NFL Week 6 sees a boom in the Big Easy and doom in the District
Washington Redskins just delaying the inevitable with Jim Zorn
New Orleans Saints, led by Drew Brees, look like best team in NFL
Comparing Andy Reid and Bill Cowher, MVP Watch and 10 Things I Think
Football Insiders: Check out Stewart Mandel's College Football Overtime column.
NEW YORK -- We usually start with the winners in this space every Monday, and we'll get to them soon enough. But today, there's something so compelling about the Washington Redskins have to start there.
No less respected a voice than Michael Wilbon blogged last night that this is the most depressing time to be a Redskins follower he's seen in 29 years of living and working in Washington. "I've never seen so many of them looking droopy and depressed than Sunday night following the pathetic 14-6 loss to the Chiefs,'' he wrote. When you play an 0-5 team, at home, a Kansas City team in the midst of the biggest rebuilding project of any in the league, and you generate more three-and-outs (seven) than points (six), it's time to do something. Anything.
And so last night, Redskins vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato met with coach Jim Zorn and asked him (well, asked might be a little kind) to relinquish the play-calling duties. I reported this on NBC last night, and then the team admitted as such, and today I expect the team will announce who exactly the new play-caller is. Smart money around the team last night was two-week-old employee Sherm Lewis, who'd been brought in to consult.
"Jim's doing too much,'' Cerrato told me. "He's coaching the quarterbacks, putting the game plan together, calling the plays, coaching the team. We need Jim to coach the team, to do what a head coach does. It's been 14 games now [the Redskins are a toothless 4-10 since last Halloween], and we've got to do something.''
This is simply an act of delaying the inevitable, of course. Zorn cannot survive. Brought in to refine everything about Jason Campbell's game, Zorn has failed there, and Sunday he had to pull Campbell in the midst of another offensive horror show. The other story here, of course, is that Campbell's contract is up at the end of this year, and now, in addition to looking for a new coach and totally overhauling an awful offensive line in the offseason, they have to find a quarterback too. How attractive, really, is the Redskins' coaching job right now? The place is a mess.
I expect Washington to give this new play-calling thing three or four weeks, and when that doesn't work, Zorn will be dismissed. I was told Sunday night that the logical in-season successor, defensive coordinator Greg Blache, doesn't want the job, and it most logically would go to secondary coach Jerry Gray. Not that this matters much; Gray would never be a candidate for the full-time gig, not with all the big-name coaches out there.
Speaking of big-name coaches, it wouldn't surprise me if Dan Snyder had dinner with one of them this weekend. Jon Gruden will be in town to do the Monday night game for ESPN. Jon Gruden wants back into football. Jon Gruden can coach quarterbacks. Be careful, Jon. Be careful.
The Saints look like the best team in the league to me.
By several measures, the Giants entered Sunday's game at the Superdome as the best defensive team in football. Midway through the second quarter, I turned to Tony Dungy in our NBC viewing room at Rockefeller Center and said, "The Giants are going to have to go for it on fourth down for the rest of the game. They just have no hope of stopping Drew Brees.''
New Orleans had six possessions in the first half. Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, a failed fourth-and-goal plunge from the Giants 1, touchdown. Brees was Tom Brady in 2007, Peyton Manning in 2003, Kurt Warner in 2000. Two more long touchdown drives in the second half, and the Saints had a 48-point, 493-yard day.
In the spring, I power-rated the Saints as the 24th-best team in football. I thought there was no hope for their defense. "Twenty-fourth!'' Sean Payton said to me a few months ago in amazement. Talk about one I wish I had back. The Saints aren't the best defense in the game, but they make up for any lack of talent by playing with an edgy attitude with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sending rushers from anywhere. "We have a lot of fun in practice,'' Williams told me. "I really piss off Drew Brees. I think he was used to getting his way with the defense around here the last couple of years. Not anymore. He's going to get a challenge from us every day in practice.''
Brees, in his 5,069-yard passing season last year, was phenomenal. This year, he's 4 percentage points more accurate, and on pace to throw 35 touchdown passes and five interceptions. Ridiculous. As long as his line keeps him as clean as it has through six games -- he's been sacked only four times -- he's going to have a phenomenal year, one of the best a quarterback has ever had.
I think a Minnesota-New Orleans NFC Championship Game would be one of the most anticipated football games of this era. Think of it: Brees and his all-world offense in one corner. Brett Favre, if he survives the year, in the other corner, with his sidekick Adrian Peterson. God, don't let any of those three men get hurt before January.
There's nothing wrong with Adrian Peterson. Nothing.
Entering Sunday's game against Baltimore, Peterson was on a four-game streak of being held under 100 yards rushing. That had happened only once, in 2007, in his pro career. What's more, teams were loading up to stop Peterson as much or more than ever, even with Favre in the backfield. Though it kept killing teams because Favre has responded so well, here came the strong safety, creeping down, even on downs when Favre might very well pass. On several plays against Green Bay two weeks ago, Peterson saw nine in the box.
"I get the question all the time, 'Are you frustrated?' '' he told me Sunday afternoon. "Are you kidding me? We're winning, we're playing explosive on offense, and I'm supposed to be frustrated. When the other guys can make plays -- Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe -- that helps us be a better team. Plus, I'm coming out of games fresher now than last year.''
I wonder how teams are going to play Minnesota going forward. We've seen the Vikings for six weeks now. The Ravens looked like they tried to hem in Peterson while relying on their corners to hold up in lots of single coverage. But Peterson rushed for 143 yards on 22 carries, and Favre ate the Baltimore secondary alive -- completing 72 percent of his throws with three touchdowns and no interceptions. There's no better combo platter of rusher and passer out there now, and I challenge you to think back to when there was. Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk come to mind, but Faulk wasn't the inside runner Peterson is.
"It's hilarious to me, watching Brett,'' Peterson said. "Sooner or later, defenses will understand they can play like that [with eight or nine men up], but Brett's going to get them if they do. The guy's arm is great. His deep ball is outstanding. Whatever they want to do, we're fine with it.'' We can see that.
Two last points on Peterson. We were stunned at NBC Sunday to see the Vikings -- with 2:30 left in the game, trailing Baltimore 31-30, with a third-and-nine at the Ravens' 17 -- to not go aggressively for the first down. "We were a little surprised too,'' Peterson said. Peterson ran for a three-yard gain, with the Vikings happy to settle for the field goal. It was a poor call because the Ravens had scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, the Vikes looked gassed on defense, and even if Ryan Longwell made the field goal, Baltimore would have two minutes to win it. Longwell made it, Baltimore drove into field goal range, and Steve Hauschka lined up for a 44-yarder with two seconds left. Wide left. I don't care if the kick was wide left; if you've got a quarterback as hot as Favre (playing nearly mistake-free in his first six games), you give him a chance to get the touchdown before settling for three.
Finally, Peterson entered the season with a gaudy career average of 5.16 yards per rush in his first two years. Jim Brownish. Just as defenses haven't changed the way they play him, Peterson's production hasn't changed one whit. After six games this year, he's averaging 5.16 yards per rush.
Rounding out the day...
I wasn't sure at first glance, but now I am: If the NFL gave Jets safety Eric Smith a one-game ban and a $50,000 fine for launching himself into Anquan Boldin last year, Dante Wesley deserves no less. The NFL should suspend him for launching himself into defenseless return man Clifton Smith as the Buc waited to take one back, Smith hadn't called for a fair catch, and Wesley had the right to cream him when the ball arrived. But the ball was still in the air when Wesley left the ground and knocked Smith into next week. A bush-league play if I ever saw one.
At least last year, Smith flew into Boldin at the same time the ball arrived. This Wesley play was worse. This morning, discipline czar Ray Anderson begins analyzing gametape, TV tape and a player's record to determine whether and how severely a player will be sanctioned. Wesley's going to get something major; that's for sure. It should involve at least one week off. Unpaid.
In the first five weeks of the season, Tom Brady didn't look much like the classic Tom Brady. But coming off knee surgery, it shouldn't be surprising that he wasn't as good early. Rodney Harrison said it was about five or six games into a season following knee surgery that he really felt back to normal. Sunday in Foxboro was number six for Brady, in the snow, and he looked much like the 2007 Brady.
In a 10-minute span of the second quarter, he threw five touchdown passes. It was a combination of the Titans being defensively inept and their offense handing it back to Brady on three turnovers and two punts. But Brady started flawlessly, seven for seven in the first quarter, and in the second completed 17 of 21 for 252 yards. He showed no hesitation in the pocket, not looking paranoid about bodies flying around him.
"Some days out there when it's snowy like that, it's actually an advantage for the offense,'' he said afterward. "Today was one of those days because we had good footing and it's just fun to be a part of it. I was saying, when you see the weather forecast on Thursday, you're kind of [angry] and then once the day of the game comes around, everyone is excited because you're out there and you're like, 'This is football. This is how it should be.' '' The Patriots haven't looked this good since 2007.
As one of my editors at SI, Dick Friedman, observed, how about a Harvard quarterback and Yale coach beating the big, bad Jets? Ryan Fitzpatrick subbed for the concussed Trent Edwards, with Yalie Dick Jauron getting a reprieve from the warden by playing opportunistic on defense.
NFL Truth & Rumors