Thursday, January 19
Updated: January 20, 3:35 PM ET
Championship round preview
By John Madden
This may not have been the match up we thought we were going to see but you have to earn the right to be here and that is exactly what the Broncos did against the New England Patriots and what the Steelers did against the Indianapolis Colts last weekend.
For the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger is peaking at the right time and I think he could have success against this Denver Broncos team this Sunday. I think what the Broncos are going to do is look at the Steelers as a running team and say ok what are we going to have to stop first, and I think that is going to be the run. That brings a lot of 8 man fronts with John Lynch down in the box as a matter of fact I had never seen a Broncos defense play as aggressively as this one has. That is kind of the way they played the Patriots. So if the Steelers are going to win, Roethlisberger is going to have to make plays. Now know that if they get a lead Bill Cowher just takes the air out of the football and they may get a little running in the third and fourth quarter but just going into the game I don't think that they are going to be able to run.
The Broncos defensive backs are very tough and I think it will be easier to throw on first and second down than it will on third when they really get into their coverages. I think generally they are going to sacrifice coverage on early downs to stop the run and that should open things up a little for Roethlisberger.
Offensively for the Broncos they might have the best offense on first and second downs. They run the ball as well as anyone, their offensive line is very good, and then off of those things you have Jake Plummer bootlegging. That is what gave the Patriots problems last week, they kept their two outside guys out to contain Plummer and that gave them the inside. But they are not as good on third down. When they get into third and long Plummer has to become a drop back passer that is not what they do well. Now conversely that is what the Steelers do well defensively. Dick LeBeau goes crazy. Last week he would go with two defensive linemen, five linebackers with Troy Polamalu up on the line of scrimmage and guys coming from anywhere and everywhere. When they do that is when they get a lead or they have you in third and long.
When you think about that Steelers defense it's not only those three linemen and those 4 linebackers you also have to deal with Polamalu. I think on running downs you have to count him as a linebacker. So really instead of accounting for seven guys the offensive line has to account for eight. Because if you don't he is going to make every tackle in the running game.
For Jake Plummer in this game he has to be "no mistake Jake". If you look at the Patriot game the Patriots had five turnovers and the Broncos had one. In playoff football that is going to win every time. You can fill in the blank, it doesn't matter who the teams are 1-5 in the turnover battle will result in a win. That is the biggest thing that Plummer did, he did make some plays when he had to but the biggest thing he did was not making mistakes. If they are able to duplicate that in this game I think they head to Detroit for the Super Bowl.
Home field advantage is very important but I wouldn't put it number one on the list of things to have. In the history of football home field never won a game. Just look at the Indianapolis Colts. All year it was said if they can get home field and they can play their games in that dome there is no way they can lose but the fact is you still have to play and win the game.
When you played against the Carolina Panthers offense in the past you had to account for two things. They were Steve Smith and the running game whether it was Stephen Davis or DeShaun Foster they were always a threat. Now I don't know what kind of running game they are going to have. I think Smith was probably always the number 1 threat but if you lay off too much to cover him then they could always beat you with the run.
Now in this game Smith could very well be the number one priority, the number two priority, the number three priority, and the number four priority. So I think it is obvious that you have to double him every play, there is no way that you can have single coverage on him and when you get a guy up on him to bump him, play short and deep but I think that short guy has to run with him all the time. Sometimes defenses will just rotate towards him, they'll get the guy up there and bump him for five yards then he'll let him go and the safety comes over the top, well once he gets by that corner then he's just man to man on the safety. I think you always have two guys on him in that double and that double becomes a clamp and that clamp stays on the whole play.
For the Panthers running game Nick Goings is capable of carrying the ball but you just aren't sure if he can carry the whole load. Before they had both Goings and Foster so now he has to not only do what he has done but also do what Foster did. That has to be a part of it. You know that Seattle is going to defend against Smith and that will result in the a little space for Goings and he is going to have to pound the ball in there but I think that the Seahawks can't worry about him. I don't think that he will be a priority until you get down to about number 5 on the priority list. If you look at the Seahawks defense against the Carolina offense I like Jake Delhomme. He is one of those guys that play well in the post season. There are a lot of guys that do the opposite, they play like heck in the preseason and don't play very well in the regular season or they play well in the regular season and they drop a bomb in the post season. Delhomme is just the opposite. Sometimes in the regular season he is very mediocre and then as the season progresses and the games get more important the better he gets and then the deeper they get into the playoffs the better he gets. Maybe it's one of those things that he's not a natural and maybe it takes him 12 or 13 or 14 games to get to play this game naturally. But when you put him in a big game like this I would take Jake Delhomme.
Offensively for the Seahawks they have the NFL MVP in running back Shaun Alexander but he is coming off a concussion a week ago and that is one of those things that you just really don't know about. He could not be able to play at all, he could get in there and early in the game take a hit and have that concussion reoccur and then have to come out. It is a tough thing to say right now that he is going to be fine and he is going to play the whole game. Now that is a big part of it because that is where that Seattle offense starts. I realize they won last week and he left the game after six carries and Matt Hasselbeck was able to put it on his shoulders and win it with the passing game and with he himself running a little but I think it is going to take more than that this week. He is going to need the running game because Carolina will get ready for it. They will say okay if Alexander is ready and he is the same guy that played in the regular season we are going to play them this way. If he can't then we're going play them this way.
The outcome of the Seattle running game is going to have a big effect on how the rest of the offense is able to function. If the running game can get going then it is going to make it a heck of a lot easier for the Seattle wide receivers and Hasselbeck.
I think Hasselbeck has really become an extension of Mike Holmgren. He is a smart player and next to Holmgren probably knows the offense better than anyone. He knows everything that they want to do and what the defense is going to do. He is a very very smart player that can move a little. You might think if him as one of those pocket passers that can't move at all. He is one of those pocket passers but he can move a little.
Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden is an analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football.