Mike Ditka: The Schedule Really Helps the Giants

ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 16 – ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson previewed today’s week 16 NFL games with Suzy Kolber, analysts Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski and NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter.  Some excerpts from today’s show:

Are the Steelers overrated?:

Carter:  “When you look at them as a franchise and how they played on the field, they earned our respect.  Now respect is coming from what they’ve done on the football field.  The truth is, over the last two seasons, they haven’t been that good.  Ever since they lost in the playoffs in Mile High … They tried to get a little bit better through the Draft.  We know they are a bit older.  With offensive line injuries, they are not a good football team.  I didn’t have great expectations for the Steelers, even though I do have a lot of respect for the team and the franchise.”

Jackson:  “Those last two years you talked about, they haven’t created turnovers defensively even though they are the No. 1 defense in football.  Can they straighten all those things out and win two home games against Cincinnati and Cleveland?  I believe they can.  If they get into the playoffs, I don’t think we’ll be talking about overrated.  We’ll be talking about how dangerous the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the playoffs.”

Ditka:  “You change your offensive coordinator, you change your game plan, and a lot of injuries in the secondary.  They don’t really have the running game they used to have.  It’s not the same team.”

On what they are looking at in the NFC West game of the years (49ers at Seahawks):

Carter:  “You have to be very, very physical.  Look at (John) Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, what they have done and what has transitioned from college to the National Football League is the physicality of both teams.”

Jackson:  “I am looking at the maturation of Russell Wilson.  If you look at the first seven games of the season, Seattle averaged just over 16 points a game.  The last seven games of the season, they have averaged almost 34 points per game, second only to the New England Patriots and Tom Brady.”

Ditka:  “One is giving up 218 points, the other one is giving up 219.  They both play great defense.  These are two really good football teams who don’t like each other.”

Johnson:  “Looking at Colin Kaepernick … We’ll see what he can do against this team (Seattle).”

On Russell Wilson vs. 49ers defense:

Ditka:  “He’s PUP – poise under pressure.  The guy has thrown 21 touchdown passes, that’s second to Peyton Manning in 1998 and a guy named Charlie Conerly in 1948.  He’s rushed for 276 yards.  But more than that, he provides hope for this football team.  Really, that is their hope.”

Jackson:  “He won’t flinch, emotionally.  The history of this kid tells me that.  But I like what he did last week.  Those three rushing touchdowns that he got were his first three rushing touchdowns of the year.  ‘So, we’re getting ready to play the San Francisco 49ers, let me give them something else to worry about especially down in the red zone.’  When you watch him, we talk about young quarterbacks having the game slow down, I think the game is in slow motion for Russell Wilson.  He doesn’t get hit when he runs the football. He protects himself, he understands getting out of bounds, he understands the angle to getting in the end zone … This maybe the most amazing story of any rookie quarterback in the National Football League.”

Johnson:  “I can go all the way back to the naysayers in the first couple weeks of the football season – he’s too short, we don’t really know what type of runner he is.  But they forgot, he was a professional before.  He was a professional baseball player, so he knew exactly how to handle the situation … Unlike RG3, this is a different type of West Coast system.  It is more conventional.  There are no special trick-plays in there.  He’s the type of quarterback that can lead this team deep into the playoffs.”

Carter:  “Besides being 5’10”, what is he lacking that the prototype quarterbacks have? … He has all the intangibles.  If he was taller, (NFL Draft expert) Mel Kiper said he’d have been a first round pick.  What is really underrated is his ability to throw the deep ball.  Huge hands, a great arm, can throw the ball in the wind and the rain. (Packers) Aaron Rodgers, we rant and rave about his ball placement on his deep ball.  This guy right here, second in the National Football League, when the ball travels over 20 yards, eight touchdown passes.  Aaron Rodgers, 10.  I know when you are throwing the ball deep, it doesn’t matter if you’re 5’10” or 4’10”, he can put it where guys can catch it.”

Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter debate who’s to blame in New York – Mark Sanchez or the Jets management?:

Johnson:  “It is a little bit of both.  I think you start with the general manager.  You look at the head coach, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.  Then you go to Tim Tebow, because all three of those guys had to get on the same page to bring in Tim Tebow.  Bringing in Tim Tebow messes with Mark Sanchez’s psyche …”

Carter:  “I blame the organization.  Whoever sat down with Tim and gave him this idea that he was going to be utilized.  He’s played 75 snaps.  For a starting quarterback, that’s basically one game.  So that lie that they told him to make him come to New York compared to going to Jacksonville.  Also, I fault Tim Tebow because he believed in them.  He went out and added an extra 15-20 pounds, which I believe, makes him a less effective quarterback – triceps and biceps getting bigger, harder to throw the football with that, and less agility running the football to make him a dual threat.”

NFC East predictions:

Carter:  “The best player in the NFC East has been RG3.  I wish someone told me that the best quarterback in the division, better than (Michael) Vick, better (Tony) Romo, better than twice Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, I’m going with RG3.”

Jackson:  “The New York football Giants will figure out a way to win two football games and become the most dangerous team in the NFC.”

Johnson:  “It will look like the Dallas Cowboys will run right into the playoffs with a hot streak.  They beat New Orleans today, they go on the road where they have had some success in winning football games and losing them extremely close, to Washington, with all the hype of RG3, they upset them and they roll into the playoffs.”

Ditka:  “The schedule really helps the Giants. They are going to win two games, I really believe that.  They will be about the same place they were a year ago, maybe a little better.   It is going to come down to the last game.  The Cowboys have a chance to win today.  The Redskins will win. We’ll see who wins the last game between the Redskins and Cowboys.”

Cris Carter, a former top-tier NFL wide receiver, weighs in on Calvin Johnson setting NFL single-season record for receiving yards with 1,892:

“His dominance is second to none.  Jerry Rice, when we played in the league, he set the standard for wide receivers in the way they will be judged … Calvin Johnson is known for his dimensions — his size and his speed.  Right now, he’s known as a complete wide receiver, route runner, devastating blocker …

“… Very, very rare that the wide receiver is the hardest worker in the team.  Talking to the Detroit Lions players, Calvin Johnson, in Detroit, he’s the hardest worker there.”

Is Ray Lewis the answer to a struggling Baltimore Ravens?:

Jackson:  “I’m in agreement with (QB) Joe Flacco, this is about the quarterback.  This is about a group of wide receivers that was supposed to turn into the New Orleans Saints, the New England Patriots.  Today, it is going to be interesting because that defensive line rotation of the Giants, is going to put some heat on Flacco.  I am going to see how he responds to that.

“Ray (Lewis) will be an inspiration when he comes back to the football field.  This is about Joe Flacco quarterbacking this football team.”