NFL Countdown: Previewing Week 4's games
N.Y. Giants at Kansas City, 1 ET
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Find out what New York has in store for Chiefs QB Matt Cassel.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Giants haven't started 4-0 in consecutive seasons since 1989-90, but they have a solid chance against a Kansas City team that is averaging 264 yards of offense while scoring only 48 total points.
The Giants will have their tandem of running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who didn't practice all week, ready to go behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines. The Giants are still minus defenders Chris Canty and CB Aaron Ross, but the Chiefs don't have many weapons that really scare anyone, especially with WR Dwayne Bowe less than 100 percent.
Eli Manning has been able to use his play-action passes to open up the offense, combining for 40 completions to Steve Smith and Mario Manningham. Those two, though, will be tested by K.C. cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers, who have very good one-on-one coverage skills. The Chiefs, though, have only three sacks, and none from No. 1 pick Tyson Jackson and last year's No. 1, Glenn Dorsey.
CZAR'S SCOOP: The Chiefs continue to turn over their roster. They traded backup QB Tyler Thigpen this week to Miami, where he could battle Chad Henne for the starting job with Chad Pennington (throwing shoulder) out for the season. Thigpen started 11 games for the Chiefs last season, winning one. (That's one more than Matt Cassel has won.) But Thigpen never fit in rookie coach Todd Haley's plans, and the Chiefs were able to reacquire the 2010 draft pick they sent to Miami for two offensive linemen at the end of training camp.
Although they traded away 10-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez, Haley likes ex-Arizona TE Leonard Pope. "He's a big guy, he's tough and he's fast," Haley said of Pope, 6-foot-8, 264 pounds. Giants RB Jacobs has been hearing criticism for his 3.4-yard per carry average. Jacobs said if he doesn't raise the number quite a bit higher, he'll retire at the end of the season. No one sees Jacobs walking away from the game.
Seattle at Indianapolis, 1 ET
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Peyton Manning is on fire right now while Seattle is dealing with injuries.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Peyton Manning vs. Seneca Wallace. It won't be easy for the Seahawks, whose offensive line remains a mess even with Colts DE Dwight Freeney out after giving Kurt Warner a headache last Sunday night.
Despite no Anthony Gonzalez and Marvin Harrison, Manning has been super sharp thus far, with three consecutive 300-yard passing games, and ranks No. 2 in the NFL with a 117.7 quarterback rating. Colts WR Reggie Wayne leads the league with 325 receiving yards and hybrid TE Dallas Clark is close behind with 284 yards. Pierre Garcon is averaging 19.4 yards a catch with two TDs. Who needs Harrison?
Seattle coach Jim Mora blamed K Olindo Mare for the loss to Chicago last week, but Seattle's expensive receiving corps hasn't been bailing out Wallace, either. Look for Seattle to run Julius Jones (4.9 average) as much as possible with as many as three starters out along the offensive line. Manning is worried about DE Patrick Kerney and the return of MLB Lofa Tatupu.
CZAR'S SCOOP: The Colts are genuinely excited about seeing Edgerrin James, the team's all-time leading rusher, who now plays for the Seahawks. Manning is excited about talking to Edge before the game. You have to wonder whether Seattle will call his number a little more despite limited production on 17 carries this season. Mora has discovered why Edge has always been considered special by his former teammates. "You know what? If you look at his production on the field, it's not great yet, but it's coming," Mora said. "But his production in the locker room is invaluable. The guy is a real leader. My dad, when we were getting ready to sign him, said, 'You'll love this guy.' He told me he's one of his favorite players of all time, and people of all time. And he doesn't disappoint. He rallies guys. He's a real pro."
Colts safety Bob Sanders will miss his fourth straight game.
Tampa Bay at Washington, 1 ET
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Will Washington let another winless team get its first W?
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Redskins expect RB Clinton Portis (bone spurs in both ankles) to play unless he has a setback in warm-ups. Still, look for Ladell Betts, who has only seven carries, to get some extra work.
Bucs RB Derrick Ward (knee) didn't practice all week, but made the trip and hopes to play. WR Antonio Bryant and DE Gaines Adams will play for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs figure to keep the passing game very simple for Josh Johnson, hoping he'll use his scrambling ability to make some plays. It should look a lot like Jeff Garcia's dink-and-dunk games of the past.
The Redskins plan to bring pressure up the middle on Johnson, hoping to force his hand. DTs Albert Haynesworth and Kedric Golston vs. Bucs C Sean Mahan is a huge Washington mismatch. Redskins WR Santana Moss consistently found open spaces in Detroit's zone coverages last Sunday, but he will have to deal with the press coverages of Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. But this should be the game for Redskins coach Jim Zorn to give QB Jason Campbell a little more leeway in the passing game.
CZAR'S SCOOP: There are several reasons the Bucs are starting Josh Johnson over Josh Freeman, their first-round pick this year and supposedly the franchise quarterback of the future. One, with Mahan starting for injured Jeff Faine, opposing defenses are killing the Bucs, shooting the A gap and forcing the quarterback out of the pocket. Johnson is a better scrambler than Freeman and hopefully can improvise more. However, Freeman hasn't been studying as well as the coaching staff would like, plus he's put on six pounds since the end of training camp. The Bucs didn't want to hand him the job, and they also didn't want Freeman to get killed, either. They believe this should be a signal for him to work harder and put in the extra time to be a great pro. The ball is basically in his court.
Washington's big dilemma in changing coaches is that none of the unemployed big-name coaches like Bill Cowher and Mike Shanahan are interested in coming in at midseason. If there is interest from big names, they want to start fresh.
Detroit at Chicago, 1 ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Bears haven't totally abandoned the run (75 rushes in three games), but they are averaging only 2.8 yards a carry and Matt Forte's longest run is 11 yards. They will try to get better in the run game against the Lions. Still, they seemingly have turned the offense over to new QB Jay Cutler, and he's starting to click with Chicago's young receiving corps; Devin Hester is the old guy at 26.
MLB Hunter Hillenmeyer will be replaced by Nick Roach, and that means the Bears will be basically playing with three weak-side linebackers. Bears CB Charles Tillman will try to shut down Detroit's talented WR Calvin Johnson, who has a considerable size advantage. Detroit needs RB Kevin Smith to have a good game in order to take Chicago's pass rush off rookie QB Matthew Stafford, who played well in last week's win over Washington. Stafford has the guts and the arm to hurt Chicago deep if he gets the protection.
CZAR'S SCOOP: The Lions' last road win was at Chicago, 16-7 on Oct. 28, 2007. Rod Marinelli, now the Bears' defensive line coach, was Detroit's head coach. Before last Sunday, the Lions hadn't won a game since Dec. 23, 2007. That means they went 21 months and four days without winning a game.
With apologies to former employee Matt Millen, I had a bad note last week. The Lions did have two Millen draft choices starting last week, OT Jeff Backus and Johnson, but they had no one from the five drafts in between those picks.
Speaking of Millen, he took WLB Ernie Sims over Cutler a few years back, and many within the Lions believe rookie DeAndre Levy, a third-round pick from Wisconsin, who started for Sims last Sunday, is better. Levy made two big plays on Washington's first possession last Sunday. He stuffed Clinton Portis at the 1 on a reception on third-and-one and followed that with a big hit on Portis to keep him from scoring on fourth-and-goal. "We haven't had a linebacker that fast since Reggie Brown," said one Lions executive, referring to the club's first-round pick in 1996. Brown was forced to retire prematurely because of a neck injury.
Dallas at Denver, 4:15 ET
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Denver is 3-0 but hasn't really played against a top team.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: With Marion Barber still questionable with a quadriceps strain, Tashard Choice should get the bulk of the carries in what should be a slugfest, considering both teams love to run the ball. Barber, though, will play.
Mike Nolan has done a tremendous job as defensive coordinator of the Broncos, whose unit is No. 1 overall and has allowed only 16 points in a 3-0 start. There are some great matchups. Can veteran safety Brian Dawkins shut down familiar TE Jason Witten (team-high 19 catches)? Will Broncos NT Ronald Fields disrupt Dallas center Andre Gurode? And can DeMarcus Ware do anything against LT Ryan Clady, who hasn't allowed a sack in 19 games? Look for the Broncos to run behind Clady early, one to test Ware and also to get Correll Buckhalter (another ex-Eagle) and Knowshon Moreno going.
Rookie coach Josh McDaniels wanted a physical team, and that's what he has right now. Dallas QB Tony Romo may want to test Denver's secondary deep, especially if they load the box against the running game.
CZAR'S SCOOP: Three games played and Cowboys LT Flozell Adams has been fined three straight weeks. He has been fined a total of $25,000 thus far. He was caught tripping and fined $7,500 by the league, and running back Felix Jones was fined $5,000 for a leg whip against the Panthers. Against the Giants, Adams was caught kicking and tripping two New York players, including one trip that caused Justin Tuck to injure his shoulder. Although Wade Phillips defended Adams this week, he does have a reputation as a dirty player.
Ware led the league with 20 sacks last season. In only two games last season did he come up empty. But dating to last season, Ware has gone four games without a sack. It looks like rookie OLB Victor Butler has moved ahead of Bobby Carpenter as a pass-rushing weapon for the Cowboys.
Before he hired Josh McDaniels, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen considered Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett for the position to replace Mike Shanahan. McDaniels took a lot of heat for his handling of the Jay Cutler-I-Want-Out fiasco and his benching and suspension of star receiver Brandon Marshall, who wants a fat, new contract. McDaniels has survived the controversy, and he's winning with ex-Bear Kyle Orton, who has played all season with a broken index finger on his passing hand.
St. Louis at San Francisco, 4:15 ET
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Can Kyle Boller get the winless Rams into the W column?
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: QB Kyle Boller starts for injured Marc Bulger, but his receiving corps is limited, and he will have to rely heavily on RB Steven Jackson. But that's not good against a San Francisco defense that can stuff the run and also has a solid back seven.
The 49ers are minus Frank Gore, but they are happy with rookie RB Glen Coffee. QB Shaun Hill has found TE Vernon Davis for two TDs; plus, Davis leads the team with 14 receptions.
The Rams now own the NFL's longest losing streak at 13 games, while the 49ers are hoping to take control of the NFC West, already owning wins over Arizona and Seattle.
You have to know 49ers LB Patrick Willis will be keying on Jackson, hoping to get him before he gets through the hole. Rams DE Leonard Little had his first two sacks of the season against the Packers and should be too much for 49ers RT Adam Snyder. Little, however, needs some help from his teammates if they are to cause problems for Hill and San Francsico's passing game.
CZAR'S SCOOP: Unless they sign Michael Crabtree before Nov. 17, the 49ers figure to receive a lot less trade value than what they gambled on the Texas Tech diva. They spent the 10th overall pick in the first round on Crabtree, who could be entering one of the deepest drafts in years in 2010. The big thing is other teams don't have any sympathy for the 49ers, because everyone knew the risks in drafting Crabtree. One team told me its coaches wanted him gone after he was in the building for 10 minutes for a pre-draft meeting. And this team needed a big-play receiver, too. What Crabtree doesn't understand is that he will never make up the money lost by failing to sign this season.
The Rams lost their best receiver in Laurent Robinson, who was placed on IR after suffering a broken bone in his leg and a high-ankle sprain last Sunday against the Packers. The Rams figure to be drafting a quarterback next April, considering they don't owe Bulger any more guaranteed money in 2010.
The Rams promoted WR Nate Jones from the practice squad. Neither Jones nor Danny Amendola (signed last week off the Eagles' practice squad) has caught a pass in a regular-season game. Amendola is expected to be the Rams' slot receiver today.
Baltimore at New England: This is a huge earlier-season AFC showdown. The Ravens actually have the league's No. 2 offense; second-year QB Joe Flacco has a better passing rating than Tom Brady. Flacco had six TD passes to only three by Brady, who has struggled in the red zone. The Patriots converted once in eight red-zone trips the past two weeks and ranked 26th overall. Brady has been especially displeased with the performances of Joey Galloway and Sam Aiken. WR Wes Welker (knee) will be a game-time decision for the Patriots.
Tennessee at Jacksonville: This is a must win for the 0-3 Titans, who have traditionally played well in Jacksonville. Both teams love to run the ball and are coming off big games on the ground. Titans QB Kerry Collins is happy to have TE Bo Scaife back, and he needs to grab a lead; the Titans have scored three points in the fourth quarter all season. Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver talked about possibly playing some games in Orlando in the future, but you can bet Tampa Bay will fight that, considering the Bucs used to hold their training camp at Orlando's Disney sports complex. The big news in Jacksonville was coach Jack Del Rio forcing QB David Garrard to drop his Friday radio show.
Cincinnati at Cleveland: Brady Quinn is out as Browns starting QB and Derek Anderson is back in. Quinn had won as coach Eric Mangini's quarterback, much to the surprise of the head coach, who was trying to trade Quinn before last year's draft. Quinn was yanked at halftime last week. Anderson starts against the Bengals and Mangini has to hope it's deja vu all over again. In 2007, Anderson lost out to Charlie Frye. After one game, Frye was traded to Seattle and Anderson was promoted. Against the Bengals, Anderson threw for five TDs in a 51-45 win in Cleveland. Anderson won 10 of his 15 starts that year and earned an AFC Pro Bowl berth as an alternate.
Oakland at Houston: The Texans believe they have the swine flu scare under control after rookie TE Anthony Hill was hospitalized this week. The players have already received their flu shots. It should be noted the league will allow teams to activate practice squad players should a team lose five to six players on game day to the flu. It's a good move to maintain competitive balance. Houston coach Gary Kubiak wants more production out of RB Steve Slaton, but he's pretty happy with Matt Schaub, who has thrown for 650 yards and seven TDs in his past two games. Schaub had an eighth TD called back. The Raiders are passing for only 120 yards per game while allowing 205 yards rushing per game.
N.Y. Jets at New Orleans: The Jets will be minus two of their top three cornerbacks in Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland against Drew Brees and Co. Of course, Rex Ryan doesn't plan on dropping off into coverage; he will be blitzing Brees as much as he can. Four Saints receivers are already in double figures in receptions, plus RB Pierre Thomas returned last week and averaged 9 yards a carry and scored twice. New Orleans is averaging 438 yards and its rushing game is second only to the Cowboys. Mark Sanchez is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to open the season as the starter and win his first three games. To win, though, New York must control the tempo and the ball as much as possible.
Buffalo at Miami: The Bills have lost seven straight AFC East games and also 10 straight games to teams that use 3-4 defenses. With Miami QB Chad Henne making his first NFL start, the Bills figure to see a lot of the wildcat formation with RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Henne has thrown just 31 career passes, but has a stronger arm than Chad Pennington and should take some deep shots down the field, considering the Bills have lost two starters in the secondary. Buffalo wants to rotate RB Marshawn Lynch with Fred Jackson; Lynch was suspended for the first three games. If the Bills can run, then QB Trent Edwards might be able to go deep to Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. However, Buffalo's young offensive line has struggled in protection.
San Diego at Pittsburgh: Good news for the Chargers and bad news for the Steelers. LaDainian Tomlinson returns after missing two weeks with a sprained ankle, while Pittsburgh will be minus RB Willie Parker, who rushed for 146 yards last January to eliminate the Chargers from the playoffs. San Diego lost twice in Pittsburgh last season. The Steelers are 1-2 and fans are wondering if they have the Super Bowl blahs. This will be a duel between two quarterbacks from the 2004 draft class: Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. Believe it or not, the Steelers planned on drafting Rivers originally, but took Big Ben when Rivers went higher in the draft.
Green Bay at Minnesota: Brett Favre got banged up pretty good last week. In fact, 49ers lineman Justin Smith was fined $7,500 for taking a knee shot at Favre last week. Favre has been hobbled in practice this week with a right foot and ankle injury. Minnesota hasn't been dominant stopping the run this season, but the Packers' offensive line hasn't been great, either. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been sacked an NFL-high 12 times. The interesting notes about Greg Lewis catching the winning TD pass last Sunday from Favre are: It was only the fourth time Lewis had been on the field this season, and growing up in Chicago, he hated Favre because he was a Bears fan.