ESPN’s Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson previewed today’s 2011 season-opening NFL action, on Sunday NFL Countdown three-hour program. The show also marked the return of legendary coach Bill Parcells, debut of Xs and Os analyst Merril Hoge and Suzy Kolber as co-host of key segments. Some excerpts:
Tom Jackson: The Detroit Lions
“On one side of the ball, they have Matthew Stafford, destined for NFL greatness, most people believe, since high school. On defense, Ndamukong Suh … He will influence and inspire that defense. I think they make the playoffs.”
Cris Carter: Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.
“I have to be looking at (Jay) Cutler. The last image we have of him in the NFC Championship game, he left the first series in the third quarter. At that time, six of 14, 80 yards, only down 14 – 0 to the eventual Super Bowl champions. Body language is important as a quarterback, especially when your line is like the Bears have.”
Keyshawn Johnson: San Diego Chargers need a fast start.
“The San Diego Chargers have to get off to a fast start here. They started very slow under Norv Turner – 6 – 8 in September. December – January, they’re 17 – 2. If they can flip those things, they’ll have a chance.
Mike Ditka: Pressure on coordinator Wade Phillips and Houston Texans defense.
“This defense is 30th in total defense last year. They move Mario Williams to linebacker. Stand him up, move him around. I think the pressure is on Wade Phillips to get it done.”
Bill Parcells: Development of young NFL players.
“I think that one of the things that all organizations face this year is the development of young players. We only have 14 padded practices right now. Used to do individual drills, group drills and then go to team. This is not a game you can simulate like basketball and baseball. I think especially big guys, offensive linemen, defensive lineman. One day, one, 20-minute period a week. It’ll take a long time to develop those guys.”
Merril Hoge: Balance in New England Patriots offense.
“The real problem with the New England Patriots, in their winning a playoff game and championship, is great balance on offense. They have to get some type of balance in their offense. The last time they won a Super Bowl, they had Corey Dillon. When things went awry, they leaned on Corey Dillon, took some pressure off Tom Brady. We saw it a little bit in pre-season. Detroit got after Patriots because they have good defensive linemen. If they can get some balance to their offense, then the Patriots have a shot.”
How do the Colts win without Peyton Manning?
Carter: “There is no great replacement for a legend … My biggest argument in this whole thing is that someone made a mistake. The Colts need to be looking at a quarterback for the future and they went through the draft process and didn’t get one. They didn’t like the kid they had, and they went through free agency without having one. We start the season – they don’t have the Peyton Manning. Someone made a horrific mistake in Indianapolis, between Peyton Manning and his team, and the Indianapolis executives who run the team.”
Jackson: “When you think about Peyton Manning and what he’s been able to do, it is impossible to replace him. I think they try at least to, maybe, maybe, win five or six games. ”
Ditka: “This is not going to be the Indianapolis Colts that we’ve known, there’s no question about it. Can they be another football team and be successful? Yes, if I’ve got a defensive team that sucks it up … They were already struggling with Peyton. ”
Johnson: “They are going to simplify the scheme. The Indianapolis scheme is not all what we make it up to be. As long as Kerry Collins can get them in the right situations at the right time, they’ll be fine.”
Jackson: “Let me tell you the kind of influence that Peyton Manning has. Even the Houston Texans are built around 18. They could have drafted Reggie Bush, they didn’t. They drafted Mario Williams to get after No. 18. I am going to bring coach (Bill) Parcells in – ‘Coach, is there any team that is more reliant on a quarterback than the Colts are on Peyton Manning?”
Parcells: “I don’t think so Tom … Everyone in the organization, from the owner, the general manager, the head coach, assistant coaches, down to the players, now has a built-in excuse to fail. It will be readily accepted, ‘why they didn’t win because of Peyton is injured.’ The press will accept it. Even the fans will accept it. So, exit doors now for all the players – ‘we didn’t win because we didn’t have our main guy.’ But that division is still winnable … I’ll tell you one thing, there are a lot of secondary players that are sleeping a lot better on Saturday night, over in those hotels, now that No. 18 is not playing.”
Bill Parcells on how he’d handle Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton:
“I’d like to say these quarterbacks, I think, now coming to the NFL, are better prepared than ever before. Some of the kids have been in the spread-drop-back-passing game, running this offense since high school. They’ve got eight or nine years of experience in these reads. It is the cast around them that prohibits that from flourishing right away …
“I’ll go slowly, take the onus off the quarterback, spoon-feed him, little by little and hope things get better.”
Will the Eagles meet expectations?
Carter: “This is Andy Reid’s most talented team. To me, it is not about the talent. I believe in the coach. I believe the system they run, what they do in the front office – first class ownership. The way they target their players. The way they don’t sign veteran players to long-term deals, the way they go about their business on a daily basis … Andy Reid has talent, they’re going to win a lot football games.”
Jackson: “… I think that the big problem for them fulfilling those expectations is the offensive line. You have four new people or new people positioned in different places on the offensive line with a rookie center. The rest of the offense is window-dressing for what the meat is, which is the offensive line.”
Ditka: “What are their expectations? Their goal has to be to win that division and to win one playoff game. That’s better than they did last year. If they can do that, they can go all the way.”
Parcells: “I’m not ready to anoint these Eagles yet. I think they have real, explosive offensive skill players and I have, personally, a very high regard for Andy Reid and his ability to get the most out of a team. I do a little chart (rate the teams, 1 – 32) called the ‘Discipline Index.’ It includes three factors: turnovers, sacks and penalties. Last year, Philadelphia team ranked 31st out of 32. You combine that with the fact that their defense, in the red zone, was in the bottom 20% of the league, I think Philadelphia has a lot of things to fix … There’s work to be done in Philadelphia. I’m not ready to anoint them yet.”
Has Redskins coach Mike Shanahan lost the touch?
Johnson: “When I look at coach (Mike) Shanahan and his guru-type attitude in quarterbacking, I look at the numbers and facts don’t lie. He is 70% with John Elway at quarterback. He has won two Super Bowls. Anybody else who has played quarterback for him – 1-4 in the playoffs and 54% winning percentage. That’s all I need to see.”
Parcells: “The one I didn’t understand the most was: ‘Why did the Redskins ever let Jason Campbell get out of there?’ He was looking like he was just starting to come along – 20 touchdowns, 15 interceptions in his last year … It’s a difficult situation. (Rex) Grossman does have a track record. (John) Beck, I’m familiar with him. He’s not experienced. It’s a tough situation for Mike (Shanahan).”
On Jay Cutler’s image as the Chicago Bears quarterback:
Jackson: “Jay Cutler got sacked 57 times, so I don’t question his courage. But when you’re the quarterback of an NFL team, the leadership that you have to show, inspiring the guys around you – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, (Philip) Rivers, (Drew) Brees, anyone of them, you think about them, they inspire their teammates. Now, if you’re selling shoes, you don’t have to do that. But if you’re a quarterback of a football team, then you have to make the effort to make people around you better. And that’s where I have the big questions about Jay Cutler.”
Ditka: “You can’t be a leader if you’re only a reactor … He’s got to get some enthusiasm.”
Carter: “You are who you are. He has to be who he is. And the guys on the team are only going to respect him with his characteristics … Ultimately, it comes down to this – it’s about winning.”
Parcells on the Bengals and Carson Palmer’s options:
“You can’t let players shoot their way out of any place. All of the other players on the team have agents and every one of those agents is watching what Mike Brown does in this situation. If you let him out, you’ll have a parade of players do that periodically.
“Story that happened to me years ago – My good friend Ron Wolf had just taken a job at the Green Bay Packers as a general manager. He had a very, very good and valuable tight end named Keith Jackson, who was in a similar situation here – contract dispute, threatening. Wolf called me up and said: ‘Bill, you know I’m going to trade this guy.’ I said Ron, ‘I think it’ll be a good idea if you kept him. If you trade him, you’re going to have about five or six more in next year.’ He kept him, called me back a few years later and said, ‘hey, that was the best piece of advice I’ve gotten.’”
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