Wednesday, September 27, 2000
Updated: September 29, 4:34 PM ET
First ... And 10: Feud at FedEx Field
By John Clayton
Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "First And 10" column takes you around the league with a look at the best game of the week followed by primers for 10 other games to get you ready for Sunday. Here's his look at Week 5:
First ... Tampa Bay at Washington: The Giants learned that Redskins quarterback Brad
Johnson is too smart. When the Giants slipped out of zone coverages to stack
the line against the run, Johnson burned them for enough big pass plays to
beat them. The physical Bucs defense won't be as vulnerable. They will stay
in a two-deep zone and occasionally blitz cornerback Ronde Barber to put
pressure on Johnson. Expect a low-scoring game, but Bucs quarterback Shaun
King must not make it too low-scoring. He must pick up his total of seven
completions that he had last Sunday against the Jets even if it means
forcing the ball to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Both defenses are
physical enough to make this a war. Bucs safeties will try to punish veteran
receivers Andre Reed and Irving Fryar if they make short receptions.
Defensive linemen on both teams should have big days. For the Bucs to win,
though, they can't have more than one turnover. The Redskins are too
talented to be beaten at home if they are given gifts.
And 10. Indianapolis at Buffalo: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning faces one of the
league's most stubborn defensive front sevens and will have to beat them
through the air. It's almost impossible to run on the Bills, so Manning will
have to throw a lot of quick first-down passes to move the chains. The big
question is whether or not the Colts go back to their no-huddle offense to
tire the Bills defense during long drives. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison
will get his six or seven catches, but the Bills will try to limit the
yardage of those receptions. Bills coach Wade Phillips is hoping his
decision to bench Antowain Smith in favor of Jonathan Linton at halfback
will take some pressure off of quarterback Rob Johnson. The battered Bills
quarterback needed a bye week to rest his bruised bones, and the offensive
line had a chance to regroup. Rallying around a running game will open up
more downfield passing possibilities for a Bills team that believes it can
challenge for the AFC East title.
9. Minnesota at Detroit: Vikings coach Dennis Green earned and made the big
bucks by picking Duante Culpepper as his quarterback. Owner Red McCombs
rewarded him with a $3 million a year contract extension and gave him the
freedom to work his five-year plan. It still is a lot to ask Culpepper, in
his first year as a starter, to go into the Silverdome and win against a
strong defense. The Lions still aren't doing much offensively, but
quarterback Charlie Batch continues to improve. Batch needs to be more of a
threat to open up the running of $5 million halfback James Stewart, who has
a puny 2.9-yard per carry average. The return of middle linebacker Stephen
Boyd (back) is key for the Lions because the defense can't lose composure if
Culpepper starts bootlegging for yards.
8. New York Giants at Tennessee: Titans coach Jeff Fisher always hates playing
good games after they play the Steelers. The injury list is usually too
long. It looks like Steve McNair will be back as the starting quarterback, and
there is a decent chance that tight end Frank Wycheck will play despite
suffering a concussion in Three Rivers. McNair still has Carl Pickens and Chris Sanders at receiver, but it looks like Yancey Thigpen's hamstring is
too sore to play. Defensive end Jevon Kearse is banged up, and the Titans
will need him. The key to beating the Giants is getting them out of their
Thunder and Lightning running game and hoping to catch the defense gambling
for a big play. The Giants are hoping they are catching the Titans at the
right time because when they are healthy, they are hard to beat at home.
7. Seattle at Kansas City: The Chiefs have put together 10 good quarters and
are getting themselves back into the AFC West race. Gunther Cunningham's
gamble on youth is paying off, but it hasn't hurt that Elvis Grbac got hot
at the right time. Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez will try to terrorize
the middle of the Seahawks defense or occupy quick Seahawks linebackers Chad
Brown or Anthony Simmons. Coach Mike Holmgren does his best offensive
coaching against some of the Chiefs schemes. He's been making safe,
effective calls that may not produce good plays for quarterback Jon Kitna, but those calls are moving the chains. Seahawks halfback Ricky Watters will
be particularly excited playing before a national audience against the Chiefs.
6. Miami at Cincinnati: This is only interesting to see how the Bengals
players will respond to new coach Dick LeBeau. The Dolphins are worried because
they aren't sure that the Bengals they see on tape will be the Bengals they
will see Sunday. LeBeau will try to ram halfback Corey Dillon into the
Dolphins defense. A touchdown may break the Bengals offense out of a slump
that has produced two shutouts in three games. The biggest disappointment
for the Dolphins is not scoring two or three touchdown drives against one of
the weakest defenses in the NFL.
5. New England at Denver: The Broncos expect Brian Griese to be back at
quarterback and hope to see more of Terrell Davis, who is going to have to
gut it through a painful ankle injury. The Broncos are still seething about
collapsing in the final minutes against the Chiefs last week. Expect them to
continue to pressure Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. This game, however,
doesn't have the same feeling for the Patriots as the past four. Being on
the road with a shaky offensive line, the Patriots can't be expected to set
up Bledsoe for a drive in the final two minutes to tie or take the lead.
They may be too far behind.
4. Chicago at Green Bay: The game is critical for the Bears offense to
establish something on offense because it could mean the end to Cade
McNown's string of consecutive starts. Jim Miller is in the wings and may
get a call. Packers quarterback Brett Favre continues to build his
confidence after two wins. Having halfback Dorsey Levens has helped, but
having Ahman Green as a dependable backup also helps. Favre needs another
confidence boost because he travels to the Silverdome next week where he's
had some of his toughest days.
3. Arizona at San Francisco: The 49ers are becoming fun to watch because you
don't know what to expect. The wide receiver position has turned into a soap
opera. Jerry Rice isn't sure he's in the right spot because of the
impatience of the young receivers. J.J. Stokes gets the start and needs to
produce. Pity quarterback Jeff Garcia, who has the task of keeping everyone
happy. If the 49ers aren't too distracted, they catch the Cardinals at a
time when their confidence is low and their defense is vulnerable.
2. Atlanta at Philadelphia: Will Eagles fans boo or cheer Donovan McNabb? His
home flop a couple weeks ago against the Giants still has them wondering. The Eagles need to run halfback Duce Staley more, but McNabb can
be comforted by the knowledge that the Falcons are among the worst teams in
mounting pressure with their front four. The Eagles defense can be encouraged by
looking at tapes of the Rams sacking Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler
eight times. Falcons coach Dan Reeves is thinking about major shakeups on
the offensive line because his quarterback is getting too shaken up.
1. Dallas at Carolina: The Panthers will be without defensive end Chuck
Smith, who must sit for a month with a knee injury. That means Jay Williams
starts at end and that Reggie White and Eric Swann may get more playing
time. Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein, the NFC's third-ranked passer, can't wait to exploit the Cowboys pass defense. The Cowboys have given up eight touchdown passes in four games, and Beuerlein is often
good for three on most Sundays. The question for Cowboys quarterback Troy
Aikman is whether the Panthers defense will give him a pounding if this gets
to be a high-scoring game.
John Clayton is the senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.