I’m anxious to watch Champ Bailey this weekend when the Broncos host the Patriots, because I believe that this game is going to come down to players—and not the defensive or offensive schemes. A lot has been said about the Bill Belichick-Josh McDaniels coaching matchup because it makes for great Sunday theater, but I don’t see it that way because of the familiarity of these two coaching schemes.
Not unlike a divisional matchup where film study will remind you what you already know about your opponent—minus a few new personnel packages installed during the week—players, and how coaches match up those players, is key. How does Champ fit into this discussion? From my perspective, Mike Nolan needs to use Bailey—who is healthy and playing at a high level—in a way that allows the Broncos to pressure. Match Bailey up against Moss, and allow the Broncos to run combo coverages on the inside to take away the intermediate passing game between Tom Brady and Wes Welker.
By doing this, Denver matches up their best against the best of New England, and if Bailey can force the ball to go somewhere else—especially on third downs—the Broncos can bring pressure and use safety help to take away any inside breaking routes by Welker when he is aligned inside the numbers. These teams know each other’s game plans too well to pin their hopes on out-coaching one another. It should come down to the players—and Bailey taking Moss out of the game.
Is there trouble in Green Bay as the Packers head into their much needed bye week? Sources close to the Packers told the National Football Post that there are some questions—after Brett Favre tore up the Packer secondary—as to why safety Anthony Smith was let go in the final roster cutdowns in early September. Too often on Monday night, the Green Bay corners were caught looking for safety help, and it was nowhere to be found. Would Smith have made the difference? That is a question no one can answer at this point, but it is interesting that after a game in which the secondary struggled, Smith was the first name mentioned by sources close to the organization.
The Bengals will have to generate points against Baltimore tomorrow, because this isn’t the old Ravens—where 10 points could get you out of the stadium with a win. Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense is averaging over 31 points a game on offense. But, how does Cincinnati do that? RB Cedric Benson is averaging 4.4 yards a carry, and to take the pressure off of QB Carson Palmer and put the Bengals in manageable third-down situations, Benson will have to contribute with positive gains on first and second downs. The last thing Cincy wants is to put Palmer in situations where he will face pressure from Baltimore and their multiple blitz packages. Baltimore has given up some points this season as a defense, but they are still No.1 in the NFL against the run—giving up just over 59 yards a game on the ground.
What is going on in Washington this week? Normally after a win, an NFL facility is a great place to be, but after the ‘Skins’ win over the Bucs last Sunday at Fed Ex Field, it just seems to be getting worse. Sherm Lewis was brought in by owner Daniel Snyder as an offensive consultant to head coach Jim Zorn, and now there are reports that RB Clinton Portis and his lead blocker, FB Mike Sellers, got into it over Portis’ demand to have Sellers benched during the Bucs game. I played with both of these guys, and I can say this about Sellers—there isn’t a more complete fullback in the league. The guy can play special teams, he can tackle, he can block and he can catch out of the backfield. Basically, he is a football player. But, he—just like every other player in this league—can make mistakes, and for Portis to throw him under the bus like that tells me that this Redskins team is in trouble—and sinking fast. A loss to 0-3 Carolina tomorrow will open the floodgates in that locker room.
The Niners host Atlanta tomorrow out west, and I like San Fran at home if they stick to their game plan and limit Atlanta RB Michael Turner. The Niners win by playing defense, running the football and using TE Vernon Davis in the middle of the field to pick up chunks of yardage in the passing game. But, in saying that, look for QB Shaun Hill to try and test the Falcons secondary outside the numbers with Isaac Bruce—to get that eighth defender out of the box. This isn’t a team that is built to come from behind, so controlling the clock is key. But they still will need two or three big plays on offense to open up the running game.
JaMarcus Russell is still the starting quarterback in Oakland, but if he struggles against the Giants tomorrow in New York, does he stay in the No.1 role? I understand that there are other issues surrounding Russell that have contributed to his poor play, but pro quarterbacks shouldn’t stay on the field because of that. It is too important of a position, and Russell’s performances over the past couple of weeks don’t tell me that he is getting better.
Arizona returns to action tomorrow at home against the Texans after a bye week, and it will be interesting to see if the Cards come out with a game plan designed to run the football. Too often this club becomes pass heavy, and when that happens, teams can bring pressure against QB Kurt Warner and force the issue against this offense. The Texans are still a defense that struggles in the run game—despite their performance against Oakland last week—and without a balanced attack on offense, Arizona will once again get in a shootout. Not the best idea against the Houston offense. Run the ball, control the clock and force Houston to tackle in the run game. It isn’t sexy, but the Cards need a win to keep pace with San Fran.
Donovan McNabb will start tomorrow for the Eagles, and it is a quiet return for the franchise quarterback. Philly has a matchup they should win with Tampa coming to The Linc, but look for Andy Reid to use the wildcat and the short-to-intermediate passing game to take some of the pressure off of McNabb. He hasn’t played since Week 2, and the Eagles have enough weapons to spread the ball around and allow McNabb to work his way back into the flow of the game.
It doesn’t get any easier for Tennessee tomorrow night with Indy coming to Nashville, and the way their secondary has played this season, is there any reason for us to doubt that Peyton Manning won’t have his fifth straight 300-yard passing game? At 0-4, there is plenty of talk about inserting QB Vince Young back into the lineup over Kerry Collins, but until this defense starts to play up to its ’08 form, the QB won’t matter.
Join me on Monday morning here at the NFP when I will run down all of the Sunday action.
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