The matchup in Pittsburgh that we all want to talk about seems to revolve around Brett Favre and the Steelers defense, but I think this game comes down to how the Vikings offense—outside of Favre—reacts to the different looks and the different pressure schemes that allow the Steelers to force turnovers.
Pittsburgh under Dick LeBeau is a defense that predicates itself on the zone blitz scheme, and whenever an offense faces a game plan like this, protection schemes become paramount. The Steelers will most likely disguise their pre-snap looks or show pressure to one side, and then roll into an overload blitz opposite their original look at the snap. The Vikings offensive line—and Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor—will have to be ready to adjust their count system in protection quickly and in the middle of the play to protect Favre. And, this extends to the receivers as well. On the back end of those zone blitzes in Pittsburgh are a number of zone droppers that show pressure and fall back into the passing lanes. Wide receivers will have to adjust their routes based off of the defenders’ drops and convert their routes to avoid interceptions.
The hope for Pittsburgh is to force the football to where they want it to go. Show a pre-snap look that tells a wide receiver that there is a place to sit down his route—baiting a throw and making a play. Right now, they are making those plays. In the last two weeks, this defensive unit has complied nine sacks and three picks. And, Troy Polamalu is back—the best safety in the league.
I like the Texans at home against the Niners because of their ability to stop the run—something that we usually don’t discuss when talking about Houston. But, over the last three weeks, the Texans have gone 2-1 and their front seven has decided to show up. In a win over Oakland, this defense allowed 45 yards rushing. In a 28-21 loss at Arizona, the Texans held the Cardinals to 44 yards rushing. And, last week in their upset win at Cincy, Houston stopped Cedric Benson and held the Bengals to just 46 yards on the ground. We all know that Houston has the weapons on offense to produce points, but to get past the Niners, this team will have to stop Frank Gore and the Niners and take them out of their ball-control style. I think they do it.
When the Saints travel to Miami tomorrow, something to keep an eye on is how MLB Jonathan Vilma plays against the Dolphins wildcat offense. What I have noticed in watching Miami this season is their ability to run the Power O power play out of the wildcat. The Power O is your basic off tackle running play in the NFL. The fullback kicks out and the weak side guard pulls around looking for the first opposite color jersey—which should be Vilma.
The Dolphins Ronnie Brown has been successful in this formation because he has the patience to let blocks develop and get to the second level of the defense when the hole opens up. But, for all of the star power on offense in New Orleans led by QB Drew Brees, we are talking about this team as a Super Bowl contender because of their defense under coordinator Gregg Williams—whose unit is ninth overall in total defense and fifth against the run (83.4 yards per game). This should be the biggest test of the season thus far for the Saints, and for this defense to continue to stay atop the rankings, Vilma has to play big.
I am anxious to watch Cowboys WR Miles Austin tomorrow in Dallas because I want to see if his last outing—when he went for 250 yards—was a product of playing against a poor secondary in Kansas City, or if he can continue to produce big plays against the Falcons. If Austin is really this big of a threat to score any time he sees the open field, then we have to re-evaluate this Cowboys offense—because Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton aren’t going to beat anyone deep. But, if Austin continues to produce, QB Tony Romo suddenly has that gamebreaker outside the numbers, and when RB Felix Jones returns to full health, this offense becomes a unit that causes matchup issues.
The Bills would be wise to get out of their Cover 2 looks as early as possible tomorrow in Carolina. The Buffalo defense gave up over 300 yards rushing to the Jets, and considering that the Panthers ran the ball 48 times in a win over Tampa, is there any reason for us to believe that this game plan is going to change? Buffalo needs to have an eighth defender in the box from the start of the game and take their chances against Jake Delhomme in the secondary by playing man coverage against Steve Smith with safety help in the middle of the field.
Anquan Boldin isn’t a sure thing to start Sunday night in the Meadowlands, and if he can’t go, the Cardinals have no choice but to get the running game going. As of now, Arizona is 31st in the league in rushing yards per game, averaging just over 57 yards on the ground, and I don’t like the idea of Kurt Warner dropping back to pass against the Giants front four without Boldin to use in the underneath passing game. The Cardinals must find a way to get Tim Hightower and rookie Beanie Wells involved in the game plan to upset the Giants in New York.
Does Jim Zorn now have a sense of job security after Dan Snyder’s right hand man, Vinny Cerrato, announced that Zorn would not be fired this season? I have been pretty vocal in my writing the past two weeks about one of my former teams and how the entire situation with Zorn has been handled, but I have to believe that this statement by Cerrato (if he stands behind it) does have to give some sense of structure to a locker room that has been turned upside down. At least the players can stop wondering how the interim coach is going to be for now and focus on the game plan against the Eagles.
Both Chicago and Cincinnati struggled to run the football in losses last Sunday, and although I think they both come out and try to establish the running game early in the first half, the second half should come down to the quarterbacks. Because of that, I have to side with Jay Cutler over Carson Palmer. I see Cutler taking more risks and producing bigger plays than Palmer tomorrow, and that should be the difference on the scoreboard.
Colts safety Bob Sanders is expected to return to the starting lineup for Indy tomorrow against the Rams, and if he can have an immediate impact, we have to start talking about the Colts as the favorite to win the AFC. He is that good when he is healthy for this defense.
Enjoy the games tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41