They Never Should Have Drafted Vince Young Division: Tennessee (0-6).
The last four teams have quarterback problems that will keep them down until solved. JaMarcus Russell is a disaster; we don’t need to see any more of him to know his pocket presence and awareness are horrible and his accuracy just as bad. Jason Campbell far too often looks for the easy checkdown than for the open throw downfield, and watching the first half of the Monday nighter, I’m convinced his pocket awareness, too, is severely flawed. In Carolina, John Fox has to be wondering if Jake Delhomme is Steve Sax. I know I am. In Tennessee, Jeff Fisher has to see if Vince Young has a chance; there is no sense playing Kerry Collins now. But I have little faith that Young will work there, and the Titans must not either, based on Fisher’s unwillingness to play him significant minutes.
But the five teams in the Blow It Up Division have three things in common. If I’m the owner of any of them, I think it’s foolish to think anything but stay the course and let’s evaluate everything after the season. The only place among the five that I think has even a small chance of getting blown up in-season is Cleveland. But that shouldn’t be judged until January.
The common denominators among the Bucs, Rams, Browns, Chiefs and Lions:
1. (Mostly) New front offices trying to change the culture. All but St. Louis have new general managers, and with the Rams, new coach Steve Spagnuolo and COO Kevin Demoff have joined willing agent-of-change GM Bill Devaney in changing everything about the organization. The Bucs had the fifth-oldest team in football last year; now they’re the third-youngest. Eric Mangini and George Kokinis would change everything about the Browns (I think including the nickname) if they could; that’s how far gone they think they found this organization. Scott Pioli was given a free hand to reconstruct the Chiefs in his vision from the ground, and he’s in the 10th month of probably a three-year building job doing that. In Detroit, Martin Mayhew (even though he’s a Matt Millen leftover) has already shown his smarts by getting first-, third- and fifth-round picks for perennial underachiever Roy Willams, and he’s found a willing partner for change in new-thinking Jim Schwartz. I think Mayhew deserves to be judged on his own.
2. Coaches trying to establish newness takes a while. Ask the Chiefs about the four-and-a-half-hour practice days (two sessions) in training camp of Todd Haley compared to the much-softer hand of Herman Edwards. Haley will now be tested by this Larry Johnson Twitter criticism. At Tampa, Raheem Morris probably got his job a year too soon, but the Bucs were worried about losing him to another team in 2010. In Detroit, Schwartz changed the weight room to almost all free weights to build strength for a team he thought got pushed around too much. Romeo Crennel was the benevolent uncle in Cleveland, Mangini the marine uncle. (Not saying he’s better, just saying he’s totally different.) Steve Spagnuolo got to know everyone in the building in St. Louis and promoted team to the point where he took down all individual current photos of players in the building.
3. The quarterbacks are all struggling and/or hurt. This week, 35 quarterbacks qualify for the NFL’s quarterback stats, having played enough to justify inclusion. The five quarterbacks of these teams — Matt Cassel, Marc Bulger, Matthew Stafford (though out currently with a knee injury), Josh Johnson and Derek Anderson — are 25th, 27th, 29th, 33rd and 35th in passer rating, and also all in the bottom third in average per pass attempt, the more significant passing category.
Cassel and Stafford are their teams’ quarterbacks of the future and are going through growing pains. Anderson and Bulger are almost certain to be replaced long-term with draftees or free-agents in 2010. Johnson is an interesting prospect, but Josh Freeman has the best shot to be the Bucs’ long-term quarterback. When young quarterbacks struggle, rebuilding teams are almost always awful. It’s a fact of NFL life.
Which team will turn it around in 2010? My guess is Detroit and Kansas City have the best chances because they have what appear to be strong GMs, strong coaches and quarterbacks who look like they have a chance. I don’t expect Mangini to make it long-term, and I’m dubious about Morris because Tampa’s going to lose for awhile longer — maybe quite awhile. Spagnuolo should have a shot, unless whoever buys the Rams wants a big star as coach. Schwartz and Haley will have two or three years to prove themselves.
We’re all just guessing on these teams, but the ones that turn around are usually the ones with strong coaches, consistent front offices and competent quarterbacks.
I like Shaun Hill as a leader and a player, but I’d have done the same thing Mike Singletary did Monday — name Alex Smith the quarterback of his team for the foreseeable future. Simple reason: He gave the team a spark it hadn’t shown in six quarters, and with the NFC West being taken over in the past couple of weeks by Arizona, time is running out to establish a toehold in the division.
The other reason: Smith hung around the 49ers’ facility during the bye week and threw to Michael Crabtree. When they got together in the second half of Sunday’s loss at Houston, they looked like they were very much on the same page. Crabtree, who played a surprisingly high 48 snaps in the game, will be force-fed the offense because Singletary thinks he’s ready to be force-fed. He might be a bigger factor in this offense down the stretch than any of us predicted.
• NINER NATION WANTS MORE CRABTREE. From Armine Khansari of Houston: “Michael Crabtree: five catches for 56 yards, and a 20-plus-yarder brought back due to a penalty. He was on the field for almost every offensive snap and looks to be in great shape. I say he’s legit Peter. What were your impressions?”
He’s a little faster than I thought — or at least played faster at Houston. And he’ll be on the rug at Indy on Sunday, so that should help too. The couple of isolated replays I saw showed a receiver comfortable with the cuts and playing confidently; he wasn’t intimidated by anything the Texans threw at him from what I saw. A good start.
• OVERSEAS FOOTBALL. From Jeff of Atlanta: “Good point on fans in Tampa never seeing Tom Brady, etc., because of the game overseas, but don’t you HAVE to make that overseas game a cross-conference game? Otherwise, a conference game — or even worse, a division game — that might decide a playoff spot is lost, and the team that gave up that home date is REALLY penalized.”
I’m sure that’s what teams will argue. But if I’m a fan, I tell my owner, “How can you rob me of my one chance to see Tom Brady EVER? I pay good money for these tickets. Take away the Jake Delhomme game, please. But not the Brady game.”
• THE REDSKINS SHOULD HAVE TOO. From Greg of Los Angeles: “Given their O-line problems this season, should the Packers have traded up or down to take one of the tackles in this year’s draft? Michael Oher was available for a long time on draft day.”
Lots of teams are looking at Oher playing the left side for Baltimore and keeping Joe Flacco clear. Good point. I can’t argue with you. I think Oher will be a vastly over-producing player compared to some of the men who went before him in the 2009 draft.
• POINT TAKEN. From Tom of Annapolis, Md.: “Once again Peter, I enjoyed your column, but I take issue with you and some others about Adrian Peterson’s hit on William Gay. Gay got there on a bad angle and never had a chance to break down. Yes, he got wacked, but “ruined”? No. Peterson left the game after that, and his backup gave the game away. Gay never missed a play.”
Interesting point. But Chester Taylor is in the game a lot anyway, and you don’t know if Peterson would have stayed in the game after that play or gone, depending on the play called and the formation used. I admire Gay for hanging in there, but that’s a play that will haunt him for a while.
• PITTSBURGH. From Chris Palmer of St. Thomas, Ontario: “After Pittsburgh and Cincinnati beat two teams from the NFC North this weekend, who do you think stands a better chance to win the AFC North? Do you think the other team will be the wild card, or does Baltimore still have a shot?”
I like the Steelers. I think they’re better on defense. If the Steelers can run it even a little bit, they should beat Cincinnati in the rematch and win the division. I like the Bengals to be a wild card, and I wouldn’t count out Baltimore yet. I think they’ve played better than their three-game losing streak indicates.
• SHOUTOUT TO ASHWAUBENON HIGH. From Chad of Green Bay: “I happen to coach at Ashwaubenon High and take exception to your taking a shot at our receiving corps. Sure Al Harris and Charles Woodson could hold down our receivers for a while, but comparing us to the Browns? Ouch!”
They play some fine football in the Green Bay area. I’ve been to two Friday night games there over the years.
• COMES WITH THE TURF. From Ashley of Cincinnati: “Man, those crossword comments were harsh. It’s like they think you won the Nobel Peace Prize prematurely.”
I know the Sunday crossword people, and believe me, they’re not big Monday Morning QB fans.