Baltimore @ Tennessee
We always talk about teams that run and stop the run and they will always be the favored teams in the playoffs and that's what these two teams are. You say what do they do and what do they do well? They run the ball with different styles and different reasons and then they defend the run well. They tackle well. They do the fundamental things well. They are well-coached teams and I think in this game those are things you are going to see.
If you break this Ravens defense down by down and distance, first and second down are where if you are going to be successful either running or throwing you bettter do it then because when you get their exotic defenses, and Rex Ryan is the master of the exotic defense, it's going to be on third and long. They don't care because they know you are not going to run or can't run so they'll do things that aren't sound. In other words, if it is not a possible running down you really don't have to be balanced on defense and you don't have to be strong against the run so they give up the balance. They give up the strength against the run, overload a side and come after you like crazy. I think Kerry Collins can do well if he does it on first down, I think their running game can be okay if they do it on second down and have manageable third downs. Third and long will kill Tennessee, and the Ravens will kill them.
I think Joe Flacco is a big plus, I really like him. He is so cool. I have met him, watched him practice, I watched him on film and I've never seen anything where he looks like a rookie. I think one of the biggest differences on this Ravens' team this year is Joe Flacco, a rookie quarterback, who the defense likes. The Ravens have always been one of those teams that's kind of been offense versus defense and defense really didn't like or respect the offense in some years and now with Flacco and what Cam Cameron is doing as the offensive coordinator, believe it or not, the defense really likes the offense and I think that is big.
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Arizona @ Carolina
The big question for the Cardinals is do they have enough defense to stop the run. Carolina, if they are not the best running team in the league, they are second or third and they have a very good offensive line and sometimes that's lost in there. We talk about the quarterback, we talk about the running backs and we talk about Steve Smith and all that and we forget about the offensive line and the Carolina Panthers have great running backs. DeAngelo Williams is as fun to watch and as good a running back as there is in the league but that offensive line is pretty good too. I think that is where the Arizona Cardinals are going to have a problem is the Panthers offensive line against the Cardinals defensive line.
It is going to be tough for Edgerrin James because they are going to get ready for him and they are stepping up in competition. Carolina has had a couple of weeks and they know Edgerrin James is there and they know that's one of the things that they have to stop and they will put a target on that. So I think it's going to be tougher for Edgerrin James to have success this week than it was a week ago.
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Philadelphia @ N.Y. Giants
In this matchup you probably have to start with the running backs. It is easy to go to the quarterbacks and know the passing game is going to give you big chunks of yardage, but it is tough to get big chunks of yardage in the passing game if you don't have the running game. To me when Brandon Jacobs plays that changes the personality of the entire team. As an old offensive lineman and line coach I know offensive lineman just love to run the ball and they love to run it straight at you and run it with a dominant force behind them and you can just see the difference in the Giants offensive line when they have Brandon Jacobs. On the Eagles side, who is their big play guy? Obviously Donovan McNabb has to make the plays, but the answer is Brian Westbrook. If you are a defensive guy and you have to stop someone it is Westbrook and it's not only when he is in the backfield and as a runner but it is when he is in the backfield as a pass receiver like last week or they'll spread him out as a wide receiver and he is better than any of their wide receivers. Both of their dominant forces are dominant in different ways.
Both of these defenses are going to look the same. Steve Spagnuolo is a protégé of Jim Johnson and really when he came to the Giants two years ago he brought the Philadelphia defense with him. Both teams are going to pressure and that's why the running game is so important. That is where you go back to Brian Westbrook and the screen game. If you want to bring the heat then they will pop a screen against you, or with the Giants they'll pop Brandon Jacobs on you and he will run to the safety. A lot of times we think of the heat and in balanced down and distance it is hard to bring heat. Now when you get the long yardage, that third and long, every offense wants to stay out of it and every defense wants to get you into that. That is when both these guys bring their exotic blitzes and that's going to be the tough thing. Both defenses can overload and get you in a situation when to be honest you can't block them all and the quarterback has to take one and you don't want many of those situations.
If you ask about Donovan McNabb, I think he will play well this weekend. Every time there is a big game somewhere he will get in a rhythm and when he gets in that rhythm. I'm talking about him going 8-for-8 or 10-for-10; they have to get points out of it. The other thing I know about Donovan McNabb is in big games is that he will run and he will run on a third down and get a first down and if he does that two or three times in the game that is big for the Eagles.
The Giants defense has talked about having 22 eyes on Brian Westbrook, but 22 eyes doesn't mean a dog gone thing. You better have 11 bodies and sometimes it does happen where a player will say, "Yeah coach I saw him, he just ran right by me". That is not what we are talking about. I think knowing Westbrook is someone that you have to try and control or contain is one thing but doing it is another because you have to be an excellent tackling team. The Giants are pretty good tacklers and there will be times where everyone is blocking and there will be a free guy and Westbrook will beat that guy and I think there are some good matchups up front and I think he is going to make his plays and McNabb will make his plays. And McNabb will make plays to other guys other than Westbrook and then someone like DeSean Jackson will make a play.
Sunday, 4:45 p.m. ET
San Diego @ Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a concussion and that's going to be a touchy thing for him and they are going to need pretty good pass protection, and again I go back to getting that and it probably starts with a good running game. Ben does tend to hold the ball and he does tend to keep every play alive so it's not always about pass protection. Sometimes he invites some of those hits that he gets, but that's also how they get the big plays.
I will say this about the San Diego Chargers, everyone says they were 4-8 at one time and 8-8 and didn't belong in the playoffs. That team got better every time I saw them and when I would see them I would not only see them on film but in practice too. They were better a month ago when they played Indianapolis and you could see it and then they were better two weeks ago when they played the Denver Broncos and then I came back the next week and they were better.
If anyone believes that this is the same team that they saw struggle against Kansas City, this is not. This is a different team and it starts with the aggressive defense and those linebackers up in there and blitzing those linebackers more and blitzing the strong safety. On nickle leaving Jamal Williams in there. They are doing so many things that are different than they were doing before that it really makes them a different team. Is L.T. going to play or not I don't think makes any difference because if he has a pulled groin, torn groin, any kind of groin he is not going to be effective anyway and like I said last week it's not if you are ready to suit up, if you're ready to start but can you play and be effective and the most important part when you get to the playoffs is can you finish. I don't think L.T. can do any of those things.
In talking to Norv Turner last week he could see this coming. That L.T. wasn't going to be effective and he says Darren Sproles can carry the ball 25 times in a game for one game. Now he had that one game, now I don't know if he thinks he can do it again but we are talking about playoff football here. We are talking about win go on, lose go home and he is going to have to. They have Michael Bennett and they'll spell with him and they can put Jacob Hester in there for a few plays, but when the Chargers run it is going to have to be about Darren Sproles.
When you look at Philip Rivers against the Steelers defense I think he can win that match although it is tough. I have as much respect for that Steelers defense as I do any defense in the NFL and you are not going to do it every play. He is going to take his sacks and one negative thing about Rivers is he does tend to fumble. You know those strip sack fumbles and they worry about that and he worries about it and Norv Turner worries about it and the Steelers get someone like James Harrison coming from that backside and that is a possibility and that can change a lot of things. I mean you can complete a lot of passes and have one of those and that erases a lot of things.
I think Philip Rivers is playing with more confidence now than he has ever played with. He has wide receivers now that can catch the ball and do something with it so it's not all about L.T. and Gates or Sproles and Gates. He does have other receivers and if they are going to be effective offensively they are going to have to be used more than they were last week against the Colts.