Six from Sunday: Eagles face QB dilemma, Steelers have a plan

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Every week in the NFL season brings intrigue ... and a little controversy. Week 1 was no exception.

At least half of the home teams were viewed as underdogs, but they didn't take too kindly to that; fans in at least one city are struggling with what it takes to get a touchdown reception; the Steelers had months to work on a plan for life without Ben Roethlisberger, and for at least a week, it appears it was well-laid; and quarterback conflicts are already showing their face.

Here are six observations I took away from Sunday:

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1. Now what in Philadelphia?

The Eagles have a pretty good, young team, and they looked even better when Michael Vick took over for the injured Kevin Kolb in the Eagles' 27-20 loss to Green Bay. They might have beaten the Packers if they had Donovan McNabb under center, but that's a different story.

Vick, a three-time Pro Bowl QB with the Falcons, looks like he gives the Eagles a better chance to win than Kolb at this time. The concussion Kolb incurred against the Packers probably means Vick starts next week against Detroit and maybe even the following week against the Jaguars. If he wins both games and generates the kind of offense he did on a limited basis against the Packers, maybe Vick is the realistic choice when the Redskins and McNabb come to town in Week 4.

No doubt, Kolb is the future in Philadelphia, but after I saw Vick go 16-for-24 for 175 yards and eclipse 100 yards on the ground, I think he might be the present.

2. The Pittsburgh plan

Former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher told me the day after Roethlisberger was suspended that "the Steelers will not let it break them down. They will find a way to win, and they have all summer to get their minds right."

Before Cowher and I sat down Saturday night to discuss what would happen in Pittsburgh's first game without Big Ben, he asked me to bring along the official game book from the Week 12 Steelers-Ravens game in 2009. Inside would be the key to the game plan, Cowher said, and he was right. That game -- a 20-17 Ravens victory in which Roethlisberger sat out with a concussion -- turned out to be the blueprint for Steelers ball without Big Ben.

Dennis Dixon had to play in that Sunday night game last year when Roethlisberger couldn't go, and the offense flipped their run/pass play calls. In the other 15 games last season with Roethlisberger under center, the Steelers averaged 26 runs and 38 passes. In the Ravens game, they ran it 37 times to 26 pass attempts. Pittsburgh revisited that plan in Sunday's win over the Falcons with, you guessed it, 31 runs and 26 passes.

Coach Cowher also pointed out that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would turn up the heat even more in an attempt to support the offense. It was LeBeau's pressure on Sunday in a 15-9 victory in OT against Atlanta -- two sacks, an interception and lots of heat that stuffed the run down to 2.3 yards per carry -- that gave Pittsburgh's offense the little bit of breathing room it needed.

3. Surprising results not so surprising

Don't let NFL players catch wind of the idea that they won't win at home, especially in Week 1. Not many people thought the Steelers could do it without Roethlisberger, especially against the Falcons, but they did.

Seattle made so many roster changes this year under first-year coach Pete Carroll that not many believed they could beat the 49ers, who are already penciled in as division winners by many. But the Seahawks dished out a good whipping because they believe in themselves and where the organization is headed.

The Texans finally had enough of the Colts coming into their house and leaving with a victory, and for the first time they looked like real contenders to win the AFC South if they can keep up their current level of play. I think they can with Arian Foster running the way he did.

We heard all week how Bucs QB Josh Freeman might not be able to throw the ball well with his fractured right thumb, but as it turned out the gritty Freeman wasn't going to let his teammates down. He ran twice for 34 yards and threw two touchdown passes to lead his team to a 17-14 win over Cleveland.

4. Belichick at it again

Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn't even have coordinators, which is an interesting and untraditional way to run a team. His offense really could be left in the hands of Tom Brady, but his young defense is another story.

New England's secondary has a rookie, two second-year players, and the oldest veteran is from the 2007 rookie class. Belichick's best linebacker is a 2008 draft pick. His defense is a work in progress, but it is way ahead of where I thought it would be for the first week of the season.

With 11 defensive players from the last three draft classes, it is only a matter of time before this group turns into another classic Belichick defense.

5. Were blueprints developed?

We all know the NFL is a copycat league, and boy did a few teams expose a winning formula. I can guarantee coaches will be studying the first week of game tapes to see if teams cracked the code on how to play certain teams. Here are a few of the things that could have transpired in Week 1 that I will keep an eye on for Week 2.

» Will teams really attempt to run the ball 40 times against the Colts like the Texans did?

» Is it time to treat Giants wide receiver Hakim Nicks like a true No. 1 receiver?

» Is it worth blitzing Brady when the Bengals couldn't get a sack in 35 pass plays, or is it better to rush three and play coverage?

6. My favorite loser

The Lions' defensive stand on the 1-yard line for four plays in the fourth quarter of their 19-14 loss at Chicago was inspirational. Argue all you want that the Bears should have kicked a field goal to take a 16-14 lead, but they didn't. Chicago decided to run off-tackle and got stuffed.

The Lions are a different team than they were last year or in recent years. Fun to watch. Free-agent addition Kyle Vanden Bosch was viewed by many as a guy over the hill with diminished skills. But watch the game on replay; the guy not only can still play but he has been a motivator for his teammates, especially those along side him on the defensive line.

There is no quit in these Lions, and even though the final outcome was disappointing for their fan, at least they know their team is going to play hard.

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