Bucky Brooks
Monday November 12th, 2007

Ben Roethlisberger's athleticism is often underrated, but it has made him one of the tougher quarterbacks to defend when he flees the pocket. His running skills and ability to complete throws accurately on the move creates big play opportunity for the Steelers. His 30-yard touchdown run was one of the numerous plays he made with his feet to keep the offense rolling.

• The Steelers have nicely complemented their aggressive zone blitz package with a soft eight-man zone defense with only three rushers. The zone is effective because the aggressive bluffing of the linebackers forces changes in the pass protection, limiting the number of receivers on routes. With fewer receivers to cover, the Steelers were able to blanket the Browns' passing game and hold Derek Anderson to just 123 passing yards.

• The Packers surprisingly found success on the ground against the Vikings by being creative with their formations and play calls. Green Bay used the full house backfield (three running backs) to get Ryan Grant free on off-tackle runs during the first quarter. And the Packers later utilized a series of draws out of their bunch formations to take advantage of additional space created by their four-receiver sets. By unveiling several new wrinkles in their running game, Green Bay helped Grant accumulate 119 rushing yards.

Mike McCarthy called more shovel passes to take advantage of the Vikings' pass rush. By inviting the Vikings' front four up the field, Brett Favre was able to slip Grant and Vernand Morency past the defense off flip tosses. The combination of the shovel pass and draw slowed Minnesota's pass rush enough to allow Favre to work comfortably from the pocket.

• The Packers slowed down Adrian Peterson without making major adjustments to their base defense. Without the threat of an effective passing game, the Packers pressed Charles Woodson and Al Harris on the Vikings' receivers and incorporated Atari Bigby as part of their eight-man fronts/run blitz package. With the additional defender in the box, A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga floated freely through the gaps to corral Peterson.

• Jacksonville attacked the middle of the Titans' defense with Albert Haynesworth out of the lineup. The absence of Haynesworth allowed the Jaguars to eschew their typical interior double teams and get blockers on the Titans' linebackers. By being able to get a "hat-on-hat" on the Titans' interior defense, the Jaguars were able to gain yards on the day.

Vince Young's reluctance to use his feet is making the Titans' offense easier to defend. He's not the dual threat that made him dangerous last season. Defenses are dropping as many as eight defenders into zone to suffocate the Titans' receivers and Young isn't making them pay by using his athleticism to pick up hidden yardage on QB draws or scrambles.

• St. Louis defensive coordinator Jim Haslett used a high pressure approach to throw off the rhythm of the Saints' offense. By using a variety of five- and six-man pressures with multiple pre-snap looks, the Rams completely confused Drew Brees and forced him into turnovers. The aggressive approach was surprising given the Rams' defensive woes heading into the game.

Steven Jackson's return to the lineup keyed St. Louis' offensive explosion. Though he only gained 76 yards, his power running early created big-play opportunities for Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce off play-action. The Rams finally looked like the high-powered unit many expected to see heading into the season.

• The Falcons took advantage of the Panthers weakness at safety on Alge Crumpler's game-winning touchdown. Anticipating pressure, the Falcons used Crumpler on a short crossing route to take advantage of blitz/man coverage. Chris Harris aligned himself too far away from Crumpler before the snap and took a bad angle to the ball. The Panthers have tried to dial up more blitzes to create more turnovers, but their safeties' coverage limitations prevent them from finding consistent success.

• The Giants used more off-tackle runs to attack the Cowboys' 3-4. By running on the edges, the Giants were able to slow DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis off the corner and turn Brandon Jacobs loose in the secondary. Though the Giants came up short, the strategy to run at the Cowboys' outside linebackers was effective for most of the game.

• The Cowboys' offense continues to be a big-play machine due to the outstanding blend of talent at the skill positions. The trio of Patrick Crayton, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten forces defenses to use two-deep coverage to slow the passing game, which creates room for Marion Barber III or Julius Jones to run freely late in the game. Until a defense can effectively cover Owens or Witten without using a double team, Dallas will continue to put big numbers.

• Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride wisely used Jeremy Shockey as the go-to guy in the passing game early against Dallas. That gave Eli Manning a safety valve against the Cowboys' pressure and exploited a favorable matchup in the secondary against Dallas safety Roy Williams.

• The Cowboys neutralized Plaxico Burress by using a mixture of "quarters" coverage with their man-to-man to get late double teams. "Quarters" allows corners to play aggressive on outside routes because a safety provides help on deep inside routes. The Cowboys didn't use the coverage exclusively, but mixing it in with their man-to-man kept Manning from targeting Burress on vertical routes. Without the deep ball available, Burress was limited to four receptions for 24 yards.

• After finding success running the football to set up the pass, the Lions inexplicably chose not to run against the Cardinals' suspect run defense. Of the Lions' first 17 plays, Mike Martz called 13 passes and four runs. The lack of balance left Jon Kitna vulnerable to the Cardinals' rush. Detroit ended up with -18 rushing yards -- a modern NFL low.

Rex Grossman's return to the lineup allowed the Bears to take advantage of Oakland's blitz-heavy scheme. Grossman's 33-yard strike to Mushin Muhammad took advantage of the Raiders' defensive gameplan, as did his 59-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian. Although Grossman's turnovers and carelessness drives offensive coordinators crazy, his arm makes him a big-play threat against the blitz.

• The Ravens' futile offensive showing against the Bengals' 31st-ranked defense illustrates Brian Billick's inability to develop an offense around the talent of his personnel. With a quartet of Willis McGahee, Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton at the skill positions, the Ravens should be able to generate more than seven points against any defense. The lack of commitment to the running game and the inability to throw the ball vertically has crippled the offense. Billick came to Baltimore as an offensive genius, but his reputation is taking a serious hit this season.

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