Bradley and Ngata must be inside forces
QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Jake Delhomme are X factors this weekend, according to Scouts Inc.
Scouts Inc. gives you six more players who will be X factors this weekend.
• Eagles MLB Stewart Bradley: He is a three-down player who plays in both regular and sub defensive packages. He has played at a very high level over the past few weeks and has been an interior force at the middle linebacker position. He must do a great job of controlling the interior of the Eagles' run defense against the Giants' physical running game. Bradley has good size and athletic skills. He has made a smooth transition in the Eagles' complex defensive system and he is a competitive player who shows good toughness. He can attack downhill gaps while staying square, and he has good functional play strength to ward off blocks and get to the ball carrier. He can also be quick in his stack-and-shed ability. Bradley has deceptive play speed and enough range to extend and make plays outside the tackle box.
• Giants FB Madison Hedgecock: He is one of the most underrated fullbacks in the NFL. He has been one of the major components as a lead blocker in the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL. He is a tough, competitive player with above-average athletic skills for the position. Hedgecock can dip, lift and drive into his targets while keeping his feet moving on contact. He has the ability to adjust off the track and play under control in open space. He isn't a threat as a runner and had only one rushing attempt this season, but Hedgecock can be a functional receiver in the passing game.
• Ravens NT Haloti Ngata: He is doing it all for the Ravens, and his versatility for such a big guy is very surprising. In his traditional nose tackle role, he routinely eats up at least two blockers, and he is a big reason why ILBs Ray Lewis and Bart Scott are able to run free to the ball and make plays. This will be critical versus Titans RBs LenDale White and Chris Johnson. Ngata can also use his strength to get an inside push on the center and pressure QB Kerry Collins. He also has the athletic ability to play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme and he will even drop at times in a zone-blitz scheme. Capping off his versatility, Ngata can switch to the offensive side of the ball as a blocking tight end in the Ravens' elephant package with three backs near the goal line.
• Titans TE Bo Scaife: In a very conservative pass offense, Scaife is QB Kerry Collins' go-to guy, and when the Titans need a third-down play they usually look in his direction. He led the team in receptions during the regular season with 58, but most of those were underneath checkoffs and crossing routes. Because the Titans' coaches like to use their tight ends in a lot of presnap shifts and motions, usually designed to attack the defensive edges in their Power-O run game, they are perceived as blockers more than receivers. This allows them to get out on pass routes with mostly single coverage by a linebacker or safety. Scaife is not really a deep threat down the seams, but he can have success on short routes outside the hashes, and in this game versus a stingy Baltimore defense, he might be the ultimate chain-mover for Collins.
• Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast: He is one of the best defensive minds in the game. When looking at Arizona's defense, you can't just look at the overall ranking, because this team struggled late in the season after it clinched the NFC West. During last week's game, Pendergast did an outstanding job of confusing Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan, and while it will be more difficult to confuse a veteran like Panthers QB Jake Delhomme, there are ways the Cardinals will disguise their scheme this week. The Cardinals would like to use an eight-man front to slow the Panthers' run game, but they will not be able to show that eight-man front right from the snap, because Delhomme would then audible to a pass. As a result, look for Arizona to move SS Adrian Wilson down into the box late as the play clock is winding down and not give Delhomme enough time to audible. Pendergast loves to run man and zone pressures, and his ability to put his players -- primarily Wilson and OLB Karlos Dansby -- in the best situations to succeed will have a big impact on the Cardinals' ability to stop the run and force the Panthers into long down-and-distance situations where they can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.
• Panthers QB Jake Delhomme: The Cardinals don't have the best defense in the NFL by any stretch, but they throw a lot of different things at you, and that makes it tough for any quarterback to prepare. Delhomme has the advantage of seeing this defense earlier in the season, but the Cardinals' front is extremely versatile and they can show a lot of different looks than the Panthers saw in the first meeting. Delhomme's first order of business will be locating Wilson before every snap. Wilson will align in the box, in the slot, in the deep half and at times as even an edge player along the line of scrimmage. Delhomme will need to identify him and make sure the blocking scheme called accounts for him, if he decides to blitz. Delhomme has been turnover-prone at times this season, so he must value the football and make good reads.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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