What's happening to the NFL's young quarterbacks? Ryan Leaf came down to earth in rain-swept Arrowhead Stadium. Peyton Manning keeps finding open receivers in enemy uniforms. Kordell Stewart is more slush than Slash, and it's hard to fathom that we were calling Jake Plummer and Bobby Hoying franchise quarterbacks at the close of last season.
These are talented players, and if they don't get killed in the meantime, they should eventually sort things out and become functional leaders. But right now they're overwhelmed. Manning should be learning the game at the knee of an elder statesman with plenty of combat ribbons, but money talks, and a big bonus translates into instant action, whether he's ready or not.
Leaf appeared pretty solid for a couple of games, and, yes, I was fooled into thinking that his Chargers had a chance of upsetting the Chiefs. But then in bad weather he got a look at a big league defense, and, clunk, down he came. Stewart is the same guy everyone loved last year, but he's stuck in a Steelers offense that has only one receiver who seems able to get open, Charles Johnson. So Stewart dinks and dunks and misfires a lot, and the guy who's getting all the heat is first-year offensive coordinator Ray Sherman. Yes, the same Ray Sherman who was mentioned so prominently a short time ago as a hot head-coaching prospect.
Plummer was exciting and freewheeling as a Cardinals rookie last season, putting up big numbers (388 passing yards against the Giants, for instance), not always sure of what he was doing, but at least doing it with dash and bravado. Don't throttle him down, we all said. The nuances will come later. What came was Marc Trestman, the new offensive coordinator, who left coaching for investment banking six years ago, then returned three years later with an outlook as daring as that of the guy who approves your homeowner's loan. He has turned Jake the Snake into a dinker, a guy who looks like he showed up at the wrong wedding.
Hoying? Don't ask. The Eagles are in such disarray that he has become just another piece of flotsam caught in the current.
Enough moaning, and let's do some handicapping. The Lions' Charlie Batch, the latest rookie to get caught in the cross fire, will get his second test on Monday night against resurgent Tampa Bay. I say resurgent because the Bucs finally put a good half together, running the Bears out of that pirate ship of a stadium. Yes, I like the Bucs in Detroit. Batch is a scrambler, but the Tampa Bay defense is built on speed.
If the Raiders were playing at home, I'd take them over the Cowboys. On the road, no. Denver backup Bubby Brister beat them on Sunday. Oakland's Jeff George threw his usual quota of strange interceptions. I sense a letdown, coming off the loss to the Broncos. Everything points to a Dallas win.
If I were Denver coach Mike Shanahan, I'd rest John Elway on the road against the Redskins. I don't think the Broncos can beat Washington with Brister, but if you've got to sacrifice one game to make sure Elway's wheel has mended, this nonconference outing is the one. With Elway in action, I favor Denver; without him, the Redskins will break out of their slump. They have to win one eventually, don't they?
Can the Saints, a team that some people—make that one person—picked to go 1-15, climb to 3-0 with a win over the Colts? No. Indianapolis is a freaky team that played great defense against the Patriots, then took the day off against the Jets. Now the Colts will work themselves into a frenzy trying to keep New Orleans from further embarrassing your faithful narrator. Here's a shaky vote for Indianapolis.
It's tempting to go with the Seahawks' pass-rush scheme to topple the Steelers' struggling offense. If the game were in Seattle, I'd do it, but I don't see the Steelers losing this one in Three Rivers.