Remember in "The Godfather," when Sonny gets shot? Vito Corleone tells Tom Hagen to call the undertaker, Bonasera, saying "we are going to need him now."
That was my reaction with regard to Tarvaris Jackson. At some point this season the Vikings are going to need him, because on Thursday night Brett Favre's age showed in Minnesota's 14-9 loss to the Saints. He didn't look anything like he did in the previous game he had played in New Orleans (last year's NFC title game), in part because of the lack of support he received from his offensive teammates, specifically Bernard Berrian.
But Favre looked rusty, didn't show any spring in his legs, and no play made that more evident than when Sedrick Ellis sacked him in the third quarter. The more mobile Brett would have moved, would have slid and would have made something out of nothing.
Now, I know it's early, but as the speed of the game increases the concern with any older player is if he can return to his old form. Has the gas run out? My rule of thumb has always been, if you don't love an older veteran's performance in September, you will hate it even more in November. There is no middle ground.
Favre was sensational last season, but this year, in just one game, he looks rusty and without any explosion in his lower body. The Vikings will need Jackson at some point this year, just like Vito needed Bonasera.
On that note, I am so happy football is back. Here is my...
Opening weekend guide
1. Heat and humidity will determine the outcome of many games. The Broncos going to Jacksonville, the Raiders going to Tennessee, the Colts in Houston. All will have to deal with the humidity and must rotate their defensive linemen in order to be fresh for the fourth quarter when these games will be determined.
2. Coaches will determine the outcome of opening day more than the players. The surprise factor and newness of schemes can create problems. And in September, the best teams do not always win the games.
3. Special teams will play a huge role. From onside kicks to returns, the kicking game will influence many outcomes.
Postgame stats to focus on
1. Pass completions and runs. If the number combined is over 51, that team wins the game.
2. How often will blitz packages force QBs to throw the ball away? I don't mean overthrowing the wide receiver, but having to just chuck the ball to avoid the sack. I am keeping track of these.
3. Missed field goals are turnovers. Count them in the total turnovers for the game. I know I will.
4. Yards gained in the kicking game. These are important but often overlooked. Controlling field position is important.
5. How many times does an offense overcome penalties to score? Or overcome negative plays to keep drives alive? Normally a holding penalty will kill a possession.
Points of emphasis for the early games
» Forget stopping Batman and Robin, the Patriots must force the Bengals to be one dimensional. They must stop Cedric Benson first, then force Carson Palmer and the self-proclaimed dynamic duo of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens to beat them. Tough challenge for New England.
» Matt Ryan must play well for the Falcons to win. No matter who plays quarterback for the Steelers, a team must throw the ball well and make big plays in the passing game to beat them. Running the ball on Pittsburgh has never proven to be successful.
» The Texans must beat the Colts with their defense and not think they can outscore Indianapolis. Just one time I want to see the Texans win a game in the fourth quarter against a good team. Then I will stop calling them soft.
» The Dolphins must be able to handle all the spread runs of the Bills. The weakness of Miami's defense is its inability to handle the speed of its opponents. And C.J. Spiller is all speed. This isn't a good matchup for the Dolphins to start their season.
» I am excited to see the Lions, especially on offense. They can move the ball on anyone, and Jahvid Best should run wild in Chicago. The Bears had better hope the Lions defensive line gets tired during the game, because initially they will struggle to block them for an entire game.
» Kyle Orton can look very good at times, especially when he has protection. The Jaguars struggle to pass rush, they struggle to be athletic in their secondary, which means Orton should be able to move the ball effectively. The Broncos' challenge is stopping running back Maurice Jones-Drew in every aspect. He is the driving force of Jacksonville's offense, and this game will come down to the team that wins all the third-and-short situations.
» The Giants play best when they play a team that doesn't have explosive players in the passing game. The Panthers are far from explosive, but they are physical and the Giants will have a tough time matching them in the physical aspect.
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