What to watch for from the AFC teams in the postseason
After looking at game film, Gary Horton tells you what to pay attention to from the AFC teams during the postseason.
After breaking down film and critiquing the teams heading into the postseason, Scouts Inc. tells you what to watch for in the AFC postseason.
• Look for the Titans possibly to roll out the Wildcat formation in the playoffs with Vince Young or LenDale White at QB. This would be a good change-of-pace package; plus, the shotgun is a good fit for Young's athletic skills.
• The Titans love to get the ball to their tight ends in the safe, short passing game. They will also use shifts and short motions with TEs Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler, so QB Kerry Collins can get the ball to them with short, safe passes. However, Scaife and Crumpler are also instrumental in attacking the defensive edges in the power-O run game.
• The Steelers love to throw to their tight ends; at times, they will even show a three-tight-end look with all three lined up on the same side of the field. This sets up the power run game or play-action passing game.
• The Steelers have an interesting defensive sub package against multi-receiver sets. They use a 2-4-5 alignment (2 DL, 4 LB, 5 DB), which puts their best athletes on the field with nine defenders in coverage and only a two-man rush -- although the Steelers can blitz their linebackers.
• QB Chad Pennington continues to love the short passing game, and he distributed the ball to 10 receivers in Week 17. He loves to throw to backs and tight ends after his WRs clear out the underneath zones. The Dolphins also run a lot of shallow crossing routes with just enough Wildcat plays to keep defenses honest.
• The Dolphins are doing a good job of mixing up their defensive coverages with a combination of zone and man schemes. Recently, they have also played tight coverage schemes against receivers who struggle to separate.
• The Chargers are getting backup RB Darren Sproles more involved in the offense -- especially on passing downs. He routinely replaces LaDainian Tomlinson as a nickel receiver and is a real threat in space on dumpoffs and screens.
• San Diego is now a pass-first, run-second offense. This is a new philosophy, but QB Philip Rivers may be the hottest quarterback in the league, while Tomlinson seems to be hesitant at times, and you get the feeling that he does not have great confidence in his blockers.
• Dallas Clark may be the toughest tight end to match up with in the league because of his versatility. When he flexes out to the slot, he is often matched up with a linebacker, and if he goes to the perimeter, it's likely he will draw a safety. These are both in Clark's favor. Plus, if you cover him with a corner out of a nickel or dime package, the Colts will have him line up on the line and run the ball. The Colts have an answer for any defense you want to use against Clark.
• In recent weeks, defenses have decided to take away the deep routes and the sidelines against the Colts. They try to funnel everything inside, which is forcing QB Peyton Manning to throw a lot of short passes and dumpoffs. This isn't all bad because it aids a struggling run game, but this offense seems to lack explosiveness right now.
• The Ravens' defense does a good job of breaking down pass protection. They love to give multiple pre-snap looks that totally confuse the offensive line. Usually they bring only four rushers, but they will give you the illusion that they could be bringing five or six.
• Despite a rookie QB, the Ravens have a more creative offense than you might think. They have some trick plays -- including a form of the Wildcat with Troy Smith at QB -- they will use an unbalanced offensive line, and they will even play with three offensive tackles or three backs in their jumbo packages.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.
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2008 NFL Playoffs
The road to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009, began Jan. 3 with the wild-card playoff round. Will the Steelers or Cardinals replace the Giants as champs?
Championship Game results: NFC | AFC
COLUMNS/FEATURES• Wojciechowski: May the bitter team win
• Chadiha: McNabb lets good times roll
• Football Outsiders: Numbers Crunching
• Sunday Countdown: Predictions and more
• Clayton: First and Goal
• Garber: This Philly Story seeks proper ending
• Clayton: Peaking Steelers should advance
• Chadiha: Eagles will soar in desert
• Wojciechowski: Book Eagles for Tampa
• Football Outsiders: Any Given Sunday
• Football Outsiders: Quick Reads
CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES (Jan. 18)
Steelers 23, Ravens 14• Polamalu's INT return secures win
• Playoff page | AFC North blog
Cardinals 32, Eagles 25• Fitzgerald leads Cardinals to first Super Bowl
• Playoff page | NFC West blog ... East
DIVISIONAL ROUND (Jan. 10-11)
Steelers 35, Chargers 24• Walker: The Bus sparks Parker
• Williamson: Bolts need season-long urgency
• Recap: Steelers knock out Chargers
• More | AFC West blog ... AFC North
Ravens 13, Titans 10• Graham: Battered Ravens pass physical
• Kuharsky: Titans failed to answer critics
• Recap: Turnovers doom Titans
• Zoom Gallery
• Fleming: Can anyone stop the Ravens?
• More | AFC North blog ... AFC South
Cardinals 33, Panthers 13• Sando: Desert bloom for Arizona's faithful
• Sando: No denying Cards' makeover
• Yasinskas: Carolina's big plans fall apart
• Recap: Delhomme's 5 INTs doom Panthers
• Zoom Gallery
• More | NFC West blog ... NFC South
Eagles 23, Giants 11• Wojciechowski: Book Eagles for Tampa
• Mosley: Giants lost to better team
• Recap: Defense smothers Giants
• Zoom gallery
• Chadiha: Eagles' defense hitting stride
• More | NFC East blog
WILD-CARD ROUND (Jan. 3-4)
Ravens 27, Dolphins 9• Wojciechowski: Scary Ravens' D
• Recap: Ravens' defense overpowers Dolphins
• More | AFC North blog ... AFC East
Eagles 26, Vikings 14• Mosley: Eagles' run continues
• Recap: Westbrook, big plays carry Eagles
• More | NFC East blog... NFC North
Cardinals 30, Falcons 24• Sando: Cards' winning identity
• Recap: Strong second half powers Cards
• More | NFC South blog ... NFC West
Chargers 23, Colts 17• Williamson: 5-6 Sproles comes up big
• Recap: Chargers shock Manning, Colts in OT
• More | AFC South blog ... AFC West