The Green Bay Packers actually have a replacement for the irreplaceable Charles Woodson. One Cam has issues in Carolina, and another Cam has bigger issues in Baltimore. Plus, we examine the Cincinnati Bengals' meltdown, Robert Griffin III and the sequence that doomed the New York Jets, and we name the best team in a weak AFC in the latest edition of The Schein Nine.
1. Leader of the Pack
On Monday, the Green Bay Packers learned that team leader and playmaking safety Charles Woodson will miss at least six weeks with a broken collarbone. This was a gigantic piece of news. Woodson is, in theory, an irreplaceable star. When Woodson was asked to stop the run against Arian Foster in Week 6, the Houston Texans' ground attack had its worst game of the season. Woodson is that good and that versatile. The future Hall of Famer has a knack for the football, whether he's on a safety blitz or forcing a fumble.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson felt pretty good about their defensive backfield depth in the preseason, and they must still like what they have. Tramon Williams is playing at the level he was at a few years ago. Rookie Casey Hayward has been strong. Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian, Davon House and M.D. Jennings have played well this season.
McCarthy has done a fantastic job getting players to step up in the face of injuries, with receiver Greg Jennings, running back Cedric Benson, tight end Jermichael Finley and defensive tackle B.J. Raji all missing time. But it would be naïve to think any one defensive back can just replace Woodson as a game changer or motivator.
I do think, however, that the Packers have someone in-house who can fill Woodson's shoes. Aaron Rodgers can compensate.
I'm being dead serious.
Rodgers is pretty good at his job. The back-shoulder throws he made to James Jones and Jordy Nelson in a win against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday were so accurate, it just isn't fair.
During postgame interviews, Rodgers wears that cat-eating-the-canary grin. Undoubtedly sick of critics wondering if there was a book on him after the Packers' offense got off to a relatively pedestrian start this season, he's in the middle of an unstoppable "shut-up-the-haters" tour. Since Green Bay opened with a 1-2 record, Rodgers has completed 71 percent of his passes and is averaging 309 yards per game, throwing 16 touchdowns against just two picks.
Rodgers and the Packers will embarrass the struggling and injured Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday. They will beat the Arizona Cardinals the week after. Following a bye in Week 10, Rodgers will be able to light up the Detroit Lions' secondary, helping to mask Woodson's absence in a potential shootout. Then Green Bay gets the New York Giants on Thanksgiving weekend in what should be a highly anticipated showdown. While Eli Manning will be able to exploit the Packers' defense, I think Rodgers will be able to do the same to the Giants.
Brooks: Shakeup in Charlotte
The disappointing Panthers fired GM Marty Hurney. Bucky Brooks says this raises three big questions for Carolina. **More ...**
I chuckled at the surprise media types showed when Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney was fired on Monday.
The bigger surprise was that he lasted so long.
Have you watched Carolina's recent drafts? Jimmy Clausen and Armanti Edwards were among the Panthers' top three picks in 2010. Amateur hour. Have you seen their offseason moves? The contract extension given to defensive end Charles Johnson, which included $32 million guaranteed, was laughed at. Hurney paid big money for running backs, and it resulted in a middle-of-the-pack ground attack that ranks 13th in the league. The Panthers have no depth at receiver or on the line. Their defense is just awful.
Panthers center Ryan Kalil predicted his team would play in the Super Bowl. I countered by picking Carolina to win five games. This team is not any good, and that's Hurney's fault.
If I were owner Jerry Richardson, I'd look to hire the Arizona Cardinals' outstanding personnel director, Steve Keim, who played at N.C. State in college.
3. Issues with Cam, Carolina edition
Brandt: In Cam's defense
Cam Newton is taking plenty of heat these days, but Gil Brandt says the quarterback is hampered by Carolina's offense. **More ...**
With the exception of Cam Newton's dopey line about a "suggestion box," I didn't have a problem with his postgame press conference following Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Newton wants to succeed and seems frustrated that he and the Panthers aren't getting it done. Winning is important to him. I like that.
In 2011, Newton made one mistake in the court of public opinion, when he said he wanted to be an "entertainer and an icon" before the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. After that, he was flawless in his demeanor while handling the "fifth quarter" of being a pro quarterback.
Newton has made mistakes this year. I think he's losing for the first time in his life. I also think he will grow. He needs more talent and better coaching around him.
4. Issues with Cam, Baltimore edition
Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's game plan was horrendous against the Houston Texans. Houston cornerback Glover Quin confessed in an interview on SiriusXM Blitz that even he was surprised the Ravens didn't run the ball more than they did.
Quarterback Joe Flacco was awful. The defense was worse, giving up over 180 yards on the ground for the third straight game. But Cameron's play selection was inexplicable, and must change. Out-for-the-season defensive centerpieces Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb aren't walking through that door again this year. Cameron needs to remember who his best player (Ray Rice) actually is. The defense won't save him.
5. Who do you trust?
The AFC is crowded with flawed teams. As I wrote last week, you shouldn't overlook the Denver Broncos, who will only get better and could make a Super Bowl run.
But the Texans proved, once again, that they are the most well-rounded squad in the conference with their victory over Baltimore. Matt Schaub stepped up, producing a bounce-back statement game one week after the Texans were drubbed by the Packers. It doesn't hurt that Houston also has the best defense in the AFC.
6. Meltdown in Cincy
The Bengals have, inexplicably, lost three straight games. They have good young talent. The aforementioned AFC is wide open. But in consecutive weeks, Cincinnati choked against the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and, on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The good vibes generated by a 3-1 start have evaporated.
Sunday must have been particularly frustrating, losing at home to their injured and short-handed AFC North rivals. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis continues to look incredibly confused on challenges. Faith Hill surely wasn't waiting all day for that.
With up-and-coming defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on staff, would the Bengals consider making a coaching change at the end of the year if they miss out on this prime chance to take advantage of the injury-depleted Ravens and Steelers? I would.
7. Ground and pound?
The New York Jets had a golden opportunity to beat the flawed New England Patriots on the road, but they made too many mistakes to win.
Receiver Stephen Hill's drop, quarterback Mark Sanchez's turnovers and lack of football IQ, and the fact that the special teams unit allowed an early kickoff to be returned for a touchdown all affected the result.
But I thought the biggest sequence of the game came with 9:38 left in the third quarter.
The Jets were down 16-10 and facing third-and-1 from the New England 3. This was four-down territory; one doesn't beat the Pats with field goals. Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano should've run the ball twice with either Shonn Greene or Tim Tebow. Instead, he had Sanchez attempt a slant to Chaz Schilens out of the shotgun. That's never the answer, regardless of the situation, and seemed straight out of the Brian Schottenheimer playbook. The pass was incomplete, and the Jets kicked a field goal. The wasted chance cost New York.
8. "I'm on cloud eight."
I loved this line from a caller, "Rich in Oregon," to my SiriusXM NFL Radio show on Monday. He's a Washington Redskins fan. "Cloud nine" would've been a win against the New York Giants. But while the Redskins lost, it should be hard for their fans to hang their heads after seeing the greatness of Robert Griffin III. RG3 makes Washington, even with its issues, capable of winning every game it plays.
9. Cleveland rocks
In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden said all the right things after the news came out last week that the Browns officially have a new owner.
I firmly believe that coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert will be replaced (and rightly so) before next season, with owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner taking over. Weeden is auditioning for the brass-to-be-named-later. But I believe the Browns have their quarterback in Weeden, who gets better every week and is a natural leader.