AFC South: Minnesota Vikings
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The newest power rankings are out, and here’s the status of your AFC South teams:
For my thoughts on the division at the start, please see this post from earlier Tuesday.
I've got one of four ballots this season, so I will outline my rational when I am significantly different than my three colleagues on particular teams:
Vikings -- They rank ninth, I have them 14th, four spots lower than anyone else.
I’m a believer in Green Bay, and right now I think the Bears are likely to be better than the Vikings as well. Yes, Minnesota is better with Brett Favre than without him. But I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t hold up for the long haul or if the locker room fractures when things go poorly because he won’t qualify as one of the guys in all respects. They'll start big, but I look for a late swoon similar to what we saw from Favre's Jets.
Cardinals -- They rank 13th, I have them 10th, three spots higher than anyone else.
As I defer to the Steelers at the top as the defending champs, I give the Cardinals a bit of additional credit as the defending NFC champs. I bumped Green Bay up a good bit from our summer rankings and couldn’t see taking the Packers any higher.
Panthers -- They rank 14th, I have them 17th, three spots lower than anyone else.
I cannot shake the images of the playoff flameout against Arizona, I don’t feel good about the defensive line, which is usually a spot they have as a strength, and I’ve heard one too many knowledgeable people question Jake Delhomme going forward.
Saints -- They rank 18th, I have them 13th, four higher than anyone else
Seeing them up close in practices against the Texans and watching them clobber Houston in a preseason game probably had too big an impact on my thinking. But I picked them for the Super Bowl a year ago and won’t be surprised if it turns out I was a year early and they are the big surprise team this season.
Lions -- They rank 32nd, I have them 29th, three higher than anyone else.
It’s too easy to automatically put them last because of last year. There are a lot of other bad teams in the league, and I think the new blood in Detroit will produce and get the Lions on track for at least three or four wins.
You will read plenty of well-deserved odes this week to former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, who announced his retirement Monday from the Colts. Many of them, like this fine story from my NFC South colleague Pat Yasinskas, will center around Dungy's even-keeled personality and leadership skills.
But what many people might forget is that before he finally got a head coaching job in 1996, Dungy was an excellent tactician and had a resume bulging with accomplishments as a defensive coach.
Consider this nugget: Dungy's last assistant coaching job came as Minnesota's defensive coordinator from 1992-'95. The Vikings' defense finished in the NFL's top 8 in three of his four seasons, including a No. 1 ranking in 1993. In the 13 seasons since he departed, the Vikings' defense has made it to the top 10 only twice and overall has averaged a No. 21 ranking.
Dungy always believed in fast players and aggressive schemes, relying on an approach that succeeded only when players knew exactly where they were supposed to be on every call. That was a testament to his confidence and ability as a coach, and it led to the advent of the so-called "Tampa-2" defense currently in widespread use around the NFL.
Among the scheme's settling spots is Minnesota, of all places. The Vikings have come full circle and hired two of Dungy's understudies -- Mike Tomlin and Leslie Frazier -- as their last two defensive coordinators.
The NFL matched its biggest fine of the year Friday by docking Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen $50,000 for a pair of low hits on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub in last Sunday's 28-21 Vikings victory at the Metrodome. Although the league took into account that Allen has already been fined once this season for a late hit, the size of Friday's fine can only be interpreted as a powerful attempt to curb aggressiveness around quarterbacks.
On both plays, Allen was knocked to the ground during a pass rush. He continued pushing toward Schaub and said Wednesday that he was following his instinct to reach the quarterback. Allen said he had no intent to hurt Schaub, but Schaub did sprain the medial collateral ligament in his knee and will miss two to four weeks.
But player safety is one of commissioner Roger Goodell's top priorities and it's hard to dispute that Allen violated the NFL rule prohibiting hits on a quarterback below the knee. The size of the fine means the NFL expects defensive players in that situation to stop pursuing quarterbacks when they're on the ground, if that's what it takes to prevent low hits.
Earlier this week, before learning of the fine, Allen said he didn't think the NFL should have separate rules for quarterbacks.
"Maybe they want to protect the quarterbacks because they say it's an offensive-driven league," Allen said. "Well, I don't believe in that. I'm a defensive player. I believe it's a defensive-driven league."
It's safe to say the NFL doesn't share Allen's belief.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Build a lead with an offense keyed around the run game and efficient passing. Play stifling defense while forcing turnovers. Leave an opponent that needs to run it in a setting where it has to throw.
That's a script the Titans like and it's the one they executed to get to 4-0 for the first time in franchise history with their win over Minnesota.
Tennessee's toughest games are down the road, but it's hard not to feel like it's building something special.
Good Titans teams have traditionally won a lot of close games. So far, the 2008 Titans are winning by an average of two touchdowns. They held Adrian Peterson to 80 yards. And against a team with very good offensive and defensive lines, they won in the trenches on both sides.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The fair criticism of Jeff Fisher over his career, in my eyes, has always been that he's overly loyal and overly conservative.
I've often said there are plenty of NFL cities that would love for those to be their primary beefs with the coach.
This week, Fisher has shown a willingness to venture away from both tendencies.
And a coach who's always regarded field goals as a friend just approved the Titans going for it on a fourth-and-2 from the Minnesota 3-yard line.
Replays showed he was short, but referee Peter Morelli somehow didn't see it that way and upheld the first down call. The Titans quickly scored to go ahead, 20-7.
Brad Childress butchered the challenge, calling a timeout, discussing things, then throwing the flag. He lost the challenge and wound up blowing two timeouts instead of one. Why ever call a timeout when considering a challenge, instead of just challenging?
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|Minnesota's Adrian Peterson ripped the Colts for 160 yards rushing in Week 2.|
Yesterday we looked at the Colts' struggles running the ball, but that's only half their problem concerning the ground game.
They've faced two power running attacks so far and came out of games against Chicago and Minnesota with the a run defense ranked 28th, ahead of only Houston, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Detroit. That's not exactly a bunch you want to hang around with in any category.
Indy cannot continue to give up 181.5 ground yards a game and survive. Now they are without strong safety Bob Sanders for four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain and maybe knee surgery.
The Colts have shown that even when they play their best defense, they will give up rush yards. They gave up 98.3 a game last year when they had the league's third-best yardage defense and No. 1 scoring defense.
The Colts facilitated a short Q&A for me this week with middle linebacker Gary Brackett about the run defense.
When the offense isn't running it well, does that put even more responsibility on the defense to stop the run?
Gary Brackett: "I think it does. Obviously, stopping the run gets them off the field on third down and gives us the ability to get our offense the ball back. I think it's more of our offense not having the ball enough to figure out what the defense is doing. So, we can help those guys out by getting off the field on third down."
GB: "It's extremely crucial. Obviously, we want our offense to have as many chances as possible, and we want to start playing better run defense. Later on in the year, that's really going to be huge for us, how we stop the run, so we just want to get that started and get that trend started of us playing good defense and being solid in our run defense."
What's been the primary problem in run stopping so far?
GB: "I think just the big plays, a big play here and there. Obviously the long run [Matt] Forte had the first week, some of the long runs Adrian Peterson had last week, I think three of them, if you eliminate those plays, I think our run defense has been pretty stout. So, we just have to eliminate the big plays and I think that will take care of everything else."
It's common for run defenses to talk in such a fashion about the big plays, but those are the ones that kill the per-game average and tend to swing games. Just about any team failing in run defense can say the same thing.
The Colts have given up six runs of 10 yards or more, including Forte's 50-yard touchdown and Peterson's 29-yard run on his first carry of the game.
Jones-Drew has a big history against Indianapolis, with 200 all-purpose yards in three of his four games against the Colts. He's run for a 7.2-yard average against them, scoing four touchdowns on the ground and five total.