Player You Need To Know This Weekend
Eugene Monroe, left tackle, Baltimore (No. 60). “We’re bringing Eugene in here to play,’’ coach John Harbaugh said after the trade for Monroe (for 2014 fourth- and fifth-round picks) was made official this week. Monroe was brought in from Jacksonville to replace under-performing left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the 30th-rated left tackle in football by Pro Football Focus. Then again, Monroe’s the 27th-best left tackle, according to PFF, so don’t expect a Joe Thomas-type upgrade on the left edge. Monroe practiced sparingly Thursday and likely will have a full practice today, and it won’t be surprising to see him start Sunday, or at least play a lot, at Miami.
Sound Bite of the Week
“We’re by no means a finely tuned machine. We’re still working out kinks and correcting mistakes.”
—Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who must have suppressed an urge to chuckle while he said this. The Broncos, through four games, are averaging 44.8 points a game, Manning’s completing 75 percent of his throws, and his passer rating of 138.0 is the best for any four-game stretch of his 228-game career.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. Gronk. Still don’t know if New England tight end Rob Gronkowski will play Sunday against the Bengals in Cincinnati (for the third straight week, he has practiced freely, looking healthy enough to play, which has meant nothing in his previous two inactive weeks), but the strategy here is one I actually like: Gronkowski’s got X number of snaps left in his battered body, and wouldn’t you rather use up those snaps in January? By the way, the quietest cut of a player we all though could turn into a Tom Brady mainstay happened Thursday, and it was so under-the-radar you may have missed it: tight end Zach Sudfeld.
2. Josh. Who picks up discarded Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman? No one today, because no team is going to want to be liable for the $6.4 million salary left for 2013. But surely someone will have a look for the rest of the year and sign him for the minimum, to see if Freeman can regain the form of a rising-star quarterback that somehow got derailed in mid-2012.
3. Schaub. Referendum game for Matt Schaub Sunday night at San Francisco. Say whatever you want about Schaub, his decent stats and the fact that he’s certainly not solely to blame for the Texans’ 2-2 start. But you can’t make the kind of folly-floater blunder that Schaub did last week, handing the Seahawks the tying touchdown in an eventual loss with one of the dumbest interceptions man has ever seen. That’s three games in a row he’s thrown pick-6s, and whoever tells you Schaub has the full faith and confidence of everyone in his locker room right now is delusional. He’s got to play well, if not win, at Candlestick.
4. Peyton. Mr. Manning goes to Dallas, where the Cowboys have a 99.6 opponent passer rating. Uh-oh. Hide the women and the scoreboard bulbs.
5. Schneid. Last Detroit win at Lambeau Field: 1991, when Matthew Stafford was 3. If the Lions win, they will command the NFC North, with a 4-1 record and a lead plus tiebreaker over both Chicago and Green Bay.
6. Blackmon. The well-punished Jacksonville wideout, Justin Blackmon, returns after his four-game suspension for substance abuse when the Jags play an otherwise utterly meaningless game on the march to Teddy Bridgewater at St. Louis. Other than whether the Jags will keep any of the quarterbacks on their roster heading into 2014, the Blackmon story is about the only one worth watching in Jacksonville in the last three months of the season.
7. Chiefs. Kansas City and Tennessee meet in Nashville, and they’re a combined 7-1. Look for more terrorizing the quarterback by a KC pass rush that is contributing to winning more than any pass rush in football through four games.
8. Fainarus. The book about the NFL’s concussion story, League of Denial, by brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, comes out next week, as does the PBS Frontline show of the same name (Tuesday, 9-11 p.m., PBS). Roger Goodell already sent an email touting the NFL’s attention to player safety to the league’s vast email database this week, aiming to get a start on the publicity barrage begun with book excerpts in Sports Illustrated and ESPN this week that decried what it painted as the NFL’s diversionary tactics and flat denials that concussions were a serious problem until recently.
9. Airhawks. The Seahawks play their second straight morning game far from home, with Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck playing each other for the first time in their lives. This is why Pete Carroll started his summer practices at 10:15 a.m. local time, because of back-to-back weekends like this one (at Houston, at Indy).
10. Believeland. Great week for Cleveland, with the men of Francona playing a Wild Card baseball game and the Browns the Thursday-nighter down the street 24 hours later. Now that the Browns won their third game in 15 days, they’re becoming more than a little bothersome for the Bengals and Ravens in the land of AFC North mediocrity. Cleveland, 3-2, has a half-game lead on both entering Sunday’s games.