Friday, October 2, 2009
10 Spot: D-Rex will dial it up for Brees
By Adam Schefter ESPN.com
Football might be a young man's game, but it is an old man's time. Or, more accurately, many old men's time.
These days, graybeards are the best beards. New is out, old is in, and wise minds mean more than fresh legs.
Wide receiver Donald Driver, 34, made a spectacular one-handed catch against St. Louis that was a part of his four-catch, 95-yard, one-touchdown performance.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason, 35, moved like he was 10 years younger and led all Baltimore and Cleveland receivers with five receptions for 118 yards.
Safety Brian Dawkins, 35, racked up three tackles and one fumble recovery as he continued to be the leader of a resurgent, rejuvenated and rebuilt Denver defense.
These performances might force teams to put more of a premium on experience and might force players to alter their diets.
From now on, maybe they need to think prunes.
Let's move on to this week's 10 Spot and Week 4's most intriguing storylines:
Packers fans hoped they'd never see Brett Favre in Vikings colors.
1. Did someone mention Monday night? Of the 96 previous times the Packers and Vikings have played, never has there been a single showdown as anticipated as this one. Ever. Green Bay did whatever it could to prevent Favre from landing in Minnesota. It traded him to the New York Jets. It included a poison pill in the trade that said the Jets would have to give the Packers three first-round picks if they traded Favre to an NFC North team. And Favre still wound up in the spot many thought he would, playing for the Vikings. As odd as it will be for the Packers to play Favre, it will be just as odd for Favre to play them. And consider this: During his illustrious career, Favre has beaten 31 different NFL teams. The only one he never has beaten -- excluding his ability to find his way to Minnesota -- is Green Bay. Now Favre can become the first player in NFL history to beat all 32 teams.
2. Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood: As important as this game is to and for Favre, it means just as much to the quarterback who replaced him, Aaron Rodgers. Should Rodgers' Packers beat Favre, it will be further validation the Packers made the right move. Should the Packers stumble against the Vikings, there will be those in Green Bay who question whether GM Ted Thompson made the right decision. But make no mistake, unlike some quarterbacks who have succeeded other legends, Rodgers has proven worthy. Last year, Rodgers joined Kurt Warner as the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards in their first season as a starter. This season, he has thrown for 714 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He can make all the throws and mix in some runs. Yet, lost in all this quarterback hoopla is this simple fact: The winner of Monday night's game will stand in first place in the NFC North.
3. Class of 2004: As blasphemous as this might sound, the quarterback class of 2004 might turn out to be even more celebrated than the Class of 1983. Already, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have combined to win one more Super Bowl than the Class of 1983 that included John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien and Todd Blackledge. And now Roethlisberger and one of his draft classmates, Philip Rivers, square off Sunday as each tries to take steps toward this season's postseason and another Class of 2004 championship. But check out how much each has won already: Roethlisberger has a career 52-22 record and Rivers has a career 35-16 record. And what's remarkable is that Roethlisberger, Rivers and Manning each is headed into the prime of their careers, where they might be able to achieve some of their most significant accomplishments.
Statistical snapshot of the QBs drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft:
4. D-Rex vs. D. Brees: What New York and New Orleans can't wait to see in Week 4 is what Baltimore and New Orleans have seen before. Back in 2006, Rex Ryan's Baltimore defense took on Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his high-flying offense. By the fourth quarter, using multiple unpredictable looks, Ryan's Ravens led Brees' Saints 35-7. At that point, the Ravens began playing basic traditional defenses, without Ryan's exotic looks, and Brees threw for close to 200 more yards as New Orleans finished with a late flurry in a 35-22 loss. On the day, Brees completed 24 of 45 passes for 383 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. But much of that damage came in the fourth quarter, after Ryan called off his troops. He won't be calling off anybody Sunday. They will be coming at Brees all afternoon -- one of the league's top defenses against the league's hottest quarterback. And football will get to find out which unit, and team, is better.
5. Fine without Freeney: Indianapolis already has withstood the loss of Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, the most valuable member of its defense. Now it will be without Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney for the next two games as he nurses his quad strain. Both Raheem Brock and Keyunta Dawson will see added playing time in Freeney's absence. But the Colts are used to this sort of thing -- and it never has bothered them before. In a stat that speaks to the value of how solid their organization is, the Colts have posted an 80-26 record with Freeney and an 8-1 record without him. Now Indianapolis plays back-to-back games versus the Seahawks and Titans. But it already has proven, eight times over, that it can win without Freeney.
6. The Fab Five: Nobody wants to believe that Denver is as real as its 3-0 record. So far, the Broncos have beaten Cincinnati, Cleveland and Oakland. But starting Sunday, Denver gets tested in a way that will determine whether this season is fact or fiction. In their next five games, the Broncos play the Cowboys, Patriots, Chargers, Ravens and Steelers. And so by the time the Broncos finish hosting Pittsburgh on Nov. 9, the football world will know exactly where Denver stands.
After a tumultuous offseason, Josh McDaniels has the Broncos off to a surprising 3-0 start.
"Right now, we can't be any better than 3-0," said Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. "But we also are very humble and understand that we've got a long way to go."
Keep in mind two factoids that should provide a little hint as to how real the Broncos are: (1) The Broncos have allowed an NFL-low 16 points this season, and they have not allowed a touchdown in the past two games; (2) since he entered the league in 2005, Kyle Orton's record as a home starter is 16-2.
7. What's your point? Baltimore will try to prove a point Sunday in New England, but it has been difficult to prove or score anything there in the past. The Ravens have played two games in Foxboro and have not scored a touchdown in either. So the Ravens' next touchdown in Foxboro will be their first ever there. If ever there were a time to do it, this would be it. The Ravens' offense ranks first in the AFC and second in the NFL, producing 430.3 yards per game. Yet New England's defense ranks third in the AFC and sixth in the NFL in defense, yielding only 262.3 yards per game. And so it's on.
"The biggest thing they've done so far in the first three games is they've not allowed a lot of plays to be run by the offenses, and that's a credit to both their defense and their offense," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. "One of the biggest things for us is going to be to make sure we convert on third downs and we try to keep ourselves on the field as long as possible, so we can get as many plays and give ourselves as many chances as we need."
8. Buc Ball: Nobody can argue with Tampa Bay's decision to bench veteran Byron Leftwich. But the timing of the move can be debated. The Buccaneers are sitting Leftwich during a week in which he is returning to Washington, where he grew up and rooted for the Redskins. Last year, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hurt his shoulder before the half, Leftwich came in, played inspired football in the second half, completed 7 of 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown and led Pittsburgh to a 23-6 victory over Washington. Leftwich would have reveled in the chance to do the same Sunday. But now he won't get it. Most expected the Buccaneers would eventually bench Leftwich and turn to their young quarterback named Josh. But most thought it would be this year's first-round pick, Josh Freeman, not last year's fifth-round pick, Josh Johnson. Now Johnson becomes the Buccaneers' 31st different starting quarterback in their 34 seasons as a franchise. Tampa Bay's decision raises questions about how quickly Freeman is progressing -- or not progressing. Maybe he'll be just fine. But first the Buccaneers are casting their lot with Johnson, who will try to lead the Buccaneers to victory in a city that is ready to run off its head coach, Jim Zorn.
9. The Next Chad: Though it's no fault of Chad Henne's, the Dolphins have made some questionable decisions at quarterback. Back in March 2006, Miami had its choice of two quarterbacks and opted to trade a second-round pick for Daunte Culpepper rather than sign banged-up free agent Drew Brees. Had Miami opted for Brees, there's every chance that Nick Saban still would be coaching the Dolphins and Bill Parcells might be living in Saratoga, N.Y. Then last season, the Dolphins opted for offensive tackle Jake Long ahead of quarterback Matt Ryan, a decision that was tough to argue last season, when Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington led Miami to the playoffs and won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award for the second time. But now that Pennington's season and quite possibly his career are over, the Dolphins need Henne to be the quarterback they thought they were getting in last year's second round. If he is, this franchise will be set for the next decade. If not, Henne's name gets tacked on to a lengthy listless list that includes Scott Mitchell, Jay Fiedler, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, A.J. Feeley, Sage Rosenfels, Culpepper, Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green and John Beck. Henne's test starts Sunday.
10. Ohio rookies: Go back to April, to the draft's second round. Cleveland owned the second round's fourth pick, the 36th overall selection. Cincinnati owned the round's sixth overall pick, the 38th overall selection. With their pick, the Browns selected Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie. With their pick, the Bengals selected USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. Now, it's still way early in their careers, and plenty can and will happen. But through three games, Robiskie has played in only one and is still looking for his first reception. Maualuga has injected the Bengals' defense with more than a dose of toughness. He has 17 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and one pass defensed, and he became an instant hero in Cincinnati on Sunday when he left the game versus Pittsburgh with a knee injury, limped back on to the field and helped finish off the Bengals' upset of the Steelers. Those two picks are symptomatic of the franchise's fortunes this season. Now they meet up in person.
The Schef's Specialities
Game of the Week: Baltimore versus New England. As much as the Patriots don't look like the Patriots, it wouldn't surprise anybody if these two teams meet again in the AFC championship.
Player of the Week: Bengals running back Cedric Benson. Chicago will find this difficult to believe, but no running back in football has been more productive than Benson from the end of last season until now.
Upset of the Week: Miami over Buffalo. Hard to imagine last year's AFC East champs losing a fourth straight game when Buffalo is as banged up as it is.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.