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Losing ugly

Rick Cranford of Seattle is my E-mailer of the Week for sending me back to my tape for something I'd originally overlooked. Rick points out that on the play that Ricky Williams was injured Monday night, OLB Lawrence Timmons, subbing for Clark Haggans, came down on Williams' back with his cleated shoe. He said it looked deliberate. He was surprised that neither the announcing crew nor Sports Illustrated's game notes made any mention of the play.

I remember seeing it at the time, but the idea of something like that is just so alien to what I'm used to that I glossed right over it. After I read his e-mail I ran the play back, both at regular speed and slow motion. It looked as if Timmons, in hurdling No. 70, Dolphin tackle L.J. Shelton, inadvertently came down on Williams' back. But then the replay, close up, showed Timmons deliberately veering off and coming down hard with his left foot to pin Williams to the ground and keep him from recovering his fumble. An absolutely filthy play, and I'm glad Rick pointed it out to me and annoyed that it didn't strike home right away. Wonder how the league is going to handle this one -- if at all.

At least two loyal readers have anointed me defensive coordinator for the purpose of stopping some of the game's more dynamic forces. Art of Trumansburg, N.Y. (Do you know who the town was named for? It was John Burg), would like to see a corner play T.O. or Randy Moss tough, and steer them inside, where a linebacker or safety would level them. In the old days, that was a go. Now a guy can get a jam within five yards, but the second guy can't touch him unless he's also within that five-yard zone, and that would be unlikely. You're right, though, that an early jam is essential on both these dudes.

Craig of Spartanburg (you know, I think I answered one from you already because I remember that you left out the S.C. designation that time, too) wants my defensive game plan for slowing down the Patriots, particularly Moss and Welker. Jam Moss hard at the line. I still remember when he was a senior at Marshall and they played in the Motor City Bowl, two little cornerbacks from Ole Miss took turns jamming him at the line and took him right out of his game. I wrote at the time that the NFL corners would jam him right out of the league. Didn't exactly happen. Anyway, don't give him a clean release, but make sure the corner has help in back, just in case of a whiff.

Stallworth and Gaffney? Well, they're dangerous because they get single coverage, since the bulk of it goes to Moss. I'd just play them straight up ... they weren't exactly superstars before they came to New England. Welker, though, is a huge problem because of his quickness. I'm thinking of how the Giants defensed the Bills' K-Gun in the '91 Super Bowl. Left their linebackers on the field and just bludgeoned the receivers after the catch. By the second half they were dropping the ball. I hate to suggest such treatment for Welker because I like him so much, but ... you know. Let him catch the ball in front of you and then pummel him.

The overall game plan would have to show a rush scheme you'd never used before, so the Patriots can't do a film study. Sell out with DBs coming off the corners, or maybe through the interior gaps in tandem, the second one on a delayed basis. Periodically drop your interior rushers into the short zones, and concede the running inside, because that's not what's going to beat you. If it gets to be a problem, hit the gaps with a run-blitzing safetyman, or maybe two of them. The trick is to guess the proper gap. The whole key is relentless pressure on Brady, from unexpected angles. Without it, you'll be eaten up.

How important is winning the first game of the season? So asks Mike of Philadelphia. Not very. I can't even remember the first games.

Good theory from Chris of Bethlehem, where they really do Christmas the right way ... wait a minute, this is Bethlehem, Pa. If you've got a back who comes up as a talented runner, but also shows real skill as a receiver, then make a decision with him. One or the other, and work on that skill. Ergo, Reggie Bush should concentrate on his pass-catching talents. Sometimes they change during their careers, as Calvin Hill and Preston Pearson did. Marshall Faulk always was a dangerous runner, but he became even more dangerous as a slot receiver. Regarding Bush, I would tend to agree with you. I think he's more dangerous catching the ball. And thank you for your kind p.s.

Daniel of Winnipeg wants to know if I've ever seen a CFL game and what did I think of it. I covered one of Doug Flutie's Grey Cup superbas because the managing editor at SI was a B.C. grad. I enjoyed it immensely. The guys sitting next to me didn't enjoy it so much. For instance, when a penalty was announced as, "no yards."

I said, "Why are they saying no yards? He gained yards on the play?"

"That was the penalty," the guy alongside me said. "No yards."

"No no no, he gained yards," I said, practically hollering. The two of them looked at each other. What potato truck did this guy fall off of?

"Look," the other one said to me. "When the coverage man doesn't give the punt returner enough distance as he's setting up for his return, the penalty is called no yards."

Oh, comma, I see. Sorry, eh?

Mike of Philly says that I missed one when I mentioned runners who came back after a layoff. Rocky Bleier, who returned after getting shot up in Vietnam. Yeah, but I was talking about guys who'd already established a career when they dropped out. Bleier's was just starting.

Peter of Sommers, N.Y., remembers a penalty for assisting a runner, for instance a guy on the same team dragging or pushing him along. Why isn't it called anymore? Some things, it seems, used to be but just aren't anymore, my number one example being the penalty on the crowd for excessive noise while the other team is trying to run its offense. I actually saw that called in a Monday nighter, with Boomer Esiason doing the "I can't hear" bit. Actually I was once flagged for that helping-the-runner infraction, in an army game in Germany. I gave him a good push from behind.

Dave of Waukesha, Wis., and thanks for your kind words, would like the guidelines for restocking an NFL team in the case of a catastrophic event. They're roughly the same as are used for stocking an expansion franchise.

Damien, a loyal reader from New York, wants to know where he can buy NFL game tapes (complete seasons, every play, original commentary) and how much they would cost. I've never heard of the NFL selling anything but highlight reels. You can find out what's available by punching up NFL.com on your computer and then going to SHOP. I'm sure there are people who privately taped a whole season of play-by-play of their favorite team, though, and you could try advertising for that on Ebay or going through the list of Ebay goods available. Let me know how you come out because I'm kind of interested myself.

Matt of Boston has noticed some "startling parallels between your character of The Flaming Redhead and Padma from Salman Rushdie's book, Midnight's Children. Is this a clever homage or are both characters just references to something much older? I can never tell." Shame on you, Matt. It's the kind of thing someone ought to be able to tell right away. First of all, she is not "my character." She is my wife. She really exists. And has flaming red hair. And says wry, caustic things. The parallels are not a clever homage. They are, in fact, references to something quite a bit older, in fact, to Linda's great grandfather, who still is alive and resides in a cave near Lake Mohawk, N.J. But I am not a good source for Rushdie's work because I tried getting through Satanic Verses and the writing almost choked me. If I'd been eating a piece of toast while I was reading it, I'd have been a goner. Now I'm not saying that the Ayatollah was right in putting out a contract on the guy; it's just that he wasn't all that far off as a literary critic.

To boil down the question of Jason of Gilbert, Ariz., how does the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers deal now look in retrospect? They've both had problems. They both cost a lot of money. The Chargers turned out to be more of a dysfunctional team than the Giants are, at least on an organizational level. Personally, if Eli were my kid, I'd rather see him playing for the Mara, rather than the Spanos family.

Kevin of Madison, Wis., mentions the death of Jim Ringo. Can Alzheimer's be a result of the beating an offensive lineman takes? It's never been proved. Is the Packers line from the early 1960s the greatest ever? Well, it's the greatest I've ever seen. Two in the Hall of Fame, a third one a H of F finalist, every one of them a first string all-pro at one time, except for LT Bob Skoronski, who was team captain, a member of the Packers Hall of Fame and a Pro Bowl choice one year.

Vegas Ed from guess where? Wonders if the Players Association ever has compiled any statistics on ex-players suffering from neurological diseases or some form of dementia. No. It hasn't.

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