Kolb, Cardinals are class of NFC West; Pats 'D' in trouble

Tim Heitman/US Presswire
Quarterback Kevin Kolb threw for 309 yards and led the Cardinals to victory in his first game.

Lost in all the excitement over Tom Brady's 517-yard night and Cam Newton's 422-yard debut in Week 1 was another eye-opening performance from a quarterback.

With all due respect to the Eagles' acquisition of Nnamdi Asomugha, I thought the most substantial move of the offseason was the Cardinals trading for Kevin Kolb, and he proved why last Sunday.

Kolb's performance against the Panthers was overshadowed by Newton's, but it shouldn't have been. All Kolb did was complete 18 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. By the way, the Cardinals actually won the game, not Newton's Panthers. Kolb brought Arizona from behind with a touchdown pass to Early Doucet and then watched first-round pick Patrick Peterson put the Panthers away with an 89-yard punt return.

Because of the below-average state of the NFC West, the team that gets the best play from its quarterback will likely win the division. Given that theory, many were ready to crown the Rams based on the promising rookie season of Sam Bradford. But from what I saw, Kolb is the class of the division and the Cardinals are the team to beat.

The Cardinals have a tough match-up this week as they have the dreaded cross-country trip to face the Washington Redskins. Kolb will need to bring his A-game in order to move the ball on the much-improved Redskins' defense that only gave up 75 yards on the ground in Week 1. And let's face it; the Giants boast a much better rushing attack than that of the Cardinals. To move the ball effectively, it will fall on the shoulders of Kolb.

Are the Bears and Jay Cutler for real?

It took all of last season before anyone, including myself, recognized just how good the Bears were playing. And even after an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, we were still hesitant to give the Bears any credit. It was, in no small part, due to the up and down performances of their quarterback, which has been commonplace in Soldier Field.

As you may have seen on NFL Network, I awarded my Week 1 game ball to Jay Cutler. He played well against the Falcons with solid third-down throws and minimized his mistakes by only throwing one interception. On the other hand, it does concern me that the Bears only ran the ball 27 times in a game in which they maintained complete control from the third quarter onward.

This week, the Bears travel to the Superdome to face the Saints. As we saw last Thursday, New Orleans is very capable of scoring points in bunches, and this very well could be another shootout. Because of that, it will be challenging for Cutler and offensive coordinator Mike Martz to remain patient. If they try to emulate the aggressive game plan of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, they will throw themselves right out of the game. It is my recommendation to stay committed to the run and be opportunistic with the screen game.

In the end, this game will be a good test for the Bears. With another solid performance from Cutler, maybe people will finally begin to believe.

Did you notice the New England pass defense?

As you've heard by now, Tom Brady threw for 517 yards, four touchdowns and had the fifth best day in the history of the NFL at the quarterback position. And it's a good thing he did, because that drew the attention away from the atrocious New England pass defense.

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The Patriots gave up 416 yards through the air, which was the fourth worst effort for the entire weekend. And who was responsible for those 416 yards? Chad Henne, a quarterback whose club spent the majority of the offseason trying to replace him. Oh yeah, that's not to mention the 4.9 yards per attempt the Dolphins were able to accumulate on the ground.

There is no one better at developing young talent in the secondary than Bill Belichick, but he has his hands full this weekend. The Dolphins ranked 21st in total yards last season, and now rolling into town is Phillip Rivers and the top-ranked Chargers offense of nearly 400 yards a game last season.

Rivers and company struggled last week against the Vikings, but that is a game that previous Chargers teams would have lost. I loved the resiliency this teamed showed after facing an early seven-point deficit. And when I say the struggled, I want to be sure and point out that Rivers still finished the game with 330 passing yards and missed at least one additional opportunity to hit Vincent Jackson for another deep touchdown. New England-San Diego is my most anticipated match-up of the weekend, and could very well be a preview of the AFC Championship game.

But we are 1-0 too...

The 49ers are complaining that they haven't earned any respect or recognition for their 33-17 win over the Seahawks. This was obviously a game that lacked the firepower of other Week 1 match-ups, but in my book, a win is a win. New head coach Jim Harbaugh is justified for feeling good about his coaching debut.

However, there are two areas that must improve dramatically for the Niners - third-down conversions and red-zone scoring. When you score 33 points, you don't really mind that you only accumulated 209 yards of total offense. However, going 1 for 12 on third downs and 1 for 5 in the red zone will not cut it against the more talented teams outside the NFC West.

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One of those teams is the Cowboys. They are coming to San Francisco with a chip on their shoulder after giving away a victory to the Jets. I anticipate a solid performance from Tony Romo who is eager to get his team back on track. To do so, he will lean on his favorite target Jason Witten. Also, Dez Bryant has a favorable match-up against the San Francisco secondary, but for him to be entirely fresh, the Cowboys should seriously consider replacing him on the return teams.

True test for 'Dream Team' defense

The Eagles looked very good at times against the Rams, but as I've said before, they need to get better at stopping the run. The Rams were able to gash the Eagles defense particularly with the counter. Their young linebacking corps of Casey Matthews, Moises Fokou, and Jamar Chaney often would bite on the misdirection, over pursue and allow themselves to get sealed off. This blocking scheme left some big holes in the Eagles run defense that both Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams were able to exploit.

The Eagles utilize the wide "9" techniques at the defensive ends positions in order to take advantage of their speed off the edge, but it puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers. Additionally, the safeties will need to keep their eyes in the backfield and get more involved in attacking the run. I say that with great caution, because while the Falcons have a great run game with Michael Turner, they unlike the Rams, also have the ability to threaten the Eagles downfield. Even with the struggles the Falcons had in Chicago, I look for this to be the first true test for the "Dream Team" defense.

Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick



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