowboys are the definition of average at the moment. They are 2-2, winning two games they probably should have lost because of Romo and losing two they no doubt should have won because of his mistakes.

Romo leads the NFL with five turnovers in the second half of games this season. Two weeks after a late fumble and an interception against the Jets made Romo the first Cowboys quarterback to blow a 14-point lead, Dallas matched an NFL record by wasting a 24-point lead at home against the Lions as Romo was intercepted three times.

"Tony has a very good understanding of the importance of protecting the football; he just needs to take that understanding to the game with him on a consistent basis," coach Jason Garrett said. "I think he's done that very well at different times throughout the season and certainly throughout his career. Other times it has not been that good."

Garrett seemingly needs to make certain Romo remains focused and is coached throughout the game, a point former coach Bill Parcells often made. Garrett needs to be the game manager whose play-calling controls Romo's impulses.

The Cowboys are typically a strong enough team to overcome a single Romo turnover. They do not often prevail when he has multiple interceptions and fumbles. The Cowboys' record when the quarterback has one turnover or fewer is 35-9; when he has two or more it is 6-15.

Romo points to the opposing quarterback Sunday -- New England's Tom Brady -- to prove that even his worst games should not define him as a quarterback.

"Tom Brady threw four interceptions three weeks ago and he's pretty good, too," Romo said. "So I think it's part of playing the position. Do you want them to? No. And going forward do you always want to learn from it? Yeah. Does it mean it will never happen again for the next five years or 10 years? No. It's hard playing quarterback in the NFL. But you have to learn from it and don't make that same mistake. That's what the position is about. And then going out and being successful year in and year out and putting your team in position to be in the Super Bowl."

And Romo suggested to critics, including Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, that he is convinced he will do exactly that. Not many quarterbacks were willing to take shots at Sanders. That Romo is one of the few seems to say a lot about the Dallas quarterback.

-- Ed Werder

Weekly Picks

Ditka Johnson Carter Jackson

San Francisco @ Detroit Detroit San Francisco Detroit Detroit

St. Louis @ Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay

Carolina @ Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta

Indianapolis @ Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati

Buffalo @ N.Y. Giants Buffalo N.Y. Giants Buffalo Buffalo

Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pittsburgh

Philadelphia @ Washington Washington Philadelphia Washington Philadelphia

Houston @ Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore

Cleveland @ Oakland Oakland Oakland Oakland Oakland

Dallas @ New England New England New England Dallas New England

New Orleans @ Tampa Bay New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans

Minnesota @ Chicago Chicago Minnesota Chicago Chicago

Miami @ N.Y. Jets N.Y. Jets N.Y. Jets N.Y. Jets N.Y. Jets

Week 5 Record 7-6 7-6 9-4 10-3

Overall Record 49-28 52-25 56-21 56-21

MVP Watch

By Mike Sando

The best running backs are patient when they need to be, waiting for openings to develop before running into the clear.

Frank Gore waited three weeks for his opening with the San Francisco 49ers this season. He's rushed for 252 yards over his past two games, a leading reason the 49ers have improved to 4-1 with victories over Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. The recent surge has landed Gore in the No. 10 spot on the weekly MVP Watch.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers Rodgers is one of six players since 1960 to average at least 9.0 YPA on at least 180 attempts through the first five games of a season, according to Pro Football Reference. Peyton Manning (2009), Daunte Culpepper (2004), Brady (2011), Joe Montana (1990) and Rivers (2010) are the others. Only Manning, Montana and Rodgers posted 5-0 starting records in the process.

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots Brady is leading the league in passing yards, YPA and TD passes. He's facing a Dallas defense that is coming off a bye week and hasn't allowed a 300-yard passer since Week 1. The Cowboys' defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, worked for the Patriots from 2000-03 and coordinated a Cleveland Browns defense that limited Brady to 224 yards passing in a game last season.

Fantasy Corner

Week 6 rankings

Calvin Johnson: 49ers beware, Johnson is far and away the most dangerous wide receiver in the game right now, and really the only thing that may well stop him is a big enough lead so that the Lions opt to take the air out of the ball.

Hakeem Nicks: Bills opponents are throwing and throwing and throwing to their No. 1 wideouts and experiencing nothing but success; Nicks is one of the Giants' most reliable weapons, so we see more of the same here.

Complete Week 6 rankings

Watch 'Sunday Countdown'Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

• A gunslinger can be wild. … A risk-taker, the kind of Cowboy who can create heroic moments. But that risk can go bad just as easily. We look at how Tony Romo personifies the label.

• It's one of the best nicknames in sports. Calvin Johnson has been known as Megatron since his rookie year. Since then he has "transformed" into one of the best at his position and the nickname has taken on a life of its own.

• In recognition of Hispanic Heritage month, we profile Giants WR Victor Cruz. Cruz, an undrafted free agent out of UMass who was born and raised in the shadows of the Meadowlands in Patterson, N.J., has now gotten a chance to play and produce for the team that played practically in his backyard.

• The 49ers are taking on unbeaten Detroit in a matchup of two different cities. Detroit is a gritty, blue-collar town with Eminem serving as the soundtrack to the city. San Francisco is about sourdough bread, trolley cars and flower power. Kenny Mayne finds a few 49er legends who want to tell us that San Francisco is just as blue collar as Detroit.

• Follow all the happenings on "Sunday NFL Countdown" on Twitter.

• Andrew (Seattle.): Mort, can you give your thoughts on the 49ers so far, whether you think they're a legitimate playoff team and if Alex Smith can finally reach his potential and become more than a game manager?

• Mort: Yes, I think the 49ers can become a legit playoff team. They already have been building a team before Jim Harbaugh arrived. They have added physical players -- the type of players Harbaugh covets. They have some skill guys. Harbaugh takes great pride in developing QBs, for obvious reasons, and Alex Smith seems to get better every week. Someobdy told me before the 48-3 win over the Bucs (a shocking score in today's NFL) that Smith was the No. 2 QB vs. the blitz. I see him getting the ball out more quickly. Oh, and there's nothing wrong with being a "game manager" -- all QBs must do that, but Smith will secure his future if he becomes a playmaker, too.

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