A few things that jumped out from Week 9
Scouts Inc. shares its key observations from Week 9.
Sometimes, it just jumps off the screen. Other times, it takes a second or third look. Scouts Inc. watched every game in Week 9 and learned a few things about each team.
Steelers 23, Redskins 6
• The Steelers unloaded a heavy pressure package on the Redskins, as defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau timed up his zone blitz and double blitz to force QB Jason Campbell into bad throws. Between the blitzes and disguised fronts (with one Pittsburgh defender lined up in a three-point stance and the others milling around in the box), it was a long night for Washington's offensive line. The Steelers notched seven sacks, a number of hurries and two interceptions.
• The Redskins had a lot of early success disguising their pressure before the snap by sending linebackers into gaps on the line. That confused the Steelers' blockers, who had to quickly identify Washington's pass rushers as defenders dropped off just before the snap. Pittsburgh was forced to adjust its protections before the snap, and QB Ben Roethlisberger had to get rid of the ball quicker than he wanted to on several occasions.
Jets 26, Bills 17
• New York's offense countered the aggressive scheme Buffalo defensive coordinator Perry Fewell brought with quick, short passes (slants, outs and stop routes) as well as middle and bubble screen plays that found creases in the Bills' defense. Jets QB Brett Favre was excellent checking off and adjusting patterns to get the ball away before the pressure was able to get to him. Favre did throw an interception under duress that was returned for a touchdown, but he was efficient for the most part and distributed the ball well.
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• Buffalo tried to pressure Favre early with man and zone-blitz packages, but he was able to find WRs Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery and RBs Leon Washington and Thomas Jones with short timing patterns that were effective against a banged-up Bills secondary. Fewell used pressure packages out of his base 4-3 and nickel schemes, which kept the Jets out of the end zone through the air, but yielded too many conversions that moved the chains. The Jets won the battle in the trenches and were able to find yards between the tackles for Jones.
Bears 27, Lions 23
• Chicago relied on its base defense to limit Detroit's ground game and held the Lions to 53 yards rushing. The Bears' front four did an excellent job of maintaining gap responsibility and allowing their linebackers to run and make plays. By dropping seven into coverage most of the time, Chicago put a lot of pressure on their front four to pressure the pocket, which was their one weakness because they generally gave QB Dan Orlovsky too much time to get the ball out.
• Orlovsky looked for the safe, short passes and mostly relied on quick three-step drops to get the ball out of his hands before the Bears were able to pressure the pocket. He allowed his star receiver, Calvin Johnson, to use his size and reach to dominate the Bears' smaller corners, especially when he was able to get an inside release. Johnson finished with a team-leading eight receptions.
Bengals 21, Jaguars 19
• RB Cedric Benson looks like a very good pickup for the Bengals. He ran hard against the Jaguars and was a handful when he kept his pads down. Benson isn't very elusive, but he does have the short-area quickness and burst needed to be successful. On his 9-yard touchdown run against the Jags he attacked the line of scrimmage, ran through an arm tackle and showed a very good downhill burst to the end zone. He fits the AFC North mold and showed against Jacksonville that he is capable of closing out games.
• WR Matt Jones is tough to get a bead on because he is nonchalant in his movements and does not run crisp routes, but his impressive size makes up for his not-so-crisp breaks. He doesn't always catch the ball cleanly and looks awkward at times, but eats up a lot of ground with his long strides and gets the job done at the end of the day. There is not another player in the league like him. His seven-catch, 69-yard performance against the Bengals was typical for him: efficient but not pretty.
Ravens 37, Browns 27
• The game appears to be slowing down for rookie QB Joe Flacco. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is putting a little more on Flacco's plate each week and his quarterback is responding. Against the Browns, Flacco found weaknesses in the coverage and exploited CB Brandon McDonald when he lined up against WR Derrick Mason. Flacco continues to get better at finding soft windows in coverage where he can fit the ball in with his tight throws. His reads are getting quicker and his impressive arm strength means that defenses must be able to cover the entire field. He took a huge step forward by leading his team back from a deficit against the Browns.
• The loss to Baltimore was a microcosm of the inconsistency that has plagued the Browns all season long. RB Jamal Lewis gained a tough yard for a first down early in the game, but that was followed immediately by a false start penalty, a sack and then a fumble on third-and-long that gave the Ravens excellent field position. That field position turned into a long touchdown pass before Cleveland return man Josh Cribbs took the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown. The up-and-down nature of this team is maddening, especially considering that so many of the negatives are easily remedied.
Titans 19, Packers 16
• QB Kerry Collins showed a lot of poise leading the Titans on a game-winning drive. He struggled for much of the game, but he and offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger deserve a lot of credit for dialing up the right calls and then executing them on the field. Collins has always been known as more of a pocket passer who likes to throw deep, but versus the Packers he was impressive throwing the ball accurately in the short, underneath area and taking what the defense gave him.
• The Packers held the Titans to 19 points, but their playmakers in the front seven -- DE Aaron Kampman, MLB Nick Barnett, and OLB AJ Hawk -- weren't able to make plays when the game was on the line. Even though they combined for 14 tackles in this game, there were no sacks, forced fumbles, pass deflections or explosive plays and that has been the case far too often. Until the Packers' defense starts making more plays, they will continue to hover around mediocrity.
Dolphins 26, Broncos 17
• QB Chad Pennington is exactly what the Dolphins need right now behind center. He is smart, poised and has the ability to lead this young team. He is a true professional, who can exploit the stacked boxes that key Miami's run attack. He is solid out of the pocket or on the move, but more importantly, he rarely makes crucial mistakes. Plus, he throws on time and gets the ball out quickly. Pennington understands situational football and how to work the clock. He manipulates coverage very well and loves to spread the ball around to many different targets, while keeping Miami out of third-and-long situations, which they are ill-equipped to repeatedly handle right now. Clearly he has limitations, but having this guy fall into their lap makes this franchise's reclamation far smoother.
• Jay Cutler threw two interceptions within the first 10 minutes of this game, with the second turnover going for a Dolphins touchdown. Throwing interceptions is nothing new to Cutler and with his extreme confidence and gunslinging ways, interceptions will probably always be something you get with Cutler behind center. He seems to get out of rhythm when he can't get the ball to WR Brandon Marshall, who was nonexistent much of this game and didn't get his first catch until very late in the third quarter. The play that displayed Cutler's volatile nature perfectly was his third interception, which came on the first play after a long touchdown pass was called back on a suspect penalty which Cutler was clearly unhappy with. Sunday's game was a perfect example of having to take the good with the bad with Cutler, who has to learn to keep his emotions in check. Also, Cutler's finger looks completely healed after the bye, as he generated ridiculous heat on a few of his throws.
Buccaneers 30, Chiefs 27
• The Buccaneers were stoned on the ground by Kansas City's base 4-3 defensive fronts. RB Earnest Graham found very few creases up front thanks to the Chiefs' physical, aggressive style. Kansas City won the battles at the point of attack. The Tampa Bay blockers had trouble disengaging off their blocks to get to the second level, which allowed the Chiefs' linebackers to scrape, flow to the ball and put the clamps on Graham.
• Chiefs offensive coordinator Chan Gailey did a great job of developing a game plan to get the ball to his best weapons. Gailey moved TE Tony Gonzalez around -- split wide, in-line, flexed, in the slot -- to get mismatches in the passing game that QB Tyler Thigpen was able to take advantage of. Gailey also did a nice job of keeping Tampa Bay off-balance with unconventional formations and plays, such as the throwback pass for a touchdown that came out of the Wildcat formation.
Cardinals 34, Rams 13
• Arizona's run game had good success on quick counter plays against the Rams' defense. Rookie RB Tim Hightower read blocks effectively, made quick, downhill cuts and exploited open seams in the Rams' run defense. The effectiveness of the run game gave the offense some much-needed balance.
• The Rams are giving their young receivers plenty of opportunities to make plays. Rookies Donnie Avery and Derek Stanley, who caught an 80-yard touchdown Sunday, can create big plays in the passing game and interim head coach Jim Haslett is using his opportunity to keep the organization pointed in the right direction, while still remaining competitive.
Vikings 28, Texans 21
• The Vikings' defensive game plan was to rely on their four-man rush with some occasional zone fires by their linebackers, while bracketing WR Andre Johnson in critical passing situations. However, the Vikings were vulnerable in the short and intermediate areas in the middle of the field, even in maximum coverage designs. Still, they have one of the best interior defensive tackle tandems in the NFL and RDE Jared Allen was relentless coming off the edge in passing situations.
• The Texans have a unique passing attack -- with formational designs based on timing and rhythm -- which consists of short and intermediate routes that expose the middle of the field. With the Vikings' coverage paying so much attention to Johnson, there were a lot of one-on-one situations for TE Owen Daniels (11 catches), who is a smart, instinctive route-runner with deceptive speed that creates a lot of problems against linebackers and safeties. Daniels is also a strong runner in open space after the catch.
Falcons 24, Raiders 0
• RB Michael Turner showed good vision and decision-making on cutback runs against the Raiders' defense. With his balance and momentum, Turner broke tackle attempts on inside run plays and created yards after contact. He also showed good patience on off-tackle plays, allowing his blocks to set up and waiting for the hole to open outside.
• The Raiders' defense had trouble with the route combinations of the Falcons' wide receivers, which helped Atlanta build a sizable early lead. WR Michael Jenkins was able to clear coverage downfield and create separation from man coverage with scissor routes and vertical variations. QB Matt Ryan made accurate throws when he took his shots downfield, and he used his underneath receivers to take what the defense gave him after establishing a vertical threat.
Giants 35, Cowboys 14
• The Giants' offensive line was very impressive creating space in the run game and protecting QB Eli Manning in the pocket. By establishing the running game, the Giants set up their play-action attack, which was critical on third down and allowed the Giants to pound the rock, wear down the Cowboys' defense and extend drives.
• The Cowboys must find a way to get their running game going after the bye. They have one of the biggest offensive lines in the NFL, but continue to struggle with consistency up front. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett uses a lot of formational designs and personnel groupings, but is somewhat limited with his aggressive play-calling without injured QB Tony Romo. On top of that, the Cowboys can ill-afford the kind of turnovers that plagued them against the Giants.
Eagles 26, Seahawks 7
Philadelphia • With DE Patrick Kerney out, Seattle's defensive line struggled to get any pressure on QB Donovan McNabb, who completed 15 of 20 pass attempts in the second half. The Seahawks' game plan appeared to be designed to stop RB Brian Westbrook (61 yards on 20 carries), but by crowding the box the Seahawks created the spacing for McNabb to hit TE Brent Celek, WR Kevin Curtis and Westbrook with six passes apiece.
Seattle • Forced to play catch-up from early in the second quarter, the Seahawks had few opportunities to run the ball and ease the pressure on their passing game. Seattle averaged 3.9 yards per carry on just 22 rushing attempts. The Seahawks' offensive line struggled to pick up blitzes that came from every direction, and Wallace was able to complete only two passes of 10 yards or more (both in the first half).
Colts 18, Patriots 15
• The Colts mostly adhered to their bend-but-don't-break philosophy, sticking with their base Cover 2 package: two deep safeties, shaded toward the opponent's most dangerous receiver (WR Randy Moss, in this case). The Patriots had to settle for field goals on three of four trips into the red zone. The one problem Indianapolis faced was giving up a lot of yards to New England on draw plays, which tend to be effective against two-deep defensive schemes.
• The Patriots took away the Colts' vintage stretch play, with OLBs Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas forcing the run back inside toward the pursuit. By fighting pressure and keeping containment, the Pats forced RB Joseph Addai to run laterally and kept him from getting downhill. New England held Indianapolis to just 47 rushing yards (2.2 yards per carry) for the game.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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