Sports Illustrated's Don Banks tackles three issues from around the league:
What's the biggest oxymoron in today's NFL?
Brett Favre Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Two words: Quarterback stability. In a league where everything seems to be week-to-week, nothing has become quite so ephemeral as the starting quarterback position. For about half the league at any given time, change has become a distinct possibility.
Take Week 5, for instance. Due to injury or ineffectiveness, five teams featured a new starting QB: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, the Jets and Washington. The results? Four losses, one win, with that victory being the product of yet another change, when rookie Patrick Ramsey replaced injured Redskins starter Danny Wuerffel.
This week, it looks like Falcons backup Doug Johnson will be in the lineup in place of the injured Michael Vick, while Ramsey is set to receive his first NFL start in Washington. Meanwhile, Cleveland probably avoided a controversy only because backup Kelly Holcomb -- who led the Browns' furious fourth-quarter comeback against Baltimore -- was injured after replacing the injured (and lustily booed) Tim Couch.
I mean, really, with security like that, who wants the top job?
Cincinnati started three different quarterbacks in the season's first four weeks. Washington will start its third QB this week. All told, eight teams -- one-fourth of the league -- already have played two different starters. And that number doesn't include Carolina, which switched starters just before Week 1, or Denver, which had its own QB question to deal with in the fourth quarter of opening day.
Meanwhile, the timetable for getting a highly drafted quarterback up to speed and into the game has become ridiculously short. All three of this year's first-rounders are now starters: David Carr earned the job the minute he was selected by expansion Houston; Detroit's Joey Harrington needed all of two games in relief before he was deemed ready to go; and Ramsey's three-quarters-plus playing stint Sunday in Tennessee ended his non-starting days.
As glossy as his 103.6 rating looks now, Ramsey should be forewarned. It's headed down. And soon. Carr (49.7) and Harrington (53.3) have fashioned two of the NFL's three lowest passer ratings, each on behalf of teams with just one win so far.
Lastly, to get the full effect of just how rapidly things change in the NFL, start counting the number of teams whose No. 1 guy has been on the job for more than last season and this season. Meaning he has at least 20 games or so of tenure.
There are only 14 of them, less than half the league: Miami, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Cleveland, Oakland, Denver, the Giants, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay, Minnesota, San Francisco and Arizona.
Think about that the next time you scream for your favorite team to make a QB change. Want a real change? Try quarterback stability.
Who's the early favorite for comeback player of the year?
Jamal Lewis Scott Halleran/Getty Images
I'm all for recognizing the near-miraculous recovery and return made by Miami running back Robert Edwards, who missed the past three regular seasons after nearly losing a leg in a freak, flag-football injury on the beach at the Pro Bowl in February 1999.
But in terms of true impact to his team, I'd be hard-pressed to vote for anyone other than Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis at this point. Edwards, one of Miami's backup tailbacks behind the well-used Ricky Williams, has 11 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown so far, with 10 receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. Those are nice numbers for a guy in a role-player niche.
But Lewis, who lost all of last season to a left knee injury, is carrying the resurgent first-place Ravens (2-2) and conjuring up comparisons to his stellar 1,364-yard rookie season of 2000. Through four games, Lewis is the NFL's 10th leading rusher, with 382 yards and one touchdown on 85 carries (4.5 average). That puts him on a pace for more than 1,500 yards this season.
And the further away from last year's season-ending surgery he gets, the better Lewis is performing. In Baltimore's first two games, Lewis rushed for a combined 117 yards as the Ravens lost twice. But in upset wins against Denver and Cleveland, Lewis rumbled for a combined 265 yards and a touchdown, including a league-best Week 5 showing of 187 yards on 26 carries against the Browns. His big night in Cleveland included a 75-yard non-scoring burst.
Lewis also is Baltimore's leading receiver in terms of receptions, with 18 for 118 yards (which rank fourth on the team). How much have the cap-decimated Ravens relied on Lewis? His 500 yards of total offense accounts for 45.4 percent of the team's 1,101 yards. He has produced 91.6 percent of Baltimore's rushing yardage (382 of 417) and 17.3 percent of its passing yardage (118 of 684).
Admittedly, Lewis's comeback lacks the emotional gravitas of Edwards' story. Still, his return to form is noteworthy in that last season's injury marked the second time in four years that Lewis sat out most or all of a schedule due a torn ACL. He lost all but four games of his sophomore season at Tennessee after blowing out his right knee in October 1999.
But once again, Lewis is back, and so are the Ravens.
What have been the two most disappointing units this season?
Torry Holt Brian Bahr/Getty Images
This one doesn't require deep analysis, does it? In 2001, both the Rams' offense and the Steelers' defense ranked No. 1 overall. This year, in a collapse that neatly mirrors one another, those once-proud outfits have tumbled way down the charts. Unsurprisingly, the Rams are a winless at 0-5, and the Steelers are struggling at 1-3.
Let's start with St. Louis. In 2001, the Rams put up a league-best 418.1 yards per game. This year, St. Louis ranks 13th, with 343.2 yards per game. And most of those have come in catch-up situations that didn't lead to victory.
Last year, the Rams topped 500 points (503) for a record third consecutive season, scoring a league-best 62 touchdowns, with 37 of them coming through the air. St. Louis has just eight TDs in its first five games, including three passing. Only four teams have scored fewer touchdowns this season than the Rams, who are on pace for just 26 total TDs. From 62 to 26 in one year. Now that's a drop-off.
On third downs, St. Louis was even money last year, finishing with a league-high 50 percent success ratio. This year that number has fallen to below one-third. The Rams' 32.8 third-down percentage ranks 25th overall. St. Louis produced a league-high 357 first downs last year, or 22.3 per game. This year? The Rams rank tied for 17th, with 18.4 first downs per game. That projects to 294 first downs on the season, a significant decrease.
Now let's look at the Steelers' defense. Pittsburgh gave up just 258.6 yards per game and 254 total first downs last year -- both ranking No. 1 overall. This year, the Steelers per game are being gouged for 341.8 yards (18th) and 19.2 first downs (tied for 16th).
Pittsburgh's 212 points allowed in '01 ranked third in the league, trailing only Chicago (203) and Philadelphia (208). But this year, the Steelers are being dented for 26.2 points per game, which ranks 23rd and projects to 419 points surrendered -- almost twice their total from last year.
Lastly, Pittsburgh's defense can't get off the field on third downs. The Steelers opponents have converted 45.8 percent of the time, which ranks 27th defensively. That's a far cry from 2001, when Pittsburgh was the league's seventh-best defense on third down, allowing conversions just 34.2 percent of the time. The Steelers' 254 first downs allowed led all defenses last year. They're on pace to allow 307 first downs this season, and their per-game average of 19.2 currently ranks tied for 17th.
When it comes to the Rams' O and the Steelers' D, both units' once-glitzy production has been MIA.