NFL Insider

Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Columnist
Tuesday, January 16, 2007; 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Mark Maske writes the NFL Insider blog, providing the latest news from around the league.

He was online Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 11 a.m. ET to answer questions.

A transcript follows.

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Mark Maske: Hey, everyone. Let's get right to it.

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Potomac, Md.: Mark,

Clearly the Saints are the emotional, sentimental favorite remaining in the playoffs. Can they get it done and be in the Super Bowl? What's your take on the best (big-story wise) matchup for the Super Bowl?

Mark Maske: The best storyline from a national perspective clearly would be Peyton Manning getting to a Super Bowl and playing his hometown team, the Saints.

I think the chances are pretty good. I like the Saints if the weather in Chicago allows them to utilize all the aspects of the their offense. I like the Colts because of the way their defense is playing. But both those games are true tossups.

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Bethesda, Md.: Mark,

Considering the success of the Patriots even with a "less talented" team this year, what do you think that success is mainly attributable to? Is it the coaches coming up with better game plans/more detailed study of opponents than other teams? I've heard that NE always tries different schemes throughout the year to better prepare for playoffs. Thanks.

Mark Maske: It all goes back to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. If you have those two guys, you always have a chance. The Chargers were the better team Sunday in San Diego, but it was the bad Marty Schottenheimer playoff karma against the good Belichick playoff karma and you saw what happened.

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Schottenheimers: Mark,

There's been a lot of talk of Marty being fired after Sunday's loss. Any truth to that?

Any insight as to why Brian Schottenheimer pulled himself out of the running for the Miami job?

Mark Maske: I think there is a very good chance that Marty Schottenheimer gets fired. Put aside the fact that he doesn't get along with A.J. Smith, the general manager of the Chargers. If you're Dean Spanos, the team president, and you think you have a Super Bowl-quality team, can you possibly believe right now that Marty Schottenheimer is the coach to get you there? History says absolutely not.

On Brian Schottenheimer, it just appears he felt he wasn't ready for a head coaching job yet.

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Reston, Va.: Why does the league only allow assistants to interview once with teams before their season is over? It seems like that hurts a guy like Ron Rivera.

Mark Maske: It certainly hurts a guy like Ron Rivera, just as it hurt Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis for years when the Patriots were playing deep into the postseason annually. But it's a balancing act for the people on the competition committee who set those rules, and they're just not willing to penalize teams that are still in the playoffs by having their assistant coaches running around doing endless head coaching interviews and accepting head coaching jobs elsewhere. It was only a few years ago that those assistants were given the ability to have even one interview with each team interested in them for a head coaching job.

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Rockville, Md.: Who is the hottest candidate for the remaining head coaching slots?

Mark Maske: The Dolphins have had Jim Mora and Chan Gailey in for second interviews, although the job would be Pete Carroll's if he wants it. The Steelers are down to Russ Grimm, Mike Tomlin and Ron Rivera. The Raiders are interviewing Dennis Green today and already interviewed Steve Sarkisian, Jim Fassel and Rob Ryan.

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Rulesville, U.S.A.: Can you help me out with a rules question? In the Superdome, the Saints were trailing by 4 but driving late in the game. Brees drops back (I think it was second down) and gets sacked for a huge loss. It's now third and a mile -- looks like a field goal, Eagles still leading by a point.

But wait. They call defensive holding. Automatic first down and the Saints go on to score the winning touchdown. Now Brees got sacked almost immediately; he had no time to throw to anybody whether they were open or not. My question is, do the PI and defensive holding rules get enforced even when a QB has no chance to make a throw because of a quick sack?

Mark Maske: Pass interference wouldn't apply on a play when there's a sack because that can only occur with the ball in the air. But yes, an illegal contact or a defensive holding in the secondary would apply.

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Washington, D.C.: Can Petrino really solve the Michael Vick problem in Atlanta, or is the only solution to start Matt Shaub?

Mark Maske: That's a great question, and I don't know for sure. My inclination is to say that you can only be so good with Michael Vick as your quarterback, barring a significant improvement in his passing. You can win. You can get into the playoffs and even advance in them if the competition that year isn't too great. But I don't know that you'll ever be a Super Bowl team. Now, your response to that, if you believe it, would depend on whether that's good enough for you or not.

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Ashburn, Va.: QB controversy in Philly next season?

Mark Maske: No, I don't think so. Donovan McNabb is the starter if he's healthy and Jeff Garcia, if he gets re-signed, is the backup. It would have been a trickier question, to me, if the Eagles had advanced one more round in the playoffs.

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Burke, Va.: Is it just me, or has the kicking game really become critical in this year's playoff?

Romo's botched snap, Vinatieri's crossbar "dink," Gould's game winner, and Kaeding's lack of distance. Are we going to see some BIG kicking contracts this off season, or will this phase of the game continue to be ignored by GMs? What are the chances Vanderjagt gets a juicy contract for next year?

Mark Maske: I think we've already seen big kicking contracts with Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vanderjagt last offseason. It worked out for the Colts with Vinatieri. Not so much for the Cowboys with Vanderjagt. I would think Vanderjagt gets a job somewhere next season, but not necessarily for big money.

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Baltimore: How does a team with one of the worst run defenses in the league end up containing two of the most potent rushing attacks in the league? Was Indy just baiting us into thinking their defense was bad? What has made their D so good in the playoffs?

Mark Maske: Having Bob Sanders back in there at safety makes a huge difference. He is a playmaker. He helps against the run as well as the pass, and it was a huge factor in their struggles that he played only four games during the regular season. But there's obviously more to it than that. Every guy on the field is playing better and I'm sure if the Colts knew why, they would have done something about it earlier.

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D.C. Metro: Somehow I'm half-expecting Peyton Manning and the Colts to eventually unravel, either this weekend or in Miami if they make it to the Super Bowl. Am I in the minority here?

Mark Maske: But here's the counterbalance: He already unraveled a little bit during these playoffs, with the three interceptions against the Chiefs and no touchdowns in Baltimore, and the Colts won anyway.

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Re: Karma: It was neither good nor bad karma -- it was Drayton Florence's ridiculous head-butt that gave the Patriots new life. Shouldn't he still be taped to the inside of his locker?

Mark Maske: There were so many things. How does Marlon McCree make that interception and then fumble? Are you kidding me? That's why I say it has to be the Schottenheimer bad karma. And it wasn't all just bad luck. It was bad coaching, too, with the fourth-and-11 early and the stupid instant replay challenge late.

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Columbia, S.C.: Bronco's fan here. Denver hired/promoted a defensive coordinator and a assistant head coach for defense. What's the difference? Why should there be two people doing what I thought was a one-person job?

Mark Maske: It's still a one-person job. The guy with the biggest title is the true defensive coordinator and in this case, it's Jim Bates. He's in charge. They can call him whatever they want and they can call Bob Slowik whatever they want but in truth Bates is the defensive coordinator. Along with the escalation of coaching salaries has come this silly inflation of job titles to keep everyone happy, but don't be fooled by that. There's one guy in charge of the defense and all the other defensive coaches report to him.

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New Orleans: You know Mark, we are having the biggest party of our lives down here. We were hoping Seattle would come here and we'd just party all week, wait, we are partying all week. The weather changed down here today so we're hoping it's to get our guys in shape for cold weather playing in Chicago. We are thrilled to pieces for our team!

Go Saints!!!

Mark Maske: I walked out of my hotel in New Orleans at 4:45 a.m. Sunday to catch a cab for an early flight to Chicago and there were lots and lots of people just coming in as I was going out. So yes, I realize there is plenty of partying going on there these days.

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Arlington, Va.: Could we please put an end to the "better team lost" analysis of the Patriots win on Sunday? Over the last six years, we have heard this so many times after Patriot victories that it's become laughable. In 2001 we heard it from the Raiders after the Snow Bowl game; then we heard it from the Steelers after the AFC championship and the Rams after the Super Bowl. Before the 2004 Super Bowl we heard it from the Colts. In 2005, from the Colts and the Steelers. It is not a coincidence that so many teams have come away from losses to the Patriots shaking their heads, muttering that if only one or two plays had gone differently they would have won. I'm sure the Chargers have better times than the Patriots in the 40-yard dash, but Brady and the Patriots defense are always better than the other guys when it matters: in the second half of a playoff game. To quote Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are.

Mark Maske: You're right. But you watch the way these games go and at a certain point you ask yourself what it would actually take for the Patriots to lose. I mean, you throw a fourth-down interception late in the fourth quarter trailing by eight points and end up better off than you were when the play started? Please. Facing Belichick is like that old coaching cliche: He can beat you with his players, or he could take your players and you could take his and he'd still beat you.

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Arlington, Va.: Why did the N.Y. Giants re-sign Tom Coughlin?

Mark Maske: That's always been an organization to do everything it could to be patient and promote stability, and I think John Mara and Steve and Jonathan Tisch found more support for Coughlin among the players than expected.

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Towson, Md.: Hey Mark;

Everyone was saying the AFC had the Super Bowl in the bag. Now that the purported two top teams have been ousted, is that still the case? Are the No. 1 and 2 in the NFC still lesser than the No. 3 and 4 in the AFC? The NFC teams seem a little more crisp/less mistake prone than the turnover fest that was the two AFC divisional games.

Mark Maske: The AFC team will still be the favorite in the Super Bowl. But the Colts and Patriots have flaws that have been apparent all season so, yes, you can see the NFC team having a good chance to win it.

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Washington, D.C.: Mark: Why in the world would Dennis Green pursue the Oakland job after his miserable stint with the hapless Cardinals? Is he a glutton for punishment?

Mark Maske: Coaches coach. That's what they do. They also get paid.

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Baltimore: Thanks for all your great work.

The Patriots are clearly the closest thing the NFL has to a dynasty over the last 5-6 years. Yet their front office structure seems very similar to the decidedly non-dynastic Washington Redskins: no GM, and Scott Pioli is VP of Personnel, similar to Vinny Cerrato's position at the 'Skins.

Given all the criticism of the 'Skins current front office structure (especially no GM), how can we account for the Patriot's success without a GM?

Mark Maske: You're absolutely right. The Eagles, with their five NFC East titles in six years, also have a similar structure. They gave the GM title to Tom Heckert last year but he reports to Andy Reid. It's not the structure. There is no inherent flaw in this structure and no absolute need for a general manager. It's all about the decisions that get made.

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Atlanta: Mark,

Don't you think LaDainian Tomlinson's criticism of the Patriot's celebration after an extraordinary rally is a bit overblown? Yes, the Patriots should have been more generous, but the victory was stunning, and the Chargers have not always been such good sports (including in the week run-up to Sunday's game).

Separately, do you think that the Colts finally have a chance to undo the Patriots now that they are meeting in the playoffs in a domed stadium (with Adam Vinatieri as Colts kicker, no less)?

Mark Maske: I think LaDainian Tomlinson criticized the wrong head coach. He should have been mad at Marty Schottenheimer, not Bill Belichick. It's an emotional game. People celebrate. You can't say it's okay for Shawne Merriman to dance like that after a sack and not okay for the Patriots to dance like that right after a big win. If your point is that they were mocking Merriman, get over it. A mere lack of originality does not warrant that response.

And yes, I do think the Colts have a very good chance because of the way their defense is playing.

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Allison Park, Pa.: So, with Ken Whisenhunt off to Arizona, do you think Russ Grimm will take over the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching job? He's fairly young, he's local, he was an "in the trenches" pro, he was mentored by winners at Pitt and in Washington -- many similarities to Bill Cowher. And really, many similarities to Chuck Noll (although Noll was from Ohio).

If he succeeds Cowher, do you think he will, well, succeed?

Mark Maske: You would think Grimm is the front-runner now but Mike Tomlin and Ron Rivera are very highly regarded around the league. I don't think the Rooneys are limiting themselves to promoting from within and I think they're willing to wait for the Bears' season to be over to have a chance to talk to Rivera again.

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Houston, Tex.: Why won't the NFL adopt the college system of overtime? The NCAA method of breaking ties is far superior than the coin-flip. It's more fair and more entertaining. Is there any sentiment around the league to go to this? And if not, please explain their reservations.

Mark Maske: No, I don't think there's any great outcry in the NFL about that. It just seems very gimmicky the way it's done in college. It's not the regular flow of the game any more. I know it guarantees each team gets its shot, but that usually happens anyway. The Seahawks had the ball first Sunday in Chicago.

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Refs: Mark,

Hi. Unlike previous years, I thought the refs did an excellent job at all the games this weekend. They really worked as a team to verify calls.

Mark Maske: You're right. No major issues. The Eagles were unhappy about the false start they got on their final drive in New Orleans, but you're never going to make everyone completely happy.

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Mark Maske: I'm going to run, folks. Thanks for the questions and sorry I couldn't get to all of them. See you here next week.

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