The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 6, 1996 · Page 37
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 37

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Sunday, October 6, 1996
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THE SALINA JOURNAL NFL SUNDAY. OCTOBER 6, 1996 D7 NFL MATCHUPS: WEEK 6 New York Jets (0-5) vs. Oakland (1-4), noon Key stats: The Raiders are minus-11 in takeaway-giveaway difference and have created just one fumble this season. The Jets defense has given up 9 rushing touchdowns — the most of any team in the Comments: Raiders coach Mike White has lost 10 of his last 11 games and things are going to get ugly if he loses to the Jets. This game could get him dismissed. Rich Kotite, 3-18 as Jets coach doesn't have that problem. He just needs a few officials to do the right thing during a game and not apologize after. With a commitment to the run the Jets can take Oakland down. Atlanta (0-4) at Detroit (3-2). noon Key stats: The Falcons are allowing an average of 29.1 yards per kickoff return. Barry Sanders is averaging 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. Comments: The Falcons are spinning out of control. The Jeff George saga has been a major distraction. And even if it hadn't happened, the defense wouldn't have been any better at stopping the run. The Lions have an explosive offense that can exploit the Falcons defense in so many ways — Herman Moore and Brett Perriman deep or Sanders up the middle or on a sweep. Either way the Falcons lose. Carolina (3-1) at Minnesota (4-1). noon Key stats: The Vikings are the only team in the NFL with two receivers who have over 20 receptions (Cris Carter 28 for 357 yards and Jake Reed 22 for 450 yards). The Panthers have allowed just one TD in the fourth quarter this season. Comments: Both the Vikings and the Panthers were brought back down to earth last week when they were beaten for the first time this season. Everyone still wonders if either of them are for real. The Panthers took a major hit on offense when they lost rookie running back Tshimanga Biakabutuku for the season with a knee injury. Warren Moon was off last week. But inside the windless confines of the Metrodome, Moon will shine brightly again. It's bounce back time for the Vikings. Green Bay (4-1) at Chicago (2-3), noon Key stats: The Packers are plus 13 in turnover difference and their 15 interceptions are the most in the NFL. The Bears defense has a 54.5 touchdown percentage once opponents get inside their redzone — the second worst in the NFC. Comments: After a minor bump in the road, Brett Favre returned to his magical ways last week, flipping TD passes here and there. That's good. But what has been overshadowed by Favre's fantastic performances is the way the Packers defense is forcing opponents into turnovers. That sets the stage for Favre and the offense. The Bears have had trouble on both sides of the ball. They barely got past Oakland last week. They can't handle the Packers. New England (2-2) at Baltimore (2-2), noon Key stats: New England opponents' average drive starts at the 22.2 yard line. That's the best defensive starting field position in the AFC. The Ravens' defense is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.8 percent of their passes. Comments: Ravens' running back Earnest Byner has had a week to rest his 34-year-old body. Last week he rushed for 149 yards — the most he's had in a game in six years. The Patriots had an entire week to rest from the rigors of the first four weeks. Baltimore's defense will have it's hand full trying to contain a rested Curtis Martin and Drew Bledsoe, who seems to have steadied himself after a shaky start. With , an extra week to prepare for the Ravens, the Patriots won't blow it. Seattle (1-4) at Miami (3-1), noon Key stats: Rick Mirer is the lowest rated passer in the AFC (44.5) and three of his nine interceptions have come on third down passes. The Dolphins lead the AFC with a plus-8 turnover difference. Comments: Craig Erickson will take over at quarterback for the injured Dan Marino (broken ankle). It will be his first start since being yanked after two starts In Indianapolis last season. Running back Karim Abdul Jabbar should help take some of the load off Erickson. Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson has had a week off to look at all the Seahawks weaknesses. The Dolphins will take advantage of most of them on the field. Mirer would have to have a great game to beat Miami. He won't. Indianapolis (4-0) at Buffalo (3-1), 3 p.m. Key stats: Colts Aaron Bailey leads the AFC in kickoff return average with 26.1 yards per return. Buffalo has scored just three TDs on 11 trips inside the opponents 20-yard line for a 27'.3 TD percentage — the worst in the AFC. Comments: The Bills will be going without quarterback Jim Kelly, who has an injured hamstring, they've had a week to adjust their offense around Todd Collins. They could use more time, but it wouldn't help. The Colts meanwhile are clicking on all cylinders. They should have running back Marshall Faulk (injured big toe) back for the first time in three weeks. That will take a load off Jim Harbaugh. But Harbaugh doesn't mind doing heavy lifting. The Bills are really light work at this point. Jacksonville (2-3) at New Orleans (0-5), 3 p.m. Key stats: Mark Brunell's 8.73 yards per pass attempt in the fourth quarter is the second best in the AF. behind Jim Harbaugh. Michael Haynes 20.3 yards per catch is the second best average in the NFC behind the Vikings' Jake Reed. Comments: Poor Saints. They try very hard, but never get anything for their efforts. This week they'll get a chance to face the NFL's No.1 passing offense. But if the Jaguars are smart, they'll attack the Saints on the ground, because their defense is No. 29 against the run. Meanwhile, the Saints can't run the ball, averaging just 69.5 yards per game. The Saints have already lost to the other expansion team from last year. Why not make it a clean sweep? San Diego (4-1) at Denver (4-1). 3 p.m. Key stats: Terrell Davis leads the NFL in rushing with 573 yards on 112 carries. Darrien Gordon leads the NFL with a 22.1 yards per return average. Comments: The Broncos have been benefitting from the rushing threat that Davis provides them. However, last week at Cincinnati John Elway proved he can still gun it if he has to. In order to beat San Diego the Broncos are going to need good performances from Davis and Elway. Plus, they're going to need an aggressive defensive effort to put pressure on Chargers' quarterback Stan Humphries. The winner will create a little breathing room in the AFC West division. The Broncos should come out breathing easier. San Francisco (3-1) at St. Louis (1 -3), 3 p.m. . Key stats: The Rams are converting just 26.9 percent of its third down opportunities. The 49ers have just one turnover (an interception) in its four games this season. Comments: Niners' coach George Seifert has decided to rest quarterback Steve Young (strained groin muscle) for one more week. He can afford to go with Elvis Grbac against the Rams. Grbac had a great game against the Rams in a start for Young last year. The Rams are spinning their wheels and they can't really expect the Niners to help 'them get going. They'll give rookie Tony Banks another shot as the starting quarterback this week. He could benefit from a little defensive help. But there won't be any coming his way. The Rams go down again. Houston (2-2) at Cincinnati (1-3), 7 p.m. Key stats: Bengals Lee Johnson leads the NFL with 51.3 yards per punt. The Oilers average offensive drive starts at the 31.5 yard line that's the best offensive starting field position in the NFL. Comments: The Oilers got into so many fights last week in Pittsburgh that Steelers fans thought they had mistakenly walked Into a boxing match. The Oilers need to keep their wits about them this week or they'll end up on the losing end again. The Bengals have made a switch at running back, going with Garrison Hearst over Ki-Jana Carter. Hearst was more productive last week. Chris Chandler will test the Bengals' weak secondary. They won't pass the test. — New York Times V STEELERS-CHIEFS Head coaches remain close But Schottenheimer didn't hear from Cowher this week By ALAN ROBINSON The Associated Press PITTSBURGH — Normally before so big a game, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher would call upon his most trusted advisor and best friend at least twice for advice and guidance. There's one problem. Bill Cowher's coach also is the Kansas City Chiefs' coach, and the teams play Monday night in one of the AFC's biggest games this season. Hold all calls, please. "I don't think either of us would feel comfortable talking again this week," Chiefs coach Marty Schot- tenheimer said Tuesday. "You know nobody's going to say anything (about the game) so what do you end up talking about? How's the weather?" The two normally talk on Mondays and again later in the week, and they discuss the things that football coaches discuss: injuries, trends, philosophy, strategy. They never trade internal secrets, of course, but find enough common T SAN DIEGO CHARGERS COWHER SCHOTTENHEIMER ground to hold lengthy and animated conversations. There was plenty to talk about this week. The Steelers (3-1) have won three straight since an upset loss in Jacksonville and again look like a Super Bowl-caliber team. The Chiefs (4-1) have done nothing to tarnish their reputation as the AFC team to beat. "It's a big game," Cowher said. "If you can't get excited to play this game, you shouldn't be playing football." It's hard to imagine Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer holding such friendly pregame conversations, but the association between Cowher and Schotten- heimer started well before their days together as AFC rivals. Schottenheimer, who, like Cowher, grew up in western Pennsylvania, thought enough of Cowher's intensity and love of football to make him a Cleveland Browns' assistant coach at age 28 in 1985. Later, he accompanied Schot- tenheimer to Kansas City and was hired as his defensive coordinator at age 32. It is a position of importance rarely given to one so young, but Schottenheimer was convinced Cowher was no ordinary coach. And vice versa. "You can just learn so much from Marty," Cowher said. "The way he handles people and the way he prepares for games. To me, he's the best coach in the NFL." The loyalty is not one way, either, even in a sport where grudges, big egos and hard feelings can last a lifetime. In January, Cowher was the first to call with condolences after Indianapolis surprised Kansas City in the AFC playoffs, even though the upset shifted the AFC championship game to Pittsburgh. "We now get to play the game we thought we might play (in January)," Cowher said. The year before, a phone call from Schottenheimer helped Cowher deal with the disappointment of the San Diego Chargers' upset victory over Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. Such strong ties between rivals are rare in pro sports, but Cowher said his respect for Schotten- heimer could never be tarnished by something that happened on a football field. "Marty is the best coach I know, but he's also one of the best people I know," Cowher said. The two share success as well as a friendship. Eight of Schotten- heimer's 11 teams in Cleveland and Kansas City have won at least 10 games, and he is one of eight NFL coaches to reach the playoffs six consecutive seasons. Cowher's 32-16 record after three seasons was bettered by only six other NFL coaches. The Chiefs and Steelers have . played twice with Cowher and Schottenheimer on opposing sidelines. Pittsburgh won in Kansas , City in 1992, Cowher's rookie season, but the Chiefs eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs 27-24 a year later. The Steelers are 13-6 overall against the Chiefs and 6-1 in Arrowhead Stadium. They also are 81 in Monday night games under Cowher, including a 24-6 victory over Buffalo on Sept. 16. Seau performing at highest level Chargers linebacker was superb against Chiefs in what is proving to be his best year By BERNIE WILSON The Associated Press SAN DIEGO — Say Ow. Say Wow. Then say this: Junior Seau is having his finest season. Even Chargers coach Bobby Ross was amazed at his middle linebacker's domination in last Sunday's big win over Kansas City — the 12 tackles, the two interceptions, the sack that followed Seau's crunching collision with Marcus Allen. Oh, and Seau also repositioned Chris Mims on Pete Stoyanovich's last-second field goal attempt. Mims blocked it. "During the course of your career, there are going to be times where someone's going to be knocking at the door," said Seau, who at one point in the fourth quarter limped off the field . because of pain from his strained right hamstring. "You either answer it or you let it pass you by. That was one game in which I answered the call." Not that he doesn't all the time. "If Junior Seau isn't one of the best football players to ever play this game, I don't know who is," Ross said after the 22-19 win gave San Diego (4-1) a share of the AFC West lead with Kansas City and Denver. Ross also wondered if Seau was getting the credit he deserves, "because he did some things on that field that were unbelievable." By the time the focus had shifted to today's game at Denver, Ross was still marveling. "In terms of recognition, I guess I was making that comparison to Lawrence Taylor or somebody like that," Ross said. "I think he's in that category. It's not just the one or two things he does, he does it all. He not only intercepts, but he sacks. It's a rare combination, all the things he does." Seau has always been intense, but perhaps never more so than this, his seventh season. Already a five-time Pro Bowler, Seau is stronger, playing smarter within the scheme T NOTES AP file photo San Diego linebacker Junior Seau celebrates a sack during the fourth quarter of last week's victory over Kansas City. and taking more of a leadership role on a team whose roster changed dramatically in the off- season. "There just seems to be a level of concentration to football that's very, very special," Ross said. That's understandable. Two of the hardest losses of Seau's career were embarrassing defeats that ended the last two seasons — 49-26 to San Francisco in the Super Bowl and then last year's 35-20 home wild-card playoff loss to Indianapolis. "The individual accolades a lot of us have are nice, don't get me wrong," Seau said. "But it comes down to a point where now, what's missing? And that's a ring. The ultimate goal is to win championships. That's what drives me. Every week there's an opportunity, a steppingstone to get there." Like against the Chiefs. Seau's second interception was easy — he just stepped in front of the intended receiver. On his first, he showed his mobility. The Chiefs picked up his blitz, so he dropped downfield and caught a pass deflected by safety Rodney Harrison. "He's all over the field," said fellow linebacker Kurt Gouveia. "That's the kind of player he is." The defining play came on a Chiefs' third down from the 50 with just more than two minutes left. Seau beat the left guard, crashed into Allen, tossed the running back aside and then sacked Steve Bono. "The quickness, his strength, his intensity, his finishing of a play — you see it all in that one play," Ross said. "You also see production, because he beat two blockers and got a sack. That one play epitomizes Junior's season. He's having far and away his best year." Allen thought he had blocked Seau hard enough to protect Bono. "He goes hard all the time," Allen said. "He's the kind of guy you'd like to play with." That play has already made an impact with the Broncos. "To hit a back like that, and push him like he weighed about 145 pounds, is something you don't see very often in the NFL," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's something special." Said Denver's Terrell Davis, the NFL's leading rusher: "He can change the outcome of a game in an instant." The Broncos know all about that, having watched Seau come up with John Elway's bizarre fumble to preserve a 37-34 win at Denver in 1994. Seau's three sacks lead the team, and he and Harrison share the lead with 41 tackles apiece. In the two games since hurting his hamstring in practice, Seau has 21 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. "You can't think about it," Seau said of the injury that is slowly healing. "Once you think about it, the fear will grab you and excuses will follow. And then you lose." Quarterly report: a changing of the guard By DAVE GOLDBERG The Associated Press Despite Dallas' win Monday night, it still looks like a year for a changing of the guard. In fact, the only teams that stay the same are the winless ones — the Jets, who spent $72 million to get instant credibility, and Tampa Bay, where the new ownership looks as bumbling as the old. But for quarter-season awards (give or take a game), there are some new guys around. Some notables. MVP: Jim Harbaugh, Indianapolis — He clinched it by diving into the pile to outwrestle Miami's Chris Singleton for a fumble a week ago Monday. COACH: Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh. He loses Neil O'Donnell to free agency and Ray Seals and Greg Lloyd to injury and just keeps making do with what he has. He did the same last season after losing Rod Woodson. OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Terrell Davis, Denver, DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Leon Lett, Dallas. OFFENSIVE ROOKIE: Eddie George, Houston, one of the rare Heisman winners who produces. DEFENSIVE ROOKIE: Zach Thomas, Miami, although he was a bit exposed against Indianapolis. Rookies check Here are some 1996 statistics for running backs taken in the first- round of the 1995 draft: • Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati, 45 carries, 103 yards, 2.3 average. • Tyrone Wheatley, Giants, 23 carries, 74 yards, 3.2 average. • Rashaan Salaam, Chicago, 34 carries, 104 yards, 3.1 average. • Napoleon Kaufman, Oakland, the exception that proves the rule, with 34 carries, 265 yards, 7.8 average. But try these: • Curtis Martin, New England, Round 3, 300 yards in 90 carries (3.3). • Terrell Davis, Denver, Round 6, 573 yards in 112 carries (5.1). And for good measure: • Lawrence Phillips, St. Louis, No. 6 overall in 1996 and the first running back taken: 110 yards on 49 carries (2.2). Sadsack Saints What's the matter with the Saints? Their 0-5 record isn't all the fault of Jim Mora, at least not from a coaching standpoint. Mora, who's been coaching since 1986 and is the only Saints coach to have a win- ning season or make the playoffs, is still respected around the NFL. The biggest problem is that the best Saints are ex-Saints: Morten Andersen, Brett Perriman, Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, Wesley Walls, Quinn Early and Bobby Hebert, plus a bunch of other serviceable players. The biggest loss is probably Mills, who was allowed to leave as a free agent for Carolina two years ago. Not only is Mills playing as well as ever, but his leadership is sorely missing on a New Orleans defense that's allowed 432 yards rushing in losses to Arizona and Baltimore. Moreover, it wasn't Emmitt Smith running — Arizona's LeShon Johnson had 97 yards in his career before getting 214 against the Saints, and 34-year-old Earnest Byner of the Ravens had 149, his best game since 1984. Mora's probably gone after the season, even if he replicates last year when, after an 0-5 start, New Orleans managed seven wins in 11 games. 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