Sunday Morning Massacre

NFL News, notes, comments, and rumors from throughout the league heading into week-two of the season.

NFC West Tidbits

Arizona…..The Cardinals have been preparing to start rookie wide receivers Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin due to injuries to starters Bryan Gilmore and Larry Foster…. The Arizona defense is expected to play more ‘zone' defense against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in hopes to offset a strong passing game led by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck…. Rookie defensive end Calvin Pace may rotate between the left and right defensive end positions on Sunday in an attempt to jump-start the Arizona pass-rush………….St. Louis…..Sunday should be quite an interesting day for the Rams organization. As we noted in training camp, the St. Louis front office has reservations about head coach Mike Martz and the situation surrounding how starting quarterback Kurt Warner was handled last week in New York has again placed the spotlight on the often-criticized coach…. Coming off a very good week of practice, Marc Bulger starting for Warner has the full support of his teammates heading into Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers…. Did we mention that Bulger says all the right things about the quarterback situation in St. Louis, but he will create a stir with a solid performance against the 49ers and despite what you may hear in other venues, there is a solid base within the organization and team roster that would like to see Bulger become the starting quarterback…………San Francisco…..The 49ers are facing a team Sunday with much to prove. The St. Louis Rams, disappointed with their performance last week against the New York Giants come into San Francisco with some bad intentions…. The Rams will implement star running back Marshall Faulk more than the nine-carries he had in the season opening loss, but the tale of this game will be the battle between quarterback Marc Bulger and the injury-depleted receiver corps against the 49ers banged-up defensive backfield. Make no mistake, the Rams will be very aggressive and the 49ers intend on being physical at the point of attack, on both sides of the ball…. Talking to 49ers wide receiver this week, he expects to have a big-day against a questionable St. Louis defensive backfield………..Seattle.....Head coach Mike Holmgren is not taking the Arizona Cardinals lightly. Coming off a solid performance, offensively and defensively, the addition of speed and a new defensive coordinator (Ray Rhodes) has the Seahawks flying to the ball and looking to create turnovers…. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has gained the trust of Holmgren and the respect of his teammates. Wide receivers Koren Robinson, Darrell Jackson, and Bobby Engram will line-up in three-receiver sets the majority of the game Sunday against the Cardinals to expose a weak Arizona defensive backfield…………


AFC West Tidbits

Denver…..The man on the spot is quarterback Jake Plummer. Despite the vote of confidence coming from head coach Mike Shanahan and his teammates, Plummer has not looked good in training camp and in his first regular season contest against the Cincinnati Bengals…. Stirring within the organization is that Plummer is not showing the development, understanding, and consistency that are expected at this time. An area of concern is Plummer's inaccuracy, the Broncos coaching staff continues to work with Plummer on his mechanics…. The coaching staff does not believe that wide receivers Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey are close to the end of the road, but neither receiver impressed in camp, nor did they in the season opener. Some of the concern can be attributed to the play at the quarterback position. Unless Plummer can gain the confidence of his teammates and coaching staff, this team will struggle offensively and will become more dependent on talented running back Clinton Portis…. As for Portis, his aligning with agent Drew Rosenhaus this past week is a bigger deal than most have let on to. Speaking to Rosenhaus this past week, we can guarantee that Portis and Rosenhaus will keep all contract issues and talks quiet, but they expect something done with the star running back…………Kansas City…..Head coach Dick Vermeil has quietly assembled a competitive front-defensive seven, which incidentally played extremely well in stopping the San Diego Chargers ‘cold' in the season opener…. The defensive backfield remains a concern for the Chiefs and the coaching staff has spent a significant in preparation this past week to tighten the passing zones created by a talented Pittsburgh Steelers offense with their crossing routes coming off vertical stretches. Kansas City is not a good man-to-man defensive team and has geared their style to a cover-two defensive hybrid. The Kansas City coaching staff, including Vermeil believes that if his team can generate consistent pressure on Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox, and hold a questionable Steelers rushing game in check, they can win this game…. Tight-end Tony Gonzalez hobbled by a sprained ankle has practiced this week, but is not showing the explosiveness he possesses when healthy…………Oakland……….Having the Cincinnati Bengals show up on the schedule in week-two of the 2003 NFL season may come as a blessing to the banged-up Raiders team. Quarterback Rich Gannon is fine and will play against the regrouping Bengals under new head coach Marvin Lewis…. The wide receivers may become an area of the team that may slow this Oakland team as the season progresses. Losing Jerry Porter to hernia surgery has stripped the team of its deep threat and Tim Brown will assume Porter's receiving role, though he has looked very average throughout training camp and was a non-factor in the Raiders season opening loss to the Tennessee Titans. Jerry Rice has lost a step, but can still contribute, but the problem with this Raiders team is a lack of speed at the receiver positions. Another area of the team that has the team concerned is the inconsistent play coming from the offensive line, especially at the guard positions…………San Diego…..Getting this San Diego team to play consistent defense, minimize mistakes, and hold onto the football are concerns of the Chargers coaching staff. The team struggles in training camp carried on into the season opening loss against the Kansas City Chiefs…. Despite a solid mix of youth and talent in the defensive backfield, the Chargers continue to have serious problems stopping the opposition passing attack. Rookie Sammy Davis, second-year player Quentin Jammer, and veteran Tay Cody have slowly progressed in practice, but they have been somewhat slowed due to injury…. Offensively, wide receiver David Boston has yet to make an impact for the offensively challenged Chargers. A heel injury continues to hamper Boston, leaving the San Diego offense at more of a disadvantage than they are accustomed to with the conservative play-calling. Eric Parker is expected to replace Boston and has shown the ability to be productive. If the San Diego defense cannot contain the potentially explosive Denver Broncos offense Sunday, the Chargers again will be forced to abandon their strong running game and it could be another long weekend for the Chargers.


NFC North Tidbits

Chicago…..The Bears 49-7 loss last week to the San Francisco 49ers was as bad as it looked. Chicago was dominated in every facet of the game, offense, defense, and special teams. Granted, the 49ers are an explosive offensive team, but not to the tune of 49-points a game…. Defensively the 49ers were missing a few key players and they still manhandled the Bears supposedly new and improved offense. Coming off the embarrassing debacle in San Francisco, the team has worked longer and harder in practice this week and they believe that they will be dramatically improved in comparison to the team that showed up in San Francisco…. Offensively, this Bears team simply does not execute with any consistency. Injuries along the offensive line have altered an already questionable Chicago offense. Blaming quarterback Kordell Stewart for the offensive struggles of the Chicago offense under the direction of offensive coordinator Jon Shoop would be too easy and undeserved. Let us all remember, the Bears organization signed Stewart, they should have known what they were getting…. Questions have surfaced about the status of the locker room and the job security of head coach Dick Jauron. Another loss in the manner the Bears occurred last week and Jauron could begin to lose the confidence of some players, as for his job, there will openings somewhere in the league next season. As for Sunday, the Bears will face-off against a Minnesota Vikings team that is a powerful offensive team with an improving defense, even if starting safety Corey Chavous can not play (he probably will give it a shot) due to a knee injury, the Vikings should have more than enough weaponry to shutdown the Bears…………Detroit….. Steve Mariucci has his Lions believing that they can win, which a major accomplishment is considering this team was void of confidence and depth upon the hiring of Mariucci this past off-season…. The Lions had a very good week of practice and the team has game-planned to be aggressive against the Green Bay Packers at the point of attack and into the intermediate zones…. Running back Olandis Gary looked much better in practice with a full week with the team under his belt, but quietly there are some reservations about his ability to holdup as the feature back. Additionally, Gary will come out on third-down passing situations according to our reports from within the Lions organization…. Look for Detroit to make a concerted effort in the running game against a poor run-stopping Green Bay defense. The general feeling in Lions camp is if they can show the run, Harrington and the passing game will be very successful on Sunday. Additional emphasis was placed on the defensive backfield this week in practice, with recently signed Alex Molden expected to play this weekend. Stopping the run has been a priority of the Detroit defense this week in practice, with the injuries suffered by the packers at the wide receiver position, Mariucci anticipates Green Bay will run the ball more and utilize running backs into the passing game, lining them up at the receiver positions…………Green Bay…..The Packers have had a tough week. Starting wide receiver Donald Driver is out for the game Sunday against the Detroit Lions and could sit-out next week as well with a sprain/strained neck. Opposite side starting wide receiver Robert Ferguson remains a game-time decision, indications coming from the packers late Saturday evening is that Ferguson wants to play and head coach Mike Sherman will let him play if he is cleared by the medical staff…. Recently signed wide receiver Antonio Freeman will play Sunday and fit in well with the offense and especially quarterback Brett Favre in practices late in the week…. The Green Bay coaching staff is concerned that the quick Detroit Lions offense will pose problems for the Packers defense in the seams and on the flanks. Green Bay will move their safeties up in support early in the game Sunday to attempt to rattle Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington…………Minnesota…..Safety Corey Chavous, suffering from a knee injury is a game-time decision, and is expected to attempt to play, Willie Offord will start or replace Chavous at some point Sunday…. Running back Doug Chapman has been ruled out of the game Sunday against the Chicago Bears, which has opened up the opportunity for rookie Onterrio Smith to see some playing time in relief of starter Moe Williams…. In watching the game films from the Vikings 30-25 victory over the Green Bay Packers last week, the coaching staff came away pleased by the effort, but the team has a lot of room to grow on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball…. Offensively, the offensive line graded-out well, quarterback Daunte Culpepper played a solid game, but the coaching staff focused on his protecting of the football…. Rookie defensive lineman Kevin Williams was solid and met the expectations of the defensive coaching staff…. In the upcoming weeks, look the Vikings to incorporate more 3-4 defensive schemes into their strategy, especially against teams that they match-up well with.


AFC North Tidbits

Baltimore…..Head coach has made a point to his team this week that they cannot afford another performance like they has last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Noting his disappointment, Billick challenged his team and questioned their communication in the defensive backfield…. Linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Corey Fuller has told their Ravens teammates their opponent this Sunday, Cleveland Browns cannot hold up under the pressure and aggression the Ravens defense expects to generate…. Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller had a good week of practice, Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh worked with the rookie on areas of his game from week-one that he struggled in…. Watching game film from the Browns-Colts contest from a week ago, members of the Baltimore coaching staff came away impressed with the play of the Browns defensive front-seven, but noted that Indianapolis did not take advantage of numerous opportunities during the game…. Citing a member of the Ravens organization that wishes to remain unnamed this past week, "Cleveland has the potential to be explosive, if you give them space. They (receivers) do not like being bodied off the ball, we will press the hell out of them."…………Cincinnati…..Before we get too far ahead of ourselves here, the Bengals will be a much better team in 2003 than they were in 2002…. Head coach Marvin Lewis has been busy dissecting the play of his Bengals in their season opening loss to the Denver Broncos and he came away with some positives from the 30-10 loss…. Cincinnati was their own worst enemy offensively, the offensive line did not run-block well and Lewis has promised immediate improvement, noting that running the football has to be done with attitude, which simply means the offensive line did not perform well…. Quarterback Jon Kitna, while given a vote of confidence is on thin ice and will be replaced by Shane Matthews if he does not play well this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders…. Lewis focused with his coaching staff this week on the poor overall execution of the defensive. Heading into battle Sunday against the Raiders, the Bengals have thrown a few new gadgets into their offensive set to attack weaknesses in the Oakland secondary…. Defensively, Lewis will have his Bengals defense tight in the box to force Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon to throw the ball vertically, something that may be a problem for the speed-deprived Raiders offense. …………Cleveland…..Which offense will show up Sunday for the Browns is not an issue according to the team. After reviewing game film, the Browns coaching staff spent a significant amount of time working on some issues that arose from the viewing. Namely, the interior of the offensive line missed numerous blocking assignments, especially in the running game. While we'll institute the no finger pointing policy here, the two youngest members of the offensive line were the center of attention…. The defense, an area that was of great concern to anyone that follows the team on a regular basis came away with a strong effort in the team's 9-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But, there is a lot of room for improvement from the Browns defense. Coaches on the defensive side of the ball noted that the Browns missed as many as nine opportunities to make a big play, create a turnover, or stop a play for negative yardage…. Middle linebacker Andra Davis and outside linebacker Ben Taylor were cited by the coaching staff for their solid play last week….With the Browns believing that the Baltimore Ravens will attempt to be aggressive and blitz coming out of the gate, a team has worked on some hot-reads this week that could shed more light on what could be a declining Baltimore defense…………Pittsburgh…..It's too early for the Terrible Towels, but the Pittsburgh defense is a confident group after their dominating performance against division rival Baltimore last Sunday. Coming off a season which left numerous questions about the talent on the roster, head coach Bill Cowher has the defense playing aggressive Steelers style defense….Linebacker Joey Porter could have played this week if the Steelers were in dire need, but Cowher told Porter that he will sit out the star linebacker one more week and prepare for the Steelers game next week against the Cincinnati Bengals….The quad injury suffered by wide receiver Plaxico Burress had the team somewhat concerned mid-week, but Burress has shown no ill-effects and expects to be near 100% come game-time….Quietly, the Steelers are concerned about the health of starting center Jeff Hartings. According to voices heard in Pittsburgh, the team is an injury away to Hartings from having some serious offensive line issues….From an AFC Scout, "The Steelers are the most dangerous team in the AFC right now. If they can maintain a defensive edge with that offense, they will be hard to beat."

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