Jim Harbaugh to face star pupil
Harbaugh knows how to get the most out of quarterbacks, and Luck offered perhaps more talent than any quarterback coming through the college ranks in decades. Together they won.
On Sunday, they reunite on opposite sides of the field as the mentor becomes his student's competition. It should be fun to watch. Both are ultimate competitors. Their union at Stanford helped make Harbaugh a great coach, and Harbaugh and his staff helped make Luck an elite QB prospect.
It's clear why they worked so well together. There is no sense of entitlement for either, evidenced by a story Harbaugh recently relayed about Luck's freshman year.
Harbaugh told Luck he was thinking about starting him. A surprised Luck came back and said he didn't feel as though he had earned the job. The freshman's reaction was exactly how Harbaugh would've reacted as a player and later as a coach. Neither believes he should be given anything; each believes he must earn it through work and talent.
Expect an old-school type of game. Although the NFL is becoming a game of fast-paced offenses and spread formations, Harbaugh and Luck prefer the conservative approach. The 49ers are primarily a two-back, pound-the-ball team that wins with a hard-hitting defense and a great young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. Only in pressing situations will Harbaugh resort to three-receiver sets.
In two games, the 49ers have lined up in three-receiver formations only 37 times, third lowest in the league.
The Colts hired former Stanford quarterback coach Pep Hamilton to help better protect Luck. Hamilton is having Luck throw quicker, shorter passes and is trying to transform the team into more of a power-running, balanced offense.
With Harbaugh and Luck as their leaders, it appears both teams are trying to do things the "Stanford way."
Here are the 10 trends to follow in Week 3:
1. Two franchises going in different directions: By trading next year's first round pick to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson, the Colts are trying to cash in on a championship now. Injuries made this trade necessary. In the past week, the Colts lost halfback Vick Ballard, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The loss of Allen hurt their two-tight end attack, while losing Ballard left them thin and vulnerable in the backfield. Richardson gives the Colts a running back who can handle 20 carries a game and help fulfill their desire to be a power-running team. The trio of Luck, Richardson and Reggie Wayne gives Hamilton a group similar to what the Colts once had with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James. On the other side of the trade, the Browns are checking out of the playoff race before the Cleveland Indians. Not only did they trade away the third pick in the 2012 draft after he played in 17 games, they opted to play Brian Hoyer instead of solid backup Jason Campbell in place of injured starter Brandon Weeden. It's not as though the Browns are tanking the season, but organizationally they are thinking more about drafting a quarterback next year than winning in 2013. They have seven picks in the first four rounds and the flexibility to use their extra picks in Rounds 1, 3 and 4 to trade up to get the quarterback of their liking. This week, the Browns play the Minnesota Vikings with little hopes of winning. Pity the Browns' fans. Last year, the Browns sacrificed wins to go young on offense. Now, they have traded away a potential 300-carry back and have turned Weeden into a transitional quarterback.
2. No fantasy for running backs: The NFL's ground game has slowed to a crawl during the first two weeks of the season. Teams are averaging only 98.6 rushing yards per game. Injuries will probably further complicate the situation this week. The Atlanta Falcons thought Steven Jackson was the missing piece in their offense, and now he's going to be missing for 2-3 weeks because of a hamstring injury. The Falcons face a Miami Dolphins team averaging 60.5 rushing yards a game and a meager 2.4 yards a carry. The Baltimore Ravens are holding their breath to see if Ray Rice will be able to face the Houston Texans despite a hip flexor injury he sustained last week. Even if he plays, he probably won't have a large impact on the game. Reggie Bush has taken two hits to his knees in two weeks but hopes to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. The Packers' Eddie Lacy is probably going to miss Sunday's game against the Bengals with a concussion. Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew suffered a sprained ankle last week but thinks he will play against Seattle, and Arizona's Rashard Mendenhall is hoping to suit up against New Orleans despite a hamstring injury.
3. Blindside problems: Denver's Manning lost left tackle Ryan Clady for the season with a bad foot injury. We will have to wait until Monday night to see how the Broncos adjust on offense. Without Clady, Manning can't linger in the pocket for long. Fortunately, he is one of the best quarterbacks in history at getting rid of the football, although he will lose the luxury of trying to throw longer passes. Without Clady, the Broncos might have to try more two-tight end sets. They are primarily a three-receiver offense this year with Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but the Broncos might be able to experiment with different looks against Oakland. Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung is out indefinitely with a toe injury. His loss Sunday night against the 49ers caused problems for Russell Wilson, who had to handle some blocking breakdowns along the left side of the line. Texans left tackle Duane Brown is battling a toe injury, which could loom large because the Texans need him to be healthy against a physical Ravens defensive line.
4. Big week for the inter-conference tests: AFC teams went 4-0 against the NFC last week, trying to make up for last year's dominance by the NFC, which went 39-25 against the AFC. The AFC West, considered the league's weakest division entering the season, went 3-0 against the NFC East. Five NFC teams are favored in the seven inter-conference games slated for this week. Perhaps the best matchup is Green Bay-Cincinnati. The Packers may not be as deep in pass-catchers as they were a year ago, but they were deep enough for Aaron Rodgers to throw for 480 yards last week against Washington. The Bengals might be the deepest team at the skill positions. Colts-49ers features two playoff teams from last year. Jacksonville will have a tough time winning in Seattle. With Richardson gone and Weeden hurt, the Browns try to get their first win at Minnesota. New England hopes to get its offense started against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
5. A preview of a future AFC playoff game: The Baltimore Ravens are the defending champs. The Houston Texans are once again favorites to win the AFC South and are one of the best teams in the conference. Sunday's showdown in Baltimore should be interesting because these teams could meet again in the playoffs. After revamping their talent on defense and losing their top two inside pass-receiving threats, the Ravens didn't have the look of a division winner in their first two games. Defensively, they will be fine, but the offense needs to find options. Joe Flacco has lost Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta and won't have speed receiver Jacoby Jones for a few more weeks because of a knee injury. As expected, Flacco has had to hold the ball longer to wait for receivers to get open. Life will be even tougher if Rice can't play or isn't 100 percent because of his hip injury. The Texans still don't know if they will have the debut of former Raven Ed Reed, but they come to town with a fun team. Matt Schaub has brought the team from behind twice in a 2-0 start.
6. Desperation time in Pittsburgh: The Steelers know they are in trouble. Their offensive line hasn't blocked well. Offensive players don't look comfortable. The running game is missing. Ben Roethlisberger isn't coming up with big plays. At 8-8, the Steelers looked like an average team last year. If they lose Sunday night to the Chicago Bears, they could be looking at a rare losing season. The Bears come to town with confidence. New head coach Marc Trestman was hired to improve Jay Cutler, who looks comfortable and has two fourth-quarter comeback wins. Trestman also vowed to get everyone involved in the offense, and the Bears are getting the ball to just about anyone who is active.
7. Desperation in Carolina: The Giants are 0-2 because of turnovers. The Panthers are 0-2 because they aren't winning the close ones. Still, the Giants should have an edge because of the Panthers' secondary. Although the Panthers might have one of the best front seven defensive fronts in football, they might have one of the weakest secondaries. Things got worse when they lost safety Charles Godfrey for the season with an Achilles tear. Meanwhile, four cornerbacks are on the injury report for various ailments. You'd have to think Eli Manning will attack that secondary.
8. No defense for the defense: The main topic in Washington, D.C., is the slow start for quarterback Robert Griffin III coming off knee reconstruction. A bigger concern is a defense that is giving up 512 yards a game, including 311 through the air. It doesn't get easier for the Redskins' defense, because it faces Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. Stafford has thrown for 635 yards in his first two games. Some might say the Redskins' offensive problems have put the defense on the field too long. There is some truth in that. But it's going to be up to the defense to stop drives, or this season will slip away very quickly. RG III was expected to get off to a slow start. He had no preseason and has to be more of a pocket passer because he's not up to full speed.
9. Divisional battles: After two weeks, the NFL usually starts scheduling more non-divisional games in order to save top divisional games for December. Still, there are two divisional matchups this week. Denver should have an easy time with the Oakland Raiders on Monday night. The under-the-radar game is Buffalo against the New York Jets. Rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel (Bills) and Geno Smith (Jets) face each other. The winner will be 2-1 and might feel as though it can compete in the AFC East.
10. Take the over: Passing yards and passing touchdowns are at all-time highs -- expect a few shootouts this weekend. The Drew Brees-Carson Palmer matchup should produce a lot of points and a lot of yards when the New Orleans Saints play at Arizona. The St. Louis-Dallas game should produce great stats. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is getting plenty of explosive plays out of his young offense. Chris Givens and Jared Cook are each averaging 18.9 yards a catch. Brian Quick is averaging 15.5. The Rams need to keep finding ways to get rookie Tavon Austin involved in their offense. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo vows to go downfield more. He'll keep looking for Dez Bryant, who's off to an impressive start.