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7 Points: Favre is far from shaking the rust
Point 1: Brett Favre isn't ready for the regular season.
As I saw and heard comments this week about how good Brett Favre looked against the Houston Texans on Monday night, I couldn't help but wonder what game those people had watched.
For the record, I'm not a Favre basher. In fact, I've taken shots from fans for previously writing about how much I enjoy watching him play, how he should continue to play for as long as he wants to and for anyone who's willing to pay him.
But I didn't watch the game with a Brett Favre Fan Club membership card clutched in my hands. And he simply wasn't impressive. At times, he looked stiff while running play action or attempting to hand off on a stretch play. He was slow to react to blitz situations, taking two sacks and throwing off balance on a couple of other occasions. And he even looked a bit befuddled as he struggled to find an open receiver on a few plays.
Some of you are probably astonished over how I could be so critical of a quarterback who completed 13 of 18 throws for 142 yards and a touchdown. After all, those look like pretty good numbers for a guy who played a little less than three quarters.
But I took a closer look at Favre's 18 throws that counted in the outcome of the game. He actually threw a few more than that, but they were nullified by Minnesota penalties.
Six of his 13 completions were screen passes behind the line of scrimmage. Two other screen attempts fell incomplete, including one that was batted away by Texans defensive end Connor Barwin while Favre was operating out of the shotgun.
Four completions were little dump passes caught between 3-6 yards from the line of scrimmage. So that means that to complete 10 of his 13 passes, Favre didn't have to throw the ball further than six yards from the line of scrimmage.
That's a pretty good gig for a starting quarterback who is drawing a paycheck like Favre's if you can get it.
His three remaining completions were caught just 11-12 yards downfield. So by the end of the night, by my count, Favre only pushed the ball upfield 53 yards. His receivers tacked on 89 "passing yards" for him after the catch. All three of his pass attempts longer than 15 yards were incomplete, with only one touching the fingertips of the intended receiver.
You think Favre didn't notice that he wasn't in an NFL-ready groove yet? Then explain why he lobbied to get back into the game for another possession after being scheduled to only play in the first half.
Honestly, Favre should ask to play for a full half in Minnesota's final preseason game. Although that final preseason matchup is usually reserved for backups, Favre needs more game reps. And there's nothing wrong with that. He's only been a member of the team for about 12 days, so give the guy some time to get in sync with his receivers and a little more live action under his belt. He still has his confident field presence and is a great leader. He's a smart, gutsy quarterback who will get on track and will soon start looking like the Brett Favre who was among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league up until his injury started nagging at him last season.
But in the meantime, let's all be more honest about his progress and his performance and take off the nostalgia goggles.
Point 2: Reggie Wayne is the league's ironman among starting wide receivers.
While wide receivers around the league have increasingly projected themselves as self-centered, underpaid or unappreciated, most aren't durable or talented enough to put together a long string of consecutive NFL starts.
But Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne is a clear exception.
The ninth-year pro enters the season with 97 consecutive starts and 118 consecutive game appearances. Both marks are tops among NFL receivers. And if for any reason you still aren't impressed, let this fact sink in the second-best consecutive starts streak by an active wide receiver is 42, by Buffalo's Lee Evans. That's well less than half of Wayne's streak.
The last time Wayne wasn't a member of the starting lineup for a regular-season game was Week 16 of the 2002 season, his second year in the league while he was still competing for a starter's role. Last year, the former first-round pick caught 82 passes for 1,145 yards and six touchdowns. In 2007, he caught 104 passes and led the league with 1,510 receiving yards.
Point 3: The Detroit Lions have made some significant strides in protecting the quarterback.
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While most people are focusing on the quarterback battle in Detroit, they may have overlooked that the team's passers are benefiting from a significant offseason improvement on the offensive line.
Last year, the Lions were 31st in sacks allowed, surrendering a sack on 10.2 percent of their pass attempts. After three preseason games, the offensive line has allowed just three sacks, dropping that rate to just 2.7 percent. And that's the third-best mark in the league.
If they can keep that up during the regular season, that's going to have a significant impact on the Lions' passing game, no matter who gets the starter's job.
Point 4: The Jaguars added a sixth-round pick to their current draft class at the expense of the Cleveland Browns.
When the Browns placed sixth-round draft pick Don Carey on the waived/injured list, they expected him to clear waivers. And so did Carey.
Shortly after the news hit that the rookie cornerback was being waived, we exchanged text messages. He stated in his reply that the team would be moving him to their injured reserve list after he cleared waivers, and he expected to be with the Browns for a long time.
But Jacksonville had noticed the talent and speed of the four-year starter out of Norfolk State, so when he unexpectedly showed up on the waiver wire, they put in a claim. And then they did exactly what Cleveland should have done they held him on their roster until Tuesday of this week, when rosters had to be reduced to 75 players. Once teams complete their first wave of cuts, they're allowed to put non-vested veterans those players with less than four years of service on injured reserve without exposing them to the waiver wire.
So Jacksonville got Cleveland's sixth-round draft pick without having to provide any compensation to the Browns. Carey will be able to spend this season learning the team's defensive and special teams schemes so that he can hit the ground running in 2010 as a member of the Jaguars secondary.
That's a smart and sweet deal for the Jaguars.
Point 5: The Broncos have really bungled the Brandon Marshall situation.
Back in mid-June, I wrote "The New Marshall Plan: Trade Him" and pointed out that for the good of the team, Denver needed to get rid of the talented, but immature, wide receiver. Many others in the media were saying that trading Marshall after the team had already shipped quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago would send a message to the rest of the roster that you could simply bully your way out of Denver whenever you were ready to leave.
I said it then, and I'll say it again. That's nonsense. That stance is only useful in trying to prove a point. It doesn't make good business sense.
Try to approach the decision like a business owner, not with your emotions. Back in June, Denver had much more to lose than to gain by holding onto Marshall. And now, after trying to show Marshall who's the boss, they are experiencing that reality. The team had to suspend the temperamental receiver for the balance of the preseason for his disruptive attitude and actions during team activities.
Despite Marshall's numerous brushes with the law over the past three years, there were teams who would have provided Denver with great value for a receiver with Marshall's talent back in June. Up until the last couple of weeks, Marshall has been a model teammate on the field. But now, after watching the man-child throw mini-tantrums during practice, a few of those teams probably won't enter the bidding. And the remaining teams who may be willing to take the risk of adding Marshall to their roster now have the bargaining edge in trade negotiations. After all, they'll be making offers to remove a problem child from Denver's house who has transcended from an off-the-field to an on-the-field distraction.
At the moment, all Denver has done is given Marshall a reprieve from the doldrums of preseason practices while pulling a few dollars out of his fat wallet that he won't miss. My guess is that's a pretty good tradeoff in his mind right now.
And while the Broncos have to publicly state they aren't going to trade him in hopes of drawing a stronger offer from other clubs you have to believe that at this point they'll jump at a fair offer so that they can move on and rid the team of the distraction of even talking about him once the season begins. While teams like the Ravens are still in need of a top receiver, I'd be surprised to see head coach John Harbaugh welcoming a malcontent like Marshall to his team. The Jets, Titans, Lions and Rams are teams that I think could be willing to roll the dice a bit and enter the bidding.
Point 6: Titans rookie Jason McCourty has shown that he can be special.
Every year at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, draft prospects tell me that they know they need to make an impact on special teams to improve their odds of making a 53-man roster.
Well, former Rutgers cornerback Jason McCourty is walking the talk in Tennessee.
The rookie cornerback leads the NFL in special teams coverage tackles with six solo tackles and two assists in four preseason games. According to the NFL's count, no other player in the league veteran or rookie has notched more than four solo tackles as teams head into their final week of preseason action.
McCourty picked off a pass during the team's opener against the Bills in the Hall of Fame game and has logged a total of nine solo tackles, two assists and a tackle for a loss during four preseason games. He's also defended a pair of passes and averaged 16 yards per kickoff return on three attempts.
The Titans still haven't decided who will return kickoffs for them, and McCourty is scheduled to get some more opportunities to prove that he can be that player when Tennessee faces the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.
Although he's buried a bit on the team's depth chart at cornerback, the sixth-round pick has shown that he can make plays on special teams. That should help his chances immensely as the Titans trim their roster this weekend.
Point 7: Rookie James Davis could eventually force veteran running back Jamal Lewis into a backup role in Cleveland.
Some analysts and fans were surprised that the Cleveland Browns didn't use their first pick in the draft to claim their running back of the future. After all, Jamal Lewis is entering his 10th NFL season as a 30-year old rusher who has only exceeded a 3.6 yards-per-carry mark once in the last four years. But the Browns selected former California center Alex Mack, who will play a key role in opening holes for whoever the team lines up at the running back position over the next few years.
While Jerome Harrison, a former fifth-round pick by the Browns, was expected to push Lewis for the featured-back role in Cleveland this year, a new candidate has surfaced former Clemson running back James Davis, who wasn't added to the team's roster until the sixth round of this year's draft.
Lewis is off to a slow start, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on 24 attempts during the preseason. And while Davis' 7.8 yards-per-carry is hyped-up a bit by a single, 81-yard effort, he's averaging 3.8 yards per attempt on his other 18 runs. He's also caught seven passes for 44 yards.
That said, Harrison, a fourth-year player out of Washington State, was drawing rave reviews from new head coach Eric Mangini prior to the running back being hampered for the past few weeks by an undisclosed leg injury. But it doesn't appear to have dampened Mangini's enthusiasm.
"He did a lot of positive things on the field," the Browns head coach said recently about Harrison. "And he's still doing a lot of positive things, in terms of his classroom work and staying up with the information."
No matter which quarterback is named the starter in Cleveland following the final preseason game next week, he's going to need a strong running game to help establish some balance in the Browns' offensive attack. And another 3.6-yards-per-carry season or worse from Lewis isn't going to cut it. So expect Harrison and Davis to get some opportunities to show if they can run past the veteran on the depth chart as the season progresses.