Five keys for Texans vs. Patriots

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 11, 2013 – 3:37 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Here are five keys for Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots:

>>Patriots quarterback Tom Brady needs to establish from the start that he owns the game, just as he has owned so many others in the postseason. Brady did exactly that in Week 14, when the Patriots dominated the Texans. He was able to decipher all of the Texans’ complex blitz packages before the snap, and react accordingly by connecting for big throws. In the end, Houston’s defense was no match for Brady’s brilliance. Still, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is more than capable of making life difficult for Brady with his ability to generate pressure and uncanny knack for knocking down passes at the line.

>>The Texans must get a dominant rushing day from Arian Foster. This not only is the Texans’ best hope to win the game, but might very well represent their only hope. The Texans can be effective if they’re able to use their zone-blocking scheme to consistently create cutback lanes for Foster, who could enjoy a big day if the Patriots’ front seven ends up over-pursuing too often.

>>New England’s receivers have to take advantage of the edge they have against Houston’s secondary. With the Patriots mostly going with two wide receivers, two tight ends and one back, the Texans – like most of New England’s opponents – are going to be hard-pressed to be able to match up with them. The Texans are vulnerable in the back end of their defense. They don’t do particularly well in man-to-man coverage, yet that is likely what they will be playing for much of the game because defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be calling plenty of blitzes in an effort to pressure Brady.

>>Houston quarterback Matt Schaub must maintain his composure and take care of the ball. He rebounded from some shaky performances late in the regular season with a fairly solid game against the Bengals last weekend. But that was at home. Doing the same in Foxborough, Mass., is an entirely different challenge. Schaub cannot allow himself to be rattled by the variety of defensive looks the Patriots will present. He must stay poised, and, if he gets the help of a strong running game, he should be able to make his share of plays with his arm.

>>The Patriots have to get consistently strong one-on-one coverage from cornerback Aqib Talib. This is the key to the Patriots’ defense. The Pats will ask Talib to handle the Texans’ best receiver, Andre Johnson, by himself, something he did reasonably well when the teams met in Week 14. That does plenty to allow them to be aggressive with blitzes. But Talib is dealing with a hip injury, and if that impedes his movement, it could significantly alter New England’s defensive plans and open things up in the Texans’ passing game.

>>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.


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Five keys for Seahawks vs. Falcons

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 11, 2013 – 3:28 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Here are five keys for Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons:

>>The Seahawks must exploit the Falcons’ struggling run defense with Marshawn Lynch, who rises to the occasion in the postseason with a physical style that allows him to pile up yards after contact. Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry while rushing for 132 yards in last week’s wild-card victory against Washington. The threat he poses in the backfield helps enhance the effectiveness of the option plays the Seahawks like to run with fleet rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. And that isn’t good news for the Falcons, who ranked near the bottom of the NFL in run defense.

>>Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan needs to have a big day against a stingy, hard-hitting Seahawks defense. Ryan is an exceptionally talented quarterback who is particularly effective working out of shotgun formation and running a no-huddle attack. Despite lacking the help of a productive running game, Ryan manages to deliver game-breaking throws to the highly talented pass-catching trio of wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and tight end Tony Gonzalez.

>>The Seahawks have to get at least an efficient performance from Wilson, provided he has the help of a strong running game. Wilson has had a remarkable season. He shows great poise and has an extremely strong passing arm to go along with his outstanding mobility. But he will be hard-pressed to avoid turnovers against the aggressive and creative scheming of Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Wilson must be careful not to serve up interceptions to a secondary that includes the highly opportunistic Asante Samuel.

>>Atlanta’s top pass rusher, defensive end John Abraham, needs to rattle Wilson as much as possible. It won’t be easy. As dominant as Abraham can be and as much as he alternates between right and left end, he is likely to spend most of the game across from standout offensive tackle Russell Okung. Still, the Redskins, who hardly have a dominant defensive front, managed to sack Wilson five games last weekend.

>>Seattle has to prevent the Falcons from finding success on the ground. The Falcons have not been a good rushing team, ranking 29th in the league in that department. The Seahawks limited Alfred Morris, the Redskins’ superb rookie running back, to 80 yards in the wild-card game. They simply cannot allow Falcons running back Michael Turner to get rolling, because it will only enhance an already dangerous Falcons passing game.

>>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.


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Aggressive, offensive-minded coach right pick

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 11, 2013 – 4:30 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

In the end, going with an aggressive, offensive-minded head coach made the most sense for the Cleveland Browns.

And that is Rob Chudzinski’s football calling card.

Does he have the big, splashy name? No.

But this is what Chudzinski, whom the Browns hired on Thursday night, does have:

>>The belief that a passing attack should be exactly that – an attack.

>>The belief that an offense needs to constantly seek big plays through the air.

>>The belief that stretching the field is the best way to thwart a defense and provide the surest path to victory in the pass-happy NFL.

When Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner talked on Dec. 31 about finding the “right guy” to replace Pat Shurmur as head coach, those were the core traits they had in mind.

They were looking for someone who – besides being a strong leader, tough-minded, and detail-oriented – could get the most out of the foundation of young, explosive players already in place and those who will no doubt be added via the draft and free agency.

They were looking for someone precisely like Chudzinski, who had been the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and who previously held that job with the Browns.

The part of his resume that says it all about the sort of impact he can have is this: Chudzinski oversaw the best offense the Browns have had since returning to Cleveland in 1999. That came during the 2007 season, when the Browns generated 5,621 total yards, 3,726 passing yards, 402 points, and 10 victories.

There is every reason to believe Chudzinski can make the same thing happen again.

In ’07, he had Derek Anderson as his quarterback, squeezing more out of his skills than anyone could imagine.

If the Browns stick with Brandon Weeden for a second season, Chudzinski is more than capable of helping their first-round pick last year take major forward steps. And if they don’t, he has the capacity to have success with yet another quarterback.

Chudzinski’s style is to adapt to the talent of his players, and put them in the best position to produce.

In Carolina, he helped Cam Newton, the top overall pick of the 2011 draft, become the first rookie in league history to throw for 4,000 yards. Along the way, Newton set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14 and was named the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year.

What could Chudzinski do with Trent Richardson? Consider that, also in 2011, the Panthers became the first team in league history with three 700-yard rushers in DeAngelo Williams (836), Jonathan Stewart (761), and Newton (706).

Those are, indeed, the credentials of the “right guy” to lead the Browns.

>>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.


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