- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
- 0 Shares
Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "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 10 of the 2005 season.
The Eagles have put the Terrell Owens situation behind them. He's suspended and he won't return.
But can the Eagles rally? They played well Sunday night against the Redskins but couldn't make the final play to win the game in the closing minutes. At 4-4, the Eagles have reached the must-win stage of their season. It would be a playoff killer to lose a division home game, particularly to a Cowboys team that whipped them 33-10 a month ago.
Remember last year when the Eagles finished the season seven games ahead of everyone else in the NFC East? Those days are gone. Those other teams in the division are better this year. Each team is good enough to win division home games. Now, the Eagles trail the Giants by two games and the Cowboys and Redskins by a game.
The next two weeks should determine the direction of the Eagles. They host the Cowboys on Monday and travel to the Giants the following Sunday. Already at 0-2 in the NFC East, they could suddenly face the prospect of not making the playoffs after going to the NFC Championship Game four straight years.
Complicating things this week is the loss of center Hank Fraley from a line that really can't afford to lose players because of depth questions. Reggie Brown stepped up and made big plays as the team's No. 1 wide receiver, and that has to continue. Tight end L.J. Smith should become more involved, but he's questionable this weekend because of a concussion. In an effort to get increased production, the Eagles made a wise move in re-signing tight end Chad Lewis.
Knowing the Cowboys try a few blitzes, the Eagles might change into more of a two-tight end offense. Lewis and Smith give them as much receiving hope as the wide-receiving group. Plus, going with two-tight end sets provides good protection for Donovan McNabb, who is nagged by sore ribs and a sports hernia.
The Cowboys come in well-rested off their bye week. Julius Jones will be back from his high-ankle sprain, so they can attack the Eagles with the one-two punch of Jones and Marion Barber. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will try to blitz quarterback Drew Bledsoe because of his lack of mobility and the Cowboys' blocking problems at tackle, but the running game could counter some of those blitzes.
And 10. St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks | Scouting report The Seahawks have been in this position before, just not this late. Last year, they had a chance to distance themselves from the Rams in the NFC West, but the Rams staged a 17-point comeback in an early-season game at Qwest Field to pull off a big victory. Though the Seahawks ended up winning the division with a 9-7 record, the Rams still felt like the best team in the division and ended up winning a playoff game in Seattle. A Seahawks victory Sunday would give them a three-game lead and leave the Rams scrambling for a wild-card spot. The linebacking corps will start two rookies because the most experienced veteran, Jamie Sharper, is out with a knee injury. Darrell Jackson, the Seahawks' best receiver, is still a couple weeks away from coming back from his knee injury, so the passing offense can't completely open up. Coming off the bye week, the Rams are restocking their offense with the returns of Marc Bulger, Torry Holt and maybe even Isaac Bruce. Leonard Little will be back at defensive end. Joe Vitt, the team's interim coach, has done a great job of rallying the Rams in winning two of three games. This is clearly their most defining game. Under Vitt, the team has gone to more of a running offense. Steven Jackson is tough to tackle, and that will be a problem for the Seahawks' young linebacking corps. But the Seahawks have conquered a lot of past problems. They won in St. Louis. They've had a come-from-behind win over the Cowboys. The defense has the best chemistry of any Mike Holmgren team. Matt Hasselbeck is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference.
The Bucs are in trouble. After a 5-1 start, they're spiraling out of control. An easy schedule did help the start, but having the combination of Cadillac Williams running and Brian Griese throwing covered for the deficiencies of the offensive line. Williams has been fighting injuries and Chris Simms isn't at the Griese level. The good news for the Bucs is that the Redskins don't pack enough of an offensive punch to overcome turnovers, so the pressure will be on the Bucs' defense to win this game. The Bucs' defense is still good. It ranks No. 1 in yards allowed (236.9 per game) and has forced 15 turnovers. For this game, the defense will probably have to take more chances. The Redskins have an army of blockers who make it tough to get to Mark Brunell. Bucs cornerbacks will have to stay extra close to Redskins receivers Santana Moss and David Patten to give the defense a chance to force Brunell into mistakes. Because the Redskins max protect so much and need to win the time of possession, they can't afford to have long drives that result in no points. The Redskins almost have to play the perfect game to win each week, but Joe Gibbs has this team so well-coached that it has a chance to do that. The Bucs can't afford turnovers from Simms. If the Bucs lose, though, it will be their third straight loss, killing their chances of going to the playoffs.
8. New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins | Scouting report Nick Saban is tenacious. While everyone else looks at his Dolphins and says they are a draft or two away from being a playoff team, Saban doesn't buy it. He wants to make the playoffs. Well, Sunday is the day he has a chance to prove something. The Dolphins trail the Patriots by one game. This is home field for the Dolphins. A win would tie them for the AFC East lead. How improbable is that? The Patriots are starting to realize their Super Bowl hopes are fading. They clearly couldn't match up with the Colts Monday night. Bill Belichick was calling fourth-down plays in the first quarter because it's clear the defense isn't good enough to hold down good offenses. The Dolphins clearly aren't a good offense. Gus Frerotte is struggling, and there really isn't another option. Saban puts Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown in the backfield and focuses the offense around them. That's sound coaching, but now it's up to the Patriots to see if they can stop a one-dimensional team. The Colts could beat the Patriots by passing or running. This is one of the few times this year the Patriots are facing a team that shouldn't burn them too much through the air. The Dolphins are averaging only 189.6 passing yards per game. They have only nine touchdown passes. Belichick stands a great chance to go to the playoffs as long as he wins AFC East games, and this is one he can't afford to lose.
7. Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders | Scouting report The Raiders were floored by Sunday's last-second loss to the Chiefs. They let the Chiefs drive down the field in the final minute to win, and now their season is on the line. At 3-5, a sixth loss seals their fate as a potential playoff team. Of course, who was thinking playoffs after their 0-3 and 1-4 start? The Raiders have improved from last year on defense but they still have holes. They are giving up 23.1 points a game and have had to patch together their secondary with a bunch of young players. Where this game is interesting is that they are pretty good at stopping the run. Sure, Larry Johnson ran for 107 yards against them last week, but play-for-play, the Raiders battle teams on the run. Ted Washington and Warren Sapp still stuff the middle of the blocking lanes. Once a back gets past them, though, anything can happen. The Raiders still use the big nickel with two linebackers and five defensive backs, and that defense is miscast for the Broncos. The Broncos limit their throws and limit the number of receivers going into routes. Mike Shanahan's focus is winning games with Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell, their inside-outside combination. All of his schemes will be designed to get one of those backs into the secondary for extra yards. It will be interesting to see if the Raiders go to more of a conventional set with a third linebacker. It will also be interesting to see if they stick eight in the box to stuff the inside running lanes. For the Raiders, it's their last gasp for the season. Because the Bengals and Jaguars should go 11-5 with their easy schedules, winning the wild-card spots, a sixth loss would virtually kill any playoff hopes for the Raiders.
The Chiefs are battling. They've battled through games without their best left tackle, Willie Roaf. Now, they have to do their best without running back Priest Holmes, who is out for the remainder of the year because of a helmet-to-helmet hit earlier this season. Larry Johnson is talented enough to win games, but now he has to carry the offense for the final eight weeks of the season. Dick Vermeil learned something about his team Sunday against the Raiders. They are at their best on offense when they run the ball between the guards and don't get too cute in the passing game. Tight end Tony Gonzalez has gotten into pass routes more in the past three games and is being counted on for five or more catches a contest. The team believes in QB Trent Green as the leader of the offense. Bills coach Mike Mularkey made a few interesting moves during the bye week. First, he stayed with Kelly Holcomb as quarterback, but that was necessary because he gives the Bills the best chance of winning. He's gambling that Jason Peters can be the right tackle. Mike Williams, who is bordering on being a first-round bust, is competing against Bennie Anderson for the left guard spot. Now, the Bills have Mike Gandy at left tackle and Peters at right tackle. Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will probably use some of his new speed at linebacker to pressure those tackles and try to sack Holcomb, who isn't the most mobile quarterback. The key for the Bills is stopping the run. They have allowed 156.9 yards a game on the ground, six yards more per game than they are allowing through the air.
5. Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants | Scouting report Mike Tice's family grew up in the New York area, and his father was a Giants fan. But the Giants have stood in the way of Tice's Vikings the past few years. Last year's 6-0 start was ruined by a Giants victory over the Vikings in the Metrodome. Then-Vikings owner Red McCombs wondered how Tice, a New Yorker, couldn't beat his hometown team. Tice is hoping to surprise the Giants this year. The Vikings have won two of the past three games and played a pretty good offensive contest Sunday with Brad Johnson at the helm. Johnson is a smart quarterback, and he's tough. But the Giants are hot. Some are projecting their 6-2 start as a prelude to a Super Bowl run. Eli Manning continues to grow as a quarterback. He's exceptional on the deep ball and he runs the offense efficiently. What's helped is that the Giants' offense has stayed healthy this year. Hurting the Vikings' defense is the loss of cornerback Fred Smoot for four to six weeks because of a broken collarbone. That injury moves Brian Williams into the starting lineup, but takes him out of a blitzing role in the slot. Tice said Monday Williams is one of the best blitzers from the cornerback position. The Vikings will have to produce some pressure to get to Manning and force him into mistakes.
4. Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars | Scouting report Kyle Boller returns to the Ravens' offense as the starting quarterback, and really, there shouldn't be a lot of pressure. At 2-6, the Ravens are at the stage where they need to look at young players and develop things for next year. Brian Billick isn't conceding the season, but he has some pressure. His offense must show in the second half of the season that Boller is the right man. Boller's lost a lot of confidence from the fans, but it's the players he must win over. The Ravens signed Derrick Mason to give them a dependable possession receiver, and Boller is working with one of the league's best tight ends, Todd Heap. Boller must dust off the rust from inactivity and get things on track or there could be some changes after the season. The Jaguars won't have Fred Taylor in the backfield because of his ankle injury. The Jaguars have a tendency to play down to their opponents, and that could be dangerous against the Ravens, who have a good defense and are trying to get their running offense going. The Jaguars are counting the days until their Dec. 11 meeting against the Colts.
3. Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (ESPN, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET) | Scouting report The Browns hope to play the spoiler against the Steelers, who won't have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Injuries are starting to become a concern for the Steelers. Running back Willie Parker has a bad ankle, while Jerome Bettis has a sore knee. Linebacker James Farrior is hurt. The tough news for the Steelers is that the Browns are a little better than the Packers, whom the Steelers beat 20-10 on Sunday in Green Bay. Home-field advantage will help because Steelers fans don't like the Browns, and vice versa. Steelers backup QB Charlie Batch wasn't great Sunday, but he managed the offense well and pulled out the win. Pittsburgh can't afford a loss because it has to stay ahead of the Bengals, who are resting at 7-2 and getting ready for a game against the Colts.
2. Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions | Scouting report Wow, what an ugly game. The Lions were hoping Jeff Garcia could come back and resume his role as the starting quarterback, but his fractured leg isn't totally better. Roy Williams and Charles Rogers are available, but you get the feeling their hearts aren't in it after a 3-5 start. Halfback Kevin Jones is banged up. The offensive line is banged up. The only good news for the Lions' defense is that it should have Shaun Rogers back at tackle. The Cardinals are probably the most injured team in football. Losing end Bertrand Berry takes away one of the team's defensive leaders. Plus, his absence will weaken perhaps the most injury-hit area of the team -- the defensive line. QB Kurt Warner did a nice job of moving the ball against the Seahawks last week, but the lack of a running attack made kicker Neil Rackers millions. He signed a four-year extension because the Cardinals can't score touchdowns and he's constantly kicking field goals.
1. New York Jets at Carolina Panthers | Scouting report Brooks Bollinger gets the start at QB, and he'll be starting until Jay Fiedler is healthy in a couple of weeks. Bollinger throws a nice deep ball, but he won't have the time to do that against the Panthers. The Panthers' defense is gaining momentum. They beat teams two ways. They can pressure from the defensive-end positions with Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers. And when they need to, they can cause problems by blitzing 30 to 40 percent of the time with their linebackers. The Jets are a standing target. They seem to be losing two players a week to the injured reserve, and they don't have the cap room to fill out the 53-man roster. This should be an easy one for the Panthers.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
15hEric D. Williams