Thursday, January 6
Updated: January 8, 9:44 PM ET
Time changes everything!
By John Madden
New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
The Jets went into their Week 17 game with the mind set that they had to win to get into the playoffs. They were not able to get a win but with the Buffalo Bills losing they were assured a playoff spot. During that game they didn't look like a playoff team. Some of that is Chad Pennington has a bad shoulder. I remember talking to Tom Brady once and he said as a quarterback you can play with any injury except an injury to your arm. An injury to your arm is the only thing that will affect your confidence. Watching Pennington play it doesn't look like he has much confidence. Now having said that I don't think they have to lose this game. They still have their running game and Curtis Martin and Pennington has another week to get that arm feeling better and their defense is going to have to step up make some plays and create some turnovers.
The Jets running game and offensive line and the Chargers 3-4 defense will get this match up started and in particular Kevin Mawae, the Jets center, and Jamal Williams, the Chargers nose tackle. If you play against a 3-man line and you are going to run the ball, you have to get moving on that nose tackle. If you are going to run the ball successfully you have to get someone on that nose tackle. The question for the Jets offensive line is: Can Mawae block him one on one or will they have to double to give him help? If they have to double Williams then that frees up one of those inside linebackers to make plays. That is one of the matchups within the matchup. Another of the things we know will happen is Curtis Martin will get his 100 yards. The question is will the running game be meaningful, where the running game helps the Jets win the game they first have to win that battle up front.
I think if I were the Jets I would come out and throw a ball deep early. The Chargers are going to defend Pennington like he is not going to throw deep and not going to throw to the sidelines, that really shrinks the defense and area that has to be defended and the Jets can't let them get away with that. If they do let the Chargers do that then that is going to make for a long day and a lot of pressure on Pennington. If the Jets are able to run the ball, throw screens, and run play action passes off that run, that is going to help but to do that they have to threaten them deep.
For the Chargers offensively LaDainian Tomlinson could be the best running back in the NFL and it's all going to start there for them but they still have to make plays in the passing game which they do and do very well. I remember when the NFL put the emphasis on the illegal contact rule at the beginning of the season I said that was going to really help receivers in the slot and the tight ends more than those wide receivers on the outside, everyone assumed that the rule would benefit those receivers on the outside but if you can't touch a receiver in the slot or a tight end going over the middle after five yards that is a real benefit to them. That changes things because those linebackers used to maul those receivers and tight ends much further down the field than the five-yard rule. I guess what I am talking about here is Antonio Gates and the fact the middle of the field is now much more open. If a defense wants to use that cover 2 shell and get everyone going to the outside, boy, that middle is just there for the taking and a guy like Gates is just going to eat that up. If you are going to take a guy away to cover Gates then the outside becomes exposed. That has been the recipe for the Chargers all season long.
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
I will tell you one thing about Marc Bulger, he is a tough guy! He is playing with a bad shoulder the same as Chad Pennington and he gets the heck knocked out of him, gets right back and even if it was a late hit or something that he could complain about, he doesn't say a word he just gets up and runs the next play. I think the combination of not running the ball and not having a good offensive line your quarterback is going to take some big hits and he probably gets hit more and harder than any quarterback in the NFL.
Where the Rams have really had a problem is they haven't been able to stop the run especially that cut back run where you start one way and cut back against the grain and the other thing is they haven't created any turnovers. That goes so far in helping you win games! They can get up and play a good defensive game, their linebackers tackle pretty well but you can get to their secondary.
I have always felt the more times you play another team in a season the more conservative you get because you think of all the things you tried to do that didn't work so you throw that out of the game plan. I think the only reason that you say it gets more difficult to beat a team several times in a season is just the odds begin to lean the other way.
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
The Denver Broncos defensive line is not going to put up big sack numbers especially when they are going up against a quarterback like Manning. He reads defenses quickly and gets rid of the ball quickly and is very decisive. I think a lot of it is that you show him a lot of different defenses and coverages and just try to throw off his timing and rhythm. That has been everyone's plan against the Colts and no one has been able to do it. The other thing you have to contend with is if you take guys out and try nickle and dime packages then Manning will just run the ball against you with Edgerrin James and if you bring an extra man down into the box to play run defense then he has Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley on the outside and Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark going across the middle.
It is very important for the Broncos to get off to a good start and it's easy to say get out to a lead but that is what they need to do to allow Jake Plummer to play within himself. If they fall hehind and the pressure begins to fall on Plummer's shoulders that is when he tends to press and if he starts to press then he makes mistakes and turns the ball over. Balance is so important to them, being able to run the ball, play action pass and bootleg. That is what the Denver Broncos are all about.
You hear coaches say that keeping the Colts offense off the field is the teams best defense and that is a big part of it but scoring is also very important. If you keep their offense off the field and your offense isn't able to put up any points that isn't going to do it because their offense can hit a big play in a hurry and defeat anything you have accomplished and dig you a hole quickly. Like I have said before there are different definitions of what is good defense but if you play good defense against the Colts they will score 24 points. So you go in knowing your offense is going to have to score points.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
One of the concerns for the Vikings has to be that Randy Moss doesn't seem like himself. I think it is one of those things that with a hamstring you don't really know until you try to stretch it all the way. You know that you don't want to go all out so you leave a little there so you take it all the way to the point that it starts to hurt. Even with that he is still a threat but I don't think he is 100 percent.
Outside of Moss, the Vikings have a lot of weapons to expose the secondary of the Green Bay Packers. The other thing the Vikings will be able to do is run after the catch. This Packers defense is one of the worst tackling defenses in the NFL. Generally they are not playing very well but specifically if you catch the ball in the secondary of the Packers you have a real chance to score with it because they take lousy angles and miss a lot of tackles.
I know that you expect me to say that the x-factor is Brett Favre and here it comes! He just knows how to play! He knows how to play in the playoffs, he knows how to play outdoors, and all of those things. You think he loves to play in those conditions, he doesn't love it he has just learned how to manage it. Whether it's weather, a defense, whatever it is he just seems to handle it, nothing seems to bother him.
I think it all starts with the running game for the Packers and Ahman Green. At one time not too long ago this team was a pass first team and they were all about Brett Favre throwing the ball. The last couple of years they have become a running offense and that is the first thing you have to do as a defense is stop the run. Then when the defense tightens up to defend against the run then it opens things up for Favre and his passing attack.
I remember just a couple of years ago we had this same type of game with Green Bay playing host to the Atlanta Falcons and nobody gave the Falcons a chance and they handed the Packers their first home playoff loss in Lambeau Field history! I think maybe the mystic was once there and there is still a little of it but it's not what it used to be.