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Smith out of sight

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Nate from Tampa, FL:
I got goose bumps reading about the football fraternity, too. Going to school to become a teacher, I long to coach high school football as well. Is the fraternity as tight among all levels of football as it is for the NFL?

Vic: Absolutely, it is. Football doesn't distinguish by class. Some of my best friends are high school coaches who I met covering high school football early in my career. Going out to cover a high school game on a Friday night became a tradition for me and you'd be amazed at how many of the pro coaches I've known have some kind of connection to those high school coaches. That's why I say it's a great fraternity. It is not restricted by geography or class. It is united by the members' passion for the game and their participation in it.

Eric from New Haven, IN:
What do you think the odds are for the Jags to make it into the playoffs if they would lose on Sunday night but win out the rest of the way?

Vic: I wouldn't like those odds. A loss to the Steelers would severely damage the Jaguars' AFC record and in the case of a multiple-teams tie-breaker, conference record would probably be the tie-breaker used. Given the scenario you present, the Jaguars would probably have to be in a head-to-head situation with Denver. In that case, the Jaguars would win the tie-breaker since they beat the Broncos in week two.

Jim from Tampa, FL:
Other than the Steelers, of course, which teams need to lose this week to best help the Jags' playoff chances?

Vic: Denver plays at San Diego and the Jaguars should hope for a San Diego win. The Jaguars should also want Cincinnati to beat Baltimore, Houston to beat the Jets and, while we're at it, why not root for Tennessee to win in Indianapolis, too?

John from Brooklyn, NY:
I saw "Reporters' Corner" on the website and you were talking about Curtis Martin. Do you see him surpassing Emmitt Smith's rushing record? Do you see anybody in the NFL right now doing it?

Vic: No, I don't foresee anyone doing it because Emmitt Smith is still adding to his record. Quietly, Smith is having a pretty good year; 679 yards and eight touchdowns. He's pushing his record out of sight. Curtis Martin has tied Walter Payton and Barry Sanders for second place for most 1,000-yard seasons and is tied with Sanders for second place for most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, 10 in each category. Smith is first in each category with 11. Martin's accomplishments are amazing. He's closing on 13,000 career yards and, barring injury, could move as high in the all-time rush rankings as second place, which is currently held by Walter Payton at 16,726 yards. Smith's all-time rushing record is now at 18,097.

Chris from Las Vegas, NV:
When the Jaguars and the Steelers were in the same division, how many times did the Jags win the division, and how about the Steelers?

Vic: The Jaguars joined the AFC Central in 1995, the team's inaugural season. The AFC Central's last season of existence was 2001. In the seven seasons the Jaguars were in the AFC Central, they won the division title twice, in 1998 and '99. The Steelers were the defending champion when the Jaguars joined the division in '95, and the Steelers won the title again that year and in '96, '97 and '01.

Anthony from Antioch, CA:
My question is about the offense. They have a lot of talent at the so-called skilled positions, yet, they can't score many points. What do you think the biggest problem is with the offense?

Vic: I touched on this a few days ago. In my opinion, the Jaguars need a pounder. Maybe Greg Jones will be that guy.

Ashley from Lake City, FL:
Why do the Eagles fans dislike Santa Claus so much? The fans beat him up two years ago and they booed him last season.

Vic: It's those post-Christmas credit card bills. I don't like him either.

Trent from Jacksonville:
Hey, great column but what I am here for is your take on McNair's discussions of retiring. You think it could happen? And if so would they have to draft a QB since their backups haven't been doing so well. What impact would that have on our division?

Vic: If you're a regular to this forum, you might remember that on a couple of occasions this fall I've written that the Titans may have to release Steve McNair next spring. They are up against a huge salary cap number for McNair in 2005 and it's a number they can't afford. If they want to keep him, they absolutely must re-do his deal and lower his cap number, but to do that would mean pushing even more money onto future salary caps and that would just worsen the overall problem. I have the feeling the Titans are going to decide that it's time to do the hard fix on their salary cap. In other words, it's time to put up the white flag. I think that's why they threw some money at Billy Volek during the offseason; for the purpose of making him their quarterback of their reconstruction period. I could be wrong, but that's what the indicators suggest to me. Frankly, I think that would be the smart play for the Titans. By the way, I was watching that reporters show on ESPN the other day when McNair was introduced as one of the show's hot topics. One of the reporters said he didn't think McNair would retire because he's due a $50 million option bonus in 2006 and he'll make sure he's around to get it. What was the guy thinking? There's no chance the Titans will ever exercise that option. There's no chance they can even play him at next year's number.

Brian from Jacksonville:
Who is the most complete team in the NFL?

Vic: There are only two teams in the NFL right now whose four major rankings (rush-offense, pass-offense, rush-defense and pass-defense) are each in the top half of the league's rankings. Denver is sixth, seventh, tied for fourth and 12th in those categories; New England is 12th, 11th, eighth and 13th. Pittsburgh is first in overall defense, first against the run, third against the pass and second in rushing, but the Steelers are 28th in passing. That last number is largely the result of playing with a lead and not attempting as many passes, but you can't deny Denver's and New England's balance. They appear to be the most complete teams in the league. Don't be fooled by Denver's record (7-4). They've lost games in bizarre ways, such as the fumble against the Jaguars. I expect the Broncos to be a major player in the postseason.

Joey from Jacksonville:
I have noticed that you believe in 1970's style football in which running the ball is the key to success. After you've watched Peyton Manning throw for about five touchdowns a game, will you ever accept that we're in a decade in which the new keys to success are passing, throwing and launching the ball downfield?

Vic: The Colts, more than any team, make my case. Edgerrin James leads the AFC in rushing. That's why Peyton Manning is able to be as effective as he is. The Colts' ability to run the ball forbids defenses from loading up against the pass and blitzing Manning on every down. In 2001, when James missed 10 games due to a knee injury, Manning had his worst season as a pro, other than for his rookie season. In '01, Manning threw 23 interceptions and posted a passer rating of 84.1. He was also sacked 29 times, which is the most in his career, including his rookie season. I'm not denying Manning's impact as an offensive weapon, but even Manning needs a running game. When will you accept that?

Jim from Jacksonville:
Speaking of the chuck rule and how the league favors Peyton Manning, exactly who makes the decision that the chuck rule will be emphasized? Is it some kind of committee? If so, who is on it and why would they favor Manning?

Vic: The league has a competition committee that is comprised of Jeff Fisher, Rich McKay, Charlie Casserly, Mike Holmgren, John Mara, Ozzie Newsome, Bill Polian, Mark Richardson and Mike Martz. They are the motivating force in matters such as an emphasis on the enforcement of the chuck rule. Two situations made the chuck rule enforcement an issue. Number one, yardage and points were down in 2003 for the first time in years. That rang an alarm bell. Secondly, the Colts whined and cried about having their receivers mugged by the Patriots in last year's AFC title game. The feeling is that Polian's presence on the competition committee helped push the chuck-rule enforcement through, and that's why the Patriots and others believe the game has been tilted to favor Manning.

Pat from Bryceville, FL:
I'm getting hooked on your column again. Before I retired, I read your column religiously (on company time), but I had too many personal items to do in retirement. I'm making more time for you now. Question: Will you make a comparison between Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger? What is each one's strongest point? What are their QB ratings at this point in the season?

Vic: Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,719 yards, 12 touchdown, six interceptions and a 98.4 passer rating. Byron Leftwich has thrown for 2,126 yards, 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 85.5 passer rating. I haven't seen Roethlisberger but for three or four times, so I don't know if I'm qualified to make a true evaluation of his skills. What I can tell you is this: He probably has the best corps of wide receivers in the league. Beyond that, I am told he is a major talent and the greatest of his talents is his courage. He never takes his eyes off downfield; never peeks at the pass-rush. That's what all great quarterbacks have in common. They keep their eyes downfield and I've noticed that Leftwich does that, too. Leftwich's strength, in my opinion, is his feel for the game. He has great instincts. He knows where to go with the ball and he knows what he sees. These are two exceptional young quarterbacks. They will be centerpiece players in the league for the next several years.

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