Friday, September 17, 2010
Updated: September 19, 11:30 AM ET
Fall's colors: Black and blue
By Adam Schefter
Just as the NFL season is under way, so is the war of attrition. Once again, there are reminders that this isn't just about talent; this is about health.
Already the Detroit Lions have lost their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, to a separated shoulder.
The Green Bay Packers lost starting running back Ryan Grant to a torn ligament in his ankle.
The Philadelphia Eagles lost Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver and center Jamaal Jackson to season-ending injuries.
The New York Jets lost defensive tackle Kris Jenkins to another torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The Indianapolis Colts lost Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders to a torn biceps injury for an indefinite time.
And mark this down as a guarantee, as sure as the fact that more upsets are coming Sunday: There will be more key injuries. There will be more crushing losses. There will be more teams scrambling for more replacements as the war of attrition continues.
The quantity and quality of injuries will not be any different than any season. It is a part of the sport. Playoff teams are always good and healthy.
And as we hear more discussion about a potential lockout and an expanded schedule, it's hard not to wonder about how this will happen.
It's great to want to play 18 games; it'd be even better to have the full collection of men to play them.
And now, on to this week's 10 Spot:
Here's the one thing that still stands out about a 20-minute conversation with Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb in June. As McNabb discussed his transition from Philadelphia, he shifted the conversation to Michael Vick, unsolicited, and praised the Eagles' quarterback. "Watch out this season for Vick," McNabb warned, as if he knew something. At the time, McNabb also had nothing but praise for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb. But his praise for Vick that day was enthusiastic, if not effusive. It was the first sign that what has happened could happen. In the Week 1 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Vick replaced Kolb and shined. And after the game, Vick said, candidly, "I feel like if I had been out there for four quarters maybe we would have had a chance to win the game." Now Vick, who will start Sunday against Detroit, will get his chance to justify McNabb's confidence.
In the most unintentional of ways, Detroit's Shaun Hill has become a significant threat to any No. 1 overall pick playing in front of him. Twice in the past four seasons, the quarterback starting ahead of Hill has separated his shoulder. In September 2007, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, did it and missed three games. In Week 1, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, another former No. 1 overall pick, did it. Detroit still doesn't know how much time Stafford will miss, but the Lions might have the perfect replacement. In San Francisco, Hill posted a 10-6 record as a starter, including 7-1 at home.
It is only one game into quarterback Sam Bradford's NFL career, but it is not too early to declare that the Rams hit on their No. 1 overall pick. Against Arizona, Bradford's 33-yard completion to wide receiver Mark Clayton came on a throw that other quarterbacks can't make. After Bradford completed 32-of-55 passes for 253 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, the reviews were glowing. "I wish another team had drafted him beside one in our division," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. Another longtime successful scout who attended Bradford's NFL debut had stronger words. After he left the Cardinals' victory over the Rams, he texted a reporter, "Sam Bradford is going to be special."
From the time Bill Belichick rejected becoming the head coach of the Jets, the relationship between the Patriots' head coach and the Jets' head coach has been well documented. Cameras fought for position to capture the postgame handshakes between Belichick and former Jets coach Eric Mangini. Now there's plenty of history between Belichick and members of Rex Ryan's family. When Belichick coached the Browns, he would take his team to Arizona during training camp to scrimmage against Buddy Ryan's Cardinals. Then, Rex Ryan's brother, Rob, coached under Belichick for four years in New England. Funny, but the Ryan that Belichick knows least of all is Rex, the one whose stature has risen dramatically since he took over as Jets coach last year. "They kind of all have their own style, which is similar," Belichick said this week of the Ryans. "I respect that. It's a great football family -- a very successful one."
Few coaches motivate their players quite like Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who is a master at it. Coughlin uses whatever means necessary to make sure his team is playing with purpose and intensity. Often, it involves the words and the predictions of the naysayers to fire up his team. Coughlin has made a habit of showing his team the ESPN panelists' "Sunday Countdown" game picks each weekend, especially when many are picking against the Giants. In a Sunday night game in Indianapolis, when the Giants must face a Colts team coming off a loss, Coughlin should have some ammunition. Two of the four panelists pick the Colts. Chances are, at some point this weekend, Coughlin will inform his team of all the people who don't think his team can win the Manning Bowl in Indianapolis.
Players gripe about their contracts all the time. But after Sunday, it's hard to imagine anyone has a better case than Texans running back Arian Foster, who has rushed for 350 yards and five touchdowns in his first two NFL starts. Foster is scheduled to make $310,000 this season and $395,000 next season in what might be the best value contract in all of sports. Foster's fine fullback, Vonta Leach, earns considerably more. He signed a four-year, $8 million contract in 2007. Should Foster rush for 102 yards against Washington on Sunday, he would break Jonathan Stewart's record for most rushing yards in a player's first three NFL starts since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. It's often pointed out when top draft picks are overpaid; every now and then, there is an undrafted free agent who is underpaid.
|Shaun Hill, who filled in for an injured Alex Smith with the 49ers, will replace the injured Matthew Stafford for the Lions. |
In recent seasons, debates about the NFL's best safeties have consistently revolved around Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu, Baltimore's Ed Reed and Indianapolis' Bob Sanders. Those debates sometimes omit Arizona's Adrian Wilson, and that's a shame. He has evolved into arguably the game's top safety. In Arizona's Week 1 game against the Rams, Wilson became the first player since Julius Peppers in 2004 to have a sack, interception and blocked field goal in the same game. In 2009, his ninth season as a Cardinal, Wilson started all 18 games played. It was the first time he has played in all 16 regular-season games since 2006. Polamalu didn't finish last season, and Reed and Sanders already have missed time this season. Wilson should become a fixture in conversations about the game's best safeties.
No team this season will line up a more dangerous return team than Kansas City. Ask San Diego, which already has seen it in action. The Chargers tried and failed to bottle up the Chiefs' rookie return men, Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas. The seeds for this were planted in April. After using the fifth overall pick on Tennessee safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs used their second-round picks -- the 36th and 50th overall -- on Mississippi wide receiver/running back McCluster and Alabama cornerback Arenas. Already the picks seem like a success. McCluster returned one punt for a touchdown against the Chargers, and Arenas nearly broke two other returns. With McCluster, Arenas and Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs have home-run threats to beat teams on offense, special teams or in any relay race. Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel returns to Cleveland on Sunday. But McCluster and Arenas squaring off against Cleveland's ace returner Josh Cribbs is the marquee attraction of the day.
Pittsburgh's win over Atlanta was bigger than it appears. It virtually assures that Pittsburgh will be no worse than 2-2, and maybe 3-1, by the time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns from a four-game suspension. The Steelers' next three games are at Tennessee, at Tampa Bay and at home against Baltimore. Now, it's almost as if the Steelers are playing with house money the next few weeks. One win early set up Pittsburgh to be in position late.
Baltimore is bracing to face the type of aerial assault that the New York Jets failed to provide Monday night. Cincinnati will spread out the Ravens with wide receivers Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Jordan Shipley and tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Ravens might have injured defensive back Lardarius Webb, who tore his ACL in December, return to the lineup. Even without him, cornerbacks Chris Carr, Fabian Washington and Josh Wilson held up well against the Jets in Week 1. But this is a different challenge for the Ravens. Few quarterbacks have dominated the Ravens quite like Carson Palmer, who sports an impressive 8-3 record against Baltimore. The Bengals also have won seven straight games against AFC North foes.
|Adrian Wilson had a sack, an interception and a blocked field goal against the Rams last week.|
The Schef's Specialties
Game of the week: Patriots at Jets: New York invited this pressure; New England is happy to apply it.
Player of the week: Browns QB Seneca Wallace -- This is expected to be his chance to prove why Mike Holmgren traded for him.
Upset of the week: San Francisco over New Orleans: Mike Singletary can thank Pete Carroll again after the upset.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.