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Ask The Expert: New York Times NFL writer Judy Battista


Atlanta Falcons vice president of football communications Reggie Roberts sits down with an expert in the media each week to discuss all things NFL. This week's guest is New York Times NFL writer Judy Battista

Reggie Roberts: What are your general impressions of the league after the first two weeks of the season and have there been any significant developments that have surprised you thus far?

Judy Battista: Some huge surprises: What the heck is going on with the Cowboys and the Vikings? Tremendous talent on both teams, but they look disjointed (in Dallas) and badly needing practice (Brett Favre). I had them both penciled in to go to the playoffs, and in the case of the Cowboys, make a run. Other surprise: weren't the Tampa Bay Buccaneers supposed to be rebuilding again? I know they'll get a huge test next week against Pittsburgh (also a surprise: can the Steelers possibly hand Ben Roethlisberger a 4-0 record after his suspension?) but quarterback Josh Freeman's consecutive two-touchdown games indicate that this may not be a fluke.

I'm also surprised at how many low scoring games we saw in NFL Week 1 – it was the second lowest-scoring Week 1 since the league went to 32 teams. And I'm stunned at how many quick hooks are being used on quarterbacks – five quarterbacks benched in NFL Week 2? Where do they go from here?

RR: You live in the New York area and are very familiar with all of the media coverage the New York Jets received over the summer. Give us your take on Rex Ryan's team now that they are 1-1 after beating a very good New England Patriots team?

JB: After the putrid performance against the Ravens in Week 1, it was apocalyptic – must-win, what's wrong with Sanchez, can the defense possible hold up? After a victory over the hated Patriots, it's all good again. I think there was a huge sigh of relief after Mark Sanchez opened things up and they scored 28 points and that the defense showed it could hold up even without Darrelle Revis on the field. When he went out, I think everybody in the stadium expected Tom Brady to start firing bombs to Randy Moss. It never happened, with Antonio Cromartie looking like his old, Pro-Bowl self. That's good news because Revis' hamstring could become a lingering issue. Still, the victory will undoubtedly reignite the Super Bowl hysteria for this week, but you wonder how long the Jets can keep going on these emotional swings. It's a long season, as every coach reminds us, and you'd think that some steadiness might help them get through October and November.

RR: Falcons QB Matt Ryan received a significant amount of negative press and criticism after his club lost its season opener to the Steelers 15-9 at Heinz Field. What are your thoughts on Ryan and the Falcons?

JB: I think the Week 2 dismantling of the Cardinals is a lot more like what I expect of the Falcons this year. (I picked them to finish second in the NFC South to the Saints, but to contend for a wild-card spot). I particularly liked the physical play, with the emphasis on the running game. As for Ryan, I wouldn't worry too much about a bad performance against the Steelers. That is a top flight defense that has made many quarterbacks look foolish. I think the three-touchdown, no-interception game against the Cardinals is much closer to what Ryan is capable of. And if the running game continues to thrive, that will take the pressure off Ryan to match numbers with Drew Brees next week.

RR: Coach Tom Coughlin has his New York Giants are off to a very good start, but they seemingly are a team content to fly under the radar thus far. Is that by design?

JB: Very much so. It is impossible to imagine Coughlin and the Giants welcoming Hard Knocks into their training camp. But more than that, the Giants were chastened by their collapse last season and they know they have to prove that was an aberration. They are happy to let the Jets get all the talk and all the pressure that accompanies the self-proclaimed high expectations.

RR: Some traditional NFL powers (Dallas and Minnesota) are off to slow starts this season. Should fans in those cities be worried about their teams?

JB: Dallas fans should be very worried. This is a talented but, from the looks of things, really undisciplined and inconsistent team. The penalty on Alex Barron that negated the game-winning touchdown against the Redskins may go down as one of the biggest bone-head plays of the year. And what is the offensive plan, when you have three top running backs, but attempt 51 passes against the Bears and just 20 runs? Worse, Tony Romo's passes were often wildly off-target. The offense looked bad in the preseason and has gotten worse: just two touchdowns in two games. After the game, Terence Newman told Dallas reporters that the team lacked focus in practice. That's an indicator that the coaches don't have control. The really bad news is that the Cowboys go to Houston next week. They are 2-0, have a powerhouse offense and are desperate to show up the Cowboys for home-state supremacy and a spot on the national radar.

Eagles fans shouldn't rest too easily, either. Their defense is a wreck – 32 points to the Lions, who are without their starting quarterback? – and they are about to embark on a full-throated quarterback controversy with Kevin Kolb returning to the starting role after missing last week with a concussion. Good luck to him and Andy Reid if Kolb falters, because Michael Vick has looked superb in his six quarters of action and it's going to be hard to convince fans – and Eagles players – that they should stick with Kolb if he struggles.

RR: Several NFL experts think the Steelers have a chance to be one of the NFL's more dominant teams if third-string QB Dennis Dixon can hand Ben Roethlisberger a 3-1 club once he completes his four-game suspension. What are your thoughts on that subject?

JB: I think they're right. If Troy Polamalu stays healthy, the Steelers have one of the league's dominant defenses (sound familiar?). And Roethlisberger, when healthy, is one of its best quarterbacks. You can expect some rust when he returns from the month off, but he looked superb in his preseason action. The Steelers won even after Dixon was carted off Sunday because they forced a boatload of turnovers by the Titans, so many that Jeff Fisher benched Vince Young (a mistake, I think). They go to the Bucs next week and that should be a victory. It might not even matter if Byron Leftwich, Dixon, Charlie Batch or some guy off the street is the quarterback. The defense is so dominant that a 4-0 start is not out of the question, even though they have to play the Ravens without Roethlisberger.

RR: There are rumors that there is some movement on the labor front and that things are not as bleak as they looked over the summer. Can you tell us what you've been hearing about the CBA?

JB: I think both sides have lowered the volume on the public rhetoric, which is a positive development, and I've been told that the relationship between union chief DeMaurice Smith and Commissioner Roger Goodell has improved. Does that mean there won't be a lockout in March? I still don't expect an agreement to be reached by then, but from a fan's perspective, that just means no free agency period and no off-season workouts. But they still have to work out the fundamental financial issues, and those are significant. The bottom line is that labor deals in any industry are rarely hammered out without a deadline looming over everybody's heads – and in the case of the NFL, the real deadline is somewhere much closer to the start of the 2011 season.

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