Morgan of Cordelo, Ga., questions, 1) Pittsburgh's rust from the week off, and 2) whether the Jets have received enough credit this year. Pittsburgh didn't strike me as rusty, just involved in a good, tight game. The Jets got plenty of credit, but unfortunately what will be remembered is the choke in the Steelers game.
Jim of State College, Pa., likes the Patriots' Tedy Bruschi much better as a Pro Bowl MLB than the Steelers' James Farrior and says the stats back him up and wonders why no one else can see this. Well, your stats are wrong. Farrior has slightly more tackles, not that I take this statistic all that seriously. I agree with you, though, that Tedy should be in the Pro Bowl. I would rank the NFL's MLB's: Farrior No. 1 and Bruschi No. 2.
Matt of Philly wonders when a cornerback should look back for the ball. Well, he can't be looking while he's running. Usually when the receiver starts showing some ball recognition, the defender looks, too.
Alex the Upset Football Fan from Reston, Va. (and I hope you appreciate the fact that I included all this nonsense along with your name), cringes when people compare Tom Brady to Joe Montana. He feels that Brady is more a product of the Belichick-Weis system. Guess what, Alex, we've had our first fight. My first Hall of Fame vote for a QB of this era will go for Brady. His comparison with Montana is valid in one regard -- as the stakes get higher, so does the quality of their performance, until they're at the absolute top of their game when they're at championship level.
Andy of Detroit pays me some very nice compliments, but then sets up a scenario that has me scratching my poor little grey head. The Lions put up a great effort against Michael Vick and the Falcons, Andy says. The Eagles have a "special assistant coach" who used to coach those Lions and still has a good relationship with Steve Mariucci. What will the ruboff be? "My thought is that you'll be able to watch the game tape of Eagles-Falcons and Lions -- Falcons side by side and swear you're watching the same game," he adds. Well, for Philly's sake, I hope not. The only game Marty Mornhinweg, former Lions head coach, current Eagles assistant, coached against the Falcons came in 2002. Atlanta won 36-15. Vick threw for 337 yards and ran for another 42. The teams didn't meet last year, when Mariucci coached Detroit.
Michael of Philadelphia fears there's something wrong with DavidAkers' kickoffs. Either not very deep or not enough hang time. Or maybe it's the coverage unit. What's the problem, and who is the league's best kickoff man? Thank you, Michael. You just gave me a 40-minute research project.
OK, let's start at the beginning. The Eagles' kick coverage numbers aren't good -- 23.2 yards per runback, tied for sixth worst in the league. This is deceiving, though, because if the kickoff man sends a high floater to, say, the 15-yard line, there isn't going to be a long runback, but a kick to the goal line will produce a longer return. Akers' kickoffs are deep enough. His hang time? Well, four seconds or better is very good on a kickoff. Anything under 3.85 or so is not so good. I have my figures on his hang times for the last four Eagles games I've seen, both with and against the wind. Green Bay game -- inaccurate, because the networks kept picking up the kickoff in progress. Ditto for some of the kickoffs in the divisional playoff against the Vikings, but I did get clockings on four of them. Not very good, but he was kicking a very cold ball, a brick. And he did send two into the end zone for touchbacks.
Baltimore game in Philly: two out of five kickoffs went over four seconds and all went deep. There was one 4.41 monster, against the wind, deep into the end zone, a terrific effort. Against the Steelers in Heinz -- a 4.10 touchback with the wind, a 3.63 liner against it, but it did carry into the end zone and was not returned.
Akers had 12 touchbacks on the season, tied for fifth best. He was definitely not the problem this year. The NFL's leading touchback man was Neil Rackers of the Cardinals, way ahead of the pack with 23. I saw four Cardinals games in Sun Devil Stadium (six touchbacks), and in two of them, the wind was blowing hard. Nevertheless, Rackers is a pretty good hang-time man. Against the Seahawks on October 24, he hung four of his kicks for more than four seconds, with a high of 4.17. So who's the best? Not sure. If I had about four hours to log in all my hang times and placements, I could come close to an answer, but they'd also be ready to have me committed.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His Power Rankings, "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com.