Preseason points: Daunte Should Start

After Saturday's narrow 18-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Detroit Lions should award the starter's job to Daunte Culpepper, writes and's Ed Thompson.

Point 1: Culpeppper should get nod in Detroit

After Saturday's narrow 18-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Detroit Lions should award the starter's job to Daunte Culpepper.

The veteran got the start against the Colts on Sunday and completed 7 of 12 throws for 67 yards and a touchdown during first-half action. Meanwhile, rookie Matthew Stafford posted nice numbers as well, completing 13 of 19 for 160 yards. But he threw an interception and no touchdown passes during his stint.

But that's not why I'd give the starter's role to Culpepper.

If you take a look at what both quarterbacks have accomplished so far during the first half of the Lions' games — when first- or at least second-string talent is on the field working against them — Culpepper has completed 16 out of 24 passes (66.7 percent), has one touchdown pass, and hasn't thrown an interception. Meanwhile, Stafford has completed 16 out of 31 throws (51.6 percent), has been intercepted twice, and hasn't thrown for a touchdown when on the field during the first 15 minutes of action.

One area where the rookie has overshadowed the veteran has been his ability to complete big passes. In the first half of all three games, he's completed at least one pass that picked up a minimum of 34 yards for the offense. Meanwhile, Culpepper hasn't completed a pass for more than 20 yards.

While opposing defenses might be able to play more aggressively against Culpepper if they assume he won't hurt them deep, naming him as the team's starter — at least for the early portion of the season — still makes more sense for the Lions.

New head coach Jim Schwartz needs to make a statement as early as possible that this Detroit Lions team is not the hapless punching bag that they were in 2008.

Matt Stafford is second best for now, according to Ed Thompson. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

The quicker the team sheds that baggage, the more confident they'll be that they are on a new path under Schwartz. And the bottom line is that Stafford's inexperience at the pro level in critical play situations, a 15-percent lower completion rate, and his three interceptions while only playing portions of three preseason games could be costly in tight contests. In today's NFL, one key turnover, an incompletion on a key third-down, or holding onto the ball just one second too long can cost a team a win.

Culpepper has demonstrated that his likelihood for a lapse in those key areas is much lower than Staffford's. And as a former coach with the Tennessee Titans, Schwartz knows from watching Kerry Collins that a steady, veteran presence at quarterback can keep a team in games rather than throwing them away with one or two ill-timed mistakes.

Stafford's talented, and his time will come. But it shouldn't be at the expense of the team in the early weeks of the season.

Point 2: Raiders should be concerned

The Oakland Raiders coaching staff should be very concerned about the fact that they can only trim their current roster to 53 players.

While the third week of the preseason is usually the last time the starters see extensive action before the start of the regular season, the Raiders may not have that luxury.

As New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees led his offense to three consecutive touchdown drives during the first 17 minutes of play at the Oakland Coliseum, the Raiders offense didn't put up a single point until the fourth quarter. During the 45-7 drubbing, the Saints scored at least one touchdown in every quarter.

The Raiders offense converted just one out of their 10 third-down opportunities and left the field after just four plays or less on 10 of their 12 possessions. And the team was penalized ten times for 94 yards.

JaMarcus Russell engineered nine of the team's offensive possessions. During that stretch, the offensive line allowed three sacks that resulted in the offense heading for the sidelines, including one that resulted in a fumble by Russell. Four incomplete passes by Russell on 3rd-down situations and a pair of fumbles by Darren McFadden and Louis Murphy killed the possessions. Backup Jeff Garcia led the team on three late drives with one resulting in a touchdown, one being halted by an incomplete pass, and the third falling short when a completed pass wasn't enough to move the sticks.

Tom Cable has big issues in Oakland. (Marcio Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Raiders have to be encouraged by the fact that Russell has completed nearly 66 percent of his throws during the preseason and hasn't thrown an interception. But he's led the team to just two scores for a total of ten points during 15 possessions.

While you can't lay all the blame for that ineffectiveness at his feet, it's a pretty good indicator of how badly the first-team offense is struggling with the start of the season just two weeks away.

It would be wrong to ignore the awful showing by an Oakland defense that allowed 232 rushing yards, 5.0 yards per carry and 311 passing yards. But in two previous preseason games, the first- and second-string defense yielded a combined total of just ten first-half points to the Cowboys and the 49ers. The Oakland defense also managed to save a little bit of face by intercepting a pair of passes in the second half at the expense of Mark Brunell.

All things considered, the Raiders coaching staff needs to get their starters more reps next week to make sure they really know who should be at the top of the depth chart. And they also need to figure out where they need more depth of talent so that when other teams make their final cuts, the Raiders can fill out their 53-man roster with some new faces.

Point 3: Time to worry about Thomas Jones?

After banking roughly $13 million during the first two years of his four-year deal with the Jets, running back Thomas Jones wasn't a factor in the Jets' 27-25 win over the Giants.

You'd like to hope that the 31-year-old running back just had an off day against the Giants after watching him average just 1.3 yards-per-carry on 12 attempts.

But that's simply not the case.

Thomas Jones has been a big disappointment this preseason. (Bill Kostroun / Associated Press)

During the Jets' three preseason games to date, Jones has amassed a mere 61 yards on 29 carries and hasn't broken a run longer than ten yards. His paltry 2.1-yards-per-carry average during the preseason should be an area of concern for new head coach Rex Ryan.

Jones was reportedly unhappy during the offseason because he's only scheduled to pocket $900,000 this year. Last year, in addition to a $2 million salary, he received a $2 million roster bonus. So the drop off in cash that he's seeing by comparison is significant.

And yet, Jones has plenty of incentive to have a big season. He'll be entering the final year of his deal in 2010 with $5.8 million hanging in the balance. In addition to a $2.8 million salary, the 10th-year veteran is scheduled to receive a $3 million roster bonus.

Maybe Jones believes that he should just give the Jets $900,000 worth of value since they didn't offer him a better contract despite his 1,312 rushing yards last year. Maybe he's demoralized a bit by what he's seeing from Leon Washington, who's averaged 6.3 yards per carry during the preseason. Or maybe he just doesn't trust that the Jets will execute the final year of a nearly $6 million contract in 2010 for a running back who will be 32 years old and figures he'd be better off not putting too much wear-and-tear on his body this season.

Honestly, it's really tough to know what's going on inside his head right now. But unless Jones believes he can just turn his talent on like a light switch when the regular season kicks in, the Jets' rushing attack isn't going to have the one-two punch that it expected from Jones and Washington.

And if Jones doesn't snap out of his preseason funk, he might end up watching Washington and rookie Shonn Greene from the sidelines as the season progresses.

Quick Count

Lions second-year running back Kevin Smith averaged 6.3 yards per carry against the Colts, his best mark of the preseason ... Colts quarterback Peyton Manning dominated the Detroit secondary, completing 12 out of 15 pass attempts (80 percent) for 123 yards and one touchdown. Indianapolis scored 14 points on four offensive possessions while Manning was in the game ... Colts tight end Dallas Clark caught all six balls thrown his way for 63 yards and a score ... Raiders running back Darren McFadden has averaged 6.2 yards per carry during the preseason, but that figure has been bloated by a single, 45-yard run. On his other ten preseason carries, McFadden is averaging just 2.3 yards ... Raiders tight end Zach Miller caught five passes for 74 yards against the Saints ... Showing a total disregard for the Oakland defense, the Saints kept the offense on the field four times in fourth-down situations — and successfully converted all of them ... Giants quarterback Eli Manning wasn't as sharp as usual while facing the Jets, completing just nine out of 21 pass attempts with one touchdown pass and an interception. He finished his portion of the game with a 51.9 passer rating ... Rookie wide receiver Hakeem Nicks caught six passes for 144 yards and two scores for the Giants ... The Jets converted just one of 11 third-down situations and were penalized 12 times ... Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez completed 13 out of 20 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.

Follow Ed Thompson on Twitter. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the network and at

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