What we know 1 month into season
Several former head coaches, like Mike Nolan, are excelling in assistant roles
Vince Young and Matt Leinart still can't find the field even on struggling teams
Cowboys' Roy Williams has not convinced anyone he's a capable No. 1 receiver
Things we know (or at least think we do) one month into the NFL's regular season....
Despite the hand-wringing and dire predictions, the New York Giants definitely have enough receiving talent. And for that matter, so do the Colts and Bears. The Giants, Colts and Bears have won 11 of a combined 12 games, and all of them have gotten bountiful contributions from their young receivers after enduring questions about the position throughout the offseason.
In New York, they're not paying for the decision to release veterans Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, the starting receivers on their 2007 Super Bowl championship team. The Giants and their 8th-ranked passing game are getting big things out of Steve Smith (team-best 34 catches, 411 yards, four touchdowns) and Mario Manningham (18 for 306, 2 touchdowns), with rookie Hakeem Nicks healthy again and starting to contribute (three catches for 72 yards and a touchdown).
In Indianapolis, even without Marvin Harrison or the injured Anthony Gonzalez, Peyton Manning leads a Colts passing game ranked best in the NFL with 330.2 yards per game. Along with stalwarts Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, Manning already has developed nice rapport with both Austin Collie (12 catches, 131 yards, 1 touchdown) and Pierre Garcon (10 for 207, 2 touchdowns).
And in Chicago, where the lack of proven receivers was a steady drumbeat for months, the Jay Cutler-led Bears are 3-1 thanks in part to the reliable play-making of rookie receiver Johnny Knox (14 catches, 190 yards, two touchdowns) and second-year man Earl Bennett (15 for 200). As is the case elsewhere, in Chicago, the no-name receivers are rapidly becoming known as dependable threats.
By my count, there are 20 ex-NFL head coaches currently serving as assistants throughout the league (excluding those who have been only interim head coaches). The ex-head coach job market has become a particularly rich source of coaching talent, with a surprisingly high number of them growing into roles that are critical to their team's success.
This season, new Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (formerly Niners head coach) and new Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (Bills) are earning plaudits for their work in helping turn underachieving Denver and New Orleans into winners. In Chicago, assistant head coach/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli (Lions) has been responsible for a noticeable upgrade of the Bears pass rush and overall defensive line play.
Last year, the Ravens offense benefited greatly from the skill of coordinator Cam Cameron (Dolphins), who got lots of credit for Joe Flacco's development. The story was roughly the same in Atlanta, where new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (Bills) helped steer the Falcons offense and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to first-year success, and in Miami, where offensive coordinator Dan Henning (Falcons, Chargers) was instrumental in the Dolphins' resurgence.
Be it Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau (Bengals), Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride (Chargers) or Eagles assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (Lions), ex-head coaches have become a valuable resource around the league, and many have rehabilitated their coaching reputations in the process.
Vince Young and Matt Leinart were big winners in college, but that isn't helping them fight their way back onto the field in the NFL. The Titans are 0-4 and the Cardinals are 1-2, but they're not benching the 36-year-old Kerry Collins or the 38-year-old Kurt Warner and giving the ball to Young or Leinart yet.
There are 14 quarterbacks drafted in the past five years who are currently starting in the NFL, but just one of them is from Young and Leinart's 2006 Class: Chicago's Jay Cutler (first round).
The 2005 class features Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Washington's Jason Campbell (both first round), Denver's Kyle Orton (fourth), Cleveland's Derek Anderson (sixth) and Kansas City's Matt Cassel (seventh).
The 2007 contingent is Oakland's JaMarcus Russell (first) and Buffalo's Trent Edwards (third). In 2008, Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco (both first round) started as rookies, and Miami's Chad Henne (second) and Tampa Bay's Josh Johnson (fifth) made their debuts in the lineup last week. And this year, of course, Detroit's Matthew Stafford and the Jets' Mark Sanchez (both first round) are rookie starters.
The Cowboys new $1.15 billion stadium is a marvel, but the Cowboys themselves aren't substantially different than the disappointing 9-7 team that we watched last season. Even without Terrell Owens around, there's still much divided opinion about Tony Romo's game, and the new, tougher, all-business version of Wade Phillips still doesn't seem to be able to do anything but stand back and watch his team ride the weekly rollercoaster.
Buffalo, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, the three teams that fired their offensive coordinators just before the season began, haven't exactly fixed their issues. The Bills, Chiefs and Bucs are a combined 1-11, with that lone win coming in head-to-head play (Buffalo beat Tampa Bay). Turk Schonert, Chan Gailey and Jeff Jagodzinski obviously weren't the whole problem.
If I had drawn up a preseason list of quarterbacks who were most likely to get hurt at some point this year, Chad Pennington, Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Bulger would have been my top four choices in some order. And for good reason, as it turns out. All of them went down in September.
With one sack and nine tackles through three games, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, he of the $1 million-plus salary per game, isn't worth his paycheck. Spectacularly.
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