Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 3:
a. I'd expect both LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle) and Shawne Merriman (groin) to play for San Diego next week in Pittsburgh.
b. Chargers are 0-13 in Pittsburgh in regular-season games. Strangely, San Diego is 2-1 in Pittsburgh in the postseason.
c. Not the best look for Jeff Fisher, that sky-blue long-sleeve thing designed to approximate what the Houston Oilers once wore. I guarantee you Bum Phillips never wore that interesting piece of material someone made Fisher wear. It looked like what a girl would wear as a nightie to a high school sleepover.
d. Awful, awful, awful Jets' throwbacks. The only thing worse on the Giants Stadium field Sunday was the officials' garb. I believed I said the old AFL officials' unis made the men in stripes look like creamsicles when these things debuted in the opening Monday-nighter at Foxboro. Ditto.
e. Re the Seattle shock-green uniforms, which are to the eyes what a triple-espresso is to the heart rate: I didn't hate them as much as I thought I would.
f. Three weeks into the season and the Colts have a three-game lead on the Titans.
g. Did it rain on every football game Sunday, or was it just my imagination?
h. Excellent touch by Jim Schwartz, sending the Lions back out on the field from the locker room to thank fans for supporting the team.
i. Jim Mora sounds like he'll be bringing a kicker (Brandon Coutu?) in this week to challenge Olindo Mare, who missed 43- and 34-yard field goal attempts on a perfect weather day in Seattle. "No excuses for those,'' Mora said. "Not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable."
j. If I were Raheem Morris, I'd want to see more of Josh Johnson. He didn't look bad in garbage time against the Giants.
k. Chad Henne could have used some help from his receivers, but he had an uneven day after replacing Chad Pennington. I expect Pennington to be out this week, meaning Henne and Pat White would be the Miami quarterbacks. That's it.
2. I think in the tampering charges files by San Francisco against the New York Jets over the Michael Crabtree situation, the 49ers have something more than Deion Sanders saying two teams would be willing to pay Crabtree a contract of at least $40 million.
(The absurdity of that, by the way. The sixth pick this year, Andre Smith, got four years and $26 million; the seventh pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey, got five years and $38 million. The 49ers cannot trade Crabtree's draft rights this year, so this means to get $40 million, he'd have to either have his rights dealt when the next league year begins next March, or he'd have to re-enter the draft and hope to get picked in the top six or seven players. Now, is there a team that, picking that high, would invest $40 million in someone who hadn't played football in a year-and-a-half?)
But I feel the organization is mostly firing a shot across the bow of any other team that might think of playing footsy with Crabtree, agent Eugene Parker or any of his advisers, such as Sanders.
3. I think -- and trust me on this -- Jim Zorn's going nowhere soon other than to work coaching the Washington Redskins. As I said on TV last night, the Redskins can't fire the man who's not only their coach but also their quarterback teacher and offensive play-caller. And as I didn't say, Daniel Snyder is hardly giving his interim head-coaching job to defensive boss Greg Blache, whose men surrendered 381 yards to the Lions (the Lions!) Sunday. Now, if the Redskins continue to play lousy football on the JV portion of their schedule (next three: Tampa Bay, at Carolina, Kansas City), I guarantee nothing about Zorn's future. But this week, next week? He's safe.
4. I think there's no question the happiest man in the league Sunday night was Carson Palmer. He might not have shown it, but I can tell you the immense personal satisfaction he derived from that game in Cincinnati. When I convened five quarterbacks for the SI quarterback roundtable in Lake Tahoe in July, Palmer was the de facto leader of the group. He was into the topics, and I thought he liked how the others there looked at him with the respect they all obviously had for him.
Palmer was sitting next to Ben Roethlisberger when I asked the guys who they hated. "Since I've been in the league,'' Palmer said, "the Steelers have been at the top of our division. We just happen to be in the same division. You always want what you don't have. You're always jealous because you all want the same thing. [Turning to Roethlisberger.] He's got two Super Bowl rings; we all want one. They've got two and you're jealous, you're envious, you want what they have and personally ... Ben, don't take this the wrong way, but when the Steelers were in the playoffs [in 2005], after I got hurt and I was on the couch and I was watching in California, and Jon Kitna was back in Cincinnati and we were going back and forth talking during every playoff game as it went on every week. I was like, 'Oh, I just can't watch. I can't believe they're winning,' and I'm just pissed off and mad, like drinking beers and throwing bottles against the walls because you just kept going.''
And then Palmer went out Sunday and outdueled Roethlisberger 35 miles from Big Ben's college campus in Oxford, Ohio. That's a great day for Palmer.
5. I think, from the sound of the boos at Oakland on Sunday, the locals have had just about enough of JaMarcus Russell. His first three series: three-and-out, interception on a deep ball intended for Heyward-Bey, another interception on a deep ball intended for Heyward-Bey. That dug the Raiders a 10-0 hole they could never get out of, and Oakland had to throw mostly short stuff the rest of the day, fearful of Russell turning it over more. His 12 completions resulted in a measly 61 yards. I'm starting to think we're watching the second coming of Ryan Leaf.
6. I think, thanks to columnist Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, I'd like to set the story straight on the origins of the Wildcat formation. I, like so many peers in the past 12 months, have credited former Arkansas assistant coach David Lee -- now the Dolphins' quarterback coach -- for importing the option offense to the NFL. Lee did bring it to pro football, but he isn't responsible for inventing it. It was actually the Arkansas offensive coordinator in 2006, Gus Malzahn, who introduced it to college football, where he brought it from an Arkansas high school state championship team.
In 2006, Malzahn used it, in part to get Darren McFadden and Felix Jones on the field at the same time and to make defenses wonder which one of the talented backs would be getting the ball on a given play. McFadden began taking many direct snaps, instead of the snaps going to the quarterback; he even threw a touchdown pass in the 2006 SEC West-clinching victory over Tennessee.
In 2007, Malzahn moved to Tulsa as offensive coordinator, ceding the Arkansas job to Lee. Lee continued to use the Wildcat that year, then brought it to Miami when hired as the quarterback coach in 2008. A year ago, in a Week 3 game at New England, Miami head coach Tony Sparano decided to revitalize a moribund offense by inserting the Wildcat into pro football. Lee helped the offensive staff install it, choosing running back Ronnie Brown to be the triggerman, and the Dolphins scored four touchdowns out of the formation in Foxboro, leading to a 38-13 victory.
The Dolphins continue to use it, and we see it league-wide now, as we did Sunday with Michael Vick in his first NFL appearance since 2006.
7. I think this is what I liked about Week 3:
a. Mark Sanchez's guts in going for the end zone on a 14-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter.
b. Ahmad Brooks, the San Francisco linebacker in Patrick Willis' shadow, made a tremendous knockdown of Percy Harvin, sniffing out a reverse and nailing him for a loss.
c. Aaron Curry is starting to make impact plays for the Seahawks, like his strip-sack of Jay Cutler that led to a field goal and a 19-17 Seattle lead in the fourth quarter.
d. Odd that Ray Rice scored his first NFL touchdown Sunday. Seems like he's had 10. I'll tell you this: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would take the combined product of Rice and Willis McGahee from Sunday (18 carries, 115 yards, three touchdowns) every game for the rest of his life.
e. Speaking of offensive Ravens, Michael Oher would get some consideration from me for offensive rookie of the year if I had to fill out my ballot this morning.
f. But Mark Sanchez or Percy Harvin (touchdown in all three NFL games) would win it.
g. That is not a misprint in your morning paper or evening Internet source: Atlanta middle linebacker Curtis Lofton had 19 tackles at New England.
h. Arizona probably hated the Week 4 bye when the schedule came out. I bet the Cards love it now. They need it.
8. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 3:
a. If the Chiefs' biggest area of concern isn't the offensive line, it should be.
b. What an embarrassing replay review by Alberto Riveron's crew at New England, ruling a Matt Ryan incompletion (as clear as day an incompletion and not a fumble), forcing the Falcons to throw a challenge flag, and taking away the New England momentum by making each team stand around for three minutes. And then, when he came back to admit the ruling on the field was wrong, he said, "New England will not be charged with a timeout.'' Atlanta, sir. Geez.
c. Joey Galloway is killing the New England offense.
d. The Redskins can't allow Kevin Smith to average 6.3 yards per rush. It's easy to nail Jason Campbell for everything that ails the 'Skins, but that defense has to start playing, period.
e. I can't believe how bad the Browns looked in Baltimore. As Olbermann said, "Tackling was optional.'' When I picked Cleveland to go 2-14 in SI before the season, my reasons were simple: The Browns don't have a quarterback, don't have an offensive weapon who scares a defensive coordinator, and don't have a defensive player (except maybe Shaun Rogers) who you have to gameplan around. Nothing's changed. What's sad is the Browns aren't in better shape for the future than they were as an expansion team in 1999.
f. Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, St. Louis, Oakland ... 32, 31, 30, 29, 28.
g. In the eight quarters following his energetic Monday night debut, Richard Seymour has six tackles and zero sacks.
h. Terrell Owens' stats for the year: five catches, 98 yards, zero impact. Shutout Sunday against the Saints.
9. I think this is the best example of how you never pick up where you leave off in the NFL: Eight months ago, Pittsburgh and Arizona went down to the wire in a thrilling Super Bowl. Now they're a combined 2-4, and it would be 1-5 if Tennessee played even semi-clutch down the stretch in the season opener against the Steelers. And each looks so vulnerable; Pittsburgh can't run nor protect Ben Roethlisberger. Arizona got manhandled by a decent Indy defensive front Sunday night. It always seems strange when last year's champs struggle so mightily the following year, but it happens so often that you'd have to be na´ve to be surprised by it.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. And as far as I'm concerned, the more Funkhauser, the better.
b. Should I watch the Strahan show? I suppose I should invest 30 minutes for my old Montclair neighbor, but the premise of the show holds no interest for me. I'd like to hear your feedback.
c. Courtney Cox must bury her head in her hands when she realizes how her career is being dragged through the mud by this idiotic show about picking up younger men.
d. Adam Dunn's career is the most interesting of any player in baseball by far. He hit 40 home runs in 2005. He hit 40 home runs in 2006. He hit 40 home runs in 2007. He hit 40 home runs in 2008. He has 38 home runs with seven games left. Bad news: Only problem with this wonderful symmetry is Dunn has three homers in Washington's last 25 games. Good news: He's got three games with the Mets today through Wednesday. Mediocre news: He's got between 164 and 194 strikeouts in each of these five symmetrical seasons. Well, at least you know what you're getting when you draft him for your rotisserie team.
e. Poor Jason Varitek. He'd be the last guy to want your pity, but if he plays at all the rest of the way for Boston, that's what he's going to get. His swing is ridiculously off (he's hitting .122 since July 31), and one of the best defensive catchers in the game is now being embarrassed as a defender. He's last in the major league in throwing base-stealers out. He's gunned down only 13 percent this year, just 16 out of 123 (though he did nail Robinson Cano Sunday). It's like Willie Mays staying too long with the Mets.
f. I thought the Yankees couldn't pitch. They look pretty good to me.
g. Swine flu is coming. We're not even in flu season and I know six people who've come down with it.
h. Saw The Informant! the other day. Mildly entertaining. About 25 minutes too long, and I'm not sure the plot's worthy of a movie.
i. Hope you're OK, Tim Tebow. That was a scary thing, a violent concussion.
j. Coffeenerdness: True story in Starbucks in Boston's South End Saturday morning. Man, about 23, waiting for in long line for his drink, picks up New York Times (without paying), walks into men's room. Five minutes pass. Man walks out straightening out the paper, puts the paper back in the pile of Times copies, picks up his drink and walks out.
k. Remember when George Costanza took the art book into the men's room at the big bookstore, and he had to buy it? That's what I was thinking here -- only Starbucks-fouler got away with it.
l. Was it just my hotel TV in Manhattan, or was the sound awful on U2's "Breathe'' on Saturday Night Live? I heard Sunday that U2 had its own sound-mixers for the performance, and that may have played a part in the awful distortion of the music.
m. I would have liked to have laughed at least once in the endless Khaddafy spoof that opened the Saturday Night Live season.
Who I Like Tonight
Dallas 33, Carolina 24. Romo channels his inner Dan Fouts and has another 300-yard game, getting the baying hounds off his doorstep for a few minutes.
But instead of previewing the game, I thought I'd review the Cowboys Stadium -- from a player's perspective. I asked Giants tackle David Diehl for his perspective on the noise, the spectacle, the walking onto the field through a fancy bar. Diehl's thoughts:
"You pull up to the place in the bus, and you're amazed at the size. I mean, it's three times the size of Giants Stadium. None of us had ever seen a stadium this big. It was cool before the game to be warming up and to be able to see the highlights of the other games and see how incredibly clear the video picture was ... Walking out before the game, you feel a little like an animal in a zoo. Normally, you go onto the field through a tunnel, and there's no one there but you and your teammates and the coaches. But the people there, and most of them are drinking, obviously -- you hear a lot of things. You're sort of trapped in there, with people pounding on the glass at you ...
"The [video] boards are so high above the field that when you're playing, you don't even notice them. I'll tell what was frustrating to me. I'm always looking for down-and-distance on the scoreboard, and in most stadiums, you can look on the side and see it pretty easily. But in this place, there are mostly ads where that normally is. Miller Lite, Dr Pepper ad screens instead of the down-and-distance. I found it in the corner of the end zone, but it's hard to see ...
"When we were on the sidelines, I didn't find myself looking up all that much, because you're at a bad angle to the boards. I'd glance up every now and then, but I didn't spend the game when the defense was on the field watching the TV ... As far as the atmosphere, I thought it would have been a lot louder. It was loud at the beginning, then at the end, but there were times you were surprised at so many people without all the noise.''
Overall? "Exciting, really exciting,'' Diehl said. "Stadiums are becoming big attractions. This is the future of the NFL -- bigger, glamorous stadiums.''
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