Six from Sunday: Sanchez, Favre, Singletary among Week 1 standouts

  • By Pat Kirwan
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The late, great Bill Walsh once said, "If a player does it once, then it's the coach's job to get him to do it all of the time."

After an opening week with mostly predictable results and some big surprises, there are several coaches with lots of coaching to do. Some reside in New York and Detroit, where two rookie quarterbacks showed enough promise in Week 1 to give their team's fan bases hope.

Mark Sanchez went on the road and won his first start, going 12-of-15 on third down for 191 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' 24-7 victory over Houston. We may have just witnessed the opening of a rookie-of-the-year campaign. The Texans knew Sanchez was a young guy who liked to make plays with his feet and has no problem moving outside the pocket. Yet, they didn't sack him once in 31 pass attempts and he demonstrated he can sit in the pocket and read coverages.

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Fellow rookie Matt Stafford didn't have the same kind of day for the Lions on the road, losing his debut, 45-27 to New Orleans, throwing three interceptions in the process. However, there were things about Stafford's performance that should give some hope to Lions fans, who haven't seen a regular-season victory by their team since Dec. 23, 2007. He was only sacked once in 40 pass plays and he scored a touchdown, a 1-yard run in the third quarter. He also led his team to more points than the Lions scored in any one road game last season.

Here are six things that caught my eye in the first week of the season:

1. Wildcat growing, but so is Wildcat defense

The Panthers, Jaguars, Jets, Dolphins, Cowboys, Eagles and Browns, among others, used a form of the Wildcat in their Week 1 games. However, I was more intrigued with the defensive game plans for the scheme. Almost every defensive coach I spoke with this summer said they developed a new plan for the Wildcat in 2009. After Week 1, it looks like a patient plan, with fewer called blitzes, that stays flat across the line of scrimmage is the way teams are headed. For a week at least, it appeared to work, with few big plays developing out the Wildcat formation. For the most part, defenses have made good adjustments in the chess game known as the Wildcat.

2. Sophomore jinx? What sophomore jinx?

The two sophomore quarterbacks, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, served notice that they are not going to unravel in their second season. Both won their openers, combining for five touchdown passes, one interception, two victories, and plays they might not have made a year ago. Both impressed me with their decision-making and improved arm strength.

3. Getting Favre was the right move

It was interesting to watch how the Vikings used Brett Favre. We got a hint in Week 3 of the preseason when Favre saw a safety come down in the box early and show a run-defense call. Favre did not check out of the run, which I liked to see. This week, in the win over Cleveland, he threw only 21 passes while calling 37 running plays. He took four sacks rather than trying to make something happen, and when the day was done the Vikings had 34 points. It sure looks like coach Brad Childress has a plan similar to the one Denver employed in 1998 when John Elway started just 12 games, averaging about 20 passes in each. If Favre paces himself and continues to lead a team that makes 40 percent of its third downs and doesn't turn over the ball, like it did on Sunday, then the Vikings will win a lot of games this season.

4. Life without Polamalu

Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu is regarded as one of the elite safeties in the NFL. In the Dick LeBeau scheme, Polamalu is the perfect piece to the puzzle. He can line up on the line of scrimmage and convince a quarterback he's blitzing, then on the snap of the ball get to the deep middle and pick off a pass without the receiver or QB seeing him show up. Polamalu suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in Pittsburgh's Kickoff win over Tennessee, which begs the question: How will it affect the Steelers? In 2006, Polamalu suffered the same injury, causing him to miss three games. More injuries in 2007 forced him out of five more. In the eight games with their Pro Bowl safety, the Steelers were 6-2. It will be tough, but history says they can continue to win. That's the Steeler way.

5. Did they change the culture?

General managers and head coaches like to talk about "changing the culture" in the locker room. Translation: change a losing attitude into a winning attitude. Two teams gave me the feeling the culture is on its way to changing, and in Week 1 each took a big step. The San Francisco 49ers had an adjustment period last year when Mike Singletary took over. With a solid finish last year and a very intense offseason and summer camp, this is a different team. They are mentally tough. When the Cardinals took away Frank Gore and the running game, an average team would have folded. Not the Niners. They officially became a dangerous team this week.

The New York Jets hired Rex Ryan, who has personality and talks a big game. He took his team on the road with a rookie QB and left his two best pass rushers at home to serve suspensions. They didn't let the Texans offense score a point and dominated time of possession. This is a new Jets team.

6. More questions than answers

Three situations surfaced this weekend that need some explaining:

1. Jake Delhomme, who finished the 2008 season with a six-turnover performance in the Panthers' loss to Arizona in the NFC Championship Game, was involved in seven turnovers on Sunday. Committing 12 turnovers in the last two games would make any football fan scratch his head. Now the Carolina coaching staff has to make a decision on the quarterback they issued a five-year contract extension in April.

2. Coverage units and blocking units are loaded with players that simply don't have enough experience yet. Breakdowns occur. The Chiefs' Jon McGraw blocked a field goal, Josh Cribbs in Cleveland returned a punt 67 yards for a score, the Redskins scored on a fake field goal. Special teams are a liability right now.

3. A lot of people fell in love with the Houston Texans coming into this season but a home loss to a team with a rookie quarterback and two key defenders on suspension leaves a lot of questions to be answered, including: Where did the No. 3 offense in 2008 go? It was held to 183 total yards on Sunday.



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