It’s Week 10. It’s Friday. It’s time for the 10-pack.
We could say more.
Or we could just get to the 10 takes for the upcoming weekend of action.
1. Peppers gets another crack at McKinnie.
Last December, the Vikings had cruised to an 11-2 record. They traveled to Charlotte for a Sunday night game that widely was expected to result in another easy win.
It didn’t, due in large part to the fact that Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers repeatedly confounded Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie, which in turn left quarterback Brett Favre banged around for the first time all year. It got so bad that coach Brad Childress considered benching Favre, and the aftermath became Round One of a back-and-forth between the two men that has continued — and escalated — into the present season.
That loss, combined with defeat the next week at Soldier Field, gave the Vikings one loss too many, forcing the Vikings to go on the road for the NFC title game.
Now, with the Vikings trying to dig out of a deep hole, Peppers gets another crack at McKinnie as a member of the Bears. And to a certain extent that big contract paid to Peppers was influenced by his mastery of McKinnie.
So even though Peppers has managed only two sacks in eight games, he can earn a lot of his pay for the year by helping disrupt the Minnesota offense, and sending the Vikings to 3-6.
2. Schwartz’s honeymoon is officially over.
Given the years of ineptitude that preceded him, including the only 0-16 season in NFL history, Lions coach Jim Schwartz gets plenty of extra latitude before landing on the hot seat in Detroit.
His latitude ran out last Sunday.
On the brink of the franchise’s biggest win since the Barry Sanders era, the Lions found a way to squander a 10-point lead against the Jets.
The collapse include a misguided decision by backup quarterback Drew Stanton to throw the ball on third down with fewer than two minutes raining. The incompletion stopped the clock and left the Jets with enough time to complete the comeback, forcing overtime with a field goal.
“That’s my fault,” Schwartz said after the game. “I didn’t do a good enough job. Looking back on that, [we shouldn’t] even give him the option to pass. Drew didn’t want to take lost yardage on that play, and I did a poor job communicating that with him. I told him, ‘If it’s not there, eat it and run it.’”
That’s probably the smoothest effort at under-bus-throwing you’ll ever see. “I did I poor job of telling him not to throw it. I only told him not to throw it.” And the players in the locker room are smart enough to realize that Schwartz ultimately wasn’t smart enough to just say, “We never should have called a pass play.”
Then there’s the ridiculously misguided decision to trot out Ndamukong Suh to try an extra point after a touchdown that gave the Jets a 13-10 lead. Peter King of SI.com recently made an interesting case during one of our Saturday night FNIA team dinners that the success rate for two-point conversions (roughly 53 percent) could eventually prompt a coach to consider going for two all the time. Though most coaches wouldn’t have the nerve to commit to such an approach, going for two should be a lot more attractive when the backup kicker is a 307-pound lineman.
For a coach like Schwartz, a Moneyball-style stats geek, the notion that he couldn’t instantly go Raymond Babbitt on the cost-benefit permutations and realize he should just go for two makes us wonder whether Schwartz, like so many really smart guys, has no common sense.
3. Braylon still hasn’t grown up.
Last year, Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards got into a fight with a 120-pound friend of LeBron James. Promptly thereafter, the Browns dumped him, trading him to the Jets.
Edwards had run his mouth about Cleveland before leaving, and he continues to run his mouth about Cleveland after leaving.
“For the people that don’t like me, I share the same feeling,” Edwards said recently. “I don’t like them as well. I could give you a B.S. answer, but the short and skinny of it is that I’m going back there to handle business.”
He also has referred to having a “personal war” with Cleveland, always a smart thing to say when a one-man army will enter a stadium of 73,000.
Instead, how about shutting up, and maybe growing up? The Browns made him the third pick in the 2005 draft, and the Browns paid him a lot of money. The team and the city stuck with the pass-catcher despite a chronic inability to, you know, catch passes. It was only after Edwards roughed up Steve Urkel that the Browns decided to move on.
So why can’t Braylon just thicken his skin? Sure, it gives us more things to discuss on these pages, but at a certain point it would be more rewarding to see a guy learn from his mistakes, show appreciation for what he has, and demonstrate actual growth.
4. Marshall reunion occurs on an important date.
Forty years ago on Sunday, the Marshall football team played a game at East Carolina. On the way home to Huntington, West Virginia, the team plane crashed. There were no survivors.
Among the deceased were Frank Loria, a former Virginia Tech All-American who was one of my wife’s many cousins, and who played football at the high school my son will attend. An assistant coach at Marshall, Frank left two small daughters, with his only son on the way. (Two of my wife’s other cousins were on the team didn’t make the trip due to injury.)
Former Marshall receiver Randy Moss dishonored the dead 14 years ago, when a member of the Thundering Herd football team. “The plane crash was before my time,” Moss told Sports Illustrated in 1996. “I don’t try to go back in the past and say this football game is for the people in the plane crash. I’ve seen the burial ground. I went up there and looked at the names. It was a tragedy, but it really wasn’t nothing big.”
(And yet everyone who has every played with or coached this guy continues to make excuses for him.)
Given that Moss will be squaring off against a Dolphins team that features one of his former Marshall quarterbacks, Chad Pennington, on the fortieth anniversary of the disaster, we wanted to take a moment and remind PFT Planet of the fact that it really was something big for hundreds of family members and friends, and for thousands of West Virginians.
5. McNabb, Vick, Kolb prove Reid’s value.
Lost in the chatter regarding the Shanahans-McNabb feud and the resurrection of Mike Vick’s career has been the impact of the Eagles coaching staff on McNabb, Vick, and Kevin Kolb.
Though Eagles coach Andy Reid has yet to deliver a Super Bowl win to Philadelphia, he consistently has gotten the most out of guys like McNabb and Vick and Kolb. (Reid also managed to squeeze some quality performances out of guys like A.J. Feeley and Jeff Garcia.)
So with McNabb struggling in Washington, is it because Mike and Kyle Shanahan haven’t coached McNabb up as well as Reid could? And why is it that Reid has gotten more out of Vick than anyone else ever was able to muster?
As the Eagles and Redskins prepare to get together again on Monday night, these are important points to keep in mind.
6. Randy could have been better than Rice.
With Randy Moss poised to dominate the NFL news cycle over the next few days, here’s an attempt to put his 13-year career into perspective.
At 33 years of age, Moss has caught 153 touchdown passes. He’s only 44 behind Jerry Rice, who played until he was 42.
But here’s the thing. If Moss had committed himself to his craft the way that Rice did, Moss already would own that record — and he possibly would already own the receptions and receiving yardage marks, too.
Indeed, there’s a chance that Moss, not Rice, would have been the clear-cut choice for greatest player of all time.
The fact that Randy has done so well despite that “play when I wanna play” attitude highlights the supreme nature of the gifts bestowed by the Supreme Being.
If only the man who received those gifts had decided to get the most out of them that he possibly could, he never would have been traded away from the Vikings in 2005, and he’d currently have two or three large rings on his hands.
7. NFC West bunching up.
The four teams of the NFC West play each other this weekend, with the Seahawks visiting the Cardinals and the 49ers hosting the Rams. If, as both Rosenthal and I have predicted and/or guessed, the Cardinals and 49ers win, three teams will be tied at 4-5, with San Fran very much alive at 3-6.
Setting aside for now the fact that a team with an 8-8 record or worse could be hosting a playoff game, this division could go right down to the last week, with everyone having a chance to win it.
And if a team with an 8-8 record or worse wins the division, so what? Two years ago, the Cardinals finished 9-7. They were called the worst team to ever qualify for the postseason.
The Cardinals responded by nearly winning the Super Bowl.
So let’s forget the fact that this quartet of teams doesn’t compare favorably to some of the other teams in the NFC. When the records reset to 0-0 in January, anything can happen.
8. Reggie Bush happily plays the decoy role.
Sure, the Saints are on a bye this week. And even if they were playing, it’s unlikely that tailback Reggie Bush would be ready to come back from a broken fibula.
When he returns, Bush will go back to being what he has been for most of his time in the NFL — a high-priced decoy.
His presence opens up the rest of the New Orleans offense, in large part because every defense has been programmed to account for Bush. The approach has kept him from generating the kind of numbers that would make his value more obvious. Even though he never was going to be Gale Sayers, Bush could be sporting much bigger numbers right now if the Saints lacked the weapons at other positions to take advantage of all the attention Bush attracts.
And here’s how this take becomes relevant to Week 10. Look at how Randy Moss has behaved this year as a decoy in New England and Minnesota. And look at how Bush has handled himself for nearly five years as a decoy.
Suddenly, we’ve got a new level of respect and admiration for Bush.
9. Romo looms over Cowboys coaching search.
It’s fun to ponder the possible candidates for head coach of the Cowboys come 2011. But there’s one name that needs to be at least whispered when considering each and every potential hire.
New coaches don’t always want to keep the quarterbacks they inherit. This year, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan dumped Jason Campbell. Bills coach Chan Gailey eventually bailed on Trent Edwards. Last year, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels jettisoned Jay Cutler, Chiefs coach Todd Haley cut bait on Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle, Lions coach Jim Schwartz nudged Daunte Culpepper out of the top spot after drafting Matthew Stafford, and Bucs coach Raheem Morris drafted Josh Freeman.
It took a year, but Browns coach Eric Mangini unloaded Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, and Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo sent Marc Bulger packing.
Assuming that owner/G.M. Jerry Jones remains committed to Romo, a pressing topic in each and every interview will be whether and to what extent the candidate wants to keep Romo around. The challenge for Jones will be to determine which, if any, are telling him the truth.
Surely, McDaniels didn’t open his interview for the Denver job by saying, “Well, the first thing I’d do is get rid of your franchise quarterback.” Don’t count on that same kind of candor regarding Romo from any of the men who’ll eventually meet with Jones.
That reality actually could give Jason Garrett a better shot at keeping the job, assuming he can do something dramatic over the balance of the season, like turning that 1-7 record into 7-1 down the stretch.
10. Troy earns his hair money.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, one of the best defensive players in the league and one of the finest safeties of all time, usually keeps quiet.
When he’s being paid to talk, he can become downright chatty.
Polamalu made the media rounds this week as part of his Head & Shoulders campaign, and in addition to pushing shampoo he pushed some ideas regarding the league’s current system for fining players and the power of the Commissioner. Though his facts are a bit off, we admire the thoughtful manner in which he formed and articulated his ideas.
So why don’t we hear from him more often? If he has ideas and suggestions, he should be sharing them for the good of the game — and not because he’s contractually obligated to appear on a certain number of radio and television shows as part of his money-for-next-to-nothing deal with Proctor & Gamble.