Around the NFL for Week 11
Around the league
Mentoring Vick: The numbers for Michael Vick in last Monday's 59-28 rout of Washington — 80 yards rushing and one touchdown on just eight carries, 333 passing yards, four touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 150.7 — pretty much speak for themselves.
But flip on the projector, Eagles' offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told The Sports Xchange this week, and the celluloid images on the screen might leave one speechless. "I don't know that he made one questionable decision," Mornhinweg said. "He was going to his second, third, fourth option ... or sometimes his fifth, even. You don't ever want to use the term 'perfect.'... But he was pretty close."
That's a far cry from Vick's tenure in Atlanta, when some coaches asked him to read only half the field, or when he'd go through just two progressions before pulling the ball down and running. Mornhinweg said that, when he was the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay (1996), he afforded Brett Favre a dozen "crazy plays" per year. In '96, when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, Mornhinweg said, Favre had only eight so-called "crazy plays." He wouldn't divulge how many such plays Vick has this season, but Mornhinweg allowed it isn't many.
The Philadelphia coordinator credits much of Vick's resurrection to the quarterback himself, and to his determination to become not just a great athlete, but a complete quarterback as well. "He wants to be good, and he's really worked at it," Mornhinweg said. "There's a little chip on his shoulder, you know? Even last year, he was there before practice and after practice, throwing to people. And I don't think there's been a day since he got here that hasn't been the case. It's the toughest position to master, and he's really worked at it."
Mornhinweg said the Eagles have made some tweaks to the offense because of Vick — "obviously, you play to your strengths," he acknowledged — but that schematically the design is the same if it's Vick or Kevin Kolb at quarterback.
When Jim Mora the Younger (he isn't a "Junior," folks) was the coach in Atlanta, and Vick was his quarterback, he often used the term "athletic arrogance" for the mercurial player's penchant for trying to make plays, and for believing there was no hopeless situation, because of his unique skill-set. Vick still has some remnant of that, Mornhinweg said, but has tempered a bit the feeling that he is invincible.
"It's not necessarily a bad thing," said Mornhinweg. "But he knows there are going to be some bad plays, no matter what he does. The other night, he threw some balls away, and years ago, that might not have been the case."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin, charged this week with trying to conjure up a plan to slow Vick, said he "got indigestion and a stomach ache" from watching film of Monday's game. The last time Vick faced the Giants as a starter was on Oct. 15, 2006, a 24-14 loss at the Georgia Dome. In that game, he completed only 14 of 27 passes, for 154 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. He rushed eight times for 68 yards and a score, but fumbled four times, losing one.
No Bill of sale: A quote from Bill Parcells that appears in the NFL Network production "Bill Parcells: Reflections on a Life in Football," got a lot of media play this week. In the show, which will air Friday night, Parcells says: "I can do this one more time. That's how I feel."
The way many people translated the quote was that Parcells, who earlier this year cleaned out his office at the Miami Dolphins' complex, and is serving as on off-site consultant to the franchise, might be ready at some point to jump back in as some club's front office boss.
The only problem, as The Sports Xchange confirmed, is that Parcells made the comment about a year ago. And it really doesn't reflect the way Parcells, 69, currently feels. Of course, one never says never where Parcells is concerned, right? But people close to him insisted to The Sports Xchange on Thursday night that they will be surprised if he returns again to the NFL in any capacity. There have been no overtures, official or otherwise (of course, since he's still drawing a paycheck for the Dolphins, there can't be any kind of official contact), in that regard.
Reed riled: In the wake of the mildly surprising Tuesday release of kicker Jeff Reed by Pittsburgh, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El opined: "I'm sure something other than kicking had to be involved in the deal."
The wide receiver won't get any kind of argument from the Reed camp on that one. Granted, Reed missed seven of his 22 field goal attempts this season, and the nine-year veteran was getting increasingly shorter on his kickoff depth. But the suspicion from Reed and his people is that the problems date back to the spring, when Reed charged some Pittsburgh officials with misleading him about a long-term contract, and he instead signed a one-year deal for $2.814 million as a "franchise" player. People close to Reed claim that Steelers officials "couldn't look (Reed) in the eye after that."
Certainly Reed was not beloved by some Pittsburgh officials and coaches. Reed turned down two contract offers after he cleared waivers on Wednesday afternoon, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that one of them was from Cincinnati, where Mike Nugent is sidelined for the rest of the season by a knee injury. The Sports Xchange has heard from sources that the other one was from San Francisco, where Joe Nedney is nursing a bum knee.
The general feeling is that Reed might have been waiting on Dallas, where second-year pro David Buehler has made only 11 of 15 tries, to make a change. The general feeling, too, is that the Steelers, who signed Shaun Suisham, could well be holding kicker auditions again sometime soon. The tricky turf at Heinz Field pretty much demands a "drive" kicker, in the parlance of the trade, and Suisham is regarded more as a "touch" kicker.
On the 26-yard field goal he missed last week against New England, Reed was critical of the turf at Heinz, and that may have contributed to his release. But the TV cameras showed a close-up of the kick and it appeared that Reed's plant foot slipped from under him and moved maybe six inches on the kick.
The hurt locker: Super work by Alex Marvez this week on a story in which he reported there are more players on injured reserve at this point of the season (311) than there were at the same juncture in 2009 (277). That's a 12.3 percent increase and the numbers, which indicate there have been more injuries in '10, certainly will bolster the players' stance against an 18-game schedule.
What won't help: According to old buddy Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the NFLPA responded with the league's call for 18 games by submitting a counter. The players asked for a dramatic reduction in the number of organized team practices (OTAs) in the spring and for fewer "padded" practices.
The only problems: Although there are always a few headline-grabbing incidents in the spring, few injuries actually occur. Second, with the league emphasizing safety, and obtusely suggesting that defensive players lower their contact area, more coaches realize they'll have to re-teach the already-lost art of tackling, and want players to "pad up" a little more.
If players are so opposed to the 18-game schedule, they need to make that clear, not accept it as a done deal and offer tradeoffs as compromise.
Hot seat: There are rumblings that Houston coach Gary Kubiak could be in trouble if the Texans don't qualify for a playoff spot. And certainly if the team fails to match its 9-7 record of 2009, the first winning mark since Houston entered the league as an expansion franchise in 2002. The Texans have lost three in a row, and four of their last five, after a 3-1 start, and have dropped to 4-5 for the year.
The Texans have been a chic preseason playoff choice each of the last couple years, but have yet to earn the franchise's first postseason berth. The offense can be electric at times, but the defense, which ranks 31st, is abysmal, particularly the secondary. Owner Bob McNair, dedicated and loyal as he might be, can't be a happy man.
Mixed on McNabb: Just as there have been conflicting reports about the structure of the five-year, $78 million extension signed this week by Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb (the same offer that's been on the table for more than a month), there seem to be mixed feelings among Redskins players and team officials about the long-term viability of the 12-year veteran. McNabb, 33, has not played well this season, and as noted by The Sports Xchange in a column earlier this week, coach Mike Shanahan has a history of falling in and out of love with quarterbacks, even after rewarding them with big-money deals. If you don't believe it, ask Brian Griese or Jake Plummer.
But as one middle-level club official told The Sports Xchange: "Are we going to do any better? (Owner Dan) Snyder isn't the kind to be patient and suffer through the ups and downs of a young guy."
It's notable, though, that after going 0-for-10 on third down last Monday night, the Redskins are just 24-for-111 on the year now, and the 21.6-percent conversion rate is the NFL's worst. McNabb, who has a 79.7 career passer rating on third down, has completed only 42.4 percent of his third-down passes this season and his third-down rating is a miserable 44.5. Only once in his career has McNabb ranked in the top 10 in third-down rating.
Con(fidence) man: Hard to gauge which is lower right now, Indianapolis wide receiver Pierre Garcon's confidence in himself or Peyton Manning's decreasing confidence in the three-year veteran pass-catcher. As noted on Monday in a column by The Sports Xchange, Garcon has been brutally inconsistent of late, and his hands are certainly iffy. He's had particular trouble on passes between the hashes, and his drops have stalled or killed several drives. At a time when Manning has been reduced to throwing underneath to sustain drives — he almost never goes vertical anymore and his yards per attempt (6.90) are the lowest since his rookie season in 1998 — the Colts cannot afford the miscues.
By the way, Manning's counterpart on Sunday afternoon, Tom Brady, is also notably low on yards per attempt, at 7.16 yards, his worst since 2006. Neither team has a real home-run threat right now. Brandon Tate, the speedster who was supposed to supplant Randy Moss in New England, has one touchdown, and that came on a "scramble drill" play against Minnesota, when Brady threw for 65 yards after eluding the Vikings' pass rush.
On the positive side for the Pats, the play of rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski has been superb. The pair has combined for 53 catches, 656 yards, and eight touchdowns. That's the most receptions by a New England tight end corps since 2006, when the roster featured Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson.
Second time around: There were seven first-time head coaches in the league in 2009 and their aggregate record was 41-71, a winning percentage of .366. Despite some tough times the past few weeks, those seven coaches are currently a combined 33-30 in their sophomore seasons. Three of the coaches have already exceeded their '09 victory totals, and another has equaled his.
"Just like a player, it gets easier the second time around," said Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris. "The foundation is laid."
That said, the history of first-year coaches in their second seasons is decidedly mixed. Since 1985, there have been 81 coaches who entered into their first jobs in the NFL, and made it to a full second season. Of those coaches, 37 improved on their records in the second season, 37 regressed, and seven had the same victory total as the previous campaign. The overall differential for the 81 first-timers was a positive, but only by about one-fourth a game.
So the 2009 group seems to be ahead of the pace set by its predecessors. "You learn, as far as getting your stuff installed, that it takes a little longer," said Todd Haley of Kansas City, whose Chiefs have already topped last year's victory total. "You might not be patient, but you learn it."
Williams wanted: A lot of interested parties, several with vested interests and some with possible interests, will be watching to see how collective bargaining discussions aimed at striking an extended labor deal affect Carolina tailback DeAngelo Williams.
The five-year veteran was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week with a sprained foot. Based on the CBA implications, Williams could be an unrestricted free agent in the spring. And although he is 27 years old, and coming off an injury that limited him to six games and 87 carries this season, Williams might be popular with teams seeking a talented runner with inside toughness and long-speed dimension.
Agent Jimmy Sexton confirmed to The Sports Xchange this week that there have been no talks about a contract extension for his client. But the injury to Williams is expected to be only a four-week rehabilitation. But with the woeful Panthers going nowhere at 1-8, the decision to IR Williams was probably a prudent one, not to mention coach John Fox said the team "needed the spot" on the roster. In the previous two seasons, the former first-round pick (2006) rushed for 2,632 yards, 25 touchdowns, and a 5.4-yard average. Specialists have insured Williams that he will be fine in plenty of time for the spring, and that could make him attractive.
MVP award: With a relatively quiet week, The Sports Xchange spent some time unofficially surveying owners, general managers, personnel directors and coaches about the MVP race for this year. The unofficial leader was San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who received the votes of 14 of the 27 officials contacted. The others: Vick (eight votes), Peyton Manning (three), Clay Matthews (one) and Darren McFadden (one).
Accountability: One area in which Vick hasn't demonstrated a lot of improvement, in a year in which his 62.7-percent completion rate is 9.0 percent better than his career mark entering this season, is in taking sacks. Vick has been sacked once every 11.2 dropbacks in 2010, not significantly better than his ratio entering the season of a sack every 10.3 dropbacks.
It's kind of incongruous that a quarterback with the kind of escape skills Vick possesses would be sacked so frequently. There is, however, one major difference. When Vick was in Atlanta, the Falcons' offensive linemen were often sensitive about the large number of sacks he accumulated. Their collective rationale was that Vick held the ball so long, trying to make a play, that they could not help eventual pressure on him.
Not so, though, with the Eagles, at least not publicly. "It's part of what he does, and part of what we're supposed to do is adjust to him, and protect him," said right tackle Winston Justice. "No matter where he is, keeping people away from him is our job ... no matter how long he holds the ball."
Quarterback count: With Chad Pennington (shoulder) out for the season and Chad Henne (knee) nursing an injury, third-stringer Tyler Thigpen got the start for Miami on Thursday night. Brian St. Pierre will start for Carolina on Sunday and Vince Young is scheduled to return to the Tennessee lineup. The switches will bring to 51 the number of different quarterbacks who will have started in 2010.
As far as QB changes, if there are no other starting lineup switches for Week 11, the number will be at 33 in the 10 weeks since the opener. In only Week 4, when there were no changes from the previous week, were there fewer than three switches.
Tough sell: Last week, we noted in this space that commissioner Roger Goodell did a big favor for Atlanta owner Arthur Blank in strongly hinting the city will not land another Super Bowl without a new stadium. And he boosted Blank's push for an open-air facility with a claim that the game "was meant to be played in the elements."
Well, that was news to the cities that host the next three title games — Dallas, Indianapolis and New Orleans — all of which have domed stadiums. "He said what!" one owner from a domed-stadium city told The Sports Xchange in response to the commissioner's suggestion.
Time for everyone to chill out because Goodell was just doing what any good politician — and, make no mistake, politics is part of the unofficial job description — does, really. Still, the Falcons face a tough time selling a new stadium to the public, and the battle didn't get a whole lot easier this week. A local group calculated that the alleged $292 million impact that Super Bowl XXXIV provided the city, and which the Falcons and civic officials have been touting, was closer to only about $140 million.