Czar's Week 2 Countdown

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Falcons believe they ran into a Super Bowl-caliber defense in the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday and that their offense will play much better at home. QB Matt Ryan is 13-1 in home starts with a 63.6 percent completion mark. Of course, WR Harry Douglas has to get open more with Mike Jenkins still out. Ryan threw to Roddy White 23 times last week and White caught 13 balls for 111 yards.

RB Michael Turner also ran into a brick wall, and he’s been stuffed now on eight of his last 32 carries. Atlanta’s offensive line was simply overwhelmed by Pittsburgh’s front seven, something the Falcons don’t expect to happen against the Cardinals. Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald remains bothered by his sprained MCL knee injury, one that prevents him from elevating and making his customary circus catches. That somewhat explains why he caught only three of 15 Derek Anderson passes thrown to him against the Rams. Fitzgerald was injured in the preseason opener. Rookie WR Stephen Williams should replace the injured Early Doucet (surgery for a sports hernia) while RB Beanie Wells figures to be inactive again.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The Arizona players and coaches were raving this week about the leadership and toughness displayed by Anderson, who was knocked down nine times by the Rams last Sunday. Anderson also passed for 297 yards in that win, the fifth-best total opening weekend. He and Jay Cutler were the only ones in the top five in yardage to win, too.

There is no doubt that Anderson’s toughness and character were things the staff believed was lacking in Matt Leinart. Arizona has been a much better road team under Ken Whisenhunt, winning seven of its last nine away games. In the previous 10 seasons, the Cards were the second-worst team in the league on the road.

Arizona hopes that Doucet can return on Oct. 24 after the bye week. The Cardinals’ 3-4 defense limited Turner to 60 yards in their playoff game two seasons ago. Arizona RB Tim Hightower worked on his ball control this week after losing two fumbles against the Rams.


Tampa Bay at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET


WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Panthers are going to run and run and run. With QB Matt Moore cleared to play on Wednesday after suffering a concussion last week, coach John Fox doesn’t want to put the game on his shoulders two weeks in a row. Moore threw three end-zone interceptions in the loss to the Giants, and with Fox owning a 9-3 record against the Bucs since 2003, you can bet he’s going to run DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Also, rookie WR Brandon LaFell remains bothered by a sore hamstring, possibly giving fellow rookie David Gettis a chance to play. Gettis was inactive last week. RT Geoff Schwartz starts again for injured Jeff Otah.

Bucs QB Josh Freeman, who was intercepted five times here last season, remains bothered by a right thumb injury. Freeman is so protective of his right thumb that he doesn’t shake hands and also has learned to operate his film machine with his left hand. The Bucs are extremely pleased with Freeman’s progress, especially considering how much practice time he’s missed because of the thumb injury.

Bucs CB Aqib Talib, who missed last week’s game because of an NFL suspension, will shadow Panthers WR Steve Smith. The league still hasn’t ruled on whether Talib will be fined for attending last week’s home game during his suspension. Although Talib stayed off the sidelines and never went to the locker room, the league prohibits players from attending the games. 

The Bucs are injury-free and believe they are in perfect shape to play in the 90-degree heat today. Cadillac Williams may lose a few of his carries to Kareem Huggins, who led the Bucs in rushing during the preseason.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The Panthers are the youngest team in the league, at an average 25 years, 267 days. The Bucs are second at 26 years, 12 days. Coach Raheem Morris is excited about the early play of first-round pick Gerald McCoy because of his ability to play both defensive tackle positions. Bill Cowher may be interested in coaching again, but his friends say several teams interest him more than Carolina next year should Fox decide against returning.


Philadelphia at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET


WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This will be Michael Vick’s first start since the end of the 2006 season with the Falcons. Vick’s team missed the playoffs that year, the results costing Jimmy Mora his job. Vick isn’t catching a break, either, because Philadelphia’s offensive line is hurting and now has Mike McGlynn starting at center for Jamaal Jackson, and Nick Cole (knee) and Todd Herremans (ankle) are banged up. To settle the offense, coach Andy Reid may want to run LeSean McCoy, but it seems impractical with FB Leonard Weaver gone for the season and Mike Bell and newly signed Owen Schmidt taking over. Vick’s ability to run and escape pressure may be the best antidote for a sub-par offensive line.

The Lions are in worse shape running the ball with no real pounder in the backfield. It looks like Detroit’s defense will be minus LB DeAndre Levy and DE Cliff Avril, who twisted his knee against the Bears. With Matthew Stafford sidelined a couple weeks with a bruised throwing shoulder, ex-49er Shaun Hill starts. He must find a way to get Nate Burleson more involved. In the last 10 seasons, the Eagles were 103-56-1, the best record in the NFC and third-best in the NFL.

CZAR’S SCOOP: One thing about Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is that he’s quotable. Besides saying that new defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch is the best player he’s ever coached, he described Vick as “scary. He looks like the Michael Vick of old.” Gunther continued: “Vick is one of the best athletes in the game and I think Green Bay was shell-shocked against him. I don't know how much they prepared for him; they anticipated Kevin Kolb playing the whole game. They were in man underneath coverage with two deep safeties and you don't want to do that too many times with Michael Vick having the ball back there. He just takes two steps and he's off and running.”

Andy Reid has said that Kolb will return as the starter once he’s cleared from last Sunday’s concussion, but if Vick lights up Ford Field today how can Reid possibly bench him? Granted, Vick is not signed beyond this season and he’s already said that he wants to start. However, Kolb, who suffered a concussion against the Packers, could be in real trouble behind this shaky offensive line. The Eagles keep saying that doctors cleared MLB Stewart Bradley to return to last Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion. Omar Gaither replaces Bradley, who is still feeling the effects of that concussion.


Seattle at Denver, 4:05 p.m. ET


WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Seahawks didn’t run very well against the 49ers, but they will test the Broncos, who allowed 134 yards last Sunday. Justin Forsett and Julius Jones should both get some carries. Seattle hopes its up-tempo defense will rattle Broncos QB Kyle Orton, who generally plays smart in the pocket. The Seahawks benefited from poor San Francisco coaching last week and we aren’t sure Josh McDaniels will be as accommodating. McDaniels, though, probably won’t rush rookie Tim Tebow into the game as quickly as he did last Sunday, believing now that it messed with his team’s offensive flow. Tebow, though, is expected to play, possibly getting a series or two. Look for rookie WR Demaryius Thomas to see some action although Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd remain the threats for Orton.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The roster change-over was obviously a good thing for the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll. Matt Hasselbeck continues to say how impressed he is with how energized Carroll and his staff remain on a daily basis. The college atmosphere is not forced, either. We’ll see if it works if the losses mount during the season.

The Broncos are 23-9 in September games since 2001. Since Carroll’s arrival, the Seahawks have made 187 roster transactions, the most in the NFL. The Broncos gave up a fourth-round pick next year for disappointing New England RB Laurence Maroney. The Seahawks are 6-18 on the road since 2007. Seattle’s No. 1 pick Russell Okung remains out with a high ankle sprain.


St. Louis at Oakland, 4:15 p.m. ET


WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Rams don’t want rookie QB Sam Bradford throwing 55 passes every game, but they were pleased with how he dealt with the pressure last week. The Rams don’t know what to expect from the Raiders, who played well in preseason only to look totally uninspired in the loss at Tennessee.

Both teams want to run more and Darren McFadden (95 yards in the opener) will start for the Raiders, who will have Daniel Loper starting for LG Robert Gallery. Rams defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Clifton Royal must take advantage of Oakland center Jared Veldheer, a rookie who played at Division II Hillsdale and hadn't played center since high school. The Rams plan to send RB Steven Jackson either off guard or at DE Richard Seymour. Oakland MLB Rolando McClain has had trouble fighting off blocks. New Oakland QB Jason Campbell should be able to get untracked against the Rams’ defense that is short on cornerbacks for this game.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The Rams are not involved in any Vincent Jackson trade talks. The Raiders joined the Chargers as another California team that didn’t sell out their home opener. The Rams are worried about the crowd noise affecting Bradford and their young offensive tackles. Coach Steve Spagnuolo said he was pleased with rookie LT Rodger Saffold’s first NFL game. The team even sent its kickers to a nearby baseball field to practice kicking of the dirt because that’s how the Oakland Coliseum will be today with the A’s still playing.

Since leaving Los Angeles within months of each other in 1994, the Rams have had a better run, winning 106 games to Oakland’s 97. The Rams won their lone Super Bowl while in St. Louis while the Raiders have had seven consecutive seasons of at least 11 losses or more.


Other Sunday games


Pittsburgh at Tennessee: The Steelers’ defense stuffed Atlanta’s Michael Turner last Sunday, but Chris Johnson is another story. Still, the Steelers limited him to 57 rushing yards in last year’s opener and overall only Ray Rice has rushed for more than 100 yards in Pittsburgh’s last 35 games. With QB Dennis Dixon starting for the second straight week, the Steelers will play conservatively on offense. With Max Starks injured, Jonathan Scott will continue to fill in at left tackle. Also, Tennessee’s secondary is too good to go deep on. In order to activate defensive lineman Steve McLendon, the Steelers released Byron Leftwich on Saturday and plan to re-sign him after the game. McLendon was needed because NT Casey Hampton (hamstring) is out.

Miami at Minnesota: This could be a rough game for the Vikings if Brett Favre can't mesh with his receivers pretty quickly. He admittedly had four awful throws in the loss to the Saints, plus he and Percy Harvin must get on the same page. Harvin will play despite being bothered by a hip bruise this week. Minnesota LT Bryant McKinnie will wear a glove to protect a broken finger. Dolphins QB Chad Henne has fond memories of the Metrodome, where he once passed for three touchdowns against Minnesota. Of course, the Dome figures to be a lot louder today. WR Bernard Berrian (and his $7 million salary) figures to be the odd man out if the Vikings can trade for Vincent Jackson.

Baltimore at Cincinnati: The Bengals have won a franchise-record seven straight games against AFC North foes, but they surely looked out-classed last Sunday against the Patriots. The Bengals need to get back to running the ball and playing great defense, but the Ravens aren’t easy to run against. Both teams are a little beat-up with Bengals RB Cedric Benson having a bruised shoulder and DE Jonathan Fanene (hamstring) very questionable. Ravens DT Terrence Cody (torn left knee meniscus) probably won’t play and LBs Jarrett Johnson (back) and Jameel McClain (knee) are questionable.

Buffalo at Green Bay: Talent-wise, this is a physical mismatch with the Packers owning a huge advantage. One would suspect that the Bills should focus on running the ball a lot more, considering they do have three talented running backs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers lobbied this week for Bills RB Marshawn Lynch, but nothing has happened. Maybe the Packers could offer inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, who has put his riverfront home on the market. Hawk doesn’t play regularly in Dom Capers’ scheme, plus the Bills are starting Keith Ellison, an undersized player (6-1, 227) at the position today. With Ryan Grant gone for the season, the Packers’ lone move was to sign Dimitri Nance off Atlanta’s practice squad.

Kansas City at Cleveland: The Chiefs upset the Chargers on Monday night, thanks to a club-record 160 punt return yards, including rookie Dexter McCluster’s 94-yard touchdown. The Browns are coming off a dismal loss in Tampa, plus Seneca Wallace will start at quarterback for the injured Jake Delhomme (right ankle). Rookie Colt McCoy could serve as the No. 2 quarterback for Cleveland. Look for Cleveland to use Josh Cribbs in its wildcat offensive look.

New England at N.Y. Jets: This could be a wild one, considering how much the Patriots want to prove to the Jets that they are still top dog in the AFC East. There is a lot of bad blood between these two franchises, going back to Bill Parcells jumping ship to coach the Jets, plus Spygate, in which the Jets leaked video on Bill Belichick’s cheating ways. He was fined $500,000 for that. Jets CB Darrelle Revis will start despite complaining of a hamstring pull. You can bet that Patriots WR Randy Moss, who has been called a “slouch” by Revis, will want to test New York’s best defensive player. The Jets have put a muzzle on QB Mark Sanchez and he needs to do more downfield throwing to open up the running lanes for Shonn Green and LaDainian Tomlinson. Tom Brady tied Joe Montana with his 12th Sports Illustrated cover this week.

Houston at Washington: There is plenty of coaching familiarity here. Seven Houston coaches used to work for the Redskins’ Mike Shanahan while his son, Kyle, now Washington’s offensive coordinator, used to babysit for Gary Kubiak’s family. Kubiak learned the passing game from Shanahan, but also learned to stick with the running game. He did that during last Sunday’s upset of the Colts by feeding RB Arian Foster. Figure on more of the same today while Shanahan wants to get Clinton Portis untracked. Houston’s Andre Johnson is trying to become the league’s first receiver with three consecutive 1,500-yard seasons. It will be a tough road with only 33 yards after one game.

Jacksonville at San Diego: The Chargers need to regroup and they will get OLB Shawne Merriman back. Merriman was late reporting to camp and then he had to shut it down in the preseason because a sore Achilles tendon. San Diego will need him to put pressure on David Garrard, who is coming off a three-touchdown performance in last Sunday’s win over the Broncos. It was a career-high quarterback rating (138.9) day for Garrard. There is no question that QB Phillip Rivers missed Vincent Jackson last Monday night and he better get used to it. The game is blacked out because San Diego fans simply aren’t sure what to make of Norv Turner’s team. Bad draft? Only RB Ryan Matthews made  the team out of San Diego’s six draft picks.

New York Giants at Indianapolis: This will be only the second time that the Manning brothers have met, with Peyton winning back in 2006 in the season opener, 26-21. Eli apparently will have WR Hakeem Nicks (ankle) in the lineup, and that’s essential since Nicks caught three TDs last Sunday. New York’s coaches did talk to new LB Keith Bullock about tendencies with the Indy offense, since Bullock played against Peyton Manning twice a year with the Titans. The Giants also have Jim Sorgi, who was Peyton’s backup quarterback for many years. “I’ve seen a lot of teams and a lot of defenses give him a little trouble early and by the second quarter or the second half he’s figured it out and the offense is humming again, scoring points,” Sorgi said. “Historically, that’s just the way it’s been. He’s very good at studying film, very good at studying tendencies and stuff, going back years and years even in film study on coordinators and players.” The Colts haven’t opened 0-2 since Peyton’s rookie season, 1998.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Smith Sr., Kyle Kosier, Julius Peppers, Shaun Hill, Jason Witten, Chris Johnson, Tony Romo, Jamaal Jackson, Julius Jones, Steven Jackson, Jim Sorgi, Michael Turner, Jason Campbell, Vincent Jackson, Derek Anderson, Jonathan Fanene, Kyle Orton, Daniel Loper, Ryan Grant, A.J. Hawk, Jay Cutler, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Scott, Mike Bell, Nick Cole, Steve Smith, Stewart Bradley, Doug Free, Kevin Kolb, Matt Moore, Jonathan Stewart, Chris Johnson, Mike Jenkins, Matt Forte, Matt Ryan, Mike McGlynn, Tim Hightower, Early Doucet, Mark Sanchez, LeSean McCoy, David Gettis, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Stephen Williams

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