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Phillips, Childress falling well short of expectations
Two months ago, Wade Phillips and Brad Childress were probably thinking they might be facing each other in the NFC championship game instead of today’s version of Panic Bowl I. The Vikings-Cowboys game may restore hope for one of these franchises, but the loser could be in deep, deep trouble of missing the playoffs altogether.
In the year of the Super Bowl being played in the House That Jerry Built in North Texas, Phillips is again feeling the heat from everyone except owner Jerry Jones. You can bet that Jones isn’t happy with the current results, but he doesn’t make in-season alterations to his coaching staff. He says he won’t do it this time, either. The main reason is probably because the obvious replacement, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, isn’t viewed as a disciplinarian, either.
In Minneapolis, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is also standing behind Childress. Meanwhile, word is leaking out that the coach’s contract extension – awarded to him for the team’s playoff run last season – will be easily absorbed financially should the Wilfs decide to make a change. Interpretation: His four-year extension won’t save Chilly’s job.
This is a bizarre state of affairs for two of the most-talented teams in the NFL. But when both have 1-3 records it’s always easier to blame the head coach than the players. Phillips has always been under siege from the media, network pregame shows and talk radio. He is a butt of jokes even if he has lost 30 pounds, but his laid-back, player-friendly style has always been criticized when penalties and turnovers are high (the Cowboys are awful in both areas) despite his well-known talents as a top defensive coordinator.
Childress is a different story. Whereas the Dallas locker room would probably unanimously vote to keep Phillips, the Minnesota players would vote for a change.
Childress has always come across as above-it-all and his players don’t understand that side of him. I mean, they still blame him for putting 12 players on the field with 19 seconds left, taking his team out of field-goal range, in last year’s NFC title game in New Orleans. And who can forget his indecision in the fourth quarter Monday against the Jets when the Vikings were forced to waste a valuable timeout when he changed his mind to go for two points instead of simply kicking a PAT?
The defensive players in Minnesota respect coordinator Leslie Frazier, who could potentially serve as an interim coach. Still, such a midseason change is unlikely. Both teams figure to wait until January before making any decision with the fates of Phillips and Childress. And if the Vikings decide to clean house and rebuild next season, they probably will do it with a new head coach.
The one coach who could be in big trouble if he loses today is San Francisco’s Mike Singletary. A home loss to the rival Oakland Raiders would be devastating. “It would be like losing two or three games in one,” said one league executive. “The biggest headache that would cause is in ticket sales. It would really hurt the 49ers' move to a new stadium.”
Owner Jed York opened his mouth to say that Singletary and the 49ers had the talent to go on and win the NFC West. Well, York could change his mind if his team falls to 0-6.
Another player who will be making his first NFL start Sunday will be DT Antonio Dixon, who is replacing injured Brodrick Bunkley (elbow). The Falcons tend to control the ball on offense. In 56 possessions, Atlanta has had only 10 drives ending with a three-and-out. The Falcons rank third in the NFL in third-down percentage, converting 46.3 percent of their third downs. QB Matt Ryan is playing smart, finding Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez when he needs them while the offensive line has opened plenty of holes for Michael Turner and Jason Snelling.
CZAR’S SCOOP: The Eagles swapped backup running backs with the Cleveland Browns, exchanging Mike Bell for Jerome Harrison. Bell really wasn’t a very good fit for the Eagles’ offense, being strictly a between-the-tackles runner. He wasn’t much of a pass-catcher. The 5-9, 208-pound Harrison is a better fit. He’s got speed to run outside. He is a decent receiver. But he’s coming from a totally different offensive system, which means he probably won’t be able to help the Eagles right away.
The Falcons have named William Moore as the team’s new starting safety. He had been filling in for the injured Erik Coleman, but has been playing so well that he will stay in the lineup. Moore, a second-round pick last year, missed most of last season with a hamstring injury.
Atlanta WR Michael Jenkins, who has not played during the regular season, has been medically cleared and will play against the Eagles. Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury on Aug. 6. Jenkins started nine games last season and had 50 catches for 635 yards. He should take some of the pressure off of Roddy White.
Detroit at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The interesting thing is that the Giants, who have 19 quarterback sacks, believe that Shaun Hill is the best quarterback for the Detroit Lions. “He runs their offense better,” Justin Tuck said. “He's a better quarterback for their system at this point. Stafford is the guy of the future. But right now, Shaun is leading that team, and they’ve been playing well with him.” After five weeks, the Lions lead the NFC in scoring (25.2 points per game), they are sixth in the league in passing yardage and coming off their first win of the season, a 44-point outburst against a Rams defense that had been yielding 17 points a game. But for the Lions, who have lost 23 straight road games, to scare the Giants they need WR Calvin Johnson (shoulder) to play. The team lists him as a game-time decision, but he says he plans to start.
The Giants have been using an eight-man rotation on the defensive line with Mathias Kiwanuka (neck) out. They have also been using a three-safety look because it gets their best defenders on the field because they have a shortage of good linebackers. The key matchup probably is Lions RT Gosder Cherilus against Giants RE Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora has six sacks this season, and his quickness off the ball may be too much for Cherilus. On the flip side, the Lions have an excellent defensive front four and they must put pressure on Eli Manning in order for Detroit cornerbacks Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith to get a jump on Giants WR Hakeem Nicks, who has six touchdowns. With Lawrence Tynes out, the Giants PK will be Shayne Graham. Ashlee Palmer will start at MLB for Detroit.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Yes, Lions QB Matthew Stafford did some light throwing this week, which was his first serious work in five weeks. But he won’t play today. He will increase his workload next week and see how his arm feels. He has two weeks to get ready to play because the Lions are in a bye in Week 7.
Detroit’s Calvin Johnson may get a rule named after himself when the league’s Competition Committee said it will review his non-touchdown catch in the Chicago game. The non-catch would have beaten the Bears. “That's cool if they want to review it and make a change to it,” Johnson said. “I still think it was a catch. But that’s all in the past. If they want to name the rule after me, that’s cool, too.”
Giants line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. coached Detroit’s Cherilus in college at Boston College. Detroit’s Shaun Hill was a wishbone quarterback in high school and he had to go to junior college to learn how to throw the football to get to the pro level. One big worry for the Giants is Detroit’s rookie RB Jahvid Best, who is a mismatch for any linebacker. New York will stick a cornerback on him whenever they can on passing downs.
Seattle at Chicago, 1 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Seahawks allow 302 passing yards a game, the second-worst total in the league, but it sounds like Mad Mike Martz is going to stick with Chicago’s running game in order to protect QB Jay Cutler. The Bears only threw the ball 19 times in a 23-6 win in Carolina last Sunday, but Bears RB Matt Forte gained 168 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns, including a 68-yard gallop for a score. Reserve runner Chester Taylor also added 43 rushing yards. “They got out of their norm a little bit,” said Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. To make it work, the Bears have reshuffled their offensive line by moving tackle Chris Williams to left guard for the injured Roberto Garza. If Chicago can get the running game untracked, you can bet that Cutler will then be able to use play-action and Seattle doesn’t have the secondary to stay with Chicago’s speeding receiving corps, especially Johnny Knox and Devin Hester.
Seattle has failed to score a point in the first quarter this season and now QB Matt Hasselbeck will have a new slot receiver in Brandon Stokley after the trade of veteran Deion Branch to New England. To help the passing game, the Seahawks will start Marshawn Lynch and see if they can pound the Bears’ fifth-ranked run defense. If Lance Briggs doesn’t start, Brian Iwuh will be Chicago’s weak-side linebacker. LB Brian Urlacher is the Bears’ leading tackler with 35.
CZAR’S SCOOP: With the mid-week trade of Branch, the Seahawks have gotten rid of their so-called top three receivers from a season ago. Seattle GM John Schneider continues to operate in dealer mode, shipping Deion Branch to New England for a fourth-round pick, which should help in the team’s draft efforts next season as they continue to reshape the roster. Branch wanted to return to New England, telling the Patriots that he would reduce his base salary for next season. Branch wouldn’t do that favor for any other team, and that’s why clubs like the Rams didn’t have a shot at him. Seattle used Branch’s roster spot to add cornerback Kennard Cox from the practice squad to the active roster. Schneider and Pete Carroll have now made 205 roster transactions since taking over in January. WR Deon Butler moves into the starting lineup for Branch.
Seattle’s No. 1 pick, tackle Russell Okung, should have his hands full trying to block Julius Peppers. The Bears have moved Caleb Hannie ahead of Todd Collins, who will be the third quarterback today. The Bears are now 0-for-9 from their opponents’ 1-yard line this year. “The goal line has been a real frustration for us,” Martz said. “I've never ... this is kind of a new thing ... I'm kind of dumbfounded about it.”
New Orleans at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Saints have to do what they do best, and that’s throw the ball. Saints QB Drew Brees simply hasn’t hit many deep throws lately. In fact, the club is on pace for only 41 big plays (20 yards or more) after having 72 a season ago. To get their passing game going, minus the turnovers they have had the last three weeks, could go a long way to helping them snap out of their funk. Brees must deal with the gambling tactics of CB Aqib Talib and also the educated play of slot cornerback Ronde Barber. The Bucs are tied for second with nine interceptions, one behind the Falcons, with Talib having three and Barber, a longtime Saints nemesis, having two. Brees tossed three picks in a loss to the Cardinals last Sunday.
The Bucs have been playing smart football with only 17 penalties, an impressive total for the second-youngest team in the league The Saints have allowed only 159 yards rushing the last two games, and that means that the New Orleans front seven should stop the Bucs running backs Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham. Bucs rookie WR
CZAR’S SCOOP: Garrett Hartley is back kicking for the Saints. Hartley was benched the last two weeks in favor of John Carney after going 4-for-7 in the Saints’ first three games. Ironically, Carney was signed after Hartley missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt -- the same distance Carney missed from in Arizona -- in overtime against the Falcons on Sept. 26. Had Hartley hit that kick, the Saints would be 4-1 right now and not 3-2. The economy has really hit the Tampa-Clearwater area particularly hard, and that’s why the Bucs won’t sellout a game this season despite their 3-1 start and the arrival of the defending champions. With 60,000 seats to fill, the Bucs have fewer than 30,000 season-ticket holders. The Saints are hopeful that Reggie Bush might be back in two weeks and that RB Pierre Thomas (ankle) has a change of playing next week against the Browns. To improve their depth, the Saints signed RB Julius Jones and safety Matt Giordano, a special teams’ ace. The Saints are also beat up at the safety position. Darren Sharper, who had knee surgery in March, is eligible to come off the PUP list next week. Sharper said he hopes to be able to play Oct. 24 against the Browns. Brees and wife Brittany are expecting their second child on Monday.-->
Dallas at Minnesota, 4:15 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This game is pretty simple. Can the Vikings apply enough pass-rush pressure on Tony Romo, who was sacked six times last Sunday, in order to protect a depleted secondary? The Metrodome crowd noise could help the Vikings, who are getting nothing out of DE Jared Allen. In last year’s playoff whipping here, Allen sacked Romo once. Over the previous three seasons, Allen had 44.5 sacks. The Cowboys want to be balanced on offense and figure to follow the Jets’ game plan of sticking with the run and throwing at CB Asher Allen with Cedric Griffin sidelined again with a torn ACL. The Cowboys O-line can’t be making mistakes like false starts or they won’t have a chance to run against Minnesota. Romo says that that rookie WR Dez Bryant (ankle) will play.
Brett Favre will start and reportedly threw well on Friday, with a lot of zip and accuracy. Favre threw well against the Jets and with the presence of Randy Moss has a new target in Percy Harvin out of the slot. Dallas nickel back Orlando Scandrick could have his hands full. The Cowboys have struggled on pass defense because FS Alan Ball has been taking a lot of wrong angles while RCB Mike Jenkins is slumping, losing track of the deep pass. If Favre has enough arm and time, Moss could be a factor on deep posts. Moss is excited about his Metrodome homecoming game and keeps talking about being upset about not being drafted by the Cowboys.
CZAR’S SCOOP: ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, who would have to negotiate his way out of his television contract in order to coach next season, is one name that would intrigue Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Because of his struggles in Tampa Bay, Gruden only wants to coach an NFL team that has a proven quarterback. The Cowboys and Chargers are his two favorite teams. Gruden and Jones could co-exist because the coach knows that Jones wants to win and will pay to get talent, always a problem with the Bucs. Plus, Gruden doesn’t care about having personnel control; he just wants to be heard in those meetings. The Chargers would be less likely because of GM A.J. Smith’s power and the tighter purse strings on player salaries.
Privately, a couple Dallas coaches will tell you that the Vikings’ talent is a little better than theirs. If the Vikings lose, a couple club executives wonder if they will offer up any of next season's potential free agents in trades. Some of the players they may want to unload are LT Bryant McKinnie, FS Madieu Williams, WR Bernard Berrian and maybe DE Ray Edwards. The strength of the Vikings has been their linebacking corps.
The Cowboys went 19 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, but surrendered 106 yards to Houston’s Arian Foster, then 131 yards to Chris Johnson last week. Today, they face Adrian Peterson. “He’s one of the hardest runners in the NFL,” linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “It doesn’t get any easier, plus he can catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Other Sunday games
N.Y. Jets at Denver, 4:05 p.m. ET: Broncos QB Kyle Orton has thrown for over 300 yards in four consecutive games, but the Jets figure to be too much defensively. Jets QB Mark Sanchez still hasn’t thrown an interception this season and the passing game figures to improve with Santonio Holmes in the lineup. LaDainian Tomlinson has scored 20 career touchdowns against the Broncos. LT is averaging 5.7 yards a carry and looks like he did back in 2007.
Oakland at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m. ET: Jason Campbell starts for the Raiders with Bruce Gradkowski nursing a sore right shoulder. 49ers WR Michael Crabtree, who had nine catches for 105 yards last Sunday night against the Eagles, has made a big deal this week about Al Davis passing him over in the 2009 draft, taking Darrius Heyward-Bey instead. 49ers QB
Indianapolis at Washington, 8:20 p.m. ET: The Redskins don’t have a deep secondary to combat Peyton Manning, but Washington’s LaRon Landry is having a great year now that he’s been moved back to his favorite position, strong safety. Landry leads the NFL with 52 tackles, plus he forced a fumble and had an interception in last week’s upset of Green Bay. The Colts still can’t run consistently, but Joseph Addai (neck) made the trip and will start with Donald Brown and Mike Hart out. If the Redskins win, that will match last season’s win total of four.