September 09, 02012
Showers in Chicago Could Mean More Luck for the Colts
Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears is set to host this week’s opening matchup between the Colts and Bears. Led by rookie and overall number one draft pick Andrew Luck at quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts face-off against an experienced Chicago Bears defense backed by 61,500 roaring Bear fans. However, weather forecasts are calling for partly cloudy skies with possible rain showers.
Rain will cause both offenses to alter their game plans, which could be favorable for the Colts. Look for Indianapolis to start throwing short to running backs and tight ends to boost Andrew Luck’s confidence in his opening NFL game. Coby Fleener, could be a safe, early option for the rookie QB to throw.
The last time Andrew Luck played in cold rainy weather against a top ranked opponent was back in 2010 at Oregon in which he completed 29 of 46 for 341 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in a losing effort in Eugene. Thus, the rain may not have as much of an affect on the young quarterback’s performance as the fact that he is starting his NFL career against the legendary Bears defense on their field.
Soldier Field is typically known not to have the best field surface for players to make strong cuts. Given that Brian Urlacher (knee), Julius Peppers (foot) and other defensive players are coming off injuries, the Colts should try to expose these soft spots in the Bears defense. If Luck gets off to a good start, he could go down field to Reggie Wayne, one of the best route runners in the NFL. But if the weather clears-up, Chicago’s offense could easily take over the game.
Mike Tice likes to pound the football and has Matt Forte as well as a new weapon, Michael Bush. As both ball carriers will essentially still be competing for the starting job, they’ll cover the ball and crash straight into defenders. Weather allowing, it would not be surprising to also see an early reconnection between Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall to wake the crowd.
Showers are likely in Tampa where the Carolina Panthers will visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. NFLWeather.com forecasts scattered showers and thunderstorms with wind speed near 12 mph. Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium has one of the best natural grass surfaces in the league but is an open-air stadium. If Tampa does take a heavy rainfall, expect both offenses to stay on the ground.
At quarterback, Cam Newton had success last year rushing against Tampa’s defense for 20 carries, 119 yards and 4 touchdowns in two games. So, you know Newton is comfortablebootlegging against the Panthers. In addition to Cam Newton, Carolina’s running back duo D’Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could see a sizable workload behind Carolina’s has pro-bowl center Ryan Kalil.
For Tampa Bay, Quarterback Josh Freeman is less of a ball carrier than Cam Newton so look for rookie running back Doug Martin to get significant action while LeGarrette Blount recovers from a lingering hamstring injury. There is no faster way to reinjure a ham string than to miss a cut on a wet field.
Rain or shine, both teams should challenge each other early with the running game. Last year, both the Bucs and Panthers defenses were at the bottom of the barrel, ranking 30th and 32rd respectively against the run. With a heavy wet ball, expect this game to be a battle of the trenches, in which case, the advantage goes to Carolina.
In a potential NFC Championship preview, this week’s showcase game has to be the San Francisco 49ers kicking off their season at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers which pits the NFC’s top two defenses from last season against two formidable aerial attacks. The forecast has cleared so it should be a beautiful day in Green Bay, depending on the humidity.
Last year, the lone gap in the 49ers stout defense was the secondary. For all the additions that San Francisco brought in to bolster its squad this offseason, only cornerback Perrish Cox presents a noticeable improvement to their defensive backfield. Still, the 49ers defense went 14 games before allowing a 100-yard rusher last season. Of course, Cedric Benson has joined the Green Bay backfield but injuries plague Green Bay’s offensive line so the 49er’s streak may continue.
During the offseason, San Francisco added in a few new weapons to supplement an increasingly dynamic offense. A.J. Jenkins went to the Niners in the first round after the team had already signed receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to play alongside former first rounder Michael Crabtree, opening up the Packers soft under belly for tight end Vernon Davis. The Packers were last season’s worst defense against the pass and clear weather will help Alex Smith’s aerial assault. This game is one to watch.
Mile High Manning
Immediately following the 49ers and Packers NFC game, all eyes will be locked onto Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos debut Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This game is a bit of a rematch between of last season’s wild AFC Wildcard showdown when Tim Tebow stunned the Pittsburgh defense in the most unimaginable way, through the air. Last season, Pittsburgh had held its opposition to just over 170 passing yards per game making it the NFL’s top defensive unit. But this year, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning will face a Steelers’ defense without Pro Bowl safety Ryan Clark-less defense in what appears to be a clear evening.
As for Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, Mike Wallace is ended his hold-out this week while Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders are listed as probable for the game at Mile High. Antonio Brown look like he will be Big Ben’s top target in what may be yet another potential opening week playoff preview.
Chris Lovi & Will Strome