AFC heavyweights meet in San Diego
The Chargers host the Steelers on MNF in Week 5's top matchup, writes John Clayton.
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 5 of the 2005 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers | Scouting report
Marty Schottenheimer is Bill Cowher's mentor. Schottenheimer coached him and liked him so much he brought him onto his coaching staff with the Browns.
Cowher has followed Schottenheimer's formula to win football games and annually leads his team into the playoffs. Monday night's matchup between the Chargers and Steelers is a test to see which coach has the edge in developing his current franchise.
San Diego Chargers
Meanwhile, the Steelers are coming off a loss to the Patriots followed by a bye last week. Against the Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger suffered what looked to be a bad left shoulder injury. But he toughed it out. For most of the second half, he looked terrible. His passes were high. His accuracy was off. Yet, in the final two minutes, he engineered a game-tying touchdown drive.
Roethlisberger is a gamer. He can put aside a bad quarter or a few bad practices and make the big plays to win football games. He didn't lose a regular-season game as a rookie. He's big. He's got a strong arm. On the run, particularly moving to his right, he can be more dangerous than he is in the pocket.
The Chargers righted themselves from an 0-2 start with blowout wins over the Giants and Patriots. But they still have a lot of pressure on them to win this week. The Chargers' schedule is brutal. They have road games at Philadelphia, Washington, Indianapolis and Kansas City down the stretch that will make it hard to finish strong. They can't afford to lose home games, which makes their opening loss to the Cowboys without Gates so tough.
This is undoubtedly a playoff preview of two teams talented enough to be in the AFC title game.
And 10. New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons | Scouting report
Bill Belichick said Monday that the Patriots are in transition. Let's not panic, but the Patriots are truly troubled. They are in the midst of a five-game stretch in which they face five teams that won a combined 57 games last year. The injuries to left tackle Matt Light, strong safety Rodney Harrison, defensive end Marquise Hill and halfback Kevin Faulk clearly impacted them in their loss to the Chargers last week. The Patriots went back to more of a 3-4 defense last week, but they had a big problem stopping the run, which could be even bigger Sunday without Richard Seymour, who will miss the game with a knee injury. If they can't stop the Falcons' running attack, the Patriots face the likelihood of being 2-3 with a road game in Denver next week. The Falcons are averaging 209 rushing yards a game. Their best runner, quarterback Michael Vick, could miss the game with a knee injury, and even if he plays, will be limited. Don't discount that injury. If he plays, watch to see whether his passing mechanics slip as he sets up. A lot of time players with medial collateral injuries sit for a month. It's very painful. Once again, Vick will be more restricted to the pocket. The Patriots, meanwhile, have to get their running attack going to help out Tom Brady.
9. Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys | Scouting report
The Donovan McNabb show heads to Dallas. What a show it is. Despite a sports hernia that will require surgery at some point, McNabb is playing with the pain and has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,333 yards and 11 touchdowns in four games. Terrell Owens might not be talking to McNabb but they are making music together in the passing game. Owens has 506 yards on 32 catches in four games. He's on pace for a 2,000-yard receiving season. Halfback Brian Westbrook isn't far behind with 484 total yards rushing and receiving. The pressure, though, is on the Cowboys, who had one of the most aggressive offseasons. They brought in Drew Bledsoe to lead the offense, and Bill Parcells used the draft to switch to a 3-4 defense. Bledsoe has compiled good stats and has kept the team in every game, but the offense has been up-and-down. That is partly the result of Parcells' use of nine rookies on his 45-man active roster, but if those rookies grow up, watch out. The Cowboys can't afford to lose a second division home game after blowing the Redskins game in the final four minutes two weeks ago. This is a big game for Parcells and the Cowboys.
8. Washington Redskins at Denver Broncos | Scouting report
Are the 3-0 Redskins for real? Sunday's trip to Denver is the perfect test. Joe Gibbs is winning with good defense, good offensive line play and timely passes by Mark Brunell. The return of Clinton Portis to Denver is another headline. Portis was traded by the Broncos to the Redskins for cornerback Champ Bailey and a draft choice that turned out to be Tatum Bell. For the Broncos, nothing has changed. They still look like a 10-win playoff team with a good running game, a solid defense and good leadership from Jake Plummer. Portis didn't turn around the Redskins last season as they went 6-10 in Gibbs' return. The Broncos are on a roll. Their defense has come together and the offense is gaining confidence during this three-game winning streak. The Redskins' problem is point production. Their defense keeps them in every game and they should be in this game, but the offense has scored only 43 points in three games. To be a winning team, more points have to come from the offense.
7. Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams | Scouting report
Talk about going into a big game undermanned. The Seahawks are heading into this NFC West shootout most likely without starting wide receivers Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson. The Rams might go into the game without their offensive play caller, head coach Mike Martz. Martz has a bacterial infection of the heart that zaps his strength but is treatable with medicine. The Rams offense won't have wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who will miss his second game with turf toe. Seahawks-Rams games are entertaining and wacky, but the Rams usually end up winning. They won three times last year even though the Seahawks won the division. Defensively, the Seahawks are playing better and might be able to handle the tough Rams offense a little better than in past years. They are in the middle of the pack in most of the statistical numbers -- 15th to 17th. But the key to this game is the finish. When the Rams and Seahawks meet, it is usually the Rams who finish the games off. They've had great comebacks against the Seahawks, but a lot of those successes were because of the play-calling of Martz. Seahawks players still remember Torry Holt's comments while working for ESPN at the draft that the Rams have more mental toughness in their games against the Seahawks, which is the reason they usually come out ahead.
6. Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars | Scouting report
The Bengals have lived a charmed life four weeks. For a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1990, that's a good thing. They are 4-0. They have the league's third-ranked offense and are averaging 26 points a game. Bengals home games are selling out. Heck, the Brown family even said no to NFL-mandated fan pat-downs when the city refused to pay the $60,000 labor bill. The Bengals appear invincible. But things get a little tougher this week. They've beaten four teams with a combined record of 3-10. No one should apologize for winning winnable games, but the next couple games get much tougher. But are the Bengals tough enough? The Jaguars strength is stopping the run, but they are giving up 130 yards a game, third worst in football. The Jaguars offensive line is falling apart because of injuries and poor play, leaving Byron Leftwich a punching bag behind center. Jack Del Rio has to rally this team or the season could quickly slip away. That could make it tough for the Bengals. They are facing a desperate Jaguars team that is playing at home. Next week, they face a similar team in Nashville when they play the Titans. If the Bengals can overcome these challenges, they would be 6-0 going into their Oct. 23 home game against the Steelers.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets | Scouting report
The Bucs might see what life is like without Carnell Williams, their workhorse rookie running back. His arch and hamstring injuries could keep him out of Sunday's game against the Jets. If that isn't bad enough, wide receiver Michael Clayton is playing with a second-degree shoulder separation. That puts more pressure on quarterback Brian Griese, whom Jon Gruden talked with about throwing too many interceptions in the Bucs' Week 4 win over the Lions. Of course, next to the Jets, there's no way the Bucs can feel sorry for themselves. Think about it. The Jets started training camp with three quarterbacks -- Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler and Brooks Bollinger. Just four weeks into the season they are on their fourth quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, who was a couch potato two weeks ago, waiting for a phone call. Herman Edwards had no choice but to go to Testaverde. Bollinger completed only 4 of 16 passes to his wide receivers against the Ravens and the Bucs might have a better pass defense than the Ravens. The plan is for the Jets to try a few more spread sets with Testaverde. That couldn't happen with Bollinger, who didn't have a particularly strong arm. By spreading the field, the Jets might open some running lanes for Curtis Martin, who has been bottled up for 2.8 yards per carry.
4. Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills | Scouting report
Mike Mularkey is keeping quiet on his quarterback choice for this week. There is good reason. J.P. Losman is in the process of getting benched. Losman has had back-to-back 75-yard passing days. Mularkey is facing a schedule crisis. He has home games against the Dolphins and Jets in the next two weeks, and if the Bills lose both, they will be 1-5. If they split those two games, they lose the edge in moving up in the AFC East because three of their final four AFC East games will be on the road. So they really have to win both games. Going to Kelly Holcomb only makes sense. The Bills rank 31st on offense, averaging 219.8 yards per game. They are scoring only 12 points a game. Losman clearly wasn't ready to take over the offense, and as tough as that might be to admit, the Bills simply have to win some games. They have talent on defense, but the defense is starting to fade because of the losses of linebacker Takeo Spikes and defensive tackle Ron Edwards. The poor play of the offense is leaving the defense on the field too long. Opponents are averaging 172.3 yards a game rushing against them, numbers that are unreal. Suddenly, the Dolphins, who entered the season considered one of the three worst teams in football, have a chance to take advantage of a struggling team and improve to 3-1.
3. Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions | Scouting report
Poor Joey Harrington. His timetable for starting is running out. Jeff Garcia should recover from his broken leg by the end of the month, and the way things are going, it's almost a guarantee Steve Mariucci will go to Garcia when he's healthy. Harrington almost pulled out a victory after a bad performance last week, but officials overturned what would have been the game-winning touchdown against the Bucs. Now, he's lost Charles Rogers for four games. Of course, Harrington really hasn't done a good job of using all the weapons he had during the first three games. He's completing only 53.3 percent of his passes for a 166 yards a game. He doesn't throw the ball downfield much, which might mean few turnovers, but it also means fewer touchdowns. The Ravens will blitz Harrington because he's the worst quarterback against the blitz in the NFL this season, with a quarterback rating of just 29.
2. Indianapolis Colts at San Francisco 49ers | Scouting report
When he was in Baltimore, then Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan devised many creative schemes to try to confuse Peyton Manning. He would rush guys to the line of scrimmage and then drop them back into coverage. Now, Nolan is the 49ers head coach, but he doesn't have close to the talent he had in Baltimore. For one, injuries have taken away most of his cornerbacks. Ahmed Plummer is out a month. Mike Rumph was supposed to move over from safety to replace him but he's down for the season. Another cornerback, Derrick Johnson, is questionable with a thigh injury. It's hard to devise coverage packages without many cover guys. To make matters worse, Nolan had to go to rookie quarterback Alex Smith, who still looks like a deer in the headlights when he is being chased by defenders. The timing is bad. Left tackle Jonas Jennings might need shoulder surgery, which would knock him out for the season. Against an aggressive Colts defense, the 49ers could see a lot of turnover and three-and-outs. They might be lucky to string 49 plays together on offense, leaving the Colts on the field a long time to score points.
1. Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans | Scouting report
In the grand scheme of things, this isn't an important game. It's the battle for third place in the AFC South, a division in which the Colts are running away with the title. But it has some bearing toward the second half of the season. The Titans are the league's youngest team and have a lot of talent that should come together by then. The Texans are trying to overturn an 0-3 start and showed progress last week in playing the Bengals tough. Dom Capers made three starting lineup changes on defense and cut down the number of big plays the Texans allowed. Steve McNair is still trying to get comfortable with Norm Chow's offense. Texans quarterback David Carr isn't getting the ball out quickly and he's getting sacked too many times as a result.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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