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Titans in spotlight; Favre back at Lambeau among Week 7 stories

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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The conversation leading up to Week 7 action has been driven by helmet-to-helmet contact, fines and suspensions. It is an important subject, but certainly not the only one worth discussing.

Here are the 10 things I will be watching closely.

1. Remember the Titans

Maybe it's because the Titans play in Tennessee and not New York or any other big city, but this team is the best-kept secret in the league. Why? When you look at teams by the dimension of players with their hand on the ground -- offensive and defensive lines -- the Titans stand tall. Both groups are tough as nails.

Nine different defenders have a sack, and it's impossible to identify the best pass rusher. The Titans rank first in sacks with 24, third in scoring at 27 points per game and are tied for third in rushing at 140.7 yards per game. The Eagles have their hands full this week.

2. Fierce tacklers under the microscope

James Harrison leads a group of tackling machines with all eyes upon them. Every time Harrison makes a stop, it will be scrutinized with replays to see if it was a "clean" hit. I talked with a number of players, particularly safeties, about all the fines and possible suspensions for players who make helmet-to-helmet contact on a "defenseless receiver." Many of them just aren't sure what is legal and what will get them sent home.

I don't believe anyone will get suspended this week and, as I said all week, there were 1,700-plus tackles in Week 6 and only four stops were in question. The NFL is not going to change radically just because there is an emphasis on safety.

3. Gunslinger back again

Brett Favre returns to Lambeau Field for the second time since he left the Packers. Green Bay has not beaten Favre yet, but things could change. Last year, the Vikings sacked Aaron Rodgers 14 times in two games, and that was the deciding factor. Minnesota is not getting after quarterbacks this year with only six sacks and just one from Jared Allen. The tables could be turned with the Packers getting Clay Mathews back, and the Pack tied for second in the NFL with 21 sacks. The Vikings have also lost six road games in a row, including the playoffs, heading into Green Bay.

4. Last chance for Cowboys

It is a very unusual year with the last of undefeated teams done by Week 5 and every last-place team thinking they still have a chance to win the division. The Cowboys probably can't believe they are in the race if they lose to the Giants and fall to 1-5 overall and 0-2 in the division. The Cowboys are already 0-2 in Dallas and have not established a home-field advantage. They also have 49 penalties, including 23 in the last two weeks. It is now or never, and I expect the Cowboys to deliver their best game of the year.

5. Pass protection issues

Pass protection is key to winning and losing. The dam broke for four teams last week, and their quarterbacks were sacked at least five times. San Diego (seven sacks), Chicago (six), Cleveland (five), and Green Bay (five) have to fix a major problem, or a quarterback will be lost sooner rather than later.

6. Still on record-breaking pace

Kyle Orton is still never mentioned in the same breath as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, and for that matter, Philip Rivers or Drew Brees. However, Orton remains on pace -- he is averaging 41.2 throws and 323.7 yards a game -- to challenge Dan Marino's single-season passing mark of 5,084 yards. The Broncos can't run very well, and the passing will continue this week against the Raiders and their No. 8 pass defense. Orton is going to be asked to throw it 40-50 times vs. Oakland. That's different than last year, when Orton averaged 28.5 passes and 217.5 yards in two games against the Raiders.

Steelers try to continue road success
The Steelers head to Miami, where the Dolphins have failed to win this season. That is one of the reasons Ben Roethlisberger and Co. are primed to get a road victory. More ...

» Kirwan: Steelers must keep running

7. Tough road for Big Ben

Ben Roethlisberger returned from his four-game suspension to a very warm home crowd last week. Now, he starts a three-week road tour and it begins in Miami. I talked with some Steelers people over the summer, and at the time, they anticipated some problems for Roethlisberger away from Pittsburgh. He will hear some unpleasant things and faces the challenge of not letting it impact his game.

8. Statement games

Back in August, no one was picking the Chiefs or Seahawks to do much. As is usually the case, surprise teams show up every year and 2010 is no exception. Kansas City is at home against a Jacksonville team that is hurting at quarterback, and the Chiefs should do enough to beat the Jaguars. The Seahawks are at home against the Cardinals, who come to town with Max Hall, an undrafted rookie QB in his first road game.

9. Suh stands alone

Ndamukong Suh plays like a veteran. He has 21 tackles and 4.5 sacks, which leads the league among defensive tackles.

However, the Buccaneers have a pair of rookie interior linemen struggling to produce. That is typical. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price get to go after fellow rookie Sam Bradford this week. At this point, the duo has combined for just 11 tackles and zero sacks.

10. Safety in numbers

I am anxious to see if safeties Darren Sharper and Ed Reed return to the field this week. Sharper and Reed have 107 interceptions between them in their careers.

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