Bucky Brooks
Friday December 28th, 2007

(This week, just games with playoff implications.)

Titans' Game Plan

Use the screen game. The Colts will use an assortment of eight-man fronts to bottle up Vince Young and the Titans' fifth-ranked rush offense. But the added attention to the running game leaves Indy vulnerable to Tennessee's screen game. Look for Young to get the ball quickly to Roydell Williams and Justin Gage on bubble screens to take advantage of the soft coverage outside.

Diversify the runs. Despite the zone-based running scheme effectively working against most defenses, the Colts' rush defense will stack the line on early downs with an extra defender in the box (Bob Sanders). To counter the eight-man front, Tennessee coordinator Norm Chow to spread the field to create bigger running lanes. Expect to call more runs from their three-receiver, shotgun sets to take advantage of the Colts' nickel package.

Pressure with four. With Albert Haynesworth in the middle, the Titans have the luxury of pressuring offenses without blitzing, which allows them to drop seven or eight defenders into coverage. If the Titans are able to successfully pressure without the blitz, they should be able to limit the Colts' big play opportunities.

Colts' Game Plan

Get off to a quick start. Indianapolis is only planning to play its starters for a few series, so it is imperative for their offense to get off to a quick start. Expect the Colts to take their shots down the field in the first quarter to put the Titans in an early hole.

Play fast. The Titans' rushing attack poses huge challenges for the Colts' undersized defense. But the Colts' speed and quickness often nullifies physical running games by creating consistent penetration at the point of attack. If the Colts' defensive line can win with their athleticism in the trenches, they can squeeze LenDale White and Chris Brown's running lanes.

Make Vince Young win from the pocket. Young hasn't yet developed into an efficient enough passer to carry the Titans' offense with his right arm. Therefore, expect the Colts to use Sanders as a spy to keep Young confined to the pocket.

Scout's Take: The Colts will jump out to a quick start with their starters in the game, but Young has a knack for winning big games and will do enough for the Titans to win a close one.

Saints' Game Plan

Maintain balance. Despite the Bears' dominant defensive performance against the Packers last week, they allowed Ryan Grant to become the fifth back to gain over 100 yards on the ground this season. With New Orleans RB Aaron Stecker going over the century mark twice in the past three games, look for coach Sean Payton to turn to the power running game.

Stop the run. Chicago running back Adrian Peterson's big day (30 rushes for 102 yards and a touchdown) allowed the Bears to win with a conservative, one-dimensional game plan against the Packers. Look for Saints defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs to take away Chicago's ground attack by using more eight-man fronts and blitzes. If the Saints can stop the run early, they should be able to put pressure on Kyle Orton in the passing game.

Win on special teams. The Saints' special teams units must win their matchup against the Bears' dynamic return teams. Not only must they limit Devin Hester's impact in the return game, they also must do an exceptional job of preventing the Bears from blocking punts from off the corner. With the Bears struggling to score offensively, the Saints can ill afford to give away points.

Bears' Game Plan

Run up the gut. The Bears rediscovered their running game by pounding the Peterson relentlessly between the tackles. Facing a Saints' rushing defense that has surrendered over 100 yards in consecutive games, look for Peterson to get plenty of carries on an assortment of leads and powers.

Throw deep. The Saints' secondary has been victimized repeatedly by big plays (a league-leading 14 passes allowed over 40 yards) and is entering the game without their top corner, Mike McKenzie, out because of an injury. Look for the Bears to attack the Saints' vulnerable secondary by taking shots down the field to Bernard Berrian off play-action.

Knock 'em around. The Saints' third-ranked passing offense will test the Bears' defense by using an assortment of quick rhythm throws to Marques Coltson and David Patten. Look Chicago to take the short throws away by using more press coverage out of its two-deep and blitz-man schemes. By getting jams at the line, the Bears will disrupt the timing of the Saints' quick passing game and buy time for Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson to get pressure off the edges.

Scout's Take: The Bears' defense and special teams continue to play well down the stretch and they will snuff out the Saints' flickering playoff hopes.

49ers' Game Plan

Play smash mouth. The 49ers have relied on a resurgent Frank Gore in their past two victories. And his power running between the tackles has allowed Shaun Hill to throw effectively off play-action. With the Browns' defense allowing over 130 yards on the ground, look for Gore to get a lot of touches on a variety of power runs.

Blitz and bluff. The 49ers have successfully used a mixture of zone pressures to keep their past two opponents (Bengals and Bucs) off balance. With Derek Anderson mired in a four-game slump, look for coordinator Greg Manusky mix in a variety of zone pressures with soft coverage to bait Anderson into a few costly mistakes.

Press out of eight-man fronts. Cleveland running back Jamal Lewis' presence will force the 49ers to put an additional defender in the box to handle the run. With the Browns likely to counter with the eight-man front with quick passes to Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius, expect the 49ers to complement the front with press coverage to eliminate the easy throws.

Browns' Game Plan

Work the middle. With Lewis and Edwards attracting most of the 49ers' attention, expect Anderson to target Kellen Winslow often in the passing game. Winslow has a favorable matchup with the Niners' Michael Lewis and should find plenty of room over the middle when targeted off play-action.

Throw it in. Despite ranking sixth in scoring (25.5), the Browns have failed to score more than 24 points in their past four games due to missed opportunities in the red zone. With the 49ers' allowing 25 passing touchdowns, look for Anderson to be more aggressive in the passing game when reaching the 49ers' 20-yard line.

Make the 49ers' one-dimensional. Hill has been stellar since stepping in as the starter, but the main reason for that is the stellar performance of Gore (113.5 yards per game). Assuming Hill is healthy enough to play (he has back issues), the Browns must take away his security blanket and force the inexperienced signal caller to throw in long-yardage situations.

Scout's Take: The Browns' offense has too many weapons for the 49ers' defense. Look for Anderson to break out of his late season slump in a Browns' victory.

Steelers' Game Plan

Power runs and play-action. The loss of Willie Parker will require offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to tweak the Steelers' game plan to maximize the strengths of the available talent. Look for the Steelers to pound Najeh Davenport between the tackles and throw to Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes off play-action. The Ravens second-ranked defense is allowing just 82 yards a game, but the threat of the run should open up the field for Ben Roethlisberger.

Tighten up the coverage. The Steelers' top-ranked defense has given up nine passes over 20 yards and allowed an average of 29 points per game in the past three contests due to numerous mental mistakes. Expect coordinator Dick LeBeau to simplify the coverage that accompanies the Steelers' blitz schemes to eliminate the blown assignments from the secondary.

Attack from all angles. With rookie quarterback Troy Smith slated to make his second career start, the Steelers will incorporate more creative pressures into the game plan to exploit his inexperience. Look for James Farrior and Larry Foote to bluff inside blitzes to set up James Harrison and Clark Haggans for speed rushes off the corner.

Ravens' Game Plan

Be physical. The Steelers out hit the Ravens in their first matchup on their way to a 38-7 victory. So expect Baltimore to match Pittsburgh's intensity by physically challenging their running game. If the Ravens can knock Davenport around early, they should be able to aggressively pressure Roethlisberger in long-yardage situations.

Keep bringing pressure. The Ravens' secondary has repeatedly allowed the deep ball (14 completions over 40 yards) and the threat of the big play has prevented coordinator Rex Ryan from dialing up more pressures. But with Parker out of the lineup, expect the Ravens to bring a variety of blitzes to keep Roethlisberger from finding his comfort level in the pocket.

Open up the playbook. Smith's respectable play in both of his appearances will encourage coach Brian Billick to incorporate more plays into the game plan. By opening up the offense, Billick will give Smith enough options to counter the Steelers' blitz and evaluate his readiness to be a potential No. 2 QB next year.

Scout's Take: The Ravens have too many injuries on both sides of the ball to compete with the Steelers. This one could get ugly.

Chargers' Game Plan

Polish it up. With the Chargers slated to play in the first round of the playoffs, coach Norv Turner will use this game as a dress rehearsal. Look for LaDainian Tomlinson to get a bulk of carries early to set up Philip Rivers' play-action passes to Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers.

Bring the heat. After watching JaMarcus Russell wilt under the Jags' pressure, San Diego defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell will be inclined to use a blitz-heavy attack to derail the Raiders' offense. Look for Matt Wilhelm, Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips to be incorporated into a variety of five-and six-man pressures.

Use more press man coverage. The Chargers' blitz package has been effective due to the better coverage of their corners (Drayton Florence, Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer). And their improved play has been buoyed by the increased use of press coverage on the outside. Look for the Chargers to use an extensive amount of press-man to disrupt the timing of the Raiders' passing game.

Raiders' Game Plan

Go to the quick game. With Russell completing only 37 percent of his passes, coach Lane Kiffin will tweak his game plan to help his young signal-caller find a rhythm. Look for the Raiders to incorporate more slants, hitches and quick outs into call sheet to help Russell get off to a quick start against the blitz-happy Chargers.

Focus on L.T. The Chargers' superstar has ripped off five 100-yard rushing games in his last six meetings with the Raiders. Oakland has to make stopping L.T. its top priority by keeping eight and nine defenders near the box. If the Raiders can slow down L.T., defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should be able to get after Rivers with a varied pressure package.

Take chances. In a "nothing to lose game" against a bitter rival, the Raiders will take more chances to pull off a big upset. Expect to see Oakland use some form of trickery (onside kick, reverses or a fake punt) to generate energy and momentum in McAfee Coliseum.

Scout's Take: The Chargers' blitz-happy defense is playing as well as any defensive unit in the league. Expect them to take advantage of Russell's inexperience and win the game on turnovers.

Cowboys' Game Plan

Develop a back up plan. With Terrell Owens banged up, the Cowboys need to develop an effective back up plan. Expect offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to use the Redskins' game as an experiment. Look for more runs to Marion Barber (if suited up) and Julius Jones complemented by a passing game featuring Jason Witten as the focal point.

Pressure with five. The Cowboys' defense ranks third in the league in sacks (43) behind an aggressive 3-4 featuring stellar bookend rushers (Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware). With Washington QB Todd Collins running the offense with surprising efficiency, expect the Cowboys rev up the pressure to disrupt his rhythm. Look for a variety of five-man pressures featuring Ellis or Ware on an interior loop to keep the heat on Collins in the pocket.

Snuff out the run. The Cowboys did an excellent job of keeping the Redskins' running game in check (62 total yards) in their first meeting. And the lack of success on the ground forced Washington ins to attempt 54 passes. If the Cowboys can stop the run early and force the Skins into a one-dimensional attack, they should be able to make Collins uncomfortable in the pocket.

Redskins' Game Plan

Use Cover 0. The Redskins' three-game winning streak has been keyed by their defense using blitz tactics to suffocate offenses. With the Cowboys lacking an explosive threat outside, expect defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to aggressively come after Tony Romo (or Brad Johnson) in the pocket. Look for Williams to call more dust off his "cover 0" package (all-out blitz without safety help) to the Dallas quarterback on the run.

Be patient with the run. The Redskins have rushed an average of 30 times during their three-game winning streak. And the commitment to the run has allowed Collins to complete over 60 percent of his passes on an assortment of play-action passes. Look for Washington to be patient with the running game as part of an efficient ball-control game plan designed to keep Dallas' high powered offense on the sidelines.

Throw outside. Despite Chris Cooley being the Redskins' leading receiver, their offense is most effective when Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El are involved in the passing game. By getting the ball to their playmakers outside, Washington can create running room for Clinton Portis between the tackles.

Scout's Take: The Redskins lock up the sixth seed by relying on their defense to bottle up the Cowboys' depleted offense.

Vikings' Game Plan

Hammer away. Adrian Peterson is only averaging 36 yards a game in the past three, but should find plenty of running room against the Broncos' 30th-ranked rushing defense. Look for the Vikings to run Peterson primarily to the left to take advantage of Elvis Dumervil at right end.

Use the quick game on first down. QB Tarvaris Jackson's struggles against stacked defenses will lead the Broncos to use more eight-man fronts on first down. Look for coach Brad Childress to counter the tactic by having Jackson throw more quick routes on first and second down. If Jackson can connect on a few throws early, it will loosen up running lanes for Peterson and Chester Taylor.

Call more WHAM blitzes. E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway have quietly become dominant players on the league's top-ranked rush defense. And coordinator Facing a diverse Broncos' offense, look for coordinator Leslie Frazier to use the talented duo on a series of WHAM (weak-side and middle linebacker) blitzes to create penetration along the line.

Broncos' Game Plan

Feature some blitz-man coverage on early downs. The Vikings' top-ranked rush attack poses a serious challenge for a Broncos' defense allowing over 4.5 yards per carry. Look for coordinator Jim Bates to lock Dre Bly and Champ Bailey in man coverage with John Lynch and Hamza Abdullah positioned outside the box to create an eight or nine-man front.

Run to the edges. The Broncos' ninth-ranked running game will attempt to go at the Vikings' formidable rush defense by attacking the edges. By directing the running game to the outside, the Broncos can avoid the Vikings' impenetrable tandem of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams while attacking their defensive ends.

Work the middle. The Vikings' two-deep coverage will limit QB Jay Cutler's ability to throw outside, but that will create big play opportunities for Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler over the middle. Expect to see coach Mike Shanahan call more digs and crossers off play-action to get his playmakers the ball behind the Vikings' linebackers.

Scout's Take: The Vikings' rushing attack should easily overpower the Broncos' soft run defense. Look for Peterson and Taylor to have big days despite facing eight-and nine-man fronts.

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