Friday, January 13
Divisional round features major rematches
By John Madden
The Redskins are coming off a 140-yard offensive performance, but came out with a win and this week they travel to the Seattle Seahawks where they will not only produce more offense but they will see more offense out of the Seahawks than from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This Redskins team has a lot of weapons on offense and Santana Moss is not going to stay quiet much longer, while Clinton Portis is due to have a big day.
I know what happens in a situation like this. People look at what happened last week and they see that the Redskins got a lead on the Buccaneers and their offense couldn't do anything and their defense won the game for them and the easy thing to say is that this week their offense still won't be able to do anything but I don't believe that. I believe that their offense wasn't very good last week but the Buccaneers defense is very good and matched up very well with the Redskins offense. I'm not saying that they are going to win but I will say that their offense is going to look a lot better this weekend than it did last weekend.
For the Seahawks their defense has improved this season but they are still not a great defense. I think if that defense decides to lay off and play soft so Moss doesn't hurt them then Portis could have a big big day! Somehow he has gotten under the radar as one of the top backs in the NFL. I believe that he is absolutely one of the top five backs in the NFL.
Shaun Alexander has had a great year and he's a great runner but to me a big part of what they do starts with the offensive line and I really like the match up of that line against the Redskins defensive line. The rest of the offense is probably a great offense but they don't have great wide receivers. They don't have a guy that the defense has to say hey we need to watch this guy because he can kill us.
The Redskins are traveling to the west coast on Thursday, which is a day earlier than they would on a normal week, and I think that is smart. When I coached the Oakland Raiders and we were playing a game with a three hour time difference we would always go a day early.
The Denver Broncos are as good an offensive team as there is on first and second down and that is not all just running the ball. That's a combination of running the ball, play action pass, bootlegs and those kinds of things. So the key to defending against them is to get them in third and long situations. I think the Patriots can give them real problems if they get into that third and long situations. The Denver offense always seems to have success running the ball no matter who they are up against but against this Patriots defense it is going to be tough. Their front seven is playing really well right now and in particular the nose tackle Vince Wolfork. He is really tough to run against! If you don't double him I guarantee he is going to make the play. But if you do double him then you are going to have a Tedy Bruschi or a Mike Vrabel that is going to be free. The other thing with that front seven is not only are they all good players but they are all very good tacklers.
The Broncos defense has played well all year and now they face one of the toughest tests of their season in Tom Brady. He is tough to play against. He is a guy that all the accolades go out to and he deserves that. He has won three out of the last four Super Bowls and to overcome all the injuries that this team has this season to still win their division and now play in the second round of the playoffs is just amazing. In addition to all the injuries they have lost their running game somewhere along the line. Corey Dillon is not the same guy that he was a year ago and they have gone back to those short passes in lieu of the run. If there is anything that could bite the Patriots, that is it. I feel like their defense creating turnovers, points off those turnovers and field position is more offense than their running game gives them.
The last regular season game we did was the Patriots at the New York Jets and in that game Bill Belichick decided that they were just going to pound the ball with the running game and really establish that and I think he found out that they don't have much of a running game and he needs to just spread out defenses and throw the ball. Brady does a good job of finding the mismatch and getting the ball quickly to his best option.
The meeting between these two teams during the regular season didn't end favorably for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the biggest reason was that Ben Roethlisberger was just coming back and was not the same guy that he is today. He came into that game having not practiced as much as you would like for your starting quarterback to and I think that contributed to leaving some things out like not having a silent count in the game plan. In talking to Ben the night before that game he said that he expected to be rusty and Bill Cower said that same thing about him. But everyone thought that through the process of the game he would work himself out of it. He never did.
The most important thing for these Steelers is to not let the Colts get out to a big lead. Their offense matches up pretty well against the Colts with Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis running the ball but if they fall behind all of that goes out the window. I'm not saying that they have to be in the lead the whole time for their game plan to be effective but if they are down 21 points or something like that then their game plan has to change to pass first. Conversely if the Colts get down 21 points they are still very much in the game.
The Colts offense plays with two principles. The first is that three wide receiver look and when you defend that with your nickel defense then they are going to run the ball but if you stay in your base defense then they will throw the ball. The second principle is if you game plan to take away the run and bring an eighth man up to the line of scrimmage then they are going to throw the ball. If you just keep seven men up on the line of scrimmage then Edgerrin James becomes very effective. That is how they start the game. They force you to pick your poison.
This game looks like it is going to be one of those games that are dominated by defense and hard hitting. But offensively for the Carolina Panthers Jake Delhomme is a big game quarterback and he has a very explosive receiver in Steve Smith that can really spread you out and then for the Bears Rex Grossman has really come on for them and opened up their passing game. My point is sometimes we come into games like this and expect to see that defense step up and dominate for both teams, run the ball and run the ball some more and the quarterbacks or at least one of them steps up and has a big game. I'm not saying that it is going to happen in this game but if it did it wouldn't surprise me.
For the Bears defense the big thing is their ability to get pressure on the quarterback with just the front four. They don't always have to bring a blitz to get to the quarterback. That means that they have seven guys back in coverage and that is a big thing!
If you ask what does the running game of the Panthers have to do to have success against such a good defense and I think the answer is to just keep running the ball. Along with that DeShaun Foster is going to have to make some plays. That is the thing is that the running game doesn't scare you but when they do get a big run you say "oh man where did that come from?" So I think they are going to have to get some of that "where did that come from?" kind of success.
When you have such a good defense like the Bears do you end up not taking a lot of chances on offense in an effort not to put too much pressure on Grossman and I think that is a trap for them. I don't think they can afford to do that. They have a big weapon on the outside in Muhsin Muhammad and they have to get the ball to him and give him a chance to make a play. I know they are thinking defense and ball control and all of those things but I just don't think those things are enough to beat this Panthers team.
Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden is an analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football.