- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Each Friday, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate a football issue. This week’s topic: Why have so many first-time coaches made an instant impact the past two seasons?

Dan Daly: It’s always a crapshoot - OK, more of a crapshoot - when an owner hires a coach who has never been a head coach before. But in the NFL the last two years… wow. Last season you had John Harbaugh guiding the Ravens to the AFC title game, Tony Sparano turning the 1-15 Dolphins into division champs and Mike Smith getting the Falcons back to the playoffs. This season the Jets’ Rex Ryan and the Broncos’ Josh McDaniels are both 2-0 - as is the 49ers’ Mike Singletary, who’s in his first full year after taking over in mid-2008, righting a sinking ship and finishing 5-4. What do you think gives?

Ryan O’Halloran: A solid front office structure is vital. Look at who Harbaugh (Ozzie Newsome), Sparano (Bill Parcells) and Smith (new general manager Thomas Dimitroff and supportive owner Arthur Blank) have to work for/with - that’s a huge deal for a first-time coach. I really believe young players respond to coaches who are either energetic (Ryan), come from winning programs (McDaniels) or are legendary players (Singletary). But does this trend mean guys like Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren will be frozen out this offseason?

DD: You’ve got a good point there. Pat Bowlen, who brought in McDaniels in Denver, also has a strong organization. As for Rex, he’s not just energetic; he’s a coach’s kid. He grew up listening to his father Buddy’s fulminations. That’s gotta count for something. No way Gruden and the other established guys won’t get jobs - if they want them. But an owner who has the guts to gamble on a less proven coach could hit it even bigger if you ask me. Somewhere out there is the next Mike Tomlin - or the next Mike Timlin. That’s the risk. You could be looking for a Super Bowl coach and wind up with a middle reliever.

RO: Everybody says the NFL is a copycat league, and it is - just look at what owners did after seeing Tomlin’s success in Pittsburgh. But you’re right; if Gruden, Shanahan and Holmgren want to work in 2010, some owner will write the check. And something else to consider: The hot coordinator well is running dry, and owners may be more willing to hire retreads than go with position coaches.

WEEKEND PICKS

REDSKINS THIS WEEK

REDSKINS (1-1) at LIONS (0-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 5

Line: Redskins by 6 1/2

Outlook: Don’t expect a lot of offense: The Lions are 30th in yards and tied for 17th in points; the Redskins are 19th in yards and tied for 30th in points. The Redskins desperately need to show signs of life in the red zone (no touchdowns in five trips, including a kneel-down possession, last week). And while it won’t hit 30 points, the Redskins’ offense will improve, and the defense will harass rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The pick: Redskins 23-7.

GAME OF THE WEEK

FALCONS (2-0) at PATRIOTS (1-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Line: Patriots by 4

Outlook: The Falcons have rolled to an undefeated start, but both games came at home. New England’s loss to the Jets is troublesome because the Patriots needed a Buffalo meltdown to win in Week 1 and failed to reach the end zone in Week 2. Expect Tom Brady - who said he has figured things out mechanically - to be better.

The pick: Patriots 30-28.

UPSET WATCH

STEELERS (1-1) at BENGALS (1-1)

Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

Line: Steelers by 4

Outlook: Pittsburgh can’t run, so it will have to rely on the pass. Cincinnati’s defense leads the NFL with nine sacks. Advantage to the Bengals, who stunned Green Bay at Lambeau last week. The Steelers are finding life tough without safety Troy Polamalu. Look for Carson Palmer to have success throwing to Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles.

The pick: Bengals 20-17.

INSIDE THE AFC

• Remember when Baltimore was a run-the-ball-and-play-defense franchise? That has changed. The Ravens have 812 yards in two games, and coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to do more. His first two games last year: 28-for-48, 258 yards, no touchdowns. His first two games this year: 43-for-69, 497 yards, five touchdowns.

• When Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers last played Pittsburgh, receiver Hines Ward’s block broke Rivers’ jaw, ending his year. The hit prompted a rule making high, blind-side hits illegal. Not that Ward is going to change the way he plays. “I’ll still hit him,” Ward said. “I’ll just get fined. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s either that or try to hurt somebody. … I’d rather take a fine than try to end somebody’s career, so I’m not going to change.”

• This is a big week for Tennessee. The Titans started 10-0 last year but are 0-2 this year and two games behind Indianapolis in the AFC South. Their opponents this week, the Jets, hope Mark Sanchez becomes the first rookie quarterback to win his first three starts.

• Since the NFL returned to Houston, the one constant was guard Chester Pitts, who started the first 114 games in Texans history. But he was lost for the year after two surgeries to repair meniscus and articular cartilage damage. Kicker Kris Brown is the last original Texans player still active with the team.

INSIDE THE NFC

• History will be made Sunday night when Arizona hosts Indianapolis. It will be the first game featuring quarterbacks - Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner - who have won multiple regular-season MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP. Warner is coming off a record-setting victory at Jacksonville; by going 24-for-26, he completed 92.3 percent of his passes.

• It’s two games and two fines for Dallas tackle Flozell Adams. He was docked $5,000 for unnecessary roughness against Tampa Bay in Week 1 and $12,500 for kicking the Giants’ Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora in Week 2. Tuck suffered a shoulder injury on the play and called Adams’ actions “bush league. … Normally, people go to the Pro Bowl for blocking people, not tripping people. So maybe he should keep his feet on the ground.”

• Drew Brees has played 50 games for New Orleans. During that stretch, his 14,579 yards, 97 touchdown passes and 25 300-yard games lead all quarterbacks. “Each year, I feel like I’ve gotten better,” he said. “I really feel like I’ve refined my routine and continued to find what works for me.”

BY THE NUMBERS

3.3 Points, the average margin of victory in the season’s first six prime-time games.

OPENING DISAPPOINTMENT

Unveiling a new stadium hasn’t meant a grand opening recently. A look at how the home team fared in its opener in the league’s five newest venues:

TeamStadiumDateResult

DallasCowboys StadiumSundayLost to N.Y. Giants 33-31

IndianapolisLucas Oil StadiumSept. 7, 2008Lost to Chicago 29-13

ArizonaUniv. of PhoenixSept. 10, 2006Defeated San Francisco 34-27

PhiladelphiaLincoln Financial FieldSept. 8, 2003Lost to Tampa Bay 17-0

DetroitFord FieldSept. 22, 2002Lost to Green Bay 37-31

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