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09/06/2006: "6 Burning NFL Questions With Robert Bonnette"


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6 Burning NFL Questions With Robert Bonnette
Written by Robert Bonnette
Email Robert Bonnette

SIX STORIES TO FOLLOW THIS SEASON

The TO Saga Ė It may be question number one on most fans minds, other than how their own team will do, and itís definitely locked and loaded as ESPNís number one issue of the season. Expect the same amount of overexposure that this story got last year from the boys in Bristol. This is the ESPN version of the JonBenet Ramsey story, where they just canít stop talking about the ďstoryĒ even when there is nothing new to report. Expect every quote from either TO or Bills Parcells to be overanalyzed and replayed about 100 times. Even the usual football clichťs will be poked and prodded for deeper, hidden meanings. For the second year in a row it will be TO all the time.

Now all that being said, the story is worthy of our attention. Not 24-7, but at least when something really does happen such as a spat between Owens and Parcells, a broken rule, or a sideline blowup. It does already sound like TO jumped into potential malcontent mode a year ahead of schedule; most media pundits were expecting him to behave this year to prove a point and then start popping off next summer. There is the potential for this to blow up into something huge during this season, and it could wreck what should be a playoff push from the Cowboys. Owens holds the Cowboys fortunes in his hands; he could make their season or break it with the way he acts in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

The Brett Favre Downward Spiral Ė For those us whoíve gotten tired of the constant man love that the football media shows for Favre, this will be a joy to watch. Itís not personal, itís just that some of us are anxious to see how far the media will go to make excuses for him and how much it will take for them to finally admit that the guy is done and should have quit a year ago. Yes, he still has the ability to play the game at a high level, but he is entirely too undisciplined on the field now. Every year we see more of those heaves into double and triple coverage, and we can expect to see more this year since the Packers didnít do much of anything to improve their receiving corps.

Favre is good for at least three games a season where he throws three or more interceptions. In addition, he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in 14 of his last 32 games last season after doing so in only 6 of the 48 games prior to these last two seasons. If you want a comparison, Aaron Brooks has only managed the same feat in 10 of his last 32 games while Joey Harrington did it 8 times. Ouch. Despite this clear evidence of decline we keep hearing about Favre the gunslinger, whoís just trying to make something happen to help his team win. And while thatís a viable excuse if itís late in the fourth quarter and your team is trailing, what about when he does it halfway through the second quarter of a close game?

This may be the last hurrah for Brett; hopefully, it is. Itís not like heís going to be around by the time the Packers are contending again, so thereís no point in getting beat up on and off the field if heís not going to play at a level that could elevate his team to greater heights than they appear to be capable of on paper. Aaron Rodgers looms in the wings, and itís about time to run him out there to see if heís any good.

The Reggie Bush vs. Mario Williams debate: Without even stepping on the field, Williams is one of the most controversial draft picks in recent memory. When the whole world was screaming for the Houston Texans to take Reggie Bush or Vince Young, they opted for the defensive end from N.C. State. And immediately afterward, fans and sportswriters around the country got their Sam Bowie-Michael Jordan stories locked and loaded. They werenít too far off base; Williams filled a vacancy on the Texans roster at defensive end while Bush and Young both play positions where they already had someone who was at least capable on the team. You throw in Bushís reportedly outrageous salary demands and viola, thereís your pick. The same rationale cost the Portland Trailblazers dearly when they opted for Bowie over Jordan because they needed a big man and they already had a Jordan-like player in Clyde Drexler.

A lot of people are expecting the same results in Houston. Williams hasnít looked all that spectacular in training camp, while Bush and Young have at least shown a little something. And now that Houstonís starting running back Dominic Davis is hurt and out for the season, passing up Bush looks like an even worse move. Now I admit that I said picking Williams instead of Bush was a good move, for the same reasons that Houston believed it was. I still say that you donít need a Hall of Fame running back to win a championship and that Davis is a good enough back for the task. (If Antowain Smith can start at running back on a Super Bowl winner, Davis surely can.) But that was based on Williams being as good as advertised, which may not be so. If weíre looking at another Jamal Reynolds or Andre Wadsworth, then this could go down as the worst draft blunder of all time.

The Patriots Last Hurrah Ė Every dynasty comes to an end, and itís never pretty. You go from winning it all to losing in the playoffs to out of the playoffs altogether, and along the way great players get old and leave (either through retirement or by getting forced out), while good ones others skip town for greener pastures elsewhere. The Pats are in the middle of this now. Theyíve never been afraid to jettison guys who cost too much, but the last two years have been different. They finally started to shed players who were crucial pieces of those championship teams. First it was Ty Law, but then went Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri. Soon, it will be Tedy Brushci and Mike Vrabelís turn along with Troy Brownís. While these guys are all getting older and less productive, their leadership is vital to the success of the team and their skills havenít been replaced yet.

This year and the next will give us some real insight into just how good the Pats front office is. Pittsburgh has managed to lose key guys almost every year since free agency began in 1993 but has almost always been able to replace them thanks to drafting well and not wasting big money on free agents. The Pats have drafted some very good players over the past few years, but have been fortunate enough that Bruschi, McGinest and co., all who were holdovers from the 1996 Super Bowl team that lost to the Packers, hit their primes at about the same time and were ready to be leaders on the field and in the locker room. Now the question is: will they be able to find suitable replacements like the Steelers have done for 13 years or will they fade away like the Packers have, with Tom Brady playing the role of Brett Favre?

Is Philip Rivers Ready? Ė Thatís the question the Chargers will find out the answer to this season. In the offseason they traded Pro Bowler Brew Brees in order to make room for the man they traded the first overall pick in the draft to get back in 2004. Rivers barely played at all during his first two seasons in the league, and will be getting thrown into fire to start off his third season in the league. This isnít nearly as controversial as some make it out to be; a quarterback drafted as high as he was should be ready to start by his third year in the league. If heís not then he clearly isnít starting quarterback material. Brees was very good, but was a free agent who would have cost the Chargers major dollars to hang onto. You canít keep two high priced quarterbacks, so someone had to go. And since they had money tied in up Rivers, it made sense to keep him and not Brees.

Now just how well will he play? Weíll see. Expect some first year mistakes out of him, maybe a bad interception here or a fumble there. He shouldnít be as bad as a raw rookie, but he still has to get used to being a starting quarterback in real games with real defenses and not the vanilla schemes you get in preseason. The Chargers will go as he goes this season; if he plays as well as Eli Manning did last year they have a shot at a wildcard spot. If he plays like Eli did the year before, itís hello early first round pick and hello unemployment for Marty Schottenheimer and the rest of the coaching staff.

Will Michael Vick get any better? Ė Quarterbacks seem to be the subject this season, and Vickís situation doesnít disappoint. While heís one of the most exciting and electrifying players to watch in the entire league, he remains an enigma of a quarterback. When it comes to his primary job, throwing the ball, he is mediocre at best. His completion percentage has never been higher than 56 percent, and is a putrid 54 percent for his career. Here are a few guys with better completion percentages than Vick: Patrick Ramsey, Josh McCown, Anthony Wright, and Quincy Carter. Ouch. If you watch all of his throws in a game, you will see him flat out miss on several throws, even when he has time to throw. His wide receivers are among the most neglected in the league, largely because he isnít very consistent anywhere on the field other than in the middle (which is a big reason why Alge Crumpler does so well with him).

Now Iím not suggesting that Vick is a bum or that he should be benched and lose his starting job to Matt Schaub. As an overall player, heís very good, but his running ability makes up for a lot of deficiencies in the passing game. And while he may be able to get away with that for another year or two, eventually age and/or injury will force him to stand in the pocket to throw, and if he hasnít developed that part of his game heíll be pretty close to useless. Fear not, Falcons fans, because there is some hope. There is a quarterback who now plies his trade in Baltimore who had accuracy issues early on in his career but turned things around dramatically. Steve McNair wasnít much in the way of completing a lot of passes before 2000, but since then heís gone over 60 percent every year. So Vick can get better; heís not stuck where he is if he does the work and gets the right help. Only time will tell if heís willing.