A few things that jumped out from Week 16
Scouts Inc. shares its key observations from Week 16's matchups.
Sometimes, it just jumps off the screen. Other times, it takes a second or third look. Scouts Inc. watched every Week 16 game and learned a few things about each team.
Bears 20, Packers 17
• The zero coverage that the Bears used in the first half to pressure Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was effective forcing the ball out quickly. This tactic is both aggressive and risky, but it worked for the Bears due to the element of surprise. However, it could also be very costly if the offense suspects that it's coming and can make the right sight adjustments.
Scouts Inc. gives more observations from Week 16. Insider
• Why was Chicago's offense limited?
• Dolphins' short-yardage specialist
• Has Russell arrived in Oakland?
• Jackson's thriller in Denver
• Gates isn't Chargers' only playmaking TE
• The one Colt no one can cover
• The Packers relied on a four-man rush for most of the game and decided to drop seven into coverage and limit the size of the windows that Chicago QB Kyle Orton could throw through. The Packers' corners also did a good job of manning up on the Bears' receivers and disrupting their routes with strong jams at the line of scrimmage, which forced Orton to look to his underneath routes.
Giants 34, Panthers 28
• The Giants' offense was effective in dictating the flow of the game -- a drastic change from their previous outings. The presence of RB Brandon Jacobs certainly had a lot to do with that because he is the type of runner who is rarely stopped for zero or negative yards. QB Eli Manning stayed cool and did not panic when the first-down run wasn't overly successful. As the game went along, Carolina consistently challenged New York to throw by blatantly stacking the line of scrimmage -- but the Giants didn't abandon the running game. It is also pretty clear that RB Derrick Ward is more productive following Jacobs rather than being the lead back. Ward was exceptional in this role.
• The blocking, the scheme and the threat of WR Steve Smith has a lot to do with the Panthers' successful running game, but RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are top-notch. Both players have terrific power, run with great pad level and have a low center of gravity. However, they do not compromise their quickness, speed, change of direction or cutback ability. Not only are Stewart and Williams exceptional runners, but their contributions as receivers should not be overlooked. As good as the Giants' three-headed rushing attack is, this pair is more potent.
Redskins 10, Eagles 3
• The Redskins relied on their base four-man front to mount a pass rush because they wanted to devote maximum numbers to coverage. They only managed to get to QB Donovan McNabb for two sacks, but were able to limit the explosive plays that his receivers were able to come up with.
• The Eagles struggled to run on the Redskins because they opted to go with a heavy passing attack. Their offensive line couldn't dominate in the trenches and RB Brian Westbrook had only 12 carries for 45 yards. The Eagles' running game prospers with a lot of attempts because it takes just one missed assignment or tackle for Westbrook to break a long one.
Raiders 27, Texans 16
• The Raiders used a lot of one- and three-step drops to allow QB JaMarcus Russell to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Russell hit on 81 percent of his passes, with a quarterback rating of 128.1.
• The Texans looked to TE Owen Daniels and their short passing game more than normal because the Raiders devoted so much attention to WR Andre Johnson. Daniels ended up with 111 receiving yards on a team-leading seven catches. The Texans often used a sliding pocket and had QB Matt Schaub roll to the same side as Daniels to give Schaub relatively easy passes to connect.
Falcons 24, Vikings 17
• The Falcons did a great job of creating mismatches and personnel advantages by spreading things out up front. They often used wide splits to spread the Vikings' defensive front and create natural run lanes for draws and shovel passes. This allowed the Falcons to run for 98 yards on 32 attempts.
•The Vikings used the Falcons' man-under, Cover 2 schemes against them because that coverage did not account for QB Tarvaris Jackson's running skills. Jackson led the Vikings with 76 yards on eight carries. With the corners manning up on the Vikings' receivers and the safeties helping over the top, the rest of the defenders had to account for the underneath routes, which left Jackson unaccounted for.
Chargers 41, Buccaneers 24
• QB Philip Rivers was extremely sharp against the Buccaneers' defense. His reactions to pressure were quick, and he did an excellent job of maneuvering in and out of the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield to locate his receivers. Rivers showed the type of poise and accuracy that will make the Chargers a dangerous playoff team, if they are able to get in.
• QB Jeff Garcia was exceptional with his mobility and movement from the pocket to extend plays. His ability to improvise, throw on the run or tuck the ball away and make plays with his legs was a huge factor in the Bucs' offensive success against the Chargers.
Saints 42, Lions 7
• QB Drew Brees had a lot of success in the passing game due to the excellent protection he received from his offensive line. He had plenty of time to read the field and was selective with his vertical passing attempts. Brees took advantage of the easy, underneath completions when he couldn't find the opportunity to attack vertically.
• The Lions' front four had limited success in creating pressure on Brees, which left the back end of the defense vulnerable. The Lions entered this game with injury concerns in their secondary, but until they acquire better pass-rushers, the back end will be hard-pressed to sustain coverage against a team like the Saints that can spread out and attack all areas.
49ers 17, Rams 16
• The 49ers did a good job of limiting the Rams' offense to mostly field goals when St. Louis was in scoring position. The game stayed within reach due to the 49ers' stingy red zone defense, effective pass rush and creative blitzing that pressured QB Marc Bulger.
• The Rams' secondary did a good job reading the quarterback and making plays on the ball when the opportunities arrived. With a good mixture of zone and man coverage, CB Ron Bartell and FS Oshiomogho Atogwe were able to capitalize on three interceptions. Atogwe is turning into a good playmaker when the ball is in the air, and he can separate the ball from ball carriers when defending the run.
Patriots 47, Cardinals 7
• Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels continues to keep defenses off-balance -- regardless of the conditions -- with spread formations and personnel groupings. Simply put, the Patriots handled the conditions a lot better than the Cardinals. The Patriots have a physical offensive line that cut down their splits and used the combination of RBs Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan to wear down the Cardinals' interior. Using their zone-blocking schemes with their man-blocking principles, the Patriots ran a lot of front-side zones, which allowed their backs to have a three-way alley.
• This is a bad team in a weak division that is heading into the playoffs without a lot of confidence. The Cardinals have no identity in the run game, and they struggled to get any consistency in the passing game due to the weather conditions. The Cardinals have a big offensive line that is soft and struggled to control the interior of the Patriots' defense.
Bengals 14, Browns 0
• The Bengals' offensive line did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage, which allowed RB Cedric Benson to press the line of scrimmage while running to daylight between the tackles. Benson was impressive with his vision, pad level and one-cut ability, and he took a lot of pressure off QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Benson has been a pleasant surprise in another disappointing season for the Bengals, who should do all they can to re-sign him in the offseason.
• The Browns' offense had no chance with QB Ken Dorsey under center. Their inability to stretch the field vertically allowed the Bengals to load up the box with multiple defenders, which placed even more pressure on Dorsey. This is a bad offense that has no identity under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Titans 31, Steelers 14
• With DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch out of the lineup, there were questions as to whether or not Tennessee would be able to pressure QB Ben Roethlisberger with the front four. While mostly young and somewhat unproven, Tennessee's defensive line was very active, quick and aggressive. Tennessee used a rotational system up front on defense during the year, so this young crop didn't play like they were overwhelmed by the speed and magnitude of this game. DTs Jacob Ford and especially Jason Jones are players to watch going forward.
• The Steelers obviously have a fantastic defense, but one part of this group that doesn't get enough recognition are the cornerbacks. This group closes on the ball very quickly and with aggression. They are also an excellent tackling group and willing in run support. Although WR Justin Gage did catch a rather long touchdown on a post route, this group has been fantastic at eliminating the big plays and keeping everything in front of them.
Dolphins 38, Chiefs 31
• The Dolphins' defense needed to dial up more pressure packages (interior zone-run blitzes and stunts) in this contest to slow down the Chiefs' power zone running game, but RB Larry Johnson was able to get his shoulders downfield and break the Dolphins' normally sure-tackling defenders. The footing was poor on the field, but it seemed to favor Johnson more because he is a slashing ball carrier who doesn't utilize many quick, lateral moves.
• Chiefs offensive coordinator Chan Gailey made a concerted effort to get the ball to TE Tony Gonzalez in this matchup. Kansas City ran more clear-out routes to free up their talented tight end on seam, out and option patterns. Gonzalez's size was too much for Miami's secondary to contend with because he was able to get separation by using his length and strength in and out of his stems.
Seahawks 13, Jets 3
• The Seahawks' offensive line won the battle in the trenches with basic zone run-blocking schemes. RB Maurice Morris was effective with his downhill, one-cut, slashing type of running in the poor weather. The offensive line was able to lock on and stay connected with New York's defenders and create creases, while the field conditions appeared to affect the Jets' defenders.
• The Jets' defense was unable to generate an effective pass rush on Seahawks QB Seneca Wallace, enabling him to hit a high percentage of passes. The Seahawks' makeshift offensive line appeared to take tighter line splits to clog up the middle of the pocket and keep it firm.
Bills 30, Broncos 23
• Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert utilized a balanced game plan with a power ground attack and a variety of play-action passes to exploit Denver's defense. The Bills' offensive line was able to lock on and get movement on the smaller front seven of Denver's defense. Buffalo QB Trent Edwards was efficient with high-percentage passes, mostly off of bootlegs on shallow crossers and deep comeback patterns in front of the Broncos' defenders.
• Broncos defensive coordinator Bob Slowik decided to utilize more pressure packages to derail the Bills' physical ground attack. He mixed in several zone-run blitzes, which allowed the linebackers to penetrate the backfield and put Buffalo into long-yardage situations.
Ravens 31, Cowboys 24 (Saturday)
• Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's designs featured a lot of pre-snap movement and inside crossing blitzes from his linebackers. The Ravens' versatility and attacking schemes were the difference in the game. Simply put, the Ravens have the most complicated defensive schemes in the NFL.
• Defensively, the Cowboys have a very good pass rush that placed a lot of pressure on the Ravens' offensive line and rookie QB Joe Flacco. ROLB DeMarcus Ware is one the best pure pass-rushers in the NFL with his ability to explode off the edge. You have to account for him with two blockers on every snap, which affects the way offenses call their game plans. However, the Cowboys must find a way to tackle better, especially on the second and third levels of their defense.
Colts 31, Jaguars 24 (Thursday)
• To say that QB Peyton Manning was hot versus the Jaguars would be a gross understatement. He showed his skills once again during the Colts' comeback victory. Manning manipulated matchups pre-snap and was always aware of down and distance, tempo and time on the clock. He was always up on his toes when he dropped back while surveying the field. Manning did a great job of looking off defenders and delivering the football on time with anticipation. Make no mistake -- he is hands down the best quarterback in the game.
• The Jaguars are using a lot of double-tight-end sets on early downs. This helps Jacksonville's offensive tackles quite a bit, and LT Khalif Barnes needs every bit of help he can get. FB Greg Jones is on injured reserve and the Jaguars do not have an able replacement for him, so using tight ends instead of a fullback is a logical change. Also, throwing to the tight ends is safe. TE Marcedes Lewis still drops far too many passes and is a better blocker than receiving threat, but he certainly has become a prominent contributor in the passing game, especially with the team's issues at wide receiver. It is clear that the tight ends are now a huge part of this offense.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.