Each week, the NFL schedule provides intriguing story lines. This week is no different. Here are a five things I’ll be watching this week.
1. Pick me! No, pick me! Interception prone Jake Delhomme faces off against interception happy Tony Romo in INT Bowl 2009. Defenders on both teams have to be salivating. There is no telling if Delhomme will show up as the guy who throws for 270+ yards every time he plays the Atlanta Falcons (308 last week) or the guy enamored with the men in other uniforms. Dallas’ Tony Romo needs to bounce back from his undressing at the hands of the depleted New York Giants. Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall are going to sleep like babies this week.
It’s not like they’ll be up worried about Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin.
2. The Bungle in the Jungle. The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have trouble in the red zone until one of two things happens. Either Bruce Arians relents and incorporates a fullback into the offense more than he’d like. The Steelers are not alone in having red zone troubles. The Patriots, without a powerful lead runner, have also struggled. Add the Chargers to that list. The Steelers do not have an accomplished FB on the roster. They have a very athletic, large running back (Frank Summers, rookie, UNLV) who has missed several blocks while leading for a runner who has failed to properly read blocks because he’d rather run outside than between the tackles (Willie Parker) — where the yards are.
The Bengals will probably seek to gain a measure of redress of LB Keith Rivers. In watching the NFL package last week, I was surprised at how often Hines Ward’s jawbreaker was shown in games that didn’t feature the Bengals or Steelers. The Bengals should be warned, though, that if they try to hard to get some payback, the result could be the loss of another defender or two at the hands of Ward. The Ravens know all too well that this is a fool’s errand. (Exhibit A: Ed Reed; Exhibit B: Jarret Johnson; Exhibit C: Frank Johnson; Exhbiit D: Willis McGahee). Cincinnati can’t afford to play this “game.” They should stick to spreading the field and using the speed of guys like Chris Henry and Andre Caldwell to expose the Steeler secondary.
NOTE: No need to mention Chad Ochocinco here. I love him as a player, but he hasn’t had a killer game vs. the Steelers since Daddy Bush was contemplating war in Iraq. Ike Taylor is renting space in Chad’s head.
3. A Kevin Faulk Sighting. The aforementioned New England Patriots have had considerable trouble running the ball. They’ve utilized the Running Back by Committee (RBC) Approach with little success. Last week, the Falcons allowed 144 yards on the ground to the Panthers. The Falcons will be coming to town without one of their starting defensive tackles. Will the Patriots exploit this by sticking with their passing formations, but deploying Kevin Faulk on draws and screens. That’s the method they used in 2008 vs. the Steelers. Faulk had a great day, but it didn’t alter the outcome. Faulk may be the key on Sunday. I look for him to get about 10 carries and pull in 6 to 10 passes.
4. A Good Stiff Brees. During last week’s win over the Buccaneers, upstate New York native and childhood fan of the Buffalo Bills Darryl “Moose” Johnson lamented the unenthusiastic and lackadaisical play of the Bills during the 2nd half. The game began with a surprising intensity for teams that have no history and little familiarity. Scuffles broke out in the early going, but that was soon replaced by a malaise that crept over the game. Johnson repeated criticized the Bills lack of urgency during the 2nd half. After Trent Edwards fired an interception to the Bucs, Johnson noted the Bills receivers had little interest in tackling the defenders.
Not all of the Bills were trapped in this funk. Former Hurricane speedster Roscoe Parrish ran the length of the field to tackle one defender following a Bill turnover. With all this talk of hurricanes and intensity, the Bills ar set to face the New Orleans Saints and “Hurricane Drew” Brees (I made that up.) This son of Katrina will come to town with an elite arsenal that is all set to embarrass the Bills. The Philadelphia Eagles, stocked with defenders like Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Sheldon Brown and others were blasted out of their own building last week. The same thing could happen in Buffalo.
It’s not clear to me who the leaders are on this team, but they will be tested this week. Dick Jauron has had sufficient time to carve out an identity for this team. The Bills have enough talent to win this game. The question is whether or not they have enough pride to avoid getting embarrassed.
5. Is There a Doctor in the House? The 49ers and Vikings are set to do battle on Sunday. In the games that I’ve watched to date, the 49ers defense has been the most impressive. They hit with more naked aggression and intensity than most teams I’ve seen. The Niners were clearly ready for the start of the season. They have a “Take No Prisoners” mentality and seem intent on leaving carcasses across the national landscape. The Vikings, for all their accolades, are led by two stars susceptible to injury. Favre never misses a game, but he will play hurt — and hurt his team. Just as pride kept Cal Ripken on the field for 7 entire seasons when he hit under .270 (How the hell did that guy into Cooperstown?), Favre has played through thick and thicker without reaping the benefits.
Leslie Frazier, former ’85 Chicago Bear and architect of the Vikings defense, has a crew of head bangers at his disposal. This is going to be a very physical game. The toughest team will win. Watch the turnover battle. I suspect that Favre will be challenged to maintain his conservative ways against a stacked box for A.P. and a heavy dose of Takeo Spikes up the gut.
Mike Singletary’s “Far West Chicago Bears”
Should be a great weekend.