John Madden
John Madden
Redskins, Giants game of the week
By John Madden

These two teams play in what has been one of the most competitive divisions over the years. All four of the teams, the Redskins, Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys have heated rivalries between them and in the past few years that had kind of gone dormant and now it's more competitive than ever. All four teams are above .500, three tied at 4-2 and the Cowboys sitting a half game back at 4-3. I think you could pick any one of these four teams and make a case for them winning the division.

The Giants are coming off a big win against the Denver Broncos a week ago and the thing is that you knew Eli Manning was going to be the real deal it was just a matter of time. Was it going to be his first year like Ben Roethlisberger did, was it going to be his second year which is this year or could be in his third or fourth year? It looks like he might be ready now.

On the other side Mark Brunell I think was more injured than anyone thought last year. They looked at his production last year and thought he was over the hill and done. Now he is healthy and back and looks like the Mark Brunell of old.

The worry for the Giants defense is going to be Brunell hitting Santana Moss down the field on the play action pass. To make that play action pass work just a little bit better and get that Giants defense to tighten up the Redskins have to run Clinton Portis.

The Giants offensively have got the same kind of mix with Tiki Barber running the ball, Manning throwing the ball down the field to Plaxico Burress as well as Amani Toomer but they still have to get their offensive line to pass protect, understand the schemes that Greg Williams, the Redskins' defensive assistant coach, is going to show you because that is going to be a tough thing for them. Manning is beginning to show some maturity that he can go through some bad times in a game come out the other end and still be strong. A lot of times a young quarterback has to come out and get some confidence early and if that doesn't happen he might not be able to rebound but Manning looks like in his second year he is already in a position that if things go bad for him early he will stick with it and be able to get things going in the third and fourth quarter.

Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos

You really get the feeling that this Eagles team just knows how to win! Andy Reid is just one of those guys that kind of hangs in there. When things are going well he doesn't get real high and when things are going bad he doesn't get too low, Jim Johnson, the defensive coordinator, will put up a defense that is as tough to play against as any and then you say well now their problem is offense and that starts with the running game. They don't have a banger, they don't have a guy that will carry the ball 20-25 times a game. Even though they are a passing team and they pass all the time if you can run the ball it makes throwing the ball a lot easier. Now when you have an injured quarterback and you can't run the ball then you can't fake the run, you can't go to play action pass and those kinds of things. That is the problem the Eagles are having right now. But I still think that until someone beats them for the NFC Championship they are still the best team in the NFC.

The Broncos weakness play into the hands of the Eagles and that is their pass defense. That is provided that the offensive line can protect against the strength of this Broncos team the front seven. Trevor Pryce is having a good year as a pass rusher, they rotate everyone on the defensive line to keep everyone fresh, and the linebackers are very fast and good blitzers and can get after you. Against Donovan McNabb who is not 100-percent and without a banger to carry the ball I would expect a heavy, heavy pass rush as well as this Broncos team plays a lot better at home than it does on the road.

The key for the Broncos on offense is they have to get ahead. If you can get a lead on the Eagles the stuff that Johnson will do will not bother you. Now if you get behind and you're playing uphill that is when you are going to get into trouble. I know you always want to get ahead but if you want to simplify the defense that you are playing against you had better get ahead, you better not let them get 10 or 14 points ahead on you because then he will bring everything anytime.

The word is that the Chargers are the best 3-4 football team in the league. You don't want that, that's not a thing! You have to win and to me that always boils down to defense. They don't have a top defense so they are always going to have a tough time holding a lead. A lot of teams have that problem right now. To me it's when you have a lead, you're in the fourth quarter and you have to stop the other team. There is always going to be a couple drives and if you win those drives you win the game but if you lose those drives you lose the game. The Chargers are one of those teams that get in that position where they have to win a drive and they lose it.

For the Chiefs they have Willie Roaf back at left tackle and when he is in there and their offensive line is healthy that is as good an offensive line as there is in football. With him back they will be able to run the ball and do all of those things but for them to really get it going they have to get better play from their wide receivers. They can run the ball, the can throw to their backs, they can throw the ball to their tight end but to really light it up like they did a few years ago they have to get the wide receivers more involved.

Last week LaDainian Tomlinson was held to just seven yards rushing and you're not going to see that again! I have seen this happen this year, they say he doesn't get enough touches one week and the next week he gets touches all over the place. He's running the ball, he's catching the ball, he's throwing the ball for touchdowns and I think that's the Tomlinson you are going to see this weekend.

This is a game that the winner will come out on top of the division with a 4 and 3 record and if the Chicago Bears should win they would essentially have a two game lead over the Detroit Lions as a result of the season sweep. The Lions are going to be lead by Jeff Garcia and they have a little offense going and the Bears are very very good on defense. That is a Lovie Smith team, he has gone in there and he is going to build this team from the defensive side of the ball first.

The Lions have kind of impressed me with Garcia. He is one of those guys that the minute you think that he can't do something he's going to do it although sometimes you think he is going to do it and he doesn't but I'll tell you this he doesn't play the game the prettiest but he is very effective and he knows how to play the game.

When the schedule came out in the spring I looked at this game and all of the thoughts started to run through my head. For the Ravens Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, top defense for the Steelers three man line, Dick LeBeau, tough defense, good tackling, very basic fundamental football, running game, stopping the run all those kinds of things. The Steelers are giving us what we expected but the Ravens not so much.

To me for the Steelers it all starts with the running game. Willie Parker looks like he could be a threat any time he touches the ball. He has good speed, he can bounce it to the outside and get big chunks of yardage and when you take him out you put in Jerome Bettis and it looks like he is playing as well as he has played in the last three, four, five years, the offensive line makes it all possible and then you get to the quarterback and Ben Roethlisberger making all the passes, and Hines Ward on the outside, where do you start to defend this team? I know you have to start with stopping the run because it is the Steelers but even if you do slow or stop the run that is not enough.

Roethlisberger has really impressed me, he does so much more than just hand the ball off. He is big and strong and runs very well although he now has a knee injury. He is probably the toughest quarterback in the league to get to the ground right now.

For the Ravens on offense they haven't been able to get Jamal Lewis going this year and part of that is that the defense knows they are going to run the ball so they get all the 8 man front defenses but the other part of it is that Jamal Lewis doesn't look like the Jamal Lewis we have seen the last couple of years. He's not the physical guy he used to be, he's not running the same as he used to.

For the Steelers defensively it all starts with Dick LeBeau, the defensive coordinator. He is the father of that zone dog and playing that three man line. You never know exactly what you're going to get, you're not sure how to set your pass protections, it kind of keeps you back on your heals. Maybe if everything were perfect and you were able to get everything blocked and the guys ran their patterns I guess you might say the place to beat the Steelers is their secondary but I'll tell you getting there is a tough road. Troy Polamalu, their strong safety, is a special player. I have seen him play up on the defensive line, linebacker, safety and corner and from those positions I've seen him cover and I've seen him blitz. He makes it very tough on an offense because you have to account for him every play but before you account for him you have to find him.

Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden is an analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football.

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