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Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Too early to panic, but ...

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

The key to the start of any season is not to overreact.

That's easier said than done. Week 1 was both thrilling and troublesome. Scoring was down, which is usually the case in opening weeks, and an NFL-record 11 close games (scoring margin of seven points or fewer) built up the frustration factor for teams that lost.

Already, some teams are overreacting. Concerned about the Broncos' running game, coach Josh McDaniels gave up a fourth-round choice to get Laurence Maroney and a New England Patriots sixth-rounder. I guess the first-round pick used last year on halfback Knowshon Moreno didn't completely fix the running offense. Injuries also kept the offensive line unsettled all throughout training camp.

49ers coach Mike Singletary called out quarterback Alex Smith and a few offensive players after mistakes mounted in Seattle. The mistakes were costly, but there's no need to panic. It's a long season.

As bad as Mark Sanchez and the Jets' offense played in their opening loss to the Ravens, you don't get the feeling Rex Ryan will panic and change too much. In my opinion, though, the Jets need to use less pre-snap motion and more plays in which they simply execute.

Most offenses need a month to get into rhythm. The injuries are a big concern because it's impossible to find players on the street to replace injured starters. As bad as it was for the Colts to lose safety Bob Sanders and the Jets to lose nose tackle Kris Jenkins, the Packers' loss of running back Ryan Grant is bigger. The Colts and Jets have been used to playing without Sanders and Jenkins. The Packers have depended on the 1,200-yard-rushing production of Grant.

Fortunately for Packers fans, Mike McCarthy is not a coach who panics. He'll adjust. Green Bay has injuries on defense, too, as they lost end Justin Harrell for the season. With Harrell and Johnny Jolly out for the season, the Packers' 3-4 defense is one more injury away from total disaster.

The only teams feeling totally great about the first week are the Patriots and Titans, who dominated with easy wins.

From the inbox

Q: I live in L.A., and I don't really understand why the second-biggest city in the country doesn't have an NFL franchise. I have heard a handful of knowledgeable people say the only way we'll be able to get a stadium built is if we can attract two teams. With Jacksonville having trouble selling out last year and Tampa Bay failing to sell out its first game this season, will there ever be a chance those Florida teams will head to Cali?

Tony D in Burbank, Calif.

A:
It's going to be hard enough to get one team, but one team is possible. Here's where the problem would be with getting two teams. Investors want ownership of a franchise if they're going to help build a stadium and save taxpayer dollars. However, no one is selling NFL teams. Sure, you can talk about Buffalo, Jacksonville, Minnesota and San Diego being options, but those teams aren't for sale. Ed Roski is perhaps the most aggressive in getting something set up, but he wants ownership in a team. It seems that in the Los Angeles area, a perfect scenario of ownership and number of teams has to play out. But getting two teams to sell and move is a long shot.

Q: I know everyone thinks letting Matt Leinart go is good for the Cardinals, but to bank on Derek Anderson will be a huge mistake and will cost the coach his job. Rumor is that the owner disagreed with the move. We will wait and see. What do you think?

Bill in Hilton Head, S.C.

A:
There is no way Ken Whisenhunt is in trouble. He just signed an extension, and he's one of the reasons the team has a chance to do well every season. Good luck finding a new Kurt Warner, though. Anderson was about as good as anyone can get in this quarterback market. The Cardinals are now back to square one in finding their next quarterback, and they will have to do it through the draft. The more they win, though, the harder it will get to find that quarterback. Good quarterbacks aren't hanging out on the streets ready to produce at the elite level.

Q: I have seen a few random columns about a looming lockout next year and was looking for some information. Is it conceivable that NFL veterans could realistically cause an expansion in the UFL if they are in fact locked out and want to put pressure on the owners by playing? Also, could rookies, who will still be drafted, flood leagues like the CFL with the understanding that the negotiations will be curbing their future salaries anyway? I would expect late-round draftees at the very least to take a serious look at earning some money in June or July from the CFL rather than wait if the NFL negotiations are still dragging. What do you think?

Billy in Flemington, N.J.

A:
You can't discount anything if there is a lockout. The UFL is hanging around with the hopes the owners in the NFL are crazy enough to lock out the players. They need to listen to people like you who bring up these possibilities. NFL owners have the best of all worlds right now. Many have nice, new stadiums. They all make profits. They need to work out a deal with their partners -- the players -- and not try to threaten them into accepting a one-sided deal.

Q: I do not support your argument that the Falcons are ready to supplant the Saints this year. Although they are the most apt team in that division to do so, using the schedule as the cornerstone of your argument does not fly. Schedule difficulty is always based upon the previous season. Teams change every year. Remember, the Steelers had the toughest schedule heading into 2008, and look what happened. The best teams will win no matter what the schedule is. Matt Ryan is nowhere near Drew Brees' class yet, let alone Eli Manning's.

Tim in Tennessee

A:
You have a right to say the Saints will win the division. Let's put it this way: If you would do a poll, more people would support your side than my side. But it is part of my job to evaluate schedules and come to conclusions. Sure, preseason schedule reviews are based on the previous season's results, and things do change, but not as much as you would think. Fourteen of the 16 teams on the schedules of the Falcons and Saints are the same, but the Saints will have a harder time because they have to play Arizona, San Francisco, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Dallas on the road. What's changed there? All five are expected to be pretty good teams with maybe the exception of the Cardinals without Warner. The Falcons play Arizona, San Francisco, Arizona, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Green Bay at home. You will agree it's harder to beat good teams on the road than it is at home.

Q: In the Great Debate article, you said the Cowboys have the most talent. What are you basing that on? If Dallas is so talented, then why did they only score three points against the Vikings last season? While I agree a healthy Falcons team is definitely a force to be reckoned with, they're still a step behind the Saints. The Saints and Falcons (as well as all division teams) play each other on the road and at home, so how can that be more of an advantage to the Falcons than the Saints?

James in Shreveport, La.

A:
Last year is last year. I base Dallas' talent this year on the development of the defensive players, the addition of Dez Bryant into the offense and how Miles Austin and Tony Romo continue to evolve. That didn't work in the opener, but a lot of things didn't work in openers for a lot of teams. Those things will sort out during the first month of the season. The Cowboys are three-deep at running back, deep at wide receiver and have a lot of talent on defense. But they have to play to the level of that talent to get to the Super Bowl. That's what the Saints did last year.

Q: We have heard a lot about Mike Martz's new offensive system in Chicago. For those of us who have not followed his career very closely, could you explain what the Martz system is all about? I understand that it is pass-heavy, but what makes it different from other pass-heavy systems?

Dwayne in Avon, N.J.

A:
Dwayne, the Martz system is the updated version of Air Coryell -- the nickname given former Cardinals and Chargers coach Don Coryell's vaunted attacks in the 1970s and '80s. More pass-catchers are sent into routes to pressure pass defenses. Martz loves putting pressure in the middle of the field on safeties, so he sends receivers or tight ends up the seam to see how good safeties are. The system requires the quarterback to stand in the pocket, make quick decisions and wait until the last second to deliver the ball. The system calls for accurate quarterbacks, not necessarily strong-armed quarterbacks. There are probably more plays in the playbook in the Martz system because he's constantly creating new concepts as the season progresses. That's a thumbnail.

Q: The Giants seem to like to draft 3-4 linebackers out of college. Do you see them moving to a variation of the 3-4 to utilize these players they drafted? It seems like a wasted draft picks because the adjustment from a 3-4 to 4-3 seems to take a couple of years or more to adjust to.

Colvin in Columbus, Ga.

A:
Colvin, these are not wasted draft picks. The Giants believe in finding pass-rushers. In a division that is loaded with top quarterbacks who get rid of the ball quickly, it's a smart move. Pass-rushers are hard to find, but the Giants are willing to take a young pass-rusher and develop him. However, they need to do a better job of finding linebackers. They've been struggling with that problem for the past few years.

Q: Anyone available after all the cuts who could contribute for the Bills? One guy I noticed was Matt Jones. Until some personal issues screwed up his career, he was a pretty good receiver for the Jaguars. He's 6-foot-6 and would be a big target with experience, and he was a decent QB for Arkansas in college.

Andrew in Buffalo, N.Y.

A:
There isn't much left on the street, unfortunately. The Bills could have made a play for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but he was going to go to a team with a chance to win. Matt Jones is a big name, but he's lost a lot of speed. He would be a different version of James Hardy, and you saw how that worked out for the Bills: Hardy is gone. The Bills let Josh Reed and Terrell Owens go without replacing either one. I don't think Jones is the answer.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.