Bucky Brooks
Friday December 21st, 2007

MORE GAME PLANS: N.Y. Giants at Buffalo | Kansas City at Detroit | Cleveland at Cincinnati | Green Bay at Chicago | Houston at Indianapolis | Oakland at Jacksonville | Philadelphia at New Orleans | Atlanta at Arizona | Tampa Bay at San Francisco | Miami at New England | Baltimore at Seattle | N.Y. Jets at Tennessee | Washington at Minnesota

Giants' Game Plan

Stick with the run. After watching Jamal Lewis run through the Bills for 163 yards, the Giants will rev up their power running game to wear down an undersized front. Look for Brandon Jacobs to have a big day.

Blitz Trent Edwards from all angles. The Bills' rookie QB has shown surprising poise in the pocket, but the Giants will blitz to generate consistent pressure in the pocket. Look for Steve Spagnuolo to use an assortment of pressure from their sub-package to free up Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora off the edges.

Bills' Game Plan

Slow down the rush with screens and draws. The Bills' versatile tandem of Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch allows Steve Fairchild to incorporate more screens and draws to slow aggressive pass rushes. Both backs possess a nice blend of running and receiving skills, so expect the Bills to use either on any down.

Force Eli Manning to throw against coverage. Manning has been most effective when throwing off play-action in favorable run-pass situations. So the Bills will try to control the line of scrimmage on early downs to force Manning to throw against their two-deep coverage in long yardage situations. If the Bills can make Manning throw against coverage, they should be able to capitalize on his errant throws.

Cowboys' Game Plan

• Be committed to the run. The Cowboys' high-powered offense is most effective when Marion Barber and Julius Jones are given enough carries to force defenses to play honest. After relying on Jason Witten and/or Terrell Owens to carry the offense for the past six games, look for the Cowboys get back to a balanced attack. If they can keep a 60/40 pass-run balance, they should have their way with the Panthers' defense.

• Rev it up. Given Matt Moore's solid debut performance, the Cowboys will throw several exotic pressures at the rookie QB to keep him from finding his rhythm in the pocket. Expect defensive coordinator Brian Stewart to bring multiple pressure, featuring DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis crashing off the edges.

Panthers' Game Plan

• Protect the passer. Moore didn't get touched in the pocket last week and responded with a solid performance (19 for 27 for 207 yards). But the Cowboys' defense ranks fourth in sacks (38) and the tandem of Ware and Ellis causes problems off the edges. Look for the Panthers to use more max protection schemes to keep Moore comfortable and upright in the pocket.

• Use Thomas Davis as an edge rusher. With Julius Peppers ailing with an injury, the Panthers could possibly enter the game without their most explosive pass rusher. To offset the loss of Peppers, look for Mike Trgovac to incorporate more 3-4 looks to take advantage of Thomas Davis' rush skills off the corner. That should give the Panthers a chance to keep pressure on Tony Romo without gambling with the blitz.

Chiefs' Game Plan

• Pound 'em. With the Lions' defense allowing four 100-yard rushers in the past four games, expect the Chiefs to make running the ball the offensive focus. Look for Kolby Smith to get plenty of chances.

• Turn up the heat. The Lions' six-game losing streak has been aided by Jon Kitna's rash of turnovers (11 interceptions and three fumbles during the streak) and their reluctance to run the football. Look for the Chiefs to take advantage of the Lions' one-dimensional approach by incorporating more zone blitzesto pressure Kitna into more mistakes.

Lions' Game Plan

• Stay balanced. The Lions failure to run the ball persistently has allowed defenses to aggressively come after Kitna with a host of blitzes. Look for Mike Martz to slow down the Chiefs' aggressiveness by getting Kevin Jones more touches.

• Get back to basics. The Lions have allowed over 40 points in two of the past three games and the overall defensive effort has been poor. Look for Joe Barry to get better play out of his troops by simplifying the game plan to feature schemes with fewer adjustments.

Browns' Game Plan

• Throw outside. With the Bengals starting a pair of young corners (Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall), expect the Browns to aggressively throw the ball outside to take advantage of soft cushions. Look for Derek Anderson to find Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius often on an assortment of outs, comebacks and fades to take advantage of soft coverage.

• Eliminate the deep ball. With the Bengals capable of scoring points in bunches, the Browns can't afford to allow cheap touchdowns on big plays. Look for the Browns to play more umbrella coverage to force Carson Palmer to settle for short and intermediate throws to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson.

Bengals' Game Plan

• Take deep shots. The Bengals are at their best when using the deep ball to attack defenses, so expect to them to take their chances against the Browns' 32nd ranked pass defense. The Browns have already allowed 47 completions over 20 yards.

• Stuff the run. Jamal Lewis' recent surge has made the Browns' offense more difficult to defend. Expect the Bengals to take that threat away by using more eight-man fronts and zone pressures to clog his running lanes. If the Bengals can slow Lewis early, they will be able to mix in a two-deep zone to keep Edwards and Kellen Winslow under wraps in passing situations.

Packers' Game Plan

• Finish the deal. The Packers moved the ball at will during their first meeting this season with the Bears, but were undone by five costly turnovers. Look for the Packers to attack with a variety of short throws to Donald Driver, James Jones and Greg Jennings; complemented by several tough runs from Ryan Grant.

• Smother the receivers. After watching the Bears struggle with Kyle Orton under center, the Packers should stick with their "press" coverage principles against Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad. By jamming and disrupting their releases, the Packers should buy Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila enough time to get to Orton off the edges.

Bears' Game Plan

• Operate out of their "Ace" package. The Bears successfully moved the ball against the Packers in their first meeting by using their "Ace" package (two tight ends, two receivers and one back) to get Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark isolated on the Packers' safeties. With the Packers' season-long struggles against top notch tight ends,expect the Bears work on Atari Bigby and Nick Collins over the middle.

• Make the Packers' one-dimensional. The Packers' emerging running game has enabled Brett Favre to go deep off play-action. The Bears must neutralize Grant to force Favre to make completions against a ball-hawking, two-deep coverage scheme.

Texans' Game Plan

• Throw often on first down. The Colts' top-ranked rush defense uses an assortment of eight-man fronts to suffocate ground games. But the soft coverage accompanying the front will leave the Colts vulnerable to quick routes outside to Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. By connecting on a few passes on first down, the Texans should be able to draw Bob Sanders out of the box to open up running room for Darius Walker and Ron Dayne.

• Focus on Addai. With Marvin Harrison out of the lineup, the Colts have pounded Joseph Addai between the tackles to set up big passes. Look for the Texans to focus on slowing down Addai to minimize Manning's ability to effectively throw off play-action. Stopping Addai will be the key to slowing down the Colts' high-powered offense.

Colts' Game Plan

• Direct more throws to Gonzalez. Manning has shown the past two weeks that he's not afraid to throw to the rookie when defenses take away his option of connecting with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. The Colts will take what Houston gives them.

• Use two-deep coverage on early downs. Although the Texans rushing for 158 yards against the Broncos, the running game has averaged fewer than 100 yards for most of the season. The Colts will ignore the threat of the run and focus on bottling up the Texans' top receiving threats (Johnson and Owen Daniels).

Raiders' Game Plan

• Handle the front four. The Jags want to pressure with only four rushers, so they can blanket passing games with their two-deep coverage. If the Raiders can handle the four-man rush, they can force the Jags to bring more pressure, which could lead to big play opportunities for Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry in the passing game.

• Man up. The Jags' second-ranked rushing attack will require the Raiders to use an eighth defender in the box on all downs except obvious passing situations. Expect to see the Raiders use a lot of man-free coverage with corners pressed outside and Michael Huff or Stuart Schweigert near the line.

Jags' Game Plan

• Avoid the hangover. After their big victory in Pittsburgh, the Jags will have to stave off complacency while facing a struggling Raiders' defense. Look for Dirk Koetter to be aggressive early with deep throws before grinding it out with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew between the tackles.

• Smother the running game. Despite Justin Fargas' absence, the Raiders still sport a formidable running game behind LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes. Look for the Jags to handle the Raiders power running game by relying on penetration from their front four, complemented by an occasional blitz from Justin Durant and Daryl Smith.

Eagles' Game Plan

• Stretch the field. The Saints have allowed a league-leading 49 completions over 20 yards. So expect Donovan McNabb to repeatedly take shots to Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis. If McNabb can connect on a few deep shots early, the Eagles should be able open up the field for Brian Westbrook on underneath routes.

• Use overload pressures from the sub-package. The Saints' penchant for spreading the formation with three- and four-receiver sets exposes Drew Brees to hits when the Eagles bring pressure from their sub-package (nickel or dime). Expect Jim Johnson to bring overload pressures (four defenders rushing from a side) with multiple slot defenders rushing off the edges to force Brees into quicker throws.

Saints' Game Plan

• Run the rock. The Saints will counter the Eagles' aggressive blitz tactics by pounding Aaron Stecker between the tackles. He has averaged almost 100 rushing yards since replacing the injured Reggie Bush and has enough quickness to get past overaggressive defenders in the middle.

• Bring more pressure. The offensive line has allowed 42 sacks, which has prevented the Eagles from finding a consistent rhythm. Expect the Saints to continue the trend by bringing five- and six-man blitzes to keep the pressure on McNabb.

Falcons' Game Plan

• Feed the babies. With their tumultuous season winding down, the Falcons will use the last two games to get their young guys more touches to evaluate their readiness for bigger roles next season.

• Attack Kurt Warner up the middle. The two-time league MVP has turned the ball over 19 times in his nine starts. Look for the Falcons to send pressure up the middle with Keith Brooking and Michael Boley to harass Warner into poor decisions.

Cardinals' Game Plan

• Give Edgerrin James 20 or more carries. The Cardinals sport a 5-3 record when James carries the ball 20 or more times. So expect Ken Whisenhunt to pound James between the tackles against the NFL's 27th-ranked run defense.

• Daze and confuse. After watching Chris Redman struggle against the Bucs, the Cardinals will use multiple pre-snap looks to confuse him. By baiting Redman into a few incorrect audibles, the Cardinals should be able to keep the Falcons' offense out of sync.

Bucs' Game Plan

• Take deep shots from run-heavy sets. Despite being the 19th-ranked offense, the Bucs have a knack for getting Joey Galloway open down the field off play-action. Look for Jon Gruden to continue that trend by using close alignments out of run-heavy formations to free up Galloway on deep crossing routes off play fakes.

• Make Shaun Hill throw into tight windows. Hill's stellar two-game performance was keyed by his ability to complete intermediate throws. But the Bucs' zone defense swarms to the ball and will challenge Hill's ability to fit the ball into tight places. If the Bucs can maintain tight coverage on intermediate routes, they will force a couple of turnovers off tips and overthrows.

49ers' Game Plan

• Stay on schedule. The 49ers efficiently moved the ball against the Bengals because they were able to gain four or more yards consistently on first down. The ability to stay ahead of the chains allows Hill to pass effectively on subsequent downs against eight-man fronts designed to stop Frank Gore. If the 49ers can win consistently on first down, they should be able to generate enough offense to give the Bucs' problems.

• Blitz Garcia off the edges. Jeff Garcia's ability to extend plays in the pocket often results in big plays for the Bucs. So the 49ers must limit Garcia's improvisational ways by sending pressure off the edges to flush him into the waiting arms of Bryant Young and Maurice Douglas in the middle.

Dolphins' Game Plan

• Shorten the game. The Dolphins lack the offensive firepower to match the Patriots in a shootout, so they will attempt to shorten the game with a ball control approach. Expect Samkon Gado to get plenty of carries to set up play-action passes.

• Pressure, Pressure, Pressure. After watching the Patriots move the ball at will against the Dolphins' soft zone coverage earlier this year, Dom Capers will be more aggressive with his blitzes in the rematch. Look for more exotic rushes featuring Joey Porter and Jason Taylor.

Patriots' Game Plan

• Jump on 'em. Coming off a dramatic victory against the Ravens, the Dolphins will enter the game with more confidence and energy. But the Patriots can quickly stop their momentum with a strong opening quarter. Look for the Patriots to open the game with a few deep shots to Randy Moss or Donte Stallworth to put the Dolphins in an early hole.

• Squeeze the Lemon. Not threatened by the Dolphins' running game, the Patriots will focus on getting consistent pressure on Cleo Lemon in the pocket. Expect the Patriots to attack the Dolphins' hapless offense with a combination of four- and five-man rushes from multiple fronts.

Ravens' Game Plan

• Grind it out. With Troy Smith making his first career start, the Ravens will attempt to protect him from the Seahawks' fierce pass rush by relying more on their ground game. Expect Willis McGahee to get plenty of carries on an assortment of perimeter runs.

• Junk it up. The Ravens' defense uses several unorthodox fronts to create confusion and mask creative blitzes. Facing a Seahawks' offense that uses four-receiver sets extensively, look for the Ravens to use more exotic fronts and blitzes from their dime defense.

Seahawks' Game Plan

• Play fast. The Ravens use pre-snap disguises to confuse quarterbacks. But the Seahawks' quick tempo approach will limit that deception and allow Matt Hasselbeck to attack a vulnerable secondary.

• Blitz, blitz, blitz. The Seahawks' unsung defense ranks second in the league in sacks (41) and interceptions (20) on the strength of a blitz-happy approach. With the Ravens' failing to protect Boller effectively, expect John Marshall to send Julian Peterson and Lofa Tatupu on an assortment of blitzes to keep Boller on the run.

Jets' Game Plan

• Pick 'em apart. The Titans' rush defense is nearly impenetrable with Albert Haynesworth in the lineup, so expect the Jets to eschew the run and rely on their short passing game. Chad Pennington will pepper the Titans' underneath coverage with quick throws to Chris Baker and Jerricho Cotchery.

• Blitz up the middle. The Titans' second-ranked rush offense uses an assortment of zone runs to get LenDale White and Chris Brown loose between the tackles. Expect the Jets to use more A gap blitzes to clog the middle and force White/Brown to bounce outside.

Titans' Game Plan

• Use more movement passes. Despite Vince Young's struggles as a pocket passer, he is still one of the league's most dangerous weapons when used as a dual threat on the perimeter. Expect Norm Chow to take advantage of those skills by calling more movement passes (bootlegs and roll outs) to keep the Jets' defense from focusing exclusively on the running game.

• Dominate the line of scrimmage. The key to the Titans' defensive dominance is the performance of the line. Their consistent penetration blows up the run and allows the Titans to blanket passing games with soft zone coverage. Facing a weak offensive line, expect Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch to spend a lot of time in the Jets' backfield.

Redskins' Game Plan

• Take deep shots to Santana Moss on early downs. The Vikings' defense utilizes the blitz on early downs to keep offenses behind the chains. But that strategy exposes their corners to single coverage outside. Expect Todd Collins to take a few deep shots to Moss on early downs to counter the Vikings' pressure.

• Sell out. The Vikings' top-ranked rush attack bludgeons defenses by running Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor between the tackles. The Redskins must gear up to stop this physical running game by consistently outnumbering the Vikings at the point of attack. Look for Gregg Williams to use more blitzes to corral the Vikings running game.

Vikings' Game Plan

• Snuff it out. The Redskins want to run the ball to keep Collins from shouldering a heavy offensive load. But the Vikings' top-ranked rush defense only yields three yards a carry and will use a mixture of blitzes to keep Clinton Portis bottled up.

• Feature the inside zone. The Vikings typically use the outside zone to free Peterson and Taylor on the perimeter. But with the Redskins' interior defense coming off a poor performance against the Giants, expect the Vikings to feature more inside running plays to get Peterson and Taylor loose between the tackles.

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