Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my thoughts on Week 3 of the preseason:
a. Washington just sighed. Jason Campbell looked competent and confident against the Patriots.
b. Pittsburgh just sighed more deeply. Not only did Ben Roethlisberger play effectively in the 17-0 win over Buffalo, but also he moved in and out of the pocket apparently pain-free. Good news for a guy who worried he might have seriously hurt his foot two weeks earlier.
c. If I know Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, I'd bet he'll flip a coin at quarterback because he's confident in both Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford. He wanted Stafford to win the competition this summer, but it's been a downright draw.
e. ESPN must be really excited about that San Diego-Oakland season opener two weeks from tonight. All I can say is [Mike] Greenberg and Co. better get their second-half filler material stocked up before kickoff.
f. Joe Flacco's not going to have any sophomore slump, with or without a new receiver. I talked to John Harbaugh the other night and didn't get the impression the cavalry was coming in the form of Brandon Marshall or any other receiver. And certainly not Marvin Harrison, at least not until his pricetag goes way down. If the Ravens can't trust Harrison to stay healthy for 16 weeks, they're not going to commit $3 million, or whatever his number would be.
g. I don't have a Defensive Player of the Week category in the preseason, but if I did, James Farrior would be it this week: one forced fumble, one interception returned for a touchdown, one sack. Steelers 17, Bills 0.
h. Can't imagine what Turk Schonert is thinking today. The Buffalo offensive coordinator watched Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch and Dominic Rhodes combine for 52 yards in seven drives. I mean, even without T.O., that's grim.
j. Rashied Davis, the Chicago wideout, can be a gunner for my team any day.
k. Eddie Royal's a really good player. With Brandon Marshall acting like a petulant child, I could see Royal catching 110 balls in the Denver offense.
l. Patrick Chung is a punt-returning nightmare, and I don't mean that in a good way. The Patriots need to use anybody but their second-round rookie safety back there.
2. I think, if I had to guess, that Kevin O'Connell will be claimed by the Broncos. Stunning news Sunday that the Patriots cut their third-round pick of a year ago, the man I assumed would be the backup to Tom Brady. It's surprising that New England gives up on the 94th pick in the draft after just 16 months. Three quick thoughts:
a. Maybe if Josh McDaniels were still in the building, he'd have championed the cause for keeping O'Connell.
b. Scott Pioli, now the Chiefs' GM, was never afraid of going at it with Belichick if he thought the coach was making a mistake. Now there's no one in the building in Foxboro with the same juice as Pioli, so when Belichick is of the mind to cut O'Connell and no one's there asking him if he's nuts, he's more inclined to do it.
c. Maybe O'Connell just can't do it. And if that's the case, Belichick is doing the smart thing to cut the cord now and go with either Andrew Walter or someone the team will pick up or deal for in the next couple of weeks.
3. I think I haven't seen a preseason game with the energy of Chicago-Denver since ... well, maybe ever.
4. I think Donovan McNabb can't have it both ways. He can't advocate for Michael Vick to be signed, as he did, and then complain about the offense being out of rhythm, in part because of the insertion of Vick with the regular offense. McNabb had five drives with the regular offense after Vick left the game for good against Jacksonville Thursday night. Vick has to find a role in the preseason -- the Eagles didn't want to put him out there with the scrubs in the fourth quarter -- and he has but two games to do so; McNabb certainly has enough time to figure out the roles and chemistry with his young offensive players. I understand McNabb needs to feel comfortable with his guys and wants to feel right with his normal personnel groups, but Andy Reid has to shake his head about McNabb sometimes.
5. I think, speaking of the Eagles, the defense is becoming a concern. If I were coordinator Sean McDermott, I'd be a little more than concerned. Where's the pressure? Where's the red-zone defense? Can Joe Mays be an adequate replacement for Stewart Bradley (it looks like no right now)?
Philadelphia's first-team defense has been on the field for 16 drives and given up 48 points. Seeing that the average game is about 12 series per team, the Eagles' starters, in essence, have given up the game-equivalent of 36 points. And seeing that the final preseason game is fairly meaningless as far as first-teamers playing, Philadelphia will enter the season not knowing how the defense is going to play.
6. I think the most significant single play of the weekend could well have been the right-in-his-hands drop by Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez late in the first half at Detroit. The Colts are trying to give Gonzalez one of two jobs -- Marvin Harrison's right wide-receiver spot, or the slot receiver job. But Peyton Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore are waiting for Gonzalez to raise his game and grab one of the jobs. After the Gonzalez drop, Manning threw six more passes, none to Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark was back in the slot, his comfort zone with Manning.
Manning's going to throw to players he trusts, and with Gonzalez dropping a ball like that one -- and not making enough plays otherwise in the preseason -- he could well make Manning lean on Clark and rookie Austin Collie more inside, and Pierre Garcon outside. That really solves all your fantasy problems with the Colts, doesn't it?
7. I think it's been a long time since I watched a preseason game as one-sided as the Saints-Raiders. These Raiders are god-awful. You know what I think? I think Sean Payton, who likes Al Davis and Tom Cable a lot, felt sorry for them Saturday afternoon. Drew Brees was supposed to play into the third quarter at Oakland, but he got yanked 16 minutes into the game. The three drives he played: 10 plays, 80 yards, touchdown; eight plays, 67 yards, touchdown; 11 plays, 78 yards, touchdown. And when Brees left, backup Mark Brunell put up 17 more points, and it was 38-0 by the end of the third quarter. "That was embarrassing,'' said Cable.
Watching JaMarcus Russell, I think the thing that worries me is his lack of pocket awareness. In the first quarter, he held onto the ball far too long and got strip-sacked and lost the ball. He has to have the proverbial alarm clock in his head and know when to get rid of the ball.
8. I think the two candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2010, as selected by the Seniors Committee in Canton last week, will be interesting cases on election day next February. A thumbnail on both:
a. Former Lions cornerback Dick LeBeau, by the bylaws of the Hall, can be considered as a former Lions cornerback only because he is still an active NFL coach. A player or coach must be retired for five years before being considered for the Hall, but if a player retires and becomes a coach -- as in the case of LeBeau -- he can be considered as a player only.
As a player, LeBeau was a three-time Pro Bowler in 13 seasons with the Lions. He started 171 straight games at corner, a record that still stands 37 years after he set it, and his 62 career interceptions are seventh on the NFL's all-time list.
It's going to be an interesting vote. Remember when John Madden got in three years ago? He was first eligible in 1984, and his resume (10 coaching seasons only, but very good ones, and one Super Bowl title) hadn't changed since his retirement after the 1978 season. What did change, however, is that he became the best football colorman of all time, and his video game got millions of kids into the game when otherwise they might have skipped over football and gone to Grand Theft Auto or some other thing.
Although the 44 voters weren't supposed to consider anything other than Madden's coaching career, I'm sure the "lifetime achievement award'' aspect came into play when he got voted in. Same thing with LeBeau. He'll purportedly be considered only for his playing career, but how can his invention of the Zone Blitz in 1984 and the three number one defenses in Pittsburgh over the past five years and two Super Bowl titles be ignored?
b. Denver running back Floyd Little, on the surface, falls short. He had but one 1,000-yard rushing season, ran for just 43 touchdowns, averaged 3.9 yards-per-carry in his career and rushed for 54.0 yards per game. But he had the misfortune of playing for a team that had a winning record only twice in his career. He won the rushing title in 1972 and had more rushing yards (5,185) than any other back in football from 1968 to '73. He played behind Steve Tensi, Marlin Briscoe, Steve Ramsey and Charlie Johnson.
We talk in the Hall of Fame selection room every year about not discriminating against guys on historically bad teams, which this Denver team was. I guess when I think of jobbed guys on historically bad teams, I think of Tommy Nobis, Claude Humphrey and Cortez Kennedy. I'll need to be convinced a little more on Little.
9. I think Ron Jaworski, advancing tonight's Minnesota-Houston game on ESPN, came away very impressed from watching Brett Favre throw the ball over the weekend.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Lou Holtz, on Sirius NFL Radio the other day with Bob Papa and I, said he thought Florida and Notre Dame had the best shot of meeting for the national championship in college football. Now, Holtz is a heck of a guy, but I almost barfed when I heard that. His theory: Notre Dame has a cake schedule, and even if the Irish aren't the second-best team in the country (clearly the case), they still could finish 12-0 and earn the right to play for the title.
My point: Hasn't Notre Dame gone 10-15 over the last two years? And isn't USC still on the schedule? The team that outscored Notre Dame 76-3 over the last two years? I don't care if Southern Cal graduated every player on its first, second and third teams. To think Notre Dame is going to beat USC is a pipe dream. And to think Notre Dame is going 12-0 ... well, it's just not going to happen.
b. Saw Julie & Julia (and am not afraid to admit it). Cute movie. Would anyone argue that Meryl Streep's not the best actress on the planet? All the different roles she's mastered, the disparate roles, and never, ever does she look anything but absolutely natural in them. Who'd have thought she'd play Julia Child better than Julia Child played herself?
c. Saw Billy Wagner's first American League appearance after 15 years in the National League on Sunday at Fenway. Not bad: strikeout, double, strikeout, strikeout. When you get a guy who throws 95 with five weeks left in the season, and he doesn't have to close, it's a pretty big bonus for your team.
d. I hate that Tampa Bay traded Scott Kazmir to the Angels. It's bad for baseball. The Rays were one of the feel-good stories of any baseball season last year, and to think they're going to start to get ripped apart because of finances -- in the middle of a pennant race -- is a crime.
e. Coffeenerdness: I continue to be amazed at the lack of attention paid to coffee at hotels and restaurants. Do the people who run these hotels -- these Marriotts, these Days Inns, these Comfort Inns -- even taste the coffee they put out? This is not snobbery, but reality: Most of American coffee is swill.
f. That Herman Edwards Coors commercial was funny the first 11 times. Pretty sad it's already played out, and this is only the preseason.
g. The last few days were pretty emotional around our new home in Boston, with the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. I stood in the North End with hundreds of locals watching the motorcade go by, and a crying Caroline waving to the crowds. Touching, touching stuff. I just moved here, and I was captivated by it. And if you missed the story that his son, Ted Jr., told at the funeral Saturday, you've got to hear it. It's a fitting way to end the column.
Said Ted Jr.: "When I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with bone cancer and a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington, D.C. My father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway. I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg and the hill was covered with ice and snow and it wasn't easy for me to walk ... As I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice and I started to cry and I said, 'I can't do this.' I said, 'I'll never be able to climb that hill.' And he lifted me in his strong, gentle arms and said something I'll never forget. He said, 'I know you'll do it. There is nothing you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.'
"Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top, and, you know, at age 12, losing a leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK. You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable.''
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