As we do every week — except this time, it’s game week! — let’s take a swing around the NFL, looking at a bunch of random things …
So, what’s been up?
1. The Steelers play tonight against the Broncos, and they get the first crack at QB Peyton Manning. Sure, Pittsburgh is tweaked about some injury issues (I don’t blame them), but they are mostly ready to go. I just want to take out a second and note something you shouldn’t really need to praise anyone for. I’ll do it anyway. Nice, easy, sound decision by coach Mike Tomlin to eliminate any possibility of S Ryan Clark playing in the mile-high altitude because of a health issues. This should be a no-brainer, but sometimes, players take serious risks. Glad Tomlin took this out of Clark’s hands (again). And then Ben Roethlisberger... who could miss tonight’s game. Really. His wife is expecting, and Roethlisberger won’t say exactly when the due date is. But if she goes into labor, he’s out. Good. Fans will freak out, and it would be tough to find two or three more dedicated fan bases than Pittsburgh’s. But good. Football is important. It’s not THAT important. It is a job, albeit one where a lot of people watch you. But life is way more important. The birth of a child? Being there for your wife? Making sure all is well? It’s a great call. Now, this nothing to do with anything Big Ben may have done earlier in life. It’s a separate issue. This time, for tonight, his willingness to bail on the game should be commended. It’s what father’s do.
2. The Jaguars spent most of the offseason annoyed at Maurice Jones-Drew for holding out, but now all that’s behind everyone. Right? The contract isn’t settled, but he’s been in the building, saying all the right things about working his way back. Make no mistake, some nerves were frayed. Just the way he went about things still annoys some key occupants in the building. But… he showed up and has looked great, I’m told. The early word is that RB Rashad Jennings will start, and I definitely believe that. But I’m starting to hear now that MJD will get more carries than originally anticipated. (Hey, fantasy alert!) It may be more than on third downs, just because he arrived looking so ready. Still unresolved issues… but none related to football. I remember Chris Johnson telling me after his holdout, he never felt right all year. Sounds like MJD may have grown acclimated quicker. We’ll find out, though.
3. There’s a lot of focus on the Jets tomorrow, and I, for one, can’t wait for that game. I’ll be at Patriots-Titans, but you better believe I’ll be paying attention. A few things to watch for, as the, um, circus begins to unfold. Starting QB Mark Sanchez will get serious starter snaps, as coach Rex Ryan has been saying, and expect him to be on the field for 80-90 percent. Just as they all said, it wasn’t a ruse. For Tim Tebow, it’ll be mostly goal-line and short-yardage, Tebow’s bread-and-butter since his days at Florida. Right now, the team has presented a united front on the QB issue, doing their best to clamp down on any problems. My question is, how long will it last? There is already some talk internally — conjecture, musings, wondering — about a possible change. There is a fear from some inside the organization that it all could go downhill very fast. Essentially, the team is on thin ice before the season begins. Buffalo won’t be easy, neither will playing the rough-and-tumble Steelers on the road. There is a scenario where we could see a brewing controversy, and Week 3 is the time to watch. That, really, can be considered a deadline. Like I said, the team is united now. But if they are 0-2, the defense is playing lights out and the offense is doing what it was in the preseason, there will be internal cries for whoever moves the ball, regardless of what it looks like. In other words, Tebow. Yes, the Jets are annoyed at the circus. But if they struggle early, don’t be surprised if internal turmoil keeps it going.
4. In Chicago a week ago, I talked with WR coach Darryl Drake for an item on what it’s like to coach Brandon Marshall. But that wasn’t all we chatted about. We also ranged onto the topic of exactly what Marshall and WRs like Alshon Jeffery can do for a run game. Because the Bears will run it with Matt Forte and Michael Bush. My thought was, someone will double-team Marshall and that’ll seriously, seriously open it up. Drake’s view? Maybe. But it’s not yet known. “I think it may help in a lot of ways because with those two big guys you need to decide whether you can hold up against those guys man-to-man, 1-on-1,” Drake told me. “A lot of times, teams may try to bring a safety over top of those guys and if that happens, that’s one less guy in the box. From that standpoint, because of those guys’ ability 1-on-1, it could create some opportunities for us in the running game. But at the same time, if they want to stay out and play 1-on-1 and load the box, it’s going to open up opportunities for those guys inside. … People are going to wait to see how you do during the season, see how guys fair when the game is really on. So, we’ll determine that as you start that first chapter, and that starts at Indy. It’s up to us to make sure we do things to create those situations and when guys get those 1-on-1 matchups they gotta make sure that that guy over there that’s calling defensive signals says, ‘Hey, we need help. We have to do those things.’ That’s what it’s all about. That’s what you want to happen, that’s what you hope and pray happens.”
5. Patriots QB Tom Brady struck the right chord earlier in the week when he was asked about seeing all of his friends go out the door. WR Deion Branch, C Dan Koppen… Brady’s buddies. Now, they are free agents. Cut. This isn’t new for Brady or the ultra-business-like Patriots. Bill Belichick does become close with some players, but he’ll never let that interfere with business. Releasing Branch, in particular, I know was hard. But it’s simply reality. And Brady no longer lobbies as he once did for Branch (back in the day). He has grown up… which is kinda sad but also important. “I think you realize at a young age that you really don’t know what you don’t know, so you see guys in the springtime that have great spring camps,” Brady said. “I remember my second year, we had a receiver, Aaron Bailey, that was pretty good. I thought, ‘Man, this guy is really good,’ and then we released him and I couldn’t believe it. ‘Man, we released that guy. He’s the one that made all the plays.’ That’s just what happens.” Brady admitted you become desensitized to it. You just nod, shake your head, and move on. You realize as a player, life is a little better if you are a little more oblivious. Or, pretend to be. “If you don’t (simply worry about yourself), you’re really doing a disservice to yourself, your teammates and the franchise,” Brady continued. “You have to go out and compartmentalize things and go out there and have good practices and ultimately be prepared for the game.”
6. The Vikings have been mum about their RB decision, but details are starting to leak out about Adrian Peterson. As I reported last night, Minnesota will announce their offense to the fans at Mall of America Field, which is a really, really strong indication Peterson will be out there to take the cheers. I mean, wouldn’t they announce the defense is he isn’t playing? So, yeah. Anyway, everyone was mum about it inside the organization, but Peterson himself insisted that he’s going to give it a try, and he has proven himself right throughout this process. One thing, though. It’s not a sure thing he’ll be back to himself immediately. When Wes Welker tore his ACL in a similar timeline, it took him a good month and a half to look like himself. He played, but he didn’t quite have that burst. Finally, in November of 2010, he had it. Privately, Vikings coaches have been a little apprehensive about saying Peterson is back, mostly because he’s been cautious with hits cuts. He needs to let loose, but it hasn’t quite happened yet. That’s why today, while the thinking is he’ll be on the field, don’t be surprised if backup Toby Gerhart gets more carries. But regardless, this is a major step. He’ll only improve from here. Plus, A.P.’s a beast. So, there’s that.
7. In talking with Titans coach Mike Munchak on Friday afternoon, I gained some insight into how he handles himself as a coach. He’s trying to learn, he’s trying to secure himself, and he knows it involves Jake Locker. See, coach and quarterback are linked. Always have been. It’s that way with Belichick and Brady. With that in mind, Munchak told me he would meet with the QBs on Saturday, with all of them in a room. He planned to specifically talk with Locker, but it wasn’t be a pep talk. It was to be the same as he did last year with Matt Hasselbeck, but with the focus on Locker. It’s a fact-finding mission. Essentially, Munchak is trying to see things through Locker’s eyes. When he locked eyes with Hasselbeck last year, they knew what each were thinking. He’s tied to Locker, so they have to get there. “You talk in generalities about how things are going, not just football,” Munchak told me, describing the meeting that used to be dominated by Munchak and Hasselbeck. “Like, Locker just got named captain, what he sees in that role. A lot of it is what he’s thinking. We want him to know my thinking on the game is. What we’re trying to accomplish. On third-and-two, if we’re thinking of going for it on fourth down, do you want to know that? On game day, what information do you want to have? Like Brady and Belichick, they know each other so well. They have real close contact. On game day, they know what each other are thinking. That’s what I had with Matt, to know just to move the chains and not go for the big pass on third-and-5 (if that was necessary). I’d like them to have a better feel for my personality, what I’m going to do. If it’s a two-minute drive, we can talk about philosophy in that. That way, we’re more in sync, so they know what I’ll suggest. Matt helped me so much last year with the transition, and that was part of our relationship. You want to hear what you can lean on, their ideas, so I can poke holes in it. I sit in install meetings, I get a feel for what everyone is doing, a big-picture view. But the quarterback is (different), that’s someone I want to have a unqiue relationship with.”
8. The Cowboys took care of the Giants on Wednesday, gutting out a road win with the nation watching. The thing that stuck out most wasn’t the brilliance by QB Tony Romo, although he offered a masterpiece. It wasn’t RB DeMarco Murray, who was a beast all night, especially with that sideline run that channeled his pinball skills. Nope, it was the corners. Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, and Morris Claiborne. In short, it was exactly what the Cowboys had hoped it would be in the offseason. Three guys who can lock down a unit, forcing the quarterback to think twice and hold the ball. They weren’t perfect, and Hakeem Nicks was clearly still injured. But man, did they help Rob Ryan be creative. It was what they planned for. Romo will be great, and Romo will have games where he isn’t. But if that D shows up, the Cowboys may have the consistency they are yearning for.
9. A lot of good games tomorrow, including the one I’ll be at. Can’t wait for football to begin its wall-to-wall action. But the game that makes me think the most? It’s the Lions-Rams. I literally have no idea. Of course, the Lions are high-powered and they can score a ton. And the Rams were terrible last year, which should make it easy. But I kinda wonder… The Lions hope to run the ball, but will they really? With Mikel LeShoure suspended? I have my doubts. And St. Louis seriously improved their CBs this offseason, signing Cortland Finnegan and drafting uber-talented Janoris Jenkins. So, if the Rams simply need to cover, can they do it? And will Sam Bradford return to the form of his rookie year, as he threatened to do in camp? If so, the Rams could turn it around in a hurry… or it could get ugly quick. So, there’s my terrible prognosticating. I have no idea. Hey, looking forward to finding out.