|ESPN.com: 2007||[Print without images]|
• I said it way back in Week 1, and now the whole country knows it: Minnesota back Adrian Peterson is special. He has been compared to Eric Dickerson, and I do think he is similar in size. But Adrian has a completely different style. In fact, he is the best open-field runner I have ever seen. His ability to always attack "downhill" from the very moment he gets the ball is what makes him so special; it puts an enormous burden on defenders by freezing them in their tracks, which helps his blockers. There are a lot of veterans who could learn from this kid. Go watch Adrian play when he comes to your city, because it could be a very long time before we see his kind again.
• To play great run defense, linebackers and defensive linemen must work together; once the defensive linemen attack their gaps, linebackers must fill their gaps. After studying the Broncos on defense, it's pretty obvious their young linebackers are struggling with this concept. These linebackers rarely do their job. They run around blocks instead of taking them on; they do not read runs very well, even when the back is coming at them. I'll show you two plays on our "NFL Matchup" show on ESPN at 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday that will help you understand what I'm talking about. Meanwhile, the Steelers, this week's opponent, have the best offensive line in football at getting linebackers blocked ... Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport are in for a big day.
• Every week that I study Jeff Garcia, I'm more and more impressed. He has matured as a quarterback to the point that his awareness and calm are soothing to an offense, but it's how he breaks down linebackers with his movement that has impressed me the most. When linebackers drop back into zone coverage, they keep their eyes on the quarterback. When Garcia runs around, he pulls linebackers out of coverage, which leaves his receivers open behind them. This is another thing we'll show on "NFL Matchup." Anyway, the Lions, the Bucs' opponent on Sunday, have some of the softest linebackers in the league. The Bucs should be in for a big day.
• Most people would say Chad Johnson is the best receiver for the Bengals, but it's not true. Johnson might be the most popular, but he is not the best. Instead, it's that T.J. Hous-your-mama guy! Every week I put in the tape, Houshmandzadeh is the guy who stands out. And you can tell this affects Chad. Until C.J. stops worrying about who is getting the ball and just plays the game, he'll continue to be the Bengals' second-best receiver.
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• One guy who is a true joy to watch on tape: Maurice Jones-Drew. The kid is a pure football player and a human wrecking ball. He hits with so much force, he hurts defenders when they hit him, and the greatest evidence of that is how he runs in the fourth quarter of games. Another guy who stands out on tape is tight end Marcedes Lewis, who does a great job of both blocking and running after the catch. When you do things like that, you get the ball thrown to you more. Watch for that to happen.
• By late Thursday, I had watched tape for about three days straight, and everything was looking the same. Then I plugged in the Browns offense. Wow, what an exciting offense to track! I love how they design some of their passes. A majority of them are of the vertical variety, and with wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow running 'em, teams are having difficulty matching up. Teams don't want to put a defensive back on Winslow or else they'll be weak on run defense. But he runs like a receiver and is too fast for linebackers. The Browns take advantage of that. Even if he's not catching the ball, he's running a route to free up another receiver. And Derek Anderson is very accurate and is getting better at making good decisions as a quarterback. Keep your eye on those Browns. They just might be in the hunt come playoff time.
• With the Bears coming to town, I'm sure Philly defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is concerned about his defensive tackles. They got blown off the ball all day against the Jets. Even though the Eagles won, and even played OK defensively, the Bears are sure to notice that and will attack the Eagles on the ground. If Chicago is successful early, it'll open up the Bears' play-action and tosses to the middle of the field. This is how the Bears beat the Packers.
Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. Check him out Sunday on "NFL Matchup" at 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN and on "ESPNEWS Fantasy Insider" with Matthew Berry from 11 a.m. to noon on ESPNEWS. He also will be on "NFL Live" on ESPN at various times throughout the weekend.