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OFFENSES NEED TIME TO KNOW IF WEST IS BEST

If the first two weeks of the NFL season have proven anything it is this: New offenses take time to develop.

It was no surprise the Buffalo Bills' new West Coast offense didn't come flying out of the gate to open the season.

Neither did the other three teams that have adopted the West Coast attack this year.

The New York Jets managed just 10 points in their win over lowly New England last week. The Detroit Lions' West Coast attack under new coach Marty Mornhinweg has produced one touchdown and nine interceptions so far. The Washington Redskins' hybrid West Coast attack ranks 31st in the league.

But it isn't just the new West Coast offenses that have stumbled at the start.

Twelve teams opened the season with new offensive coordinators this year and only two rank among the top half in the league in yards -- San Diego (fifth) and Buffalo (14th).

One team that has gotten a big boost from new offenses is Cleveland, which ranked 26th on defense last year. The Browns swallowed up Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck in Week One and Detroit's Ty Detmer in Week Two. Cleveland has nine interceptions and seven sacks and has held opponents to a QB rating of 34.3.

The Jets get an up-close look at how a decent West Coast offense should run when they face Jeff Garcia's San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde has done almost all of his throwing so far to backs and tight ends (who have 23 of his 34 completions.)

"This offense is like a radio station when you're trying to tune it in," Jets running back Curtis Martin said last week. "Right now, we're not there, and we're concerned. There's still a little bit of static. You can hear the words and hear the melody, but that sound irritates you. That's where we are."

Marty's costly mistake

It's easy to blame Jeff George for Washington's bad offensive start, but most of the blame belongs with 'Skins coach Marty Schottenheimer. What was he thinking between February and September? George is a downfield passer who never was going to be comfortable with the dinking possession-style, ball-control attack that the Redskins want to use.

Nevertheless, Schottenheimer OK'd the salary cap move in the spring that reduced George's base salary to the veteran minimum of $477,000 and gave him the rest up front in the form of a $3.75 million bonus. So over two seasons, George walked away with $6.25 million and started seven games.

Nobody in the NFL incinerates money like 'Skins owner Daniel Snyder.

Another expensive lease

The state of Louisiana reached a deal this past week to keep the Saints in New Orleans, but it didn't come cheap.

The total cost of the deal to the state is $185.6 million, and it will probably ensure the Saints will stay in New Orleans through 2010.

The deal guarantees the team will stay in the city through 2005, with a host of financial enticements to stay through 2010. The Saints get an annual subsidy from the state of $12.5 million this year and next year, $15 million the following two years, and more in subsequent years, rising to $23.5 million in 2010. The Saints also get $6 million in state money for an indoor training facility, and other improvements to the team's headquarters.

In return the state bought more time to study the feasibility of the Saints' request for a new stadium to replace the Superdome. The old lease required the state to give the Saints a proposal by January 2003. Now the state has until June 2004.

There is an out clause. If the Saints want to move any time between 2005 and 2009, they have to pay an $81 million penalty. That sounds like a lot, but if the Saints opted to leave, they would be paying back money the state already had given them.

The two sides differed on how lucrative the deal is for the Saints. Saints official Arnold Fielkow said the revenue would rank the club in "the third quartile," 15th to 23rd, in league gross revenues. State officials said it would rank them 13th by a different measure.

"We're never going to be in the top echelon of the league in this marketplace, but this gives us a chance to be competitive," Fielkow said.

Off with their heads

The easiest quick fix in sports is to fire the coach. A look at the NFL's coaching class of 1999 shows that a revolving door is no easy answer to a team's problems.

The nine coaches hired before the 1999 season have combined for a 122-162 (.429) record. Only Baltimore's Brian Billick has a winning record (21-13). Three of the nine have long since been fired (Ray Rhodes, Gunther Cunningham, Chris Palmer). Only Billick and Philadelphia's Andy Reid have playoff-caliber teams, although the Chargers appear vastly improved under Mike Riley.

The others in the Class of '99: Seattle's Mike Holmgren (16-18), Carolina's George Seifert (16-18) and Chicago's Dick Jauron (12-22).

Rookies have job security

Of the 246 players selected in April's draft, 182 of them were on the rosters of their drafting teams. That's 73.9 percent of the draft picks, down from the 76.7 percent of last season.

Only three teams kept all of their draft picks: Green Bay (six total), Philadelphia (six) and San Diego (eight). There were 35 rookies who started on opening day -- the highest number of the salary-cap era. The previous high was 27 in both 1995 and '97. Twenty-one of the league's 31 teams started at least one rookie.

The draft class of the University of Michigan was amazing. Four linemen who started last season at Michigan started for NFL teams on opening day: tackles Jeff Backus at Detroit and Maurice Williams at Jacksonville, guards Steve Hutchinson at Seattle and David Brandt at Washington. Backus and Hutchinson were first-round picks and Williams a second. Brandt was undrafted.

Onside kicks

Bruce Smith isn't getting good sleep on the road with the Redskins. Seems he has to share a room with DT Dan Wilkinson, who snores so loudly that Smith spent the last trip sleeping in the lobby, according to Washington reporters.

It was 103 degrees at the 5:30 p.m. kickoff in the Arizona opener in Sun Devil Stadium last week. That was a team record. The Cards host Atlanta at 1 p.m. this week and the record may fall again.

The new Houston Texans have heavy hitters pitching their ticket campaign. They're running print ads with George and Barbara Bush shown with shoe polish under their eyes with the caption, "The Bushes have theirs. Time to get yours."

Of the six teams to reach the Super Bowl the last three years, five of them had records of .500 or worse the previous season. . . . The Chiefs have lost their first two games at home for the first time since 1980, when Marv Levy was coach. . . . Rams overachiever Ricky Proehl made his 500th catch last week. . . . The Niners' Terrell Owens had four drops last week vs. the Rams. . . . The Jets and Giants wore the NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority police caps on the sidelines last week. The NFL gave them approval to wear them again this weekend.

Tampa's Keyshawn Johnson has a new silver Ferrari with a license plate that reads "7 Eleven." Asked to explain, Key said: "Always open 24 hours."

Quote from Warren Sapp: "We've been off long enough to build Rome. We should have a whole Vatican City around here we've been off so long. I can't wait for Sunday to come around."

The Raiders' home opener against Seattle today won't be on local television, even though the team won the AFC West title last year and is a top Super Bowl contender. About 12,000 tickets remained as of Tuesday. Not that it should matter. Oakland sold out just three times last year in the regular season.

Don't expect a speedy recovery from the Jaguars' Fred Taylor. He tore a tendon from the bone in his groin. He'll be out a long time.

Chargers rookie running back LaDainian Tomlinson lost two 1.64-carat diamond stud earrings he was wearing last weekend in Texas Stadium. Somehow they came off during the game. The earrings cost more than $10,000 each.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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