The Divisional Playoffs: sneak peek

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Now that we’ve moved past the shootout in Arizona, the Jets and Shonn Greene running over the Bengals, the Patriots’ demise and the Cowboys’ first playoff win in more than a decade, it’s time to focus on the NFL’s divisional playoff round.

Four games on the slate this weekend with the top seeds getting back on the field. Let’s examine the four matchups and start talking about what we need to watch.

Saturday’s games

Arizona at New Orleans

… What will New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams come up with this week to slow down Kurt Warner and the Cards’ offense? As we saw last week, ‘Zona used a variety of stack-and-bunch routes to confuse and run away from the leverage of the Packers’ man-to-man defenders. Williams will call his share of man coverages and man-pressures, and I will bet that the secondary is spending extra time in the meeting room. He will have to install a plan to cut off the underneath crossers of the Cards and provide help short and in the deep middle of the field.

… Even though we expect a lot of points to be put on the scoreboard, what about the running game? The Cardinals actually ran the ball 23 times against the Packers, and just like their Super Bowl run in ’08, they are much more dangerous as an offense when they have a balanced game plan. And the same can be said for New Orleans. The team that doesn’t abandon the running game will be able to control the clock and set up the vertical passing game. Big week for Beanie Wells in Arizona and Pierre Thomas/Mike Bell/Reggie Bush in New Orleans.

… Speaking of Bush, the Saints need to use him in a variety of ways to create mismathces on the field. Align him in the slot, use pre-snap movement and get the ball to him with open field to work with. Let’s call it like it is: Reggie Bush is an “X-factor” type of player. He isn’t going to run the ball downhill all game with production. The way head coach Sean Payton uses him this weekend outside the tackle box and on third downs will be key.

Baltimore at Indianapolis

… What we want to look for — during the first quarter — is the play of the Colts’ defensive line. Can they set their pads, do they come off the ball and can they shed blocks and make tackles? With the amount of time the key starters on Indy’s defense rested the past 2

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