Cincinnati at Washington Sunday: Andy Dalton, 24, with the weight of a franchise on his shoulders in Cincinnati; Robert Griffin III, 22, with the weight of a franchise (and, some might think, the world) on his shoulders in Washington. That's not the only matchup of young guns this weekend in the NFL. Three other games match 25-or-younger passers and kid cornerstones of anxious franchises:
The world is changing. No, it has changed. And Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis knows why. He believes it has taken less than one decade to flip a switch at the most important position in sports. The Bengals drafted Carson Palmer out of mighty USC with the first pick of the 2003 draft, and sat him for a full season. The Bengals drafted Andy Dalton with the 35th pick of the 2011 draft, and played him 96 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie.
The best player in college football in 2003 sat a year. The fifth-best quarterback in the draft eight years later was immediately the most important player to the success of the same team ... and played immediately after the sixth-month NFL lockout.
"Look at Andy, and look at RGIII,'' Lewis said Thursday night from Cincinnati. "They're where they are because they played in college, played a lot and played in a way the NFL could judge them well. When we scouted Carson, we had to cut up three years of Carson's offensive snaps at USC to give us the equivalent of one year of Andy or Christian Ponder or Blaine Gabbert -- because they threw it so much, and they played in more of a pro offense.''
As Lewis said, it's not just because of the different throws they can make. It's the fact that pro teams now have embraced what colleges are doing on offense, not eschewed it. Remember when Andy Reid hated the shotgun and Donovan McNabb played exclusively under center? Look at Mike Vick now.
"It used to be, just very recently, that when scouts would see college quarterbacks line up so much in the shotgun, the attitude was, 'They can't take a snap under center. That'll really hurt them in the NFL.' Well, so what? Eventually it got to be that the shotgun was an advantage, as we see now.''
I asked the career defensive coach what he thought of the move-heavy offense Washington has put together for Griffin. "They've done a really good job of constructing an offense it looks like he's comfortable with,'' Lewis said. "It's sort of a veer option, with movement and things like wide receiver screens. I like it for him. He's not going to have 50 drop-backs a game now. His confidence in the game is so impressive, and his demeanor at the end of the game -- so calm, like he knows he can make any play he's asked to make. But he took a couple of pretty big hits last week, and I don't know as time goes on that you can afford to sustain those kind of hits.''
That's the danger, obviously, of having a 218-pound mobile quarterback. You love the fact he can get out of trouble. You hate the fact he is exposed to so many big hits.
As for Dalton, the Bengals get excited by things like his 15-of-17 second half last week against Cleveland, and by the fact that, even though he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, he's found A.J. Green 77 times in 17 career games for a 15.4-yard average. That average should climb as they get more in rhythm with each other.
"Andy took a big jump for us last week, and he knows the expectations are different now," said Lewis. "I think he'll continue to make that climb."
Enjoyed interviewing San Francisco safety Donte Whitner, FOX officiating analyst and columnist Mike Pereira, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Albert Breer of NFL Network for my third podcast of 2012. All the subjects were good, and Whitner, I thought, was as insightful a player as I've had on the podcast in the time I've done it. As usual, it's available on
"There was so much chippiness in those two games,'' Rodgers said. "I would have expected more penalties. On two occasions in the Baltimore-Philly game there were offsetting personal fouls, which really doesn't do anything. It doesn't send any message to the guys and nothing happens. There [are] no repercussions. So there is no 15-yard penalty on Philly and then the guy can come over and get a tongue-lashing from his coach and maybe think twice about doing it again.''