Anthony Stalter, sports columnist

Anthony Stalter columns

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Below are Anthony's last 10 sports columns. Visit The Scores Report to read even more from Anthony, and click the icons to the right to browse the Bullz-Eye Blogs by sport.

With Michael Vick and the Eagles coming to town, it’s statement time for the Falcons

Week 2 is a little early for statement games but the Falcons may be the exception.

There were a handful of media members who predicted Atlanta to reach the Super Bowl this season, none more prominent than SI’s Peter King. But if the Falcons don’t believe they’re ready to take the next step then why should anyone else? Their brutal performance in Chicago last weekend followed an 0-4 preseason, which followed a 48-21 loss to the Packers in last year’s playoffs. Super Bowl? How about this team bothers winning a game of importance first?

Things don’t get any easier for the Falcons this Sunday night when Michael Vick and the Eagles come to town. ESPN has had a field day with the “Whose house is it?” topic, but the Falcons should be more concerned with starting 0-2 than trying to figure out whether Vick or Matt Ryan’s name should be on the doorknocker. Atlanta has lost four straight to Philadelphia and eight of its last nine to the Eagles, including two playoff games. To suggest Andy Reid has had the Falcons’ number over the years would be an understatement.

But Atlanta can change all that this weekend. The sloppiness that they exhibited in last Sunday’s loss to the Bears was rather uncharacteristic of the Mike Smith-led Falcons over the last three years. Thus, I expect Atlanta to play with more focus and pride this weekend.

But focus and pride are just two ingredients that this team is missing right now. They could also use a dash of attitude, swagger and aggressiveness. Their quarterback is seemingly ready to join the elite but he hesitates to throw downfield. Their offensive coordinator was viewed as a head-coaching candidate late last season but his conservative playcalling is befuddling with the amount of weapons the Falcons posses on offense. Their head coach was once a defensive coordinator in Jacksonville but thus far, he and his current DC can’t figure out the coverage woes that the secondary and linebacker corps is having. (Save for corner Brent Grimes, who has emerged as one of the team’s top playmakers.)

In other words, this team is a small mess right now – not a Super Bowl contender. But it’s not like the Falcons don’t have talent. On the contrary – this team is stacked. They have a slew of playmakers on offense, a ton of potential on defense, and thanks to the recent additions of James Sanders and Kelvin Hayden, plenty of depth as well.

With that in mind, the Falcons can’t allow this game to be about Vick and his heroic homecoming. After all, if they’re going to play second fiddle to him in their own stadium, then they might as well lay down for the rest of the NFC powers as well. This game needs to be about making a statement. This needs to be about beating an opponent that has had their number and stomping out the cloud of doubt that is starting to form around them.

A loss to the Eagles this Sunday isn’t going to eliminate the Falcons from the playoffs. But it wouldn’t kill them to have a sense of urgency right now either.

Remember when some people thought the Pats should trade Brady? Ha! That was funny.

Do the Bengals already have concerns about Andy Dalton?

Andy Dalton hasn’t taken one meaningful snap yet in his NFL career and already his team may have concerns about whether or not he can get the job done.

According to Yahoo Sports’ Jason Cole, the coming out of retirement because they’re concerned about Dalton starting as a rookie. But as points out, this might just be and they’re probably right. After all, what difference does it make if they “leak” out that they’re interested in Palmer? It would make more sense if they were being coy about situation because then it wouldn’t look bad on their part that they’re not showing faith in Dalton. How do the Bengals help themselves by “leaking” this information out? Cole’s report makes zero sense.

But let’s assume for a moment that part of Cole’s report makes sense and that the Bengals fear Dalton isn’t ready. My question is: What did they expect? Dalton was a fine college quarterback but he didn’t exactly face the toughest competition at TCU and there were questions about his arm strength heading into the draft. They knew Palmer didn’t want anything to do with coming back and they should have known that Dalton was going to be a major project. Thus, they should have had option B in place in case Dalton struggled in preseason. Vince Young was available earlier this offseason, as was Matt Hasselbeck and now so is David Garrard. There’s no guarantee that Young or Hasselbeck would have come to Cincinnati but as far as I know the Bengals never tried to pursue them either. If I were them, I’d jump on the phone with Garrard’s agent before a team like the Colts beats them to the punch.

But if Garrard isn’t in their plans then I say the Bengals mush on with Dalton. He’s a rookie and he’s going to have his ups and downs. But if he learns on the job then maybe next year he’ll be better. And maybe the year after that he’ll turn the Bengals into a contender assuming they add pieces around him.

Or maybe the guy will be a total bust and never live up to anything in the NFL. Either way, the Bengals took this risk and now they might as well show their full support in the kid. After all, it’s not like they’ve left themselves with better options.

It’s now or never for the Giants and their hapless offense

If defense improves, now is the time for Texans to overtake Colts

It’s now or never for the Houston Texans. Either they win the AFC South this season or spend the rest of their miserable existence in NFL purgatory.

All right, so that was a little extreme. But you’d have to be a corpse not to feel the sense of urgency that is surrounding the Texans as we draw closer to the 2011 regular season.

Peyton Manning’s neck injury has cast a cloud of doubt around the Colts. Tony Dungy was probably right when he recently said that unless Manning is dead, he won’t miss Week 1. But even if he does suit up, Manning, or Mr. Preparation as his poker buddies call him, hasn’t done much prepping for the 2011 season. How effective will he be early on? Will this be an injury that nags him the entire season? Will he be Peyton Manning? Because if he isn't, then it's fair to say that the Colts are a rather average team.

Nevermind that though; the Texans can’t be worried about what Manning and the Colts are doing. They need to focus on themselves because their moment to shine is here. Besides re-signing running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels to keep their explosive offense intact, the biggest move Houston made this offseason was hiring Wade Phillips to be its new defensive coordinator. Say what you will about Phillips’ inability to be a head coach, but the man knows how to run a defense. And he knows something about quick turnarounds, too.

The last seven times that Phillips has taken over as a head coach or defensive coordinator, his new team has reached the playoffs in its first season. And only once in those seven years has Phillips taken over a club that was coming off a winning record, which is a testament to the impact he can have on new teams. That’s a good sign for Houston, which finished 6-10 last year largely because of a defense that finished third to last in yards allowed and fourth to last in points per game.

The Texans also signed a key piece this offseason to help Phillips turn around the team’s defensive misfortunes. While they heavily pursued corner Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency, the Texans did well to land the second-best DB on the market in Jonathan Joseph. Still in his prime at 27, Joseph flashed shutdown corner ability in Cincinnati and should dramatically improve the league’s worst secondary from a year ago.

Of course, the defense wasn’t the only problem last year. The Texans have been a team that has struggled against divisional opponents the last two years. After going 1-5 in 2009, the Texans did finish 3-3 against the AFC South last season, but 3-3 usually doesn’t win divisional crowns. In fact, the 2010 Kansas City Chiefs have been the only team in the last four years to win their division despite having a losing record, which shines light on how important it is that the Texans take care of business against Indy, Jacksonville and Tennessee this year.

I joked earlier about this season being a “now or never” opportunity for the Texans to win the AFC South. Unless owner Bob McNair abruptly folds the franchise after this year, the Texans may be favored to win in 2012 or beyond. That said, when are the Texans going to have a better opportunity than now? Phillips was the right man for the defensive job, Manning’s injury leaves a lot of uncertainty in Indy, and Jacksonville and Tennessee are largely devoid of talent.

Now or never? Not quite. But then again it might as well be.

Three reasons why Pryor was worth the risk for Raiders (and three reasons why he wasn’t)

Colt McCoy could be poised for big things in WCO

When he was an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 60s and early 70s, Bill Walsh knew he had to find the right quarterback to fit his system.

Back then, the “right quarterback” had the same attributes as the “right quarterback” does today: Tall, strong-armed, intelligent, etc. But Walsh knew that in order for his offense to work, he needed a signal caller who was accurate first and foremost, and who possessed the ability to make quick decisions in order to get the ball out of his hands in a timely manner.

In Sam Wyche, the Bengals had what some deemed a prototypical quarterback already on the roster. But Walsh clearly didn’t think Wyche was the exact fit to run what is now called the West Coast Offense, so the Bengals acquired former sixth round pick Virgil Carter from the Bears.

Unlike Wyche, Carter wasn’t your prototypical quarterback in that he only stood 6’1” and 192 pounds and didn’t posses a strong arm. But he was smart and accurate, which is exactly what Walsh envisioned for his offense. Carter went on to lead the NFL in completion percentage in 1971 and was third in overall passing. He was the first player to successfully implement Walsh’s system.

Fast-forward to present day where Browns’ team president Mike Holmgren hopes he has found a quarterback to implement his system. Like Carter, the biggest knock on Colt McCoy is arm strength (or lack thereof). He lasted into the third round of the 2010 draft because teams were worried about whether or not he could make all the throws required of a pro quarterback. But Holmgren snatched him with the 85th pick because he too runs a version of Walsh’s West Coast system and sees a signal caller born to run his offense.

In theory, the West Coast predicates itself on using short, horizontal passes to stretch a defense sideline-to-sideline, as opposed to more traditional offenses that want to stretch a defense out vertically. In essence, the WCO uses those short passes to help open up longer running plays and create opportunities for deeper passes to be completed at a higher percentage.

But in order for the offense to work, it needs a quarterback that can read a defense quickly, get the ball out of his hands in a timely manner and most importantly, be accurate with his throws. If his passes are off the mark or delivered too fast or too slowly, the receiver’s timing is off as well and the entire play breaks down. Thus, there’s no need to have a quarterback with Aaron Rodgers’ arm strength running the show. (Although it certainly doesn’t hurt, as the Mike Holmgren-led Packers can attest to with Brett Favre.)

In the Browns’ first preseason game, you can see why fans are starting to get excited about McCoy’s potential. He completed 9-of-10 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown while running Pat Shurmur’s offense to near perfection. He looked comfortable, poised and spread the ball around with little to no hesitation. If he can carry that performance into the regular season, there’s no reason the Browns can’t at least be competitive.

Now, nobody is suggesting that the Browns are playoff bound or that McCoy is heading to the Pro Bowl anytime soon. One preseason game does not a player or team make. But for a franchise that has desperately searched for direction for nearly a decade, this is a positive start for Cleveland. And it’s not like McCoy didn’t posses these same attributes in college: His completion percentage never dipped below 65.1 in any of his four seasons at Texas, and he finished his junior season with a comp percentage of 76.7 and his senior season with a mark of 70.6. He also posses the intangibles that every team wants to see out of their quarterback, including strong leadership skills and the willingness to work on his craft (which was on display this summer when in Mississippi).

In McCoy, the Browns seemingly have the perfect fit at quarterback for Holmgren and Shurmur’s offense. They seemingly have found their Virgil Carter.

Brad Childress: Randy Moss “vomited” on Vikings’ locker room

Titans ready to make Chris Johnson highest paid back in NFL?

Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said Thursday that he’s ready to make in the NFL.

From the :

This has always been a no-brainer in my eyes. Johnson has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL the past couple of years and arguably deserves to be the highest paid RB in the league.

It’s not like this is a risky proposition for the Titans, or at least not in the way signing a player coming off an injury or a down year would be. Johnson is only 25 and barring injury, he presumably has four or five productive years left in him. If the Titans make him the highest-paid running back now and lock him in for five years, then everyone (i.e. the player, the team and the fan base) should be happy.

Of course, there are always unforeseen issues that arise. Maybe Johnson will be upset in three years because another running back has surpassed him in terms of their contract status. Maybe he’ll get paid and shut it down like Randy Moss did when he got to Oakland. Who knows? We can only go off the information presently at hand and the information presently at hand suggests to pay the man what he’s worth and reap the benefits of having him locked up for the next X amount of years.

Apparently the Bears know something about Roy Williams nobody else does

Read more from Anthony at The Scores Report.