Happy Thanksgiving Week, all. Our family will celebrate in Seattle with both daughters (hooray!), and I hope all of you have a good time eating, watching football, and giving thanks for having such a wonderful NFL columnist in your lives. You know, me.
I have two quick questions, and opinions, before I get to your email:
1. Can the league really be serious about the 18-game schedule? It is, as one member of the Competition Committee tells me, "a freight train rolling down the tracks'' that the league will implement a 17- or 18-game schedule with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, whenever that gets done. I am opposed, as you may have read, because I think it's tough enough for teams to limp through 16 weeks and three or four potential playoff games. Could teams play 18 games? Of course. But at what cost? And at what quality of play? Anyway, this morning I opened my Boston Globe, and in the NFL roundup by the Associated Press, the first 16 pieces of information are injury notes. The rundown:
• Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger lost with a possible concussion.
• Steelers QB Charlie Batch lost for at least a month with a wrist injury.
• Steelers G Chris Kemoeatu lost for two weeks or more with a knee injury.
• Lions QB Matthew Stafford doubtful for Thursday's game with a separated left shoulder.
• Rams QB Marc Bulger lost for three to six weeks with a fractured leg, sore groin and strained hamstring.
• Cards QB Kurt Warner iffy with the effects of a blow to the head.
• Cowboys QB Tony Romo iffy after taking a knee to the back.
• Dolphins NT Jason Ferguson out for the year with a torn quad.
• Packers CB Al Harris out for the year with a knee injury.
• Packers LB Aaron Kampman out for the year with a knee injury.
• Redskins RB Ladell Betts out for the year with two torn knee ligaments.
• Redskins G Chad Rinehart out for the year with a broken leg.
• Redskins FB Eddie Williams out for the year with a broken leg.
• Ravens CB Fabian Washington out for the year with a torn knee ligament.
• Bills RB Marshawn Lynch questionable with a left shoulder injury.
• Bills G Eric Wood, their first-round pick, out for the year after surgery to repair two broken bones in his left leg that, according to the AP, "was so severely damaged CBS elected against showing replays of the hit."
Just a thought: Maybe we should be happy with 16 games.
2. Can the Titans actually do what the great Chris Johnson says -- run the table and make the playoffs? I doubt it, but it'll be a compelling story down the stretch. Tennessee will need to win at least five, and likely all six, remaining games to have any chance of being a wild card. Though the Titans play four of their next five at home, it's still a tough road with three division leaders on the remaining sked: Arizona, at Indianapolis, St. Louis, Miami, San Diego (on a Friday, Christmas night), at Seattle. Tough road. The Cards are 5-0 on the road, Indy's 10-0, San Diego's on a five-game winning streak.
There are eight teams within two games of the two wild-card spots: Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Denver (6-4); Miami, Baltimore and Houston (5-5) and Tennessee and the Jets (4-6). It's possible but not likely that a 9-7 team will be a wild card in the AFC, so Jeff Fisher's message to his team has to be Chris Johnson's message -- take 'em one at a time, but understand that every game the rest of the season, starting Sunday with the Cardinals, is a playoff game.
By the way, fun game last night, wasn't it? How about Vince Young running the option? I love it. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger would be my Coach of Monday Night if I had such a category this week, for his outside-the-box thinking with Young. (Heresy! Exposing the quarterback to injury like that!)
Now onto your email:
• FAIR QUESTION, ONE I HEARD A LOT. From Chris in Watertown, Mass: "I find it interesting that you praise Matt Stafford's guts (for avoiding medics and coming back into the game) and then praise Kurt Warner's brains (for taking himself out). The thing that makes NFL players ignore traumatic brain injuries is the culture of machismo that says 'if you can play, play.' To a certain extent, that culture is necessary to how we understand football, and how football is played. I was a safety in high school, and I can still remember my coach hollering "there's a difference between hurt and injured. If you can't play anymore, you're injured. Everybody hurts." How do you reconcile praising Stafford and Warner for their opposite actions?"
The answer: Warner's injury was a blow to the head, which is potentially life-altering (though clearly not, in this case), compared to Stafford injuring his non-throwing shoulder. Shoulders heal. Heads might not. Ask Al Toon, Wayne Chrebet and Ted Johnson, all still feeling the after-effects of multiple concussions in their careers. Stafford hurt his non-throwing shoulder, and he may miss some time because of it, but I have no problem with a player gutting out a game with an injury to a shoulder he doesn't use to throw. With all the recent emphasis on head injuries, I think it's great Warner stayed out of the game after feeling a little fuzzy.
• I THOUGHT IT WAS FANTASTIC. From Eric B. of West Chester, Pa.: "Donovan McNabb is getting killed here on local radio (big surprise) for that very lengthy, very odd talk he had with Jay Cutler after the game. What is your take on that and what do you think he was saying?''
My take is that it was great. NFL players have an unofficial fraternity. McNabb, as much as any quarterback, is a pal of young quarterbacks and loves to take a leadership role with them. You saw it with Michael Vick; as Brian Dawkins told me in training camp, McNabb often would take phone calls from Vick early in his career while in the locker room, and he'd sit in his locker and advise Vick on various matters. Though I'd heard he was mostly trying to be a big brother to African-American quarterbacks, I'm sure he saw Cutler get savaged by fans and the press last week, and thought to himself that whatever happens in the game Sunday, he was going to take a minute after the game to give him his thoughts on what he's going through.
I know nothing about what he said, but if I had to guess, I'd bet it was something like this: "You're a great player, and you'll be a great player in this league for a long time. Forget what's being said about you. It doesn't matter. Work hard, be a good teammate, know there will be better days, lead your team, be a man.'' Something like that. For people to be upset about that is wrong, I think. It's McNabb being a human being, a good one.
• THE GOODELL COMMENTS ABOUT WORKING TOO HARD IN THE OFFSEASON HAVE SOME PEOPLE RILED UP. From Dave of St. Louis: "I think Roger Goodell got you hook, line, and sinker with his comments regarding NFL players overworking their bodies in the offseason. Sounds to me like he's setting up part of the league's argument why an 18-game season could make sense -- they could handle it if they didn't work out all year long and actually rested their bodies.''
I've been writing for a while that the NFL has an insane offseason schedule. Players are asked to spend four months in physical and classroom training to be uber-prepared for a 16-game season. Do you know what teams do in off-season minicamps and OTAs? They install the playbook for the season. Do you know what they do in training camp? They install the playbook for the season a second time. Do you know what they do each week during the season? Install the gameplan for the week, a different one every week with plays from the playbook that they learned on two different occasions, one in the spring and one in the summer, and they go out at practice and go over the plays again so they'll know them that week. That's three times they're taught the same plays. And last week, two teams -- Detroit and Kansas City -- scored key touchdowns on plays their offense coaching staff invented during the week and installed just for that week.
My point -- is all this necessary? Is it necessary for assistant coaches to be at work till 7 and 8 p.m. in May. (I can't tell you the team, but I can tell you that one NFC coaching staff works from about 7 till 7 four days a week in May, polishing their plays and techniques for the season and studying how every other team in the league plays.) Now, I'm all for getting better in the off-season, but ask yourself this question: If you ask your coaching staff to work 70-hour weeks for six months during the season, and that's being conservative on some teams, and then you ask them to work 50 or so per week in the off-season, how much are you gaining by that?
Re the players: Why, why, why would you ask a seven-year vet on a team with the same coaching staff for, say, a third season to sit in on installation meetings that he's hearing for the ninth or 10th time? Maybe a few things are tweaked, but do you need to sit there for six or seven weeks in the offseason, listening to a rerun of what you've heard year after year?
I just believe a lot of what NFL teams do is mind-numbingly repetitive and unimportant to the final product you put on the field in September. The thought that players will be less prepared to play if they sit in a class room for two fewer months in the off-season is wrong. Now, players will have to work out hard to be sure. I'm not saying players should be turned loose in the off-season. They should have workouts schedule at their team's facility, or in an organized fashion somewhere. (Many University of Miami players work out in Coral Gables for weeks in the off-season.) I am saying four months of a full-time job in the off-season is not necessary.
• INTERESTING QUESTION. From Lyndon of Claremont, N.H.: "Why do you think the Patriots score fewer points in the second half of their games? Are they having a tough time adapting to their opponents halftime adjustments or are they playing less aggressively? In the first half, the Pats have scored 196 points (while giving up 89) and in the second half, they've only scored 94 points (while giving up 82). They have lost three games this year, after leading at halftime. This concerns me, especially with their game with the Saints coming up next week.''
Good question. I have to say I don't know why this is. In their three losses, New England has been outscored 47-10 in the second half, which makes me wonder, like you, if they've taken their foot off the gas in the second half. Tom Brady has thrown 65 first-half passes and 55 in the second half of the losses; if you're averaging 18 passes a game in the second half, that's probably isn't much of an indication that you're easing off the gas. The Patriots have run the ball 35 times in those three second halves. So with a 55-35 pass-run ratio, clearly they're not slacking off. I think you've got to put the ginger on the defense here more than the offense, but I do agree the offense does need to play significantly better in the second half against strong defenses. In my opinion, this is more coincidence than anything else. If they put up three points in the second half Monday night, let's raise a red flag.
• HE NEEDS A COFFEE FIX. From Jeff of Houston: "Monday morning checklist:
Wake up: Check.Honk at idiot drivers during commute: Check.Read MMQB: Check.Curse King for not ranking my Cowboys high enough: Check.Read Coffeenerdness: Incomplete.
Where's my caffeine fix, King?!"
I can't have an inspired coffee thought every week. Come to think of it, at 4:53 a.m. Monday, about the time I often get to a coffee thought, I'm lucky to have any thoughts whatsoever.