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More times than anyone can count, former NFL coach Bill Parcells warned about praising young players too much.
"Let's not put him in Canton yet," Parcells has said about almost any rookie who made an early impact.
And so while no one should put Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in Canton yet, it is fair to show how advanced he has been by comparing him to the signal-callers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Through six games heading into Sunday's pivotal NFC East showdown against the defending world champion New York Giants, Griffin's 70.2 percent completion percentage is better than all 26 quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. By a lot.
Of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Steve Young has the highest career completion percentage at 64.3 percent. Joe Montana is at 63.2 percent, Troy Aikman at 61.5 percent, Jim Kelly at 60.1 percent, Dan Marino at 59.4 percent and John Elway at 56.9 percent.
Griffin tops them all, with ease. And the other members of his quarterback draft class aren't far behind.
Through Week 6, Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson has completed 62.5 percent of his passes, better than every Hall of Fame quarterback other than Young and Montana. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill has completed 59.6 percent of his passes, an even higher percentage than Marino, the former Dolphins quarterback he can only hope to try to make fans forget. Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has completed 55.8 percent of his passes, and the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck is at 53.4 percent.
Every one of those marks is impressive, as much a sign of the NFL's pass-happy times as the young quarterbacks' advancements. But none of the rookie quarterbacks has been sharper than Griffin.
As the Redskins continue bringing along Griffin slowly, the most impressive part of his play has been his efficiency. Griffin has been spot on with his passes and makes few mistakes. On his 161 passing attempts, he has thrown only two interceptions.
Griffin has been on the mark. And while no one should put him in Canton, it's OK to put him, and some of his fellow rookie quarterbacks, in the conversation with some of the men already there.
|Eli Manning rides a three-game streak of not being sacked into the Giants' Week 7 game against Washington.|
1. Protective of Eli: Eli Manning is far less mobile than Griffin, and the Giants' offensive line was the team's most maligned unit heading into the season. And yet as they prepare for Sunday's NFC East showdown with the Redskins, the Giants have gone 197 minutes and 12 seconds spanning three-plus games since Manning was last sacked. With an offensive line featuring left tackle Will Beatty, left guard Kevin Boothe, center David Baas, right guard Chris Snee and right tackle Sean Locklear, the Giants are showing why they still might be the team to beat. Even with regular right tackle David Diehl missing, the Giants are playing as if their offensive line were one of the best in the league. Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, Victor Cruz, the defense and the usual suspects got their fair share of praise after New York blew out San Francisco. But the men along the offensive line who usually get noticed only for negative plays have made plenty of positive ones, not just Sunday, but the past three weeks. They have given up only five sacks all season (four on Manning) and are the unsung reason the Giants are in first place.
2. Bears get O from D: Somehow Detroit must do what other teams have not: slow a Chicago scoring machine that has put up points at an unprecedented rate. To do that, the Lions' biggest concern should be Chicago's defense, not its offense. Over the past three games, all W's, the Bears' defense has accounted for more points than the opposing offenses. In those three games, the Bears' defense has scored five touchdowns -- one against St. Louis, two against Dallas, two more against Jacksonville. Cornerback Charles Tillman has scored two of those touchdowns, giving him the most career defensive touchdowns -- and think about this and all the great defenders this team has had -- in franchise history with eight. Chicago's other starting cornerback, Tim Jennings, was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September. And while the headlines usually go to Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs -- who also has two touchdowns in the past two games -- the Bears' cornerback tandem has become the best in the league. Seattle's is strong with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, St. Louis' is good with Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, and so is Atlanta's with Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel, Dallas' with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and Philadelphia's with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But Tillman and Jennings have not only been good, they've been difference-makers on the league's most difference-making defense.
|Ronde Barber will retire as the only NFL player to record 40 or more interceptions and 20 or more sacks in his career.|
3. Ronde's résumé: As running back Tiki Barber racked up Pro Bowl appearances and enough yards to become the Giants' all-time rushing leader, few would have thought twin brother Ronde would have the more distinguished NFL career. But into his 16th season, all with the Buccaneers, cornerback Ronde Barber is the one who has stood out as much for his ability as his durability. His interception return for a touchdown last Sunday was the 12th defensive touchdown of his career, tying Aeneas Williams and Charles Woodson and trailing Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper by one for the most in NFL history. Barber's next start Sunday against New Orleans will be his 222nd, passing former linebacker Derrick Brooks for the most in Buccaneers history. Barber has more consecutive starts than any other cornerback in NFL history, more sacks than any other cornerback in NFL history and more interceptions than any other Buccaneer in history. As the interceptions, touchdowns, starts and records keep piling up, Barber's case for a spot in Canton continues to be bolstered. It was hard to imagine that the Barber most likely to wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be Ronde. But all these years later, no one can argue.
4. Missing mainstays: It's only fitting that Baltimore and Houston square off Sunday in a key game for both teams. The Ravens are without their vocal defensive leader, Ray Lewis, just as the Texans are without their vocal defensive leader, Brian Cushing. Lewis has a torn triceps, Cushing a torn ACL, and both teams must adjust to playing without their Pro Bowl inside linebackers. The Ravens have surrendered over 200 rushing yards in each of their past two games and now get a Houston team that tries to control the ball and the clock. The Texans have been exploited through the air in each of their past two games and now get a Baltimore team that has transitioned to being more of a throwing team.
5. Philly lacks sacks: Whether it was the right or wrong move, it's not hard to figure out why Philadelphia coach Andy Reid made the surprising decision this week to fire defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Last season the Eagles tied the Minnesota Vikings for the league lead with 50 sacks. Yet in their past three games, the Eagles have failed to get a single sack. Philadelphia has only seven for the season, third worst in the NFL ahead of only the Jaguars (three) and Raiders (four). It will be up to new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to help dial up that pressure. Or the already high pressure on Reid is going to intensify, if possible.
|Chris Johnson hasn't been very productive this season but could be in position for a big week.|
6. Runners on the spot: For all his struggles this season, Titans running back Chris Johnson has to be salivating over Sunday's matchup versus the Bills. Johnson draws a high-priced, underperforming defense that has struggled to stop the run. Buffalo has allowed at least 180 rushing yards each of the past three weeks against Arizona, San Francisco and New England. If ever there was a week for Johnson to break out, this would be the one. Another running back on the spot is Dallas' Felix Jones. With his contract scheduled to expire after this season and with starter DeMarco Murray on the shelf with a sprained foot, Jones has a chance to make some money for future seasons. These coming games are Jones' dash for cash.
7. Older than he appears: On the day he celebrated his 29th birthday, Brandon Weeden led Cleveland to its first win of the season. One Browns coach texted that the team is "young and improving," and clearly it is -- most of it. Weeden is improving, but he's not so young. Even though he's a rookie, Weeden is older than 18 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, including Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, San Francisco's Alex Smith, Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco. Weeden is seven years older than Griffin and six years older than Cam Newton and Wilson. So while Cleveland's window could soon be opening, it also could be closing quicker than Browns fans would like.
8. Moment of football heaven: Each Sunday, after "NFL Countdown" concludes at 1 p.m. ET, ESPN's analysts make their way to the basement of Building 4 to sit in front of a wall of a dozen TVs to watch every moment of every NFL game. When entertainer Justin Timberlake walked into the room one Sunday last year after making an appearance on "Countdown," he saw the wall of TV screens, looked around and remarked, "This is football heaven."
|Seattle receiver Sidney Rice's touchdown catch was part of a rapid chain of events that led to a three-way tie for first in the NFC West.|
Football's most heavenly moments of this season came in a concentrated span of several seconds at 7:10 p.m. ET last Sunday, when the action came fast and furious. Griffin reeled off a 76-yard game-clinching run for the Redskins against the Vikings. Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice caught a game-winning 46-yard touchdown. Cardinals kicker Jay Feely missed a potential game-winning 38-yard field goal. All at once. It happened so quickly that even with a full-on view of each of the games, nobody could watch all three plays live. Eyes in that room, and really across the country, danced from one screen to another, trying to watch and process what just unfolded.
And what unfolded were three plays that impacted the races in four divisions. In a matter of moments, all four AFC East teams were tied for first -- and last -- place with 3-3 records, and the 4-2 Seahawks and Cardinals wound up in a first-place tie in the NFC West with the 49ers. What's most remarkable about that single stretch is those plays changed the mood surrounding those teams, and the perception of them, for this whole week. Griffin is remarkable, Vikings are vulnerable. Seahawks are potent, Patriots are flawed. Bills are rebounding, Cardinals are struggling. All from a stretch of plays in a matter of seconds.
This week there will be plays and performances and results nobody expects. They will alter and affect the perception of each team. They will not come as quickly as last Sunday, when no could keep up, but they will come as dramatically. Chris Berman might deliver the fastest three minutes in football, but last Sunday the league delivered the most exciting seconds of the season.
9. Drug of choice: Since December 2011, at least 10 players have tested positive for Adderall, which is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It has become one of the drugs of choice for some players for personal and professional reasons. In personal use, it has become, in the words of one source, "the new party drug." But players also are looking for an edge with their energy and focus, which Adderall enhances. The most recent player to be caught using the drug is Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib, who tested positive during training camp, costing him a four-game suspension and $435,882 in lost wages. Others testing positive for Adderall include Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Giants defensive backs Tyler Sash and Will Hill, Packers defensive end Mike Neal and Seahawks guard John Moffitt. It's not difficult to discern how widespread this has become. A 2011 survey of students at 119 colleges by the publication Addiction reported that 25 percent of students at "very competitive" college campuses take Adderall for academic advantages. Most of the players being caught are relatively new to the league, indicating that young players probably have seen the drug used at college and have taken that knowledge with them to the NFL. Now the NFL has a growing problem.
|Matt Ryan's Falcons are unbeaten, but they haven't looked unbeatable.|
10. Thought of the week: Six weeks into the season, it is even tougher to predict a potential Super Bowl matchup than it was last summer, before the season kicked off. The only unbeaten team, Atlanta, has looked eminently beatable in recent games against the Raiders, Redskins and Panthers. The 5-1 Ravens have lost more defensive starters than games, clouding their long-range forecast. The Patriots have squandered double-digit fourth-quarter leads against the Ravens and Seahawks. The 49ers got obliterated on their home field against the Giants in a game San Francisco had been targeting for weeks. The defending world champion Giants lost to a struggling Eagles team. Houston lost its first game and air of invincibility in a game it could not keep close at home against the Packers. There are no teams like the Packers from last regular season or the Patriots from 2007, steamrolling opponents, charging toward the postseason. Every team is grouped together in one giant mosh pit, just as Pete Rozelle would have designed it. Last week passed with the same kind of results we will see again this week and almost every week. Uncertainty blew out predictability. Again.
• Player of the week: Bills running back C.J. Spiller -- Against a vulnerable Titans defense, Spiller has a chance to outshine the Titans' Johnson.
• Upset of the week: Rams over Packers -- Green Bay is coming off its best game of the season on a three-game road trip while the Rams at home are dangerous.