NFL Sunday: five things to watch

Let’s talk Week 14 action in the NFL. Five things to watch for on Sunday...

1. The Patriots vs. the Bears’ Cover 2: Even with the expected weather issues tomorrow in Chicago (snow, wind gusts up to 50 mph coming off of the lake), the key matchups to watch is Tom Brady vs. Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme. One player that I would keep an eye on is Wes Welker. Aligned as an inside receiver, Welker can work the middle of the field and sit down in the vacated throwing lanes of the zone coverage. Because of that, the Bears must play aggressive and be willing to jump some routes from the backside of the coverage. The underneath droppers (Lance Briggs and nickel back D.J. Moore) have to play with discipline and react downhill with speed to take away the underneath crossers of the Patriots. Tough to do vs. Brady—because he is excellent at moving defenders with his eyes.

Sam BradfordICONBradford will face some solid pressure from the Saints' defense.

2. Bradford vs. the Saints’ pressure defense: New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to game plan rookie quarterbacks. But, Bradford has been playing like a veteran because he manages the game plan, protects the ball and is patient in the pocket. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a couple of new looks from the Saints this week and for Williams to use some combination man coverages (think three on two) to bait Bradford into making some high risk throws. And, expect some complex pressure schemes from the Saints. This is the time of year when defenses are all about forcing turnovers—and Williams does that by getting after the quarterback. Good test for Bradford down in the Superdome.

3. Raiders-Jags: Very similar offenses when we talk schemes and how they approach Sundays. The Jags’ Maurice Jones-Drew can carry the entire game plan and the Raiders play their best football when they run the offense through Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Physical football, but I still want to focus on the quarterbacks: Jason Campbell and David Garrard. I want to see who can make the plays on third down, in the red zone and in the two-minute situation. This is why you have to love the NFL in December. Let’s see which QB can run the game plan and make that key throw when the offense needs points. Big game for both clubs down in Jacksonville.

4. The Eagles’ secondary: This unit gave up some plays against the Texans without Asante Samuel, and the starting CB is once again going to be on the shelf when Philly travels to Dallas for the Sunday night game. Even without Dez Bryant in the Cowboys’ lineup, I would still expect Jason Garrett to target this secondary once he establishes the running game. Double-moves, the 3-step passing tree vs. pressure and even some eight-man protection (max pro) where Jon Kitna can work down the field to Roy Williams and Miles Austin. Anytime a secondary is without their No.1 CB you should test the top level of the defense.

5. Mark Sanchez: Here’s the issue I see with the Jets’ QB. When this club falls behind—like we saw in the Monday night loss at New England—he starts to press in the pocket and force throws. I like this New York offense when they can stick to their game plan and set up play action (and the vertical route schemes) using running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. It presents Sanchez with some eight-man fronts to work against and more single high safety looks that allow him to target WR Santonio Holmes on inside breaking routes. That sells in New York and takes some of the responsibility out of the hands of their young QB who is still developing. Let's see if the Jets can take control of the game early tomorrow vs. the Dolphins.

Check back to the NFP tomorrow for my quick post game notes following the early and late kickoffs.

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