Thursday, October 20
Steelers, Bengals game of the week
By John Madden
You just keep waiting and asking the question 'is this Bengals team for real?' You're waiting for the test. They are 5-1 and you keep saying this is the test this week we'll see if they are for real. I think this is one of those tests for them. I don't believe you really know who the good teams are until you get to at least the midway point, you know Week 8 or Week 9, but in the first five or six weeks you start to get a pretty good indication. When you start to get that indication about the Bengals it looks like they are going to be a playoff team.
This Bengals offense if up against a very good defense and I think they are up for it. Carson Palmer has proven that he is the real deal, I don't think you have to go any deeper into the season to realize that and the big think against Pittsburgh you have to be ready to protect on passing downs. When you get to second and long and third and long situations you have to be ready for some very exotic blitzes, which is what Dick LeBeau, the Steelers defensive coordinator, does. He will play you kind of normal on first down and then if they can get you in second and long or third and long that is when they are going to come after you and you have to be able to recognize them and get them blocked.
The Seahawks' defense is their weakness. Their offense is going to produce and I think they can compete with anyone in the league. They are one of those teams like the Chiefs that has good offense but not very good defense. The question is how far can they go? They keep trying to improve the defense but it's still not a championship defense.
Out of the Cowboys four wins they have only had one blowout win and haven't looked particularly good in those wins, but that is what having a good defense will do. If they come out and look bad there will not be a big separation in scoring their defense will keep it close. If you look up and say boy the Cowboys aren't playing very well but the score is only 7-3 and one play offensively they could be in the lead. The guy that has surprised me is Drew Bledsoe. If he gets hot and starts throwing deep to Terry Glenn they get a big play and you say boy I didn't think they had that in them and then the next week you think they are going to open up the offense and Bledsoe and Glenn will have big numbers and they put up nothing. The thing about this Cowboys team is they probably aren't good enough to say they are one of the top teams but they aren't bad enough to be a bottom team, they are probably closer to the top than they are the bottom.
For the Eagles if you are looking for some sort of balance between the run and the pass they do it a little differently. Brian Westbrook is not a big guy that is going to do a lot of inside running with 25-30 carries he is going to get 10-15 carries and he will also have 10 catches. Those catches the Eagles use in lieu of the run to get him out into open space so if you just count the carries they don't do a lot of that but you have to include those passes in lieu of the run as part of their running game.
These Broncos have run off five straight wins and are really doing it with defense in particular the front seven and that starts with Trevor Pryce. The Broncos picked up those four defensive linemen from the Cleveland Browns in the off season and that is what everyone is talking about but the guy that is really making the difference is Pryce and then those linebackers. Al Wilson is really a special player, Ian Gold and D.J. Williams are outside guys with great speed. So they have the big guys up front, they have Pryce who can get a big push and then linebackers with great speed and that is what makes up that front seven. The advantage that the Giants have is that they are playing at home. Historically the Broncos have been a much better team when they play in Denver than on the road. So they are going to get the Broncos on the road and the Broncos road game which isn't usually as strong.
The Giants have been one of those teams that have been all offense and no defense. I think that they will match-up well offensively, they will move the ball, they will get some things going but I think it is going to be on the other side of the ball, can their defense find a way to stop the Broncos offense because the Giants defense is not their strength.
The running game is the key to the Broncos attack. When Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson are able to get it going then that opens up the bootlegs, play action pass Jake Plummer finds Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie down the field for big plays and all of that is dependent upon getting the running game going.
Stopping the Falcons running attack doesn't stop with containing Vick they also have Warrick Dunn, he is really a good running back. He is so good off the field and I have talked to him about this that sometimes all that is talked about is what he does off the field and sometimes they forget what he does on the field. I think the way that you have to defend Vick helps Dunn in that because you have to contain him so he doesn't get outside what you do is tend to shade outside more. You tend to stunt to the outside and what that does is open up some pretty good inside running lanes. If you look at Warrick Dunn you would think he would be an outside running guy who is going to get out quick, get to the corner and do those types of things but he is a very good inside runner.
For the Jets defensively they have one of the best young linebackers in Jonathan Vilma what he has that a lot of guys don't have is speed. When you have the instincts of a middle linebacker like he does and then possess the speed that he does you can get all over the place. He is going to be tested on Monday because with a guy like Vick he will see play action passes and bootlegs along with Dunn who is still a threat. Now you have to worry about Dunn carrying the ball inside but then Vick fakes the handoff now you have to get on your horse and get out there and get him. That is where his speed is going to come in. He has to be big enough, strong enough, and instinctive enough to take care of that inside run and fast enough to get to the corners to help out on Vick.
For the Jets, Vinny Testaverde is going to be the starting quarterback again this week and I thought he did very well in his first week back, the second week I thought he would do well if Curtis Martin could get the running game going. Martin gained 148 yards and they still lost. I still think the same thing against the Atlanta Falcons. Curtis Martin has to be a big part of the offensive game plan. It could be a tough thing to get him going with their center Kevin Mawae lost for the season but they need that running game to calm the Falcons defense.
The Falcons defense was dealt a pretty big blow when they lost Ed Hartwell for the season, he was their middle linebacker and now they have to shuffle the other guys around. Keith Brooking who was playing outside with Hartwell has now had to take over middle linebacker duties Michael Boley will start at his vacated position and last week against the New Orleans Saints they had a tough time stopping the run that was without its top runner Deuce McAllister.
I know one thing and that is that the Falcons can't come into this game and be overconfident. They may think oh jeez the Jets have Vinny Testaverde in there, Mawae is out so they are not going to be able to run. The minute you think someone can't do something in the NFL is usually when they do it to you.
Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden is an analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football.