Bears head coach Lovie Smith should go into tomorrow’s game with a game plan that is designed to put pressure on Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, who is coming off of a six-turnover game in a blowout loss at home to the Panthers. The Bears are at a crucial point of their season, and as wild-card contenders start to emerge, this is an NFC game that Lovie’s club has to have.
The running attack of the Cardinals isn’t going to scare any defensive coordinator in the league right now, but in terms of setting up the proper game plan to stop Warner, Smith needs to go into tomorrow’s matchup with a call sheet littered with multiple pressure packages—both zone and man—because I don’t see the benefit of letting Warner sit in the pocket after the type of game he had last week. As we know, the Bears are a Tampa 2 football team, and that shouldn’t be an issue against Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, because the Bears can contain that rushing combo with a seven-man front. But, as a defense against Warner, rushing four and dropping seven always leaves you vulnerable—especially when Warner gets hot.
If I am Lovie Smith, I use my pressure packages as my lead call and only play Cover 2 in third-and-long situations—when the Bears can jam WR Larry Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage with a safety sitting over the top on the numbers. Try and force Warner to unload the ball quickly in the pocket on first and second down situations and only then play coverage when the Bears can force the check down and get off of the field.
Vince Young gets his second start of the season out in San Francisco tomorrow and we should get a better read on where he is as a quarterback against the Niners’ defense. Last week, V.Y. had the luxury of a Chris Johnson 200-yard day, but I don’t see the Niners playing undisciplined football on defense like the Titans saw from Jacksonville last week. Young will have to make some plays for this offense to move the ball. Look for Tennessee to get him moving on play action and in the boot game, but there will be times when he has to drop back, sit in the pocket and deliver the ball down the field if the Titans are going to pull the upset.
For the Eagles to continue their big-play offense in primetime against the Cowboys in a battle for first place in the NFC East, they will have to handle the Cowboys pressure, Shady McCoy will have to be near perfect in the Philly protection schemes and LT Jason Peters has to win his one-on-one matchups against DeMarcus Ware.
The key for Philly is giving McNabb time because his threats on the outside—DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin—have the ability to beat any defender down the field, especially when they convert their routes versus press-man coverage. I fully expect the ‘Boys to lead with pressure, but even then, they will still have to get home. It is one thing to send pressure, but leaving their corners exposed without help will lead to another night of big plays for Philly. Dallas must attack the protection schemes, try to cause pre-snap confusion and get to McNabb before Jackson and Maclin can separate down the field.
The Panthers will have to rely on QB Jake Delhomme at some point tomorrow down in the Superdome against the Saints, because I can’t see their game plan from last week producing enough pints to keep pace with Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense. Delhomme received a week off from media criticism last week thanks to the running attack of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but he will have to make some plays—most likely down field—against the Saints for Carolina to pull the upset. And, I don’t like that matchup with Darren Sharper and New Orleans’ play-making secondary. Could be another long afternoon for Delhomme—and the questions will start again.
I like the idea of Houston going into Indy and pulling off the upset because this is a much different team than we saw earlier in the season. Despite whomever runs the ball between Ryan Moats and Steve Slaton, the Texans are winning because they are keeping opposing defenses on the field by grinding the clock. That quick-score offense is still available if the Texans need to put points on the board in a hurry, but don’t let Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub fool you into thinking that Houston will always rely on the big play to win games. Remember, long drives tomorrow will not only keep the Colts’ banged-up defense on the field, but it will also force Peyton Manning to watch from the sidelines.
Colts safety Bob Sanders’ latest injury—a torn biceps tendon—will end his season again. Yes, I am biased towards Bob because he is an Iowa alum, but it is hard to watch when one of the league’s most dominant safeties just can’t stay on the field. And now, we should really start to wonder what his future consists of in Indy and in the NFL. Because once injuries start to happen to veterans, they seem to come in waves. Just another example of how violent this league really is on a week-to-week basis.
The Bolts head to the Meadowlands tomorrow, and for us to take them seriously, their front seven on defense—especially Shawne Merriman—has to show us that they can play with a physical team like the Giants. I don’t care how many yards Philip Rivers throws for, or how many times Antonio Gates gets open down the seam against an underachieving New York secondary, because if the Chargers defense can’t get off the field, none of that matters. If the Giants can establish a running game early, I don’t see any reason for them to get away from that game plan.
And, that is just the issue with San Diego right now. They have explosive weapons on offense, but their defense isn’t strong enough up front to play with a physical running team. And, until that changes, or until they show me that they can force the Giants to put the game plan in Eli Manning’s right arm, it is hard for me to buy them as a contender going forward.
Can the Ravens stick to their game plan for last Sunday’s victory—one that is very similar to the game plan that carried them to the AFC Championship last season? I understand that Joe Flacco has all of the tools necessary to go up and down the field in the passing game, but Ray Rice is a special back. And the more he sees the ball, the better Flacco will be when he does take those chances down the field. Rice carried the ball over 20 times in their victory over the previously unbeaten Broncos, and Flacco finished a cool 20-for-25 against one of the league’s best defenses. That is how this team will win, and that is how they will beat Cincy tomorrow on the road.
I expect Michael Turner to rack up carries tomorrow against the Redskins in Atlanta. Given the struggles of the Washington offense, expect Atlanta to win the time-of-possession battle and ride Turner in the second half. It doesn’t have to be pretty to beat the Redskins right now, and Atlanta just needs a win.
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