By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
The news hit Seattle Seahawks fans like a perfect strike over the top of a soft St. Louis Rams zone defense.
Plaxico Burress, he of the half-foot height advantage and even taller Super Bowl predictions, was going to miss next week’s game. The New York Giants receiver had been slapped with a two-week suspension, which included the Giants’ bye weekend and next Sunday’s date with the Seahawks.
Phew, they said. Bullet dodged.
A bit alarming how quickly they push aside a receiver-less team. Seahawks fans should know better than anyone that Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers aren’t nearly as important as they used to be.
The Seahawks have boasted one of the best passing offenses in the NFL despite not having a single Pro Bowl receiver since Brian Blades in 1989. In fact, the Seahawks have had only two Pro Bowl wideouts in their entire history — Blades and Steve Largent, and don’t even try to argue that Alex Bannister got in as a wide receiver — but has had plenty of offensive juggernauts over the years.
Even this year’s Seahawks team could argue the unimportance of receivers, even though injuries have clearly hamstrung that position. Take out Deion Branch or Bobby Engram or Nate Burleson, and the Seattle offense will work just fine, thank you. Take out all three and, well, that’s where the problems begin.
How replaceable are receivers in this league? Consider that the Seahawks played without six of their top wideouts last Sunday and still piled up 37 points behind the law firm of McMullen, Colbert and Bumpus. Seattle brought in guys off the street and still found a way to get it done.
Imagine Seattle’s offensive line trying to replace all five starters and a key reserve. Or the Seahawks being so hobbled at the quarterback position that the team had to bring Brock Huard out of retirement and ask him to start on five days notice. Sounds kind of like the Billy McMullen situation, huh?
Receivers just aren’t as important as they once were.
The Carolina Panthers went 2-0 without Pro Bowler Steve Smith, only to lose to Minnesota when he finally took the field. The 2007 Indianapolis Colts did just fine without future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, and the New England Patriots had plenty of success before Randy Moss came along.
That’s not to say that a team can win with, say, Andy Reid and Wade Phillips lining up at wideout. There are plenty of quality receivers, and enough pass-friendly systems, that passing games can thrive with second- and third-tier guys catching the ball.
Just look at the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, they’ve got Terrell Owens. But the rest of their receiving corps is in shambles, and yet Tony Romo doesn’t seem to notice.
The Green Bay Packers went into the 2007 season with a bunch of nobodies manning the receiver position, and yet Lambeau Field played host to one of the top offenses in the NFL.
Teams that have Pro Bowl-caliber receivers, on the other hand, are struggling. Chad Johnson’s Cincinnati Bengals, Andre Johnson’s Houston Texans, Torry Holt’s Rams and Braylon Edwards’s Cleveland Browns are a combined 0-11 this season. Teams that have selected wide receivers in the top 10 of drafts since 2002 are a combined 5-15 — a record that would be 5-21 if you include the Detroit Lions’ record three times for each of their wideout busts in that span. And one of those teams (the Minnesota Vikings) has already given up on its top-10 receiver (Troy Williamson).
Of the six unbeaten teams in the NFL, only the Cowboys’ T.O. and the Giants’ Burress are considered among the elite receivers.
Offenses are getting it done with regular guys. Just look at the Giants, who got the most important catch in franchise history — if not Super Bowl history — from a backup named David Tyree. (Fortunately for Seahawks fans, Tyree is on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list and won’t be replacing Burress next Sunday.)
Not that top-flight wide receivers are completely useless. Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals probably wouldn’t want to imagine life without their top two wideouts, and the Cowboys are certainly glad to have T.O. The Seahawks will also be relieved when their top receivers, particularly Engram, start getting out of the training room and back onto the field.
But the point is that a team losing its top receiver is not nearly as crippling as it once was. The loss of Burress won’t hurt the Giants as much as it would have been for the 1983 Seahawks to lose Largent.
Now if the Giants were to lose their homefield advantage before next Sunday’s game? Now that would be something.
But the loss of Burress — that’s just a blip on the competitive radar.
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The Seahawks have a bye this weekend.
Other NFL games
San Francisco (2-1) at New Orleans (1-2), Sunday, 10 a.m.: It’s not often that the Seahawks go into a bye week looking up in the standings, but that’s the case this year. The 49ers have a game, and the tie-breaker, on Seattle, so it might be a good time to pick out a Who Dat? T-shirt and root on those Saints. Homefield advantage should help New Orleans, even if J.T. O’Sullivan has spent plenty of time in the surroundings. Pick: Saints, 16-13.
Arizona (2-1) at New York Jets (1-2), Sunday, 10 a.m.: A couple of Super Bowl quarterbacks who we thought were past their prime. But Brett Favre doesn’t seem to be slowing down too much, and Kurt Warner is playing like it’s 1999. Not sure the Jets have the defense to contain Arizona’s receiving corps, so we’ll take the Cards in a road upset. Pick: Cardinals, 27-24.
Washington (2-1) at Dallas (3-0), Sunday, 1:15 p.m.: The Cowboys aren’t exactly making things interesting in the NFC. Last week’s blowout win at Green Bay not only solidified Dallas as the team to beat in the NFC, but it also made us wonder if there are any other teams worth beating. Can’t see anyone knocking Big D off the perch just yet, even if it’s a division rival with everything to prove. Pick: Cowboys, 31-13.