A few things that jumped out from Week 13
Scouts Inc. shares its key observations from Week 13.
Sometimes, it just jumps off the screen. Other times, it takes a second or third look. Scouts Inc. watched all the Week 13 games and learned a few things about each team.
Texans 30, Jaguars 17
• The Texans' defense played the run aggressively, and consistently loaded up the box with eight defenders. The front four did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage, and they were able to create penetration and disrupt blocking schemes. Once Jacksonville was forced to throw, DE Mario Williams and Houston's pass rush were successful generating consistent pressure on QB David Garrard.
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• The Jaguars did a poor job up front when it came to stopping the run. Their front four often lost gap responsibility and gave up too many explosive plays to RB Steve Slaton. When defensive linemen pick a side and leave their responsibility, it often opens up major running lanes. The Jaguars' front seven need to do a better job of getting a fit and forcing the ball carrier to run laterally rather than north-and-south.
Colts 10, Browns 6
• The Colts were much weaker up the middle than they were two weeks ago. RG Ryan Lilja and C Jeff Saturday were out this week, and MLB Gary Brackett left this game early in the second quarter with an ankle injury. This was particularly a problem versus the Browns because they are an interior running team with RB Jamal Lewis and the strength of their defense is up the middle where NT Shaun Rogers resides. The offensive linemen were replaced by rookies Jamey Richard and Mike Pollak, and the Colts' ability to move the pile in short-yardage situations was clearly compromised, as evidenced at the end of the first half when Indy couldn't punch the ball in on four tries. Rogers was also clearly a force in the run game because he blew up rushing attempts with regularity.
• Not that he should have been expected to, but QB Derek Anderson really hasn't gotten any better. Anderson wasn't terrible versus the Colts and did make some very impressive throws, but he also had the benefit of playing in a close game with a strong run attack. But his accuracy and ability to handle the weather conditions and throw a wet ball remained problematic. His protection was also very good, but his inability to feel the rush resulted in a Colts' defensive touchdown that was caused by DE Dwight Freeney's sack and strip that led to DE Robert Mathis' touchdown.
Ravens 34, Bengals 3
• You have to love the Ravens' jumbo package (3 TE and 2 RB). In the backfield, pounding FB Lorenzo Neal (255 pounds) leads the way for fullback-turned-power running back Le'Ron McClain (260 pounds). There are no wide receivers on the field but three tight ends instead. Among those "tight ends" the Ravens sometimes include massive NT Haloti Ngata (345 pounds). No other team in the league puts this amount of huge bodies on the field at the same time.
• QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had a lot of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. While Fitzpatrick isn't the tallest quarterback to see or throw over huge bodies in front of him, most of the reason his passes were batted down was due to the fact that defensive coordinator Rex Ryan knew that the Bengals' passing game has little to no downfield ability. When Fitzpatrick tried to take three-step drops and get the ball out quickly, his protection was already getting driven backwards by the powerful Ravens' pass rush and the passing lanes were greatly compromised.
Buccaneers 23, Saints 20
• Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin relied on his four-man rush, while playing maximum coverage on the back end. The bulk of the Buccaneers' pressure came from their four-man rush, which bothered QB Drew Brees in the pocket when moving off landmarks. The Buccaneers are fast and aggressive and did a good job of making the proper run fits within their 4-3 schemes, forcing the Saints into being a one-dimensional team through the air.
Watch highlights from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 23-20 win over the New Orleans Saints.
• The Saints have no confidence in the running game and are simply a one-dimensional passing team. With that said, head coach Sean Payton dialed up a lot of different looks that involved bunch formations designed to flood the short and intermediate areas to try to attack different levels. However, Brees had a very difficult time fitting the ball into tight windows in the Buccaneers' underneath zones, which resulted in some game-changing mistakes late in the game. This game was decided on turnovers.
Dolphins 16, Rams 12
• It appeared Miami's coaching staff had a very conservative game plan in this matchup. QB Chad Pennington took very few shots (less than normal) downfield and appeared overly conservative. However, Pennington did move the chains at crucial times with spot throws that were delivered well before his targets were out of their breaks. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning tried to muscle the Rams' marginal defensive front with a power zone ground assault between the tackles.
• The Rams controlled the clock and the tempo of the game, especially in the first half, by running between the tackles with a healthy RB Steven Jackson and a high-percentage passing game. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders made a concerted effort to get Jackson the ball and establish the Rams in the trenches. The Rams' offensive line was physical against the Dolphins' stingy 3-4 scheme, until the Rams got into the red zone. The Dolphins' defense tightened up its coverage (techniques and alignment) once St. Louis threatened to score.
Steelers 33, Patriots 10
• Surprisingly, the Steelers' offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, especially on the edges of the Patriots' 3-4 defense. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians dialed up some off-tackle Power-O runs, misdirections and delayed draws that attacked the outside edges. The Steelers had tremendous balance on offense and did a great job of handling the rainy conditions in New England. This was a very impressive win as the Steelers dominated the second half in all phases of the game.
Watch highlights from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 33-10 win over the New England Patriots.
• Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should be on a lot of short lists for head coaching positions this offseason. He is a dynamic playcaller who knows how to attack opposing defenses. And his development of QB Matt Cassel has been impressive. However, the Steelers' defense dominated the Patriots' offense in the second half, and the Patriots were unable to make plays on third down or handle the Steelers' pressure schemes.
Broncos 34, Jets 17
• The Broncos seemed to outcoach the Jets staff with a variety of offensive formations that attacked every area of the line of scrimmage as well as the secondary. QB Jay Cutler had lots of time to scan the field with little pressure in the pocket and complete passes at every level of the field. Cutler racked up 357 yards through the air versus a combination of five-underneath zone and man coverages. Cutler appeared to be more confident with his reads, timing and accuracy, and the Jets had no answer.
• Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's approach was to be physical in the secondary against the Broncos' perimeter receivers. New York's corners used a combination of tight man and zone techniques to reroute Denver's explosive targets. The Jets had some success utilizing this approach, but for the most part Cutler was able to exploit New York's coverage defenders due to a lack of pressure in the pocket. The Broncos' combination of solid blocking along with a complex offensive package (formations, shifts, motions, etc.) appeared to limit the overall aggressiveness of the Jets' defense.
Giants 23, Redskins 7
• The Giants did a great job of disguising their blitzes and being unpredictable as to when they were coming. They came with safety blitzes, corner blitzes and linebacker blitzes and used a lot of twists and stunts from their front seven. Not only do the Giants bring a heavy blitz package, but they're disciplined and do an excellent job of maintaining gap responsibility and staying in their lanes.
• The Redskins' offensive line struggled early on trying to figure out where the blitz was coming from, and as a result, QB Jason Campbell was under consistent pressure. Campbell is one of the more accurate passers in the league when he has time to survey the field and step into his throws, but he can struggle when he has bodies around his feet and ends up taking a lot of hits.
49ers 10, Bills 3
• The 49ers used an aggressive ground game to run right at the Bills. Driving off the ball with a good mix of pulling and trapping to create run lanes for RB Frank Gore, the 49ers forced the Bills to commit extra defenders to stopping the run. This softened up the back end enough to allow QB Shaun Hill to hit on 14 of 23 passes.
• The Bills' offensive line did not do a great job of recognizing San Francisco's defensive fronts, especially in the first half. The 49ers showed a variety of fronts, making it difficult to determine if they were in an odd front with a blitzing linebacker or an even front looking to two-gap. Sloppy conditions also made it difficult for the Bills to finish drives off despite dominating the game statistically.
Chiefs 20, Raiders 13
• The Chiefs used a lot of multiple-receiver sets with TE Tony Gonzalez walked off on the opposite side. This forced a lot of single coverage, which the Chiefs took advantage of as Gonzalez caught eight passes for 110 yards. When Kansas City ran, it tended to run at the edges of the Raiders' defense. Oakland's defensive ends and outside linebackers did a poor job of setting the edge versus the run.
• The Raiders came with a heavy blitz package in an attempt to rattle QB Tyler Thigpen. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan trusted his cornerbacks to man up on Kansas City's receivers, generally matching up CB Nnamdi Asomugha with Gonzalez. Unfortunately, the Raiders' pass rush did a poor job of staying in their lanes and the Chiefs had a lot of success with designed quarterback draws. Thigpen gained 44 yards on 11 carries.
Falcons 22, Chargers 16
• The Falcons' defense has a lot of young players who are stepping up and making plays at key moments. The trade for CB Domonique Foxworth has yielded good results, and rookie MLB Curtis Lofton is playing like a veteran. This defense held RB LaDainian Tomlinson to 24 yards rushing and QB Philip Rivers to 149 yards passing.
• The Chargers' offense has been the strength of the team this year, but they had little success moving the ball against Atlanta's defense. Rivers never looked comfortable in the pocket, and the vertical passing game suffered. His receivers dropped balls and had trouble creating separation out of their breaks.
Vikings 34, Bears 14
• The Vikings' defense (especially the front four) was getting pushed around some early in the game until a goal-line stand seemed to ignite their aggression to a different level. Minnesota was able to stymie Chicago's running game and pressure QB Kyle Orton in the pocket out of the Vikings' base 4-3 defensive front. It was a bit of a surprise to see that the Bears didn't adjust with more maximum protections or at least chip on DE Jared Allen, who had three sacks.
• Early in the contest, Orton was on target with a three-step quick passing game to move the chains, and he was aided by physical ground attack led by RB Matt Forte. Early in this matchup, the Bears' offensive line appeared to hold their blocks longer (especially in the running game) to create rare creases in the stingy Vikings' defensive unit.
Panthers 35, Packers 31
• Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams is doing an excellent job reading his blocks, which is part of the reason he is having more success this year. He is also helped because Carolina is also bigger up front along the offensive line, but his vision combined with his lower-body strength and low center of gravity make him very difficult to stop.
• QB Aaron Rodgers did not get off to a good start, but he found his rhythm and timing in the third quarter. The deep ball completion to WR Donald Driver in the third quarter helped Rodgers gain some confidence, but the Packers also used stacked-receiver alignments to flood Carolina's zones, which were effective.
Eagles 48, Cardinals 20 (Thursday)
• This game was won early in the contest with a physical ground assault on basic running plays, as well as a mixture of three-step drops and high-percentage passes (screens, slants and option patterns). Few passes were over 10 yards and when the ground attack was effective, it set up play-action bootleg passes well for Donovan McNabb to get on the edge. There was no question that Andy Reid was making a concerted effort to get his franchise signal-caller on track with easy throws and fewer reads.
• The Cardinals were forced to bring a safety up in the box and keep a linebacker in (instead of adjusting out against specific spread sets) to stop the Eagles' ground assault. Clearly the Eagles were the more physical group in the trenches. Defensively, the Cardinals didn't get off blocks quickly enough to slow down an impressive Philadelphia running game.
Cowboys 34, Seahawks 9 (Thursday)
• TE Jason Witten showed excellent awareness in the passing game. He has very good reactions to coverage. His ability to settle quickly in zones and make adjustments when the QB was flushed was a key to their success in attacking the interior of the defense. Witten was impressive, especially considering he is still dealing with a rib injury.
• Seattle's offensive line play has definitely been affected by the shuffling of players at left guard, center and right guard. Their lack of cohesion and continuity up front was noticeable in pass protection against the Cowboys' pass rush and blitz schemes. The run game also does not have the same type of movement off the ball or ability to sustain blocks that it needs against a good defense like Dallas.
Titans 47, Lions 10 (Thursday)
• The Lions could hardly even get a hand on Chris Johnson, whose role in the offense continues to grow. Of course, the Titans' run blocking was exceptional, as Johnson and LenDale White had gaping holes to run through all afternoon, but the Lions' back end support was just awful and someone as explosive and fast as Johnson was off to the races before the Lions could do anything to get in his way. His vision and start/stop ability is impressive and he needs just a tiny crack to make a big play. Tennessee also continues to get him more involved as a receiver. It was equally as dominating by Tennessee's running game as it was pathetic by Detroit's defense.
• The worst thing that could have happened to the Lions was getting down early. On a short week with aching bodies and far overmatched from a physical and talent perspective, Detroit had little chance in the trenches against Tennessee on both sides of the ball. With a lead, the Titans could run at will while mixing in a few throws to keep Detroit honest, but the Lions' defensive front was quite simply out-manned and worn down by the end of the first half. It looked like a varsity team against the JV squad.