I get a tremendous sense of d�j� vu from the strange quarterback situation in Washington, which will crystallize on Monday night when Trent Green goes against the 49ers in his first NFL start.
Four years ago Heath Shuler was the Redskins' golden boy, the third player picked in the draft, a can't-miss prospect from Tennessee. Gus Frerotte was an underrated seventh-round selection from Tulsa; the problem was, he was better. Two years later the coaches got the picture. With the starting job came a lucrative contract for Frerotte, but last season things started to go sour. Who was there to back up Frerotte? Jeff Hostetler, who quarterbacked the Greeks against the Trojans and has as many dents in his armor as Achilles? Trent Green? Oh, yes, he's the guy who had bounced around on the fringes of unemployment since 1993, the backup to the backup.
On Sunday, with Hostetler injured and unavailable and with Frerotte's world collapsing around him, Green became a living, breathing NFL signal-caller, leading a spirited comeback against the Giants. He was the Frerotte of two years ago. Frerotte has become vintage Shuler, and Green, operating behind a line that gave up eight sacks to the Giants, must try to tame the Niners with the world watching.
As one-sided as the Trent Green-Steve Young matchup seems, I like the Redskins over the Niners. The Glenn Foley-Steve Young duel seemed just as overloaded on Sunday when the Jets took the Niners into overtime, but when all was said and done, the kid from New York had 415 passing yards and almost had a win. I think Green will put it to San Francisco with the same boldness. Add to that the fact that the Niners are hurting in the secondary (they ended the Jets game with only two healthy cornerbacks), and you've got the ingredients for...for what? Well, we'll see, won't we?
The Giants sacked Redskins quarterbacks eight times. The Raiders gave up 10 to the Chiefs. Now the Raiders play host to the Giants, and I'm sure Oakland quarterback Jeff George can't wait. Has this guy ever had a decent line? I know it's fashionable to knock him, but I saw him take terrible beatings in Indianapolis behind some of the worst lines ever assembled.
Then George came to Oakland and hit the canvas 58 times last year, the most in the league. Hang in, kid. Jon Gruden will go to a short-passing attack, which means a quick drop and the old zip-zap before the pass rushers can get to you. Except for those 10 times on Sunday.
The Chiefs like to use exotic blitz and rush schemes. The Giants are power rushers, bringing heavy pressure from their front four. They don't have anyone with the speed of Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas, who simply killed the Raiders. Yes, I'm picking the Giants, but not just because I think they'll get to George. The whole Oakland operation looked cockamamie against K.C. I mean, what was the point of calling last-minute timeouts and sending George out to absorb still more lumps after the issue was decided?
Am I disenchanted with my Super Bowl picks, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, after last weekend's action? Well, yes and no. Yes for the Buccaneers, no for the Jaguars. Why were the Bucs giving Vikings wideout Randy Moss so much room to operate when the book said to get in his face and play him tough? Where was the short-yardage offense? And the pass rush? And Warren Sapp? Well, I think Tampa Bay will bounce back against the Packers and play well, but not well enough to win at Lambeau. Stay patient. The Bucs will sort things out. It's a long season.
Jacksonville came up with the blahs against a fired-up Bears team and was still good enough to come out on top. To me, that's the mark of a serious team, winning games it should lose, especially on the road. Now the Jaguars host K.C. in my favorite game on the board. The Chiefs' defense is scary, their offense is dreary. Jacksonville has a big, sturdy offensive line that won't be intimidated by a fancy assortment of pass rushes. Its defense is good enough to clamp down on a Chiefs attack that still relies on muscle and always will, as long as Marty Schottenheimer is coaching. Jaguars to beat the Chiefs.