Friday, September 23
Patriots, Steelers game of the week
By John Madden
The Steelers are having success running the ball and running it often, almost three out of every four plays is a running play and Willie Parker looks like he is something special. If you are going to be a good running team like the Steelers have been through the years you have to have good defense and a good kicking game because you can't just run and run and run. The other thing that helps a running team is playing with a lead. If you look across the league after two weeks the leading rushers are playing for teams who had the lead throughout the games. The Steelers in particular have not gotten themselves in situations where they are behind and have long yardages. I know that the Patriots will try to get the Steelers into those type of situations where they have long yardages and of course playing from behind when they won't be able to run the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger has been a guy that has come through when it counts, although in the first two weeks of the season he has only attempted eight passes in the second half of two games. That is what I'm talking about, getting a lead and running the ball effectively and keeping the clock running. Getting back to Roethlisberger he is a guy that gets it done. Early on the talk about him was that he had a good team, a good running game, a good defense, and just managed the game, but he is more than that! I got to watch him on some game tapes toward the end of last year and I saw that he is a guy that doesn't just manage a game he goes out there and make plays.
On the offensive side of the ball for the Patriots they have to do the same thing, stay out of long yardage situations because they are playing against a stiff Dick LeBeau coached defense. He is the type of guy that will bring a lot of pressure in long yardage situations. I think throwing on first down is going to be a big thing. The other thing is I wouldn't bet against Tom Brady. For years we had the cliche' that you had to establish the run in order to throw and I think the Patriots are the type of team, at least when Charlie Weis was there, they would go out and establish the pass to open up the run. I think that is what they have to do, if you just try to run the ball with Corey Dillon that plays right into the hands of the Steelers.
Donovan McNabb is something special! We saw him take a big hit in Atlanta in Week 1 and stay in the game, he goes into Week 2 not knowing for sure if he would be able to go and he comes out and throws five touchdown passes and beats up on the San Francisco 49ers. Over the years we have come to expect those types of things out of him.
I like Chad Pennington and when they lose it is easy to jump on the pile. He is a guy who has never had a strong arm and is coming off rotator cuff surgery and it's easy to blame losing on those things. Pennington has always been a very accurate passer and now Mike Heimerdinger, offensive coordinator, has come in and installed a new system and adjustments are being made. When things don't go well it is easy to blame the quarterback but I really feel like he is the real deal.
I am not exactly sure what the Vikings are. The talk in the offseason was that they were going to be a better team without Randy Moss, I had no idea how that was going to work. I never did buy into that! If a guy scores 90 touchdowns for you and you take him away, how are you better? I think one of the things that Daunte Culpepper is going through is he is now seeing different defenses along with not having his center and a new offensive coordinator and not having Moss.
The tough thing for the Broncos' defense is going to be stopping the Chiefs' running game. Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson are the obvious things to contend with in the running game but it all starts with the offensive line. When Willie Roaf is in there at left tackle, he missed last week with a bad hamstring, this line is probably the best offensive line in the NFL. So for the Chiefs offense you start out with the best offensive line in football that you can pass behind or run behind and then running the ball with Holmes bring in Johnson, who has looked better than Holmes to this point, to give him a break. The defense has to react and bring that eighth man up into the box then they have Trent Green who is very capable of doing things to you. I know he hasn't gotten into the end zone with the pass but when you have Tony Gonzalez it is just a matter of time!
I remember last year they used a cornerback to defend him. That means they played him as a wide receiver instead of a tight end. The Denver pass defense put head to head with the pass offense of the Chiefs probably win that battle. Kansas City doesn't really have great weapons at wide receiver so you can kind of shrink down the field on them. You have to defend and beat them between the numbers and that how you stop the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Broncos offense are going to come out and test this Chiefs defense and see if they are for real. I like what the Chiefs have done, if you remember what they did a year ago. They had a bad defense and the only change they made was bringing in Gunther Cunningham as the defensive coordinator but didn't bring in any personnel and they were still a bad defense. Now they have brought in a bunch of new players that are good players. Are they a better defense? Yes. Are they a top defense? I think time is going to tell that. If they can become a top defense they may be one of the best teams in the AFC. In an effort to get ready for a guy like Jake Plummer you do a lot of ball drills during the week to get ready to face him. You know when you play against a guy like that he is going to throw you three or four balls and you just have to be sure when it happens you catch the ball. The thing that Cunningham does have to worry about with Plummer is containing him. He is not Mike Vick but I have always felt like he is better when he bootlegs, when he is throwing the ball on the move. So you have to rush him in the pocket and you also have to keep containment on the outside.
It might be a little early to get a feel for these Denver Broncos overall. They have not played well in either of their first two games but they are 1-1 and Mike Shanahan is one of the best coaches in the NFL. It is just a matter of time before he gets things going the way he wants. They've had a rough start, they will continue to improve and then they have to be able to finish the season. Historically they have gotten off to a good start, maintain that through the middle of the season and not so good towards the end.
Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden is an analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football.