Saturday, December 3
Cowboys, Giants game of the week
By John Madden
Both of these teams are coming off tough losses and that is one of things that can't have a long life. If you are Tom Coughlin or Bill Parcells you know that when you have that tough loss you can let it live for 24 hours but after that you have to start getting ready for the next one.
I have always felt that you get into position between the beginning of the season and Thanksgiving. You know position yourself to make a run at the end and both of these teams have done just that. Now it is which team is going to peak and play the best football for the rest of the season.
When you play the Dallas Cowboys you have to stop the run and make them one dimensional and put the game in Drew Bledsoe's hands. Now he can still make the plays so you have to pressure him especially up the middle so he can't step up and make the throws. Those are the things that the Giants have to do and they have to do it throughout the whole game. A couple of weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings their defense played well, Brad Johnson couldn't get anything going, the score is tied toward the end of the game and the last drive Johnson goes 4 for 4 and the Vikings win the game. If you have a good defense you have to play as well at the end of the game as you did at the beginning.
I am really impressed with Eli Manning. He is just in his second year and that early in a career there are going to be some bumps in the road. He is not going to be perfect. If you look at his brother Peyton, he is about as close to perfect as you can be. Eli makes a lot of great plays, sometimes he will have some average and once in a while he'll have some bad plays. Knowing Bill Parcells and that Dallas Cowboys defense they are going to force him into the bad.
The thing that has been killing the Giants is penalties and Coughlin is obviously trying to get rid of those things but I think the way to stop the Giants is to stop Tiki Barber and put pressure on Eli Manning to make plays to beat you and then the Cowboys defense will try to put pressure on him with the pass rush. One advantage that the 3 man line gives to the Cowboys is that the Giants know there is going to pressure they are just not sure where it is going to be coming from. That puts pressure on both Manning and the offensive line to get their protections right so they have a chance to get the ball off.
Over the years it seems like Mike Vick has owned the Carolina Panthers and it's one of those situations that you will have once in while where you just don't match up well. You may have a better team and right now the Panthers probably have a better team than the Atlanta Falcons but they just don't match up well. It is not speed because the Panthers have speed on defense to contain the perimeters and then they have to defend that inside running against Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. The Falcons do put you in a bind and the Panthers seem to have a little trouble with those things.
The Panthers have really been spreading the ball around to all of their offensive weapons in the last few weeks and I think that is going to really help them in the long run. What they want to eventually do is get the ball to Steve Smith. You just can't do that because the defenses know what they want to do as well and they will take him away. When they are taking him away you have to take advantage of that and the two ways to do that are to run the ball and two throw the ball to other guys, spread the ball around. When defenses react to running the ball or throwing to other guys then you can get back to your big play receiver.
The big question right now for the Pittsburgh Steelers is how is Ben Roethlisberger physically? He is getting better, he is not all the way back, he can move so he is not a sitting duck back there but being away from the game for 3 weeks he is more rusty than I thought he would be. Last Monday I thought he would come out a little rusty and he did. He told me on Sunday that he wanted to start out running the ball maybe throwing a screen pass to get back into the game slowly and I figured as the game progressed he would find his rhythm but he stayed rusty the whole game. Part of the thing that made him rusty was his offensive line didn't play very well. Marvel Smith the left tackle came out of the game early and Trai Essex, their 3rd round pick this year, came into the game and that was kind of tough although I watched them on film the week before and they didn't look very good there either. So part of Roethlisberger looking rusty was his being out but also his line and because of those things they have to run the ball. If you look at this Steelers team they are a running team and if they struggle to run the ball then they are going to struggle on offense. That is what they are going to have to get back to and do that maybe they are going to have to throw the ball a little bit more, maybe throw the ball deeper to loosen up the defense. Looking at the film against the Baltimore Ravens they didn't even play with 4 defensive backs, they played with 4 defensive lineman, 4 linebackers, 3 defensive backs but of course that was with Tommy Maddox at quarterback they were just daring them to throw the ball. I think that is the way teams are playing the Steelers now. Show an 8 man front and take away the run. Before they are going to be able to run the ball they are going to have to open up throwing some passes, not those short passes, something deep to show defenses that they are going to try those things because right now they are really getting tight on that Steelers offense.
Marvin Lewis has the benefit of seeing this Steelers team coming off a game against a high powered offense and I think that will help him in his preparation. Now he doesn't have the same weapons that the Indianapolis Colts have but he has the same ingredients. He has the running back if the Steelers want to play that deep coverage and play off so they can run the ball, he has a quarterback and receiver that he can get the ball deep if they want to play tight and take away the run. If you look that is what the Colts did. If they played off then the Colts took the run and if they came up to stop the run then they used the play action pass.
The Denver Broncos are playing very well now and Jake Plummer is making good decisions and they always have a good running game no matter which they put in there. When you have that combination of running the ball pretty well and playing pretty good defense that is what you have to do at the end of the season.
The return of Willie Roaf is a big deal for these Kansas City Chiefs because they can now protect Trent Green without going maximum protection because that is not the type of offense that the Chiefs are. They like to get out and get ball spread out and when you have to help a tackle protect then you have to give up a route runner. The combination of running Larry Johnson and not having to keep that extra man in for protection is going to make the Chiefs pretty good. Now I don't know that this team has enough offense to keep up in a shootout along with their defense not being strong enough to keep them out of a shootout.
Philadelphia is always a tough place to play. I think if you took a poll of the top five toughest places to play Philadelphia would always be one of them. If you are Mike Holmgren and you have to bring your team all the way across the country to play here that makes is a little tougher.
The question is how good are the Seattle Seahawks? I think they are really good offensively. When you break them down Shaun Alexander is something special, he seems to gain yards on anyone they play. It's not just Alexander the left side of the offensive line is the best in football. Matt Hasselbeck is doing a good job of reading defenses and getting rid of the ball, Joe Jurevicius has stepped up as a big wide receiver for them. The area where they are still suspect is their defense. I think they fall into the category of the teams that have good offense and no defense although their defense has gotten a little better but they are not really good.
I think that this Seahawks team is probably the best team in the NFC although I don't feel that strongly I think that in the end their record is going to the best and that gives them home field throughout the playoffs and that is a big advantage. I think these other guys are going to beat each other up within their divisions. Seattle doesn't have anyone in their division and don't have anyone to beat up, they have already beaten everyone up. They are going to clinch early, they are going to be able to rest their guys, not play a wild card game. Now I'm not saying that makes them the best team, if they are in a bunch that puts them at the top of the bunch.
The Seahawks defense will probably have enough for this Philadelphia Eagles offense. This is a watered down version of the Eagles with Mike McMahon and Brian Westbrook. Without Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens those two are their playmakers. I don't think that this Seahawks defense is a championship defense but I think they will have enough to take care of the Eagles offense.
The Eagles have had so many distractions on offense and so much focus on how their offense isn't what it used to be the fact that their defense isn't what it used to be is overlooked. You used to be able to say that Jim Johnson, the defensive coordinator, and the defense will take care of everything. They are going to blitz the quarterback and stop the run on the way to blitzing the quarterback but they are not playing that way this year and I think if they have a chance this week I think it has to be Brian Westbrook and their defense has to play better and dominate and in dominating they have to force turnovers.
It has taken Mike Holmgren a while to get his players and his system in place and to get everyone to believe in what he is doing, he didn't think it would take this long, but I think once you get that combination of a solid quarterback, a good offensive line, a great running back and the defense better then you can be one of the top teams in the NFL.
Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden is an analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football.