The Playbook: Previewing Broncos-Colts, Eagles-Cowboys, more Week 7 games
Denver (6-0) at Indianapolis (4-2) — 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC: It’s a game TV networks dream about. NBC won the battle for the Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck showdown, slotting this one for Sunday night.
Manning’s highly anticipated return to Indianapolis already had folks abuzz without Colts owner Jim Irsay adding fuel to the fire. He did so anyway, with a comment that we may or may not have taken the wrong way.
“We’ve changed our model a little bit,” Irsay said of his franchise’s post-Manning approach, before pointing to his Super Bowl ring, “because we wanted more than one of these.”
Manning has refused to address that comment — or the response from his current coach, John Fox. It no doubt will be in the back of his mind as he takes aim against his former team for the first time.
The Broncos may have been caught looking ahead to Sunday’s showdown last week, a sleepy 35-19 win over Jacksonville. The Colts definitely appeared to be readying for Week 7, an approach that cost them in a disappointing Week 6 setback at San Diego. Rather remarkably, though, the 4-2 Colts still have a one-game cushion in the AFC South, while the 6-0 Broncos are mired in a first-place tie with the Chiefs.
Denver will be celebrating the return of Von Miller from a six-game suspension. He may be just what an ailing defense needs (Denver allowed 48 points to Dallas in its last road game). The Broncos do have the league’s stingiest run defense … but it may be because they currently boast an NFL-worst pass D. Luck will test the latter all over the field, while Trent Richardson will try to grind out what he can against the former.
As for Manning, he continues to be on record-setting pace this season, even with an interception in each of the past two weeks. Indianapolis could not get Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense off the field last week, so there is definite cause for concern with the Broncos’ incredible cache of talent rolling through town Sunday night. – CB
Dallas (3-3) at Philadelphia (3-3) — 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX: If there’s one guy who has to be nervous about this game, it’s Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The venerated veteran coach had problems with wide-open offenses when he was USC’s defensive coordinator from 2010 through ’12, and the offenses put together by Oregon’s Chip Kelly really gave him fits. Kelly’s Ducks totaled 62 points and 730 total yards against Kiffin’s defense in their meeting in 2012, and that wasn’t much worse than the average over those three seasons — 50 points and 601 yards per game in three meetings.
“They’re just good,” Kiffin said of Kelly and the staff he’s now put together in Philadelphia. “Chip Kelly is the best. Some coaches talk a lot, but they don’t put it on tape. Coach Kelly puts it on tape. They know what they’re doing.”
However, Kelly said this week Kiffin isn’t running the same schemes in Dallas that he remembers from the Pac-12.
“He does a really good job of mixing things up. They play a good amount of man, man‑free and they mix in some Cover-2 in there and play a lot of three-deep, four-under. So he gives you a lot of problems in terms of how he presents it.”
Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis has his own issues to deal with. While Philadelphia leads the league in rushing and is coming around in the passing game, no team has given up more passing yards than the Eagles’ 2,521, and only the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed more points than Philly’s 179.
So, it’s fair enough to expect a barnburner at Lincoln Financial Field. As such, the game may swing on which quarterback is able to drop the final hammer in a furious scoring contest. Tony Romo is coming off a wild two-game swing in which he set a franchise record with 506 yards and five touchdowns against the Denver Broncos one week before managing just 170 yards and one score the next against Washington’s generally porous defense. With Michael Vick’s hamstring still an issue, Dallas’ defense will see Nick Foles, who had perhaps the best game of his young career last Sunday against Tampa Bay — 22-of-31 passes for 296 yards, three touchdowns, no picks and a rushing touchdown against a Buccaneers defense that has been surprisingly good at times. – DF
Cincinnati (4-2) at Detroit (4-2) — 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS: There are a ton of similarities in the roster of these two teams, both of whom are trying to find a way to get over the top within their own divisions, as well as in the NFL landscape as a whole.
The Bengals defense is built around its front, starting with Geno Atkins (one of five former Georgia Bulldogs set to start in this game, by the way, along with Matthew Stafford, Kris Durham, A.J. Green and Clint Boling). Offensively, they have a dominant star at wide receiver in Green, flanked by an improving run game and an off-and-on quarterback.
That’s pretty much the exact recipe at play in Detroit, too. The Lions D-line garners much of the Motor City’s attention — Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have developed into a top-flight duo, while rookie DE Ziggy Ansah has shown flashes of brilliance. And on offense, of course, the world revolves around Calvin Johnson, who has been battling a lingering knee injury.
But the real successes for these 4-2 teams have come courtesy of the complementary pieces. The Bengals actually boast one of the most under-the-radar secondaries in the league, plus have seen the RB duo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard take huge strides in recent weeks. Detroit, meanwhile, offers up Reggie Bush at RB and turned to Durham and undrafted rookie Joseph Fauria last week in Cleveland.
If there’s an X-Factor in this one, it may be a Lions’ linebacking corps that has far exceeded expectations in 2013. DeAndre Levy, a player the Lions essentially opted to re-sign over Justin Durant, is off to a Pro Bowl-worthy start — Pro Football Focus has him rated as the top 4-3 linebacker in football right now, way up from his No. 41 ranking in 2012. Levy, Stephen Tulloch and Ashlee Palmer will be responsible for trying to keep in check the Green-Ellis/Bernard duo and the Bengals’ 1-2 TE punch of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. – CB
Baltimore (3-3) at Pittsburgh (1-4) — 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: For all the talk about Matt Schaub’s disastrous season, Joe Flacco hasn’t been much better — a 57.9 completion percentage to Schaub’s 64.4, 1,702 yards to Schaub’s 1,552, seven touchdowns to Schaub’s eight, and eight interceptions to Schaub’s nine. Yes, Schaub has Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, but Baltimore’s Torrey Smith has been the league’s best deep receiver all season. Flacco’s 342 passing yards and two touchdowns weren’t enough to take down the Green Bay Packers at M&T Bank Stadium last Sunday, but such a game could very well be the ticket to win against a reeling Steelers team whose offense has been on hold all season. It would help if the Ravens could figure out a way to get running back Ray Rice on track — the former fulcrum of Baltimore’s offense ran for a season-high 74 yards against the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago but managed just 34 yards on 14 carries against the Pack.
“He was banged up for a couple weeks, and this is really his first couple weeks back,” Flacco said this week of Rice, who has struggled with a hip flexor injury this season. “So, anytime you get a little banged up and aren’t 100 percent, you have to take a little bit of time before you can really expect to be back there and have full explosion.”
The Steelers will take any break they can get. They come into this game at 1-4, marking the first time in over a decade that neither team has a winning record when facing off in this usually great rivalry. The Steelers are also struggling to make anything happen on the ground, and the team’s usually spotty offensive line play has been even more questionable than usual this season. Left tackle Levi Brown, recently acquired in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, is already on injured reserve. That puts tackles Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum on the hot seat — not a good thing for Ben Roethlisberger.
“I don’t think records are as important in this game, from an intensity standpoint,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said this week. “If nothing else, I think it heightens it. There’s a certain sense of urgency based on the position that the team is in.”
The Steelers are in a position to either rise out of their worst start in 45 years, or watch their season tank far sooner than expected. – DF