Bucky Brooks
Monday December 17th, 2007

• The New York Jets' inability to come up with key plays in the red zone cost them against the Patriots. Plagued by fumbles, dropped passes and missed field goals, New York came away with only three points despite having four drives penetrate the 20-yard line.

• The Jets attempted to catch the Patriots off guard by using the spread option offense with quarterback Brad Smith. Operating out of the shotgun formation flanked by Leon Washington and Thomas Jones, Smith used a series of running plays based off the read-option popularized West Virginia on the collegiate level. Though Smith broke off consecutive five-yard runs, the gimmick quickly flamed out when the Patriots ignored the passing threat and blitzed the formation exclusively.

• The versatility of the Patriots offense continues to pay dividends. After ignoring the running game for most of the season, the Patriots ran Laurence Maroney 26 times for 104 yards against the Jets. Though the production was outstanding, it was the way the Patriots ran the ball out of their conventional sets that was most impressive. Using an assortment of leads and powers out of the I-formation, New England was able to grind out tough runs between the tackles.

• The Eagles throttled the Cowboys offense by blending an assortment of five-man zone dogs with three-man rushes with a soft two-deep zone. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson used a high-pressure approach early in the game to force the Cowboys into heavy protection mode before using bluff-and-drop tactics in the second half. The cat-and-mouse game clearly rattled Tony Romo as he threw three critical interceptions and was sacked three times.

• Though it's too early to tab it a quarterback controversy, the strong play of Shaun Hill will make 49ers' officials take a long look at the six-year veteran during the off season. Hill has completed 43 of 55 passes for 378 yards (78.2 percent) with two touchdowns and no interceptions since stepping into the lineup. Hill's combination of accuracy, athleticism and management skills have been impressive. He gets rid of the ball on time and his ability to distribute the ball to multiple receivers is uncanny for an inexperienced player. Given the season-long struggles of the 49ers offense under the previous two starters (Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer), Hill's impressive performance the past two weeks takes on added significance.

• Credit Browns coordinator Rob Chudzinski for maintaining a balanced offensive attack despite inclement weather conditions. By throwing the ball to Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius early, the Browns were able to keep the Bills from using eight-man fronts exclusively to take Jamal Lewis out of the game. And the loosening of the Bills' front allowed Lewis to rush for 81 yards in the first half on his way to a 163-yard rushing day.

• The Seahawks' inability or reluctance to run the ball made the game easy for the Panthers' defense in Carolina's 13-10 win. Without having to worry about Shaun Alexander or Maurice Morris in the running game, the Panthers focused on pressuring Matt Hasselbeck with an assortment of blitzes off the edges with their linebackers. And the constant pressure off the edges, created room for Kris Jenkins to dominate his matchup with Rob Sims inside. The Seahawks have whipped several non-playoff teams with the pass-happy approach, but they will need to show better balance to win against playoff teams down the stretch.

• Carolina QB Matt Moore's surprisingly solid play allowed the Panthers to show better balance on offense. The rookie signal caller not only showed poise beyond his years, he displayed enough arm strength and accuracy to encourage coordinator Jeff Davidson to incorporate more deep throws into the game plan. With Moore passing for almost 200 yards in his debut performance, the Panthers finally resembled the offense that took the field during the first three weeks of the season.

• The Jags successfully pressured Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with their front four, thanks to excellent pre-snap disguises. Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Smith had his linebackers (Justin Durant and Daryl Smith) threaten various pressures to set up Brent Hawkins, Bobby McCray and Paul Spicer off the edges. By bluffing overload stunts to the one side, the Jags were able to bait the Steelers into sliding their protection, which created a favorable one-on-one match ups for their pass rushers off the edge.

• The Jags successfully ran the football against the Steelers on an assortment of power runs out off their tight I-formation. Using a combination of base and "22" personnel (two backs, two tight ends and one receiver), Jacksonville ran exclusively to the side of the wing on leads and counters as it piled up 224 rushing yards against the league's top-ranked defense. But credit coordinator Dirk Koetter's subtle placement of Ernest Wilford at the wingback position for helping the Jags to run successfully to the strength of the formation. With Wilford (who possesses the size and strength of most tight ends) in the game, the Steelers were forced to stay in their regular defense which left them soft against runs to strong side of the power formation.

• Receiver Chris Chambers is beginning to have the impact Norv Turner envisioned when the Chargers acquired the seven-year veteran from the Dolphins. His four catch, 69-yard performance doesn't jump off the stat sheet. But he is becoming Philip Rivers' top target when defenses jump into eight-man fronts to take away LaDainian Tomlinson. Chambers still possesses enough speed to torch single coverage and his 28-yard reception early in the contest illustrates how he can play a pivotal role as a deep threat down the stretch.

• The key to the Chargers' recent surge has been defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell's decision to become more aggressive with his pressure packages. During San Diego's four-game winning streak, Cottrell has played it straight on early downs, but used more exotic five-man zone pressures to get after the passer in long-yardage situations. And the increase in blitz calls has helped the Chargers hold opponents to under 14 points per game while generating 14 turnovers and 15 sacks during the four-game winning streak.

Mario Williams' breakout season validates his selection as the No. 1 overall selection in 2006 NFL Draft. Often compared to Bruce Smith as a prospect, Williams is becoming a dominant pass rusher off the edge due to improved footwork and hand usage. No longer relying solely on his athleticism to defeat blockers, Williams has developed a series of counter moves to handle the various short sets opposing tackles have used against him.

But the real key to Williams' stellar season has been the Texans' decision to use him primarily at left end after using him at several spots last year. By lining Williams to the offensive right, the Texans are often able to get their top pass rusher matched up against tight ends and running backs in pass protection (most offenses are right handed, so teams typically line up their tight end to the right). And move is paying off, as Williams has tallied 10 sacks in the past seven games, including three and a half against the Broncos on Thursday night.

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