5 Questions: NFL on FOX analyst Tim Ryan

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Every week, we interview with an NFL on FOX game analyst to gain insight on the hottest topics in the league. • This week's guest: Tim Ryan Kyle Orton is unbeaten in Denver, but the Bears are 3-2. Looking back, did the Bears make the right trade in giving up so much for Jay Cutler? Tim: Yes, absolutely. Cutler is worth it. When was the last time we saw that kind of talent available for a trade at his age (26) with his production and his contract? Obviously, the Bears thought he was worth it because they just gave him a new extension with $30 million in new money. I believe the Bears knew what they had in Kyle Orton and that he could run a tight-end offense, but they wanted to go deeper than that. They wanted to have a more complete offense, and they are much more multiple in their personnel groupings with Cutler. They are starting to get rookie Johnny Knox involved, and they are going more to their wide receivers. And Cutler has tremendous mobility. You saw that with his 30-yard run last Sunday in Atlanta. Because of his talent, his age and the football he has in front of him, I believe he was absolutely worth it. I think some fans are unfavorably criticizing the deal because of what Orton has done with the Broncos. However, Orton fits what Denver coach Josh McDaniels likes to do. You saw that last season with Matt Cassel in New England.
The point is that Orton doesn't have the mobility or the skills, and he can't drive the ball down the field like Jay Cutler can. Orton is much more a flat-liner than Cutler. His upside is so much greater than Kyle Orton's. Are the Bengals legit, or are they going to tease their fans again? Tim: First, I can't say they are for real. It's too early in the season for me. But breaking down the tape, they do have a lot of ability. The one missing ingredient is their tight end, Chase Coffman. They need him to come around. And they need to get back to the run game. Last week's game against Houston got out of hand because the Texans were scoring so fast. Now, going back to last season, they had a very good run game going with Cedric Benson and their mammoth offensive line. Paul Alexander does a great job with that group. Cedric Benson is in the best shape of his life, and he's running for a big contract. But the big thing is that Carson is back. Receiver Andre Caldwell has stepped up his game, and Chad Ochocinco is having one of his best seasons in a while. Defensively, losing Antwan Odom is going to hurt them, no question. Odom could help them get home in a four-man pass rush. In that division, the AFC North, what do you consider "for real"? I think they can win nine or ten games. That might make the playoffs. They still have some work to do with their young linebackers, but I do love their young cornerbacks. They already own the tiebreaker over Baltimore. But I still think at the end, this is the Steelers' division. Still, the key thing is that they have their quarterback back, and Carson still has it. He is still very good. You just saw the Eagles' brutal loss in Oakland. Where do you rate them now in the NFC East? Tim: The Eagles are still No. 2 in the East behind the Giants, and it's because of their defense and Donovan McNabb. I just don't believe in the Cowboys right now. The Giants are still the best because of their defensive line, run game and the kind of season Eli Manning is having. The Eagles' issues revolve around their offensive line right now. They need to be able to run the ball better. On defense, I think LB Will Witherspoon, who was just traded from the Rams, will help them. Their biggest issue was linebacker coverage, and Witherspoon fits the bill. He will start right away at "Mike" linebacker. He's a very good blitzer. To me, Philadelphia has a decent front line, and the cornerbacks are very aggressive as long as they have solid linebacking play. I think the Michael Vick experiment is Andy Reid's pet project, to be honest. If they had to use Vick as a quarterback and win games with him, I would say no. Kevin Kolb will still replace McNabb if he gets hurt. This is Andy giving Michael a second chance. I am a little bit confused on where Vick fits into the picture next year, when they have to consider picking up that $1.5 million option in March. What kind of impact will Michael Crabtree have on San Francisco's offense this weekend? Will there be an immediate one, or is that unrealistic? Tim: It does look like he's going to start against Houston. But I also don't think offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye allowed him to take his playbook home during that long holdout.
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I think they will use him as a weak-side receiver and throw him option routes on the back side of 3-WR sets ... or when they have the tight end on the end of the line of scrimmage, just give him a lot of room out there and allow him to read the coverage. Just make it real simple for him. When the cornerback is off him, throw him the hitch or something underneath. If he sees tight coverage, you will see a quick fade to him. If you see tight outside coverage, you will see a slant pass to him. They will ask him to block in the run game, absolutely — but I'm looking at three or four routes for him. I don't think you can expect him to line up in the slot and read coverage. Nor will he be on the strong side coming in motion and having to read coverage. I just see him as an option route runner on the back side. I believe he played quarterback in high school, so he can do this. He knows enough to survive in that role. How productive he will be will depend on ball distribution. Vernon Davis and Frank Gore are ahead of him. I would say Crabtree would be capable of 35 to 40 receptions by the end of the year. I don't see him just lighting it up with 100-yard games; I don't see that happening. Of the four unbeaten teams in the NFL, which one ends up in the Super Bowl? Are any others due for a fall? Tim: I still think Denver is the team that will fall. I wouldn't be surprised if they go 5-5 in their final 10 games. I am becoming a bit of believer, but when you look at their schedule down the stretch, they have some tough, tough games on the road. Plus, I think that Orton is going to have to win with a big, big game eventually. He's capable of doing it, but I just don't think he can do it consistently. They already have exceeded all my expectations. Indianapolis with Peyton Manning — we know about some of their issues on defense, but he's so damn good. He will get them to the playoffs; I'm just not sure he will be able to outscore teams once he gets there.
Minnesota and New Orleans ... well, I think that is your NFC championship game. Minnesota has the easier schedule, while the toughest schedule goes to New Orleans. At the end of the day, I see Minnesota finishing 12-4 because they have some tough games coming up, starting this weekend in Pittsburgh. The big thing for New Orleans is that they don't have to go to an inclement weather city in the month of December. They don't have to go into the cold to win a critical game at the end, which is huge for them. I see them as a 13-3 team, ending up getting home field in the playoffs. And Drew Brees with the home-field advantage is going to be awfully tough to beat. I mean, they have a run game and their defense is emerging. This is my Super Bowl pick right now. They don't give up sacks, and Brees gets rid of the ball so quickly. They also appear to have found a left tackle in Jermon Bushrod. Brees just attacks the middle of the field so well — I mean, he just crushes safeties. That generally is a hard thing to do in this league. He did it before he had a running game; now he has one, and we all saw how well play-action worked against the Giants. The Saints are such a complete team right now.
Tagged: Ravens, Colts, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Broncos

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