Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: Fall frenzy

7 teams in trouble

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[October 07, 2008]  TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) -- The Indianapolis Colts were handed a game by the Houston Texans on Sunday.

It was a much-needed win, but it may not matter. Just five weeks into the 2008 season, the 2006 champs are in trouble. It's not just their 2-2 record that leaves them 2 1/2 games behind unbeaten Tennessee in the AFC South, but the way they are playing: badly.

They're not alone.

Auto RepairSix other teams that began the season with high hopes are already in deep holes: San Diego and Jacksonville in the AFC; Seattle, Philadelphia, Green Bay and Minnesota in the NFC.

Some are using the "it's early" theme, pointing to the New York Giants' climb from an 0-2 start to a title last season. But every season is different, and it's unwise to use the example of last year's Giants or the 2005 Steelers, who won the Super Bowl after opening 6-5.

"There are any number of statistical analyses of teams that have started this bad and still done OK, but those don't mean much unless you improve the product, and what you're doing on the field," Seattle's Mike Holmgren acknowledged after those same Giants pounded his Seahawks 44-6 on Sunday, outgaining them 523-187.

The Seahawks have the same thing going for them they've had the past few seasons: the NFC West, where even at 1-3 they are only 1 1/2 games behind the inconsistent Cardinals. But Seattle played Sunday more like a team that would challenge the winless Rams for a spot at the bottom than one that can compete for its fifth straight division title and sixth straight playoff berth.


The struggling teams:

  • Indianapolis (2-2): The Colts have been one of the league's elite teams for most of this decade. Not this year.

    "I thought we had that passion at the end. But it was missing during the middle of the game and we've got to get that back somewhere," coach Tony Dungy said after Sunday's 31-27 win in Houston. Indy trailed 27-10 midway through the fourth quarter, cut it to 27-17 with 4:04 left, then capitalized on two fumbles and an interception by Texans QB Sage Rosenfels to pull out the win.

    The Colts could be 0-4. They trailed only 15-0 in Minnesota late in the third quarter because young QB Tarvaris Jackson couldn't convert scoring opportunities into TDs. That allowed Peyton Manning, who can do what Jackson can't, to pull out an 18-15 victory.

    Yes, Indianapolis has run off double-digit winning streaks in the past and still has two games left with Tennessee. But the Colts can't get away with giving up more than 150 yards on the ground while waiting for injured safety Bob Sanders to return, as they did two years ago.

    The offense, with the line banged up, just isn't as good. Age hits everyone and 36-year-old Marvin Harrison, coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season, is averaging only 9.6 yards a catch and doesn't seem to be in the rhythm with Manning as he has in past years.

  • San Diego (2-3): Yes, the Chargers started 1-3 last season, finished 11-5 and made the AFC title game. There's talent enough to make the playoffs. But the defense is missing Shawne Merriman, one reason it ranks 28th in yards allowed and is last against the pass without the Pro Bowl linebacker to pressure opposing QBs.

    LaDainian Tomlinson may be hitting that RB wall at 29: Hampered by a sore toe, he's averaging only 3.7 yards per carry, a yard less than last season and almost a yard off his career average.

  • Jacksonville (2-3): Three games back of Tennessee in the AFC South and two Josh Scobee field goals from 0-5. Simple problem: three starters hurt in the middle of the offensive line, so the Jags can't run, which is their preferred mode. Fred Taylor is averaging 3.4 yards per carry compared to 5.4 last season, and he's 32. Not being able to run puts more pressure on David Garrard and his so-so receivers. Garrard has four interceptions in five games, one more than he had in 12 starts last season.

  • Seattle (1-3): The Seahawks have been outscored 78-16 by the Bills and Giants in games that started at 1 p.m. EDT, or 10 a.m. Seattle time. San Diego had to do the same in Miami on Sunday and lost. It's a problem that West Coast teams have been complaining about for years, especially when they've had to make multiple East Coast trips in the same season -- the Seahawks have four of them this year.

    But the issues go beyond that and beyond injuries. The missing receivers, Deion Branch and Bobby Engram, were back Sunday and the Seahawks still were noncompetitive against what is currently the NFL's best team. Beyond that, the Seahawks' only win was over St. Louis, which might lose to everyone this season, and they have lost to San Francisco at home, where they were 32-8 from 2003-2007.

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  • Green Bay (2-3): Injuries. Defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins is out for the season and cornerback Al Harris is out indefinitely, meaning the Packers are without two top defenders. The other cornerback, Charles Woodson, is playing with a broken toe, and safety Atari Bigby didn't play in Sunday's 27-24 loss to Atlanta.

    Then there's Aaron Rodgers, who played Sunday with a sore shoulder and threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns. It was obvious at times the shoulder bothered him, but he carried on. Why didn't the Packers at least sign a veteran backup in the offseason? The one positive: Chicago is only a game ahead, and the Bears, while decent, are clearly beatable.

  • Minnesota (2-3). The problem starts with the passing game. Gus Frerotte took over after two games, but at 37 is simply a placeholder until Jackson develops or a new QB is found (Marc Bulger, anyone?). The Vikings were 8-8 last year and the acquisition of Jared Allen and Bernard Berrian raised visions of Super Bowl trips. That was premature, especially without a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. Berrian is a decent deep threat as a complement in a good receiving corps, but he's not a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens with a unit that otherwise is barely average.

  • Philadelphia (2-3). Sunday's 23-17 loss to Washington was almost a must win for the Eagles because the NFC East is so good you have to hold serve at home against a division opponent, especially after taking a 14-0 lead. Brian Westbrook broke his ribs after coming back from an ankle injury. Yes, rookie DeSean Jackson is a weapon, but the Eagles don't go very far without a healthy Westbrook.

In any case, 2-3 would be OK in another division. Not in one where the other three teams are 4-0, 4-1 and 4-1. Overall, the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles are 12-1 against everyone else and the one loss was by Philly in Chicago.

Yes, it's early.

But none of these teams is the 2005 Steelers or the 2007 Giants. Maybe two or three will make the playoffs.

Or maybe not.

[Associated Press; By DAVE GOLDBERG]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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