- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton's "First and 10" column takes you around the league, with a look at the best game of the week, followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 7.
Owens heads back to prime time on Monday night in a home game against the New York Giants. Despite the free fall of the Redskins, the NFC East is still good theater. Naturally, Owens knows this. His face will be splattered all over the news as this key NFC East game draws closer.
The theme for Owens -- naturally -- is how many balls are thrown in his direction. Owens cares little about facts. He just wants the ball. But it's hard to make a case that QB Drew Bledsoe hasn't tried to get the ball to Owens. He has thrown 46 passes in his direction. Owens has grabbed 22.
Now the problem is when the ball is thrown to him. Coming off a three-touchdown game against the pathetic and easy-to-beat Texans defense, Owens says he wants more balls thrown to him in the first half. Of course, the stats indicate that he has caught 11 in the first half and 11 in the second half.
Imagine what Terry Glenn, the team's true No. 1 receiver, would say if you pulled him aside and asked for his thoughts? Glenn doesn't work his mouth for the ball. He gets open and lets Bledsoe get him the ball. Pretty simple idea, huh?
But this is what the Cowboys bought into when they gave Owens a three-year, $25 million contract. As it turns out, he probably has been worse than expected. First, he has been hurt more, forcing him to be on the practice field less. He is whining earlier about his role, and his antics on the sideline seem to be more frequent.
And the prime-time lights of "Monday Night Football" should get him going even more. Coach Bill Parcells needs Owens to simply catch the ball, not to act like a director telling him when to get him the ball. For the Cowboys, this is a critical game. First, it's a division home game. Playoff teams usually don't lose division home games. The Cowboys are still reeling from blowing a 13-point lead against the Redskins in Dallas more than a year ago.
The reason the pressure is on the Cowboys more than the Giants is that next week the Cowboys will embark on the dreaded three-game road trip. The NFL usually schedules three-game road trips for only four or five teams each season, and through the years those trips have been hard on teams.
It's hard to win three consecutive road games. If the Cowboys lose to the Giants and hit that road trip on a short week, they would be at 3-3 and reeling. They play at Carolina, at Washington and at Arizona. Owens will complain about not getting the ball enough if they are winning, but if they are losing, the explosion will be heard around the league.
Welcome back to T.O. TV.
And 10. Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
It's called the Steve Hutchinson Bowl for good reason. The game's best left guard left Seattle for Minnesota because of a Seahawks mistake (they made him a transition player instead of a franchise player). The Vikings used poison-pill clauses in the contract, which angered the Seahawks. Then Seattle stole free-agent wide receiver Nate Burleson from the Vikings. So far, the Seahawks' offensive line hasn't clicked without Hutchinson, and Burleson is struggling with only seven catches. Hutchinson is still settling in on the Vikings' offensive line, but that line hasn't completely jelled. Meanwhile, the Seahawks can't afford to lose this game. They are coming off their most important win of the season, a last-second miracle against the Rams. They've been trying to get a consistent offense without Shaun Alexander, Bobby Engram and Jerramy Stevens. The Vikings are coming off the bye week with a 3-2 record. They needed the rest. Whether they play good teams or bad teams, the Vikings play close games. They aren't explosive or flashy, but they are good along the offensive and defensive lines. Their nine-point win over the Lions before the bye was the closest thing to a laugher. This figures to be a tough, hard-fought, close game with a little bit of extra emotion because of the presence of Hutchinson.
After five games, the Bengals realize their success last season came with a price. Opponents have been studying their successful no-huddle offense and have come up with some solutions. Last year, the Bengals averaged 24.5 points a game and 380.6 yards a game of offense. This year, they are down to 308.4 yards and 22.2 points a game. Part of the problem has been injuries. The receiving corps has been banged up, QB Carson Palmer isn't as mobile coming off major knee surgery, and the offensive line has been fighting injuries every week and won't have left tackle Levi Jones this week because of knee surgery. Wide receiver Chad Johnson suggests going downfield more and having a more aggressive attitude with the offense. But the Panthers might not be the right opponent for that approach. Despite a slow start with two opening losses, the Panthers have crawled back into the NFC playoff race with four straight wins. Their defense, despite injuries at linebacker, can dominate at the line of scrimmage. In fact, the most interesting matchup in this game is Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who has eight sacks, going against rookie left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Obviously, extra resources will be needed to help Whitworth, and seven-step drops might not be advisable with Peppers teeing off on Palmer.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons
Michael Vick took the blame for the home loss to the Giants, but the Falcons are clearly struggling on offense. Their offensive stats look crazy. They are averaging 232 yards a game rushing and 114 yards a game passing. I've never seen stats like that in this league. What it shows is that the Falcons better have the lead, because it's hard for them to play catchup. Ashley Lelie is starting to get frustrated with his role as a receiver. Welcome to the Falcons. They are a running team. That's what they do with Vick in control. The Steelers come to town with great confidence following their 45-point explosion over the Chiefs. QB Ben Roethlisberger looked much more comfortable in a game in which he was asked to throw only 19 passes and let the running game plow over the defense. Willie Parker was once again at his best last week, but it sure helped to have the big-back presence of Najeh Davenport. That one-two punch is what the Steelers need. With Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jackson banged up with a knee injury, the Steelers may try to use more running plays. With both teams running, this could be a fast game.
7. San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
This could be a trap game for the Chargers because they usually struggle in Kansas City. The Chargers are on a roll since letting Philip Rivers open up the offense in the final part of the Steelers victory a few weeks ago. Not just restricted to running the ball, Rivers has vaulted the Chargers offense to the point of the league in scoring with 30.2 points a game. Rivers is completing 68.8 percent of his passes and has a 100.6 quarterback rating. If he keeps this up, people in San Diego will be saying, "Drew Who?" But Kansas City has always been a tough place for the Chargers to play. Bad things happened to them in Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs may be struggling but still have a tremendous home field advantage. The Chiefs have won eight of their past nine meetings with the Chargers in Kansas City. And they will be an angry football teams. They were embarrassed by last week's 45-7 loss in Pittsburgh. The defense that played so well before that game simply fell apart and Damon Huard struggled against the Steelers front seven. Now, the Chiefs play a front seven that is more talented than Pittsburgh's.
6. New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
The Patriots stood pat by not trading for receivers Jerry Porter or Randy Moss, which isn't a surprise. Bill Belichick has done a masterful job of getting off to a 4-1 start despite a severe lack of wide receiver help. Quarterback Tom Brady will have to get by with minimal contributions from his wide receivers and a hefty dose of running. Good thing Brady doesn't care about stats. His only concern is the winning percentage of his team. Thus, his 54.3 completion percentage and 6.4 yards per attempt numbers don't bother him. His Patriots are running away with the AFC East, and if they can win this road game against the Bills, the only team they have to worry about is a Jets team they beat in Week 2. For the Bills, this is their season. They traded for Rams defensive end Tony Hargrove to help their pass rush. They played well in the opener against the Patriots but lost by two. A loss to the Patriots on Sunday could doom them to another losing season.
5. Denver Broncos at Cleveland Browns
People laughed two years when Mike Shanahan started grabbing as many Cleveland Browns defensive linemen as possible. He signed them. He traded for them. He took the criticism. Now, thanks to those former Browns, he has assembled a defense that has given up only one touchdown drive in five games. The last laugh could be a dominating performance over the Browns. It's probably not a funny thought in Cleveland, though. The Browns dumped an entire defensive line to get tougher under Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense. The 3-4 usually does well against the run, but not in Cleveland. The Browns are giving up 143 yards a game and 4.7 yards a carry. Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer toned down the zone blitzing and aggressive blitzing schemes of 2005 and simply let the Broncos defense play fundamental football. As a result, the Broncos are giving up only 101 yards a game on the ground and can't be beat in the red zone.
4. Detroit Lions at New York Jets
Even in victory, the Lions have defeat. After a winning their first game of the season for first-year coach Rod Marinelli, the Lions lost their best defensive player, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, because he took appetite suppressants because of his problems with sleep apnea. He's out four games. That won't help a Lions defense that is giving up 26 points a game. Jets QB Chad Pennington doesn't have much of a running game to lean on so he'll be expected to stay no-huddle and keep Marinelli's patchwork defense off-balance all day. Eric Mangini has surprised everyone with his 3-3 record. Sure, his three wins have come against teams that have 4-14 records, but the Jets were supposed to be the team losing teams beat up on. Mangini has a chance for a .500 season, which would be an incredible accomplishment for a first-year coach in a turnaround situation. Without Rogers, the Lions will be more vulnerable to a running attack, but that's not the Jets game. The Jets are getting only 97.8 yards a game on the ground. Still, Marinelli is a pretty good motivator. That might make him dangerous in this game.
3. Washington Redskins at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had a gaping hole in the middle of their run defense, so they traded for Bucs defensive tackle Anthony McFarland. Plus, Tony Dungy has spent the bye week working on interior run defense techniques. Without getting too complicated, the Colts' run defense technique wasn't right in first halves of games. Dungy and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks would make a few adjustments at the half, and the Colts would do better in second halves. Linebackers were getting out of their run gaps to help the defensive linemen. It was a mess. McFarland provides a big body to match up better against offensive lines. Sunday's game against the Redskins will be a good test because the Redskins may go back to a running game. After a home loss to the Titans, fans and critics are calling for the Redskins to go back to Joe Gibbs Redskins football. They want more running. They want a more physical brand of football. At 2-4, the Redskins are on the verge of falling out of the playoff race early. Mark Brunell had a toenail ripped off when a Titans defensive lineman stepped on his foot. After that, he struggled throwing the football. In Washington, everyone knows Brunell plays well until his legs wear out. Even though a toenail is a minor injury, any problems with Brunell's legs or feet are not good thing for the offense.
2. Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders
Blowing a 20-point lead in a little over a quarter shows the Cardinals are a cursed franchise. They visit a Raiders team that just stinks. Quite a matchup. Matt Leinart has been particularly good at the beginning of games. He's worked off the 15-play script in two games and produced four first-quarter touchdown drives. What's unexplainable is how the Cardinals can blow two 14-0 leads at home. Of course, these are the Cardinals. Dennis Green fired offensive coordinator Keith Rowan and will let Mike Kruczek call the plays. Having a quarterback coach call the plays could help Leinart in the second and third quarters. Leinart looks cool and calm in the pocket. Meanwhile, the Raiders are in crisis mode. Quarterback Andrew Walter is facing a Cardinals defense that totally confused one of the league's hottest quarterbacks, Rex Grossman, on Monday night. They disguised coverages. They blitzed out of three-, four- and five- defensive line sets. Walter has struggled against conventional offenses. Randy Moss will have to accept he has to play out the season in Oakland. It probably doesn't help that Raiders halfback LaMont Jordan has a sore back that keeps tightening up on him.
1. Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Eagles need to bounce back from their tough loss at New Orleans. They can't come into the game overconfident. The Bucs are actually playing pretty good football since going with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback. Even though it's showing age, the Bucs' defense is still pretty good. They traded defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, but that shouldn't be a big factor to the Eagles. They don't focus on running the ball up the middle. QB Donovan McNabb will be throwing into a pass defense that usually restricts quarterback ratings in the 60s or 70s. This year, they are allowing a quarterback rating of 90.4, showing they are losing their legs because of age. Don't discount a great game plan from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Eagles should win this game, but they have to make sure they play better than they did against the Saints.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
T.O. in prime time, the Steve Hutchinson Bowl and how the Bengals' offense can improve are just a few of the highlights of Week 7, writes John Clayton.