The Fine 15
1. Dallas (3-0). Before the draft, Dallas director of college scouting Tom Ciskowski told those inside the walls at Valley Ranch -- and I paraphrase here -- to not be so smitten with Darren McFadden; that Felix Jones, the swifter Arkansas back, would be the better change-of-pace runner for the Cowboys. And boy, after three games, was Ciskowski ever right. Jones' 60-yard TD scamper Sunday night was the difference-maker in the win over Green Bay.
2. Philadelphia (2-1). Two different defenses. The Eagle D had zero pass-rush in Dallas and allowed 41 points in the Monday nighter. On Sunday, the Eagles smelled blood in the water (with Ben Roethlisberger and his separated shoulder the reason), blitzed on practically every passing down and held the Steelers to six points.
3. New York Giants (3-0). "Don't give me that flat stuff,'' Tom Coughlin said after a flat-looking Giants performance in the overtime win over the Bengals. Say this about the G-men: They had enough offense in overtime to drive down the field when they had to.
4. Green Bay (2-1). Did you see the jump pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings, with Rodgers twisted to the right and throwing it way off-balance? As we sat in the green room near the studio at the Football Night in America set, Cris Collinsworth blurted out: "That's Favrian!'' Too bad the Packers defense wasn't Reggie White-ian last night.
5. Pittsburgh (2-1). How can Roethlisberger last 16 games after getting hit as much as he has been through the first three?
6. Tennessee (3-0). Why do I have Tennessee 6 and Denver 7? Simple. The Broncos allowed 32 points Sunday. The Titans have allowed 29 this season.
7. Denver (3-0). They may not win the Super Bowl. They will, however, lead the NFL in excitement.
8. Buffalo (3-0). Aren't you starting to get the feeling that Trent Edwards is going to be a top 10 quarterback for a long time? I am.
9. Tampa Bay (2-1). The final 23 plays of the fourth quarter for the Bucs: passes.
10. New England (2-1). The other day, Miami linebacker Joey Porter, in discussing rookie quarterback Matt Cassel of the Patriots, said of the Dolphins' defensive game plan for Cassel: "You throw the kitchen sink at him, and that's what we're going to do.'' The results of said kitchen sink being tossed at Cassel were pretty great; the Pats lost by 25.
Now, with the bye week coming up, the question is whether New England will try to persuade Vinny Testaverde to come out of retirement at 44, or look elsewhere for quarterback help. Cassel looked really bad ...
And so you ask me: Why are the Pats 10th in the Fine 15? Two reasons. They've got the bye coming up, and I think they're smart enough to figure out what went so horribly wrong. Second, they've gone 2-1 without Tom Brady, including a well-managed win on the road at the Jets in Week 2. One horrible day in the NFL doesn't amount to a whole lot.
11. Jacksonville (1-2). Finally got the running game going. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew had 45 carries between them as the Jags controlled the clock for 42 minutes. Taylor had 121 yards, Jones-Drew 107.
12. Indianapolis (1-2). Imagine if Peyton Manning hadn't pulled the rabbit out of the Metrodome hat last week. The sky would be falling right about now.
13. Baltimore (2-0). Didn't see a lot of the rout of the Browns, but what I did see of the Baltimore defense was smothering. Baltimore's opponent passer rating is 26. It's a rule in the Ray Lewis era that every tackle the Ravens make has to hurt a lot.
14. Minnesota (1-2). Good call, Brad Childress, switching quarterbacks to try to save the season.
15. San Diego (0-2). Week 17, Denver at San Diego. My guess is Mike Pereira will not assign Ed Hochuli to officiate the game. Just a guess.
What I Learned About Football This Week That I Didn't Know Last Week
Mike Shanahan hasn't called the offensive plays in Denver for nine years.
Admit it: That surprises you. It stunned me when I learned about it Saturday in Denver. He gave it up after the Broncos started 0-4 in 1999. Gary Kubiak held the responsibility the longest, before becoming Houston's coach in 2006. Now it's up to 32-year-old quarterback coach Jeremy Bates, who calls the plays into quarterback Jay Cutler's headset, with Shanahan having the option to overrule him. He rarely does. Shanahan might make a play call or trump Bates' call two or three times a game.
The game plan is a collaborative effort between offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who is responsible for run plays and protections, and Bates, who draws up the passes. Shanahan makes some suggestions during the week while the game plan is being formulated, but it's mostly a Dennison/Bates production. Dennison and Bates also come up with the "First 18,'' Denver's version of the old Bill Walsh "First 15,'' when the first 18 offensive snaps of the game are set in stone (except if a third-and-inches call, for instance, has to be made).
Dennison and Bates figure out which run plays and pass plays will work best each week against the defense they're playing, then list them by down-and-distance, print them on a laminated play sheet, and call the plays from that sheet on game day. Bates makes the calls, a heavy responsibility for such a young coach. But it's a natural fit. Bates is the one meeting with Cutler all week and finding out what plays he thinks are the best fit for that week's opponent. It makes sense that the coach communicating with Cutler most one-on-one during the week is the one calling the plays into his helmet during games.