Bucky Brooks
Friday October 26th, 2007

More Game Plans: Lions-Bears | Steelers-Bengals | Giants-Dolphins | Eagles-Vikings | Browns-Rams | Raiders-Titans | Bills-Jets | Texans-Chargers | Jaguars-Bucs | Redskins-Patriots | Saints-Niners

Colts' Game Plan

Throw deep off play-action. The Colts' rushing attack will sometimes force the Panthers to drop an additional defender into the box. Though Carolina's corners match up well against Marvin Harrison (who's likely out for Sunday) and Reggie Wayne, the presence of single coverage will give Peyton Manning opportunities to hit big throws.

Rev up the pressure off the edge. The Panthers' tackles (Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross) have problems against pass rushers with explosive speed and quickness. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are just that and will keep pressure on Vinny Testaverde in the pocket.

Panthers' Game Plan

Be patient with the run. The Panthers lack the offensive firepower to stand up to the Colts in a shootout, so they will attempt to keep the score down by relying on their running game. DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams will get plenty of touches as the Panthers try to keep Indy's high-powered offense on the sideline.

Stop the run with six. The Colts will spread the field out of their base package and three-receiver sets to pull defenders out of the box and create running lanes for Joseph Addai. The Panthers will use two-deep coverage to handle the threat of the pass out of spread formations, but look for them to use more defensive line slants and stunts to clog the running lanes with only six defenders in the box.

Lions' Game Plan

Spread 'em out and throw short. The Lions had success in the first game against the Bears by using a quick rhythm passing game out of four-receiver sets. With the Bears scaling back blitzes and using more two-deep coverage, look for Detroit to spread the field again and attack the underneath zones with a variety of slants, short crossers and option routes.

Attack, Attack, Attack. The Lions rank 31st in total defense, but lead the league in turnovers (16) and are near the top in sacks (17). Expect Detroit to blitz on early downs to stop the run and force Brian Griese to throw against an improving two-deep coverage.

Bears' Game Plan

Stay balanced. Cedric Benson hasn't produced big games on the ground, but he has been effective enough to allow Griese to pass effectively off play-action. With the Lions surrendering almost 116 yards per game on the ground, the Bears will hammer Benson repeatedly between the tackles and take vertical shots to Bernard Berrian off play-action.

Bring the heat. The Lions' seventh-ranked passing offense has given up more sacks (31) than any other team in the league. With the Lions unable to adequately protect quarterback Jon Kitna in the pocket, expect the Bears to rev up their pass rush by bringing more blitzes.

Steelers' Game Plan

Grind it out. The Steelers' lead the league in runs over 20 yards (11) thanks to the talent of Willie Parker. Facing a Bengals defense that has struggled to stop the run and is riddled with injuries at linebacker, the Steelers will get Parker on the edge often.

Make it physical. The Steelers will disrupt the Bengals' free flowing offense by making the game physical for the receivers. if the Steelers get good jams on Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, they'll disrupt the timing of the passing game, allowing pass rushers to keep pressure on Carson Palmer.

Bengals' Game Plan

Throw early to set up the run. Facing a Steelers' run defense that only yields 75 yards a game, the Bengals will opt to attack through the air early to loosen up Pittsburgh's eight-man fronts. Expect to see Palmer throw often on the first two drives to set up a series of draws and delays to Kenny Watson (or Rudi Johnson).

Use eight-man fronts on first down. After watching the Broncos have success against the Steelers' ground game by crowding the line with eight-man fronts, the Bengals will use a similar strategy. Look for Dexter Jackson or Madieu Williams to hover near the ball.

Giants' Game Plan

Run, Run, Run. The Giants' smashmouth running game has helped key their offensive resurgence. Against the Dolphins' hapless run defense, the Giants will hammer Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Droughns and Derrick Ward between the tackles to control the tempo and eventually wear down Miami.

Dial up the blitz. The Giants' outstanding pass rush leads the league in sacks (27) and figures to add to that total against Miami. Facing an offense with few weapons, New York will use a multitude of blitzes to free up defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

Dolphins' Game Plan

Feed the babies. Without Ronnie Brown in the lineup, the Dolphins will lean on their young players to carry the load. Ted Ginn Jr. and Derek Hagan will get more looks in the passing game with Lorenzo Booker seeing an increased role as a change-of-pace back.

Make Eli win it. The Giants' powerful offense has rolled in recent weeks behind power running and deep passing plays. But Eli Manning's penchant for turnovers (9 INTs) will encourage the Dolphins to bring pressure. Look for Dom Capers to send blitzers from all angles, even if it makes the D vulnerable to big plays.

Eagles' Game Plan

Use Westbrook on draws and screens. The Vikings' defense wants to pressure on early downs to keep the offense behind the chains. The Eagles will anticipate this and use Brian Westbrook's versatility to exploit the blitz. Look for the Eagles to get the ball to Westbrook on draws and screens to take advantage of the gaps created by rush.

Disrupt the running game with blitzes. The Eagles will be creative with their upfront movement to disrupt the timing of the Vikings' zone blocking scheme. By calling multiple run blitzes, Jim Johnson will attempt to confuse the Vikings' blocking assignments and keep multiple defenders in the backfield.

Vikings' Game Plan

Open up the offense. Kelly Holcomb's insertion into the Vikings' lineup comes at a good time for Brad Childress. Facing an Eagles' defense that uses a variety of looks and blitzes, Holcomb's experience will allow Childress to be more aggressive with his play calling. Look for Minnesota's offense to take more chances in the passing game.

Turn up the pressure. Minnesota's blitz-happy approach on early downs has resulted in 16 turnovers (four returned for touchdowns) and 17 sacks. With the Eagles struggling to protect the passer, expect the Vikings to dial up the blitz often as they attempt to keep constant pressure on Donovan McNabb.

Browns' Game Plan

Jump on 'em. The Browns' high-flying offense has averaged over 27 points a game, but often starts out slowly before hitting its stride. Against the Rams, look for Cleveland to get off to a better start by having quarterback Derek Anderson target his biggest weapons, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, on an assortment of short and intermediate throws.

Let the games begin. St. Louis' battered offensive line has surrendered 24 sacks. Moreover, the constant harassment of the quarterback has resulted in a league-leading 23 turnovers. With the Rams struggling mightily in pass protection, expect to see the Browns use a variety of stunts and games to confuse the makeshift offensive line and keep pressure on Marc Bulger.

Rams' Game Plan

Go back to basics. With Bulger and Steven Jackson back in the lineup, the Rams will return to the simple approach that allowed them to move the ball last season. Look for the Rams to hammer Jackson between the tackles before taking shots downfield to Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt off play action.

Bend, but don't break. St. Louis' defense has not been stellar this season, but is playing better than its ranking suggests. Facing the Browns' high-scoring offense, the Rams will attempt to keep the score down by eliminating the big plays with soft two-deep coverage, forcing the Browns to make long drives to get their points.

Raiders' Game Plan

Run on the edges. The Titans' top-ranked rushing defense has limited opponents to only 59 yards a game behind the dominating play of Albert Haynesworth. With the Titans' interior line playing well, look for the Raiders to use more off-tackle runs to get LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes loose on the perimeter.

Stuff the box. The Titans lead the league in rushing attempts per game (36.8) and the relentless pounding wears down defenses late in the game. The Raiders will make stopping the run a priority and use more eight-man fronts this week to keep LenDale White from finding cutback lanes in Tennessee's zone blocking scheme.

Titans' Game Plan

Run to the strong side. Teams have found success against the Raiders' eight-man fronts by running to the strong side, so expect the Titans to follow suit. SS Michael Huff has struggled with his tackling and his misses in the hole have led to big runs. Look for Tennessee to run the ball directly at him on their outside zone/stretch play.

Get pressure with four. The outstanding play of the defensive line has worked wonders for Tennessee. Travis LaBoy and Kyle Vanden Bosch consistently press the pocket off the edges, which enables the Titans to drop seven defenders into coverage. Tennessee should have no problem getting pressure on Daunte Culpepper with four, forcing him to throw into the teeth of its zone.

Bills' Game Plan

Open up the playbook. Trent Edwards displayed outstanding poise running the no-huddle against the Ravens and appears to be ready to handle a bigger playbook. Look for the Bills to shed their conservative approach against the Jets and have Edwards take more chances in the passing game.

Creep up on D. Despite Chad Pennington's deep toss to open the game last week, the Jets' passing game relies too much on short and intermediate throws. With vertical shots a rarity, the Bills will use their two-deep zone to clamp down on short routes and force Pennington to throw into tight windows.

Jets' Game Plan

Throw deep on early downs. Thomas Jones' presence in the backfield still commands eight-man fronts on early downs. With the safety in the box, the Jets should attempt to exploit the single coverage outside by taking deep shots to Laveranues Coles or Jerricho Cotchery on early downs.

Stop Marshawn Lynch. The Bills' rookie has come on strong in recent weeks and his emergence has allowed Edwards to throw effectively off play action. The Jets will attempt to neutralize Lynch by crowding the line of scrimmage and force Edwards to beat them from the pocket.

Texans' Game Plan

Re-discover the running game. The Texans' woeful running game is barely averaging three yards a carry and has only produced one run over 20 yards. Facing a Chargers' defense that is rounding into form, the Texans will use some creativity to try to get their ground game going. Look for Gary Kubiak to spread the field with three-receiver sets to create bigger running lanes for Ahman Green.

Close the Gate(s). Antonio Gates leads all tight ends in several categories and his versatility opens up the Chargers' offense. The Texans will attempt to limit his impact on the game by keeping a bracket on Gates whenever possible. The double team should be expected out of their base defense, but look for a few creative double-teams in the nickel package.

Chargers' Game Plan

Stretch the field off play-action. The Texans will make a concerted effort to slow down LaDainian Tomlinson by dropping a safety in the box on early downs. With so much attention focused on the running game, Philip Rivers should target newly acquired Chris Chambers as well as Vincent Jackson on a couple of vertical routes off play-action.

Pressure off the edges. Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips have led the defense's resurgence by getting better pressure on the quarterback off the edge. Against a Texans' offense that hasn't been able to run the football effectively, the Chargers will focus on keeping pressure on Matt Schaub (or Sage Rosenfels if Schaub can't go) off the edges. Look for the pass-rushers to be involved in several stunts designed to get them clean runs to the quarterback from different spots.

Jaguars' Game Plan

Re-establish offensive identity. With starting quarterback David Garrard out with an injury, the Jaguars will try to pound the ball between the tackles to move the ball. Expect Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to combine for over 35 carries as the Jaguars hammer away at an undersized defensive line.

Keep Jeff Garcia in the pocket. Garcia's accuracy, poise and decision-making have steadied the Bucs' offense, but his improvisational skills have given Tampa Bay big-play ability. The Jaguars must limit Garcia's effectiveness by getting pressure from outside while simultaneously getting a push from John Henderson and Marcus Stroud up the middle to clog his escape lanes.

Bucs' Game Plan

Diversify the running game. Earnest Graham's punishing 92-yard rushing performance against the Lions added some punch to Bucs' struggling rushing attack. The addition of Michael Bennett's speed will allow Jon Gruden to diversify his running game. Look for the Bucs to use a 1-2 punch featuring Graham on power plays and Bennett on outside runs.

Use more eight-man fronts. The Bucs use a variety of eight-man fronts to stop the run on early downs. Against a Jaguars' offense without the services of Garrard, the Bucs will use more eight-man fronts and run blitzes to neutralize the running game. They'd love to put the pressure on Jacksonville quarterback Quinn Gray to move the ball through the air.

Redskins' Game Plan

Throw the ball outside. The absence of big plays from the wide receivers has allowed defenses to squeeze the Redskins running game by using eight-man fronts. Against a Patriots' defense focused on stopping the run and tight end Chris Cooley, Jason Campbell will need to connect with Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El on a few outside throws to loosen up the New England defense.

Pull out the blanket. The Redskins' fifth-ranked defense has throttled several high-powered passing offenses by blanketing receivers with their two-deep scheme. Against the Patriots' spread sets, the Skins will add another wrinkle to their two-deep scheme by dropping an interior lineman into coverage. The wrinkle will allow Washington to keep the double team on Randy Moss outside, while adding another underneath defender to limit Wes Welker's effectiveness on short crossers.

Patriots' Game Plan

Neutralize Chris Cooley. The Patriots have had success against young quarterbacks by taking away their favorite weapon and forcing them to rely on their second and third options to win games. Campbell is most effective as a passer when he is able to feed Cooley off play action. Look for the Patriots to try to slow Cooley by bringing blitzers off his side to keep him in pass protection or by keeping a linebacker over the op to bully him in the routes.

Feature double tight end sets on early downs. Facing a Redskins' defense that will use a lot of two-deep coverage, the Patriots will vary their personnel to attack the weakness of the defense. By using the double-tight end set, the Patriots can attack the coverage with the run or pass. Look for Benjamin Watson to play a key role as New England takes advantage of his versatility and athleticism.

Saints' Game Plan

Keep Reggie Bush on the move. Sean Payton has gotten maximum production out of Reggie Bush by taking advantage draws, screens and gadget plays. The second-year back has accumulated impressive numbers (26 touches/111 yards per game) as a full-time starter and showed his toughness last week.

Turn up the pressure. New Orleans' defense has discovered its pass rush and swagger after back-to-back solid performances (Seattle and Atlanta). Against a 49ers' offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in all offensive categories, expect the Saints to attack the line of scrimmage with multiple blitzes to keep the pressure on San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith in the pocket.

49ers' Game Plan

Get Frank Gore more touches. With the offense struggling mightily to move the ball, the 49ers will lean on the Pro Bowl runner to right the ship. Look for the 49ers to get back to power football by getting Gore 20 or more carries on a variety of off-tackle runs.

Match 'em up. Against the Saints' quick, rhythm passing game, the 49ers will play more man-to-man/blitz coverage to disrupt the timing of Drew Brees. Solid coverage from Walt Harris and Nate Clements will be critical for San Francisco to execute its high pressure game plan.

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