Which AFC team has the potential to be a sleeper in 2011 because of its offensive line play? Find the answer to that and more team-by-team observations in part two of this column.
Eagles coach Andy Reid has to be smiling today. Why? Because his team looked so bad in Pittsburgh last week and this horrible performance will allow him to get his entire team's full attention this week.
Playing well in the preseason is important, but it's more important for a coach to keep his team completely focused on daily improvement. That can be hard to do if the team plays flawlessly in preseason games. No one remembers a team's preseason record, but they do remember poor play -- which can signify a specific weakness in the team. Remember the buzz that the 2008 Detroit Lions created when they went a perfect 4-0 in the preseason? The Lions didn't win a single game the rest of way, finishing 0-16. So much for looking great in the preseason.
Take another coaching approach. The same night Philadelphia struggled against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay faced the Patriots, who came ready to play and put up a quick 21 points in the first quarter, leaving the Bucs wondering what just hit them. Yet after the game, Bucs coach Raheem Morris said, "[The Patriots] took a different approach to the game with how we played and how they played. I wouldn't say I'm disappointed that we weren't able to pick up a certain look or scheme because we did not give it to [the Bucs players] that way. We just wanted to â¦ follow our rules, see who could pick up the rules, see who could do it, see who could communicate and see who could play on their feet. And that's kind of how we want to judge those guys. Usually, that's how you get the better players on your football team."
What? Does Morris really believe what he just said?
Reid will be hard on his team this week -- his anger will gain their attention -- probably resulting in a good week of preparation. Meanwhile, Morris gave his players a free pass for a bad performance. Based on his comments, the Bucs have no accountability for how bad they play. Morris has one of the youngest teams in the league, thus he can shape them in any fashion he chooses -- and he should choose to demand more, expect more and never be content. As Billy Joel wrote in his song "Vienna' (one of his best, in my opinion): "Don't you know that only fools are satisfied?"
With the youthful Bucs, Morris needs to never feel satisfied -- until they achieve something more than winning a few games. In the NFL, it is easy to get good, but hard to get great. And great is needed to win a Super Bowl.
Morris had the perfect opportunity to be more demanding on his team using the Patriots approach as a symbol of excellence, but he chose to dismiss the Patriots style and allow his team to not be accountable. Do you think his players really believe Morris' approach is better than that of a three-time Super Bowl winning coach? Morris missed his chance to take his team to another level.
The worst thing any coach can do -- whether it's Mike McCarthy of the Packers or Bill Belichick of the Patriots -- is to be satisfied based on preseason play. A coach must keep his team focused during preseason, keep them working to improve and keep their full attention. Therefore, when a team plays poorly, or below that level, a coach has the opportunity to make the corrections needed and refocus his team, which is exactly what Reid is going to do this week.
Can Peyton play?
The biggest concern for the Colts: Will Peyton Manning be ready for the Sept. 11 opener? The correct answer is NO -- not a chance. Now, Manning might be on the field for the opener, but his play will not be Manning-esque. The last time he missed the preseason, in 2008, Manning had a sub-80 passer rating in the first three regular-season games, threw three touchdowns and four interceptions -- and that was with some practice. So far this summer, Manning has not practiced because he has just spent all his time rehabbing his neck. How can anyone expect him to be ready for the opener?
Meanwhile, the Colts have looked bad all summer. That's normal for the Colts, but with the uncertainty of Manning being completely ready for a Week 1 showdown at the Texans, and the lackluster look of the Indy defense, there has to be reason for concern in Coltsville.
Is Bowe a No. 1 receiver?
On "NFL Total Access" this week, I was asked if the Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe was an elite number one receiver and my answer was an emphatic NO. Being a number one receiver requires being a blue-chip player. (Editor's Note: Lombardi's blue-chip rankings for 2011 are coming later this week). My definition of a blue-chip player is as follows: Player demonstrates rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game; combines competitiveness and skill to have a consistent championship-level performance; rates in the top five at his position in the league.
Memo to Bowe fans: Please read the above criteria twice. And if you still think he is an elite number one receiver in the league, then we are not watching the same player. Bowe is a good player, effective in the red zone due to his size, but he struggles against tight man-to-man and does not separate when he is facing press coverage. And the number one reason he is not a blue-chip player or an elite number one receiver is that no defensive coordinator goes into a game against Kansas City fearing he doesn't have a corner who can match up on Bowe. He is a good player, not a great player; it takes a rare player to be an elite number one receiver.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi