Kubiak comes through in crunch time

Posted Sept. 20, 2010 @ 9:41 a.m.
Posted By Nolan Nawrocki

Speculation mounted about Gary Kubiak's demise in Houston late last season after he finished his fourth season without a trip to the playoffs. Instead, Bob McNair took a page out of the Rooney family business book and, with a year remaining on Kubiak's initial five-year deal, offered him a new three-year contract extension through 2012.

Through two weeks, McNair's vote of confidence appears to be paying dividends, as Kubiak pounded the reigning division champion Indianapolis Colts in Week One behind the strong legs of Arian Foster and followed up their inspiring opening effort with a come-from-behind overtime victory on the road in which Kubiak could not have better managed the final period.

Neil Rackers has proven to have one of the stronger legs in the league, but his inability to handle pressure kicks haunted him in Cincinnati and Arizona. Instead of opting for a field goal from more than 50 yards out in a game in which he already had missed a 47-yarder, Kubiak concentrated on winning the field-position battle, increasing the odds that another pressure-stricken performer, Donovan McNabb, would not be able to drive the length of the field without his starting left tackle (rookie Trent Williams) after Mario Williams had knocked him out of the game with a powerful pass rush late in the fourth quarter.

Redskins fill-in OLT Stephon Heyer was ill-prepared to handle the NFL's most unique blend of strength, power and agility. Williams collapsed the pocket and brought down McNabb on the Redskins' first snap of overtime, but a foolish penalty courtesy of a helmet spear by Texans DE Antonio Smith on McNabb advanced the chains. Shanahan shifted to a quicker-hitting passing game, and McNabb hit four more to position the Redskins for a game-winning 52-yarder. Redskins PK Graham Gano had never attempted a kick beyond 50 yards, but he drilled it through the uprights with such velocity that it might have been good from 62. However, Kubiak had wisely called a timeout moments before the kick, and Gano sliced the next attempt wide right. Four Matt Schaub completions later, and Rackers was within striking distance to convert the game-winning 35-yarder.

Next week, the Texans return home to host the reeling 0-2 Cowboys, who have gotten off to a painfully slow start marked by a lack of discipline, untimely injuries and special-teams miscues. If the Texans can carry their momentum against the Cowboys and push to 3-0 in a year Dallas is scheduled to host the Super Bowl, McNair's loyalty could capture a greater part of Texas and would have to feel rewarded.

• One bright spot for the beleagured Cowboys has been the superb play of WR Miles Austin, who is proving he is one of the NFL's very best and most trustworthy targets.

• The season is just two weeks young, but QB controversies are already beginning to brew. Philadelphia, behind the solid performance of Michael Vick, is stuck in the most difficult position, one that must be handled very delicately. If Eagles brass believes Kevin Kolb can be the future, it must balance the possibility of breaking his confidence and/or upsetting the future of its franchise with halting the electricity Vick has brought to the offense. Kolb has been cleared to play and likely will step back into the starting lineup against Jacksonville this week, but expect Vick to remain heavily involved in the offense and for Reid to be more acutely aware of any hits Kolb takes or any reason he might have to justify making a QB change. The Eagles are a better football team right now with Vick on the field.

Matt Moore's early-season struggles have opened the door for Jimmy Clausen, who very well could be starting next week after two average outings by Moore. Vince Young and Jason Campbell were also parked on the bench in the second halves because of their erratic performances. Bruce Gradkowski rallied the Raiders to three scoring drives, with a big assist from RB Darren McFadden, and Kerry Collins nearly pulled off the same feat after the Titans recovered a last-minute onside kick. Joe Flacco, who ranks last among qualified passers (14 passes per game) with a 41.2 passer rating, a 1-5 TD-INT ratio and 48.1 completion percentage, had better look out next. Here comes Marc Bulger.

• Vick's crazy legs appeared to tire out the Lions' much-improved, high-energy defensive line in the second half. His ability to feel backside pressure, spin out, regain composure and continue scanning downfield is what he does best and what an injury-stricken offensive line could use. 

• Lions DE Lawrence Jackson appeared to gain new life in Jim Schwartz's defense, flying around the field, crashing the line hard and showing a new level of physicality not often seen during his Seattle days.

• Chiefs personnel architect Scott Pioli is following the blueprint of former Patriots boss Bill Belichick, winning with defense and special teams. The Chiefs have received more production from their defense and special teams in their first two wins than they have from Charlie Weis' offense.

• When Bill Parcells stepped down from his executive VP post before the season, he did so with the intent to give GM Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano the opportunity to work more closely with new owner Steven Ross, who acquired controlling interest from Wayne Huizenga a year into Parcells' tenure. There are growing whispers in league circles that Ross will soon be joined by former Chiefs CEO Carl Peterson, who has worked with his good friend Ross to improve the in-game stadium experience through Ross' mobile TV maker Kangaroo TV operations (focusing on in-stadium, handheld televisions). Ireland entered the league in Kansas City working for Peterson and may not be affected at all. The abrupt resignation of Peterson's former right-hand man, Denny Thum, in Kansas City is believed to be tied to Peterson's re-emergence in Miami.

• Give Bears OL coach Mike Tice some credit. When he was with the Jaguars, inside sources say he was a proponent of signing Frank Omiyale in free agency with designs of playing him at left tackle. The Bears signed him, and the Jaguars subsequently used their first two picks in the draft that year on offensive tackles — Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. When Chris Williams left the Dallas game after the second series with a hamstring injury, the Bears initially inserted Kevin Shaffer to replace him. Shaffer struggled mightily with the speed of DeMarcus Ware, lunging and diving and leaving Jay Cutler flat-backed and running for his life. Tice quickly switched Omiyale to the left side, where he had played in college and had backed up Jordan Gross in Carolina, and his balance, agility and 36-inch arms served the Bears better than what they saw from their other two tackles, who looked grossly overmatched against the NFL's top hybrid rusher.

LaDainian Tomlinson may not have the same burst he had in his prime, but he has shown during the first two weeks that he has not lost much, still has his vision and clearly is the best back on the Jets' roster.

• It's difficult to side against Adrian Peterson. His iron will, burning determination and ultra-competitiveness are what make him so special, and if there were one back in the NFL that I would want blasting the line in a short-yardage situation, it is unquestionably No. 28. That said, the Vikings' decision to run Peterson four consecutive times on 1st-and-goal late in the fourth quarter was far too unimaginative and predictable, and after three failed attempts, everyone in the Metrodome, most especially Dolphins instinctive ILB Karlos Dansby, knew where the ball was going. While few would be criticizing Brad Childress' dungeon approach had it worked, especially given Brett Favre's difficulties in the passing game, Dansby's game-saving tackle in the hole highlighted the Vikings' lack of creativity.

• The Giants miscalculated by expecting OTs David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie to handle Colts DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis one-on-one without help in passing situations on a fast Indianapolis turf. Max protection may not have slowed the two speedy havoc-wreakers, but it would have given them a chance.

• The explosiveness of Raiders DE Lamarr Houston noticeably stood out against Rams OT Jason Smith, whom he rag-dolled and tossed. The Raiders' defensive front seven is as good as it has been in recent years and controlled the line of scrimmage against St. Louis.

• For a franchise that clearly does not believe in paying its players, having the lowest payroll in football, Tampa Bay has done a fine job fielding a competitive roster.        

• Despite the improved poise shown by Jets QB Mark Sanchez and the hard running of LaDainian Tomlinson, the Jets' left guard position remains a sore spot. Patriots DL Gerard Warren matched up very favorably against OLG Matt Slauson, easily notching two sacks by overpowering the edges.

• League evaluators have criticized the Mike Martz-Jay Cutler experiment, not believing the drop-back, rhythm passing attack was well-suited for Cutler's talents, but the fifth-year passer produced his best game in a Bears uniform against Dallas. Cutler appears to be buying into Martz's philosophy and appears to have the Bears' offense clicking on multiple levels, with WR Devin Hester breaking out, TE Greg Olsen finding a place in the game plan and Matt Forté becoming more multidimensional.

• For as much trouble as Clay Matthews and Cullen Jenkins gave the Bills' offensive line, the interior is solid enough to create a pocket to step into if Buffalo OTs Demetrius Bell and Cornell Green could just ride rushers wide of the pocket, the same way the Saints' tackles do so well for Drew Brees. The more concerning problem in Buffalo is the lack of LB depth, as the Bills do not have the pass rushers needed to produce consistent pressure in their revamped 3-4 look.

• Often underestimated is the physical toll that traveling across three time zones can have on a jet-lagged football team. Jacksonville's cross-country trip to San Diego did not help its chances. No game involves a cross-country commute next week, but the Colts could be tested by the thin air in Denver.