Point 1: The best running back tandem in the NFC East isn't in New York or Washington.
The Redskins have Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, a pair of running backs who shouldn't be taken for granted by any opponent. New York has Brandon Jacobs--one of the most physical running backs in the league--and a youngster with high potential in Ahmad Bradshaw.
But as I look at the running back tandems in the NFC East, I think the top two are in Dallas and Philadelphia. And I think the only thing that's going to allow one of those pairs to definitively outshine the other will be injuries.
The Cowboys will rely more heavily on their running game this year. That'll allow them to reap the full benefits of the powerful, hard-nosed running of Marion Barber and Felix Jones. It'll also take some pressure off Tony Romo, who doesn't have as much talent depth at the wide receiver position to work with this year.
And here's the bottom line. That duo is going to leave marks on the people who try to tackle them.
By contrast, Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy are going to befuddle would-be tacklers with their moves and quickness. They both have an uncanny knack for momentarily disappearing through a sliver of an opening in the line and emerging at full speed.
If you forced me to pick which pair will roll up the most yards, I'd give the edge to Barber and Jones – not because I think they bring any more talent to bear, but because they'll get more rushing opportunities. I expect the Eagles offense to be more evenly balanced between the pass and run than you'll see in Dallas this year.
Point 2: I was a bit surprised by Kyle Orton's horrific debut in Denver.
Former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton got off to a rough start in Denver.
Jed Jacobsohn/AP Photo
Before you get the wrong idea, my surprise wasn't based on a delusion over Orton supposedly being a capable and effective starter in this league. In fact, I've yet to see him prove that he's better than No. 2 signal-caller. And he reinforced that assessment by throwing three interceptions during 3 of his 4 offensive series while playing the entire first half against the 49ers. As a result, his teammates went in at halftime with no points on the scoreboard, probably wishing that team owner Pat Bowlen could have found a way to keep Jay Cutler in Denver earlier this year.
No, what I found to be surprising was that a quarterback with even a second-tier level talent would struggle so badly with so much talent surrounding him.
Orton clearly has a better pass-blocking line in Denver than he had in Chicago. The Bears were a run-first offense, and their assembled talent across the line was more proficient at pushing forward than pulling back into protection. And is there any doubt that Orton had better receivers running routes than he had in Chicago? I don't think there's much use in debating that one.
Although Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels did the right thing and showed plenty of support for Orton following the game, you have to believe that Orton's going to have to show some dramatic improvement this week to keep McDaniels from giving Chris Simms a better shot at the starter's job.
Point 3: While the Vikings finally have a top-tier quarterback, watch for some fallout, compliments of the Favre & Childress follies.
Brett Favre's late addition to the roster is risky business for Vikings head coach Brad Childress.
Hannah Foslien/AP Photo
If you were among those who thought there was no way that the Brett Favre's career could reach a new level of absurdity, congratulations on being treated to yet another truly-twisted twist of fate.
As the comments from the press conferences and interviews flowed out of Minnesota, I found myself having a hard time swallowing the claims of Viking head coach Brad Childress contacting Favre one last time out of the blue in an effort to be absolutely, totally, and unequivocally sure that Favre wasn't interested in being the team's starting quarterback this year.
This weird image popped into my head of Childress bolting upright in his bed in the middle of the night with beads of sweat on his forehead in a moment of clarity that had eluded him. And in that moment, he realized that his future as an NFL head coach was in the hands of the former second-string quarterback of the Houston Texans and a wannabe starter who couldn't even move the offense effectively against the Indianapolis Colts' second-string defense.
And the answer to his problem was still just a phone call away. So heck, why not call him one more time, right?
Childress now has Favre in his arsenal of offensive weapons, but at what price? After allowing his offense to build rapport and timing with their new quarterback, Sage Rosenfels, Childress is giving Favre the teacher's pet treatment. And that's going to undoubtedly demoralize Rosenfels, who has worked his tail off for months to earn the right to lead the Minnesota offense. And Rosenfels had just completed an impressive preseason debut in which he completed 10 of 13 pass attempts to help his team score twice against the Colts last Friday night before he went to the sidelines.
All that said, I don't begrudge Favre for coming back. He loves to play the game and he's awfully fun to watch. And if the Vikings were willing to roll out the red carpet for him, he would have been stupid not to take them up on the offer.
But Childress better start treating him no better than Jared Allen or any of the other veterans who are well-respected around the league. After all, last year Favre managed to fracture the Jets organization without any help from Eric Mangini, so imagine the damage he'll do if Childress continues to treat him like a star-stuck fan. And the Vikings head coach better be praying that Favre can stay healthy all season and play at a high level. Because if Childress is forced to turn to Rosenfels at any point during this season to bail out his team, he'll lose the respect of some of his players as he attempts to embrace Rosenfels as "his guy" after turning his back on him at the eleventh hour.
Point 4: There are plenty of players in this league who could take their game to a higher level if they saw the game through Frank Gore's eyes.
Another player who clearly wakes up excited about playing football every day is 49ers running back Frank Gore.
After the 49ers and the Raiders coaching staffs carefully choreographed joint practice sessions this week, Gore was obviously stoked about not having to wait until the weekend to knock heads with players from another team. As running backs took turns blocking linebackers during one-on-one pass blitz drills, Gore enthusiastically mixed it up with the Raiders linebackers, knocking one to the ground and tangling with another until they were told to break it up.
After the practice, head coach Mike Singletary was asked about Gore's aggressive nature during the drill. "I told Frank I was going to put him on the bus if he does that again," Singletary said with a smile. "He did a nice job. Frank is a guy who gets excited about what he's doing, and to me, his heart, his emotion, and his enthusiasm is what this game is all about."
Point 5: Things are going to get worse for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb before they get better.
Things will likely get worse for Kevin Kolb before they get better.
Rich Schultz/AP Photo
When Eagles head coach Andy Reid told backup quarterback Kevin Kolb that the team was adding Michael Vick to the team's roster, he reportedly told Kolb that he was still No. 2 on the depth chart. And that was undoubtedly a true statement at that point in time.
But let's face it, the Eagles didn't bring Vick to town to be Kolb's understudy. He's a better fit for the Eagles offense if Donovan McNabb would get banged-up. The Eagles wouldn't have to change the way they attack teams offensively since they'd be replacing one mobile quarterback with another.
So barring an injury to McNabb or Vick, Kolb is likely the odd man out in Philadelphia this year. And the bad part for Kolb is that he won't likely get traded until the end of the summer at the very earliest, robbing him of the opportunity to learn a new offense during the preseason.
Since Commissioner Roger Goodell could wait as long as Week 6 to reinstate Vick, or could do it as early as Week 1, Philadelphia can't afford to trade Kolb until they know for sure that Vick would be eligible to be the team's No. 2 quarterback and if Vick doesn't get reinstated until Week 6, the team won't get the value for Kolb that they could command right now for the former second-round pick. The NFL's trade deadline is the Tuesday following Week 6 action, so the Eagles would have to scramble to get the best offer possible before the door closes, giving bidders the negotiating edge.
The Eagles have a bye during Week 4, so that would be a logical time for reinstatement if all seems to be in order.
The silver lining in all of this hassle for Kolb is that whenever he's dealt, he could land with a team that's in real trouble at the position due to an early-season injury or inept play by their starter. So while he may be traveling on an uncertain and rocky path for the next month or two, he could end up with a better career opportunity if he can just hang on.
Point 6: Joseph Addai will bounce back from a lackluster 2008--and he'll have rookie Donald Brown to thank for it.
Joseph Addai will need to step up his game to keep his job in Indy.
Michael Conroy/AP Photo
You have to wonder if the Colts were second-guessing their long-term assessment of Joseph Addai during the offseason.
After watching him wallow through a slump that resulted in a mere 544 yards in 12 starts after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Indianapolis invested their first-round pick in the NCAA's 2008 rushing leading, Donald Brown. And the rookie will likely be the catalyst for Addai returning to form in 2009 -- if he stays healthy.
In the team's preseason opener against the Vikings, Addai got the early hook, just like the bulk of the incumbent starters. He ran the ball twice during his short stint, gaining 13 yards. But then he watched Brown make his preseason debut, eagerly hitting holes with speed and precision, just like last season when Brown rolled up 2,083 yards for the University of Connecticut. By the time Brown retired for the evening, he had amassed 58 yards on just five carries to average 11.6 yards per touch.
While Addai once again looked like the smooth-running, patient runner that had helped him be successful in his first two seasons, he's got to be feeling the heat of Brown breathing down his back. But whether or not Addai or Brown emerges at the top of the depth chart by the end of the summer, the Colts have clearly invigorated a rushing attack that was one of the worst in the league in 2008.
Point 7: A new type of NFL fantasy football will soon be available, and you'll even be able to play it during the offseason.
I was listening to Sirius NFL Radio earlier this week and heard Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure talk about a venture he's involved in that would allow fantasy football fans to play in leagues all year round and reconnect with great players from the past.
In Yesteryear Fantasy Football, which is scheduled to launch in October, you can draft your favorite players from the past and make trades just like you do in regular fantasy football. Based on what I've heard and read, it appears that a three-year period from the past is selected to start your season, and team owners then hold a draft selecting players from that period for their teams. So if you were playing a season made up of players from the 1981-1983 seasons, you could be drafting Terry Bradshaw based on how he performed towards the end of his career, or guys like Joe Montana, Dan Marino and John Elway who were in the early stages of their careers.
Computer simulation games are played out based on how the player performed over the three-year period, not his entire career. So team owners will need to do some research to increase their odds of success, bringing those great players' achievements--and the ups and downs of their careers--to life.
While details are still a bit sketchy at their website, and they plan to have the service up and running year-round, it's a concept that I think could really take off, especially during the offseason. And one of the other great aspects of this venture is that a percentage of profit from the operation will go towards one of the organizations that supports retired NFL players.
Check it out this October. Here's the link to their website.
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