Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
5:00
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. Watching Thursday’s Packers-Bears game, and seeing how the Bears used defensive end Julius Peppers as an interior rusher on third down, had me thinking this looks like a new trend in the NFL. The Patriots successfully used end Jermaine Cunningham (sack, drawn holding penalty) in that role in the season-opener, creating some favorable matchups. One of the first times I remember seeing this was Super Bowl XLII when then-Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo successfully utilized Justin Tuck over the center and guard, with the idea of pushing the pocket from the interior and getting Tom Brady off the spot.

2. The Patriots’ opening-day roster averaged 25.68 years old, which was well below the NFL average of 26.22. Only the Rams (25.30), Eagles (25.51), Browns (25.55) and Dolphins (25.57) are younger. What do these figures mean? Mainly that the Patriots remain competitive as they continue to feed the pipeline with youth.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
Don McPeak/US PresswireStevan Ridley, above, has been using ex-Patriots RB Kevin Faulk's expertise in extra film-study sessions.
3. A key injury situation to monitor over the next few weeks is with Bills running back Fred Jackson, who left Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Jets with a knee injury and has already been ruled out for today’s game against the Chiefs. Jackson, who is widely respected among Patriots coaches and players, said that he is targeting the Sept. 30 game against New England for a return. If he can’t go, it would be a big break for the Patriots, similar to Week 1 when they didn’t face suspended Titans receiver Kenny Britt.

4. I forgot how much I enjoy watching Peyton Manning play. Manning received a game ball from Broncos coach John Fox after the Week 1 win over the Steelers, a performance in which he looked like the same old Manning. I wondered about Manning after he missed all of last season following multiple neck surgeries, and there still has to be concern with how he holds up over the long haul, but watching him Sunday made me think that Oct. 7 Broncos-Patriots game at Gillette Stadium is going to be another unforgettable chapter in the Manning-Brady rivalry.

5. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff gave up a lot for receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 draft -- two first-rounders, one second-round pick and two fourth-rounders -- in a move that Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in the book “War Room,” advised against. But looking back, it appears Dimitroff’s conviction and boldness was the right call. Jones looks explosive (6 catches, 108 yards, 2 TDs in opener). And not that it’s the main factor in analyzing the decision, but the Browns haven’t exactly capitalized on receiving all those picks.

6. Patriots running back Stevan Ridley said on All-Access that he still meets with veteran running back Kevin Faulk weekly to break down film. Faulk is a free agent, but is basically serving as an extra coach in this case. “Kev is not here, but he’s still here with me,” Ridley told host Steve Burton. “As long as he wants to give me his time, I’m going to take advantage of it because that’s somebody I can learn a lot from.”

7. When Bears quarterback Jay Cutler crossed the line and laid into left tackle J'Marcus Webb on the field Thursday night, the first thought I had was that Josh McDaniels had to be chuckling somewhere. McDaniels could have handled the Cutler situation better during his brief, unsuccessful head coaching stint in Denver -- it contributed to his program never truly getting off the ground -- but that type of poor leadership was undoubtedly why McDaniels didn’t want his fate tied to Cutler.

8. For those who believe in the importance of coaching (hand raised here), Greg Schiano’s immediate impact on the Buccaneers (16-10 winners over the Panthers in the season opener) stands out. The Buccaneers might crash back down to earth today in a tough spot (they visit the Giants), but Schiano has them headed in the right direction. Sort of reminds me of 2000 with Bill Belichick bringing a detail-oriented, no-nonsense approach to the Patriots, which created a much different environment than under the previous coach, Pete Carroll.

9. Random fact: When accounting for opening day NFL rosters, Southern Cal had the most players (44). The top six was rounded out by Miami (37), LSU (36), Georgia (35), Ohio State (35) and Texas (35). Florida (30) was next. One other nugget that caught the eye from opening weekend: Of the 32 starting quarterbacks, 23 were first-round draft picks.

10. Condolences to veteran Patriots linebacker Tracy White, whose father Emmanuel passed away Tuesday. Emmanuel was an inspiration to his son, living longer than the family anticipated after he had a brain tumor when Tracy was in the first grade. White has been a solid contributor to the Patriots since 2010 (his football journey here) and he said that being around teammates this week has helped him in this trying time. We analyze, scrutinize, grade, and pick apart every play/decision made by players and coaches, but let's not forget, they are human too.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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