Sunday NFL Countdown (10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET, ESPN) returns for the season with ESPN’s Chris Berman – in his 28th year as host – and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson. On a second set, Suzy Kolber, analysts Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski and NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter join the Countdown crew to preview the week’s NFL games. Some excerpts from today’s show:
On the New Orleans Saints and how Sean Payton’s absence will impact the team:
Jackson: “Boom, I never heard of an interim for the interim. I mean it’s got to affect the team to some extent. When you think about, take Coach Belichick away from the New England Patriots. Take Coach Tomlin away from the Pittsburgh Steelers. They both have great quarterbacks, but you’re going to miss something.”
Johnson: “You talked about the offensive coordinator calling the plays when Sean (Payton) hurt himself a year ago, you see what happened in those games. They struggled, they sputtered along, they lost to the Rams. I mean, it’s problematic. Now, can they win some games? Yes. Will they be the same dominant team? No. They won’t have that home field advantage because they will not be able to put up those type of points.”
Ditka: “The coach of this offense right now is Drew Brees, and he’s going to run that offense, he’s going to run it effectively. Let me say one thing, bounty system or no bounty system is no indication of who the Saints are, what their record was last year, how well they played. This is an outstanding football team. I don’t care if you say you had a bounty or no bounty, that’s wrong. This will be a good football team this year, and they’ll play with a chip on their shoulder.”
On the New York Jets – how will they use Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow?
Jaworski: “When I look at Tim Tebow against Mark Sanchez, what I look at is this is a defining moment. Somewhere this season, it’s going to happen. That defining moment with Mark Sanchez, that defining moment with Rex Ryan. I had a defining moment my fifth year with Dick Vermeil (In video, Vermeil said, “I want you to hear me when I say this; you never have to worry about me jerking you.”). That was a critical endorsement from the head coach. Sometime today, sometime this season, Mark Sanchez is going to struggle just like I did in year five when 70,000 people are booing and screaming and they want the backup quarterback or they’re screaming, ‘Tebow, Tebow’ – that’s when Rex Ryan is going to have to come over to Mark Sanchez just like Dick Vermeil did to me and say, ‘you’re my guy.’”
Ditka: “It’s not about Tebow and not about Sanchez, guys. It’s about the Jets, it’s about wins. How do I win football games? I mean, I got to say that I put my ego away. I want to win a football game. If I’ve got to use Tebow in a certain situation, I use him. You know, this thing – let it play out a little bit. But Sanchez has got – if he wants to be the quarterback, go out there and leave no doubt who the best football player on the field (is). You leave no doubt by your leadership and you play, and you’ll never come out of the game. That’s up to Mark Sanchez.”
On the Green Bay Packers – will they have a hangover from last season?
Carter: “They have the best player in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers. What they’ve done defensively I believe will pay dividends. But when you have the best player, it’s a lot easier to carry it over.”
Johnson: “I think they’ll be like CC (Cris Carter) said, probably just as good, but they need to fix the defense. They need to get to the quarterback, something that they didn’t do in the playoff game against the New York Giants.”
Jaworski evaluates rookie quarterbacks based on preseason performances:
On Andrew Luck: “Andrew Luck to me was the most polished. The little things – the eye discipline, eye manipulation, eyes down the field, not allowing the defense to read where he’s going with the football – these are veteran-like moves that Andrew Luck shows.”
On Ryan Tannehill: “Tannehill was very impressive to me. He was poised in the pocket. Sometimes Marino-like I dare to say.”
On Robert Griffin III: “Love this guy. The sampling’s small – only 31 throws in the preseason – but you saw the same things you saw when he was coming out of Baylor: the accuracy, the arm strength.”
On Russell Wilson: “He earned the starting job in Seattle by making plays, running around. But he’s got to learn to get the ball out of his hand when there is quick pressure.”
On Brandon Weeden: “I tell you what, big, strong arm. Loved a lot of things I saw, but he had a tendency to stare down receivers. This is an area he has to work at… You cannot stare down receivers, you cannot predetermine throws or else you will find yourself making mistakes.”
On expectations for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos this season:
Jackson: “I was out with him for five days. Here’s what you have, you were right, Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning. His work ethic has been translated to the rest of the football team… Peyton Manning is going to make those guys play at a high level.”
Carter: “Now, what he needs to look at is what Brett Favre did. Not only when he went to Minnesota, but when he went to the Jets. When Brett Favre was healthy, he had that bounce from being rejected in Green Bay. I believe Peyton’s going to have that same bounce. I believe he’s going to play well. He is going to be healthy, and I believe his personnel is a little bit better, definitely better than the personnel that he had at Indy.”
On Ben Roethlisberger – is it a good idea to alter the offense?
Carter: “There’s a basic fundamental – if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, and Ben is at the point in his career where he needs to listen to someone else. That’s how you become a great player, you take coaching. That’s the most underrated thing in the National Football League. It’s not all about talent. You’ve got to be able to submit that talent to a coach. That’s how you become great.”
Ditka: “Ben Roethlisberger is not going to change. The offense can change. The offense might change, sure, probably he’ll run the offense that’s called, but he’s not going to change. What makes Ben Roethlisberger successful is the way he plays the game, guys. I’m sorry… If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
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