Stat of the Week
Before Sunday, in parts of four seasons deep on the depth chart of the Steelers, Patriots and Dolphins, Patrick Cobbs touched the ball 22 times from scrimmage for a total of 86 yards.
In two touches in the first 20 minutes of the Miami-Houston game, Cobbs traveled 133 yards on two receptions (80 and 53 yards). Both went for touchdowns.
Good Guy of the Week
Chicago fullback Jason McKie.
McKie's foundation provides educational scholarships to children and other dependents of wounded or deceased soldiers who have served in the United States military. McKie also hosts one military member at each Bears home game, greets the honored soldier on the field before the game and donates four tickets to the military for each Bears home game.
McKie, the son of a military lifer, moved several times in his upbringing, and his dad worked in the Pentagon on 9/11. Jason was a student at Temple at the time, and he was determined to give back to the military if he ever held a job that made him enough money to do something selfless for men and women in uniform.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me I
In Menlo's (Atherton, Calif.) 29-26 victory over Terra Nova last weekend, the backup quarterback completed nine of nine passes for 108 yards and ran 21 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns. His name -- Jerry Rice Jr.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me II
Nice day for New Orleans wide receiver Lance Moore, who caught seven balls for 97 yards, both game-highs in New Orleans' 34-3 victory over the Raiders Sunday at the Superdome.
Not as nice as his brother Nick's day Saturday.
Nick, a University of Toledo wide receiver, caught 20 balls -- a record for a Michigan opponent -- for 167 yards in the Rockets' 13-10 upset victory.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
This isn't brand new. It's something I've noticed my last three or four times through the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. I was there Friday, late in the afternoon, around the time you'd expect a fairly major airport to be bustling with business people scurrying to change planes, or leaving town for the weekend, or just arriving here. And it felt like noontime Wednesday. A slight bustle, but nothing big. Empty shops. Sad.
I looked over at the 10-screen DEPARTURES board in the hub of the four concourses. Six screens were blank. Only four listed departing flights.
It's no wonder the Steelers are so important to so many people in the area, with the economy in the tank and the airport just another sign of it.
The Way We Were
Bill Belichick vs. Paul Brown
Similar? Impossible. Look at their sideline dress. Brown was the spiffiest dresser in NFL history, with his business suits (pleated pants), striped ties and smart fedoras. Belichick wears a gray hooded sweatshirt; not a very nice one, either. But that's where the dissimilarity ends.
Brown was brilliant, calculating, acerbic, intensely private and got fired by Art Modell as the coach of the Cleveland Browns. Sound familiar? Brown invented the facemask, the draw play, playbooks, training camps, college scouting, full-time coaching staffs and messenger guards. Belichick invented none of those. He just refined so many things. And he was a disciple of Brown's. He read books about him, asked Modell about him, took great pride in being in the same profession. Do they have something like Spygate in common? Probably not, though in Brown's day there was nothing like the intense scrutiny from the media and public that Belichick has faced in his career.
Brown invented continuing education for coaches with his film study and play-charting and long coaches' meetings. A couple of weeks after his second Super Bowl victory with the Patriots, Belichick flew to Baton Rouge and spent two days with his former defensive coordinator at Cleveland, Nick Saban, then the LSU head coach. Because Belichick knew every team on his schedule would be studying what the Patriots did and parrying their greatness, Belichick went to work with Saban on disguising what the team did on defense. Then he went to Florida to pick Jimmy Johnson's brain on the draft. Then, on vacation, he listened to books-on-tape of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life' and It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.
One thing both men believed in strongly: the football team as team. No player was bigger than the team. A cliché, but Brown lived it, and Belichick continues to. Brown never minded long contract holdouts, and he was going to bend to the demands of no man. That never came into play in Cleveland much, but when he ran the Cincinnati Bengals, Brown never lost many contract battles. Belichick let Bernie Kosar go in Cleveland and did the same in New England with Drew Bledsoe; his first Super Bowl in New England was won with a core of 17 lower- and middle-class free-agents signed before the 2001 season and a sixth-round quarterback named Tom Brady.
Brown won three NFL championships with the Browns, the same number Belichick has won in New England. I'm sure I've missed about 53 other things Belichick had in common with Brown.
What I Learned About Football This Week That I Didn't Know Last Week
Rookie Falcons coach Mike Smith is a smart guy -- and that's a partly why Atlanta has overachieved this season. It's not just because of the way he trusted Matt Ryan to run the offense four months after he stepped off the Boston College campus. It's also because of the way he has used John Abraham.
Through five weeks of the season, there was Abraham atop the sack leaderboard, with seven. No defensive player in football had as many disruptive defensive plays -- sacks, forced fumbles, recovered fumbles, interceptions -- as Abraham. "I want to be known as a complete player, not just a pass-rusher,'' he said last week. "My first five, six years in the league, all I heard was, 'You've got to play the run better.' Here, I feel like I play the run and pass well, and they're keeping me fresh enough to be able to do both.''
What would you say if I told you Abraham had been on the sidelines, through five games, for 138 of the Falcons' 320 defensive snaps, and it had been done that way by design? Abraham, through five games, was playing 57 percent of the snaps.
"It hasn't been just for preservation,'' said Smith. "It's been for effectiveness. Different players have different muscular efficiency, and what we're doing here is trying to maximize that in our guys.''
Different muscular efficiency. I can't say that I've ever heard that one before. But it seems to make sense with a guy like Abraham, who has missed 31 games due to injury in his previous eight NFL seasons. And he likes the way he's being handled, both during the week and on game days, when he's being used less than he ever has been when healthy. "I'm getting more rest during the week, and I'm rotating in and out on Sundays more than I have been,'' Abraham said. "I like it. I feel fresher, I feel I can use my athleticism for the full game now.''
Abraham has played a 16-game season four times in his career, and he has shown flashes of being an all-pro pass-rusher at various times since the Jets drafted him in the first round in 2000 out of South Carolina. But often he's faded late in seasons. Judging by the numbers, he might be on his way to playing his fewest snaps per game, while making the biggest impact of his career. The year-by-year playing time for Abraham, first with the Jets and then, since 2006, with Atlanta:
Smith has also moved Abraham almost equally between left end and right end, and dropped him into coverage. "We just want to make sure we use him in a smart way, and in a way he'll be able to help us for the full season,'' Smith said.
It sounds surprising that one of the best defensive players in football in the first half of this season is playing 36 snaps a game and sitting 28. But think about it: That's 36 times Abraham is playing like a sprinter coming out of the blocks, and getting beaten up in traffic. Rather than have him play 60 plays and be physically spent -- leading, perhaps, to an injury of fatigue -- it just seems smart to make sure he still has gas left in the tank in the fourth quarter and in Week 17.