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Sunday, July 28, 2013
Offenses suddenly short-handed

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

The opening weekend of training camp and some crazy offseason happenings have put a caution flag on NFL offensive plans to go fast paced.

The Philadelphia Eagles lost wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for the season with a blown ACL. Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta was lost for the season with a dislocated hip. The New York Jets may not have Santonio Holmes for the season because of a Lisfranc injury. Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin is getting a second opinion in New York on Tuesday over a possible turn labrum of his hip.

And then there are the New England Patriots. Julian Edelman started training camp on the physically unable to perform list. That means Tom Brady is working without his top seven pass-catchers from last year.

If that isn't enough, the San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree is going to miss a good chunk of the season because of an Achilles tear, Justin Blackmon of the Jacksonville Jaguars has a four-game suspension, Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns has a two-game suspension and tight end Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers might not be able to start the regular season because of a knee injury.

That's a lot of carnage and uncertainty just coming through the noncontact portion of training camp.

Clearly, the Patriots are the most affected offense. Until tight end Rob Gronkowski returns from his broken forearm and back surgery, the Pats could lose as many as eight points a game. I keep figuring the release of Aaron Hernandez is worth three points because he had 18 career touchdown passes in 38 games. I figure Gronkowski is worth at least five points. He has 38 career touchdown receptions in 43 games.

Jeremy Maclin
Jeremy Maclin is stuck watching Eagles camp from the sideline on crutches after he tore an ACL.

The Baltimore Ravens are the second most impacted offense. The combination of the Pitta injury and the Anquan Boldin trade could cause a potential four-point loss. Touchdown drives could turn into field goal drives for Joe Flacco because he's missing his two go-to pass-catchers in the red zone.

Boldin and Pitta combined for 11 of Flacco's 22 regular-season completions inside the red zone during last year's regular season. Flacco also is losing his two top overall targets. Boldin had 65 catches and Pitta had 61. Torrey Smith is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver, but now the Ravens have question marks at No. 2 receiver and No. 2 tight end. Ed Dickson has to take over Pitta's role as the starting tight end.

It's hard to imagine the Jets can improve upon their 17.6-point average without Holmes.

Harvin's injury could slow down the advancement of the Seahawks' offense under Russell Wilson. Because Harvin's work is mostly from the slot, the Seahawks can manage without him. Doug Baldwin showed good promise as a slot receiver as a rookie, and Golden Tate could rotate into the slot and add some speed.

Getting Harvin was a big bonus because he is one of the most explosive players in the league.

Losing him would hurt the Seahawks, but not as much as the loss of Crabtree in San Francisco. The 49ers have to spend the entire summer seeing what they have to replace a receiver who was catching six passes a game toward the end of the season and into the playoffs.

All these problems aren't going to bring offenses to a halt this fall, but it was an ominous start.

From the inbox

Q: With the NFL owners wanting an 18-game season and the players dead set against it (and rightly so, in my opinion), is there some reason they can't go back to having two bye weeks per team? This would then result in an 18-week regular season (and, you know, more TV revenue), might keep the players fresher and would hopefully allow for teams playing on Thursday nights to have the Sunday off prior to their Thursday contest.

Simon in Los Angeles

A: Even though that makes a lot of sense, I don't see owners agreeing to an 18-week regular season that includes two bye weeks for a few reasons. They don't want to start the season before Labor Day, and they don't want to push the Super Bowl back one week because of a bye. The network television contracts are already locked up, so I don't envision a revenue benefit for the owners. If there are going to be any changes, the NFL wants the 18-game schedule at the expense of two preseason games. The league is willing to hold out until the players agree.

Q: I would really like your take on this, even if you don't post it in your column. Right now, part of the HGH talks between the NFL and NFLPA seem to be about how to go about getting baseline testing done in the NFL. And the rumors have already started about how NFL players in the know of this could just "raise" the baseline during this cycle. Why don't they test college athletes for a baseline? The kids already have the highest hormonal peaks at this age, so their baseline should be the highest average. Why put it in the hands of NFL players to knowingly skew the testing?

Dustin in California

A: The cost becomes a problem. An HGH testing kit costs $2,200. Colleges aren't going to take on that kind of expense. Think about the cost for the league. There are 2,800 players. The union wanted the population study because it didn't trust the testing procedures and how they would be judged. These things take time. At least the players have agreed to let the league look at their blood. That's a step forward. They should wrap up something reasonably soon.

Q: Is there any discussion concerning changing the way the bye weeks are implemented. In my opinion, there is lot of inequity in it. For example, the Giants and 49ers have byes in Week 9. The next week they play a home game against a team that played the week before and has to travel clear across the country. The Raiders vs. Giants even play that game at 1 p.m. EST. Now I'm a Giant fan and love that, however -- why not have the four teams in a division get the bye week together and then play each other the following week?

Steven in Rocky Mount, Va.

A: There are always discussions, but there aren't a lot of solutions. The division idea isn't a good one because the networks aren't going to like an entire good division -- let's say in the NFC -- dark for a week. It's hard for the schedule makers to stretch out a 12-game divisional schedule over a 17-week period. Often, particularly during those weeks in which there are bye weeks, the schedule is weak if certain top teams and several teams in a division aren't playing. Some of it might be unfair, but not enough to destroy a team's chance of making it to the Super Bowl.

Q: Before the Vikings drafted QB Christian Ponder, they had a habit for years, except for Daunte Culpepper, of signing veteran, aging QBs and were criticized for it. While some of them worked, they were in essence a short-term solution which I believe is a result of the team not having high enough first-round picks in opportune drafts. Now last season, Ponder was the subject of his own criticism and is facing a make-it-or-break scenario.

Dan in Austin, Minn.

A: The reason the Vikings had to go through years of signing older quarterbacks is because they were winning and having lower picks in the first round. It's hard to get a great quarterback to drop as far as they were drafting. You are right in your conclusion. So much of it is luck. The Colts had a horrible year and they drafted Andrew Luck. The Chiefs went 2-14 heading into a draft that didn't have great quarterbacks. They had to trade for Alex Smith. Let's give Ponder his chance to prove himself.

Wright
The Patriots will probably stay away from a player who has had off-the-field troubles -- such as Eric Wright -- for a while.

Q: Now that the Eric Wright trade with the 49ers has been cancelled and Wright was released, do you see the Patriots making a play for him as insurance should Alfonzo Dennard end up having his probation revoked?

Dave in Fall River, Mass.

A: Not now, but maybe later. Wright has had a troubled past. By adding a player with a debatable reputation after the Aaron Hernandez and Dennard situations, the Patriots would be pushing it at the worst possible time. The organization handled the Hernandez situation properly. They admitted they made a mistake. They released Hernandez. Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick addressed the press on the subject. That doesn't mean they shouldn't consider Wright at a later time. Now just isn't the time.

Q: After Jim Tressel's departure from Ohio State and his arrival at Indianapolis, Roger Goodell was clear that if the Colts didn't suspend him for some period of time (six games), the NFL would do so as a result of the tattoo-gate scandal at OSU. If that is the new standard, why isn't the same type of punishment being handed down to Chip Kelly, even if it's just a suspension for a couple of games? Prior to Tressel, Pete Carroll skated in the NFL with no punishment as well. I am struggling to understand this lack of consistency.

Stephen in Mansfield, Texas

A: I can't keep saying it enough. Tressel was a special situation. It's rare to have a college coach fired after college discipline is administered. Usually, the college coach is in the NFL before penalties are determined. The penalties on Chip Kelly turned out to be minor in the big picture. The school received a wrist slap. That shouldn't carry over into the NFL. Plus, major schools are citing flaws in the way the NCAA legislates penalties. Those were big topics at a lot of the college conference media days. Tressel's penalty isn't the standard.

Q: Seeing the horrible offerings for the Broncos at home this year vs. their away schedule, how does the NFL make their schedules and determine bye weeks? Seems to me that the No. 1 seed should get its tougher opponents at home rather than away. I think teams should play their first three and last three against the division with the other games bracketed around a bye in Week 8 or 9 (bottom 16 from previous year in 8, top 16 in 9).

Brandon in Farmington, Mass.

A: Too simplistic of a solution for a complex issue. Your division option leaves 11 weeks in which the networks won't have their most marketable and interesting games. Division games are closer and several have rivalries involved. That doesn't work. You are right about the Broncos' home-and-away schedule. The Broncos' nondivision schedule at home is easy. They play four teams with winning records and the 8-8 Cowboys on the road. But little can be done to change that. I do think the league needs to look at the home-and-away schedule. It's done in a predetermined rotation and does create issues. The Seahawks, for example, have five nondivision road games against teams with winning records. The 49ers have one. The trade-off is divisional teams play 14 of their 16 games against the same opponents.