John Madden
John Madden
Colts, Bengals game of the week
By John Madden

The topic that is really picking up is can the Colts finish the season undefeated? Bob Griese said the group from the last undefeated Miami Dolphins team that gets together and roots against the last undefeated team in the NFL don't start getting serious until the tenth game. So I was just thinking that this is it, if the Colts can win this game against the Cincinnati Bengals then the old Dolphins start to worry about it. When you get that group's attention and they start getting that champagne ready every week then you know you are the team.

The Bengals have a great combination with Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, and Rudi Johnson. I think that Rudi Johnson is the key to the success and the best friend of a quarterback because if you have to go in there and you have to try to get the ball to a wide receiver, try to get the ball deep down the field all the time in this league that is darn near impossible but if you can balance the run with the pass and the play action pass then you have a pretty good chance of winning a lot of games. Everyone says that these Colts are the best team in football, I am one of those guys, and then you have to be able to handle these types of situations

For the defenses the Bengals have been able to force turnovers but the Colts haven't been able to do that. Peyton Manning has been able to really take care of the ball and Edgerrin James isn't really a fumbler although in some big games he has fumbled a time or two so it is one of those things where a part of the Bengals defensive success is forcing turnovers and part of the Colts offensive success is not giving turnovers.

As Peyton Manning says when you face the Indianapolis Colts you kind of have to pick your poison. You have to choose to gang up against the receivers on the outside. So you have to double those outside guys with twin safeties dropping deep. If you are forced to bring down that 8th man to help stop James and the run then Manning is just going to throw the ball every down and scorch you on the outside. This team really puts you in a bind with those things because if you feel like you need to help out against the run you really have to pick your spots carefully because he will burn you.

In recent years in the NFL we have talked about parity and mediocrity and teams who you think are top echelon teams but they really are just good teams. Usually those teams that fall into that category are teams that are just not consistent and I think both of these teams fall into that category.

Chris Simms is coming off a big win last week and a pretty good individual performance and I think he might be able to do the same thing this week. This Atlanta Falcons defense is not that good especially if you don't give them the opportunity to come after you with the blitz. Now if they find that you can't run the ball, take a lot of penalties and get into long yardage type situations then that defense can raise havoc with a young quarterback.

Monte Kiffin, the Buccaneers defensive coordinator, has always had speed on his defense so when you face guys like Mike Vick and Warrick Dunn they hurt you when you don't have fast perimeter players. The Buccaneers defense is set up with fast perimeter players and good tacklers so I think it is going to be a little tougher for the Falcons this Sunday that it is a lot of other Sundays.

This is a pretty good separation game. I always felt that when you get to this point in the season this is when you really start to separate and there are people that think the Carolina Panthers are the best team in the NFC. If they are I think they have to start playing like it and beat teams like the Chicago Bears. It is the same thing for the Bears, they look like they are going to win their division but if they are going to be on that level then they have to be able to beat a team like the Panthers.

We are getting into that time of year where weather will play a part and running the ball as well as stopping the run is very important. So you have to prove that you can do those things as well as being able to bring pressure when long yardage situations come up and I believe that these Panthers are a really good team and a really well coached team. I think John Fox probably does more with less than any other coach in the NFL.

On the other side of the ball Lovie Smith has done exactly what he has had to do. He came into a situation where the Bears were down and next to nothing and he has brought them back to what they have always been and that is defense and toughness. Without those things they were nothing and he is getting them back to their roots.

We just saw the Eagles last Monday night and they not only lost the game but they lost their quarterback and leader on offense. He has been battling injuries all season long and there just comes a time where you just can't play, you can't move, you can't torque, and you can't twist and throw with your normal motion and then you can't move to get out of the way of a big hit and the team may be faced with a decision as to whether he should play the rest of the season. The thing is he knows he is going to have to have surgery, now the question is when you have the surgery. Can you get through the rest of the year and have surgery in the off season or do you have to have it now.

The Eagles really played the Cowboys well for 56 minutes last week and it is that old thing that if you are dominating and you don't get enough points up there you always have to be scared at the end. As much as they were outplayed all Dallas had to do was put up two touchdowns to win the game. That was the problem there. Things got pretty easy for the Eagles and they kind of started to glide a little and then the Cowboys come along and win the game and now the Eagles are in a bind and their whole season is unraveling. I don't think the Eagles are a bad team, they are the defending NFC Champions and they are obviously not that same team but they haven't fallen all the way to be a bad team.

We talked earlier about the Cincinnati Bengals and living off turnovers and they feed off that and the opposite of that is giving turnovers and that is what the New York Giants are going through. If you just play offense and defense and don't have any turnovers it's tough to win in this league but when you're throwing interceptions and you're giving up the ball then it gets really tough and then you throw in a couple of special teams scores that makes it really really tough.

There is something to this thing with the last two possessions of a game and that is really true for the San Diego Chargers. Whoever wins those last two possessions is going to win the game. We say LaDainian Tomlinson has to run, Drew Brees has to throw, the defense has to play better but you have to win! Sometimes we forget that. If you have really good offense and really good defense but those things don't play well in the last two possessions then you will probably end up in the loss column and I think it boils down to those things for the Chargers.

Even in a year when the Green Bay Packers aren't getting a lot of wins a Monday Night game at Lambeau Field is special and I have always felt that! I have always said that if they were going to build a monument for the NFL it should be Lambeau Field and if you are one of those football fans that say I want to experience everything in the NFL someday you have to go to Lambeau Field and watch a football game. To me this is the history, the tradition and that is what the NFL is all about.

This Packers team has just lost too many players and not just to injuries. You lose your two starting guards to free agency, who are All Pro type of players, and that is before it all gets started and you don't replace them with that kind of guy. As you lose guys to free agency the first thing you have to do is pick up new guys in free agency.

When you look at a quarterback as he gets older and his team is losing you look to see if his skills are diminishing. He doesn't run like he used to, he doesn't have the same velocity on the ball that he used to. I don't see it in Brett Favre. To be honest with you I see him run the same, I see him compete the same, I see the same velocity, he has never thrown a slow ball in his life and it looks the same as it always has. I think if you are looking to say what is wrong with the Packers you start with the quarterback and believe me it's not the quarterback! In talking with Favre over the years he has said that he would leave this game when he is not having any fun and doesn't have any chance to win and number two he would leave if he has a serious injury. He has never had a serious injury and he is an iron man but he has to believe that the Packers are going to win. The Packers have to do something in the off season either in the draft or free agency in order to compete.

The thing is that we forget is that it doesn't always take offense to score touchdowns. That is what the Minnesota Vikings did last week they had a return of a punt for a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a touchdown created turnovers on defense and those things can help you win as well. Those kinds of scores takes the pressure off the offense, takes the pressure off the defense and will let you know that it is a team game and that everyone is involved in scoring points.

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

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