What to watch in Week 9

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For comparisons sake, Sunday's game is a big one for Cam Newton. (US Presswire)  
For comparisons sake, Sunday's game is a big one for Cam Newton. (US Presswire)  

Week 9 is truly the halfway point of the NFL season and it's fair to evaluate the teams and draw some conclusions about your favorite team. Can the season be saved if things are going bad or can a team with a good record hold on to make the playoffs?

Young guns face off

NFL teams are giving young quarterbacks on-the-job training. The rookie quarterbacks of 2011 came out throwing and the class of 2012 is throwing even more than last season's class.

This weekend we have three games in which the young signal-callers face off, and I can't wait to see the results. Andrew Luck (Colts) goes head to head with Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins) and a potential tie-breaker for a playoff spot is on the line when Russell Wilson and the Seahawks host Christian Ponder and the Vikings.

Ponder has been struggling and Wilson hasn't lost a home game or thrown an interception at home. Of course, all eyes will be on Washington as last year's All-Pro rookie Cam Newton comes to town to meet this year's rookie star, Robert Griffin III. When Newton was breaking all the rookie quarterback records last year no one could foresee that less than a year later the next rookie QB would be viewed by some as better. This game is a defining moment for Newton.

No-huddle attacks

All of the best no-huddle offenses reside in the AFC. The Dolphins, Ravens and Broncos are all on the road, which can put added pressure on the no-huddle attacks.

Sizing up no-huddle clubs
Team Record No-huddle plays YPP TDs
Dolphins 4-3 260 5.39 5
Ravens 5-2 232 5.63 9
Broncos 4-3 231 6.60 13

Look at the top three no-huddle teams and you wonder why more teams don't follow their examples.

All have winning records, average about 35 snaps of no-huddle a game, and average more than 5 yards per no-huddle play.

Miami visits the Colts, Baltimore is in Cleveland and the Broncos play in Cincinnati.

If the home crowds aren't loud enough to make the no-huddle struggle, the home teams will have their hands full.

Time to start faster

Calvin Johnson is arguably the most talented receiver in the league, but he gets off to slow starts in games. The Lions had an impressive win last week when Matt Stafford threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns but none of those touchdowns went to Johnson.

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Johnson has one first-half reception in the past three games, and he only has one touchdown catch for the season.

The Lions are in Jacksonville this week and the Jaguars are missing their two starting cornerbacks. If Johnson gets off to another slow start it is time to take a long look at how the Lions are utilizing him. Detroit might want to take a lesson from the Cardinals, who move Larry Fitzgerald around a lot trying to free him up and get favorable matchups.

Player-only meetings

I have been with teams that felt they had to resort to player-only meetings to clear the air and get refocused. The Philadelphia Eagles had one of those meetings this week and after talking to Jeremy Macklin it sounded like it went well -- but you never know until the game is played. If the wrong people speak or things that were said go too far with certain players there can actually be a greater divide after the meeting.

The Eagles play Monday night against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have their own struggles, but they haven't used the player-only meeting to turn things around.

I will be interested to see just how the Eagles perform in this game with so much on the line. If the Eagles lose this game all could be lost for 2012.

Let's see the 'Big Nickel' this week

Last year the New York Giants had an effective 'Big Nickel' defensive package with three safeties in the game. Deon Grant was the third safety and it really helped against teams with good receiving tight ends and running backs who had solid receiving skills.

Giants safety Kenny Phillips is back from injury, but while he was out Steve Brown proved he belonged on the field. I sure would like to see Antrel Rolle, Steve Brown and Kenny Phillips on the field together against the Steelers offense with all their wide receiver speed and tight end Heath Miller. Big Nickel would also help when running back Chris Rainey or Isaac Redman is in the game.

It's time for the Giants to work that defensive package the way they did it last year.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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