So it's Saturday night (actually it's Sunday Morning here), which means 'pick now for week 6 or forever hold my peace'. And since I can't envision shutting up, it means I'll have to pick. But before we do that I want to play picture time again, first of all to demonstrate a point I've been making for a while now and secondly to justify one of my picks this week.
So on that note I'm going to introduce some screen captures from a video on NFL.com. And yes, if you must know, it's been glitching out something special today, which added that extra touch of misery to the normal levels encountered while using that video service.
The captures are taken from the 'Playbook' show, specifically the video covering the Cowboys/Patriots game. It's the only non-highlight related content that is actually worth a damn from that site. And the reason this video in particular caught my eye is because it featured two concepts that I'm always hammering away at ad nauseum; bump & run coverage, and double teaming Wes Welker. I even dedicated a spot in a post the other day to the subject of bump & run (here for those that haven't read it).
In the 'Playbook' video Greg Cossell (who really should be back on TV more, despite his slightly awkward presenting style) takes a look back to last season, when the Browns played the Patriots with Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator (Ryan is now the coordinator in Dallas). Cosell showed a play where Welker gets bumped off the line of scrimmage and then double teamed by the safety. That's what we're going to look at here.
The first order of the day then, like any good director would know, is to provide an establishing shot. Here it is;
They even marked Welker for convenience. How nice of them! As we see Welker is already lined up and in a moment the defender standing just under the 4 of the 40 at the top is going to line up over Welker. He stands on the 35, giving Welker about a half yard cushion (on the defenses side of the ball obviously) and then as soon as Welker comes across the line he just slaps his hands on him and jams the crap out of him.
Like this (I've put my own orange circle on the picture, just so we can keep track of where Welker is);
Welker has barely crossed the line of scrimmage at this point and already he has a face full of defender, obstructing his movement and preventing him from running free at the defense. Or in other words, the complete opposite of what every team this season has done to Welker, allowing him complete free access to the line of scrimmage and letting him sprint unhindered through their secondary.
Then comes the double team;
I should point out that the graphic circle around Welker in the above picture was put in by the 'Playbook' crew, as broadcast, not by me.
Notice how Welker has two defenders hawking all over him now. The corner who provided the bump is aligned outside Welker, taking away a throw to that side and also in a position to make a play on any under thrown ball. The safety is inside the hash and can make a play on any ball thrown to that side, as well as making a play on any over thrown ball. And while Tom Brady may be good, but he's simply not that good. He's not going to risk trying to make that throw.
Now also remember how I was talking the other day about bump and run coverage disrupting the timing of receivers routes? About how it forces receivers out of rhythm with the quarterback, shortening their routes and disrupting that mental count of their footsteps that lets them know when it's the correct time to make their breaks? Well look again at the picture above.
In particular, look at the wide receivers at the top and bottom of the screen. Neither of those guys got bumped off the line and thus look how far down field they are. They have about a 5 yard advantage over Welker. It's not like Welker can't run quick. And he only went inside a yard or two, and only because he was bumped, so don't give me any of that "he had to run further" malarky.
The Browns took Welker away using clever coverage. But it gets worse, at least for the Patriots. See I noticed something interesting during the Patriots/Dolphins Monday night game a while back, something I've brought up here before; from the moment the ball is snapped, 9/10 Brady stares his intended receiver down all the way. Like a high school quarterback.
I'm sure there will be people reading this who don't believe me. They'll be Brady fans who think he's flawless, in the same kind of vein that people talk about Peyton Manning, as if Manning has never made a mistake in his life. In which case I invite you to go back and watch that game again. Until you've sat down and actually watched it yourself, please keep your mouth shut. And trust me.
The problem this creates is that he often finds himself staring right at Wes Welker, who in the case above was being tightly covered. Naturally a quarterback will give the play a moment or two to develop, to see if his receiver can get free. But when he sees that safety come down to create the double team, all of a sudden you have to go looking for your number two, just as the pass rush is starting to close in.
In this case Brady did, looking to the tight end. Except the tight end was cleverly chipped by a blitzing linebacker, delaying his release and allowing another linebacker manned up on the tight end to stay with him across the field. When Brady realised that Welker wasn't going to be coming open any time soon, he went straight to the tight end and had the ball batted down.
Overall in that game Brady was 19/36. Wes Welker had 4 catches for 36 yards. The Patriots were 3/11 (27%) on third down. And ultimately the Browns went on to win the game 34-14. The result was not the most important thing about that game though. It was the defensive game plan used by Rob Ryan that laid out the blueprint for how to go about trying to shut down Tom Brady, Wes Welker and the New England Patriots offense.
And it's for that reason that I'm standing seemingly alone (outside of the true die hard Dallas fans) and taking the Cowboys over the Patriots this week.
Cowboys @ Patriots
Here's why; you're telling me that you don't think in the intervening two weeks that the Cowboys have been on their bye, that Rob Ryan hasn't dug out the film of the Browns/Patriots game from last year and had a real long, hard look at it. That he hasn't seen what his guys did to Welker? And that he wont have now seen week upon week of Patriots footage from this season, with Welker burning teams for huge yardage? That his brother Rex hasn't called him up and said "whatever you do, make sure you get Welker!"?
I think all that has happened and more. I think Rob knows he has better talent on this Cowboys defense than he ever had in Cleveland. And I think he has rammed home to his players how important it is for them to keep the Patriots O under control this week to give his team a chance to win the game. I think they'll be ready.
The only thing that could ruin this pick is the Cowboys offense. Actually, let me rephrase that. The only thing that could ruin this pick is Tony Romo. If he produces another turnover filled game then it's all for nothing. I'm sure Brady and co will find the end zone a couple of times anyway, but if the Cowboys start giving them extra possessions then they're in trouble.
The Cowboys don't need a magical, timeless performance from Romo. All they need is for him to have the kind of first half performance he's been having all year long, but without the second half. Get the lead, run the ball, let Ryan's defense limit the Patriots offense to dink and dunk plays, with no big scores. That's the challenge for the Cowboys. And for at least one more week I'm going to believe in them. God help me. Cowboys win.
Panthers @ Falcons
It's been 5 weeks now and no, I'm still not buying the Cam Newton hyperbole. He can keep slinging that thing up for grabs all he wants. He can keep raking in the garbage yardage all he likes. I refuse to buy that the Panthers offense has undergone some sudden amazing turn around. Yes, they do have some really good players. Newton can run. Steve Smith can jump. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are great backs. But they're over achieving as a unit right now, not recovering to their normal form.
Coupled with the Panthers defense being the way it is, I have to take the Falcons. They themselves are still living off the hype they generated last year (they're not a 13-3 team), but at least we know they have a baseline of a certain quality on offense. They'll be missing Julio Jones it seems, but that just means that Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas will have to take center stage. Oh the agony!
If the Falcons can get that pass rush to get a fuc...freakin' move on, coupled with some better play out of their linebackers and a healthy dose of Michael Turner on offense, then I think the Falcons have the advantage. It's close, perhaps closer than it's been in years, but I think Atlanta will edge it. Falcons win.
Colts @ Bengals
I gave the Colts a chance last week against the Chiefs and was only defeated by the fuc... freakin' miraculous turn around that occurred in the performance of Matt Cassel. This week I can't bring myself to give the Colts another shot. Not with Andy Dalton getting better by the week and the Bengals defense still a very capable unit. Their pass rush in particular could cause some nightmares for the inexperienced Painter. Bengals win.
49ers @ Lions
I'm glad this game is taking place, because these are two teams that are riding high on a wave of unwarranted publicity. The 49ers are not as good as their record suggests. The Lions are nowhere near as good as their record suggests. They've been getting whipped soundly in the first half of most of their games, only finding a way back into it when the opposition collapses in spectacular fashion (Vikings and Cowboys, I'm looking at you guys mainly).
The net result is that we have two teams who are a little over rated coming into this game. That can only lead to one thing; one team will get a nasty dose of reality, the other will leave the game even more over rated than it was before. Luckily for me as a 49ers fan, I think we'll be the over hyped team still.
I just look at the Lions and everything about their offense smacks of a mismatch with the 49ers defense. The 49ers D is about the only thing worth talking about right now. They have a great pass rush going and additionally the secondary is playing great. Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver are fixing between them the one position that has plagued the 49ers defense for about three or four years now; corner back.
Both guys are getting picks consistently and I can see that continuing against the Lions, providing Justin Smith and Aldon Smith can keep the pressure coming up front. The Lions defense on the other hand is just bad enough to allow the 49ers to run and pass the ball with equal success, keeping drives alive after the defense creates turnovers. So I'm going with San Francisco. 49ers win.
Rams @ Packers
Bills @ Giants
Tough. The Bills defense shares many traits with the sieve that I use to keep the limescale from the kettle out of my cup(s) of coffee. By that I naturally mean that it has a lot of holes in it. 450+ yards per game sized holes actually. Their sole saving grace has been turnovers, which has allowed the Bills D to compensate for it's leaks by occasionally giving the ball back to the offense.
Now as it happens, offensive turnovers are something of a specialty for the Giants. Just when you think they've figured it all out... nope, back they come with another 5 turnover game. So do I trust the Giants not to fumble the game away this week? Their defense does have a very good pass rush to get after Ryan Fitzpatrick with, but can the offense avoiding pouring all that hard work down the sink? Probably against my better judgement I'm going to say yes.
I think the Bills have been fortunate with some of their picks this season (deflected passes etc) and I think the Giants are a much better team than people give them credit for. They just have to find a way to overcome the mistakes (most of them mental, some of them just plain unlucky) and get it done. This Sunday it happens. Giants win.
Jaguars @ Steelers
I could go on at length about this but I'm not. I've made it clear several times that I think the rating of Blaine Gabbert by mainstream pundits as the best quarterback in this years draft (or at the very least a top two rating) is laughable. The Steelers defense is going to have fun with him. Six sacks wouldn't surprise me. On top of that, I think that while the Jaguars pass rush is improving, it's still not close to where it needs to be. Steelers win.
Eagles @ Redskins
The Eagles are flat out dysfunctional right now. It's gone from being a nightmare start to a complete joke. They are terrible and they don't look like getting any better any time soon. The Redskins on the other hand have been improving all season. Their pass rush is really starting to get hot and Rex Grossman is adequate if unspectacular at quarterback. The Redskins also have a running game with Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain that should give the Eagles more nightmares for the ensuing week. Redskins win.
Texans @ Ravens
This is a seriously tough call. We're talking about an Andre Johnson-less Texans against a Ravens D that didn't need any help in the first place. However, can the Ravens offense stand up to the Texans front seven? Brian Cushing has been playing well, J.J. Watt is a great rookie, probably one of the two or three best defensive linemen in this years draft, and Brooks Reed has a lot of potential. The weak point is perhaps the Texans back end, and with Torrey Smith lining up opposite them, that could become an issue.
Ultimately we've seen the best and the worst of the Ravens already this season. The Texans have shown dramatic improvements on defense, they've found their running game and they are very close to fitting together all the pieces to make a really good team for a change. Perhaps not this week though. I just trust Baltimore a little more to play up to their highest standards. Ravens win.
Browns @ Raiders
To me, the Browns are an enigma. You never know what you'll get. One week they just stink it up, the next Colt McCoy is whizzing touchdown passes around, Peyton Hillis is trucking over people for 100+ yards and Josh Cribbs is returning kicks for touchdowns. Occasionally the Browns defense will even contribute. But that's just the problem, one week they're good, the next week they're bad. That inconsistency would probably be the reason why I would say the Browns are the hardest team to predict games for in the NFL right now.
The Raiders don't exactly make it easy either. They have weapons on offense, but the delivery system (Jason Campbell) is unpredictable at best. Sometimes he finds a groove and starts slinging deep and intermediate passes which his receivers convert into even bigger gains. Sometimes he's throwing darts into the floor. Not that the defense is any easier to pin down. Sometimes Kamerion Wimbley and Richard Seymour will explode in a 5 sack frenzy. Sometimes you'll barely get a peep out of them.
Overall though, I like the Raiders better in this game. The Browns will be missing Joe Haden at corner and even with him I don't think they have enough speed across their defense to keep up with Darius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore and Darren McFadden. And as much as I like Colt McCoy, I think he might struggle with the ferocity of the Raiders pass rush, especially with them coming off the back of such an emotional game last week. Raiders win.
Saints @ Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are at a critical point in their season. The tough loss to San Francisco last week coupled with the loss of running back LaGarrette Blount to injury this week could result in the Buccaneers falling into something of a slump.
The trouble is that Josh Freeman doesn't look ready to carry the team. He can play, but he's not the kind of quarterback right now that you can send out, call 40 pass plays, and know that he'll bring home the goods for you. He needs support offensively and he just doesn't have it right now. Blount going out injured just makes that a whole lot worse.
The Saints meanwhile? Well, they're the Saints. Jimmy Graham has become the cornerstone of their passing game, while for me the most impressive surge has been on the ground. Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram are proving to be a very effective 3-way combo punch in the Saints backfield. Sproles is generating big plays with his speed, Thomas is using his experience and strength to punish teams inside, and Ingram is proving to be an excellent short yardage back.
I know that the Buccaneers defense has improved, but it's not on a level to compete with the Saints offense. And the Buc's offense is not ready to compete with Gregg Williams. Saints win.
Vikings @ Bears
Sunday Night Football lands itself another treat. If any two teams in this league are dysfunctional enough to suffer a complete and simultaneous collapse on prime time TV, to the benefit of the viewing audience, then it has to be the Vikings and the Bears. This one has the potential to be the most hilarious game of football played all season as both teams take it in turns to almost blow their chances of winning.
Just as likely though, this could be a massacre. Which will be equally entertaining.
I say that because it's Adrian Peterson versus the Bears defense, and the Bears offensive line against Jared Allen and Brian Robison. Both have the potential to go horribly wrong for Chicago. Not that the Bears lack a running game themselves, or even a pass rush. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonijie were one of the most productive defensive end pairings from last season and Matt Forte has been pouring on the runs this year.
But Peppers and Idonijie simply aren't producing this year the way that Allen and Robison are. And Forte isn't approaching the touchdown and yardage machine that is Adrian Peterson c.2011. I think the Bears have a chance, but much hinges on the first quarter of the game. If the Vikings can get a two TD lead then they've shown now that they understand how to protect such a lead and the Bears have shown that they (Mike Martz) will panic in such circumstances and start going almost 100% pass. At which point Cutler starts getting beat up.
For those reasons I think the safer bet is Minnesota. Vikings win.
Dolphins @ Jets
Miami is back on Monday Night Football. Somehow. Look, they just don't have a clue right now. All the hard work they put in on defense last year? All that's gone. Brandon Marshall keeps telling everyone he's about to go into 'beast mode' then never does. And the Dolphins are always close to recapturing their running game from '09, but Reggie Bush just isn't the guy to help them do it.
The Jets aren't exactly strangers to unfulfilled potential either. Mark Sanchez is basically the poster child of that previous sentence; all potential and no production. We've seen it plenty of times before. We've seen him make great throws into tight windows. But he just can't seem to push himself over that hump and find a consistent, winning form. He just keeps making those same bad reads at critical points.
It would be easier if the Jets could find their running game, but that's gone up in smoke too. Shonne Greene can run, that O-line just can't block all that well right now. Missing center Nick Mangold has had a huge impact on this team. He's questionable for a return this Monday.
Even the Jets defense isn't what it was last year. Darrelle Revis is still tugging peoples shirts, but the heavy pass rush has thinned out some what. Antonio Cromartie continues to make mistakes in coverage while failing to tackle in the run game, and the safety play has been sub par this year. That's surprising because Rex Ryan has always been pretty good with safeties.
Soooo, who to choose?
My gut instinct is to back New York because I feel like they're more likely to come up with a few big plays, whether that's in the kicking game, passing game or defensively, and it will probably only take a few big gains or turnovers to decide this one. Jets win.