NFL Nation: David Patten
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
New England Patriots rookie receiver Taylor Price has made a big impression on minicamp observers this week at Gillette Stadium.
Price was allowed to participate in rookie camp, but had to stay away for organized team activities. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Price had some ground to make up on the rest of the rookies.
But by all accounts Price has looked sharp. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss noted quarterback Tom Brady seems to have taken a shine to Price.
"It's a good start, but I have a long way to go," Price said. "There is nothing easy to learn out here. I don't know as much as I should know yet, but I'm getting to that point. I'm just learning gradually every day."
Price had 56 receptions for 784 yards and five touchdowns last year for Ohio head coach Frank Solich, the former Nebraska head coach known for his run-dominant offenses.
"He has good hands," Belichick said when the Patriots drafted Price. "He can catch the ball. He's big. He's fast. He can run a variety of routes. ... I think if he had been in a different offense and a more productive offense, he would have had more production."
Maybe it's too soon to think of Price making an impact this year. We know where Randy Moss and Wes Welker (when healthy) will line up. Beyond that, the Patriots have a few receivers to sort through, including veterans Torry Holt and David Patten and sophomore Brandon Tate.
Then again, backup slot receiver Julian Edelman contributed right away despite being drafted in the seventh round out of Kent State, where he played quarterback -- proof that a rookie with a steep learning curve can come out of the Mid-American Conference and impress Belichick enough to get on the field.
Brady, who will turn 33 in August, has been a sporadic participant in the Patriots' conditioning program thus far, choosing to spend more time with his two sons. Jack, whom Brady had with actress Bridget Moynihan, is 2. Benjamin, whom Brady had with wife, Gisele Bundchen, is five months.
"It's a balancing act,'' Brady told King. "I don't want the next 10 years to go by and to say I wasn't there for my sons. I wish I could be there [at Gillette Stadium over the offseason] the way I was when I was 24, but life is different now.''
Brady admitted that not being around as much isn't ideal for team development.
"I'm not going to have the same relationship with the guys as if I was there every day,'' Brady said. "I hope they can understand. I've seen it handled different ways by a lot of guys on the team in the past, including some of the real leaders. I've seen Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison when their family lives turned in different directions and they couldn't be in the offseason program every day. Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: We've all got to be ready to play.''
Brady touched on a variety of topics, but the most interesting quote to me was his take on whether the Patriots were a team on the rise or on the decline. They won the AFC East last year, but an embarrassing home loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round ended the Patriots' campaign with a resounding thud.
"Our fans think just because we're wearing the same jerseys, we're the same team. And we're not,'' Brady said. "Teams change in this league every year, and ours is no exception. Last year was pretty disappointing in a lot of ways, obviously. Losing to Baltimore the way we lost in the playoffs, losing leads late, losing on the road. Every year is so different, and the way we approach this year will be extremely important. We need to see the toughness. We need to see the commitment. Can we take the coaching?''
He said he has been throwing passes to Wes Welker, but King said he declined to reveal any details about how Welker is recovering from surgeries to reattach his left knee and to mend a rotator cuff.
Brady also told King he's high on young receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate and liked the signing of old friend David Patten.
As for the New York Jets' offseason, here's what Brady had to say:
"They're always a team that gives us problems, and they've sure made a lot of changes this offseason. When your archrivals do as much as they've done, you've got to pay attention. They went to the conference championship game. They've got a great defense. They can run the ball as well as anyone, and they've got a great young quarterback who can make a lot of plays. Our whole division's improved. To win the division, we'll really have to earn it this year.''
Adding help at receiver is even more critical for New England this summer with Wes Welker rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery. The Patriots previously signed old friend David Patten. Sophomores Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate also will need to step into greater roles.
Holt, who will turn 34 years old in June, has more left in the tank than Galloway did. Holt caught 51 passes for 722 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He didn't have a touchdown for the first time in his 11 seasons.
Holt has 920 receptions, six behind new teammate Randy Moss on the all-time list.
The New England Patriots' player personnel director occasionally leaned on the cash machine while discussing Vince Wilfork's contract status, negotiations with unrestricted free agents and ramifications of an uncapped year.
Caserio didn't deliver much news, but he spoke at length about issues facing the Patriots. And you have to admire the man's ability to speak into a microphone for 20 minutes and not reveal anything.
He did say the Patriots will be operating within a self-imposed budget during an uncapped season. But who knows how fat that budget will be? The Patriots are one of the league's wealthier clubs.
"In terms of our process, we go through the same process this year as we did in years past," Caserio said. "We have a budget in place like we do every year. It doesn't really change for us in terms of what we do in terms of spending and player acquisition.
"As far as what the situation is moving forward, I mean, I don't have a crystal ball. You don't have a crystal ball. We're operating under the terms that we have in place and that haven't really changed all that much since I've been here."
For effect, Caserio could've whipped an ATM card from his back pocket, swiped it through the machine and got Julius Peppers' agent on the phone to ask how much he should withdraw. Unfortunately for the gathered reporters, Caserio declined to give us a story.
He also declined to give any meaningful updates on negotiations with Wilfork for a long-term deal, only saying "the communication has been good. It's been ongoing." He declined to put a timetable on when a contract might be finalized.
Caserio touched on New England's other unrestricted free agents and how much communication there's been from him or senior advisor Floyd Reese. Their UFA group most notably includes running back Kevin Faulk, outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess and cornerback Leigh Bodden.
"I think you have levels of communication with all your free agents," Caserio said. "You are at different stages. Obviously, all the agents are here [at the combine]. So I would say there is continuous communication amongst all parties. Obviously once we get into free agency [March 5], it goes a little bit further."
On the recent re-signing of receiver David Patten, Caserio said the Patriots aren't living in the past.
"David has been great for us," Caserio said. "He’s great off the field. He has an unquestionable work ethic. So we want competitive, tough-minded, hungry football players looking for an opportunity, and I think David Patten kind of falls into that category.
"He has to come and earn his role on the team. Here is an opportunity for him, and whatever he makes of it, that’s entirely up to him, but we’re certainly happy to have him."
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Biggest surprise: The Browns released some veterans they hoped would contribute more to the team this year in receiver David Patten and cornerback Corey Ivy. Both signed in Cleveland as free agents to provide veteran stability, but neither played well enough in training camp or the preseason. Ivy was one of the extra cornerbacks in Cleveland’s sub packages, and now the team needs to find someone else to fill that role before next week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Browns also made enough cuts to leave one roster spot available, which means they’re up to something in the coming days.
No-brainers: Reports began to circulate in the past 24 hours that starting tailback Jamal Lewis would be released Saturday by the Browns. But that proved to be nothing more than a rumor. The Browns have no proven talent behind Lewis and would have gone into the season with a rookie sixth-round pick -- James Davis -- as their starting running back. Plus, the Browns paid Lewis a sizable roster bonus this offseason and would have taken a significant cap hit as a result. Piecing it all together, it made the most sense for Cleveland to keep Lewis.
What’s next: As evident by their open roster spot, the Browns should be one of the more active teams in the next 48 hours. Compared to the rest of the AFC North, Cleveland is lacking overall depth and talent at several positions. Browns head coach Eric Mangini has a penchant for acquiring his former players. So look for the Browns to experience some turnover at the bottom of their roster for veterans Mangini is familiar with.
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|Derek Anderson, left, and Brady Quinn continue to battle for the starting QB job.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- It takes only one training camp session to notice who's the new boss of the Cleveland Browns.
Eric Mangini's presence already looms large in Cleveland. Whether it's the improved practice habits, the meticulous charting of plays and game situations, or the constant running of laps after mental errors, the new Browns coach has quickly placed his fingerprints all over this team heading into the 2009 season.
Cleveland is trying to bounce back from an abysmal 4-12 record last year. Most players returning from last season are coming off the worst individual performances of their careers, and part of Mangini's job is to get the best out of them as well as the new additions.
"Nobody cares what anybody did last year," Browns offensive lineman Ryan Tucker said of the team's approach.
But Cleveland still has a lot of issues to address in its first year under new leadership.
1. Who is the starting quarterback?
The Browns have been searching for their franchise quarterback since returning to the NFL in 1999. A decade later there is another controversy at the position involving former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson and 2007 first-round pick Brady Quinn.
Preseason games are going to be huge for these two, and Quinn has jumped out to an early lead with a moderate performance Saturday against the Green Bay Packers. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 68 yards and an interception in a 17-0 defeat, while Anderson didn't fare nearly as well, going 0-for-2 with an interception.
Mangini says he won't make this decision hastily and will stick with his choice once the decision is made. But based on the offensive system and some early signs, a lot is pointing to the Browns going with Quinn to start the regular season.
2. Will players buy into Mangini's system?
It's no secret that former Browns coach Romeo Crennel was considered a "nice-guy coach." But in four years, that approach didn't work as the team finished with three losing seasons in that span.
|Gregory Shamus/Getty Images|
|New Browns coach Eric Mangini brings a different style of coaching to Cleveland.|
Therefore, the Browns went in the opposite direction in hiring Mangini, who is a stern disciplinarian. At the very least, Mangini expects to clean up some of the lazy mistakes that permeated the team.
There was some butting of heads initially, but at least publicly there haven't been any major dust-ups between Mangini and his players in training camp. It's still questionable if all the players will completely buy into Mangini's disciplinarian approach. Victories probably will be the biggest determining factor of whether everyone stays on board long term.
3. Can the defense improve?
The Browns haven't done many things well defensively the past several seasons. But Mangini and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan feel they have some answers.
Perhaps the biggest wrinkles that are noticeable in training camp have been added to the pass rush. Ryan is not afraid to bring extra defenders at the expense of exposing his secondary. That is something Cleveland was leery of doing in the past.
Free-agent pickups such as safety Abram Elam and linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens -- all former New York Jets -- know Mangini's system well and are helping the rest of the defense ease the transition. In the early going, Cleveland's defense looks like the strength of this team.
The talent has always been there, but for various reasons receiver Braylon Edwards has had an up-and-down career in Cleveland.
Edwards got off to a slow start in his first two years because of injuries and rookie mistakes. Then he exploded in 2007 with 80 catches, 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. But Edwards faltered again last season by leading the NFL in drops and catching only 55 passes and three touchdowns.
The Browns are counting on the 2007 Edwards to show up this season. This summer he has been the most dominant offensive player in training camp by making spectacular catches look routine. But he did have one drop Saturday in the preseason opener against the Packers.
Much of Edwards' production this year will rely on which quarterback can get him the football. But playing in a contract year, Edwards looks motivated to produce whenever opportunities come his way.
Newcomer to watch
The first draft pick of the Mangini era in Cleveland naturally will have pressure to perform, and that is certainly the case this year with rookie center Alex Mack. The Browns traded down in the first round to select Mack with the No. 21 overall pick.
|Gregory Shamus/Getty Images|
|The Browns are hoping to get early contributions from Alex Mack.|
So far, Mack has been inconsistent in training camp. The Browns are throwing a lot at him mentally and physically. As the center, he has to be aware of all things on offense. In competing with veteran Hank Fraley, Mack also is getting a lot of reps with the second team and is going against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who is dominating most of their one-on-one matchups.
A crowded field is competing for the No. 2 receiver job opposite Edwards. Rookies Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie and veterans Josh Cribbs, David Patten and Mike Furrey are all getting reps at that position. Massaquoi has been the most consistent receiver this summer, but Cribbs also has made a push with a solid preseason opener. ... Rookie tailback James Davis has been one of the early surprises in training camp. The sixth-round pick from Clemson has shown good vision and a burst that may be able to help spell veteran Jamal Lewis. ... Kicker Phil Dawson and Cribbs both are unhappy with their current contracts. But things have been very quiet on that front and it's unknown if the team would be willing to renegotiate with either player before the start of the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
|Tom Hauck/Getty Images|
|Could Donte' Stallworth play for the Browns this season?|
On the plus side, Stallworth should be out of jail before or during training camp and could be ready to rejoin the team this summer after missing a majority of the offseason program. The Browns also paid him a $4.5 million roster bonus in March, which impacts the salary cap and could be influential in the decision.
On the minus side, the Browns already prepared to move on without Stallworth. They spent two high draft picks on receivers in second rounders Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi and spent money in free agency acquiring David Patten and Mike Furrey. Expecting the worst, Cleveland invested a lot in rebuilding its receiving corps, and with Braylon Edwards also on the roster there's not much room left for Stallworth.
The NFL also is expected to come down pretty hard on Stallworth in the form of a suspension, whether it's two games, four games or eight or more games. Once the league completes its due diligence there, the Browns will have to decide if the pluses outweigh the minuses.
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson will compete for the starting quarterback job during Cleveland's training camp.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
As the weather heats up, it's time to start looking ahead to this summer's NFL training camps.
The AFC North should be very interesting as several key position battles could make or break a team's 2009 season. Here is a look at the seven most intriguing competitions from around the division:
7. Cornerback: William Gay vs. field
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Why it's important: With a veteran-laden team that returns 20 of 22 starters, Gay is the only projected starter in any real danger of losing his job in training camp. All indications are that the job is his to lose. The Steelers signed veteran cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and drafted rookies Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett to provide depth and possibly be there in case Gay falters. But the organization has shown a lot of confidence in Gay since last season when he filled in for former Steeler Bryant McFadden, who signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Gay worked exclusively with the first team in Pittsburgh's full-squad minicamp.
Early favorite: Gay
6. Kicker: Steve Hauschka vs. Graham Gano
Team: Baltimore Ravens
Why it's important: According to Ravens coach John Harbaugh, this kicking competition in Baltimore is going to be "very interesting." Perhaps Harbaugh, a former special-teams coach, is overhyping this battle. But what is interesting is Baltimore is looking for just its second full-time kicker in franchise history. The position was held since the Ravens' inception in 1996 by veteran kicker Matt Stover. But Stover's age (41) finally started to show last season and opened the door for Hauschka and Gano to compete this year. Both young kickers have strong legs, but so far this offseason Hauschka and Gano haven't displayed Stover-type accuracy. If neither kicker comes into his own this summer, things might get "very interesting," as Harbaugh promised.
Early favorite: Even
Team: Cleveland Browns
Why it's important: This is a classic battle between a first-round pick and an experienced veteran who's started for winning teams and played in the postseason. Mack comes to Cleveland with lofty credentials and expectations. He's strong, smart and expected to be a starter from Day 1. The only person standing in his way is Fraley, 31, who's done a solid job in his two stops with the Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. That Cleveland's new regime, led by coach Eric Mangini, took a center in the first round is a sign that Mack is the favorite to win the job. But if Fraley finds a way to hold the rookie off in training camp, Mack has the versatility to play guard, most likely on the right side.
Early favorite: Mack
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Why it's important: Cincinnati's defense, which was ranked No. 12 in 2008, is trying to take another step forward. In order to do this, dynamic linebacker play will be crucial. Maualuga fell to the Bengals in the second round because of several off-the-field questions surrounding the former USC linebacker. But no one questions that Maualuga is a first-round talent on the field. The issue with the Bengals is that Maualuga, a natural middle linebacker, cannot supplant leading tackler and defensive leader Dhani Jones this year. So Maualuga needs to supplant Johnson, the outside linebacker, if he wants to play right away as a rookie. Johnson is no slouch, either. He recorded 83 tackles, two interceptions and came on late last season. Rashad Jeanty, who started 15 games last year, also is a possibility at the other outside linebacker spot. Regardless, the trio of Jones, Keith Rivers and Maualuga/Johnson/Jeanty should make for a solid group of linebackers in Cincinnati.
Early favorite: Even
3. No. 2 receiver
Why it's important: Someone needs to help No. 1 receiver Braylon Edwards. The long list of candidates includes veterans David Patten, Mike Furrey, and rookies Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Donte' Stallworth also remains on the roster. But based on Cleveland's roster moves, it appears the Browns expect Stallworth's legal situation to keep him out this season. With the loss of former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., Edwards is Cleveland's only real receiving threat and he likely will see a lot of double teams. That will provide plenty of opportunities for Patten, Furrey, Robiskie or Massaquoi to make plays. But it remains to be seen if these players have the ability to step up.
Early favorites: Patten and Robiskie
Why it's important: The "bodyguard" role in Baltimore's defense is underrated but very important. There is a reason safety Ed Reed and linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are able to fly around the field and make plays. It's because the inside linebacker opposite Lewis, formerly the ultra-physical Bart Scott, takes on fullbacks and pulling offensive linemen at every chance. Now the Ravens are looking at Gooden or McClain as Scott's replacement. Both young players have good athleticism. But ultimately, the player who is the most physical will win this job. Gooden opened veteran minicamp as the starter, so you have to give him the edge heading into this summer.
Early favorite: Gooden
Why it's important: The Mangini era in Cleveland, in large part, will depend on his decision at quarterback. An antsy fan base in Cleveland is tired of waiting for a winner and will not give Mangini four years to turn it around. Therefore, the best thing Mangini can do is figure out quickly which player is the better quarterback. It's been three seasons and the Browns still haven't settled this debate. Anderson showed flashes with his Pro Bowl campaign in 2007, but his struggles last year left many questions. Quinn, a former first-round pick, looked up and down in limited playing time. Ironically, the two never directly competed against each other -- until now. According to the coaching staff, both players will be given a fair opportunity. But Cleveland's offensive system under Mangini is being built around a power running game and an efficient and conservative passing game, which seems to favor Quinn.
Early favorite: Quinn
On Sunday, Breana of Chicago prompted this debate: If you had to pick, would you prefer a great quarterback with average receivers or vice versa? After all, that pretty much describes the situations in Chicago and Minnesota, respectively. What's the preferable arrangement?
About 500 of your closest friends jumped into the fray, with a clear majority favoring a superior quarterback over top receivers in the abstract. But there were a number of you who pointed out the limitations facing any quarterback with inferior receivers, while some noted specific instances of an otherwise middling quarterback lifted to prominence by a stellar group of pass-catchers.
Off the top, several people dismissed the premise of a deep Vikings receiving corps. Tony of Seoul wrote: "I would be ecstatic if the Vikings had elite receivers, but we do not." Nick of Portland added:
"I think it's important to note that the Vikings WR corps isn't even that good. Bernard Berrian is a serviceable No. 1, but no other WRs on that team have proven anything. Sidney Rice got 15 receptions last year, Percy Harvin has proved nothing and Bobby Wade is ... Bobby Wade. In this situation, I'd have to pick the Bears passing corps, because they have an elite player (Jay Cutler) whereas the Vikings best player has never had a 1,000-yard season, and would be the third WR in Green Bay."
But if you accept the notion that the Vikings at least have a deep group of receivers, you can continue on. Nate of Lexington, Va., put an eloquent voice to a quarterback's ability to lift an offense:
"I played wide receiver in college and the quarterback that I played with ended up winning the Gagliardi Trophy (essentially the D-III Heisman) and I was an all-conference wideout. While I was no slouch, I would have to say that without question it was because of [the quarterback] and his ability that made me and us as a group better. A good quarterback and his timing, arm strength and accuracy can make up for a lack of separation and overall talent in general. No matter how good a receiver is, if a bad quarterback can't get him the ball he is no good to an offense.
As a lifelong Bears fan it pained me to see Kyle Orton (who I like on the whole) underthrow Hester on a deep ball or miss an open receiver by just that little bit. A guy like Jay Cutler surrounded by Devin Hester, Greg Olsen, Rashied Davis and Desmond Clark will be more successful than Tarvaris Jackson throwing to Berrian, Wade, Rice and Harvin."
Tim of Kansas City notes the early success of New England quarterback Tom Brady -- before his receiving corps included Randy Moss and Wes Welker. "The Patriots had only average receivers and won three Super Bowls," Tim wrote. Akio of Tokyo concludes: "Proven quarterbacks will make receivers shine. A chicken (QB) or an egg (WR)? My vote is that a chicken comes first."
Fire up the grill!
On the other side of the debate, Brian of Sturgis, S.D., points out how a good receiver can make a quarterback look better. "I would prefer to have receivers who can catch the bad pass as well as the good ones from the suspect QB rather than receivers who miss the good ones on occasion and CAN'T catch the bad pass."
David of Austin recalls the 1998 season, when Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham came out of nowhere to have a Pro Bowl season. The Vikings surrounded him with a deep group of skill players and a dynamic scheme, factors we haven't really accounted for in a strict debate between quarterbacks and receivers. But David makes some good points:
"Cunningham's 1998 season with Minnesota, when he had Cris Carter, Jake Reed, Robert Smith, and Randy Moss (whose explosiveness was as yet largely unanticipated and unplanned for by defenses) as offensive weapons, and a decent offensive scheme, speaks volumes about how good offensive weapons and game planning was able to turn an 81.5 lifetime average QB into a wunderkind, at least for one season. His 106 QB rating that season was 14 points higher than his next best season, eight years earlier, and 24 points higher than his lifetime average."
My take? I figured you would ask. I have always felt that quarterback is the most important single position in all of sports. It's much more difficult to find a good quarterback than it is to assemble a group of competent receivers.
But just for kicks, I looked at the top two receivers for each of the NFL's five highest-rated quarterbacks in 2008. Then I did the reverse: Who was the primary quarterback for the five most productive receivers in 2008?
Here are the highest-rated quarterbacks' top wide receivers:
And here are the quarterbacks for the top five receivers by yards:
And by receptions:
Because this is only a one-year sample, I don't know that we should draw too many conclusions from these charts. You can see that the NFL's five highest-rated quarterbacks last season had the benefit of working with four 1,000-yard receivers. You can also see that it's possible for a receiver to have a good year with a low-rated quarterback, but it wasn't frequent last season. (Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh were the only ones to make the cut.)
Finally, four of the five highest-rated quarterbacks made the playoffs last season. Three of the top receivers in yardage advanced to the postseason, but only one from the group organized by receptions. This tells us that in 2008, at least, you were better off with an elite quarterback than an elite receiver -- but we probably knew that anyway. For me, however, it also shows there is enough gray area in this question to make for reasonable disagreement in this debate.
In the specific question of Chicago vs. Minnesota, there are some mitigating factors that we avoided for the purposes of this debate. How does the relative quality of each team's running game impact the debate? And what about their defenses?
From a big-picture perspective, however, I'll always choose the quarterback ahead of the receivers. A really good group of receivers can bail out an average quarterback at times, but not to the extent that an elite quarterback can lift an average group of receivers. I'll take Tom Brady with Troy Brown and David Patten over Ryan Fitzpatrick with Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh any day.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
- The Cleveland Browns signed veteran receiver David Patten.
Morning take: This signing displays some internal uncertainty coming from the Browns in regards to the legal situation of Donte' Stallworth.
- Former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the cousin of Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, said he recently talked to Ocho Cinco but isn't sure where he stands with Cincinnati.
Morning take: Things have definitely been quiet on the Ocho Cinco front. But everyone will have a little more information next week when Cincinnati opens its offseason program.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Tennessee Titans in the first game of the 2009 season.
Morning take: This should be a hard-hitting matchup with plenty of good story lines. But, of course, I would have preferred to see the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens kick off the 2009 season on a national stage.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
As part of our Panic Button package, Scouts Inc. is breaking down the struggles in the Saints secondary. We've been assigned to address other Panic Button issues. Don't want to seem like I'm piling on the Saints, but the other three teams in the division are 2-1 and have no need to hit the panic button. That leaves the injury-riddled Saints, who have several reasons to panic.
Problem: Top receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey are out with injuries for the foreseeable future and Deuce McAllister, arguably the best running back the franchise has ever had, hasn't had a role in the offense. Running back Reggie Bush leads the NFL with 26 receptions, but the running game has been inconsistent and there are no other true weapons on offense.
Time to hit the panic button? Yes
Solution: New Orleans has injuries and issues on defense, so the Saints are going to have to score a lot of points to win games. The current receiver tandem of Devery Henderson and David Patten isn't going to scare anyone and tight end Mark Campbell is much more of a blocker than a receiver. With a three-game homestand approaching, the Saints have to get creative on offense. They still have a very good quarterback in Drew Brees, but they need to help him out and there aren't a lot of alternatives.
Maybe this is a chance for Bush to step up and be the player people thought he would be coming out of college. Maybe Bush and Pierre Thomas can get the running game going. Or maybe it's time to see if McAllister has anything left in his knees. And maybe it's time for second-year receiver Robert Meachem to show he can play in the NFL. If all or any of those things happen, the Saints will be fine. If not, they're going to be in trouble and it might be too late to recover by the time Shockey and Colston return.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Just when it looked like the Saints were about to catch a break with a three-game home stand, there's more bad news on the injury front.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports tight end Jeremy Shockey will be out three to six weeks because of a sports hernia. That's horrible news for an offense that already is without wide receiver Marques Colston for at least a few more weeks.
Shockey, who was obtained in a trade with the Giants, was one of New Orleans' top offseason pickups. His absence leaves an offense that appeared to be loaded at the skill positions suddenly looking very thin.
Shockey's absence likely will change the look of an offense that was still adjusting to his presence. The Saints don't have another true pass-catching tight end. Top backup Mark Campbell is known more for his blocking.
With Shockey and Colston out, the Saints will have to rely more on veteran wide receivers David Patten and Devery Henderson. The injuries could create an opportunity for second-year receiver Robert Meachem to become a bigger part of the offense, especially in the red zone.
The running backs also are going to have to take on a bigger offensive load. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush have shared time at running back in the first three games and the Saints haven't been able to show a consistent running game. Veteran Deuce McAllister has carried only twice as the Saints bring him along slowly in his recovery from knee surgery.
Bush has been effective when used as a receiver, but the Saints may turn to him even more as a runner and receiver because they don't have a lot of playmakers right now.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Falcons can't do it two weeks in a row, can they?
You might be surprised. Although Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia is getting most of the heat (and a seat) after last week's loss in New Orleans, the biggest culprit might have been the Bucs' defense. Units led by Monte Kiffin aren't supposed to look like the Bucs from the Sam Wyche days.
But that's what happened in the Superdome. The Bucs gave up three huge plays and never really were able to dictate the game the way they have in the past. Maybe Tampa Bay's defense is too young at the same time it's too old and there's not enough in between.
We'll find out if last week was just a fluke for Tampa Bay's defense or a real problem because Atlanta did a pretty good job tearing apart Detroit's defense last week. For those who don't make the connection, Detroit is coached by Rod Marinelli, who spent years at Kiffin's side and subscribes to all of his theories.
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan looked very poised against Marinelli's defense and running back Michael Turner was spectacular. If linebacker Derrick Brooks sits out with a hamstring injury, Kiffin is going to have to rally the defense or else it will get embarrassed for the second straight week.
A week ago, this looked like a pretty dull matchup of two winless teams. But, suddenly, it's a game between two teams that could be NFC powers. That's because the Panthers and Bears knocked off most of the AFC's elite. Carolina went out to San Diego without Steve Smith and beat the Chargers. The Bears rediscovered their defense and made Peyton Manning and the Colts look ordinary.
Something's going to have to give in this game, but not much. John Fox and Lovie Smith are all about defense and they seem to have their teams back to doing what they do best. Both teams showed surprisingly strong running games last week.
Whichever team walks out of Bank of America Stadium with a win is going to be the new darling of the NFC.
But don't feel too bad for the Saints. Even though Colston is their best receiver, by far, they've got plenty of options. Devery Henderson and David Patten are decent and second-year pro Robert Meachem finally may get a chance to show if he can play in this league.
The situation in the defensive backfield is pretty similar if Gay and Harper can't go. New Orleans actually has some depth in the secondary this year and Aaron Glenn and Josh Bullocks wouldn't be bad as short-term fill-ins.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The thinking was New Orleans' offense has enough weapons to survive without Colston, but the defense couldn't get by without Vilma. Now the offense is going to have to prove it can go without Colston.
He has ligament damage in his thumb and is going to be out four to six weeks. It's a big loss any way you look at it. But there are other options for this offense: Veteran receivers David Patten and Devery Henderson are going to have to step up and second-year pro Robert Meachem finally will get a chance to play. That trio of receivers isn't going to totally make up for Colston's absence.
The Saints are going to have to throw a lot to tight end Jeremy Shockey, which is why they brought him in to begin with. More than ever, the Saints are going to have to keep running back Reggie Bush heavily involved in the passing game.
Colston's injury is big, but it won't completely devastate this offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Saints already had a very good No. 1 wide receiver in Marques Colston and the potential for a strong running game with Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. They also have one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league in Drew Brees.
With Shockey, they've tied everything together. New Orleans needed someone to take some of the attention away from Colston. Defenses won't be able to roll the Cover Two on him all day because Shockey will take coverage away and cause matchup problems for safeties and linebackers.
He's a natural fit in the New Orleans offense because he can make things happen over the middle and down the field. That will open things up for Colston along the sidelines and it should help whoever is playing the No. 2 receiver spot (Robert Meachem and David Patten are among the candidates). Shockey also is going to make Brees much more effective because he gives him a tight end who is as dangerous as most wide receivers.
Shockey isn't noted for his blocking, but his presence still will help the running game. Defenses are going to have to account for Shockey with linebackers and safeties and that's going to open things up for Bush and McAllister. Opposing defenses won't be able to use eight men in the box and they won't be able to devote all their coverage to Colston.
9:30 AM ET Detroit Atlanta 1:00 PM ET St. Louis Kansas City 1:00 PM ET Houston Tennessee 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Seattle Carolina 1:00 PM ET Baltimore Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Miami Jacksonville 1:00 PM ET Chicago New England 1:00 PM ET Buffalo New York 4:05 PM ET Philadelphia Arizona 4:25 PM ET Oakland Cleveland 4:25 PM ET Indianapolis Pittsburgh 8:30 PM ET Green Bay New Orleans