Week 1 Gameplan (cont.)
1. Whether the rebuilt Baltimore secondary can handle Pittsburgh's speed. Ever hear of Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith? The Ravens will play lots of corner combinations this year I'm sure, but this week, Williams and the first-round rookie, Smith, will be the most important cover guys against a rising-start group of receivers in Ben Roethlisberger's stable.
Smith, a 6-foot-1 physical corner from Colorado, will be under the microscope early and often. "I'm not worried about him," speedy Steeler receiver Mike Wallace told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He needs to worry about us. We're going to be coming at him." Fair warning.
2. The NFL Matchup Show. My favorite Sunday morning TV is back with the same crew (Sal Paolantonio hosting, Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge analyzing, Greg Cosell and his minions tape-dissecting) on ESPN (3 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. ET) and ESPN2 (8:30 a.m. ET) with these stories to kick off the season: why Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons is woefully underrated; the myth of Houston as a 3-4 team; and clues for the Dallas-Jets game by looking at defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's game plan last year when he was with Cleveland playing the Jets.
3. Kerry Collins. Seventeen days after ditching a comfy retirement with no thoughts about ever playing football again, Collins goes up against Wade Phillips' attacking new defense. Rookie Anthony Castonzo is protecting the quarterback's blind side at left tackle. Mario Williams will be rushing over Castonzo a lot. I mean, I'm just saying.
4. Nnamdi Asomugha in the slot. He hasn't played much slot corner, but when the Eagles go to nickel against Sam Bradford Sunday in St. Louis, he's likely to move inside to do so in some formations. He stayed outside most of his years in Oakland, and playing inside, Asomugha is likely to be ping-ponged around a bit more, bruised and bumped. We'll see how he handles that, plus how he handles the slippery Danny Amendola of the Rams when they match up. This is no walkover, folks. By the way, you can hear 40 minutes of Asomugha here, on my inaugural NFL podcast for SI.
5. How the Jags respond to the mayhem of the week. No wonder the Jag fans didn't go to the box office in a gold rush for tickets to the opener against Tennessee. Luke McCown's starting at quarterback. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Jack Del Rio thought so much of McCown that he never got on the field in the third preseason game, when you generally play your starters (and those due for significant playing time) most of the game.
The Jags, through an email from GM Gene Smith to the Florida Times Union, were left to clean up the mess after Del Rio's decision to cut David Garrard a couple of hours after he was introduced as the quarterback of the team at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "It was not my intent to be insensitive to a man and a family I have great admiration for," Smith wrote to the paper. "Immediately after the event, Jack and I and then [owner] Wayne [Weaver] sat down with David to discuss the decision that was made in the best interests of the team.
As it relates to the kickoff event or really any of the events that took place Tuesday, I take full responsibility. Obviously, it would have been easier and would have made the release seamless had we done it over the weekend. I kept an open mind to making the final decision on the QB decision until Tuesday, so if keeping an open mind and being dilatory in the process is a mistake, then I made a mistake."
It'll be interesting to see the reaction to the Jags by the crowd if they fall behind early Sunday.
6. How 9/11 affects the games, and the games on TV. All players and coaches will wear 9/11 ribbons on the 10-year anniversary of the event Sunday, and they'll join with fire and police officials in every stadium to hold huge American flags for the national anthem, and taps will be played over the sound systems. All that is good. I'm not anti-commemoration, but I just hope it doesn't become a maudlin event. Football helps Americans deal with the pain of things like 9/11, but I don't think it helps to wallow in it all day.
7. The hospital ward that is the New York Giants defense. The two rushers, Osi Umenyiora (knee surgery) and Justin Tuck (neck) are out and questionable, respectively, for the game at Washington. The middle linebacker and signal-caller, Jonathan Goff, is gone for the year after a practice-week knee injury the other day. Stalwart corners Terrell Thomas (ACL surgery) and Prince Amukamara (broken foot), and nickel guy Bruce Johnson are out.
If you're the Giants going to Washington on Sunday, you're thinking you'd better have lots of time-consuming drives to keep the ball away from the Redskins. "We're going down to win a football game on Sunday and we're not crying," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
No truth to the rumor that Tom Coughlin found Fewell in the fetal position before practice Thursday, rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself.
8. Chad Pennington doing Cam Newton's first game. I'm almost as interested in the new FOX analyst, working the Carolina-Arizona game with Sam Rosen, on Newton as am I in watching Newton play his first game. Pennington's one of the smartest people I've met covering the game, and he's highly analytical of the quarterback position. Good choice by FOX.
9. Arian Foster's fate. If he plays without restriction with his bum hamstring, the Colts are in big trouble. They may still be in trouble with full-of-potential Ben Tate. But every fantasy player with Foster on the roster (hey, that rhymes) won't sleep Saturday night.
10. McNabb in purple. Orange in college, green in Philly, burgundy in Washington. Purple and white? That's weird, wacky stuff. I'm anticipating a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson for the Vikes, with rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph emerging to be McNabb's safety valve.