Week 12 Sunday Lookout

AFC

Titans @ Jaguars

When the Titans travel to Florida this weekend they should be packing their ascending rushing offense as a main priority.

Jacksonville is 0-2 when giving up 100 yards to a rusher. On the contrary, Chris Johnson has averaged 130 yards per game in his last five outings.

Tennessee should be able to control the clock against the NFL’s 29th-ranked run defense (138.6/gm), which will aid quarterback Jake Locker and possibly limit the amount of drives Jaguar quarterback Chad Henne will have to operate.

Winner: Tennessee

Bills @ Colts

The Bills average 140 rushing yards a game and have an NFL best second-down rushing average of over six yards per attempt. Buffalo has a lot of speed in its backfield and uses its spread packages to remove bodies out of the interior, which exemplifies them being tied for third with 11 rushes over 20 yards this season.

Andrew Luck has been as advertised and is showing why he was selected as the No. 1 draft pick.  There is no situation too great for him, this offense is fourth in the league in third-down conversion (45%) and the is the NFL’s best in third-and-long situations at 41.2 percent.

This game will score a lot of points because both defenses have deficiencies when facing the run and pass. Luck’s show of poise at such a young age forces us to believe that Indy will prevail.

Winner: Indianapolis

Steelers @ Browns

This season Pittsburgh has not allowed a 300 yard passer and are No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense and third-down defense. In these same categories the Browns rank 20th in passing offense and 12th on third down.

Even though Charlie Batch will start against a much improved Browns front four, he still is well vested in the Pittsburgh system and just needs to protect the ball. This game will probably close if Cleveland continues to find ways to get the ball to rookie running back Trent Richardson in open space forcing one-on-one tackling. When watching film, defenders simply do not want to tackle him alone.

Pittsburgh has the defense to force turnovers and even put points on the board when needed. Expect a tough game out of this storied rivalry, but the defense of the Steelers will have to find a way to lead their team.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Chargers @ Ravens

Charger quarterback Phillip Rivers  is 2nd in the NFL in interceptions this season with 14. This doesn’t bode well when visiting an opportunistic  Ravens defense that is the AFC’s second-leading pass intercepting defense (11).

Though the Charger defense issecond in the NFL against the run (87.9 yds/gm) and held running back Ray Rice to 57 rushing yards in 2011; their pass defense will be challenged. San Diego loves to play a simple three-deep coverage, which shall boost Baltimore’s pass offense – making it an uphill battle for the San Diego Chargers.

Winner: Baltimore

Raiders @ Bengals

Though the Oakland offensive line has struggled to get consistent push in the run game, Cincinnati has struggled against the run as well through undisciplined linebacker play. Expect versatile RB/FB Marcel Reese to challenge this defense on the ground.

As we have watched film this season, one thing that has consistently shown up while watching the Raiders’ secondary has been busted coverages. Bengal quarterback Andy Dalton is going to test this group, and expect Cincinnati to find ways to get A.J. Green matched up on converted safety Michael Huff for big plays down the field.

Winner: Cincinnati

Broncos @ Chiefs

Believe it or not, Kansas City does not match up bad against Denver. They are sixth in pass defense yet 25th against the run. With the injury to Willis McGahee, this should play in the Chiefs’ favor right? Wrong. Peyton Manning is the tipping point; he is a master at the line of scrimmage and will play a numbers game with this Chiefs defense.

When the box is heavy with defenders, Manning will abandon the run and check to a pass play, and vice versa when the box is light. This will create mismatches and ultimately force mistakes and defensive breakdowns that Denver has capitalized on most of this season.

Still expect nothing less than a great game from Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who is having a lights-out season thus far.

Winner: Denver

Seahawks @ Dolphins

The Seahawks rank 32nd in passing offense (1748 yds, 175/gm) and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown every interception this season on the road. Though Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle run offense ranks in the top 5 of the NFL, they face a top 10 run defense led by interior terrors Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, a disciplined linebacking group and solid run supporting safeties.

On the other side, Seattle’s defense must leave a prominent stain in this game if they want to succeed. Their defensive front is built to stop Miami’s zone run scheme. The Dophins rank 24th in completion percentage and have the third-lowest passer rating in football (72.3), playing  into the Seahawks’ hands to stop their inconsistency away from home.

Winner: Seattle

Playbook: AFC Sunday Lookout

Tennessee Titans vs. Miami Dolphins

With the return of QB Jake Locker you have to wonder if this Tennessee Titan rushing offense will regress. NFL Network analyst LaDanian Tomlinson made a point a few weeks ago on First On the Field saying that Matt Hasselbeck puts Chris Johnson in better positions to succeed in the pre snap phase of the game.

In the last three games out of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WRs) the Titans have averaged 4.71 yards per carry and out of 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WRs) 9.93 yards per carry on 30 carries.

Facing the third best defense in the NFL, we feel that this Tennessee rushing surge goes away.

Pick: Miami

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots

With the huge offseason transaction for the Buffalo defense they have not lived up to expectations. In the week 4 matchup Tom Brady threw for 340 yards.  41% of those yards (141) came out of an empty set.

Expect the Patriots to add some kind of wrinkle to their approach still attacking the Bills with a spread mentality on the ground and through the air. May we also add that Buffalo gave up 104 of 247 total yards on the ground against 3×1 sets – a formation that spreads the defense.

Pick: New England

Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Ravens

With key injuries of late in Raider nation, an opportunity to steal a game from a wounded Ravens team looks grim. But with the high production of Carson Palmer of late, you never know how the ball may bounce.

Too bad Carson doesn’t play defense, Baltimore has spread out more than in recent years and will attack the Oakland defense with 3×1 sets. In the last three games, the Raiders have given up a 55% completion percentage while Joe Flacco has thrown 10% higher against the last three opponents he’s faced.

Add the threat of Ray Rice into the mix and the Ravens gain the advantage in this matchup.

Pick: Baltimore

New York Giants vs. Cincinnati Bengals

They key for success in this matchup is first down efficiency – that is when a team gains for or more yards on 1st & 10.

Andy Dalton cannot be put in second and long situations against a veteran defense like the Giants possess. If the Bengals do not rush well on first down they could potentially put themselves in a deep hole on second and third downs.

A situation that fans would trust Eli Manning a bit more than sophomore QB Andy Dalton.

Pick: New York

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Kansas City Chiefs have to become more consistent when it comes to getting the ball to #25, Jamaal Charles. They possess one of the NFL’s greatest talents and he is the key to any success they can have.

The chiefs have also struggled at the quarterback position this season, and that will probably continue as Dick Lebeau’s defense continues to find new ways to disguise pressure packages and coverage.

Expect former Chiefs head coach and current Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley to spare no expense on Kansas City’s pedestrian defense (17th in NFL total defense).

Pick: Pittsburgh

Playbook: NFC Sunday lookout

San Diego Chargers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In both teams’ last four games…

The Chargers defense has played a single high coverage 76% (104/170) of the opponents drop backs. They will also be forced to stack the box due to RB Doug Martin’s presence.
This tendency will present one on one opportunities on the outside for QB Josh Freeman who has been efficient against a single high safety (30/54, 551 yds, 2 TDs, INT) with a 55% completion percentage.

Pick: Tampa Bay

Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers

Peyton Manning faces the NFL’s 12th ranked weekend in the Carolina Panthers that has given up 21 pass plays of 20 or more yards.

This season, Manning has completed 37 passes of 20 or more yards. In the last three games the Denver passing offense has been 21-35, 473 yds, 60% comp %, 2 TDs, INT (158 yards/game) via play action pass. They have used play action to take downfield shots in all three games – expect nothing less this week.

Pick: Denver

Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings

In their week 4 meeting QB Christian Ponder was 1-11 passing on third down and barely threw for over 100 yards (111) in the game. The positive for Minnesota is that RB Adrian Peterson ran for over 100 yards (102) averaging 4.9 per carry. They had ground success with trap and draw plays. The Vikings’ offense did not record an offensive touchdown in this win.

In the first meeting Detroit was held to 55 yards rushing on 20 carries, forcing Matthew Stafford to sling it 51 times, for 319 yards and 0 interceptions. If they do not generate any rushing attack, the results could be the same. Ground movement is the key.

Pick:: Minnesota

Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

The Falcons defense has given up 45 pass plays of 15 or more yards while the Saints offense has thrown 60. Atlanta is a defense that likes to take chances in efforts to generate turnovers. Drew Brees is not the player to be undisciplined against.

Drew Brees has 8 TD passes of 20+ yards (2nd in NFL) and 34 completions of 20+ (3rd in NFL) but average the worst starting field position in the league (23.2).

While Atlanta’s high octane offense faces a porous New Orleans defense, throw records out of the window, these teams are very familiar with one another. Expect a high scoring game and the last offense to have the ball bring home the win.

Pick: New Orleans – upset alert!

New York Jets vs. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle is 4-0 at home this season hosting a struggling New York Jets squad that has not produced offensively at all, creating a trickle effect onto their defense.

Seattle is 7th in the NFL in rushing offense attempting 32 rushes per game averaging 4.9 yards per carry. New York’s 29th ranked run defense faces 32 rushes per game and allows 4.4 yards per carry.

Seattle can exploit this weakness and aid the continuation of Russell Wilson’s phenomenal home passing statistics (62 % completion %, 9 TD-0 INT, 120.2 passer rating).

Pick: Seattle

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Both teams offenses have not done well starting the game fast. The Eagles have scored only seven points in the first quarter (31st in NFL). Not a good recipe when facing the 5th ranked defense in the NFL.

Last week Michael Vick and the Philly offensive line struggled with adjusting their protection to various looks. One of the main conflicts came when facing mugging linebackers – that is when linebackers walk over each shoulder of the center. Something that any Ryan run defense has never been afraid to do.

Pick: Dallas

St. Louis Rams vs San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers are the best running football team in the game. To take that further, they are the league’s best at running on second down averaging 6.9 yards per carry.

The St. Louis Rams are a league worst defending the run on 2nd down (6.05 per carry).

Pick: San Francisco

Houston Texans vs. Chicago Bears

The key to this game for Chicago is to shut down Houston’s potent zone running scheme – bottom line. This season, The Texans have run most out of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WRs); they have rush 172 of their 280 total rushing attempts averaging 4.45 yards per carry in this personnel grouping.

The Bears have only given up 2.76 yards per carry against this personnel package (12) – yet only seeing 34 attempts.

In the last three games Chicago has not been good against play action passing. They have given up a quarterback rating of 105.2 averaging 11.4 yards per attempt; while Matt Schaub has been an efficient 12-16 (75%), 154 YARDS (9.63 YPA) and a 144.3 QB rating.

Pick: Houston

NFL fantasy football: Doug Martin’s fantastic fantasy day

Probably around the time Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was scampering for his third touchdown of the day — a 70-yard dash in Tampa Bay’s win over the Oakland Raiders — you were probably asking yourself where the Muscle Hamster’s day ranked historically. We might live in the now, but never let it be said we don’t believe in providing historical context. So here it is…the Top 5 all-time fantasy football performances.

1. Clinton Portis, RB, Denver Broncos — 55.40 fantasy points (2003)

Portis was a quality fantasy producer (and snappy dresser) for most of his career, but in Week 14, he took it to a new level. The man from “The U” rushed for 218 yards and five touchdowns — and added another 36 receiving yards for good measure — in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The following week, he ran for 139 yards and two more touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns. But after posting a 50-spot, those 26.5 points look like a pittance by comparison.

2. Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle Seahawks – 53.10 fantasy points (2002)

Alexander was the undisputed king of fantasy running backs in 2004 and 2005, but before he ascended to the throne, he put on a show in primetime. The only problem with this performance is determining what was more impressive: Alexander’s 139 rushing yards, his 92 receiving yards or his five total touchdowns (four rushing) … or that he scored all of those touchdowns in the first half! That game proved to be something of a jinx for Alexander as he was held below 100 yards rushing for six straight weeks following his explosion.

3. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 51.20 fantasy points (2012)

The list of superlatives for the rookie’s breakout performance is pretty long, including being the top rookie fantasy performance on record. Martin set a franchise record with 251 rushing yards and became the first player since 1940 with three touchdown runs of 45 yards or more in the same game. His numbers would have looked even better except Martin lost 14 yards on his final three carries — otherwise, he would have had 52.60 points. I guess we can let him slide.

4. Mike Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos — 49.60 fantasy points (2000)

It’s somewhat odd that two Denver Broncos made this list, but neither of them are named Terrell Davis. Anderson, the originator of the Mile High Salute, earned kudos from fantasy owners for running roughshod over the New Orleans Saints as a rookie. The former Utah Ute posted 251 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the victory. It was the highlight of a season that saw Anderson surpass 100 rushing yards six times — including games with 195 and 187 yards.

5. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles — 49.32 fantasy points (2010)

Magic can happen on Monday night, and in 2010 Vick pulled a rabbit out of his hat against the Washington Redskins. It began with an 88-yard touchdown strike to DeSean Jackson and ended with a 3-yard TD pass to Jason Avant. In between, the Eagles quarterback threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns while running for 80 yards and two more scores. It was part of a phenomenal fantasy season that Vick has been trying to duplicate ever since.

– Marcas Grant
Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG

NFL fans show their team pride on Halloween

Fans went out on Halloween showing off their best impressions of NFL players. Who was the most convincing?

(@CheesyFireman/Twitter)

(@ckloop/Twitter)

(davidely/Instagram)

(@blondebombshel3/Twitter)

(@tallgirl1989/Twitter)

(@auntkimmy1818/Twitter)

(@ricardo_rose/Twitter)

NFL players celebrate Halloween

NFL players got into the Halloween spirit last night and stepped out in full costume. Here are a few of our favorites:

Iron Man and Cinderella, better known as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife Brittany, pose with their son Baylen. (@drewbrees/Twitter)

Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee poses in his Bane costume. (@JoshScobee10/Twitter)

Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jake Long made a heroic team as Batman and Superman. (@68INCOGNITO/Twitter)

NFL Network’s Kurt Warner appears on air in disguise. (National Football League)

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson sticks with the familiar and goes as head coach Chan Gailey. (@StevieJohnson13/Twitter)

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hulks out. (@AdrianPeterson/Twitter)

Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud shows off his moves as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. (@tattedNspatted/Twitter)

 

‘Thursday Night Football': When force meets force

Following a painful 35-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Minnesota to take on a red-hot 5-2 Vikings team. After being shredded for 377 yards and four touchdowns through the air, the Buccaneers defense is eager to rebound against Adrian Peterson and a run-heavy Vikings offense.

While Tampa’s secondary struggles have been well documented, their run defense has excelled this year. The Bucs currently rank third in the NFL, allowing just 76 rushing yards per game. They will have a tall order tonight, facing the league’s seventh-ranked rushing offense in Minnesota, which averages 132 yards per game and boasts one of the league’s premier running backs in Peterson.

Tampa will need to bottle him up if they want to have a chance to pull off the upset, but the good news is that they have the tools to do so. They are arguably the best run blitzing team in football, with linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster having tremendous seasons, but it is safety Mark Barron’s ability to walk down into the box and be a true player against the run that gives them a unique weapon. The “Playbook” crew breaks it down.

Safety Mark Barron is walking down to the line of scrimmage. He will become the 8th man in the box against this run-heavy offensive set. Wide receiver Dexter McCluster has a close split, putting him in position to block the 1st force player (Barron).

As you see here, McCluster did not cut off the force player and Barron is unaccounted for by the offensive line. Barron is unblocked and inserts himself into the line of scrimmage as an unblocked player in the run game.

Unblocked and unaccounted for, Barron finishes a designed run blitz aggressively. He is an explosive and physical young player who does not back down from contact. Barron has been very efficient against the run as a box player this season.

For the Vikings to combat the Buccaneers’ frequent run-blitz scheme, they have to take advantage of playaction and the holes that will be available in the middle of the field. QB Christian Ponder is going to have to make quick decisions and hang in the pocket on his throws, because there will be openings. Luckily for Minnesota, they have one of the league’s most explosive receivers between the numbers in Percy Harvin. If they can get the ball in his hands in space, it is going to be another long day for the maligned Tampa secondary. This will also keep the Bucs honest and ideally open up a little more space for Peterson. And, as we’ve seen for years, it only takes a little bit of space for AP to abuse opposing defenses.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

Boley: Giants thinking ‘revenge’ in matchup with Cowboys

The New York Giants opened up the defense of their Super Bowl title with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Linebacker Michael Boley, who has three interceptions on the season, told “NFL AM” Wednesday that the Giants are keying on Sunday’s rematch.

“(Game 1) was a game we felt we should have won, hands down,” Boley said.  “(It was) a game that we came out and really didn’t play as well as we felt that we should have. This game is definitely a game we look to get some revenge on.”

New Orleans Saints use balanced approach in NFC South win

The New Orleans Saints finally broke out offensively in their 35-28 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Drew Brees exploded for 377 yards (313 in the first half) and four touchdowns to launch the Saints’ comeback, but what may be a surprise to many is that the ground game has been the impetus for New Orleans’ return to form. The “Playbook” crew breaks it down.

While the numbers aren’t very impressive, with 26 carries for just 81 yards, the Saints’ running game served a huge purpose on Sunday. New Orleans’ willingness to stick to the ground game, even when trailing 14-0 and 21-7, kept Tampa’s defense honest and opened up holes in the intermediate to deep passing game for Brees to exploit. This was the Saints’ most balanced game offensively by far in terms of play-calling. They had a ratio of 41 percent run and 59 percent pass, which marked a significant change in approach given that their average on the season coming into the game was 28 percent run and 72 percent pass.

Despite having marginal success with just 3.1 yards per carry, the steadfast commitment to the run opened things up for the Saints playaction passing game. Of Brees’ 37 pass attempts, 11 were playaction, accounting for 30 percent of their passing plays. Brees completed 10 of those 11 for 171 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs’ linebackers had to respect the run, and it opened up alleys behind them. If the Saints continue to stick to their run game when Joe Vitt returns as the interim head coach, there is no reason their offense can’t continue to roll.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

Can the Seahawks combat an angry 49er pass rush?

The San Francisco 49ers play host to the Seattle Seahawks on “Thursday Night Football” in a matchup that has huge implications for the NFC West picture. Coming off of an embarrassing 26-3 loss at home against the New York Giants, the 49ers defense is sure to come out aggressive against rookie standout QB Russell Wilson. In their four wins, the 49ers have had nine sacks. In their two losses, San Fran has failed to bring down the quarterback.

Wilson and the Seahawks offense has thrived on the ability to extend plays and get the ball down the field. Last week, Wilson had six completions of 20-plus yards. Of those six, two were for 50-plus yards and two were touchdowns. Wilson is particularly adept at getting outside the pocket to give himself more time and give his big receivers — Sidney Rice and Golden Tate — more time to get themselves open. Vic Fangio’s defense knows this and will likely bring pressure to combat Wilson’s strengths. The “Playbook” crew breaks down how the 49ers will attack the Seahawks’ offense.

This is what is called a T-E stunt. The defensive end loops inside and around the defensive tackle who is occupying (holding up) interior linemen to create a lane for the looping defensive end. In this case the offensive guard is being taken to create a lane for the looping defensive end.

The right side of the line slides away, the protection assumes that the guard and tackle should handle the 2 on 2. But here is a clear look at how free an inside looper can come, if the occupyer does his job.

Here is the same concept from last week’s loss, New York was ready for one of the 49ers’ most successful forms of pressure. They slid away from the two as Minnesota did, but they used their running back to pick up this stunt frequently.

While the Giants made a media fuss of Justin Smith holding on this concept, they had a battle plan for it, and it left the 49ers without a sack. Seattle must follow New York’s blueprint if it wants to stop San Francisco’s rush. In addition to using running backs to help stop the attack, the Giants also slid their center toward the twist to cut Aldon Smith off in the hole. If Seattle can do this and hold up on the back side, it will have a chance to keep San Francisco’s rush in check. The Seahawks will also need to move the pocket and roll Wilson out on occasion. This will change the angles the 49ers have to attack up front, make Wilson more of a threat as a runner, and give their less-than-speedy receiving corps time to separate from defenders. Seattle’s outstanding defense will keep it in this game regardless, but for the Seahawks to pull off the upset on the road, they will have to be able to protect their quarterback.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

Steelers will be ready for Titans’ two-deep shell

The Pittsburgh Steelers have revamped their passing attack this year courtesy of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley has installed unique route concepts and uses alignments and spacing to create holes in coverages. He makes it easy for Ben Roethlisberger to get the ball to his dynamic receivers in space. So far, the results have been impressive. Roethlisberger ranks third in the NFL with a passer rating of 102.9, while the Steelers as a whole rank 10th with 268.3 yards per game through the air. That puts Big Ben on pace to have his best season in terms of passing efficiency since 2007.

This spells bad news for a Tennessee Titans defense that ranks 25th in passing yards allowed per game and has opposing QBs lighting them up with a passer rating of 112.4. Tennessee also plays at lot of Cover 2, which Pittsburgh has been particularly adept at shredding this year. The “Playbook” crew breaks down how the Steelers will attack the Titans defense with their speed and plethora of talented playmakers.

The Steelers come out in a Split Gun formation and want to attack the middle of the field with a Post/Dig combination. Mike Wallace is the No. 2 WR of the two receiver side and has the Post route, while Antonio Brown (highlighted) has a Dig route underneath Wallace.

The goal of the Post/Dig combination is to take advantage of the middle of the field. Philadelphia is in a Tampa 2 coverage where the Mike linebacker has deep middle responsibility, while the deep safeties each have half field responsibility. This is the perfect coverage for this route combo to be effective.

In the middle of the field, The Mike linebacker carries Wallace on his Post route, his speed threatens the deep middle; vacating the intermediate area between the hashes. Antonio Brown trails underneath on his Dig route into the vacated area lifted by Wallace. Excellent play call and execution against a coverage that they will see this verses the Titans.

Tennessee’s defense will be at a disadvantage on “Thursday Night Football” against this Pittsburgh passing attack, but the Titans will have some opportunities to exploit the Steelers as well. The Titans will need to keep the Steelers’ struggling 26th-ranked running game from taking off with RB Rashard Mendenhall back in action. If they can keep him bottled up and keep the Steelers in third-and-long situations consistently, the Titans will give themselves better chances to attack the Steelers’ offensive line with pressure, disrupting their timing on five- and seven-step drops. Still, it will be a tall order for them to put up enough points against the Steelers defense in order to contend in this game.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

PLAYBOOK’S SUNDAY LOOKOUT

Miami Dolphins vs. Cincinnati Bengals
• MIAMI RUN DEFENSE
o 56.8 YARDS PER GAME ALLOWED – #1 IN NFL
• CIN. OFFENSE NOT DOMINATING ON GROUND
o CIN. EVOLVING TO BE ONE-DIMENSIONAL
o MIA. EXPECTING TO PLAY COVERAGE/ATTACK PASSER
• CIN. AJ GREEN v MIA. SEAN SMITH
o MIA. DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR KEVIN COYLE FORMER CINCY DEFENSIVE BACK COACH

Green Bay Packers vs. Indianapolis Colts
• GB HAS RARE ABILITY TO PRESSURE & COVER
• IND. ANDREW LUCK MUST HAVE TIME TO BE EFFECTIVE
o DECISIVE, POISED, MATURE BEYOND YEARS
o ONLY 5 SACKS GIVEN UP (3RD FEWEST IN LEAGUE)
• GB OFFENSIVE BALANCE IS KEY
o ABILITY TO SPREAD BALL v. ZONE BASED DEFENSE IS AN ADVANTAGE
• GB CEDRIC BENSON’S ABILITY WITH SPREAD PERSONNEL IN GAME
o RARE COMMODITY, PHYSICAL DOWNHILL RUNNING BACK IN A SPREAD SYSTEM
o PLAY NUMBERS GAME INSIDE THE BOX – INSIDE ZONE
• GB WILL HAVE TO HELP LEFT/RIGHT TACKLES
o TE’S, WING BACKS, PERSONNEL ADJUSTMENTS TO COMBAT EDGE PRESSURE
o DWIGHT FREENEY/ ROBERT MATHIS

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs
• KC WILL ATTACK BAL. RUN DEFENSE
o 4TH IN TOTAL OFFENSE. 1ST IN NFL IN RUSHING OFFENSE
• BAL. WILL ATTEMPT TO FORCE MATT CASSEL TO THROW TO SOMEONE OTHER THAN BOWE
o D. BOWE (#1 IN NFL IN TARGETS – 49) *THRU WEEK 4
o D. MCCLUSTER – 23 TARGETS, 15 CATCHES
o J. BALDWIN – 15 TARGETS, 10 CATCHES – AVERAGING 14.8 YARDS PER CATCH
• BAL. DEFENSE
o v. RUN – 3RD (YARDS PER CARRY)… 13TH (YARDS PER GAME)
o v. PASS – 10TH (PASSER RATING, COMPLETION PERCENTAGE)
• BAL. SPREAD KC OUT
o TORREY SMITH, ANQUAN BOLDIN, DENNIS PITTA, RAY RICE, JACOBY JONES
o REQUIRES DEFENSIVE DEPTH (NICKEL AND DIME DEFENSIVE BACKS)

Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants
• CLE OFFENSIVE LINE HAS STRUGGLED
o 9 SACKS ALLOWED
• NYG CONSISTENLY GENERATES PRESSURE WITH FRONT 4
o GIVES THEM THE LIBERTY TO DROP 7 IN COVERAGE
• CLE OFFENSE REVOLVING AROUND TRENT RICHARDSON
o INSIDE RUN HASN’T BEEN EFFECTIVE
o QUICK THROWS TO PERIMETER HAVE
» GET HIM THE BALL IN SPACE, FORCE ONE ON ONE TACKLING
• NYG OFFENSE BALANCED, EFFICIENT, AND POLISHED
• NYG OPTION OFFENSIVE PASS GAME WILL BE FACTOR
o CLE FORCED TO PLAY HEAVY ZONE WITH CB JOE HADEN SUSPENDED

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
• PIT. OFFENSE REINVENTED WITH NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD HALEY
o USES SPEED SPEED THROUGH RUBS AND ROUTE COMBOS
o ALLOWS ROUTES TO COME OPEN OFF OF EACH OTHER
MICHAEL VICK HAS STRUGGLED AS A STARTER v. PIT DEFENSE SCHEME
• ARI DEFENSE v. PHI – WEEK 3
o EXTENSION OF DICK LEBEAU’S SCHEME
o VICK SACKED 5 TIMES, 13 QUARTERBACK HITS
• PHI OFFENSIVE BALANCE
o LEAN ON RB LESEAN MCCOY
o PIT RUN DEFENSE – ALLOWING 101.0 YARDS PER GAME
» INJURIES
» YOUNG PLAYERS FORCED TO STEP UP

Atlanta Falcons/Washington Redskins
• WAS 2 UNIQUE RUSH ATTACKS
o COLLEGE STYLE – ZONE READ
o INSIDE/OUTSIDE ZONE
• ATL IS LIGHTER YET FASTER FRONT
o DOUBLE TEAMS AT POINT OF ATTACK CRUCIAL
• ATL WILL BE CHALLENGED BY MAN TO MAN COVERAGE
• WAS DC JIM HASLETT ONE OF THE BEST ON CAPITIALIZING ON DEFICIENCIES
• ATL OFFENSE LAST WEEK v. CAR
o 7 SACKS ALLOWED
o 12 QB HITS
• ATL WANTS TO PUSH BALL DOWNFIELD WITH SPEED

Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers
• CAR. STRUGGLING SECONDARY v. SEA. STRUGGLING PASS OFFENSE
o CAR D – ALLOWING 93.9 PASSER RATING (#21ST IN NFL)
o SEA O – 73.5 PASSER RATING (27TH IN NFL)
• CAR. RUN DEFENSE v. MARSHAWN LYNCH• SEA. RUN DEFENSE HAS BEEN DOMINANT (2ND IN NFL)
o BENSON (GB) – 45 YARDS
o JACKSON (STL) – 76 YARDS
o MURRAY (SEA) – 44 YARDS
• CAR. STEVE SMITH v. SEA PHYSICAL CORNERBACKS
o RICHARD SHERMAN
o BRANDON BROWNER
o SEA. TRUSTS SIZE/SPEED – EXPECT ONE ON ONE MATCHUPS

Chicago Bears vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
• JAX DEFENSE – HEAVY ZONE COVERAGE
o CULTER/MARSHALL SHOULD FIND HOLES
• CHI OFFENSIVE LINE v. JAX DEFENSIVE LINE
o JAX SACKS – (2) 32ND IN NFL
» DE ANDRE BRANCH / DE JEREMEY MINCEY
o CHI GIVEN UP – (13 SACKS) 4TH MOST IN NFL
MJD ONLY FORCE ON JAX OFFENSE
o CHI WILL BE AWARE OF HIM AT ALL TIMES AND ATTEMPT TO CONTAIN HIM
o CHI D-LINEMEN HENRY MELTON AND SHEA MCCLELLAN HAVE BEEN PLAYING VERY WELL

Tennessee Titans vs. Minnesota Vikings
• MIN ADRIAN PETERSON
o 79 ATTEMPTS, 332 YARDS, 2 TDS – 4.2 YARDS PER CARRY
o PLAY ACTION PASS GAME
• TEN. RUN DEFENSE
o 136.5 YARDS /GAME (27TH IN NFL)
• MIN CHRISTIAN PONDER PROTECTING THE BALL
o ZERO INTERCEPTIONS THIS YEAR FOR PONDER
o TEN. PASS DEFENSE
» 118.3 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (WORST IN NFL)
» 75.3 COMPLETION PERCENTAGE ALLOWED (WORST IN NFL)
MATT HASSELBACK STARTING COULD BOOST PASS GAME
o DECISIVE, SMART, GOOD DECISION MAKER
• NEW VARIATIONS TO MIN DEFENSE WILL CHALLENGE TEN. PASS OFFENSE
o MORE PRESSURE PACKAGES
o COVERAGE VARIATIONS HAVE BEEN HUGE FOR MIN DEFENSE THIS YEAR

Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
• DEN. PEYTON MANNING
o 10TH PASSER RATING
o 13TH COMPLETION PERCENTAGE
o 290.5 YARDS PER GAME
• NE TOM BRADY
o 6TH PASSER RATING
o 12TH COMPLETION PERCENTAGE
o 306.8 YARDS PER GAME
• DEN. DEFENSE
o 10 SACKS, 2 INTS
• NE DEFENSE
o 7 SACKS, 6 INTS
o 11 PLAYS OF 25+ GIVEN UP (28TH IN NFL)
• DEN. HAS ABILITY TO PLAY MAN COVERAGE AND PRESSURE (NE STRUGGLES)
VON MILLER/ ELVIS DUMERVIL v. SEBASTIAN VOLLMER/ NATE SOLDER
• WHO WILL MATCHUP v. ROB GRONKOWSKI (LISTED AS QUESTIONABLE)
• NE MUST BE ABLE TO GENERATE PRESSURE v. DENVER OFFENSIVE LINE
o PLAYING RESPONSIBLE ZONE COVERAGE BEHIND IT
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
o NE TOM BRADY NO HUDDLE OFFENSE
o DEN PEYTON MANNING LINE OF SCRIMMAGE PLAY CALLING

Buffalo Bills vs. San Francisco 49ers
• BUF SPREAD OFFENSE WILL GENERATE POINTS
o HOW MANY? HOW LONG?
o SF ONLY ALLOWED 4 PASS PLAYS OF 25 YARDS OR MORE
o BUF HAS 9 PLAYS OF 25 YARDS OR MORE
o RYAN FITZPATRICK – LEADS NFL WITH 12 TD PASSES
• SF TACKLING KEY – BEST AT ELIMINATING YARDS AFTER CATCH
• BUF RUN OFFENSE IS INCONSISTENT
o OFFENSIVE LINE INJURIES
o BUF CAN’T ENTIRELY ABANDON RUN AND ALLOW SF TO PIN EARS BACK
• BUF RUN D v. SF RUN OFFENSE
o BUF – 28TH IN RUSHING YARDS PER GAME ALLOWED
o SF – 3RD IN RUN OFFENSE
• SF ALEX SMITH EFFICIENT PASSER BEHIND POTENT RUN ATTACK
o #1 IN NFL IN FIRST DOWN EFFICIENCY (57.4% OF PLAYS 4+ YARDS)
o SF 43 OFFENSIVE DRIVES – 19 TD’s
» 3 & OUTS – 3 (#2 IN NFL)
» 10 PLAY DRIVES – 7 (13TH IN NFL)
» SCORING DRIVES AVERAGE 7 PLAYS A DRIVE, 51.6 YARDS
RELY HEAVILY ON SPECIAL TEAMS, TURNOVERS, WINNING BATTLE OF FIELD POSITION

San Diego Chargers vs. New Orleans Saints
• NOR. HAS ABILITY TO SUSTAIN DRIVES OFFENSIVELY – BUT HAVE NOT BEEN FINISHING
o 10+ PLAY DRIVES – #1 IN NFL
» BUT ONLY 5 TOUCHDOWNS ON THOSE DRIVES
• NOR. DREW BREES ON 3RD DOWN
o 51.1 COMPLETION
o 82.7 RATING
• SAINTS DEFENSE
o ONLY 6 SACKS THIS YEAR, 2 INTs
» MAN TO MAN COVERAGE NEEDS TO TIGHTEN UP
» PRESSURE NEEDS TO GET HOME FASTER TO HELP COVERAGE
o NOT GETTING OFF THE FIELD – ALLOWING LONG DRIVES BY OFFENSES
o 49 DEFENSIVE DRIVES – ONLY 7, 3 & OUTS
SPROLES/COLSTON/ GRAHAM ARE LIFE BLOOD OF OFFENSE
o MUST RECEIVE 85-90% OF TARGETS IN PASS GAME
• SD ROBERT MEACHUM FACES OLD TEAM
SD RED ZONE OFFENSE MUCH IMPROVED FROM YEARS PAST
o RIVERS – 108.8 RATING IN RED ZONE
o RIVERS – 6 TDS, 0 INTS, ONLY 1 SACK

Houston Texans vs. New York Jets
NYJ OFFENSIVE LINE – HAS STRUGGLED AGAINST ATHLETICISM
o MUST PROTECT SANCHEZ
o MUST BE ABLE TO GENERATE SOME KIND OF A RUNNING ATTACK
o BALANCE WILL SUBDUE PASS RUSH, ALLOW FOR PLAY ACTION
o HOU JJ WATT v. NYJ GUARDS SLAUSON, DUCASSE, MOORE
» MUST CONTAIN!!
• NYJ RECEIVERS WILL FACE VARIETY OF COVERAGES
o UNDERSTANDING MAN/ZONE KEYS
o COMMUNICATION WITH QUARTERBACK – UNDERSTANDING BLITZ THREATS
o MARK SANCHEZ48.09 RATING v. BLITZ (#31 IN NFL)
• HOU 49 OFFENSIVE DRIVES
o LEAD NFL WITH 9 DRIVES OF 5+ MINUTES
» FORCES JETS OFFENSE TO BE PERFECT ON LIMITED DRIVES
o CONTROLLING BALL AND TIME OF POSSESSION
• NYJ DEFENSE MUST STOP ZONE RUNNING GAME – INSIDE/OUT
o LIMITING PRODUCTION ON FIRST DOWN WILL ALLOW FOR PRESSURE PACKAGES

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

Rams could have opportunities against Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0 this season behind their high-pressure, man-coverage-heavy defense. They have had tremendous success with it, befuddling high-powered offenses in Philadelphia and New England, but struggled last week surrendering 431 yards to rookie Ryan Tannehill and Miami’s typically underwhelming passing attack. The Rams are coming off a big win over the Seahawks and are going to look to use Danny Amendola to exploit the weaknesses the Cardinals displayed in their pass defense. The “Playbook” crew breaks down Thursday night’s matchup.

Expect a heavy dose of pressure with press man behind it tonight once again from Arizona’s defense. The Cardinals’ corners typically press the outside receivers, while bringing pressure up the middle. This leaves them vulnerable in the intermediate middle of the field against slot receivers, where Miami’s Brian Hartline was able to shred them for 253 yards and a TD last week.

While the Rams’ outside receivers might have a tough time getting off the jams of William Gay and Patrick Peterson, they do have one of the league’s most potent slot receivers in Amendola who could exploit the hole in the middle of Arizona’s defense. Look for St. Louis to follow the blueprint the Dolphins set: keep extra men in protection, get the ball out of Sam Bradford’s hand quickly and get it to the middle of the field. The Rams’ ability to protect Bradford, and his ability to step up and take a hit will have a huge bearing on the game’s outcome -– he will be hit in this game.

This is one of the many interesting matchups to watch in this game and one the Rams must take advantage of if they want to knock the Cardinals from the ranks of the undefeated. One other matchup to look out for on the other side of the ball is Rams DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn against the Cardinals’ tackles, rookie Bobby Massie and D’Anthony Batiste. Massie and Batiste are both backups, filling in for the injured Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges. The talented Rams pass-rushing duo will have the means and opportunity to wreak havoc on Kevin Kolb, who was sacked eight times last week. St. Louis has the blueprint for success against Arizona. Now the Rams have to go out and execute it, which is easier said than done.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

“Playbook” Crew Highlights Key Plays from Thursday

During the Baltimore Ravens’  23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns on “Thursday Night Football,” several key moments of the game left a lasting impression on the “Playbook” team.

The first notable play was Torrey Smith’s 18-yard touchdown reception, which put Baltimore ahead 7-0 early in the second quarter.

After a huge 34-yard reception by Smith, the Ravens found themselves at the door step of the goal-line. But after a false start and first-down play resulting in a 4-yard loss — the Ravens faced a second-and-goal from the Browns’ 18-yard line.

The Ravens presented an interesting personnel grouping — one tight end, three wide receivers, and two quarterbacks! Joe Flacco was where we expect him — behind center — but backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor was split out wide at receiver.

The Browns played a Tampa 2 defense, which is a Cover 2 zone with the middle linebacker occupying the deep middle of the field. The design of the play here was to hit Smith down the middle of the field on a skinny post.

Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was forced to open up toward the three-receiver side and was also influenced by Flacco’s initial eye movement. Jackson’s commitment to the backside, along with the backside safety rolling over the top of the three-receiver side, leaves Smith with inside leverage against rookie safety Tashaun Gibson. Smith does a great job running at the safety, thus holding him in his place and disguising the direction of the route.

Gibson, who is a half-field player, must be able to close on the route down the seam of the defense. The spacing of the zone was compromised by the formation and Flacco’s manipulation.

The other key play of the game that turned the momentum was the Cary Williams interception returned for a touchdown in the second half – just when the Browns began to put together a drive and build some steam offensively.

Late in the third Quarter, the Browns were driving into Baltimore territory. Brandon Weeden faced a third-and-5 situation from the Ravens’ 43 yard line – with Baltimore leading the game 16-10.

Weeden was looking for rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin on a three-step drop speed out.

A three-step-drop passing attack is about timing. On this particular play, we took note of several inefficiencies.

Firstly, the X-motion to a speed cut directly at the first down marker is a predictable play call, and cornerback Cary Williams anticipated the route and broke the on the ball beautifully. However, Benjamin must make more of an attempt to break his route back downhill, eliminating any opportunity for the defensive back to undercut the pass pattern.

Lastly, Weeden’s mechanics and footwork were less than stellar. The three-step speed cut is a fundamental route; it’s practiced daily and should be a muscle-memory routine for any NFL quarterback. Weeden, like many college quarterbacks in this era, comes from a shotgun-spread attack system at Oklahoma State. The technique and fundamentals of playing under center are much different and takes time to develop.

As Weeden takes the snap, notice the first step in his drop from center is with his left foot; for any right hander, it should be his right foot. This is what we call a false step. While seemingly meaningless and petty, it throws off the timing of the play. Weeden takes almost four full drop steps and delivers an accurate throw. But because the timing and rhythm of the route are out of sync, the pass is late to the target. This false step can be compensated for with supreme ball velocity — but Weeden’s fall-away throwing motion did not allow the pass to come out with enough zip. Weeden’s head movement and eyes immediately snapped far left and he stared down his receiver, making for an easily anticipated throw by cornerback Williams and essentially a game-closing interception for a touchdown.

The details are what separate wins from losses, big plays from big blunders. The Cleveland Browns are a promising young football team, but must correct the fundamental errors in order to right the ship.

Injuries open door for Brown, Giants’ epic comeback

While the controversy surrounding Greg Schiano and Tom Coughlin stole the headlines in New York’s 41-34 win over Tampa Bay, it was a new approach from the Giants offense that sparked their epic comeback and enabled Eli Manning to throw for a career-high 510 yards.

Following Ahmad Bradshaw’s neck injury in the second quarter, the Giants turned to fourth-year journeyman running back Andre Brown and opened up their playbook to take advantage of his skills as a receiver. With receivers like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, you might be wondering what does a running back who had two catches for 19 yards have to do with New York’s success through the air? Let the “Playbook” crew show you.

In the shotgun, the Giants often gave Brown free releases out of the backfield, sending him to the flat or on angle routes. This is something they did not do with Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs last season, because they do not have the consistent catching or route-running ability to be threats in the passing game. As stated earlier, Brown did have two catches for 19 yards doing this, but it was his presence alone on those routes that influenced the Buccaneers defense. Thus making his free releases significant for this passing game.

In the third quarter, Brown caught the Bucs’ defense by surprise off his free release and gained 11 after coming out of the backfield totally uncovered. Later on that same drive, Brown free released once again. This time, Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David stepped out to the flat to carry him, which left Manning just enough of a window to hit Nicks on a slant route for a first down in the red zone.

As you can see, those few steps David took to honor Brown left Manning just enough space to fit the ball in front of him. That’s all an elite QB needs to make the defense pay.

In all, the Giants completed six passes either to Brown on free releases or to receivers playing off of this concept for 70 yards and picked up five first downs. A back that poses a threat as a receiver adds a potent element that this Manning-led passing attack has lacked. Even if Bradshaw returns healthy, look for Brown to remain a part of this Giants offense and continue to open up lanes for receivers in the intermediate passing game.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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