A few things that jumped out from Week 12
Scouts Inc. shares its key observations from Week 12.
Sometimes, it just jumps off the screen. Other times, it takes a second or third look. Scouts Inc. watched all the Week 12 games and learned a few things about each team.
Saints 51, Packers 29
• Defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs brought a heavy blitz package versus the Packers. That's something he has been hesitant to do in the past. During the first half, the Saints were burned at times by quarterback scrambles because the front four struggled to maintain gap responsibility or stay in their lanes. In the second half, the front four did a better job of playing responsibly and keeping QB Aaron Rodgers in the pocket.
Scouts Inc. gives you more observations from Week 12. Insider
• How Brees avoided Green Bay's star CBs
• Oakland's two Wildcat threats
• Broncos' unheralded receiver
• How Matt Ryan avoided Julius Peppers
• Clinton Portis' partner in crime
• What's wrong with the Jags' offense?
• Eagles' future star linebacker
• Rodgers' accuracy and decision-making was inconsistent against the Saints. He forced several balls into coverage and was late with his reads. He jammed receivers on crossing routes, which limited their ability to run after the catch, and on deeper throws he had trouble manipulating the safeties and hitting his receivers in stride.
Texans 16, Browns 6
• QB Sage Rosenfels is a very streaky quarterback, but he was very hot to start the game and it helped that the Browns' secondary offers very little resistance to pass-catchers. Rosenfels was in an excellent rhythm, while throwing with great anticipation and timing. He spread the ball around well and didn't key on WR Andre Johnson, which is very tempting to do. Rosenfels benefited from a formidable running game, especially on first down, which allowed him to use play-action and to stay out of troublesome down-and-distance situations. He was particularly impressive and efficient to end the first half with a fast-paced drive that resulted in a field goal. Rosenfels completed 16 of 20 passes during the first half, but got back to his erratic ways and threw two second-half interceptions.
• This defense simply cannot get off the field. The Browns' defensive line is big and talented, but it is a group that lacks depth and wears down far too easily. The Browns consistently allow substantial rushing yardage on first downs and are unable to dictate the flow of the game. They can't force an offense to be one-dimensional with either the run or pass. Plus, the Browns are not very fast at any level on defense and do not tackle well. The secondary is full of ordinary cover men, lacks depth and consistently allows soft cushions in fear of giving up the big play. On top of that, the Browns' pass rush is vastly below average and not aggressive. Cleveland really didn't do anything well and was far too passive on defense.
Cowboys 35, 49ers 22
• The Cowboys' offense is still struggling up front, but QB Tony Romo covers up for lots of deficiencies with his ability to improvise. Early in the contest Romo threw several errant passes, but was able to extend the play and make a few big throws in long-yardage situations. The offensive line wasn't as effective opening creases for RB Marion Barber versus the 49ers' multiple 4-3 defensive fronts, but did enough in the passing game to give Romo some throwing lanes to deliver the ball.
• The 49ers' offense moved the ball early in the contest with high-percentage passes, but wasn't able to get the ball into the end zone. The 49ers' offensive line wasn't physical enough versus the goal line defensive front that Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips utilized early in the contest. San Francisco never was able to establish a power ground assault because the Cowboys' base 3-4 scheme got continuous penetration on stunts and twists.
Buccaneers 38, Lions 20
• Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin does not like to bring the blitz a lot, but when he does he likes to bring an overload blitz with a linebacker and defensive back often coming off the same side. This forces the offensive line to concentrate on that side of the ball and makes the back side vulnerable -- where the sack usually comes from. Detroit QB Daunte Culpepper was pressured all afternoon, sacked four times and forced to throw two interceptions.
• The Lions' defensive game plan was very aggressive -- especially early on. Their Bear defense aligns a nose tackle over the opposing center, while the defensive tackles line up over the offensive guards, crowding the middle of the line. This is generally accompanied by blitzes off the edge from the outside linebackers. However, this leaves the defense vulnerable to the big play.
Jets 34, Titans 13
• The Jets set the tone early by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Tennessee's defense. They used multiple personnel groupings with different formations on virtually every play, forcing the Titans' defense to adjust and react to the different looks. Favre hit four different receivers on the Jets' first nine plays as they marched 76 yards and scored on their first drive.
• Tennessee stayed with its base front for pretty much the whole game, relying on its front four to establish a pass rush, which allowed the Titans to devote a maximum number of defenders to coverage. Their front four do a great job of staying in their rush lanes and pressuring the pocket from all angles while maintaining gap responsibility to defend the run.
Bills 54, Chiefs 31
• This was a huge day for Bills QB Trent Edwards as offensive coordinator Turk Schonert appeared to make a concerted effort to get his young signal-caller back on track. Edwards was able to find open receivers off play-action and bootleg fakes, which enabled him to hit 75 percent of his passes. Schonert also got his most explosive receiver, Lee Evans, as well as slot receiver Josh Reed involved on intermediate and deeper patterns to stretch the field. Edwards clearly had more confidence, better vision and timing in the passing game than he has shown recently.
• The Chiefs' offense was able to move the ball at will often in this contest against the Bills' base 4-3 defensive front. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey utilized a physical ground assault to set up play-action for QB Tyler Thigpen. Gailey expanded the playbook with a mixture of three-step drops, five-step drops and bootlegs to attack all levels of the Bills' defense. Kansas City took advantage of poor tackling from the Bills' defensive unit and RB Larry Johnson was able to get his shoulders turned downfield to find creases, break tackles and set the tone.
Bears 27, Rams 3
• Bears QB Kyle Orton was efficient and accurate, for the most part. It's obvious that he is not fully recovered from his ankle injury due to his lack of ability to push off on his plant step. However, he made good decisions in the passing game and got rid of the ball with good timing. With RB Matt Forte running the ball well, the Bears did not have to put it in the air very often.
• Without LT Orlando Pace, the Rams' offensive line had a difficult time protecting the quarterback. Not only was QB Marc Bulger knocked out of the game quickly with an injury, but backup Trent Green had little time in the pocket to read the defense or attack downfield. Green had to rely on a short passing game to move the chains, but the Rams fell too far behind in the early stages of the game to mount any type of comeback.
Patriots 48, Dolphins 28
• QB Matt Cassel had his best outing as a pro with 415 yards and three touchdowns. Most of the yards were after the catch as Cassel hit his receivers on shallow crossing routes and intermediate patterns in stride. Cassel made a concerted effort to get the ball to WR Randy Moss more in this game because he drew lots of single coverage with little safety help on the outside.
• Miami lost this shootout, but QB Chad Pennington played well for the most part and showed more mobility than he has in the past. He was effective taking some shots downfield in this matchup, able to extend plays and keep drives alive with timely completions. He even ran the ball in for a 7-yard touchdown. Pennington was able to keep the Patriots' defense off balance at times with a hurry-up, no-huddle offense and a mixture of the Wildcat formation.
Vikings 30, Jaguars 12
• The Vikings' defense deserves a lot of credit for setting the tone. After not showing up last week, their front four provided a dominant performance. DE Jared Allen and DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams combined for seven tackles and 2.5 sacks. Allen didn't account for any of the sacks, but OT Tony Pashos was called for four holding penalties in this football game and three of them were on Allen. Had Pashos not essentially tackled Allen on numerous occasions the Vikings lineman would have had a two-plus sack day. Even though the stats don't show it, Allen had a dominating type of performance in this game.
• The Jaguars have mentally checked out for this season. This game was over on the first snap of the game when C Brad Meester snapped the ball as if QB David Garrard was under center when he was actually in shotgun. Then the Jaguars fumbled the ensuing kickoff to dig a 14-0 hole. Head coach Jack Del Rio is one of the best in the business, but you must wonder if his message has somewhat been lost on this team.
Ravens 36, Eagles 7
• Defensively, the Ravens continue to play at a very high level. They did a nice job of bringing their linebackers up close to the line of scrimmage and stemming their fronts on early downs, which restricted the running space for the Eagles' ground attack. They also mixed in some maximum-coverage designs with good disguises, while bringing some overload and delayed pressure schemes off linebacker loops. The ability of Rex Ryan's defense to create turnovers is simply amazing.
• QB Donovan McNabb never looked very comfortable in the pocket, made poor decisions and was inconsistent with his accuracy -- which resulted in him being benched. Backup QB Kevin Kolb replaced McNabb in the second half and struggled to adjust to the Ravens' pressure packages. On top of that, the Eagles' offensive line was dominated at the point of attack by a very physical Ravens front seven. This is a team that continues to struggle to find ways to run, which places it in less manageable second- and third-down situations.
Raiders 31, Broncos 10
• For all their problems, the Raiders have a keeper in TE Zach Miller. The second-year pro has developed a very good rapport with QB JaMarcus Russell. Miller has good size, presents an excellent target and has sticky hands. He can stretch the seam and has big-play ability. But because Oakland's offensive line may be the league's worst pass-blocking unit, Miller often is needed in protection. If the Raiders can make strides in this area, the results could be doubly beneficial. It's amazing that Denver didn't do more Sunday -- such as align every able body near the line of scrimmage -- to force Oakland to pass.
• Special teams cost the Broncos in a big way. Johnnie Lee Higgins' kickoff return for the game's first touchdown was a critical blow, but missed field goals by K Matt Prater also were damaging. As bad as Denver's defense has played this season, it's hardly surprising that the team wasn't able to overcome mistakes in the kicking game. It hasn't received much attention, but this phase of the game has been almost as erratic as any other for the Broncos in 2008.
Falcons 45, Panthers 28
• Facing the Panthers and a powerful zone-blocking scheme, the Falcons' defensive line had to maintain gap responsibility in order to limit the run lanes available to RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Atlanta's front four did just that, forcing Carolina's backs to run laterally rather than downhill. The Panthers had just 33 rushing yards on nine carries as the Falcons built a 17-3 halftime lead.
• The Panthers spread the field with more multiple-receiver sets and sparked their ground game in the second half (101 yards on 17 carries). They often tried to isolate WR Steve Smith in single coverage and spread the Falcons' secondary thin by moving the receiver from an inside slot position to a perimeter alignment.
Giants 37, Cardinals 29
• The Giants' secondary played a lot of press coverage in an effort to disrupt the timing of the Cardinals' passing game. When New York's coverage defenders were able to get their hands on Arizona's receivers, they threw off the timing and angle of their releases and forced QB Kurt Warner to hold the ball an extra second. As a result, the Giants' pass-rushers also had a bit more time to get pressure on the pocket.
• The Cardinals' pass-blockers had a tough time with the various twist games and blitzes thrown at them by the Giants' front seven. The confusion resulted in several big shots on Warner as he was releasing the ball. The quarterback showed excellent concentration and toughness in the pocket despite all the pressure, but he wasn't able to take advantage of the big-play opportunities that would have been available with just a little more time.
Redskins 20, Seahawks 17
• The Redskins' back-end coverage defenders were physical and effective, which allowed coordinator Greg Blache to bring a fifth or sixth pass-rusher to bolster an unproductive four-man rush. Whenever Seattle lined up in empty-backfield or four-wide formations, Washington shifted its defensive alignment and attacked the protection schemes. QB Matt Hasselbeck was particularly confused when the Redskins showed blitz pressure from linebackers and safeties late in the pre-snap sequence.
• Hasselbeck and the Seahawks' passing game never got in sync. Coach Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense is all about rhythm and timing, getting the ball downfield on short and intermediate anticipation throws that allow receivers to make plays after the catch. The Seahawks struggled to convert third-down plays and didn't adjust well to the Redskins' blitz-pressure packages, and Holmgren strangely gave up on the run game despite a productive day from RB Maurice Morris.
Colts 23, Chargers 20
• After losing C Jeff Saturday (calf) early in this game, the Colts simply couldn't handle NT Jamal Williams. Williams occupied the middle and allowed his teammates to make plays, but he also penetrated and was disruptive in the backfield. Saturday was severely disadvantaged in the matchup from a size and power standpoint, but replacement Jamey Richard (a rookie) also comes up short in those areas while lacking Saturday's experience and technique. The inability to handle Williams clearly hampered the Colts' offense -- the running game in particular and, by extension, the play-action passing.
• New defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is beginning to put his stamp on the Chargers, and his pressure packages certainly are more aggressive than those of predecessor Ted Cottrell. San Diego had a lot of success with interior blitzes after Saturday was injured, which were especially effective against a quarterback (Peyton Manning) who is only semi-mobile when healthy and who still is recovering from a knee injury. Rivera never allowed Manning to get comfortable for long, forcing the quarterback to rush some throws. This defense already has showed a lot of improvement.
Steelers 27, Bengals 10 (Thursday)
• The Steelers' defense had repeated success with corner blitzes against the Bengals. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau excels at disguising his intentions before the snap, then bringing extra defenders from different angles. Cincinnati had very few answers for the pressure, especially when it was coming off the corner.
• The Bengals didn't generate enough of a pass rush to take advantage of the protection problems of the Steelers' offensive line. When Cincinnati rushed four, the defense couldn't create enough pressure to force QB Ben Roethlisberger to deliver the ball early. Bringing extra defenders was the only thing that worked to improve the Bengals' rush, but the Steelers too often beat the blitz with screens and throws to hot reads.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.