Jack Del Rio, a 1981-84 USC linebacker who started for the Trojans all four years, will get the next chance to stop Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis quarterback who threw the ball on every snap in the first quarter of last Sunday's 43-31 win over Green Bay. In that victory, the Colts became the only NFL team to total 100 points in the first three weeks of the new season.

Del Rio was a defensive expert at USC and a consensus All-American. At Jacksonville, he coaches the 3-0 Jaguars, whose defense has given up a total of 28 points — a league-leading weekly average of 9.3 — in the same month that 2-1 Indianapolis has been scoring a league-leading average 33.3.

At the moment, Jacksonville and Indianapolis are 1-2 in the AFC South after the Jaguars upset Tennessee last Sunday, 15-12. And when they meet the Colts in Jacksonville next Sunday, Manning will see one of the least experienced head coaches in football. After 11 seasons as an NFL linebacker, Del Rio, 41, had been an NFL assistant for only six years before Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver brought him in as Tom Coughlin's successor on Jan. 17, 2003.

Immature? Sure. Inobservant? No way. In Del Rio's rookie season, the Jaguars, setting up the 2004 season, finished 5-11 with a rookie quarterback, Byron Leftwich. And you haven't heard the last of Leftwich. Or Del Rio.




How Parcells Won a Passing Duel

Long, long ago, Bill Parcells of the Dallas Cowboys and Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins were both devoted running-play coaches who, if they felt frisky enough, might pass on third down — sometimes. Or might not. But those days are long gone.

NFL rules and attitudes and styles have changed since Parcells and Gibbs were boys. Theirs is a passing league now. And in a new-fangled passing duel, the two 63-year-old leaders sent their new quarterbacks out throwing Monday night, Vinny Testaverde for Dallas, Mark Brunell for the Redskins.

It's the new NFL game they were playing. In any case, Gibbs was trying to play it — much of the time. He even tried three-wide receiver formations briefly.

But though Parcells and Gibbs both spent years in exile from football, Parcells had come back a year or two earlier and has played modern football longer.

Thus, Parcells' team led all the way — and won it, 21-18 — as Testaverde put the Dallas players through the more sophisticated pass offense with the better-designed pass plays. It was the Cowboys who understood how to unleash long passes until they drew a marginal interference penalty setting up an easy touchdown. It was the Cowboys who in the third quarter covered 80 yards with three consecutive downfield passes for another touchdown. It was the Cowboys who threw the halfback pass for the winning touchdown.

But Gibbs tried. He was ready with a timely two-point conversion pass. And in one memorable second-quarter bit, Gibbs and Brunell stitched together a 15-play drive from their 9 to the Cowboys' 1, mostly on consecutive passes. On the goal line, unhappily, Gibbs reverted to his old-time running game and had to kick a field goal. And for too much of the fourth quarter, Gibbs was still running Clinton Portis. Otherwise, often, Gibbs was trying. He'll get it. And that's encouraging.




Manning Throws on Every Down

The Colts against Green Bay came up with a new meaning for the old maxim to "come out throwing." With powerful runner Edgerrin James in good health, they never used him or anyone else as a ballcarrier in the first quarter, when, instead, Manning passed for 270 yards and three of his five touchdowns.

Even though the Packers had some problem areas in their defense along with faulty planning — they came out to stop James rather than Manning — the Colts' air show was well conceived and beautifully done.

It illustrated what can be accomplished by NFL players who throw exclusively when they have a good passer and three good little receivers. The Indianapolis starters, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, both stand (at most) 6 feet even. And third receiver Brandon Stokley rises only 5 feet 11.

The Colts in the Manning era have until now been beaten themselves by running James, good as he is, instead of airing out the ball with their extraordinary passer. Chances are, they could have reached at least one Super Bowl under either of their last two leaders, Jim Mora and Tony Dungy, if, in every previous game, they hadn't attempted to, as Dungy says, "establish the run." That strategy has in effect handcuffed Manning, who too often has been asked to throw his first pass of any series on third and long.

Strategically, one problem with hammering a defense with a good running back is that it takes too long for runners to score. A passer can score on one play. When the officials are enforcing the rules, a good passer working with a sound offensive coordinator can move the ball against any defense.




Packers Run Themselves Out of the Game

The Packers, in the Indianapolis game, became the latest good offensive team to lose by repeatedly running the ball on first down. Their quarterback, Brett Favre, matched Manning touchdown for touchdown for a while and finished with four scoring passes, in spite of which, dedicating their offense to a good running back, Ahman Green, the Packers attempted to run him on nearly every series before calling on Favre to throw.