Five keys for Packers vs. 49ers

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 10, 2013 – 11:56 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Here are five keys for Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers:

>>Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers must maintain his red-hot passing hand against the 49ers’ outstanding defense. Rodgers has seemingly taken his already exceptional game to a whole new level. In the past four weeks, he has thrown 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also is taking full advantage of his many talented targets, setting a postseason record against Minnesota last week with completions to 10 different receivers.

>>The 49ers have to find success in their passing game against the Packers’ tight pass coverage. The Packers’ did a superb job against the pass in their wild-card victory against the Vikings. But they figure to face a much greater challenge against Michael Crabtree, who has done a good job of consistently getting open and being the most reliable option for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Niners also will look to utilize their speedy and athletic tight ends, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, on deeper routes. But Green Bay will look to shut them down with Charles Woodson, who returned to action last week from a broken collarbone.

>>The Packers’ offensive tackles need to hold up against the 49ers’ pass-rushing terrors. This won’t be easy, because Green Bay’s tackles have not played well. The Packers will likely have issues in pass-protection when trying to block any of the Niners’ pass-rushers one-and-one. But that’s inevitable with the scary trio of Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, and Aldon Smith.

>>San Francisco has to establish a dominant running game that controls the tempo and helps keep Rodgers and the rest of the Packers’ passing game off the field. Frank Gore and the big, physical 49ers offensive line should be able to find success against the Packers’ defense, which struggles against the run. Gore began the season by running for 112 yards against Green Bay. And Gore isn’t San Francisco’s only rushing threat. The 49ers have an excellent change-up in LaMichael James, who is extremely explosive.

>>Packers linebacker Clay Matthews must put some consistent heat on Kaepernick. Matthews had two sacks against the Vikings and two-and-half when the Packers faced the Niners in the regular season. But he will have an enormous challenge trying to get past Joe Staley, one of the very best offensive tackles in the league.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.


Posted in Carucci's Call | Comments Off

Five keys for Ravens vs. Broncos

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 10, 2013 – 11:49 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Here are five keys for Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos:

>>Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning must utilize his multiple targets to the fullest to exploit the Ravens’ aggressive defense. Although all Broncos opponents are fully aware of the tremendous risk with involving extra defenders to pressure Manning, there will come a point when the Ravens need to do what their defense does best, and try to generate heat via the blitz. That’s when Manning is at his most dangerous, because no one is better at anticipating the blitz and reacting accordingly. He will make good use of top receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but he also won’t hesitate to spread the ball around, given that five Denver receivers had more than 40 receptions this season.

>>The Ravens’ defense needs to find a way to contain running back Knowshon Moreno. In Week 15, Moreno ran for 115 yards against a Ravens defense that just allowed 152 rushing yards in last weekend’s wild-card game against the Colts. If Moreno gets rolling, the Ravens don’t have much of a prayer against Manning, who can then make the most of his masterful use of play-fakes. The Ravens need to get much more than the emotional boost that Ray Lewis provided last weekend with his return from his torn triceps. They need him to be a large factor in stuffing the run, especially with defensive tackle Haloti Nagata being less than dominant in recent games.

>>Denver’s pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have to prevent Joe Flacco from finding his comfort zone. Miller is one of the NFL’s more dominant pass rushers, and he is going to force the Ravens’ offensive line to give him extra attention. Of course, when that happens, Dumervil should have additional freedom to operate. Miller and Dumervil are likely to take advantage of the Flacco’s tendency to hang onto the ball a little too long before throwing.

>>Ravens running back Ray Rice has to take better care of the football and find the daylight that mostly didn’t exist when the teams last met. Rice fumbled twice against the Colts, continuing a disturbing trend of coughing up the ball in the postseason. The Broncos held him to only 56 rushing yards in Week 15. Baltimore’s other running back, Bernard Pierce, ran for 103 yards against Indianapolis last week, and a one-two ground punch (with solid blocking from fullback Vonta Leach) figures to be the best way for the Ravens to find some running room against Denver.

>>The Broncos must do a better job in pass coverage against Ravens tight end Dennis Pita than it did in Week 15. When the teams last met, Pita caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. His success exposed the one flaw in an otherwise ultra-tight Denver secondary: covering the tight end. The Ravens will try and get as much production as they can from wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but if the Broncos’ cornerbacks continue to do their job as effectively as they have, the Ravens will likely lean on their ability to exploit Denver’s linebackers in pass coverage.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.


Posted in Carucci's Call | Comments Off

College background isn’t coaching prerequisite

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 10, 2013 – 3:32 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Chris – The Browns don’t need a college coach for their head coach! They need someone with NFL experience, even though the Browns are young.

Chris, my sense is that team owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner weren’t/aren’t married to strictly hiring a coach from the college ranks.

Although Chip Kelly’s return to Oregon and Doug Marrone’s move from Syracuse to the Bills took two prominent collegiate-coaching candidates off the market, the Browns still can land an excellent coach from the available talent pool. And that doesn’t mean they have to wade back into the body of water that contains college coaches.

I don’t think the Browns’ youthful roster necessarily has to influence the coaching search. A quality coach is a quality coach, and he should be able to handle any type of team, regardless of its average age.

Is having a background as an NFL coach an advantage? It’s fair to say that history shows us there has generally been more success by coaches hired from within the league than those hired from the college ranks.

That doesn’t mean ex-collegiate coaches can’t succeed. Ask the 49ers, who are in the postseason for the second consecutive year with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh at the helm.

But if you stay true to what you want in a coach, if you’re convinced that you’ve found the man with the qualities that you are seeking, then you hire him. And his previous employer, whether it’s a college or an NFL club, won’t matter.

Ryan – I am so glad the Browns re-signed Dan Gronkowski, brother of Gronk (a.k.a., Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots).

I am, too, Ryan.

I’ve actually known the Gronkowski brothers since their junior high and high school days in Western New York.

Although Dan wasn’t able to make the Browns’ roster last summer, I think he could have a legitimate shot of landing a spot in what figures to be a wide-open situation at tight end. He is an excellent blocker and a pretty good receiver, perhaps giving the Browns a more complete player at the position than they have.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


Posted in Carucci's Call | Comments Off