MORT'S MAILBAG: Oct. 31
Q: Being a big Oakland fan, I am most concerned about our franchise player, a.k.a. Jon Gruden. Do you really think we are going to lose him to the Domers (Notre Dame)? And how can Al Davis redeem himself for prior missteps and prevent this from happening? -- RL, Fountain Valley, Calif.
MORT -- RL, I really do not think the Raiders will lose Gruden to Notre Dame. For one, Gruden is very committed to this Raiders team. He is focused on one thing -- getting Oakland to the Super Bowl this season. I'd be surprised if he isn't playing deep into January, or perhaps Feb. 3, the date of the Super Bowl. The timing doesn't connect, if Notre Dame indeed wants to hire a new coach. Gruden will not be available for the critical recruiting period. Also, I have a feeling that Al Davis would threaten litigation because he has Gruden under contract for one more year; even if the interpretation is that the contract is for the NFL only, it's still a contract and any threat of litigation could cause further delays and complications that I don't think either side is willing to deal with.
|Raiders coach Jon Gruden ...|
Q: Do you think the Steelers have any chance of going to the Super Bowl, even if their passing game doesn't improve? -- Tim Bender, Somerset, Pa.
MORT -- Tim, it's early, but the Steelers absolutely have a chance to be a Super Bowl team. The AFC is a little shakier than we expected and the Steelers are playing as well as anyone. Plus, I see real improvement in Kordell Stewart -- and if Plaxico Burress decides to join the party, then this could make the Steelers a very viable contender.
Q: Anthony Thomas has really produced for the Bears in the last two weeks. Coach Dick Jauron started the season with a two-back system using Thomas and James Allen. Given A-Train's recent results, should the Bears use Thomas exclusively at running back? -- John Jernigan, Chesterton, Ind.
MORT -- John, no question about it. Nine times out of 10, I think running backs show very early in this league whether they've got it or not. Thomas looks like he has it. I see no reason why the Bears wouldn't ride him the rest of the year. Dick Jauron has said the team will go with the "hot back," be it Thomas or James Allen. It's pretty obvious Thomas is the hot back.
Q: Do you think the Giants will be better? And will Jim Fassel make a guarantee again? -- Joe Iannotti, Naugatuck, Conn.
MORT -- Joe, I think that "guarantee" stuff is a one-time deal, and I believe Fassel knows it. I guess I expect the Giants to improve and win some games. But I always wondered whether the O-line would slip a little this year, and I think Kerry Collins just hasn't taken the leap forward. I'm not counting them out yet.
Q: Why is it that you pick the Steelers to lose every week? Whatever the reason is, keep picking them to lose, because when you do they win. -- Matt Comes, Bradford, Pa.
MORT -- Matt, yes, you should celebrate. I did this a lot with the Ravens last year, and look what happened! Actually, I made these picks last Friday morning without analyzing very much because of my travel schedule. By Monday morning, I felt fairly strongly that the Steelers would win -- if it makes you feel any better. I think I just never got over the Steelers dropping that opener 21-3 to Jacksonville.
Q: I was wondering why you think so many people still rate the Packers over the Bears? Combined records of Bears' opponents (excluding games against the Bears) is 19-14. The Packers?Well, how does 11-23 sound? And Da Bears have a one-game lead. How much longer do we have to hear about a fifth-place schedule? -- Oli, Chicago
MORT -- Oli, you have made the case for the Bears. As you know, I have the Bears rated ahead of the Packers. Maybe we can settle this on Nov. 11 when the Packers play the Bears at Soldier Field.
Q: For years I have been reading about the many complaints regarding Denver using deliberate illegal cut blocks to try to purposely injure players. Watching replays and listening to opposing teams ... seems the charges are true. What is the story, and has the league investigated this? -- R. Brotski, Jakarta, Indonesia
MORT -- Mr. Brotski, obviously, there is some truth to the allegations. However, the league has investigated and reviewed Denver's blocking tactics on numerous occasions and found them to be within the rules for the most part. Chop blocks -- where one blocker engages a defender high while another blocker cuts low -- are illegal. Cut blocks are legal within a 3-yard interior zone, but Broncos tackle Matt Lepsis was recently fined $15,000 for an illegal cut block from behind in which Chargers DT Maa Tanuvasa broke an ankle and is lost for the season. I believe the league will continue to scrutinize Denver closely, but enforcement is the key.
Q: Will Buffalo fans ever give Rob Johnson a fair shot? Do they even realize the special talent he is? I was at the Bills-Chargers game and at the Bills-Saints home opener (as a Bills fan) and I cannot get over the hatred many Bills fans have for Johnson. I don't think people nationally really understand what a villain he is in Buffalo -- for simply being a better QB than Flutie. I hope GM Tom Donahoe and coach Gregg Williams stick to their guns, but can Johnson handle the attitude from fans and succeed when fans seem to revel in his misfortune? Or must this be another Buffalo blunder where Rob has to go elsewhere to become the superstar he's destined to be? -- Jeff S., Arizona
|Will Buffalo fans run QB Rob Johnson out of town?|
MORT -- Jeff, we've gotten a lot of letters like these. I agree that Buffalo fans -- who are great, great fans -- have dropped the ball on this. Love Flutie, fine. Don't hate Johnson. It's a big mistake, and you're right -- the question is whether Johnson will be driven out of town.
Q: Whatever happened to Napoleon Kaufman? -- Michael Adcock, Key West, Fla.
MORT -- Michael, Napoleon retired and went into the ministry, which is where his heart has been for a few years.
Q: Sometimes I wonder if I'm on the same planet as the media. Did everyone else watch the same game I did on Sunday between the Chargers and the Bills? I kept up with all the hype; the media touted it as a showdown between Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson. It turned out to be one of the best games I've watched all year, but for the media to give Doug Flutie any real credit for this win is absurd. San Diego's defense won the game. Early, the Chargers' D was dominant, forcing two sacks and a fumble that put Flutie on the 20-yard line. That's what allowed the Chargers to take an early lead. Then, late in the game, taking the interception for seven points and blocking the potential game-tying field goal. If the media wants to make this game about Doug Flutie vs. Rob Johnson, then Johnson wins hands down. He took a young, inept offensive line and consistently willed them down the field. Like many, I am a Doug Flutie fan, but let's give credit where credit it due. I would give two game balls, one to the San Diego defense and the other to Rob Johnson. -- Bill, Dallas
MORT -- Bill, very good observations. You just have to understand that Doug Flutie is an underdog, and America loves the underdog. I would have given a game ball to Chargers kick returner Ronney Jenkins.
Q: I saw the list of nominees for the Hall of Fame and I was shocked that former Bills center Kent Hull was not on the list. He was the keystone to great Bills teams of the early '90s and was just as influential to their offensive success as Kelly, Thomas and Reed. Does anyone honestly think Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas would have been as successful if it weren't for Hull anchoring the offensive line? -- Christina Barrett, Concord, N.H.
MORT -- Christina, this is a really good observation. I believe Kent Hull is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. However, those interior lineman usually don't get nominated until a little later. That doesn't make it right, just the way it is. Or this could be a classic oversight that needs correction by next year.
Q: What needs to be done, other than finding a way for the defense to stop the run, for the Jets to make a playoff run? -- Matt, Fairfield, Conn.
MORT -- Matt, stop right there. If you don't stop the run in this league, or do a reasonable job against it, you usually don't go to the playoffs. But the reason the Jets have a winning record is they are winning the turnover battle. Otherwise, the offense would have to become like the Rams, and that isn't happening.
Q: As a longtime Cowboys fan, I am scratching my head trying to figure out why Jerry Jones seems so set on Quincy Carter. Granted, he is a rookie, and we have not gotten to see him play much, but I just do not see him developing into a quarterback who can consistently produce at the level required to win in the NFL. Any insight as to what the Cowboys see here? -- Aaron Pearson, Dayton, Ohio
MORT -- Aaron, I don't think Jerry Jones is as married to Quincy Carter as even he initially believed. There is a chance of divorce. But Jones told me that he and the coaching staff have seen "snapshots" of Carter's potential in practice and in games that make them "hope" that Carter can be a special QB. You used a very good word -- "consistently" -- to put doubts on Carter's potential. Jones is now in the evaluation phase; if Carter comes back from his injury and does not perform well, the Cowboys will keep looking for a "franchise" QB. Of course, there's always Ryan Leaf.
Q: Huge Miami fan here ... I know he was the rock of the team last year, but Lamar Smith has been really unimpressive this year for the Dolphins. Not only has he been inept in most of the games, he has also coughed up the ball an excessive number of times. Is there a chance Miami uses Travis Minor more than they use Lamar as the season goes on? -- Andy, Miami
MORT -- Andy, Lamar Smith has struggled. I don't know if they are ready to give up on him yet, but I do know that Dave Wannstedt and Chan Gailey believe Travis Minor is more than a third-down back. So, I could see Minor getting more carries.
Q: Why is it that no sportswriters ever talk about Sammy Knight? Is it just me or has he been one of the better safeties in the league (if not the best) over the last few years? -- Evan Alpert, St. Louis, Mo.
MORT -- Evan, you are right, to an extent. Sammy Knight is a very underrated safety and has been for the past two or three years. He has some limitations, but he is a valuable member of a pretty good defense. I think he would be all-world if he played against the Rams every week. He did lead the Saints in tackles and interceptions a year ago. I think part of his problem getting recognition is that he gets overshadowed by guys like John Lynch (Bucs) and Robert Griffith (Vikes) in the NFC.
Q: For my 19th birthday, could you please answer this question? When are the Lions going to get their first win? If they don't get one soon, they may have some fans ready to go postal (me not included) -- Levi Smith, Kalamazoo, Mich.
MORT -- Levi, happy birthday. I predicted the Lions would beat the Titans two games ago, and they blew it. The problem they have now is injuries and the pressure that mounts with each week they don't win. However, they will win a game and I could see it being Nov. 11 vs. the Bucs (home), Nov. 18 vs. the Cardinals (away) or the traditional Thanksgiving game (Nov. 22) against the Packers at the Silverdome.
Q: I have a statistic question for you: If a QB runs a QB draw or a naked boot and is clearly running the ball, is it considered a sack if he is tackled behind the line of scrimmage? The other situation is when there is no one open and the QB decides to run without pressure. Is that a sack if he gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage? -- Billy Martin, Cedar Falls, Iowa
MORT -- Billy, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (which keeps the official stats for the NFL), it is not credited as a sack when a quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage if it is clearly a designed running play. Often, they simply check the blocking schemes on the play if there is any doubt. QB draws are blocked like a pass, but if the original intent is a run, it would not be a sack. However, if a QB drops back to pass and decides to run (even without pressure), it would be a sack if he is tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
Q: Why is it that the fundamentals of the game of football are so grossly neglected? Nobody can tackle, catch, block or hang on to the ball. Is this more a practice issue or is it simply lack of desire on the part of the players? -- Jim Dunn, Phoenix, Ariz.
MORT -- Jim, we blame everything else on the salary cap, so why not this? Teams are so thin depth-wise, you do not see very "physical practices," especially once the season begins. I'm sure it also goes to the desire and concentration of players. As for tackling, many players are simply into the "big hit" and often break down fundamentally.