Second, however, he could never enjoy the life of an NFL coach, a frustrating life in which the nation's top college players must be shared with the 31 other pro teams. As a USC recruiter, Carroll is so personable and persuasive that he shares the players he wants with nobody.
For he only uses this touch when he means it, and the Mary Joneses sense that.
As I said when USC first considered him four years ago, Carroll will win here because he's the best recruiter I'd known in 66 years as a football writer. It's unthinkable that the alumni would let him go. It will be harder to hold onto his quarterback, Matt Leinart, but that can be done too. All Leinart needs is an insurance policy against an injury that would threaten his pro career if he plays another year for the Trojans. What's more, as I first wrote for a 1934 newspaper, to be a USC student with a car of your own has to be the greatest life in the world.
For a Change, Colts Do It Right
THE INDIANPOLIS COLTS came out passing Sunday for the first time this season. In earlier games, their passer, Peyton Manning, had shared the snaps with Edgerrin James, who is almost as efficient in his specialty, running the ball, as Manning is when he throws it. The difference — and it's a huge one — is that good running backs aren't nearly as productive as good passers, as Manning demonstrated Sunday when he routed Denver, 49-24.
James rarely carried the ball against the Broncos in the 35-3 first half, when Manning, throwing on first down most of the time, took the Colts to five of their seven touchdowns.
The Colts hadn't played that way during the regular season, when they lost three times though James experienced three big days running the ball. Hence, they must play their next playoff game on an outdoor ice rink in frozen New England Sunday instead of their indoor stadium in Indianapolis.
The NFL awards postseason game sites to teams winning the most regular-season starts. And Manning wasted so much time faking handoffs or handing off to James in losses to Kansas City, Jacksonville and New England that he faked himself out of the home-field advantage in the playoffs.
It may sound unreal that a quarterback who passes for an all-time record 49 touchdowns, as Manning did this season, didn't pass often enough — but that's it, precisely. The truth is that James, except as a decoy, is all but irrelevant to the Manning offense, which works just as well with backup runners. The Colts only need James on second and long or other sure passing situations when the defensive focus is on Manning. Instead they've co-featured him in every game this season until last week against Denver, when, as Manning finally opened up, the rout was the payoff.
Brady or Manning? The Field Will Tell
THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS are a passing team too, or have been, or can be, and Patriot passer Tom Brady will have two advantages on Manning. He will be playing at home, and he's had more practice (and more success) passing in winter weather. He even wins in driving snowstorms.
The field will dictate what happens, but on any kind of field, the Brady-Manning showdown will be the big game of the pro season so far, by far — although it could be eclipsed a week later by either Brady or Manning at Pittsburgh.
If the Manning circus train instead of the Edgerrin James freight train unpacks in Foxboro, it is by no means a sure thing that it will be derailed by an off track. The principal unanswerable question of the week is what kind of off track it turns out to be. Supposing the referees can keep the football dry, and supposing there isn't too much wind, Manning and his three gifted little receivers should be able to navigate — even in freezing weather — much as they do on their indoor field in Indiana. For passing teams, a freeze is passable. Indeed, the Colts figure on a clear, cold day.
On a sloppy field or in a New England windstorm, Brady will have the advantage in part because his receivers are a bit bigger than Manning's and because his offensive line is considerably bigger. What's more, the Patriots can be expected to attack aggressively with their good pass offense. By contrast, despite Manning's skills with a thrown ball, he usually wants to set up his passes with handoffs to James. Against a wily team like New England's, that will cost him.
The final pre-game unanswered question is what difference it will make to the Patriots to have so many of their good defensive players out with injuries. The Patriot coach, Bill Belichick, has been the NFL's most successful over the years in the science of plugging up injury-related holes — but plugging up against Manning is something else.
Chargers Lose to Their Own Play-Callers
THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS, with the NFL's fourth or fifth best team, are out of the playoffs in large part because of their players' unfamiliarity with the pressures of the postseason, in which the demand is for the right mix of coolness and emotion. When they lost to the New York Jets on wild-card Saturday, 20-17, the Chargers played their game much of the time, but started tense and finished tense, and that finished them.