If there weren't wide receivers acting up every week, complaining, being fined, pouting on the sidelines, and thinking about themselves before the team, there wouldn't be much controversy in the NFL. As one head coach said to me this week, "Most of my headaches come from the guys who catch the passes."
The biggest issue dealing with receivers these days is how often they are the target in the passing game. They seem to know how many times their teammates, as well as other receivers around the league, are getting the ball thrown their way.
I get the feeling that some of them resent double coverage, which opens up someone else down the field. I also get the feeling some of them simply want most of the passes to come their way no matter what the quarterback reads in his drop.
This might be old-school thinking, but football isn't about individual stats, it's about winning. Some of the behavior witnessed lately would have you think otherwise.
Cowboys wideout Terrell Owens wants the ball, and he knows exactly how often he is the target in every game. Last week, in Dallas' win over Cincinnati, he was thrown to just three times. Owens scored a touchdown and his team won, but you might not have known it if you had watched him on the sideline with a towel over his head or with that far-away look in his eyes every time the camera closed in as he sat alone at the end of the bench.
Heading into the Bengals game, Owens was the target of Tony Romo's passes about eight times a game, but coverages and the need to run the ball more against a porous Bengals run defense decreased his target average. He's not alone in having his targets reduced last week, but there are other ways to handle the situation even if your team owner is sympathetic to your complaints, as is the case with Owens.
Moss came into last week's game averaging 11 targets per game. The Eagles' game plan called for taking Moss away, and he was only targeted two times. One play had a penalty, which nullified a catch and the other pass was incomplete. Antwaan Randle El was available when Jason Campbell read the coverages, and he became the target of 11 plays. Going into the game, Randle El had been the target just five times a game.
After the game Moss looked satisfied that his team had won another road game against a division foe. As long as tight end Chris Cooley and Randle El deliver when thrown to, things will open up again for Moss in the weeks to come, and he knows it.
Owens has to take great satisfaction from his team's 4-1 record and that the other targets on his team are coming through when called upon, which is what makes a good teammate and a good team.
Maybe Owens struggles with the times tight end Jason Witten is the target, or maybe he wants most of the balls headed toward Patrick Crayton or Miles Austin. Owens has been a decent down-field blocker in the run game, but 38 run plays against the Bengals couldn't have made him happy.
In Week 4, Owens challenged those who would listen to take a look at the 17 times he was targeted against the Redskins and decide about the passes. Sounds like he was suggesting it might have been bad passes or something else. I looked at every pass thrown to him this year and I could make a case for only nine balls being labeled as questionable throws, but there were also five drops and a number of struggles off the line against the Redskins.
When I looked at Brandon Marshall of the Broncos, I could make a case for the same number of bad passes. The difference is Marshall caught 34 of the 51 passes targeted for him (66.7 percent), while Owens caught 48.7 percent of passes thrown his way. By the way, Marshall came into the game last week with a target average of 15 per game and had it quickly reduced to seven as the Buccaneers tried to take him away.
Owens is not alone when it comes to receiver frustrations. He's still a fine receiver, but he can't let the Cowboys situation turn into another Eagles or 49ers catastrophe. "Romo is starting to look like (Jeff) Garcia and (Donovan) McNabb on the sidelines," one former head coach observed.
On a related note, I have to give a lot of credit to Randy Moss, who lost Tom Brady to injury and is on the field with inexperienced Matt Cassel. In years past, Moss might have complained about not getting the ball, but right now he is taking the high road, maybe because his team continues to win.
Moss went into Sunday's contest with the 49ers averaging six targets a game, but he made the best of it with five receptions for 111 yards and a score. He is still only being targeted six times a game with 17 receptions, which could be frustrating, but he's acting like a guy who understands the situation.
A lesson Owens could stand to learn.