Bucky Brooks
Monday November 26th, 2007

• The Broncos inexplicably decided to kick the ball to Devin Hester down the middle of the field on both of his return touchdowns. By putting the ball in the middle, the Broncos gave Hester too much space to set up his blocks on the return. Most teams attempt to pin the returner near the sideline to squeeze the field and limit his cutback options. For the Broncos to make two critical mistakes in the kicking game against the most dangerous returner in the game is unbelievable.

• Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier effectively complemented his five-man pressure package with two-deep coverage to completely confuse Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the pocket. The pressures, which featured E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway on inside blitzes, forced Manning to make quick decisions under duress. And the effectiveness of the pressure early in the game allowed the Vikings to bait Manning into mistakes against their two-deep coverage with bluff and drop tactics. Each of Manning's interceptions was the result of a poor throw against two-deep coverage.

• The Browns used a different approach to get their offense going against the Texans. Instead of relying on their high-octane passing game, the Browns fed Jamal Lewis the ball on an assortment of power runs to soften up Houston's defense. Though the ground attack wasn't productive early, it eventually wore down the Texans in the second half.

• The Bengals protected their vulnerable defense by using less no-huddle on offense. The slower tempo allowed Cincy to win the time of possession battle and limit the Titans' offensive possessions. With their defense struggling mightily, the decision to slow the game down proved to be a wise one.

• The Titans' defense continues to struggle without Albert Haynesworth in the lineup. Haynesworth's presence in the middle drew double- and triple-teams in the running game, and Tennessee's linebackers were able to flow freely to the football. But without Haynesworth, Keith Bulluck and David Thornton are having difficulty getting off blocks and teams are shredding the Titans on inside running plays. Tennessee's pass rush is also suffering from the loss of Haynesworth in the middle. The Titans have only recorded three sacks in the past three games, after tallying 22 in the first eight weeks.

• Despite their reputation as a two-deep team, the Bucs have subtly moved away from the concept this season. Monte Kiffin is calling more three-deep coverage on early downs to stuff the run. The three-deep zone places one of their safeties in the box, which limits the cutback lanes in the running game. The increased use of three-deep coverage (eight-man front) has been one of the reasons Tampa Bay has returned to the ranks of the elite on defense.

• The Bears exploited Champ Bailey's penchant for peeking into the backfield on the Bernard Berrian's game-tying touchdown late in regulation of Chicago's overtime win over Denver. The combination of Rex Grossman's quick pump fake with Berrian's whip route created enough separation for Grossman to squeeze in a tight throw. While Bailey still remains the game's top corner, teams are effectively using double moves to make plays on him.

• The return of the big play has ignited the Broncos' offense in recent weeks. Jay Cutler has been able to complement the Broncos' running game by connecting on deep throws to the receivers against eight-man fronts. Cutler completed three passes over 40 yards against the Bears and has completed five over 40 yards in the past three games.

Philip Rivers took advantage of Baltimore's backside corner blitz on his 25-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates in the third quarter of San Diego's victory. With the Ravens showing the blitz prior to the snap, Rivers checked to a play that featured Gates on a deep crossing route over the middle of the field. By using a crossing route against the blitz-man coverage (man coverage without safety help), the Chargers were able to get Gates alone on Ray Lewis in space. Gates easily slipped pass Lewis on the way to his second touchdown of the day.

• The return of the Chargers' pass rush was merely the result of using more five-man pressures. Ted Cottrell dialed up more blitzes using Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman on outside rushes off the edges. Though San Diego occasionally mixed in an inside looping stunt by one of their edge rushers, they were surprisingly able to win with conventional rushes off the edges.

• The Cardinals shot themselves in the foot with mental mistakes in their overtime loss to the 49ers. A delay of game penalty nullified Neil Rackers' 27-yard field goal and Steve Breaston's poor decision to field a punt inside the 5 eventually led to Tully Banta-Cain's touchdown off a Kurt Warner fumble. The Cardinals cost themselves a victory and potentially a playoff berth with two bonehead mistakes in overtime.

• On Thanksgiving Day, Green Bay's Aaron Kampman dominated his matchups with the Lions' right tackles (Jonathan Scott and Blaine Saipaia) by simply using his power rushes to collapse the pocket off the edge. His power moves were more effective against the Lions because they rarely leave additional blockers in to assist their tackles with chip blocks. Kampman is rarely mentioned among the top pass rushers in the game, but he has amassed more sacks (26) than any other player since the start of 2006.

• Green Bay quickly adjusted to the Lions' surprising decision to eschew their standard two-deep coverage for more press-man schemes. After sputtering against the man coverage early, the Packers called more slants, slot-option routes and fades to take advantage of the single-high safety looks that accompanied the man coverage and to exploit their favorable size advantages over the Lions' corners. The subtle adjustment resulted in an impressive 20-consecutive completion streak by Brett Favre and resulted in a 34-point explosion, after being shut out for most of the first quarter.

• A big reason for the Lions' recent offensive struggles has been the inconsistent play of Jon Kitna and the passing game. After getting off to a hot start to open the season, Kitna has been plagued by turnovers (six INTs and two fumbles) during Detroit's three-game losing streak. But the Lions' highly touted receivers also have failed to play up to expectations, particularly Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. Neither made much of an impact against the Packers and Johnson failed to come down with several tough passes that potentially could have created positive momentum in the opening moments.

• The Cowboys improved secondary play has coincided with Terence Newman's return to health. After shaking off the injury rust during the first few weeks, Newman has been outstanding in coverage and provided timely big plays on defense. His two interceptions in the past two weeks, including the 50-yard INT return touchdown against the Jets, have been momentum changing plays for the Cowboys. And they will need more of those game-changing type plays from Newman during their playoff push.

• The Falcons may have shown the rest of the league a blueprint for attacking the Colts defense. By using empty formations, the Falcons forced the Colts to abandon their customary two-deep coverage in favor of more press-man schemes. That allowed Joey Harrington to take more shots down the field, highlighted by Roddy White's 40-yard touchdown reception. Though Atlanta wasn't able to keep up the pace, that strategy keyed the Falcons' quick start.

• The Colts found better rhythm in their offense by having Anthony Gonzalez fill in for Marvin Harrison. After attempting to use Reggie Wayne in multiple spots for the first quarter, the Colts went back to their conventional offense and trusted Gonzalez to fill the void created by Harrison's absence. The rookie responded with his best day as a pro (six catches for 105 yards). The unexpected production from Gonzalez was a bonus; but his steady play allowed Wayne to slide back into his normal position, which helped Manning rediscover his rhythm in the middle of the game.

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