NFL Sunday: Five things to watch

Let’s talk Sunday football in the NFL. Breakdowns, personnel, plus some Xs and Os from the top matchups on the Week 10 schedule. Here are five things I am looking for tomorrow…

Lovie SmithThe Bears could show more Cover 2 looks at Soldier Field tomorrow vs. Calvin Johnson and the Lions.

1. Bears’ defensive game plan: In the Monday night win over the Eagles, Lovie Smith used a good mix of Cover 1 (man-free), Cover 2 and zone pressure to limit Michael Vick and the Philly offense. Does that change tomorrow at Soldier Field vs. Calvin Johnson and the Lions? I would expect to see some more two-deep looks with CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings rolled up at the line of scrimmage to get a re-route on Johnson, but look for the zone pressure to continue. Rush five; drop six into coverage (think three-deep shell) and close off throwing lanes with underneath zone droppers. However, the key to any scheme the Bears run is the top of the defense. To beat the Lions, you must take away the vertical shots down the field.

2. Sanchez vs. the Patriots’ secondary: Target Plaxico Burress at the top of the route tree and work Santonio Holmes in the intermediate passing game. Look for the Jets to lead with Shonn Greene and the run game, control the clock and establish long, sustained drives to keep Tom Brady off the field. However, there will be opportunities for Sanchez to challenge this New England secondary, take shots in the high red zone (15 to 25 yard line) and throw the inside breaking routes of the Jets’ playbook. As I already mentioned, establishing the run game should be a top priority for New York. But vs. this Patriots’ secondary, you have to be aggressive in your play calling.

3. Dalton’s production: Solid test for the rookie QB vs. Dick LeBeau’s defense. What Dalton can expect to see tomorrow? Overload zone pressure, some 2-Man (two deep, man-under) and press-coverage outside of the numbers when Pittsburgh plays Cover 1 (man-free). The key for Dalton is to manage the Steelers pressure; work the hot reads in Jay Gruden’s offense and take his shots down the field to fellow rookie A.J. Green when he faces a single high safety look. The first-year QB has been impressive, but this matchup vs. Pittsburgh will challenge his ability to protect the ball and move the sticks.

4. Gregg Williams’ 3rd down game plan: Use multiple defensive fronts, limit Michael Turner and force QB Matt Ryan into third and long situations. The Saints’ defense shut down the Bucs on third downs (2 of 12) last Sunday and it has to continue tomorrow in Atlanta. Ideal situations where Williams can use a balance of coverage and pressure to put his secondary in a position to make plays on the ball. No question the Falcons have talent across the board at the offensive skill positions, but Williams is a different coach on third downs. That’s where his scheme, the combination coverages and the creative pressure packages come into play.

5. The 49ers’ run game: Why should anything change from a play calling perspective with Jim Harbaugh’s club vs. the Giants? Ride Frank Gore in the downhill power running game (Power O, Counter OF, Lead, etc.). That leads to opportunities in the middle of the field and manageable third down situations for QB Alex Smith. Plus, don’t forget about the play action game. Force the Giants’ LBs to attack the line of scrimmage and the entire route tree becomes an option. But it all starts with Gore. Harbaugh has one of the more physical clubs in the league and the matchup to watch won’t change: the Niners' O-Line vs. the Giants’ front seven.

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