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Eagles among teams dealing with delicate QB situation

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Did every team whose season hinges on an unproven quarterback have some issue surface in Week 1?

Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb didn't play well before sustaining a concussion and giving way to Michael Vick, who generated a lot more production than Kolb did.

Pittsburgh's Dennis Dixon played well enough to present the possibility of the Steelers actually winning with him and putting the team in a funky situation when Ben Roethlisberger's suspension ends in three more games.

Carolina's Matt Moore (concussion) might be out if he isn't healthy, and rookie Jimmy Clausen might be in against Tampa Bay, setting the stage for yet another controversy.

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San Francisco's Alex Smith lived up to his shortcomings and already has 49ers fans panicked -- as they should be.

In Philadelphia, coach Andy Reid already said if Kolb is healthy he's the starter. That has to be the case because Reid and management traded Donovan McNabb to Washington so Kolb could take over. They can't bail on him right away -- if for nothing else, they'll get second-guessed to kingdom come for dealing McNabb.

However, Kolb might not be back to play Detroit this week. The new rules pertaining to players returning from concussions are pretty stringent. If Kolb's not seeing clearly by Wednesday, the door will be open for Vick to run through it.

The low-key Vick isn't one to lobby for anything, but you can bet this week he'll speak in more crafted, careful tones than he did following his performance in Philly's loss to Green Bay.

"I still feel like I can play at a high level," he said. "I feel like if I'd been out there for four quarters, maybe we'd have had a chance to win the game."

Here's where things could get dicey. Let's say Kolb is cleared and starts against Detroit, but Vick is still used in certain packages. You don't think Vick is going to try to make something extra special happen? Vick sees an opportunity, and he won't play it safe. I know how much of a competitor he is, and he might push the envelope to prove that he should be the guy.

Now let's get to the guts of the potential controversy. Suppose Kolb struggles early against the Lions. Does Reid let him play through it or move to Vick? While the team can downplay the possibilities, they are real, especially if Philly continues to struggle offensively.

In addition, Vick has a magnetic appeal to teammates and coaches. There might already be some guys who think Vick should be starting and that sentiment could grow. At the same time, Kolb might have his loyalists because some players, particularly receivers, know that Vick's preference to run the ball could render them as downfield blockers instead of playmakers.

As much as Vick was liked by teammates in Atlanta, his receivers would have much preferred to have been putting up the numbers they have since he left instead of blocking for him when he turned games into his own highlight reel.

Which leads us to Pittsburgh. I wrote months ago that possibly more problematic than the Steelers losing the majority of their games while Roethlisberger is gone would be if the team wins most of them. At 1-0, Dixon could start to captivate the locker room and generate enough success that coach Mike Tomlin might have no other choice but to have Roethlisberger sit behind Dixon. How awkward would that be?

Although coaches tell you they would rather have a problem like that than have the opposite, it's still a problem, nonetheless.

That leads us to San Francisco. Oh my. It's only one game and the blame for the 49ers' meltdown at Seattle is far greater than Smith, but the QB certainly didn't validate the supposed gains he made in the offseason. A review of the numbers: 26 of 45 for 225 yards, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), no touchdowns and a 52.5 passer rating.

For a quarterback who has had confidence issues, playing so poorly for a team with high expectations against a Seattle squad not projected to be very good is far from ideal.

Smith's job security was immediately called into question by a media yet to buy into his supposed development, and coach Mike Singletary gave Smith a vote of confidence. What else could he do? Smith's backups are David Carr and recently acquired Troy Smith. It could get to a point where it's the lesser of the evils, but the 49ers aren't there yet. Let's keep in mind that it's only one game.


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The 49ers better spend the week figuring out how to build Smith up and generate some overall cohesion. His next shot for redemption will come Monday night against the New Orleans Saints, who can score in bunches and force Smith to have to pass from a deficit, which, in turn, will allow defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to turn his punishment hounds loose. Not a good scenario.

In Carolina, one thing the Panthers didn't need was a slow start and to have Moore be part of the reason why. With coach John Fox in the final year of his contract, he'll get pressure to start Clausen with each poor showing. With Moore possibly out with a concussion for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, he might not have a choice but to go with Clausen. Fox, a loyal coach, got rid of one of his all-time favorite players in Jake Delhomme to clear the stage for Moore. I know that hurt Fox a lot more than he led on.

Like Reid in Philadelphia, I can't see Fox bailing on the heir. If Clausen plays well, though, there might not be much of an option.

Balancing act

I was assigned to cover season openers at New Orleans (vs. Vikings) and Houston (vs. Indianapolis) so here's what I thought going in: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning; aerial shootouts, great quarterback play (and fantasy football fantasies). Here's what I got: Decent quarterback play, throwback running games and visions of defensive coordinators having to rethink how to play against the winners.

Houston and New Orleans unleashed impressive running attacks that not only moved the chains but also kept the opposing quarterback from getting into rhythm. Sure, Manning threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans, but that's because his team fell behind and didn't try to run the ball.

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Schaub, meanwhile, attempted just five of his 17 passes in the second half and emerged a 10-point winner. Unheralded running back Arian Foster gashed Indy for 231 yards and three touchdowns. The rest of the AFC better take notice because this guy might not be a fluke.

He's big, can run and is hungry -- just like New Orleans tailback Pierre Thomas. Like Thomas, Foster went undrafted and had a lot of convincing to do to be trusted with the ball. Like Thomas, he earned a starting role and told me that he's eager for more.

Texans general manager Rick Smith told me that when Foster was on the team's practice squad last season, he might have been the most impressive back they had but they simply weren't sure if he could handle the gig. They found out -- as did the rest of the league.

Houston is going to remain a passing team, but if and when they have to, the Texans should be able to pound on the ground. It will be much tougher sledding against a physical Washington front next week, but Houston isn't a finesse team and showed it has some hammer in its DNA. A key part to that is fullback Vonta Leach, a human muscle tenderizer.

Like Houston, New Orleans can also wrangle in the run game. Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans and center Jonathan Goodwin are rough hombres who seem to become more effective with each game.

"It's a great feeling when they know it's a run coming, you know it's a run coming and everyone knows it's a run coming, and you're still able to run it," Nicks said. "We come off the ball aggressively and with leverage."

Safety net

Though Foster clearly was the surprise player of the week, someone worth watching over the course of the season is Saints safety Roman Harper. He's improved each year, and with free safety Darren Sharper sidelined with a knee injury, look for Harper to be used in a variety of play-making roles. He was big-time against the Vikings in all phases.

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Stellar debut

While on safeties, Washington's LaRon Landry seemingly was in on every play in the Redskins' victory over the Cowboys. He had 17 tackles and they weren't the kind followed by a signal for the opposing team making a first down. He was in on run stops, swing passes, you name it he was around the ball. While DT Albert Haynesworth might not like the move to the 3-4, I have a feeling Landry loves the scheme that tends to highlight safeties (Troy Polamalu, Adrian Wilson and Ed Reed).

Three is a magic number

» The Saints started things by catching the Vikings off guard with a three-man defensive front for much of the game -- a look they also surprised the Colts with during the Super Bowl.

» The Texans put tremendous pressure on Manning using a scheme with three defensive ends (Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin). When Barwin sustained a season-ending dislocated ankle, they went back to a base four-man front but the three-defensive-end look proved effective while it lasted.

» Once again, the Falcons struggled running the ball against a 3-4 defense. Granted, it is the Steelers and it's tough running against Pittsburgh, but 58 yards on 25 carries (2.3 per attempt) isn't going to get it done. Three of Atlanta's next four games are aginst base 3-4 defenses. The fourth team is New Orleans, which, as has been pointed out, isn't afraid of using the odd front either.

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