Sports Illustrated's Don Banks tackles three issues from around the league:
What does Chad Hutchinson bring to the Cowboys in his new role as starting quarterback?
Chad Hutchinson AP
First and foremost, a major-league arm. Hutchinson, the former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, elicits oohs and ahhs when he airs it out on the practice field. "He reminds you of a young Troy [Aikman] or a young Drew Bledsoe coming out of Washington State," said one observer. "He's that type of quarterback, with a good touch on the ball, and a nice deep ball."
Hutchinson has all the tools, but it's still going to come down to the same challenge facing every young NFL quarterback: Can he handle the speed of the game and all the different types of coverages that defenses will throw at him? That part of the game usually takes some time to adjust to, but unfortunately for Hutchinson, the Cowboys don't have a lot of time. At 3-4, their season is hanging in the balance, as is the job security of head coach Dave Campo and his staff.
That's why Campo had little choice this week but to bench struggling starter Quincy Carter and hand the ball to Hutchinson. If he waited any longer, the season already could have been lost before Hutchinson had a chance to make a difference.
Said one team source: "It was time to see what the kid can do. It could be hit or miss. If he goes out and plays well, everybody looks like a genius. If he struggles, like most young quarterbacks will, then it's another long season around here."
Dallas doesn't need a ton of production from Hutchinson to win. The Cowboys' defense has given up 17 points or less in five of its seven games. That's impressive. The problem is, the Cowboys' offense hasn't scored more than two touchdowns in any game, and has been held to 14 points or less five times in seven weeks.
Carter doesn't deserve all the blame for the offensive woes, but that's how the quarterback game works. Two weeks ago against Carolina he played poorly for 57 minutes, before rallying the Cowboys to two touchdowns and the win in the final three minutes. Last week at Arizona, he didn't get away with a bad game, throwing four interceptions in the 9-6 overtime loss. Two of his picks came as the Cowboys were driving for a score.
That's how it got to be Hutchinson time in Big D.
Who has been the NFL's most disappointing quarterback in 2002?
But with the possible exception of Warner, who played in just three-plus games before being sidelined by a broken finger, nobody's demise has been as mystifying as Daunte Culpepper's. Through six games, Minnesota's No. 1 quarterback has an NFL-leading 12 interceptions (nobody else has thrown more than nine), with just seven touchdown passes and a 69.9 passer rating that ranks 35th overall.
Obviously, Culpepper's game has been affected by the drain of offensive talent in Minnesota. In 2000, when he burst onto the scene with 33 touchdown passes, 3,937 yards passing, a 98.0 quarterback rating and starting NFC Pro Bowl berth, Culpepper had Robert Smith to hand off to, Cris Carter and Randy Moss to throw to, and an offensive line that still featured tackles Todd Steussie and Korey Stringer, as well as center Matt Birk. Only Moss and Birk remain from that group.
Still, you can't blame all of Culpepper's troubles on who he has surrounding him. The more he struggles, the more he has started to press and develop bad habits, like forcing the ball into coverage -- perhaps spurred on early this season by the ill-fated "Randy Ratio." Many times Culpepper looks off-balance and out of sync in the pocket, and there are those within the organization who believe he has never progressed past a two-read quarterback.
In college at the University of Central Florida and early in his Vikings career, Culpepper could get away with locking in on his primary receiver, or perhaps one other option on the same side of the field. If neither were open, he could always pull it down and run. He was big and strong and his powerful right arm allowed him to make throws that other quarterbacks wouldn't dare. But those tendencies haven't served him so well this year, with the Vikings offense designed for him to go through his progression, and with defenses so often taking away his primary receiver, Moss.
Culpepper remains the team's fiercest competitor and wants desperately to win and re-discover his touch. And while there's no movement afoot to replace him with backup Todd Bouman, team officials are at a loss as to how to fix Culpepper's game. Said one: "I really don't know that anybody knows what's wrong. He's a great person, with a great heart, and you can't help but believe he'll bring it back. But we all see the same things and wonder where it's gone?"
Speaking of disappointments, what can we make of Courtney Brown's continued struggles in Cleveland?
Courtney Brown Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Any way you cut it, the league's first overall pick in the 2000 draft isn't getting it done when it comes to the pass rush. Though the Browns laud his work against the run, let's face it, you don't pay your right defensive end mega-bucks to go 0-for-the-season in the sack department. And that's where Brown is at: Zero sacks in six games.
In fact, in Brown's last 10 games, dating to Week 8 of last season, the former Penn State standout has all of 1 1/2 sacks. Overall, Brown has just nine sacks in his 27 career starts, with three of those coming in just one game, last November in Chicago.
Injuries, of course, have been part of Brown's low-impact story. After starting all 16 games as a rookie, registering 4 1/2 sacks, he missed the first six games in 2001 with a right knee injury, and sat out the last five games of the year with a left ankle problem. In between, Brown had 4 1/2 sacks in five games, including that three-sack showing against the Bears.
This year, a neck injury sidelined Brown in Week 2, and he's now battling a hyperextended elbow. Still, the Browns on Sunday had nine sacks against Houston (giving them just 15 this season), with Brown unable to even fall into one. Brown's backup, second-year end Mark Word, had two of Cleveland's nine sacks, and now leads the team with five. Word only plays on passing downs, and can't play the run, but his sack production only underlines Brown's lack of development.
Team observers say Brown remains a conscientious, hard-working player who is not cutting corners in terms of effort. He wants to play well, studies hard, and knows the defense. If anything, sources say Brown may be thinking too much and relying too little on his natural athletic ability. "He's almost too cerebral, too calm, too reserved," said one source. "It's almost as if he has the wrong personality for the position he plays. He needs to cut it loose. He's kind of feeling his way."
Cleveland head coach Butch Davis is said to have not yet lost patience with his well-paid but underachieving defensive end. For now, no one thinks Brown's spot in the starting lineup or on the roster is in real jeopardy in Cleveland. And Brown's confidence, though affected, has not been broken by his sack slump.
But just as clearly, the Browns still haven't figured out the right buttons to push with Brown, in order to extract his talent. He's not the type of player who can be brow-beaten or verbally challenged into raising his game. If he was, Cleveland would have tried that long ago.