My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern)
Sunday, 1 p.m.Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
I'll be in Foxboro on Sunday as a color commentator for the SportsUSA Radio Network and I can't wait to see the best team in football play in person. And I'm not talking about the Patriots.
Baltimore is led by second-year quarterback Joe Flacco and an explosive offense that has scored over 30 points per game. This is the best Ravens offense since, well, ever. The Ravens are No. 2 overall in the NFL in total offense, trailing only The Drew Brees Show in New Orleans. That's five spots better than the Ravens always formidable defense, which checks in at No. 7 overall in yards allowed.
Flacco has made huge strides between year one and year two and the offensive line is improved now that it is healthy and has another year under its belt. Couple that with the emergence of Ray Rice and return to health of Todd Heap and you can see why the Ravens are cooking with gas.
Some of the doubters point to a soft early season schedule that has seen the Ravens play the Chargers, Chiefs and Browns. I counter by saying a win on the road at San Diego is quite an accomplishment and that Baltimore beat the Browns exactly the way one should an inferior opponent. I highly doubt anyone will be pointing to the schedule if the Ravens win in Foxboro.
Sunday, 4 p.m.New York Jets at New Orleans Saints
The matchup to watch in this game is just too obvious. It is IBM Pentium Processor of football information Drew Brees against the Mad Scientist, Rex Ryan. They should just put these two guys in a room with a chess board and see what happens.
Ryan, as is his custom, will focus on finding a way to get a defender to come unblocked against Brees by overloading a side. Brees will attempt to identify where that blitz is coming from by the movement of the safeties and the "shell" of the secondary. The problem, as Brees well knows, is Ryan brings pressure without always having a sound coverage scheme behind it. That means Brees can't really trust his eyes and make the same assumptions he normally does about what type of blitzes and coverages he is going to get. This is going to be an NFL schematic battle of the first order.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Could the defending champs really go 1-3? Absolutely, especially considering how they have played this season. What has to make fans in the 'Burgh nervous is that they have lost two games in a row in which their much-maligned offensive line has actually played well.
Troy Polamalu won't play again for Pittsburgh, which isn't good enws with the highly proficient Philip Rivers coming to town. Steelers safety Ryan Clark told me recently on Sirius NFL Radio that Polamalu is a very instinctive player and that they do a lot of things based on feel and the rapport the two men share, having played so much together. He also said that he and Polamalu's replacement, Tyrone Carter, play it much more by the book. So far the book isn't looking too great, and now dangerous threats like Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates are coming to town.
Monday, 8:30 p.m.Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
All of the focus will be on the quarterbacks. But this is a team game and it is about much more than Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.
The difference in this one may be among the men charged with protecting Rodgers and Favre. The Vikings offensive line has performed solidly, if not spectacularly, this season, though rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt has shown himself to be susceptible to the speed rush at times. Still, the big men in purple have performed much better than their counterparts for the Packers, who have struggled mightily despite their 2-1 record. An iffy Chad Clifton is a particularly ominous sign for the Pack because that means usual left guard Daryn Colledge will have to bounce out to tackle once again and go against wild man Jared Allen. Not a favorable matchup for Green Bay; it had better give Colledge help or it could get ugly.
Let's see what we have in the e-mail inbox and via Twitter this week ...
Who is really to blame for my Redskins terrible season -- Jason Campbell, Jim Zorn or the whole team?--Menzo Lowery, Landover, Md.
There is plenty of blame to go around as is often the case when a team is struggling. Clearly there is a reciprocal lack of confidence to some extent between Campbell and Zorn, especially when the team gets into the red zone, and that is not good. But this is a team that was No. 4 in defense in 2008 and brought in players like Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo. They shouldn't give up that many yards or points to the Detroit Lions.
I couldn't help but notice that you didn't mention Jim Caldwell in your column. He's off to a 3-0 start as a first-year head coach and deserves a mention.--Zachary G. Jacob, Indianapolis
Good point. I guess since Caldwell was there for so long and there is so much continuity in that organization, I don't really look at what they are doing as unique. This is just kind of what the Colts do, which is probably as much of a compliment as anything.
Ross, I really enjoy listening to you on the Sirius NFL radio and reading your articles on SI.com. I have heard you talk about Chad Henne in the past ... why don't you write an article on him and his first start this weekend against the Bills?--Tom Hobson, Cameron, Mont.
Thanks for the kind words and we'll see how Henne does before he gets an article. It is interesting to note that both Henne and Titans starting quarterback Kerry Collins are from the same high school, Wilson, in my hometown of Reading, Pa. That's two out of 28 QB starters this Sunday -- not too shabby.
In an NFL game, a lineman runs between 5-15 yards on an average play. In practice and offseason conditioning, do they run 40-yard sprints or something shorter?--Rob, Osan Air Base, Korea
Thank you so much for your service. The running really varies for offensive linemen and typically includes a mix of everything from 100-yard sprints to 300-yard gassers (back and forth across the width of the field six times consecutively without a break) to quick feet drills on ladders and short bursts with resistance, which probably simulates the distance traveled on a standard NFL play better than anything else.
Chiefs Coach Haley is hard nosed/demanding ... will he lose the team if they're 0-7 heading into the bye week?--@mikvogel, via Twitter
I don't think so. They still have a lot of veterans in that locker room, like Mike Vrabel and Mike Brown. Perhaps more importantly, the players realize they are fighting for their jobs every week. Haley and general manager Scott Pioli's track records speak for themselves.