Sometimes, it just jumps off the screen. Other times, it takes a second or third look. Scouts Inc. watched all the Week 14 games and learned a few things about each team.
Panthers 38, Buccaneers 23
• Head coach John Fox brought in offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, a proponent of the power-zone ground game, to battle opponents like Tampa Bay. The Panthers used size and strength to overpower the Bucs' undersized front seven. RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart did a good job of following their blocks, making one cut and running downhill.
• The Buccaneers' run defense was completely dominated by the Panthers. The front seven had little success maintaining gap integrity at the line of scrimmage and the teams' tackling was poor all night. Tampa Bay rarely wrapped up or made first-contact tackles on Carolina's backs, which is uncharacteristic for a Monte Kiffin defense.
Ravens 24, Redskins 10
• The physical play of the Ravens defense once again carried Baltimore to a hard-fought victory. Coordinator Rex Ryan dialed up a plethora of pressure packages to force Jason Campbell into several errant tosses. Campbell frequently had to get rid of the ball quickly, leading to two interceptions and several punts rather than third-down conversions. Ryan used blitzes from all areas of the defense (secondary, linebackers) and disguised coverages to keep the Washington offense off-balance.
• The Redskins used a variety of five- and three-step drops and play-action passes to offset the aggressive Ravens defense, but they were unable to consistently keep Campbell clean in the pocket. It seemed that when Campbell had time he was able to be effective, especially early on, but he didn't have enough support from the running game to keep the Baltimore defense off-balance.
Vikings 20, Lions 16
• The Vikings used a more aggressive approach to pressuring the pocket and plugging up running lanes by employing a variety of blitzes and bringing extra defenders into the box. The expanded use of stunts and blitzes may have been an indicator of things to come, as the Vikings will likely have to deal with the loss of starting defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams to suspensions.
• The Lions used a heavy pressure package in the first half to neutralize the powerful Vikings' ground game. A lot of run blitzes and stunts up front took away the running lanes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor.
Broncos 24, Chiefs 17
• Denver chose to line up rookie safety Josh Barrett on Kansas City's perennial All-Pro TE Tony Gonzalez for a good portion of the night. Barrett matches up physically with Gonzalez better than anyone else in the Broncos' secondary, but Barrett looked more comfortable on the deep routes because he could use his 4.3 speed more effectively than on underneath routes.
• Kansas City used a lot of multiple-receiver sets, lining Gonzalez up in a variety of positions in an attempt to create favorable matchups. The Chiefs wanted to stay with a relatively short passing game to complement RB Larry Johnson's running, in order to keep the ball out of the hands of the explosive passing game from Denver.
Colts 35, Bengals 13
• The Colts used quick slants and short outs as if they were running plays, with QB Peyton Manning hitting his receivers on one- and three-step drops. This allowed Manning to get the ball out of his hands more quickly -- a smart strategy, given the issues the Colts have had with their pass protection because of injuries.
• Cincinnati's corners played a lot of man-off coverage, which allowed the Colts' receivers an easy release off the line and led to a lot of short passes that allowed them to turn and run after the catch. Once the Bengals started to creep up and press the receivers, a lot of room on the inside opened up for the tight ends because the safeties had to play wide to provide help over the top.
49ers 24, Jets 14
• The 49ers had an excellent game plan that kept the New York defense off-balance for most of the contest. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz confused the Jets with a variety of formations and shifts. Quarterback Shaun Hill was able to convert on several third downs out of a bunch set that allowed one of the receivers to find an open void in the Jets' coverage. Hill was in rhythm and patient in the pocket, often finding his second or third option.
• Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seemed fairly conservative for much of the game, and ran a lot of screens and draws early on. Quarterback Brett Favre hit lots of checkdowns and shallow routes as the Jets perimeter receivers were unable to get separation on downfield routes. Schottenheimer seemed to abandon the ground attack, playing into the hands of the 49ers defense by calling only 11rushing attempts.
Eagles 20, Giants 14
• It was tough to get a read on RB Brian Westbrook for much of the game because the Giants, particularly MLB Antonio Pierce, were all over his every move. Westbrook certainly looked spry on a 30-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half, keeping his legs churning and exploding out of the pile. His superb lateral agility, balance and overall playmaking ability were on full display as a runner and receiver against a strong Giants defense. Westbrook has been up and down, but he was as important to his team against the Giants as he has ever been.
• The Giants were out of sync for much of the game, suffering miscommunication on routes, dropping passes and getting a field goal blocked. The Eagles deserve credit, but the weather and the absence of Plaxico Burress are also to blame. Quarterback Eli Manning was let down by his supporting cast, including an offensive line that faltered as the game progressed. Manning didn't play his best game by any stretch and had just 37 passing yards entering the fourth quarter, but it should be a concern going forward that, with Burress out of the lineup, his receivers may not be able to get consistent separation against upper-tier defenses.
Dolphins 16, Bills 3
• Miami controlled the tempo of the game with an excellent mixture of the power running game and short passes. Quarterback Chad Pennington was able to distribute the ball to eight different targets with great precision on shallow crossers, option routes and dump-off patterns. He was also able to exploit some combination man coverages with wheel routes out of the backfield, giving Miami the advantage down the field. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning continued to use the Wildcat formation, but most of the plays were downhill base power plays between the tackles.
• The Bills employed a lot of empty sets with shallow crossers and option routes, which should have given QB J.P. Losman easy, high-percentage passes. Miami was able to generate enough pressure on Losman and use tight zone coverage techniques (route recognition and jumping patterns) to keep Buffalo out of the end zone. Losman appeared to be uncomfortable in the pocket and was out of rhythm and hesitant at times, resulting in poor timing for the Bills' passing game.
Saints 29, Falcons 25
• This game showed that a healthy Reggie Bush gives head coach Sean Payton a ton of flexibility to create mismatches. When Bush is split wide in the passing game he can routinely exploit linebackers in coverage with his speed and quickness. His burst on draw plays and delays from the backfield can create explosive runs like the 43-yarder he ripped off on the Saints' second possession of the game.
• RB Michael Turner is an extremely talented runner, but his receiving skills are not a threat that opposing defenses spend much time worrying about. His limited production in the passing game over the course of his career is well-documented, and the drop he had in the first quarter is an example of why Atlanta doesn't throw him the ball out of the backfield very often.
Texans 24, Packers 21
• The Texans are more explosive with Matt Schaub under center, but they have to do a better job of taking care of the football. The fumbles and interceptions against Green Bay nearly cost Houston the game. With Schaub back at quarterback, the wide receiver duo of Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter along with RB Steve Slaton gives the Texans the balance they need to attack on the ground or through the air.
• The Packers continue to have trouble generating a consistent pass rush with their front four. When they brought extra players they had some success creating disruption, but they couldn't afford to be too aggressive, because of the threat that Slaton could get slip out of the backfield to beat the blitz and that Johnson and Walter could hurt them downfield.
Cardinals 34, Rams 10
• WR Steve Breaston did another good job of capitalizing on his opportunities opposite Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Opposing defenses are forced to focus extra attention in order to limit the big-play production that Boldin and Fitzgerald possess, and Breaston's speed over the top can be damaging against a team like the Rams that has a hard time forcing quick throws from Cardinals QB Kurt Warner.
• The Rams gave Warner too much time in the pocket, and he hurt them downfield in the vertical passing game. Without a consistent pass rush up front, the back end of the defense will continue to get exposed by teams like Arizona that have multiple playmakers.
Steelers 20, Cowboys 13
• Despite special-teams gaffes by their kicking specialists, poor pass protection when the Cowboys forced Pittsburgh to throw, ineffective goal line running and a plethora of turnovers and several other mistakes, QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' defense pulled out a hard-fought victory. The Pittsburgh defense is the best in the league and combines with Roethlisberger to create a heck of a foundation to build a team on.
• The Steelers got to QB Tony Romo at times, but Romo was terrific at identifying the different pressures Pittsburgh threw at him. He buys time as well as any quarterback in the league, with an impressive blend of athletic ability and feel for the pocket. He looks to make plays downfield with his arm while avoiding the rush, putting a ton of pressure on opposing secondaries. He always seems to be in balance, and he sets and throws remarkably quickly, even when his surroundings are crumbling. Considering he didn't play for a college powerhouse and hasn't started a lot of games in the NFL, these skills are even more impressive.
Patriots 24, Seahawks 21
• The Patriots are depleted defensively as injuries continue to mount. Head coach Bill Belichick loves to be creative when attacking offensive tendencies and weaknesses. However, the Patriots are at the point where there are just trying to find enough healthy bodies to get a defense on the field, and that's a bad formula at this point in the regular season. However, the good news for Patriots fans is that their schedule isn't very difficult down the stretch.
• Rookie TE John Carslon is a special player who fits nicely into Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense. Carlson is a natural athlete with soft hands and receiving skills, and he is an instinctive route-runner who is very good at finding soft spots in underneath zones. With his size and functional play speed he is very difficult to match up with, especially split out wide in the formation. He has a strong lower half and is very effective with his run-after-catch ability. Plus, he has a solid understanding of angles and body position in the running game.
Bears 23, Jaguars 10
• The Bears were once again impressive with their two-tight-end packages. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner loves to spread the field with multiple-tight-end groupings that create mismatches for TE Greg Olsen. This allows the Bears to exploit the underneath areas with Olsen and Desmond Clark while stretching the vertical seam with WR Devin Hester. Meanwhile, rookie RB Matt Forte continues to be the focal point of the offense.
• Without any vertical element in the Jaguars' passing attack, the Bears crowded the line of scrimmage and forced QB David Garrard to attack through the air. For whatever reason, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter continues to abandon the running game. Simply put, this team has no identity from an offensive standpoint, especially at wide receiver. Maurice Jones-Drew is a dynamic player while Fred Taylor is most effective between the tackles, and as a duo they can place a lot of pressure on opposing defenses.
Titans 28, Browns 9
• After a stretch of solid football, veteran QB Kerry Collins has not been as effective in recent weeks. The running game has been effective, so Collins has not been needed as much; nonetheless, he forced a few balls into traffic, threw two interceptions and could have very easily thrown more. There seems to be some frustration in that Collins doesn't appear to be on the same page with his receivers: His top three wideouts contributed only five catches. The Titans were the first team to clinch a division title, and they want to make sure the offense is clicking on all cylinders down the stretch. That means Collins must get back to being patient and letting the game come to him.
• After a great 2007 season Browns RB Jamal Lewis is regressing back into the player who seemed to have lost a step in Baltimore. Some of the blame has to fall on the offensive line, but even when holes are there, Lewis isn't finding them consistently. Lewis either missed the hole or was too slow to get there at times against the Titans, allowing things to close up on him quickly. Lewis is a big back who must run downhill and hit the hole with authority, but right now he is running tentatively and tiptoeing toward the line of scrimmage.
Chargers 34, Raiders 7 (Thursday)
• Let's keep this win in perspective. The Raiders committed six penalties and four turnovers, which makes it difficult to evaluate exactly where the Chargers are right now as a team. They did what any mediocre team would have done, and most of the Chargers' warts were masked by the Raiders' inadequacy. Honestly, when you consider the Raiders' four turnovers, the Chargers' offense really wasn't that impressive. On top of that, if you take away WR Vincent Jackson's 59-yard touchdown, the passing game struggled much more than it looked on the surface.
• Watching this game, we couldn't help but think what LB Shawne Merriman would have done to Raiders LT Kwame Harris. Harris is athletic and moves extremely well, but he plays the game with zero passion and doesn't have anything close to the power needed to play his position. His base is terrible, and he has no power in his hands or upper body. Not only is Harris just a flat-out poor starter, but he also takes far too many penalties. If the Raiders do not drastically improve at both left and right tackle (Harris and RT Cornell Green), second-year franchise QB JaMarcus Russell will have little chance of becoming a successful pro -- especially on injured reserve. The Raiders have written the blueprint of exactly what not to do to integrate an inexperienced quarterback into the NFL.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.