Transition Game  

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Getting No. 1 draft pick would cure all that ails Colts

Each Tuesday, NFL Network reporter Albert Breer will share his thoughts on topics around the league as teams transition from the previous Sunday's game to the next encounter on the schedule. Today, he begins with why it makes perfect sense for an NFL team to tank.

At 0-7, the Colts should go for it. And do it discreetly, since these forms of "creative" roster management and "curious" in-game decision-making would certainly be frowned upon at the NFL headquarters at 345 Park Avenue.

If you can suspend the reality that football is a tough game to tank, and that jobs potentially being on the line further muddy the idea, logic makes the case here a simple one.

The truth is, from Indianapolis' perspective, finishing with the worst record in the NFL would be glorious because one of two things would happen:

1) You get the best quarterback prospect in a generation, in Andrew Luck, or

2) You poach an incredible haul of draft picks (and one exec intimated to me Luck's draft rights could reap two full years of a team's picks) to hand to the quarterback you already have, who happens to be an all-time great.

If the Colts do reach the finish line on all this, much will be dependent on Peyton Manning's status. The nerve regeneration part of his recovery is what's wildly unpredictable. While it's possible that the nerves do regenerate in his neck by December or January, the more common (I hesitate to use "more likely," because it's Mother Nature who decides this) timetable is 9-12 months, which means there still could be a ton of uncertainty surrounding No. 18 at draft time.

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What we know now is that the Jenga-tower structure of this team was so dependent on the quarterback, that when that piece was removed, the rest went everywhere. Ultimately, this makes everyone in Indianapolis -- management, coaches, teammates -- look dependent on Manning, and Manning himself is the only one who comes out looking good.

"Not surprised at all," said one rival personnel director, on what's transpired. "Their drafts have not been very successful over a number of years, and they usually don't replace the free-agent losses because they have put so much money into the core -- Manning, (Robert) Mathis, (Dwight) Freeney, (Gary) Brackett, (Reggie) Wayne, (Jeff) Saturday, (Ryan) Diem and (Dallas) Clark. They are really poor personnel-wise, and this shows how valuable 18 really is."

So having spent the past 14 years building a team around an elite quarterback, the Colts are in the unique position to determine their fate in April 2012, if they find their way to the top of the draft board.

They can keep that quarterback-driven model alive by selecting Luck. Presuming Manning can deal with such an arrangement, it allows the succession to happen naturally in the coming years. Or they can deal the pick, and use all the new capital to tweak the model and try to give Manning what John Elway had in the end at Denver, which was a team that didn't need him to be great every week to win.

"That's the best move," the personnel director said, of potential draft "positioning" by Indy. "I'd take Luck and have the next Peyton for another 12 years."

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If they draft second or third or fourth, on the other hand, all that changes significantly.

That 62-7 beatdown in New Orleans the other night again made it abundantly clear that these Colts are on the expressway to nowhere. But there's an exit off that route that could turn things around. Based on the way the Saints beat the brakes off Indy in the Superdome, it'll be hard for that club's brass to justify not taking it.

Detroit addresses dirty accusations

The bickering between the Lions and Falcons spilled well into Monday, but what may have been lost in the shuffle was a larger issue. Scores of defensive players feel strongly that the offense-favoring double standard they see in play stretches across the board. And blocking tactics are near the top of the list of transgressions that they take offense to.

On Sunday night, I tweeted that in shouting matches like the Lions-Falcons one, the truth usually sits in the middle. Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson tweeted back at me, "not somewhere in middle...look at the cheap shots they take during games going for guys knees from behind grabbing legs … maybe one day the NFL will stand up to Dirty O-Line play...before someone gets a knee taken out. … #FILMNEVERLIESGOLOOK."

Wanting to look more into it, I reached out to another Lions defensive lineman, who echoed Jackson's sentiments.

"Offensive players are getting away with way more stuff, just look at it," Cliff Avril told me Monday night. "There's a double standard on the protection thing. They're trying to protect players, but we get cut (blocked) all the time. The high-lows -- where one guy posts you, and another cuts you -- they tried to eliminate that but it still happens. And the receivers and tight ends coming from the outside, with the crackbacks on D-linemen, that's how Kyle Vanden Bosch got hurt, guy flew in and he hurt his neck."

Avril added, "Atlanta prides themselves on doing extra stuff after the play, so it's worse with them, cleaning up piles, trying to get downfield to cut you, even when the play's away. On one play, I engaged the tackle and got cut when the play was downfield. … Had (another instance) on an interception, I'm blocking, and the guy tried to tackle me, then put his hands out like it wasn't his fault. It's just stupid to me."

I get the idea this is the case with most defensive linemen across the league. But again, the larger point is that there's a drumbeat out there for the tactics of offensive linemen to be scrutinized a little more closely.

Of course, that goes both ways. If Atlanta's offense has a reputation of playing, as the saying goes, to the "echo of the whistle," so does Detroit's defense. And while Avril's emphatic in calling criticism of Ndamukong Suh unfair, he's actually OK with his group being known as dirty.

"Some people say we're the dirtiest defensive linemen. I guess that's not a bad reputation to have," said Avril. "We play football. I don't want it ever to be to the point where anyone's trying to take guys' careers away, that's not what we're trying to do. We're aggressive. We're trying to stop the run, and get after the quarterback. However that happens is however it happens."

Bickering Bears unite

Colleague Jason La Canfora reported on GameDay Morning last Sunday on the simmering anti-management sentiment in the Bears locker room, based partly on the team's resistance to give Matt Forte a market deal.

Could management actually benefit from that dynamic? Interestingly enough, the Bears brass could.

Winning, of course, is good for the front-office types and, in the short term, this will only pull the players closer together. For 50 minutes or so on Sunday, the Bears were as good as they'd been all season, with Forte dominating and showing why he's worth all that cash. With talk of internal fireworks simmering during the week, Chicago showed up early and hung on in the end.

"(The win) doesn't really prove anything really," Julius Peppers told me after the game. "This is a family. We treat each other like family. Sometimes we disagree. At the end of the day, we're all going to stick together." Charles Tillman added that, "Brian Urlacher said it best -- 'We're 4-3, in the same position we were in last year going into the bye.'"

The Bears ripped off five straight wins coming off their 2010 bye, and repeating that feat won't be easy, with the Eagles, Lions, Chargers and Raiders on the November slate. But that's why winning in London was so important, and the team proved it could at least stick together in that kind of spot during a tumultuous week.

Dismantling the Dolphins

It's not hard to see how that ship started sinking in Miami. Begin with Bill Parcells' departure, which -- even when accounting for the big man's flaws in building the Dolphins -- certainly upset the team's internal structure and set the stage for a divide to develop between the coaching and personnel sides. And go right to Stephen Ross' ill-fated attempt to recruit Jim Harbaugh, which put that divide in motion, created widespread distrust in the building, and undermined coach Tony Sparano.

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Now? Some believe Ross may be content to let the ship sink as presently constituted, which could give him the best chance to land Luck. Being positioned to take Luck, too, would make Miami that much more attractive of a destination for job candidates and perhaps help Ross land his superstar coach, and the roster does have some foundation pieces already for the new guy to build on.

Bill Cowher is the name most linked to this job in league circles, particularly since it looks like the Giants job won't be open. But based on the above, there could be more ugly days before the Dolphins get there, or wherever that coaching search would take them, and it's too bad that poisonous environment is going to take down some good football people there.

Autumn of Aaron

I've said on Twitter that 2011 is becoming the "Autumn of Aaron," but even I didn't realize until I really looked at it what kind of season Rodgers is actually having. His 16-game projection now, after seven weeks:

391-of-546 (71.6 percent completion rate), 5,422 yards, 46 touchdowns, 7 interceptions

Rodgers' passer rating is 125.7, and if he can hold that, it'll be four points better than the record set by Manning in 2004. His completion percentage would best the record set by Drew Brees in 2009 (Brees is also on pace to break his own record). His projection for passing yards is more than 300 yards better than Dan Marino's 27-year-old record. And the 46 touchdown passes would be fourth, with Rodgers on pace to have a slightly better TD-INT ratio than Tom Brady did in his 50-TD season of 2007.

Of course, it's unlikely this torrid pace is sustainable for Rodgers. The weather will worsen, so playing in Green Bay won't help, and it wouldn't be easy to keep up even if No. 12 was playing in a dome the next two months. But coming off a Super Bowl MVP award, it's pretty remarkable what the Packers' 27-year-old phenom is doing.

Palmer era begins

Let's not bury Carson Palmer yet. He had four days to get ready to play in a real game and acclimate to his new surroundings. Any passing of judgment at this point is just silly. When I spoke to Ken O'Brien last week, largely on Palmer's health, the man who helped train him this offseason was careful to temper any expectations.

"He's looked great over the last month, he's throwing the ball as well as anyone could, and he's going to a real solid team, it's gonna be fun to watch," O'Brien said. "But this is a long-haul deal for Carson, he plans to be there. … And everything's unique in each place, especially at quarterback. You first come in there, you have to learn the names of the coaches, your teammates, the locker room dynamics.

"Then, you work on timing with receivers you've never thrown to, digest that new playbook, down to the snap counts, how you adjust to defenses, how you set up pass protection, who's 'hot' on this play or that play. And then, you're putting a game plan in. That's a lot of learning."

The upside of Palmer's unsightly debut Sunday is that a) the switch came in a no-lose situation for Oakland (game out of hand, Kyle Boller not doing much) and b) Palmer now has tangible things to correct in his bye week. And he has a potential soft landing post-bye, too, with games against Denver in Week 9 and Minnesota in Week 11. By Thanksgiving, we should know more.

Five one-liners

1) Based on how the Jets have handled internal strife the past three years, can we agree that if New York doesn't make it in 2011, it'll simply be because they weren't good enough, and not the drama?

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2) Having said what I said about Sparano and Co. above, it's worth noting that Todd Haley was in a pretty bad situation himself a month ago in Kansas City -- and fought his way out.

3) Fascinated to see if Tim Tebow's long release will get him beat up against the relentless Detroit defensive line this week.

4) Really like the Falcons' fight in Detroit, with the bye and Colts being all that's standing between now and a titanic Nov. 13 home game against the Saints for them.

5) I'll be very interested to get a look at how Toronto gets behind the Bills this Sunday at Rogers Centre, with the team going to Canada with a winning record for the first time.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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