Wild Card weekend: five things to watch

Let’s focus in on Wild Card weekend in the NFL. Here are five things to watch as we finally settle in for some playoff football—and get ready to see which clubs move on to the divisional round.

1. Vick vs. pressure: I expect the Packers to send pressure on Sunday in Philly. Force the ball to come out and allow your defensive backs to read through the 3-step drop and break on the ball. The risk? Vick breaking contain—because when you play blitz-man coverage the secondary is down the field with their backs to the QB. Green Bay has to rush with contain principles, stay disciplined in their blitz gaps and force Vick to step up into A and B gap pressure. Bottom line: go after the QB and let your secondary play aggressive football—but don’t let Vick escape and pick up explosive gains with his feet.

Reggie BushICONThe Saints' Reggie Bush is going to see an increased work load in Seattle.

2. Reggie Bush’s production: Time for the former first round pick to carry an extensive load in the Saints’ game plan. We will still see Bush used in the screen and draw packages, plus align removed from the formation as a WR in their empty sets. But, the key for New Orleans with both Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas on the IR list is to get more from Bush. That means their standard 2-back runs in their pro personnel and expected production in the red zone. A great opportunity—on a playoff stage—for Bush to play like a No.1 feature back.

3. Reggie Wayne: Here are the routes you are gong to see from the Colts’ WR: the 9 (fade), skinny post, dig, 7 (flag), slant and the standard 5-yard smash route (short square in). The test for the Jets is to limit the amount of touches he sees on Saturday night. If I am Rex Ryan, I put CB Darrelle Revis on Wayne; show both press and off-man coverage and try to take him out of the game plan. Peyton Manning is going to make plays in the passing game, but don’t let him get into a rhythm with Wayne. Instead, make him go elsewhere with the ball and take your chances with the rest of the Indy WRs.

4. Containing Jamaal Charles: I like the Ravens in this matchup at Kansas City on Sunday—but they can’t give up big plays to the Chiefs’ running back. Baltimore’s front seven can win up front vs. the Kansas City offensive line, but we are talking about the screen game, edge runs and cutback lanes that Charles will use to exploit any defense. The Ravens have to tackle well, play disciplined football on the backside and don’t over pursue to the football. Give Charles an open lane and he will get up the field. K.C. needs big plays to beat Baltimore and move on in the playoffs.

5. Adjusting to playoff speed: Something to watch early in these four matchups over the weekend. We talk about the speed of the game increasing from the preseason to the regular season and that takes another jump in the post season. From my own experiences in the playoffs, I can tell you that there will be more hitting and a very physical brand of football this weekend. Everything happens at a faster pace when a championship and playoff checks are at stake. The teams that adjust to that speed will move on to the divisional round, and the teams that don’t will be watching at home with us next weekend.

Check back to the NFP following each Wild Card game over the weekend for my quick game notes: analysis, X’s and O’s, etc.

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