The 2009 NFL season is now headed to Week 3. It is still very early in a season that has yet to reveal its true self. It usually takes more than two weeks. With that said, I believe that some early events and trends may be indicators for the long haul. Some of these events and trends are carry-overs from last season. Some are as new as Sunday afternoon or Monday night.
1. The Colts run defense is atrocious. Since his Pro Bowl season of 2005, Colts SS Bob Sanders has missed approximately 27 games. That is too much time for this elite player to be considered a “reliable” factor in the Colts defense. Sanders is as likely to play a season as he is to miss a season. He’s never played 16 games in a season (The Colts routinely held elite players out of Week 17 games under Tony Dungy.) and has played as few as 6 games twice. The Colts cannot stop the run without Bob Sanders on the field. The first time this weakness was revealed Jacksonville’s Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew lit up Indy for 303 yards. Last night, the Dolphins went for 239. The Colts have neither the personnel, the scheme, nor the inclination to fix this problem. The only 2009 solution for the Indianapolis Colts is the return of Bob Sanders. Until then, get used to seeing this team’s Front Seven get mauled. 2. The New Orleans Saints are going to win the NFC South. In the NFC South since 2004, the team that has won the division has finished either third or last in the previous season. This division, more than any other, turns over its leadership. I believe this has largely been due to the benefits of playing a 3rd or 4th place schedule in the NFC. In 2008, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 3rd following an epic collapse that led to the ouster of John Gruden and the release of veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks. The Saints, though, finished in last place with an 8-8 record and the league’s top offense. We can see the offense has returned in full form. The defense looks rejuvenated under Gregg Williams. The 2009 draft has already paid a dividend as former Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins made the game-changing play on Sunday vs. the Eagles forcing a fumble by Ellis Hobbs. The Saints have also had some luck. Versus the Eagles, they did not have to face Donovan McNabb, and in Week 1, they were fortunate enough to open with the Detroit Lions. The last 3 weeks of the season: Dallas at home; Tampa at home; at Carolina. All they need to do is stay healthy.
3. The Biggest Injury You Won’t Hear About. Just happened in Atlanta on Sunday. First round draft pick and starting defensive tackle Peria Jerry sustained a season-ending knee injury vs. the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons have an energetic defense predicated on the Jacksonville Jaguars model of Mike Smith. The Jags, you remember, used to feature John Henderson and Marcus Stroud in the middle of their rock-solid defense. In 2008, Stroud went to Buffalo. Things haven’t been the same in Jacksonville since. So don’t be surprised if the Falcons suddenly become a team that is susceptible to the run. Don’t be surprised if the linebackers wear down a bit easier or if the secondary gets caught peeking into the backfield. On a positive side, the Falcons have an offense that is capable of scoring 30 points. They may have to.
4. The Packers are in trouble. It’s not that I don’t think the Bengals are vastly improved. I do. In fact, I had a sneaking suspicion they would win this week. The issue in Green Bay is that injuries on the offensive line are threatening to destroy a promising season. Bengal DE Antwan Odom had the game of his life vs. the Packers when the starting LT left the game. Odom notched 5 sacks. Before this season, he had 15 — in five years. If the Packers are going to create a new Derrick Thomas (RIP) every week, they’re going to lose often.
5. Question for AJ Smith. Wouldn’t you rather have Drew Brees and Michael Turner right now?
6. Tom Brady Looks Skittish. I’ll stand by my pre-season observation. There is no doubt that Brady is feeling more pressure due to the inability of his linemen to hold off the rush. Nonetheless, Tom appears to have no interest in taking another hit — whether it is the below-the-knee Bernard Pollard variety or the bone-jarring Albert Haynesworth type. Both are equally unattractive and the ball is coming out in a hurry. Before the injury to Peria Jerry, this week’s matchup with the Falcons was very interesting. ATL can still get pressure with John Abraham and company, but they’ll have to work harder.
7. He Doesn’t Look So Tough. Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck says he’s played with a broken rib before. We know he got knocked out pretty good last season. This year, the 49ers tattooed Little Matty. The Seahawks season is in jeopardy. Can Hasselbeck get back in there? Can he stay upright? Can he get enough reps to create some magic with T.J. and Nate and Deion? I don’t like his chances.
8. Kellen Winslow II says, “I Told You So.” Winslow is healthy and he’s back. Watch his production throughout the season. As long as Byron Leftwich continues to look his way, the Bucs are going to have a chance on 3rd down. Too bad he doesn’t play safety and linebacker and defensive end.