NFL Insider

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

The Post's Mark Maske was online Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 11 a.m. ET. to discuss the latest news from around the NFL.

The transcript follows.

Mark writes the NFL Insider blog, and is the author of the new book War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East.

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Mark Maske: Hey, everyone. Sorry I'm late. Just running a little behind this morning. Let's get right to it.

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Gregarious Terp: So do you think the National media will shut up about Romo until he actually wins at least a playoff game or something? And do you think the Rams are bad enough to go 0-16?

Mark Maske: Romo and the Cowboys did get taken down a notch, yes. But he's still a good quarterback most of the time playing on a glamour team. You will still hear plenty about Romo. The Rams are bad. But it's very, very difficult to be 0-16 or 16-0 in this league, and I don't think the Rams will do it. It looks like they'll get Marc Bulger back this week and they'll probably get Steven Jackson back pretty soon after, although probably not this week.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. M: As I see the season so far, there's one team at the top -- New England, of course -- with the Colts a reasonably close second, Pittsburgh and Dallas following, and an amorphous mass of "okay" teams, including the 'Skins. At the absolute bottom, the Rams and the Dolphins. Do you agree?

Mark Maske: I pretty much agree, but I think the Colts are more than "reasonably" close. I think they're quite close. They're the defending Super Bowl champions and they're unbeaten, too, and everyone would be asking, "Can anyone beat the Colts?" if the Patriots hadn't been so dominant. They play each other on Nov. 4 so we should get a pretty good idea how they stack up against one another.

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Boston: First Maroney and now Morris has gone down. Can the Pats win without much of a running game (70/30 split)? Does exposing Faulk to more plays than just third down increase his chances of getting hurt and putting the Pats running game in an even worse situation? I'm probably just a paranoid Boston fan but give me a break, the Sox are suddenly looking very mortal down 2-1.

Mark Maske: Actually, it appears that the only chance anyone has to beat the Patriots is if they get Maroney back and fall in love with running the ball. I mean, there was no threat of a running game against the Cowboys and yet Dallas could not put any consistent pressure on Tom Brady, and Brady absolutely carved up the Cowboys' secondary. It goes against all conventional wisdom, but the Patriots' passing game appears to be so good right now that they don't need offensive balance. You can't match up with the receivers. You can't get to Brady. And he doesn't miss open receivers when he has time to deliver the ball.

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Chicago: Do you think the Bears problems can be put to some degree on the coaches? Yeah, they're injured, but it's virtually the same personnel, and all of the sudden none of the defensive backs can tackle, the defensive line gets less than no pressure, and Urlacher is human? How can the Bears get better, besides executing? And when will Lovie start getting upset at these guys?

Mark Maske: I do think the injuries have been a huge part of it. But maybe showing Ron Rivera the door wasn't such a smart move. Maybe you shouldn't get rid of your defensive coordinator after a season in which your defense carries you to a Super Bowl appearance. I like Lovie Smith a lot but that, to me, was simply the wrong thing to do.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: So in the past five games there have been five injuries for the Redskins offensive line. One lineman injured per game is not a good average, yet I hear that Coach Gibbs is not going to look for any trade offers. Why not? You can blame receivers for games all you want, but if we can't get solid blocking then Campbell won't even have a chance to pass. Need I remind us of a few years back when Brunell was sacked a million times?

Mark Maske: It's been a horrible run. But to me, the Redskins hadn't lost much with Jason Fabini and Todd Wade playing the right side in place of Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas. Now, they can put in Rick DeMulling at right guard and move Fabini to right tackle if neither Wade nor Stephon Heyer is healthy enough this week to start at right tackle. DeMulling is an experienced player, and having him in there wouldn't be a calamity. So, if Casey Rabach's injury isn't too bad and he's able to play, I think they're actually okay this week, and then you would hope for some people to start to get healthy.

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Towson, Md.: First coach fired is...?

Mark Maske: I never think anyone will get fired during a season. It just doesn't happen that much. But you have to look at the winless teams, Scott Linehan in St. Louis and Cam Cameron in Miami. I know it's Cameron's first season with the Dolphins and I know they really need to establish some continuity after Nick Saban's short stay, but what if Wayne Huizenga looks at it after the season and just decides to clean house?

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Washington: The Patriots have a realistic shot of clinching the division after Week 9. That is amazing.

Mark Maske: I'd say they've already unofficially clinched that division.

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St. Petersberg, Fla.: Now that the Bucs picked up Michael Bennett, how long until he starts?

Mark Maske: You would have to think that would happen pretty quickly, if not this week then maybe next week. It was pretty clear that Earnest Graham is not a starting tailback in this league.

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Gregarious Terp: Hey Mark, thanks for the chats, they really help pass the time at work! Switching gears then, injuries seem to be decimating teams this year. The Redskins will start fielding cheerleaders on the offensive line, the Cardinals might call up Joe Theisman soon at the rate they're going, the Ravens, the Bills ... is any team not getting beat up a lot?

Mark Maske: I'd say the odds are very good that at least one wild card team comes from the NFC East. You would have to think that the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins are all right there at the end of the season and the two that don't win the division will be in the middle of the wild card mix. It's really too early to handicap it any more beyond that, though. It has to play out for a few more weeks.

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Timeouts at the Last Moment: Mark: Instead of writing yet another rule to prevent coaches from calling these timeouts to freeze kickers, why not simply revert to the old rule: only the players on the field can call a time out. Would this stop the timeout at the last moment? No, but it would cause the timeout to be called near where the play was about to occur, instead of from the sideline. Also, if a player is calling a timeout in that situation, they would be visible to the TV camera, so at least we know what was going on.

Mark Maske: If anything at all is going to be done, I think that's the thing. Any other rule change that you would try to come up with, like no timeouts by the defense in the final five or 10 seconds on the play clock in field goal formation, simply creates too many issues.

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Baltimore: I can accept Wade not being a huge drop from Jansen, but losing Thomas for Fabini isn't even close. Fabini is a complete liability in the run game and lacks the athletic ability to play tackle at this point in his career. You can't overstate the problems caused by potentially having two third-string level lineman playing next to each other this Sunday (DeMulling and Fabini). The 'Skins will have a terribly difficult time maintaining drives.

Mark Maske: I'm not saying it's not a drop-off. It is. I'm saying that they've been able to put people in there, so far, that haven't kept the offense from functioning. I disagree with you about Fabini and DeMulling. I think the offense can still function if those two guys are forced to play. There might be some issues. The coaching staff might need to make some adjustments and give those guys some help. But I still think the offense could function in this game against this opponent.

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Bethesda, Md.: As usual my precious Raiders were run over by LT and the San Diego defense. With little to no hope of earning a playoff birth this year, does it make sense to just start JaMarcus Russell for the rest of the season? Can't get any worse, right?

Mark Maske: It's not time to go to Russell. He's not ready to play, not after missing all of training camp and the preseason. It would do him no good, and the team no good. If he's ready to play at all this season, it will be in the final few weeks. Look, be happy that the Raiders are making progress. They're an improved team. Lane Kiffin seems to be the real deal. They were actually in first place before that game. Give it time. They actually seem to be moving in the right direction with this coach.

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Waldorf, Md.: What's good, Mark! Any chance the Redskins insert Ladell Betts into the lineup and get him more (starter's) carries with Portis's ineffectiveness? Why isn't R. Caldwell playing? Thanks!

Mark Maske: You don't give up on Portis, but he does need to hold on to the ball. Let's not get carried away about Caldwell. Yes, he was the Patriots' top receiver last season, but that was a distinction that came by default. He's a very average player. When everyone is healthy, it's just going to be tough for him to break into the rotation, although it does seem a bit curious that Keenan McCardell came in and jumped right ahead of him.

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Alexandria, Va.: Apparently forgotten in all the "Patriots are the greatest" talk is the fact that they were caught cheating. Does anyone care? They didn't even have to forfeit the game they were caught cheating in. Of course the corollary to this is "if Belichick is such a genius why did he cheat against the coach most likely to catch him?"

Mark Maske: I don't think it's been forgotten at all, but that doesn't mean you need to dwell on it. I think it was a show of absolute arrogance by Belichick that he did what he did against a coach, in Mangini, who presumably knew what was going on.

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Hyattsville, Md.: Hey Mark ... thanks for taking my question. Do the Redskins understand that in order to make an impact in the division -- or better yet in the league -- that they have to have depth. Are they going to keep all of their draft picks this year to draft any solid offensive line and a defensive pass-rusher this year? Thanks.

Mark Maske: They say they understand it. All last offseason, Joe Gibbs talked about keeping next year's draft picks. We'll see, I guess.

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Alexandria, Va.: My question is, do you think a lot of the problem with the whole team structure of the Redskins is having too much authority under one man? Also, has the "win now" approach to free agency spread to the whole league?

Mark Maske: I don't think that structure is a problem. If you consider that structure to be a problem, then you'd have a bunch of teams in the league with the same problem. You need to have the right guy with the power, and you need to have the right people around him helping. In this league, you'd better have a "win now" approach. When you build for the future in this league, you're usually building for the future of the next coach or the next general manager. Yes, you make decisions that don't handcuff the team too much in the future, but your primary aim had better be trying to win sooner rather than later.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why aren't we bashing Gibbs for this apparent lack of game management skills? Two timeouts in two plays? Granted, the first one was called by Campbell, but he and Saunders should have been ready for a fourth-down play. This isn't the first time...

Mark Maske: That's been an issue for some time. But that didn't lose the game. If Santana Moss doesn't give up the ball on the reverse and/or holds on to the pass that bounced off his facemask, in all likelihood you're looking at a very good road win over a fellow NFC contender. It's rare that you see a good player have a game that off-the-charts bad.

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Bethesda, Md.: Has Cleveland managed to turn the corner and become a respectable squad? I haven't watched their games (because they aren't broadcast in this area) but they seem totally legit and very scary on offense.

Mark Maske: I would say so, yes. That's become a real team with a lot of ways to come at you on offense. Unfortunately for them, they play in the AFC, so taking the next step and becoming a playoff team won't be that easy.

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Baltimore-Washington Parkway: Is Kyle Boller safe in Baltimore? Is this another chance, or his final chance to prove himself. I know the word is McNair is hurt, but when is he not hurt really?

Mark Maske: He's safe to the point that he signed a new contract and kept the Ravens from bringing in Byron Leftwich. I guess that means the Ravens still view him as the long-term answer at the position.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Some ink has been spilled about the Patriots sticking it to the world (going for the touchdown on fourth down in garbage time) to avenge criticism from spygate. They have been very pass-oriented and I expect them to roll out their running game when they get Maroney and Morris healthy. I imagine those "Emmitt Smith" drives, where they hand the ball to the same guy ten times in a row. Am I wrong to believe Don Banks when he sees the Patriots pushing for the perfect season if they get past 10-0? These guys seem angry!

Mark Maske: I do think Belichick has managed to spin this whole thing into something that works in his favor in the locker room, yes. But this was always a highly motivated team that played hard. You'll see those players give maximum effort every week whether they're playing for 16-0 or 15-1 or whatever. The only issues that could arise if if they have an unbeaten season going and it gets to the end of the regular season and they've clinched home field advantage, do you make decisions--like sitting down players who are hurting--aimed at going 16-0 or aimed at winning the Super Bowl? I think Belichick would play to win the Super Bowl first and foremost, not to go unbeaten along the way. Of course, the Colts might stay close enough to keep that from ever being a factor.

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Mark Maske: I've got to run, folks. Thanks for the questions and see you right here next week.

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