Notes from the NFL...starting with the controversy of the year.
The controversy continues over the NFL's ongoing push to reduce violent tackles. The league has released guidelines and is assessing stiff fines after reviews of game day video. Players are upset that the process doesn't include them, and they feel that the game is just too fast to really stop and think about how a tackle is being made.
Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu, supported by team player representatives, believes that current players should have a say in the decision making, which is currently done by league officials in the officiating and operations departments, as well as former players. Polamalu believes that the new system is causing "paranoia" among players.
Over the years, the league has instituted tougher rules regarding specific types of tackles--the horse-collar, the clothesline, head slaps, using the facemask--but these were specific items. This year's push, while well intentioned, is significantly broader and could have distinct repercussions, especially if a ball carrier were able to slip by a tackler who is more concerned about being fined than about making a stop.
The Redemption of Two Quarterbacks...
Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb is set to return to the helm after a sudden benching at the end of the Skins loss to Detroit two weeks ago, which Coach Mike Shanahan and his staff struggled to explain in the days that followed.
Since that game, the Redskins have had a bye week, which the team has used to achieve several things: clear the air about the McNabb benching, get healthy, and try to work out some of the problems with the offense, currently a mid-pack league rank of 19th.
Interestingly enough, the Skins return to action this weekend at FedEx Field against the Philadelphia Eagles, McNabb's former team. The Eagles have had a quarterback story all their own, though this one has been much more surprising and pleasant--the return to prominence of Michael Vick, who seems well on his way back to stardom after a sickening detour and prison sentence.
Regardless of what one may feel about Vick's misdeeds, his on-field performance has been nothing short of impressive. He leads the NFL in passer rating; and although his passing stats appear modest (1017 yards, seven TDs ... and zero interceptions!), he has not been the starter since day one of the season--plus he has been out with injuries. He's also rushed for 261 yards with a pair of scores.
* Cowboys interim Coach Jason Garrett is the first former Cowboy player to take the reins in Dallas. He replaces Wade Phillips, who was fired after winning only once in eight games this year, a year in which the team was expected to contend for the Super Bowl.
* Barring an early return from injury by Alex Smith, this week's matchup of the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams will feature a pair of recent Heisman Trophy winners--2006 winner Troy Smith for the Niners and 2008 honoree Sam Bradford for the Rams. Troy Smith was a surprise starter for the Niners in their victory over the Broncos (who have their own Heisman winning QB, Tim Tebow) at Wembley Stadium in London. Bradford is having a decent rookie season as the Rams starter--1,679 yards, 11 TDs, 8 INTs, and a passer rating of 75.9.
* More hanging Chads in Florida, as Pennington replaces Henne as the Dolphins starting QB this weekend against Tennessee.
* From the I'll Believe It When I See It Dept.: Vikings QB Brett Favre says he will not return next year. (Haven't we heard that before?)