A few thoughts as we head into Week 2 ...
• Will Peyton Manning and the Colts be 0-2 when this weekend ends?
Not since 1998, have the Colts started the season 0-2 and playing the Vikings this week offers them a real viable chance of losing. But I really can't see it happening. The one thing I have learned during my 23-year NFL career is when a great quarterback plays bad, he rarely plays bad two weeks in a row. And Manning has never lost two games in a row in the month of September as he knows the importance of a fast start. His leadership and will to win won't allow the Colts to lose.
This game showcases two dramatically different philosophies of football. One team, the Vikings, can stop the run and can rush the football, but struggle to throw the ball consistently and effectively. The Colts, however, can rush the passer and throw the ball very effectively but will struggle to play the run especially on the road.
The Colts will spread the field in the game, from their base offensive unit and force the biggest linebackers in the NFL (E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway and Ben Leber) to have to pass cover and play a space -- their one area of weakness. The Colts will place a huge importance on making sure they double Jared Allen and give Manning the time he needs to exploit a secondary they played poorly on Monday night. Manning should have his pass timing back and he will be able to read the coverage schemes of the Vikings. The crowd noise won't bother Manning as he does a wonderful job of giving hand signals to set up his offense.
The Vikings will clearly be able to run the ball as it usually takes the Colts run defense the first part of the season to get into a grove. Last year, they allowed 4.5 yards per rush in September, but in the later months they brought that average down to 3.5. We all know for teams to win in the NFL they have to make some plays in the passing game and this is where the game turns in favor of the Colts.
When Tarvaris Jackson does eventually go back to pass he will have to worry about Robert Mathis coming off the edge. Yes, Mathis, not Dwight Freeney. The Vikings will do everything they can to help whomever their left tackle is Sunday, Artis Hicks or Marcus Johnson, in pass protections. By focusing on not letting Freeney beat them will leave right tackle Ryan Cook one on one with Mathis. Cook will have a hard time dealing with Mathis because of his speed and pass rushing skills. Mathis gets off the ball as quick as anyone and he will give Cook problems all game. I see Mathis making a huge impact on the outcome.
When 0-2 is even worse than 0-2
Week 2 of the NFL season provides us with some very interesting games. We will hear all the stats about the percentage of teams that go 0-2 and still make the playoffs. For me being 0-2 is not totally fatal, but being 0-2 with both loses at home just might be.
The Cleveland Browns have had an awful summer and seemingly don't look anything like the 10-6 team everyone thought had playoff possibilities. Now after losing their home opener to the Cowboys, they face their dreaded rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in another home game. This is a must-win game for the Browns. They need to reach back and find a way to rekindle all that magic that allowed them to win 10 games last year.
How did the Browns get in this mess? Well for one, they seem to have the injury bug in areas that depth is hard to find. But the most obvious factors in their poor play were in the same areas that they struggled in last year. They cannot seem to find a pass rush and their skill players drop too many balls. Last year, the Browns ranked 26th in the NFL in dropped passes and based on their first game with the Cowboys they don't seem to have that problem resolved.
The Browns are the desperate team in the game, and desperation does help teams play better. To beat the Steelers, Cleveland will need to play its best game.
Being in the right place at the right time
Back in the spring of 2005, as executives and scouts prepared for the upcoming draft, they made their usual visit to the lovely campus of USC to work out all the talented draft prospects. Most notable that year was wide receiver Mike Williams. But Williams was hard to find around USC and even harder to work out, so as scouts waited around for Williams,other USC players were made available. This is where the NFL was first introduced to Matt Cassel.
Cassel, the venerable backup quarterback to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, was in the right place at the right time. Having never started a game for the Trojans during his college career was a tough sell to NFL teams. But with each workout, he showed the scouts he had the skills, the arm and the movement for the position. With all his coaches from USC agreeing that he was a talented but unproven player, Cassel became a late draft pick.
Four years later, due to the unfortunate injury to Tom Brady, Cassel might be back in the right place at the right time once again. If Cassel can use this opportunity to demonstrate to the NFL and his fellow Patriots teammates that he is a legitimate NFL starter then come this March, when the NFL opens the free-agency period along with their wallets, there could be a pot of gold awaiting Cassel. Cassel will be a free agent this spring and as important as these games are to the Patriots, they might be slightly more important to Cassel. To say he has a huge vested interest in playing well would be putting it mildly.
Can Cassel do it? I really believe from the neck down he has all the skills to be an effective player. The accuracy, the arm, the courage, but the great unknown is: Will he be able to stand the pressure of the game? Much like a professional golfer, he will have to deliver in the clutch. I am extremely confident New England will do a wonderful job of managing his talents for the game, never placing the burden of winning or losing squarely on his shoulders. But once he makes any mistake and the doubters come calling, the critical question will be: Can he handle the pressure? Will he be able to put all the negative talk behind him and focus on what Bill Belichick always says: Just do your job. We shall see this week.
• FROM LANE KIFFIN'S WEDNESDAY PRESS CONFERENCE... The Raiders head coach made reference to blitzing one time in 10 third down plays during his Tuesday press briefing, and when quizzed Wednesday about bringing more pressure, he essentially shrugged his shoulders and said it wasn't his call. "We talk about it early in the week. Rob and the owner are in communication," Kiffin said. "For the most part, I let Rob do his thing over there. He has a belief in certain things and he has a conversation with the owner about that. So that wasn't the way the gameplan ended up the other night."
What most people who follow the NFL don't realize about the Raiders is Al Davis' love affair with defense. Everyone has a perception that Davis is an offensive guru, but the reality is he controls the defense, from the selection of the players to the schemes run on the field. And being his defensive coordinator is the hardest job in the building. I respect Kiffin for being honest. It may get him fired very soon, but he is at least being very forthcoming.
• FROM THE TENNESSEAN..."It's been a great week for me,'' said Vince Young. "I'm fine. I'm good. I just needed a day and a half to get through some things and how to handle things, but now I am OK. I was never depressed; I just hurt a little bit. ... When it happens again I'll know how to handle it. I just want everyone in the world to know I am fine.''
I am delighted to hear Young is doing much better, and that he has put the events of last week's game behind him. Young has never heard the boos before in his life. From little league to high school to the University of Texas, life has been very good for him. Now comes the hard part in his career -- dealing with and overcoming adversity. He needs to win over his teammates and coaches in the locker room first and that might be the hardest sell of all.
• FROM THE PEWTER REPORT... Jeff Garcia, talking about his contract squabble, the Brett Favre speculation and injury distractions: "Well, I've tried to do my best to put all that behind me. I can't continue to focus on things that aren't positive for this team. Those things aren't positive. If I dwell on that then that takes away from who I need to be for this team. I've really tried to redirect my energies into doing good things."
I watched the tape of the game between the Bucs and the Saints this past week and the body language of both Garcia and Jon Gruden towards each other was very bad. Gruden is starting Brian Griese. Based on the performance of Garcia last week, this was an easy decision for Gruden. I really believe Griese will remain the starter for the rest of the season. The Bucs have made several calls letting teams know Garcia is available for trade.
• If I were the Cincinnati Bengals, I would be worried about the play of quarterback Carson Palmer. He has not been the same since the knee injury two years ago and neither has the Bengals offense. The Bengals are perceived as being an explosive offense, but in reality there is nothing explosive about them. The Bengals need to find some answers for their lackluster offense. They need to get more production from their running game when teams play coverage on them, which is what Baltimore did last week.
• Also, if I were the Bengals, I might want to think about shutting down the player formerly known as Chad Johnson until his injured shoulder is better. His play last week was not very effective and when I watched him play, he seems to compensate for his injury, almost playing with one hand. I admire his toughness for trying to play, but he is not right.
• If I were a Saints fan, I would be delighted with the results of trading for Jonathan Vilma. Vilma's play in the first game of the season was sensational and he has added speed and athleticism to the Saints linebacking corps.
• If I were a Jaguars fan, I would be very worried about the playoffs. All the talk of the quarterbacks being injured this past week hid the potentially fatal injuries suffered by the Jaguars offensive line. Last year, the Giants starting offensive linemen played the whole season and never missed a snap. The Jaguars, in the tough AFC South, will have a monumental challenge securing a playoff berth with four of their top nine offensive linemen already on injured reserve.
• If I were the Chargers this week, I would attack the corners of the Broncos and make them defend my passing game. Denver crowds the line and makes it hard to run and to obtain success on offense you are forced to throw. Last week Philip Rivers had a 125.1 QB rating and lost, which to me is the most amazing stat of last week.
Let's hope that Hurricane Ike does not do severe damage and everyone in its path remains safe.