HOUSTON — Battle of the heavyweights here Sunday. When it was mostly first-teamers versus first-teamers through the first half, the score was the rejuvenated Saints (with some frisky new pups on defense) 17, Texans (minus J.J. Watt and Arian Foster) 16. If the Saints can play defense, they have a chance to play deep into January. If the Texans can get 16 games out of the idled Foster, they can win the Super Bowl.
Lots to focus on this week, the last week of my preseason travels and roster-whittling time around the league: The Decision Rex Ryan wishes he could have back, the OW and his friends in Jacksonville, the ugly situation between ESPN and the NFL over the concussion story, what the funky Eagles offense is going to look like. But let’s start here, with Arian Foster, the questionable man of the hour in the AFC pennant race ... and in every fantasy football draft this week from coast to coast. I found him sitting on the counter of the Texans’ equipment room a half-hour after the Saints’ 31-23 win here.
The bizarrely undrafted Foster, of course, has been an incredibly productive back over the past three years, and one of the greatest values in recent NFL history. He’s averaged 95 rushing yards a game in his three starting seasons in Houston, and without him the ground-loving Texans would have to rely on Ben Tate, who they’re not sure can be a bell-cow type of back. Anyway, Foster missed most of the last three months of real football practice because of a strained calf and a sore back. He returned to practice last week amid concern he might be ready for the start of the season but not ready for a 325-carry grind. (Plus, of course, however many times he’d have to carry the ball in the playoffs.)
"I’m fine,’" said Foster. "My body feels great. I actually think all this time [off] might help."
"Why?" I said.
"You ask any player: ‘How’d you enjoy the lockout season?’ Great time. You had a chance to train without [having to] practice every day. When you got back to training camp, everyone felt fresh. That’s exactly how I feel right now. Over the past couple of months I had the chance to just train and rehab and work on my body and didn’t have all those carries in training camp. Even during camp I got a long rest [because of the back injury]. It’s usually a grind. Now I feel fresh. I feel rejuvenated."
Foster was treated with injections to relieve pain in his back, and he said he’s pain-free now. His doctors cleared him to resume all football activity, and he said, "They think it’s over, but you never know."
You get your body tired and worn down during training camp. When you don’t have that on you, you feel fresh. Getting some reps in practice, it does help you get your game ready. But when you get to a certain point in your football career, you know how to play football.
More than nursing an injury, Foster said he thinks sitting out a month of camp will pay off over the long haul of the season. He said he’d recommend anyone who plays a physical position in football have the bare minimum of contact in the time leading up to the season. "My body feels great," he said. "It’s because I haven’t had the grind of camp.
Think about it: During the season, you never play football six days in a row. You get your body tired and worn down during training camp. When you don’t have that on you, you feel fresh. Getting some reps in practice, it does help you get your game ready. But when you get to a certain point in your football career, you know how to play football. Football is reactionary then."
And you can react better if you’re fresher, Foster thinks. Let the debate between old and new school begin. Don’t tell Mike Tomlin this; he thinks you have to toughen up your players in camp in order to play tough during the season. But all of you out there prepping for your drafts—you’ll have to ask yourself if you’ve got the third or fourth pick and are thinking seriously of Foster, "Do I feel lucky?"
My advice (which is usually worth a used dryer sheet): I’d pick Foster in the first half of your first round.
The opener’s only 10 days away.
Takeaways from a busy weekend:
Table of Contents
What you'll find in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback: Page 1—Arian Foster insists he's healthy after an offseason on the trainer's table, and extolls the virtues of what no training camp can do for a player; here’s a surprise: the Eagles are going to play fast; Saints rookies are shining, and they'll need to. Page 2—As if there was any doubt, Rex Ryan signed his own pink slip over the weekend; five thoughts about the Jaguars; my take on the ESPN-PBS tiff. Page 3—Quotes of the Week; tweets of the Week; Hall of Fame candidate Ray Guy's numbers compared to his punting peers. Page 4—Ten Things I Think I Think, criticizing the preseason schedule and feeling bad for Kevin Kolb; the Adieu Haiku.
The Eagles could run 1,200 plays.
That’s 75 plays a game, and it’s nine more than the oft-frenetic Patriots ran last year. The number of plays in NFL games has increased five years in a row; offenses like to use the no-huddle to limit defensive adjustments, and smart offenses figure it’s to their advantage if they can run it efficiently without getting overly fatigued. On Saturday night in Jacksonville, the Eagles’ first unit, which played until midway through the third quarter, didn’t show anything stunning. But they continued to play fast, without huddling. Of the 45 snaps Michael Vick orchestrated, only one came with the play clock inside five seconds. Mostly, Vick snapped with between about 21 and 15 seconds left on the 40-second clock. There was an 11-play no-huddle sequence late in the first-quarter on a Philly field goal drive; Vick ran twice on it, and jogged back to the line each time, getting the play call in the helmet and snapping the next play each time with the play clock in the teens. The guy’s got to be in fabulous shape. Now, Vick threw two brainlock passes during the game—one an interception, one while he was going down for a sack that was the classic careless Vick we’ve seen at times in his star-crossed career. And this was probably his worst offensive performance of the three preseason games, though his numbers were good. "The thing I’m most proud of is I didn’t approach this preseason the way I approached the last three or four years. I came to play," Vick said. The Eagles will struggle on defense, but they’ll be a constant chemistry experiment on offense.
Two impressive things about the Saints. One: their rookie class. Kenny Stills, the fifth-round receiver from Oklahoma, made a great catch against the Texans down the left sideline on a bomb, and first-round safety Kenny Vaccaro has fit in seamlessly and shows good instincts around the line; he made a good tackle on a run blitz. Another first-year player (technically not a rookie), wideout Andy Tanner, made a fingertip touchdown catch from ex-Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin. But I liked the two defensive linemen who shone Sunday: third-round tackle John Jenkins, who has some Wilfork-type moves for a 350-pound man, and undrafted free agent end Glenn Foster, who had a sack and a quarterback pressure. How is someone as athletic as Glenn Foster not drafted? Probably comes from a decided lack of production—four sacks in 23 college starts at Illinois—but he looked promising Sunday. Two: defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had a sack and was buzzing around Matt Schaub for much of the first quarter. Jordan and J.J. Watt were the best big ends in the 2011 draft, and he looked to have some of Watt’s quickness, spin moves and strength Sunday. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan plans to move Jordan—son of former NFL tight end Steve Jordan—around on the defense. Sort of like last year. "I was a Swiss Army knife last year," he said after the game. "I played everywhere. I think that’s how I’ll be used again, which is fine. I can excel wherever they put me." The Saints need the combination of Jordan, Junior Gallette and Akiem Hicks (and the rookies) to pressure the passer. It’s essential if Rob Ryan’s pressured defense is going to work.
The Jets' QB situation took a turn for the even more absurd after Rex Ryan's inexplicable decision to play Mark Sanchez in the fourth quarter resulted in a shoulder injury.
This is just too easy.
The head coach of the Jets, Rex Ryan, committed career suicide Saturday night in New Jersey. On the 52nd play of a preseason game, with 11:21 left in the fourth quarter (a point of the game when no starting player plays in August), behind an offensive line full of backups, when his opening-day quarterback appeared to have no idea he was going to play, with undrafted free agents Joseph Collins from Weber State and Ryan Spadola from Lehigh running down passes, Ryan inserted Mark Sanchez into the game.
"Why compete, period?" Ryan explained after Sanchez, leveled by Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin on his ninth play in the game, went out with a shoulder injury. "We put him out there with guys. We’re there to win."
Players get hurt in the preseason all the time. But this injury was so nonsensical that it defies any reasonable explanation. Ryan certainly knew after watching Geno Smith stink it up for three quarters (three interceptions to go with a safety in which Smith ran out the back of the end zone, a la Dan Orlovsky) that Sanchez was going to win the quarterback competition between him and Smith. The fourth quarter of a preseason game is no place to strut his manly stuff and repeat the silly mantra, "We’re there to win." Marginally, yes you are. Marginally. Mostly you’re there in the second half of these games to survive, figure out the final five or six spots on your roster, and plot your practice squad. Now, assuming Sanchez is going to be out for a while, Ryan has invited his termination—which was likely anyway—by wasting a starting player and forcing Smith into the starting lineup before he’s ready. I spoke with a source close to the Jets’ coaching staff Sunday, and he said the atmosphere around the team was funereal Sunday.
The sad thing is, Ryan’s a good guy, a colorful character in a colorless league, and an imaginative defensive coach. But he signed his exit visa Saturday night. It’s all over but the 4-12 record. Next year, Ryan’s either going to be on a network set doing some pregame show, or coordinating some defense somewhere. The Adam Sandler movie star-turn? A souvenir of a time long past.
Imagine you’re a Jets PR or marketing person this morning—or, worse, a ticket-seller. Already you’ve got gobs of tickets to unload for this season. What do you sell this morning? Can the Jets do some ticket deal like six-for-the-price-of-one? Six: in honor of their needlessly fallen quarterback’s number, of course.
Five Things I Thought About the Jaguars
Observations from a third preseason game in Jacksonville:
1. Jacksonville’s optimistic about Blaine Gabbert being ready to play against Kansas City in the season opener, and maybe he can play 22 days after cracking a bone at the base of his thumb against the Jets last week. But I shook hands with Gabbert on the field before the game, and his right thumb is casted, with the cast due off, tentatively, four days before the opener. In a year when this franchise has to decide whether to take a first-round quarterback next May, it seems counter-productive to the biggest goal of this season (finding out if Gabbert’s the future) to rush him back.
No matter where he lines up, Denard Robinson will make an impact on the Jaguars' offense.
2. The Jags are serious about wedging Denard Robinson into the game in as many as five spots—wide receiver, slot receiver, running back, quarterback and kick returner. That’s where he played Saturday night against the Eagles. Before the game, in GM David Caldwell’s office, it was evident how much the Jags want to see Robinson on the field this fall. On Caldwell’s magnetic team depth chart board, right next to the quarterbacks and running backs, was a category labeled "OW." For "offensive weapon." That’s the label Robinson gave himself after Jacksonville picked him in the fifth round last April. Robinson told me he wasn’t upset about being moved from quarterback. "As long as I get in the game, anywhere, I’m happy," he said.
3. This team’s definitely a year, or more, away. I wonder if Justin Blackmon will be part of the 2014 Jags, and I asked Caldwell if he thought Blackmon would be a part of his team’s future. "That is our hope," Caldwell said. Give the GM credit—he didn’t want to lie. I wouldn’t trust Blackmon after his track record of alcohol abuse. And to hear the Jaguars insiders talk glowingly about opening-day starters Cecil Shorts III and Ace Sanders—the Pedroia-sized Jag version of Tavon Austin—it’s clear that if they have to move on from Blackmon, the team will. But Blackmon showed against the Eagles—with his hands, quickness and length—that as a player he’s a key cog to a winning team. I know this makes too much sense, but my plaintive cry to Blackmon after three major alcohol incidents while driving in his 23-year-old life is this: Spend $40,000, or whatever it would take to hire a permanent driver. Stop driving. Just stop. You can hire a driver to be on call for you for a fraction of your $7.11 million 2012 signing bonus. Isn’t that worth the peace of mind when you’re one vehicular mistake away from ruining your NFL career?
4. Very impressed with the offensive imagination, which will be vital for the Jags to be competitive. Impressed, too, with rookie safety Johnathan Cyprien, a smart player and person.
5. I have no idea who’s going to rush the passer. I have no idea who’s going to cover Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne or Kenny Britt. There’s going to be tremendous pressure on the offense to stay close in shootouts, and though offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has been imaginative and resourceful, the Jags were 30th in scoring last year and return the same quarterbacks who struggled so mightily. Gus Bradley’s always been good at figuring ways to invent pressure, and he’d better be this year. This sets up to be one of the worst pass defenses in football this year.
The upshot of the NFL-ESPN tiff.
Earlier this month, talking to TV critics in Los Angeles, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer Dwayne Bray spoke glowingly of the relationship between ESPN and the PBS investigative-journalism show Frontline. ESPN partnered with this outside company, a rarity for a news organization with infinite resources such as ESPN, to work the story on concussions and head trauma in the NFL. That day, Bray told the TV critics: "We respect Frontline greatly. They respect us. And the NFL is going to have to understand that."
Bray learned a hard lesson in the realities of the relationship between the NFL and Big TV on Thursday, a few days after commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Network president Steve Bornstein and two ESPN executives clashed over the reporting of the issue by ESPN and Frontline. The league believes the reporting of the story has been one-sided, showing team doctors often ignoring players’ best interests to return them to games when they weren’t physically fit to do so. The New York Times reported the lunch meeting "was combative" and the result was ESPN pulling out of the collaboration. "Disney folks [ESPN is owned by Disney] got involved and shut us down," the newspaper quoted Bray as telling demoralized ESPN investigative staffers.
The project both sides were working on, a two-part documentary called "League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis," will still air on Oct. 8 and 15, just not without the ESPN imprimatur. But much of the reporting on the show was done by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who have a book coming out about the league’s failings as a watchdog for scores of former players suffering from head trauma.
I’m told Goodell did not explicitly tell ESPN to get out of the relationship with Frontline. But, one source told me, "The impression ESPN got was the NFL, one of its most important business partners, was furious because it felt the full story about the concussion story wasn’t being told." Did ESPN have to do anything? No. The network holds rights to NFL games through 2021, and the NFL had no leverage here. The only thing the NFL might have been able to do here is fudge with future ESPN schedules, though that’s not in anyone’s best interests, because the NFL wants the TV ratings to be as good as the networks want them to be. But the power of the partnerships the NFL forges is strong, and the league works ceaselessly on relationships and partnership-building. Whatever words Goodell spoke at this lunch were as important as the tenor of them. And the tenor was unmistakeably angry.
ESPN announced it was pulling out of the deal with
. That, to me, set off the single biggest unintended consequence of this story, one that will injure the NFL rather than simply letting the concussion story play out on
The NFL may be eventually fighting a multibillion-dollar case with retired players and their dependents over this very issue—that the league didn’t care enough, or at all, about the health of players when returning them to games after sustaining head trauma. And so it’s naïve to think the league shouldn’t be fighting for its reputation when stories are written or produced that the NFL feels are wrong or unbalanced. But look what’s happened here. Now that the story has broken that the league leaned hard on ESPN, the public has lashed back hard at the NFL for trying to curtail the network’s reporting—whether that’s exactly what happened or not. (And surely the league wanted the ESPN reporting to take a different tack.) So the result is going to be that the two Frontline stories will have far bigger ratings now. Think about it. You’re a football fan. You see the headlines about the NFL reportedly pressuring ESPN to report the concussions story differently, or not at all. You had no idea before this happened that any such documentary was even in the works. But now, admit it: You’re now might actually watch this two-part show. I would have anyway, but now it’s an urgent watch.
It’s unrealistic to think that if the NFL was so strident about its objections to the reporting, ESPN at a corporate level wasn’t going to do something to smooth things over. It’s also unrealistic to think in a news-gathering organization, this wasn’t going to get out. The NFL was going to see red over the Frontline documentary anyway. Now the burn will be worse, because thousands more people will watch it. Tens of thousands, probably.
My colleague Richard Deitsch wrote overnight about the story on SI.com.
Quotes of the Week
Former NFC North enemies, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss are now peers on the TV set.
"I am not part of the media. That’s not my label, and I don’t want it to start now."
—New media member Randy Moss, part of the media whether he likes it or not, to our Richard Deitsch in his Mediaville column. Media, media, media! You’re in it now, Randy. Moss has joined FOX Football Daily, an hour show on the new FOX Sports 1 channel.
"He’s upset. No one feels more upset about this than him. He feels like he let his team down, he feels like he let his family down, he let his name down. I don’t know how well you guys know Von, but Von’s an amazing guy. He’s not a bad guy. He made bad decisions, yes, but he’s not a bad guy or a bad person. He’ll live and he’ll learn and he’ll bounce back from it. I have no doubt it in my mind because he’s not a dumb guy. They try to peg him as being dumb, but those people don’t know him."
—Denver linebacker Shaun Phillips, on teammate Von Miller, who was suspended for six games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Miller’s absence means the Broncos will be without their top two pass rushers (Elvis Dumervil went to Baltimore in free agency in the offseason) for the first six games, with Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Michael Vick and Tony Romo on the schedule in those games.
Who's pegging him as dumb? I’d just peg him as irresponsible for violating the terms of the NFL's substance-abuse program knowing full well what the consequences were.
"You listen to our strength and conditioning guys. I asked them the other day from top to bottom if you can rank our guys, and Michael was our number one in terms of his attitude, work ethic, helping other players, everything in terms of weight room, off‑the‑field things. I'm not in the weight room every single day with those guys, but I always get input from them and what's going on in there. Every facet of what you've asked him to do since he's been here he's been outstanding at."
—Eagles coach Chip Kelly on Michael Vick, two days after naming him the Eagles’ starting quarterback.
"You know what the greatest honor I’ve ever received as a player is? In my fourth year and my fifth year, I was named team captain. That is to this day the single greatest achievement of my career as a football player, because the men in this room chose me to lead them."
—New England quarterback Tom Brady, speaking to the Michigan football team in Ann Arbor Thursday morning at the invitation of coach Brady Hoke. The University of Michigan streamed the Brady video.
Stat of the Week
The Seniors Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame voted last week to nominate former punter Ray Guy and defensive end Claude Humphrey as its candidates for enshrinement in 2014. The Seniors Committee is a nine-man sub-committee of the 46-member Hall panel, and five of the nine gather in Canton each August along with two former players to discuss the most deserving veterans who may have been overlooked in their 15 years of eligibility after retiring. You may know I have not supported Guy in the past, but I look at the voting process this way: Something could happen in the room that Saturday to sway my opinion, some presentation by a committee member. So I have an open mind entering the process, which will play out the day before the Super Bowl next February.
Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and it might be included in Tuesday's mailbag.
We are often asked on the committee—most recently, and loudly, by punter Chris Kluwe—why there are no punters in the Hall, why we have a bias against kicking-game specialists. I don’t think we do. I think we want to enshrine players who have truly separated themselves on the field. I have believed part of the Guy sentiment comes from the rabid Raider fandom over the years, and from teammates who thought him a true difference-maker. I’ve often said to people, "Compare Guy to Jerrel Wilson, and tell me why we’re talking Ray Guy and not Jerrel Wilson. Wilson was a peer of Guy’s, and their careers intersected during the '70s, Wilson in Kansas City and Guy in Oakland. A couple of numbers to consider:
Wilson, in 217 career games, averaged 43.0 yards per punt and had seven seasons with averages over 44 yards.
Guy, in 207 career games, averaged 42.4 yards per punt and had one season averaging more than 44 yards.
Wilson led his league five times in average per punt (three NFL, two AFL.) Guy led the NFL in punting average the same as Wilson—three times.
Other numbers and other testimony will come into play. But one that I’ve asked a few times over the years is this: Is punting really a different game between 1973, when Guy entered football, and today? Should it matter that 82 punters have better averages than Guy’s 42.4 in NFL history? It shouldn’t be the total determining factor, yards per punt. But it’s got to be in there somewhere.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
On the turf at Everbank Field Saturday, two roommates during their sophomore year at the University of Florida met.
Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman shook hands warmly with Jacksonville offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Small world.
They both swear this story is true: One day, as these two non-football-playing Gators sat in their dorm room, they asked each other what they wanted to be when they grew up. Fisch said he wanted to be an NFL coach. Roseman said he wanted to be an NFL general manager.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Flights Attendants Deserve a Raise, and a Big One, Dept.:
Delta to Jacksonville, Saturday morning. Front door closes. You know the drill. Cell phones off. Female flight attendant to me, firmly: "Sir, please power down your cell phone." Which I did. Flight attendant to white-haired man in the seat behind me, "Sir, please power down your cell phone."
The man, maybe 67, says, "I have it in airplane mode. It’s okay."
Flight attendant: "Sir, it has to be powered off for takeoff. Completely off."
Everything you need to know about all 32 teams and their prospects for the 2013 season, courtesy of Andy Benoit. The last four teams roll out this week.
The man raises his voice. "My dog just died! I am trying to go down there for my dog! Just move on! It’s in airplane mode!"
Flight attendant, firmly but not angrily: "Sir, the phone has to be powered off. Everyone on the plane has to power off."
The man turns into Dr. Evil, spewing about his dog dying of cirrhosis of the liver, and how can she do this to him, and the phone takes a long time to power off, and, well, he was spewing so fast I missed some of it. But lots of verbal bile spews.
"Sir," she says, evenly, without a trace of anger, "I am going to have to go talk to the captain. We can’t take off if your phone is on."
She walks toward the cabin, leans in, and says something to the captain.
"I am turning it off!" Dr. Evil says loudly up the aisle. "It takes a minute." More bile to the poor flight attendant.
The phone is off, but he won’t shut up.
"You are an awful person," Dr. Evil hisses.
"Sir," she says firmly, "are you going to have a problem with me on this flight?"
No! The back-to-the-gate, throw-the-bum-off, lose-our-spot-in-line threat!
"No," Dr. Evil says. "Just leave me alone! I can’t believe you!"
Where do these sub-humans come from?
And Ms. Flight Attendant, you deserve a medal for not punching the lout in the nose.
While I’m praising flight attendants, how about the line from this clever one on Southwest Sunday morning, as we taxied toward the runway for the Jacksonville-to-Houston flight: "Ladies and gentlemen, in the unlikely event your flight becomes a cruise ... "
Tweets of the Week
"McKnight in May: "I don’t care who they bring in, they’re going [to have to] kill me to take my spot." #nyj
—@briancoz, New York Post Jets beat writer Brian Costello, after the team cut return man Joe McKnight Monday.
"Rashean Mathis signed with the Lions on Friday. 4 days later, he's working with the first-team defense"
—@kmeinke, Kyle Meinke, Detroit Lions beat reporter for MLive Media Group in Michigan.
You want to know why it’s hard to buy in on The New And Improved Lions? Because of news like this. Every year since Jim Schwartz took over as coach of the Lions in 2009, the team has been trying to fix the secondary. Through the draft, through low-cost free agency. Through giving the Drayton Florences and Rashean Mathises (Mathis turns 33 tomorrow) starting gigs after they’ve been discarded by other corner-needy teams. Not being critical of those players as contributors to a team, but the Lions have consistently failed to upgrade a vital part of their team with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler the opposition passers for 25 percent of their schedule.
"People who get to cut the security line at the airport because they showed up late should have to apologize to the rest of us."
—@peteabe, Boston Globe Red Sox beat man Pete Abraham, tweeting live from the security line at San Francisco International Airport Thursday morning.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the NFL, in its thirst to get more eyes on more preseason games, hurts the product. How is having Pittsburgh and Washington play their second games on a Monday night, then play five days later in Week 3, then play five days later in Week 4 good for the game? The league is essentially encouraging teams to play non-starters by doing that. Minnesota and San Francisco played Sunday night ... then play games four nights later. Why would Vikings coach Leslie Frazier play a single starter in the Thursday finale this week after flying home and getting back to the Twin Cities at 4 o’clock this morning, then having to get ready to play another game 3.5 days later?
2. I think, after this weekend, the Jadaveon Clowney Draft Sweepstakes has three leading contenders: the Raiders, the Jets, the Jaguars.
Highlights from the last week at The MMQB:
I think if E.J. Manuel can't play in Week 1 against New England, I vote for Matt Leinart. Always thought he deserved one more shot.
4. I think the toughest thing about making my picks this year—you'll see them in Sports Illustrated this week—is how I simply couldn't find that worst-to-first team that happens every year. I just couldn't find one. I hate the fact that my picks are mostly predictable, but this was just one of those preseasons. No stunners that I saw.
5. I think I feel for Kevin Kolb. Terrific guy, dedicated and all that. But did you see the hit that resulted in yet another concussion Saturday? It was hardly a ringing hit—the kind you see accidentally 10 times a game. And now, from Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, comes word this one could be career-threatening. When a hit like that threatens a quarterback's career, it's time, as Paul Brown used to say, to start thinking of your life's work.
6. I think I'm just not feeling Hard Knocks: Return to Bengaldom this year. No buzz. No real excitement. I do like the inside stuff, and the control I see Marvin Lewis showing over his team, but there's not a story that tugs at me.
7. I think I understand they're still fairly new, and they're relatively unknown from owner to GM to coach to the rank and file, but the Houston Texans are a model organization. The NFL was smart to go into business with Bob McNair, who was smart to hire Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak and stick with them. From top to bottom, that's a heck of a football, business and PR team McNair has built.