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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Faceoff: Disappointment race? Raiders or Rams; Matt or Kurt?

Faceoff: Disappointment race? Raiders or Rams; Matt or Kurt?

Which player has been the biggest disappointment?
It has to be Derek Anderson. Not that I didn't see it coming, but others didn't. After going to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, many expected Anderson to be even better this year. But he's been worse. He just doesn't seem to have a real good feel for the passing game. He locks on to receivers. His completion percentage is 49.6 percent and that is horrible. His passer rating is 49.9. Anderson struggled at the end of last season, throwing nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in the final seven games after throwing 20 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in the first nine games. I likened his end-of-year struggles to a pitcher who was figured out by the rest of the league. Some said I was crazy. Now it's playing out that way: Anderson isn't the same player he was early in 2007. He isn't decisive anymore. It's only a matter of time before the Browns turn to Brady Quinn, especially if Anderson's numbers stay as low as they've been. It's Green Bay running back Ryan Grant by a nose over Cleveland's Derek Anderson. A year ago Grant ran for 956 yards, had five 100-yard games and averaged 5.1 yards a carry. Then he set a club record by running for 202 yards in a playoff defeat of Seattle, and the Packers were only too willing to reward him with a $30 million contract. It seemed like a good idea then, but Grant is down to 186 yards, has no 100-yard games and averages 3.4 yards per rush. Worse, he has 94 yards in his last three starts, averaging just over 2 yards a try, and hasn't scored in any game. I know he had hamstring issues, and the offensive line just got set, but Grant must start producing. The Vikings and Bears can run the football. If Green Bay can't, it can forget about winning the NFC North.
Which team has a better chance to succeed with a new coach, the Rams or Raiders?
I'll go with the Rams. Jim Haslett is a coach I respect a lot. He is the type of coach who will motivate the players -- I've seen him do it -- and players respond to him. He can be firm, but he's also fair. He knows when and when not to push. The Rams have some good players who have underachieved. One of those is Marc Bulger -- Haslett will toughen him up. He'll get him back to playing like the Bulger of 2006. Bulger has been way too jumpy in the pocket but going back to him is the right move, the first good one made by Haslett. The defense is the main worry now, and that's the side of the ball Haslett has controlled. Look for that unit to play better, too. Chris Long is starting to emerge now and should be better as the season rolls along. Leonard Little has always responded to Haslett. So have the secondary people, when they're healthy. The biggest reason I pick the Rams over the Raiders is Bulger. I think his experience is an edge over JaMarcus Russell. So I look for the Rams to win three or four games the rest of the way. This is a big chance for Haslett to show he deserves another full-time job. I think he'll make the most of it. The Raiders, although I admit I don't feel all that warm and fuzzy about the pick. St. Louis plays in the NFC West, where a .500 finish might punch you a ticket to the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Rams have so many problems -- beginning with the offensive line and moving to the secondary -- that I don't see how anyone makes them better. They haven't been close to competitive, being outscored 147-43, and their next three games are at Washington, home against Dallas and at New England. Tell me where you find a win in those three games. The Raiders, on the other hand, should have beaten Buffalo and could have beaten San Diego. There's more talent there than in St. Louis, and Lane Kiffin was beginning to tap into it before he got canned. Neither of these teams is going far, but the Raiders will be more successful because they have better players.
Should Arizona bounce Kurt Warner for Matt Leinart?
Not right now. Kurt Warner had a bad half -- that's it. Other than that, he's been good this season. Does he still have issues sometimes with ball security? Yes. But he makes up for that with the way he sees the field. It's way too early to make the change. If coach Ken Whisenhunt went with Warner to start the season, he has to stick with him to at least the halfway point. That's the thing about Warner -- he can get hot quickly. I look for that to happen this week against the Bills. Leinart is the quarterback of the future in Arizona. And the Cardinals still believe in him. But the time is now for Warner -- it's his team. It's only been one bad half, so that shouldn't lead to panic. We've seen him bounce back so many times. This week's game with Buffalo will another example of that. No, but I'd tell Leinart to start warming up. Warner was supposed to help the Cards on the road, but they're 1-2 there -- including a dreadful loss last weekend where he and the team suffered a first-half meltdown. Warner can put up big numbers, but he's also capable of big mistakes, and last weekend the worst of the worst. Another first half like the Jets game, and he sits. For good. I know the protection was inadequate, but it is for Pittsburgh, too, and I don't see Ben Roethlisberger fumbling four times or playing catch with cornerbacks. I'd put Warner on double-secret probation and make it clear I won't hesitate to make a move if the turnovers don't stop. But he gets another chance to demonstrate why he should stay.

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