Six from Sunday: Former head coaches making their mark

  • By Pat Kirwan
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The completion of Week 4 brings an end to the first quarter of the regular season for most teams, a point at which NFL coaches like to assess their team. The second quarter begins with at least four undefeated teams and four without a victory. Last year, there were three undefeated teams after four weeks and four winless teams. The Buffalo Bills were one of those 4-0 teams last year, but they tumbled to a 7-9 season.

Since 1990, 64 teams have started a season 0-4. Of those, only the 1992 Chargers recovered to make the playoffs, finishing 11-5 and winning their division. Conversely, there have been 56 teams to start 4-0 since 1990, 47 of which went on to the postseason, or 84 percent.

There were many interesting storylines that played out on Sunday and some of them provoked questions about Week 5 and beyond. Here's a look at six from Sunday:

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1. Nolan, Williams deserve credit

It is tough to hold on to a head coaching in the NFL; being fired is inevitable. So many fired head coaches return to the sideline as successful coordinators, and there were two that jumped out at me this weekend: Mike Nolan and Gregg Williams.

Nolan, the former head coach of the 49ers, now coordinates Denver's defense. The Broncos are 4-0 and the defense has given up the fewest points in the NFL (26). Dallas was the No. 1 rushing team in the league, averaging 194 yards a game, and Denver held the Cowboys to 74 yards on the ground (3.4 yards per carry). Tony Romo struggled all game and was sacked five times. While I was among those who felt the transition to a 3-4 defense would take two years for the Broncos, the 17-10 win over the Cowboys changed my opinion. The Broncos are for real.

Gregg Williams, the former Bills head coach, has transformed New Orleans' defense. Two defensive touchdowns in the second quarter represented the first time since Dec. 13, 1998, that the Saints scored two defensive touchdowns in a game. New Orleans isn't trying to outscore its opponents because the defense is no longer a liability. Williams' defense has generated a league-best 10 interceptions and has three fumble recoveries. Right now the defense is giving the ball back to Drew Brees and the offense at least three times a game (when it's not scoring itself, as it did Sunday).

2. Not so special

There are about the same number of special teams plays in a game as there are running plays. As one special teams coach said this week, "Right about now is when injuries to starters on offense and defense require my core special teams players to have to step up and play on offense or defense and it can really hurt the specials." Well, his warning came true when you consider the special teams plays that impacted Week 4.

Cincinnati had a field goal and an extra point point blocked. Chicago got a 102-yard kick return from rookie Johnny Knox, and Houston had a 95-yard return from Jacoby Jones. Joshua Cribbs of the Browns had 223 yards in combined punt and kick returns. Buffalo and San Diego recovered onside kicks. Ten teams had well over 100 yards in kick returns. It might be time to take a closer look at special teams in the next few weeks, because there is a real competitive edge waiting to be had.

3. No place like home

Home teams went 11-2 on Sunday, with only the Bengals and Giants winning on the road against winless teams. While some home teams were penalized more than the visitors, visiting teams on average were penalized more and sacked more than home teams.

Pat Kirwan live chat senior analyst Pat Kirwan was asked if it's time for the Titans to bench Kerry Collins during his weekly live chat.

"I talked to Jeff Fisher, and he was very clear that his film study of his QB led him to believe there are bigger problems than Collins' performance. Dropped passes are a big issue. Lack of production on defense is a big issue. That being said, I'm now starting to get interested in seing Vince Young myself. And maybe we will. "  Transcript ...

4. Is QB carousel ready for spin cycle?

Five teams had changes at quarterback this week, three for medical reasons and two for performance reasons. Only one team got a win from its new quarterback -- the Dolphins with Chad Henne. But it was clear to me that Derek Anderson's performance for the Browns injected some hope that their season isn't lost.

Braylon Edwards didn't catch a pass but Anderson did go to him five times and he will continue to do so in the coming weeks. Mohamed Massaquoi, a rookie from Georgia who had two receptions after three games, had eight catches for 148 yards Sunday. When Anderson replaced Charlie Frye in 2007, the team's sack problems immediately went away. This time, it looks like more of the same. Brady Quinn was being sacked once every eight pass plays; Anderson operated at a ratio of one every 25 attempts.

You have to wonder if some other teams are thinking about making a change at QB. Byron Leftwich was shown the bench in Tampa and Josh Johnson at least had his team in a position to win with under two minutes to play. Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn are all first-round picks on the bench waiting for a second chance and people are starting to wonder about JaMarcus Russell, the first-round quarterback struggling in Oakland.

5. There's a reason they're called rookies

Mark Sanchez finally had a poor game after three decent performances. Did people actually think he was going to glide along in the NFL like it wasn't much of a jump from college football? Sunday's opponent, New Orleans, had three games of video to study his habits and go after him with a calculated plan. The next four opponents for the Jets are Miami, Buffalo, Oakland, and Miami again. Sanchez currently has four touchdown passes, five interceptions, nine sacks and two lost fumbles. He will improve. It is the job of Rex Ryan to protect his prize pupil and let him grow naturally. New York is a tough place and fans can be unrealistic in their expectations of a rookie QB as the starter. I already heard a few rumblings that he could be benched if he has another game like he did in New Orleans. He will stumble and fall again for sure, but he's not going to the bench.

Matt Stafford also is moving along well considering his supporting cast. He won a game in Week 3; on Sunday on the road, he threw for more than 200 yards in the first half. Fans in both cities need to lower their expectations and realize both kids will be stars if everyone gives them some breathing room. These two are tougher on themselves than anyone else has the right to be at this early stage of their careers. If both stay healthy for 16 games (already a question for Stafford), they could throw for close to 2,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. There will be more interceptions than touchdowns, and if they are sacked once every 20 attempts, they will have done OK.

6. Driving the points home

Scoring is what people love to see and Week 4 did not disappoint. There were 43 passing touchdowns, 24 rushing touchdowns, eight defensive TDs and a safety, and four special teams TDs. Those defensive touchdowns are extra special. The 49ers had three defensive scores and shut out the Rams, while the Saints' two defensive touchdowns were the difference in their win over the Jets. In fact, five of the six teams that scored on defense won their games.



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