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Burning questions for week 8

By Vic Carucci

National Editor, NFL.com

(Oct. 28, 2005) -- Four burning questions for Week 8:

Which of the emerging quarterbacks from the NFC East, Eli Manning or Mark Brunell, will come out on top during the big showdown between Manning's New York Giants and Brunell's Washington Redskins?

I'll go with Brunell, who so far is the runaway choice for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He has found a rhythm with a passing attack that can strike at will, whether the game is close or turns into a shootout.

Manning continues to rapidly develop into a first-rate starter, and has shown he is capable of making big plays in pressure-packed situations. But I think the difference in the outcome will be the help Brunell receives from his running game. Look for the Redskins to make considerable use of Clinton Portis to exploit the Giants rushing defense, which has allowed 4.3 yards per carry.

Expect Washington offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to do quite a bit of pulling with his linemen to allow Portis to run outside and have the blockers ready to neutralize rangy Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, a former Redskin.

Portis also should have success running inside because of his tremendous

patience in allowing holes to open and his exceptional vision, which helps him find running lanes.

Are the Kansas City Chiefs ready to continue their offensive roll against the San Diego Chargers?


Although the Chargers have the second-ranked run defense in the league, the Chiefs will wisely have Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson hammer the ball on the ground early and often because that will allow them to help set up Trent Green's effective play-action passing.

And Green should have a good deal of success against the league's 29th-ranked pass defense. As usual, the Chiefs will line up in a variety of multiple-receiver sets. Few quarterbacks in the league are better than Green at making use of all of the pass-catching options at his disposal.

Green's best option continues to be tight end Tony Gonzalez, who finally had a larger role in the offense in the Chiefs' Week 7 victory at Miami. The Chargers' aggressive defense is likely to bite hard on play fakes and leave Gonzalez plenty of room to operate underneath.

When the Chargers adjust their coverage to account for Gonzalez, look for Holmes and Johnson to begin finding more running room and being open on screen passes that can turn into long gains.

Can the Philadelphia Eagles continue to win without attempting to run the ball?

There is no denying that the Eagles' pass-crazy approach goes against every basic principle of what it takes to succeed in football.

Yet, it is hard to argue with the success or assume, even for an instant, that coach Andy Reid or offensive coordinator Brad Childress don't know what they are doing when it comes to assembling a game plan.

Therefore, reluctantly, I will accept the notion the Eagles can make the formula work in Denver once again, even against the second-best rushing team in the league. The Eagles likely will again find themselves in a close game that won't be decided until the final moments, but they have demonstrated the ability to handle such pressure-filled circumstances.

They also have demonstrated that nothing -- including a persistent run

game -- discourages their defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, from blitzing constantly. The same defense that kept LaDainian Tomlinson smothered in Week 7 should keep the Broncos running game in check. And that should force quarterback Jake Plummer to find himself in less favorable down-and-distance situations than usual.

Plummer hasn't been intercepted since Week 2, but with the Eagles defense coming at him constantly and from all directions, he is bound to make some bad throws that could wind up in the hands of the many talented playmakers in Philadelphia's secondary.

Is Jake Delhomme ready to eliminate any doubts he should be Carolina's starting quarterback, while helping the Panthers eliminate any doubts they are an elite team with a victory against the struggling Minnesota Vikings?

He should.

I think Delhomme is too good a player to be on shaky ground, which was where he found himself after being knocked woozy in a Week 6 game against Detroit. Then he watched Chris Weinke come off the bench to lead the Panthers on a 1

scoring drive capped by his winning throw. It didn't help that Delhomme had been intercepted three times before then, and he certainly must cut down on his mistakes.

But he is the same quarterback who led the Panthers to a near-victory in the Super Bowl. He also should be a steadier, more reliable starter than the largely untested Weinke, who was 1-15 in his only season as the Panthers' No. 1 quarterback, over the long haul.

The Vikings still have major issues on and off the field, but they did receive a significant boost of confidence with their last-second victory against the Green Bay Packers in Week 7. They will present a challenge, although the Panthers should be able to have their share of success moving the ball against the NFL's 25th-ranked defense.

Beyond Steve Smith, Carolina doesn't have much in the way of big-play passing targets. The Panthers likely are to use three-receiver sets to get Smith one-on-one with a cornerback as often as possible. Another receiver, Keary Colbert, is hobbled with a sore ankle. If he is ineffective or unable to play, steady Ricky Proehl should make an impact by finding holes in Minnesota's secondary, especially on third down.

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