Surprises and Disappointments Through Week 4

Unpredictability remains the only truly predictable element of every new NFL season. Adam Caplan discusses the NFL clubs which have had an unexpected rise or fall so far in 2006.

You'll often hear NFL head coaches talk about how they break each part of the season into quarters with the first portion now being over.

While the coaches are trying to see what needs to be improved on, we're taking a look at a few of the surprises and disappointments through the first quarter of the season.


Surprises


New Orleans Saints – When you look at their offensive and defensive personnel, it would be hard to see the success they're having coming into the season.

Their offensive line is made up of LT Jammal Brown who is playing on that side for the first time in his career, oft-injured RT Jon Stinchcomb, journeyman LG Jamar Nesbit, C Jeff Faine who the Browns didn't want any more, and a rookie at RG (Jahri Evans). You have to give offensive line/offensive coordinator Doug Marrone credit. He's done a heck of a job molding his unit in such a short period of time.

But the story on offense has to be rookie WR Marques Colston who many teams shied away from in this year's draft because they projected him to be a tight end. That explains why he dropped to the seventh round. But his rapid development is why the team felt good about trading WR Donte' Stallworth.

Sure rookie RB Reggie Bush has given the team the big play element to the offense and QB Drew Brees has brought stability, but no player on offense has made more of an impact than Colston. He clearly has the trust of Brees, Marrone, and head coach Sean Payton to call his name in tough situations.

Defensively, just like on the other side of the ball, there are plenty of surprises.

Up front, DT Hollis Thomas likely wouldn't have made the final roster with the Eagles yet he's starting for the Saints and is playing better than he has in years. The 32-year old veteran just might have a few more good years left in the tank which certainly didn't seem like the case before the season started. The player next to him, Brian Young, has been playing at a high level as well.

The ends, especially third-year pro Will Smith, have been performing well. Many league observers believe Smith could be on the verge of a Pro Bowl season.

The linebacker position looked to be a weak link on paper but defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs has done a great job of getting his players on the second part of their front seven to play with tremendous discipline.

And the secondary, which looked to be very ordinary before the season began, has performed well and isn't giving up many big plays like they did last year. The play of rookie SS Roman Harper could be one of the biggest reasons for the improvement.



New York Jets – Here's another team that most inside the league felt would struggle. But there were some unknowns coming into the season.

How would first-time offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer call a game?

Here was the biggest question on offense. No one could really say with any certainty what kind of offense they would have. As it has turned out, the younger Schottenheimer runs a progressive offense and one that's very aggressive--the exact opposite of his father Marty.

How would the rookie offensive lineman perform?

C Nick Mangold and LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson have performed quite well to this point for veteran offensive linemen coach Tony Wise. The unit has given up 10 sacks through four games which isn't bad. The run blocking is the area which needs to improve.

Who else would step up at receiver besides Laveranues Coles?

That was a big issue at the position coming into the season. Veteran WR Justin McCareins had been demoted during training camp for third-year WR Jericho Cotchery who had a strong pre-season. Cotchery continued to improved play during the regular season and has been one of the better surprises on the offensive side of the ball in the AFC thus far.

Could QB Chad Pennington still play at a high level? Would his shoulder hold up?

You would be hard-pressed to find many outside the organization who would have said Pennington could still play well before the season started. It was more about his surgically repaired shoulder than anything else. Keep in mind the team drafted QB Kellen Clemens in the second round this year and they feel his their starter of the future. But that future may not be now based on how well Pennington has been playing and the fact that his shoulder is holding up.

Defensively, the front seven has played at an acceptable level although they need to do a better job stopping the run.

The secondary, which is very young, has performed at a solid level overall despite a few lapses where they've given up big plays.


Disappointments


Miami Dolphins – There seemed to be a lot of excitement in the air before the season started. They acquired QB Daunte Culpepper earlier this year who many thought would bring a level of stability to the position—one they haven't had since Dan Marino retired.

Second-year RB Ronnie Brown would be a full-time starter for the first time and he showed tremendous promise last year.

After all, this was a team that finished pretty well after a slow start last season.

As things have turned out, Culpepper hasn't performed well, looking jittery in the pocket and continues to hold on to the ball too long. Another issue that one league insider pointed out after watching the coaches' tape is that Culpepper doesn't understand what he's seeing from defenses or he's not making decisions quickly enough.

The other problem is the offensive line is performing poorly. They've already made a change at RG where Damion McIntosh has taken over the starting job from Kendyl Jacox. And as a pro personnel director points out, RT Vernon Carey and LT L.J. Shelton should be backups, not starters.

"(Offensive line coach) Hudson Houck can only do so much with those guys," the personnel director said.

Defensively, they're not putting as much pressure on the quarterback as they did last year and the secondary is very ordinary and is devoid of playmakers. 



New York Giants
- Certainly there was room for optimism as the season began. QB Eli Manning was ready for his second full year as a starter. Just about the entire starting offense was back for another season.

Defensively, they have four good ends that could all rush the passer.

They added former Washington LB LaVar Arrington who should have proved to be an upgrade at the position.

In the secondary, they added former Miami CB Sam Madison.

As fate would have it, the offense hasn't really been the problem. It's been the defense that has come up short.

The pass rush has surprisingly come up way short (two sacks through three games). It's almost hard to believe ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora have one sack between them.

Arrington hasn't provided any kind of impact yet and it's not a surprise when you consider he didn't find consistent success under some of his previous defensive coordinators in Washington (Gregg Williams and Marvin Lewis) who couldn't find a way to get him to stay within the system.

Madison was thought to be on the down side of his career with Miami and that seems to be the case with the Giants. The secondary has given up too many big plays so far. It would help if the front seven could muster more of a pass rush.


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