Redskins still have plenty of concerns offensively

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 08:  Clinton Portis #26 of the Washington Redskins watches from the sidelines after suffering a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 8, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Merry preseason, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the trio of issues the Redskins could face this season.

I always thought Jason Campbell got kind of a bad rap, although there’s no question that Donovan McNabb has better physical tools – even at this point in his career. Thanks to first round pick Trent Williams and former Saint Jammal Brown, the tackle positions got a much needed makeover in our nation’s capital as well.

So generally speaking, the Washington Redskins are an improved football team.

But it seems as though some pundits are going a tad overboard when predicting this team’s success this year. While they have made several upgrades on that side of the ball, the offense still has plenty of question marks as well.

Let’s start with the offensive line. Williams is a tremendous prospect, but he’s still a rookie and far from a guarantee. He also doesn’t have a ton of experience on the left side, which is where he’s expected to anchor this Washington O-line.

Brown is a massive upgrade over Stephon Heyer, but that’s like saying an authentic slice of New York pizza is an upgrade over Dominos. Heyer was one of the worst offensive linemen in all of football last year, so a broomstick cemented in a bucket would have been an upgrade.

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NFL Reports: Revis deal close? Rice on IR? Daniels now 100%?

MINNEAPOLIS - JANUARY 17: Wide receiver Sidney Rice #18 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates while playing against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on January 17, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Cowboys 34-3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Revis, Jets close to deal
Dan Graziano of AOL NFL Fanhouse is reporting that the Jets and Darrelle Revis are close to signing a new contract. Graziano claims that an agreement could be announced in the coming days, although it’s important to note that the two sides were reportedly $40 million apart on Monday.

Childress doesn’t rule out IR for Rice
Head coach Brad Childress said on Tuesday that the Vikings won’t rule out the possibility of Sidney Rice being placed on injured reserve following the receiver’s hip surgery on Monday. At the very least, Rice is heading for the PUP list, which means he’ll miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. If the team places him on IR (which seems like a stretch at this point), his entire 2010 season would be over.

Daniels gets good news on MRI
FOX 26 in Houston is reporting that Owen Daniels’ surgically repaired knee is 100% after the Texans’ tight end had an MRI on Tuesday. Daniels will still have a checkup with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday, but it appears that he’ll be medically cleared to play by the start of the season.

Bulluck moved back outside
Just one day after I question whether or not Keith Bulluck was a good fit at middle linebacker for Perry Fewell’s defensive scheme in my “NFL Question Marks Series,” the Giants have decided to move him back to the outside where he’s played his entire career. (Obviously Tom Coughlin is a fan of The Scores Report and there’s little to no doubt I’ll be an adviser for the Giants in the upcoming months…ah, sarcasm.) Jonathan Goff will start in the middle for the Giants this season, although fourth rounder Phillip Dillard could get a look if Goff struggles.

LJ, “Fast Willie” on the Skins’ roster bubble?
According to Jason Reid of the Washington Post, it wouldn’t be a shock if both Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were released before the start of the season. Neither back has impressed the new coaching staff in Washington and Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams could wind up backing up Clinton Portis this year.

2009 NFL Week 4 Odds & Point Spreads

Along with the odds and over/under totals, here’s a look at some of the marquee matchups for Week 4 in the NFL.

Jets (3-0) at Saints (3-0), 4:05PM ET
Perhaps the most anticipated match up on this week’s schedule (outside of the Monday night game, that is) will be played at the Superdome when the 3-0 Saints host the 3-0 Jets. Both teams are playing with tons of confidence on both sides of the ball and this game will be a great test for each team. How will Drew Brees and the explosive New Orleans offense handle Rex Ryan’s aggressive defense? Can Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense keep pace with Brees and company if they start lighting on the scoreboard? This should be a great game from start to finish.
Odds: Saints –7.

Ravens (3-0) at Patriots (2-1), 1:00PM ET
Although the Patriots soundly beat the Falcons last week, they still have some issues to resolve. Tom Brady didn’t play particularly well (especially in the first half), but he also didn’t face much of a pass rush. Baltimore won’t make the same mistake Atlanta did and allow Brady to sit back in the pocket and pick them apart underneath. The Ravens also have a better run defense than the Falcons do, so the Pats shouldn’t be able to control this game on the ground like they were able to do last week. Baltimore has its issues as well, particularly in the secondary. If Brady is on, he could have some success moving the ball against the Ravens’ pass defense. It’ll be interesting to see how New England’s defense handles Joe Flacco and a running game that already looks like it’s in midseason form.
Odds: Patriots –2.

Chargers (2-1) at Steelers (1-2), 8:20PM ET
Is this a must win for the defending champs? The lack of a running game is killing the Steelers right now because they can’t nurse leads late in games. If Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall can’t get going against a beat up San Diego front seven, then the onus will once again be on Ben Roethlisberger and the defense to win the game for Pittsburgh. The Chargers know what it’s like to play in Pittsburgh since they made the trip twice last year, which resulted in a 11-10 regular season defeat and a 35-24 loss in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Consistency has been an issue for Philip Rivers and company, but the Steelers are primed for the taking. Will Pittsburgh fall to 1-3 or can it right the ship this Sunday night?
Odds: Steelers -6.

Packers (2-1) at Vikings (3-0), Monday, 8:30PM ET
Did the schedule makers nail this one or what? Brett Favre will host his former team a week after producing some of the late game heroics that made him an icon in Green Bay. The football world is abuzz with Favre’s game-winning touchdown pass to Greg Lewis last Sunday, which helped the Vikings edge the 49ers and remain undefeated. The Green Bay offensive line must do a better job protecting Aaron Rodgers, especially with Jared Allen ready to provide consistent pressure for a great Minnesota defensive line. Rodgers will have to make plenty of plays in the passing game, since Ryan Grant isn’t likely to find much running room against the Williams Wall. Can Rodgers outshine his predecessor or will Favre teach the young quarterback a thing or two about playing in primetime?
Odds: Vikings –3.5.

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Steelers continue to have issues as Bengals pull off upset

Let this sink in for a second: The defending champions are 1-2.

The Steelers were a 4th and 10 stop away from being 2-1 when they were up 20-15 with only 36 seconds remaining in Cincinnati on Sunday. But Bengals’ QB Carson Palmer avoided a sack and found Brian Leonard on an 11-yard completion to set Cincinnati up with a 1st and 4 from the Pittsburgh 4-yard line. Two plays later, Palmer found Andre Caldwell on a four-yard touchdown pass to put the Bengals up for good 23-20.

The theme continues for the Steelers. While they were able to rush for 102 yards, they only managed 3.6 YPC and essentially weren’t that effective. When they were leading 20-9 late in the third quarter, they couldn’t put Cincinnati away because they couldn’t milk the clock.

Pittsburgh won a Super Bowl last year despite the lack of a running game, but teams can’t consistently win when they can’t run the football. Some are going to look at the stat sheet and think that the Steelers were effective on the ground because they rushed for over 100 yards. But that simply wasn’t the case and it shows because the Bengals were able to score two fourth quarter touchdowns to earn the victory.

Willie Parker had a decent game, but when it was time for the Steelers to grind out the clock in the second half, he was much less effective. That caused Pittsburgh’s defense to be on the field too long in the fourth and Cincinnati capitalized.

But let’s give credit where credit is due – the Bengals’ deserved the victory. They came up with a huge play in the third quarter when a miscommunication between Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes led to a Jonathan Joseph 31-yard interception return for a touchdown. They hung around and hung around, waited for its moment to seize a win and then did so.

What’s amazing is that the Bengals could be 3-0 if it weren’t for Brandon Stokley’s fluke touchdown reception in Week 1. What’s even more amazing is that Cincinnati could be 3-0 and would have wins over the Packers (in Green Bay no less) and the Steelers.

There’s something about this Bengals team. They have an underrated defense, a healthy Palmer, a rejuvenated Cedric Benson and are finally playing inspired under Marvin Lewis.

Five Things to Watch: Titans at Steelers

The highly anticipated first game of the NFL season is tonight at 7:30 p.m. as the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers host the Titans at Heinz Field. Here are five things to watch as the 2009 NFL season kicks off with this opening matchup.

1. The Steeler offensive line.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admitted that Pittsburgh became a Super Bowl contender last year when the offensive line gelled late in the season. What was supposed to be an Achilles heel for the Steelers actually turned out to be the thing that lifted them to a Super Bowl title. Now Pittsburgh has one of the more cohesive offensive lines in the league and while no one player stands out, the entire unit works well together and it’ll be interesting to see if they pick up tonight where they left off last February in Tampa.

2. How will the Titans fare without Albert Haynesworth?
Haynesworth was the key cog in Tennessee’s defense the past couple years while commanding double teams and freeing up those around him to make plays. In steps Tony Brown, a player coming off a great ’09 season and one that must fill the massive shoes left by Haynesworth. Brown is more than capable as an interior pass-rusher, but he probably won’t command double-teams like Haynesworth did. How will his linemates Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jason Jones fare now that they might not see one-on-one matchups like they did when Haynesworth was playing next to them?

3. Do the Titans still lack offensive playmakers?
Running back Chris Johnson burst on the scene last year as a rookie, averaging 4.9 yards a carry and totaling 10 touchdowns (9 on the ground, 1 through the air). But it was clear in Tennessee’s loss to Baltimore in the AFC Divisional Round that the Titans lacked offensive playmakers. So they signed former Steeler Nate Washington and drafted Kenny Britt in the first round to give their receiving corps a boost. Will it be enough? We won’t find out about Washington tonight as he continues to battle an injured hamstring, but Britt practiced with the starting offense all week and will get an opportunity to play. Although he lacks elite speed, Britt was a monster after the catch while playing at Rutgers and could give quarterback Kerry Collins a nice weapon tonight in the passing game.

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