A few things that jumped out from Week 17
Scouts Inc. shares its key observations from Week 17's matchups.
Sometimes, it just jumps off the screen. Other times, it takes a second or third look. Scouts Inc. watched every Week 17 game and learned a few things about each team.
Chargers 52, Broncos 21
• When the Chargers go deep, they usually do so off play-action -- and they do so very effectively. This offensive line isn't great in protection and certainly can use that extra second that play-action buys it. QB Philip Rivers also sells play-action well. Even if RB LaDainian Tomlinson isn't running like he once did, he still draws a crowd and Denver's defense is notoriously overaggressive. Interestingly, Tomlinson looked better on Sunday than at any point of the season, which means the play-action attack should be even more dangerous in the postseason.
Scouts Inc. gives more observations from Week 17. Insider
• Did McGinest go out on a high note?
• Would Pittsburgh be fine with Leftwich?
• One man can't cover Andre Johnson
• How did Jackson handle the pressure?
• Smith was Lions' one bright spot
• An aspect that is too often overlooked with the Broncos' offense is just how good it is up front -- in pass protection and in the running game. QB Jay Cutler was rarely harassed and rookie LT Ryan Clady looks like a special young player. In the run game the Broncos are incredibly well-coached, play in sync with one another and consistently open holes -- although the play calling often gets away from this portion of their attack. Denver has gone through a plethora of runners this season, but the holes were there to run through for RB Tatum Bell versus San Diego. Drifting away from the running game so early was a mistake and made defending this offense much easier than it should be. It also really hurt the Broncos in terms of time of possession.
Panthers 33, Saints 31
• The Panthers' run game was successful early against the Saints' defense, which helped set up Carolina's play-action passing game. Offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson tested the Saints' perimeter run defense and gap discipline with stretch and toss plays. By making the defense run laterally, his running backs were then able to look for cutback opportunities based on backside flow. Carolina rarely had to rely on the passing game due to its effectiveness on the ground, but when the Panthers did, they could be cautious and selective.
• The Saints' run defense struggled from the beginning due to their lack of willingness to bring an eighth defender into the box. RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart found quick openings in the defense due to their excellent vision and burst, but also due to the Saints' fear of getting burned off play-action. The Saints' poor tackling didn't help either.
Vikings 20, Giants 19
• QB Tarvaris Jackson's athletic ability allows him to get out of trouble quickly in the pocket. However, his blitz recognition and feel for pressure are not as good as they should be at this time of year due to his lack of playing time during the regular season. Jackson showed a tendency to lock his eyes downfield, which resulted in a lot of extra hits in the pocket against the Giants' creative pressure designs.
• The Giants' offense did not get off to a quick start against Minnesota. RB Brandon Jacobs' and TE Kevin Boss' absences had a big effect on the Giants' power running game. When backup TE Michael Matthews left the game in the second quarter with a right ankle injury, the Giants were more than short-handed, but they still had success in the second half with RB Derrick Ward running outside or bouncing to the corners quickly.
49ers 27, Redskins 24
• The 49ers need to look into upgrading their wide receiver corps in the offseason. Their most reliable target is Isaac Bruce, but he's 36 and the other receivers are inconsistent. QB Shaun Hill is not the most accurate, but he really struggles when his receivers lose concentration and don't run out of their breaks aggressively.
• The Redskins did a good job offensively of mixing up their runs and passes against San Francisco. RB Clinton Portis and the power run game set up play-action and the short-to-intermediate passing game was adequate. QB Jason Campbell also used his athletic ability to escape the 49ers' blitz pressure and create plays with his legs.
Packers 31, Lions 21
• The Packers used their base front four with an occasional safety blitz to get pressure on Lions QB Dan Orlovsky. The Packers could afford to leave their corners in single coverage because they are so physical when pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage. This made it difficult for the Lions' offense to run a short passing attack.
•Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry used a blitz-heavy scheme on Sunday and while Detroit did manage to get to QB Aaron Rodgers for four sacks, the back end of the coverage struggled when it came to defending the pass. The Lions simply lacked the corners to press up and single cover most wide receivers.
Bengals 16, Chiefs 6
• The Bengals' offensive line did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage with their zone-blocking scheme as RB Cedric Benson gained 111 yards on the ground. The Bengals had only two three-and-out series in the whole game, which allowed them to control the clock.
• The Chiefs used a lot of different looks and movement up front to confuse the Bengals' offensive line. Both Bengals tackles started their first games, so the Chiefs hoped to create confusion and allow their front seven to pressure QB Ryan Fitzpatrick into some bad throws.
Falcons 31, Rams 27
• Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey did a great job of feeding the ball to RB Michael Turner, who gained 208 yards and averaged 8.3 yards per carry. With QB Matt Ryan struggling to throw versus the Rams' heavy zone coverage, the Falcons had to rely on the legs of Turner to move the chains.
• Rams defensive coordinator Rick Venturi dropped a maximum number of defenders into coverage in an attempt to limit the number of windows that Ryan had to throw through. As a result, Ryan had one of his worst games, connecting on just 10 of 21 attempts with two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 49.8.
Raiders 31, Buccaneers 24
• The Raiders used their superior size up front to run right at the Bucs' undersized front seven. RB Michael Bush led the Raiders with 177 yards on 27 carries for 6.6 yards per carry. Oakland obviously felt its big bodies could wear down and drive the Buccaneers' defensive linemen off the line.
• The Buccaneers ran wide for most of this game in an attempt to force the Raiders' corners to tackle the ball carrier in space. With CB Nnamdi Asomugha out, Oakland's corners were playing in off coverage and the Raiders lacked corners who could move up and play tight press coverage versus the Buccaneers' receivers.
Cardinals 34, Seahawks 21
• The Cardinals used a lot of looks with eight-man fronts in an attempt to limit Seattle's ground game. They managed to hold Seattle's running backs to 87 yards on 28 carries for an average of 3.1 yards per carry. The Cardinals obviously wanted to force the Seahawks to become pretty much one-dimensional and throw the ball more than they wanted to.
• The Seahawks used a sliding pocket to allow QB Seneca Wallace to move around in the backfield and make it more difficult for the Cardinals to know where to direct their pass rush. This also put pressure on the edge because Wallace not only throws the ball well on the run, but has the running skills to be a threat to tuck the ball and produce on his own.
Ravens 27, Jaguars 7
• QB Joe Flacco played another very efficient game. He was smart distributing the ball, anticipated well, had great timing and was smart enough to let his running game and exceptional defense dictate the flow of the game. However, Flacco didn't throw only short, safe passes, as evidenced by his 297 yards on 23 attempts.
• Coming into Week 17, QB David Garrard had his receivers drop more passes than any other quarterback in the league and his wideouts did not help him again. Of course, the Jags were playing against a very formidable defense, but this group of wideouts really has a tough time gaining separation and isn't very quick coming out of its breaks. Plus, the Jaguars lack someone -- or the pass protection -- to consistently throw the deep ball.
Steelers 31, Browns 0
• The Steelers elected to keep their franchise quarterback -- who has a penchant for holding the ball and taking a lot of big hits -- in during a meaningless game behind a terrible offensive line and it cost them. QB Ben Roethlisberger took a high-low hit from LB Willie McGinest (high) and LB D'Qwell Jackson (low) at the end of the first half.
• Even with nothing to lose, the Browns had absolutely no faith in their passing attack. QB Bruce Gradkowski couldn't have a firm grasp of Cleveland's playbook or feel for the Browns' group of receivers. The communication and timing between passer and receiver were off and the Browns were ultraconservative in passing situations. After going 3-for-3 to start the game, Gradkowski proceeded to complete just two more passes and finished the game with a putrid 18 passing yards, but placing blame for this ineptitude solely on the quarterback would be unjust.
Dolphins 24, Jets 17
• There were a couple of new wrinkles out of the Wildcat formation that didn't move the chains, but were well-conceived in this matchup. A reverse throwback with the ball being delivered by QB Chad Pennington to RB Ricky Williams out of the backfield found Williams wide open, but he was unable to come up with the catch. The Dolphins also tried to run the ball between the tackles out of the Wildcat formation, but didn't have great success versus the Jets because New York's front seven was heavily run-committed.
• The Jets' offense never established an effective ground attack and QB Brett Favre put the ball up 41 times in this matchup. It seemed that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was content to let Favre take his shots downfield, which were ineffective versus the combination man and zone schemes that the Dolphins played.
Texans 31, Bears 24
• After the early success the Bears' offense had, the Texans countered with more eight-man fronts and zone-run blitzes to force QB Kyle Orton to stay with Houston's high-powered offense. The Texans weren't going to be conservative on either side of the ball because that would have played right into Chicago's hands. A good mixture of combination man and zone schemes along with an occasional blitz kept Chicago's offense off balance, especially during the second half.
• Early in the contest, the Bears utilized a good mixture of run and pass to move the chains and score points. The Bears' offense was in a rhythm during the first half with the offensive line making creases for RB Matt Forte, while Orton was able to set his feet and deliver accurately. Orton tried to take some shots downfield, but rarely converted versus the Texans' tight coverage.
Colts 23, Titans 0
• Reserve signal-caller Jim Sorgi was more conservative attempting high-percentage passes. He was able to execute bubble screens, short hitches and option patterns to move the chains effectively. The Colts stayed with a good mixture of run and pass in this contest, while exploiting the Titans' defense for 121 yards on the ground, mostly between the tackles, and high-percentage passes to 11 targets.
• The Titans appeared to be a bit flat in this contest and they didn't attack the line of scrimmage or tackle as aggressively as they have most of the season. Tennessee defenders also didn't wrap up, which allowed virtually unknown RB Lance Ball to have an impressive outing. The Titans also appeared to play a very base defense most of the game.
Patriots 13, Bills 0
• The Patriots put eight in the box defensively most of the game due to the unusually windy conditions. This forced Bills QB Trent Edwards to move the chains, which was tough for him to do under the circumstances. New England defensive coordinator Dean Pees also dialed up some zone-run blitzes more often in this matchup to try to derail Buffalo RB Fred Jackson.
• The Bills' offensive game plan was clearly dictated by the wind conditions and coordinator Turk Schonert force-fed the run versus the Patriots' stacked defense. The Bills' offensive line appeared to match up well with New England and Jackson was able to move the chains effectively between the 20-yard lines. The Bills' huge line was able to lock on and wall off the Patriots' defenders, while Jackson kept the play alive with hard-nosed, extra-effort runs.
Eagles 44, Cowboys 6
• The Eagles' defense did an excellent job of capitalizing and generating points off the Cowboys' frequent turnovers to extend their lead. DE Chris Clemons' 74-yard fumble return and CB Joselio Hanson's 96-yard fumble return were demoralizing for Dallas in the third quarter and really put the game out of reach.
• The Cowboys' offensive line has had problems in pass protection all year and the Eagles took advantage with their superior speed up front. QB Tony Romo was constantly under pressure, taking three sacks, committing two fumbles and throwing an interception, which prevented the Cowboys from sustaining drives and mounting any type of comeback.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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