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Crossing the Line - Week 9
By Fritz Schlottman, Research by Todd Gray
October 30, 2003
 
New York Jets vs. New York Giants
Jets Offense
Sacked/G=1.14
Rush TDs/G=.43
Rush Avg.=3.7

Giants Defense
Sacks/G=3.43
Rush TDs Against/G=.71
Rush Avg. Against=4.1

Jets Defense
Sacks/G=3.71
Rush TDs Against/G=1.14
Rush Avg. Against=4.6

Giants Offense
Sacked/G=1.71
Rush TDs/G=.43
Rush Avg.=3.9

When the Jets have the ball - The Jets offensive line continued its steady improvement as RB Curtis Martin earned his first 100-yard game of the season. New York has averaged more than five yards a carry over the past two games to bolster a running game that has managed a paltry 84.6 yards per contest.

With the change at QB during the game, you could not have faulted the Jets offensive line had they struggled. The change in the cadence, snap-count, and timing on offense when QB Vinny Testaverde left the game and QB Chad Pennington entered had to be significant. Even so, this veteran bunch only surrendered two sacks to an Eagles defense that has a history of knocking QBs around.

Despite getting off to a slow start, the Giants' defense shut down Minnesota QB Dante Culpepper and crew in the second half and has shown steady progress in recent weeks. DE Michael Strahan had a pair of sacks for the second straight week, and the Giants trail only the Jets for the league lead in sacks with 24. Martin will need to get off again if the Jets hope to keep the heat off QB Chad Pennington, who will be making his first start of the season.

The Giants have a couple of injuries of note on their defense. DT Cornelius Griffin (ankle) and CB Will Peterson (back) will miss the game.

When the Giants have the ball - The makeshift offensive line assembled by Jim Fassel was a success, allowing a lone sack and giving Kerry Collins time to work. FB Jimmy Finn and backup RB Dorsey Levens contributed a handful of key blocks to help the cause.

Fassel countered the recent loss of left guard Rich Seubert by moving Ian Allen to right tackle, shifting Rich Bober to center and playing rookie Wayne Lucier at left guard.

The Giants will attempt to exploit a Jets defense that allowed the Eagles to run over them for 194 yards last week and which allows a whopping 158.9 yards on the ground - the second-worst such mark in the NFL. Though the Jets boast the league's finest pass rush, their assault on Collins may be slowed by the absence of DE John Abraham, who had 3-1/2 sacks last week but will miss this game with a strained right groin.

The Jets have a handful of injuries of note. The previous mentioned DE John Abraham (groin), S Jon McGraw (shoulder), and CB Donnie Abraham (shoulder) will miss the game. OLB Mo Lewis (hip) is questionable.

Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans
Tampa Bay Offense
Sacked/G=.86
Rush TDs/G=.29
Rush Avg.=3.7

New Orleans Defense
Sacks/G=2.29
Rush TDs Against/G=1.00
Rush Avg. Against=4.4

Tampa Bay Defense
Sacks/G=2.57
Rush TDs Against/G=.71
Rush Avg. Against=4.0

New Orleans Offense
Sacked/G=2.14
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=4.2

When the Buccaneers have the ball - Once Tampa Bay gained the lead against the Cowboys, Gruden and the Bucs committed to the run. Tampa Bay ran running plays on all 12 first downs in the second half, and result of the focus on the running game was a career-high 30 carries for RB Mike Pittman, who finished with 113 yards. Tampa Bay controlled the clock throughout much of the second half and reduced the Cowboys offense to innocent bystanders throughout much of the half. 

The Bucs may plan more of the same against a reeling Saints defense that let Stephen Davis and the Panthers run all over them last week. To make matters worse, the Saints have suspended starting DEGrady Jackson for one game due to conduct detrimental to the team. Jackson, who also missed the Carolina game due to injury, is one of the team's best run-stoppers and is second on the team with four sacks.

The Buc's are realtively injury free on offense. RB Michael Pittman (hamstring) will likely play this week, but WR Joe Jurevicius (knee) will likely miss another game.

The Saints defense appears to be past its injury problems. Only two regulars are hobbled: LB Sedrick Hodge (knee) is day-to-day and DE Darren Howard (wrist) is probable for Sunday's game.

When the Saints have the ball - A steady New Orleans offense had the opportunity to win the game, but costly turnovers did them in. The offensive line paved the way for the fifth straight 100-yard performance for RB Deuce McAllister, but allowed QB Aaron Brooks to be sacked three times. Brooks' bodyguards only give up slightly more than two sacks per game.

The Saints do not have any offensive linemen listed on the injury report, but that's not to say that they don't have injuries. WRs Donte Stallworth (leg) and Joe Horn (knee) may be hobbled this week.

Unfortunately for McAllister and company, the Tampa Bay defense appears to have solved its problems against the run, allowing the Cowboys 60 yards rushing at 3.5 yards per carry. That said, Troy Hambrick is no McAllister, who may have to adjust his style to exploit the Bucs' weak interior like the Panthers did with Stephen Davis two weeks ago. Tampa Bay struggles to stop bigger running backs when S John Lynch is out of the line-up or when the team plays a two-deep zone.

Tampa still has a big hole in the secondary. S John Lynch is still day-to-day with a neck/shoulder injury, but may attempt to play thought the pain, and DB Brian Kelly (pec) will miss the rest of the season. Lynch's ability to sneak up into the box and tackle the opposing ball carrier is vital to the Buc's game plan on defense and if he can't play or can't play effectively, the Saints will get single coverage on either Stallworth or Horn.

Arizona vs. Cincinnati
Arizona Offense
Sacked/G=1.38
Rush TDs/G=.38
Rush Avg.=3.8

Cincinnati Defense
Sacks/G=1.86
Rush TDs Against/G=.86
Rush Avg. Against=4.2

Arizona Defense
Sacks/G=.75
Rush TDs Against/G=.63
Rush Avg. Against=3.7
Cincinnati Offense
Sacked/G=2.43
Rush TDs/G=.57
Rush Avg.=3.2

When the Cardinals have the ball - Arizona finally controlled the ground game and the dividends were huge. The Cardinals veteran offensive line - one of the team's supposed strengths heading into the season - helped spring RB Marcel Shipp loose for a career-best 165 yards on 35 carries last week. Arizona finished with 221 yards on the ground and held the ball for 38 minutes against a 49ers defense that was giving up less than four yards per carry coming into last week's game. San Francisco was among the league's leaders in sacks, but got to QB Blake just once last week.

The Cardinals offensive line remains fairly healthy. Reserve G Cameron Spikes (back) is the lone lineman on the team's injury report. WR Jason McAddley continues to battle the hamstring injury that has afflicted him for most of the season.

Arizona's newfound ground game will be a good test for a Cincinnati squad that has improved steadily against the run. The Card's offensive line matches up well against the Bengals' front seven that averages less than two sacks per game and gives up more than four yards per carry. If the running game is working, Blake will play a conservative game again this week in order to limit the miscues he's know for making when he feels the need to press. If not, Blake (a former Bengal who will be looking for a little slice of revenge this week) will get time to throw against a defense that doesn't pressure quarterback. If he finds receivers open down the field, Blake should post decent numbers against the Bengals' secondary.

Cincinnati is fortunate to have a very short injury list at the half way mark in the season. The Bengals did not list a single defender this week.

When the Bengals have the ball - The offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against a depleted Seattle defense and the Bengals piled up 180 total rushing yards, including a career-high 101 yards from backup RB Rudi Johnson. It was a wonderful sign for a team averaging 3.2 yards per carry (2nd lowest in the NFL) that has compiled an NFL-low 28 first downs rushing.  The home crowd's chants of "Rudy, Rudy" last week may have given management some leverage with wayward RB Corey Dillon. Dillon was inactive last week after getting into an auto accident a few hours before kickoff. The Bengals starting running back had been nursing a groin injury and an attitude problem prior to the incident. Dillon had demanded a trade during the week because he wasn't getting the ball, even though the trade deadline had passed. Funny how the Bengals offensive line found ways of opening holes for 25+ touches by his replacement, isn't it? Let's just say that what comes around goes around.

On the other hand, Arizona's defense finally stepped it up against the run versus the 49ers, so this contest will provide the opportunity to see which squad is for real: the Cincinnati running game or the Arizona D.

The Cardinals looked for real last week against the 49ers. RB Garrison Hearst was limited to a 3.1-yard average on 14 carries and his running mate, RB Kevan Barlow, was limited to 2.1 yards per attempt. Not bad, considering SF had been averaging over 4.5 yards per carry coming into the game.

Bengals QB Kitna should have time to work, although the Cardinals finally put real pressure (if two sacks can be called pressure) on QB Jeff Garcia and the 49ers. Still, the Card's have managed only six sacks on the season.

Seattle vs. Pittsburgh
Seattle Offense
Sacked/G=2.57
Rush TDs/G=1.0
Rush Avg.=4.6

Pittsburgh Defense
Sacks/G=1.86
Rush TDs Against/G=1.14
Rush Avg. Against=3.3

Seattle Defense
Sacks/G=2.00
Rush TDs Against/G=1.14
Rush Avg. Against=4.0

Pittsburgh Offense
Sacked/G=3.14
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=3.3

When the Seahawks have the ball - The Seahawks lost despite posting 462 yards on offense and executing its highest third-down conversion rate of the season. However, five turnovers cost the 'Hawks against a once-lowly Bengals squad that capitalized on miscues for a change. Cincinnati owned the line of scrimmage in the second half when it held RB Shaun Alexander to 15 yards on the ground.

Pittsburgh is allowing only 272.4 total yards per game, 3rd best in the NFL, but hasn't been able to translate those stats into victories, at least for the most part. And that defense may be coming apart at the seams as was evidenced by the Rams' 448-yard showing last week. If third-string RB Arlen Harris can lead the Rams to victory, then Alexander should have a successful day.

The Steelers secondary was exposed (again) last week. Teams that spread them out and make Pittsburgh's secondary defend the entire field cause them fits. St. Louis was the latest team to light them up. QB Marc Bulger had 375 yards passing and WR Torry Holt had 174 yards receiving and a touchdown. The Steelers lack of pass rush (two sacks) has given opposing QBs too much time to find a receiver. If you've been waiting patiently for the Seahawks passing game to finally get it together this season, it may be this week or never.

When the Steelers have the ball - The Steelers once again failed to control the clock and found themselves trying to play catch-up through the air - a seemingly impossible task to accomplish verse Marc Bulger and the pass-happy Rams these days. OT Todd Fordham, who has been picked on for much of the season, returned to start on the right side and gave up one of the Rams' two sacks. Pittsburgh converted only 1 of 10 third downs, had five series last less than a minute and managed only 11 first downs, including a measly two on the ground. RB Jerome Bettis' first start of the season did little to jump-start the league's 28th-ranked rushing offense as he was held to 42 yards on 12 carries- a rusty start for a running back and a team that wanted to play smash-mouth football for the remainder of the season.

Seattle's once-stiff run defense has sagged a bit of late, though the Seahawks have yet to allow an opponent rush more than 62 yards at home. However, with DT Norman Hand fighting turf-toe, Bettis will have a decent shot to eclipse that mark. The Bengals ran the ball 33 times for 180 yards against Seattle last week, and head coach Mike Holmgren may shake things up in order to find more effective combinations the Seahawks' defensive front.

Atlanta vs. Philadelphia
Atlanta Offense
Sacked/G=2.71
Rush TDs/G=.86
Rush Avg.=4.4

Philadelphia Defense
Sacks/G=1.71
Rush TDs Against/G=.57
Rush Avg. Against=3.3

Atlanta Defense
Sacks/G=2.14
Rush TDs Against/G=1.71
Rush Avg. Against=4.4

Philadelphia Offense
Sacked/G=3.71
Rush TDs/G=1.29
Rush Avg.=5.0

When the Falcons have the ball - Make a trip to the fridge. Atlanta's offensive line is helping the Falcons to 4.4 yards per carry, but that means little with the Falcons playing from behind so often. Atlanta passes early and often as a result of frequently playing from behind, and opposing defenses hassle Falcons' signal-callers week in and week out. It doesn't help that Peerless Price and company have made poor targets for Atlanta QBs.

Atlanta has made a league-low 99 first downs and has completed a league-low 24.7 percent of third down conversions. To make matters worse, LG Travis Claridge will miss at least three more weeks with torn connective tissue between his right quadriceps and knee. That's not a good thing if you're QB Kurt Kitna and you're standing behind an offensive line that's already 26th out of a 32 team league in sacks per pass play. Don't let that insurance lapse this week.

The Eagles have been rather weak against the pass this season, but their secondary is almost back to full strength and would be more than enough of a challenge for Kurt Kittner's skills regardless of unit strength. Atlanta's greatest hope may be its ability to run the ball against a Philly defense dealing with the loss of DT Hollis Thomas, who has a torn bicep tendon.

When the Eagles have the ball - All remains not well for the Philly offense, but things are looking up. Best of all, Atlanta's porous defense should be just what the doctor ordered as the Eagles try to recapture their form from a year ago.

The Falcons are last in passing yards allowed per game at 266.9 and allow a league-high 416.6 yards per game. Despite this and the fact that Falcons defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had retooled his entire secondary (he fired the entire starting secondary) for Sunday's game, Philly will try to run their way to victory. The Eagles running back-by-committee approach this season has produced a 5.0 yard-per-carry average, good for third in the league.

San Francisco vs. St. Louis
San Francisco Offense
Sacked/G=2.00
Rush TDs/G=1.00
Rush Avg.=4.4

St. Louis Defense
Sacks/G=2.00
Rush TDs Against/G=.57
Rush Avg. Against=4.6

San Francisco Defense
Sacks/G=2.75
Rush TDs Against/G=.63
Rush Avg. Against=4.0

St. Louis Offense
Sacked/G=2.29
Rush TDs/G=1.29
Rush Avg.=3.4

When the 49ers have the ball - Despite leading the league with 58 rushing first downs, the 49ers managed only four first downs rushing and a sluggish 106 yards against a surprising Cardinals defense.  The offensive line that looked so dominant a week earlier against the Bucs gave a pedestrian performance, at best. The word FLAT comes to mind, which may have something to do with a short week and the head coach not getting his team ready to play. Garica was under pressure most of the first half and finished with just three completions on ten attempts. For some reason, the 49er brain trust (and I use the term loosely) made the decision to pound the ball at a Cardinals interior defense that was giving up just 3.7 yards per carry and stuck with it for the entire first half and into the third quarter despite the shocking lack of success.

QB Jeff Garcia was the team's leading rusher with 44 yards on four carries, but his happy feet created a few problems, including a sack that he walked into and an ankle sprain that forced him out for seven plays. The 49ers need to run the ball successfully on first down as the Rams are allowing opposing teams to covert just 21.4 percent of their third down attempts during their four game winning streak.

St. Louis have not been tough against the run (averaging 4.6 yards per attempt against), and could be without DE Leonard Little (pectoral tear) and DT Damione Lewis (mild high ankle sprain). Much hinges on which 49ers unit comes to play - the one that took it to the Bucs two weeks ago or the one that was run over by the Cardinals on Sunday. On the bright side, CB Travis Fisher and SS Adam Archuleta are expected to return for the Rams.

The big match-up of the week will be 49ers T Kwame Harris against STL DE Grant Wistrom. Wistrom won the previous meeting this year-making seven tackles and pressuring Garcia seven times. Harris was subbing in for an injured Derrick Deese. Deese will likely miss this game as well, setting up this week's rematch between Harris and Wistrom.

When the Rams have the ball - The Rams' offensive line continues to impress, paving the way for rookie Arlen Harris to run for 81 hard-earned yards and three scores. Harris' 34 carries were the most for a Ram in nearly a decade. When your third-string, undrafted running back is chewing up the opposition, the St. Louis offensive line deserves much of the credit.

The only downside to the Rams performance was that they twice settled for field goals after driving to first downs inside the Pittsburgh 5. On the other hand, the 49ers could have used just one of those three pointers last week.

As if it needs it, the Rams offense will get a boost this week with the return of RB Marshall Faulk. St. Louis leads the league with 166 first downs and 379.4 total yards per game. Faulk returns from a broken hand and an operation to clean up his knee.

The 49ers did an about face last week, allowing 221 yards on the ground despite being strong against the run for much of the season. Any more of that against the Rams and this one won't even be close.

Minnesota vs. Green Bay
Minnesota Offense
Sacked/G=2.43
Rush TDs/G=1.0
Rush Avg.=4.5

Green Bay Defense
Sacks/G=1.50
Rush TDs Against/G=.75
Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Minnesota Defense
Sacks/G=2.57
Rush TDs Against/G=.86
Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Green Bay Offense
Sacked/G=.75
Rush TDs/G=1.38
Rush Avg.=4.9

When the Vikings have the ball - The return of RB Michael Bennett is on the horizon and it couldn't come at a better time. The 6-1 Vikes struggled on the ground for the second week in a row despite Culpepper's re-emergence as a threat to run. Bennett is expected to have limited action. The team is hoping to get him into the game for 2-3 carries. 

The Vikings led the Giants 17-16 in the fourth quarter when RT Mike Rosenthal gave up sacks on consecutive plays to take the Vikings out of field goal range. In all, Culpepper was sacked four times and missed WRs Kelly Campbell and D'Wayne Bates, both of whom should return to action this week.

Green Bay has made strides from a year ago when the allowed 4.9 yards per rush, but opponents still average 4.3 yards per attempt. This should come as welcome news for the Vikings, who must get more from Moe Williams until Bennett returns.  

The bad news has been the drop-off in the Packers pass rush. Members of the defense have been not so subtlety pointing the finger at two defensive linemen (KGB and Hunt) who signed big contracts in the off-season and have failed to produce this season. Green Bay's defense has managed just four sacks through half the season when they've rushed just their four defensive linemen. The blitz hasn't been that effective either. Green Bay's linebackers have three sacks as a unit. 

At home and with a full complement of receivers, the deck is stacked for Culpepper to have a big game at home against a Green Bay secondary that has been getting picked on of late. Minnesota rolled in Wisconsin Week 1, a pattern that's become all too familiar since the 200 season. Minnesota's big offensive line has beaten up the Packers smaller defense, averaging 192.4 rushing yards and 5.4 yards per carry during that period. In contrast, Green Bay's rushing attack has managed just 77.4 yards and 3.9 yards per carry for the same period. 

When the Packers have the ball - The Packers offensive line has given up only six sacks this season, and they'll have to do more of the same against a Viking defense that averages 2-1/2 sacks a game and which will bring some heat. The Green Bay receiving corps is finally healthy and the bye week couldn't have come at a better time for Brett Favre (thumb) and his offensive line.  

The combination of Favre's bum thumb and a Viking defense that has a league-high 17 interceptions appears to bode well for the Vikes. However, Ahman Green usually posts big numbers against Minnesota and little indicates that he will do otherwise this time around. If Favre doesn't feel the heat, all should be well for Green Bay. To keep the pressure off the Packers signal-caller, Green Bay's offensive line will have to close the 115-yard rushing gap between these two teams.

Detroit vs. Oakland
Detroit Offense
Sacked/G=.75
Rush TDs/G=.25
Rush Avg.=3.9

Oakland Defense
Sacks/G=1.57
Rush TDs Against/G=1.29
Rush Avg. Against=4.6

Detroit Defense
Sacks/G=1.50
Rush TDs Against/G=.75
Rush Avg. Against=4.1

Oakland Offense
Sacked/G=2.57
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=4.5

When the Lions have the ball - The Lions lost for pretty much the same reasons they've been losing on their current six-game slide and 20-game road losing streak: poor execution, untimely penalties, way too many dropped passes (including four straight on the Lions' second possession), etc. The OL put together another mediocre performance protecting sub-par skill players, and the results were only slightly more nauseating than what one would expect. Where is one to turn when things can't get any worse?

Enter the Oakland defense, a much-maligned unit that has surrendered 159 yards per game and has a knack for making struggling backs look like world-beaters. Injuries to DTs John Parrella and Dana Stubblefield have hindered a unit that ranked No. 3 against the run last year. Oakland's pass defense has been only marginally better, but then, any ol' pass defense seems to work just fine against the Lions.

When the Raiders have the ball - With Rich Gannon out for up to three weeks with a severe A-C bruise, the floundering Raiders will turn to little-tested Marques Tuiasosopo to lead an offense that has struggled through the air all season.  In limited duty this season, Tuiasosopo has impressed with his ability to escape the rush and make plays on the run. These assets should be increasingly valuable considering Oakland's injuries on its OL - RT Langston Walker (knee), RG Mo Collins (knee) and LG Frank Middleton (quad) are all hobbling or out. The offensive line has seen changes at every position except for left tackle since the beginning of the season.

That said, the Lions haven't exactly been getting after quarterbacks this season, and the secondary was burned last week by a pair of Bears rookie WRs, which should bode well for the more experienced Oakland receiving corps. Regardless of how the Raiders decide to move the ball, they should have success against the Lions.

Dallas vs. Washington

Dallas Offense
Sacked/G=2.29
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=3.6

Washington Defense
Sacks/G=1.43
Rush TDs Against/G=.86
Rush Avg. Against=4.1

Dallas Defense
Sacks/G=1.71
Rush TDs Against/G=.43
Rush Avg. Against=3.2

Washington Offense
Sacked/G=3.57
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=3.8

When the Cowboys have the ball - The Cowboys' game against the Bucs was considered a measuring stick for Parcells' upstart Dallas unit against the league's established elite. The results were not favorable as the Cowboys managed only 60 yards rushing, four sacks, nine first downs (two on the ground) and converted only 25 percent of their third-down opportunities.

In all, the Cowboys responded to 13 third- and fourth-down opportunities by gaining a yard or less on five of those opportunities.

The Cowboys will attempt to get back to basics this week by attempting to do what they failed to accomplish against the Bucs: control the line of scrimmage. The Redskins' lack of a pass rush should give Quincy Carter more time to throw, something he didn't have against the Bucs, but the key will be getting consistent production from RB Troy Hambrick against a Redskins' run defense that has sagged of late.

When the Redskins have the ball - The Redskins enter the game against their chief rival on a three-game losing streak and amidst a flurry of controversy.  The 'Skins will have to wait for one more week for the return of LG Dave Fiore (knee), which means that struggling rookie Derrick Dockery will have to fill his hole for another game.

RB Ladell Betts will miss the game and coach Steve Spurrier maintains that RB Trung Canidate is doubtful despite Canidate's insistence that he can play through the high ankle sprain that has limited him of late. If Canidate can't go, Spurrier may use a combo of return specialist Chad Morton and FB Rock Cartwright - not a good prospect for a squad looking to get its offense back on track.

Actually, the Redskins running game may not matter. During the off-week it's become clear that Redskins Owner Dan Snyder, HC Steve Spurrier, and the team are parting ways in the not so distant future. Spurrier fired the first shot across the bow by calling out his players (the offensive line in particular) for their lack of effort and execution. Snyder jumped into the conflict by signing an offensive line coach (Joe Bugle) without consulting his head coach and personally cutting players. The most embarrassing episode was when Washington's special teams' coach was getting on one of his players during a meeting, and the player (unbeknownst to the coaching staff) had been cut eight hours before. In retaliation, Spurrier cut reserve QB Rob Johnson and is now saying that he's going to go back to his original offense, throw every down, and abandon the running game entirely. In other words.this team is a mess.

With the Redskins abandoning the three-step drop and going down the field more, it will put additional pressure on that shaky offensive line. G Derrick Dockery, who has struggled during the team's losing streak, now has to go up against Cowboys DT La'Roi Glover. Glover leads the Cowboys in sacks (3) and could double that number against the Redskins who have given up 22 sacks on QB Ramsey.

The Cowboys had a tough go against the Bucs, but given that this is a Parcells'-coached team it should be ready for the challenge. Despite allowing Michael Pittman to rush for 113 yards last week, it was the first such performance by a single back against the Cowboys in 12 games.

Miami vs. Indianapolis
Miami Offense
Sacked/G=1.14
Rush TDs/G=.86
Rush Avg.=3.9

Indianapolis Defense
Sacks/G=2.00
Rush TDs Against/G=4.7
Rush Avg. Against=.57

Miami Defense
Sacks/G=1.57
Rush TDs Against/G=.29
Rush Avg. Against=2.9

Indianapolis Offense
Sacked/G=.57
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=3.5

When the Dolphins have the ball - It appears that Brian Griese will start again for Miami this week following his three-touchdown performance against the Chargers. Despite not playing since injuring his toe during the exhibition season, Griese showed few ill effects of his layoff.

Ricky Williams' struggles the past few weeks may be largely attributed to weak offensive line play. Dave Wannestedt had been tinkering with the OL prior to the San Diego game and appears to have made some positive adjustments. This may be the week that Williams eclipses 100 yards again against a Colts defense that has allowed 100 yards rushing to a back four times in the past five games. Williams has failed to rush for 100 yards in each of the past four games.

Griese should feel more pressure than he did against the Chargers, and it will be interesting to see if he looks as smooth against a defense that's more apt to get after the quarterback.

When the Colts have the ball - The Colts' offensive line is hurting, for sure, but so far it's been hard to tell. The availability of OTs Ryan Diem (pulled rib muscle) and Tarik Glenn (knee) is questionable for this weekend.The Colts did have trouble at times picking up the small yards, and failed to score a touchdown on separate first-and-goal situations inside the Houston 5-yard line. Edgerrin James was stuffed three times inside the five, a statistic that suggests he may not be back to his old self, after all. James had 104 rushing yards last week and had 138 yards on 30 carries in last year's meeting.

James may have trouble finding the end zone again this week. Miami allows a league-low 2.9 yards per carry and 73.9 yards per game. The Dolphins sacked San Diego QB Drew Brees six times and forced him to fumble in the end zone, resulting in a safety. For the Colts to escape this one unscathed, that patchwork offensive line will have to be the real thing.

Houston vs. Carolina
Houston Offense
Sacked/G=1.50
Rush TDs/G=.88
Rush Avg.=4.00
Carolina Defense
Sacks/G=2.00
Rush TDs Against/G=.43
Rush Avg. Against=3.9
Houston Defense
Sacks/G=1.00
Rush TDs Against/G=.88
Rush Avg. Against=4.2
Carolina Offense
Sacked/G=2.43
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=4.7
When the Texans have the ball - It's hard to imagine where the Texans would have been on Sunday without Domanick Davis. Davis showed some good bursts and bullied a few tacklers en route to topping 100 yards and scoring his first two TDs. Most of his plays were run on the right side behind RG Zach Wiegert and RT Greg Randall. At (ahem) 5-9 and 218 lb. Davis isn't your prototypical NFL power-back, but he seems to get lost behind his offensive linemen then squirt out a crease into the secondary. 

With David Carr out with a badly sprained right ankle, Tony Banks will start for the Texans. If the Panthers bring their pass rush like they did last week against the Saints, it is very reasonable to expect any number of miscues from Banks. Carolina has six sacks the past two weeks and Banks has a long and well-established history of fumbling. Panthers DE Mike Rucker has had a breakout season so far. He's tied for the NFC lead with eight sacks. If he gets a couple this week, the Panthers should get a turnover on a fumble.

When the Panthers have the ball - Carolina established the running game early and amassed almost 100 yards on the ground in the first quarter alone. When the dust had settled, the Panthers had run for a team-record 223 yards against the Saints.  Once again, Carolina's passing game didn't help much, but it didn't hurt much, either. The return of Muhsin Muhammad should provide a lift and make streaking WR Steve Smith that much more effective.

It's no secret that Carolina will entertain the Texans with a similar commitment to the run. Houston's banged-up line ran out of gas against the Colts and can look forward to getting pounded again. Only two teams have recorded fewer than the eight sacks posted by the Texans. Houston had not allowed a 100-yard rusher until Edgerrin James had 104 for the Colts despite facing Ricky Williams, Deuce McAllister, Priest Holmes and Fred Taylor. The Texans defense is giving up 117 yards on the ground per game this season.

Chicago vs. San Diego
Chicago Offense
Sacked/G=3.29
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=4.4
San Diego Defense
Sacks/G=2.00
Rush TDs Against/G=.86
Rush Avg. Against=4.6
Chicago Defense
Sacks/G=1.00
Rush TDs Against/G=1.14
Rush Avg. Against=4.7
San Diego Offense
Sacked/G=1.29
Rush TDs/G=.57
Rush Avg.=5.4
When the Bears have the ball - The Bears' victory last week would have been a greater harbinger of things to come if it hadn't come against the lowly Lions. Chris Chandler did what he does best when he doesn't have a concussion, providing veteran leadership and accurate passing to a Bears' receiving corps filled with rookies and sans Pro Bowl WR Marty Booker, out with a sprained ankle.

The Bears will most likely rely on third-string rookie Brock Forsey again. Forsey's admirable effort against the Lions takes little light from the team's 2.6 yard average on 26 attempts. If Chicago was playing anyone other than the Chargers (or the Lions again), there would be cause for despair. As things stand, there is only cause for considerable alarm.

There is the possibility that RB Anthony Thomas may play this week. He's practicing and can cut on that sprained foot, so fantasy owners may want to keep track of this situation. In the three weeks prior to his injury, Thomas was averaging 110 rushing yards per game; the Bears have averaged just 77.5 yards without him.

On the bright side for Chicago, most teams have been able to throw against San Diego. If Booker returns and the Bears can protect Chandler, they should have some success through the air.

When the Chargers have the ball - LaDainian Tomlinson did it all for the Chargers again, despite mustering only 62 yards on 24 carries against a Dolphins front stacked to shut him down. The Chargers failed to score three times from inside the Miami 10, and Drew Brees was sacked six times and threw three interceptions.

Some within the organization are question if Drew Brees is the answer at quarterback. Brees has thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (7).

Injuries to the Chargers offensive line haven't helped. When the Dolphins needed a sack, their blitz completely overwhelmed the overmatched San Diego offensive line. To make matters worse, the team's best lineman will miss another game. C Jason Ball (ankle) didn't practice on Wednesday and is unlikely to see action on Sunday. That's unfortunate as Chicago is 29th against the run and LaDainian Tomlinson owners had been looking forward to a big week.

It was clear on Sunday, that the Chargers didn't have their heads in the game. You can't blame the Chargers for being distracted. Ten players have had to abandon their homes due and I'm sure they're more concerned about the welfare of their families than what's happening on the field.

Meanwhile, the Bears have registered seven sacks the entire season and held an opponent to less than 123 rushing yards for the first time this year against the Lions. This game probably won't be the second time the Bears accomplish the feat, as Tomlinson will be eager and able to post yardage totals that reflects his effort.

Baltimore vs. Jacksonville
Baltimore Offense
Sacked/G=2.29
Rush TDs/G=1.00
Rush Avg.=5.4
Jacksonville Defense
Sacks/G=1.57
Rush TDs Against/G=1.14
Rush Avg. Against=3.2
Baltimore Defense
Sacks/G=2.43
Rush TDs Against/G=2.33
Rush Avg. Against=3.5
Jacksonville Offense
Sacked/G=2.43
Rush TDs/G=.71
Rush Avg.=3.8

When the Ravens have the ball - Things were back to normal for QB Kyle Boller and the Ravens' offense, which used another 100-something yard game by Jamal Lewis to beat out another win. The Ravens OL has helped to pave the way for Baltimore's league-leading 181.3 rushing yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry, both tops in the NFL.

Lewis erased concerns about his sore shoulder by carrying the ball a career-high 32 times en route to his sixth straight game rushing for more than 100 yards.

It should be more of the same for the Ravens against the Jaguars, although Boller may have a little more flexibility in the passing game against an often-porous Jaguars secondary. Jacksonville has allowed only 3.2 yards per carry to opposing backs this season, but Baltimore and Lewis should provide the biggest challenge to date.

Baltimore has been curiously ineffective in the red zone this season. Despite their ability to run the ball, they've only managed seven touchdowns on 21 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. They were one for five last Sunday. Lack of imaginative play calling may have something to do with that statistic. The Ravens are going to have to come up with something better than running Lewis over guard this week; the Jag's rush defense is among the league's best (2nd) and won't surrender easily.

When the Jaguars have the ball - Things are getting worse for the Jags, who couldn't sustain a drive long enough to use Fred Taylor and his 5.3 yards per carry. Byron Leftwich threw three more interceptions and has nine in his past four starts, and the Jags converted just one of six third down opportunities through the first three quarters. Jacksonville finished the game with only three rushing first downs.

The Jags should have run the ball when they had the chance. Baltimore rarely gives dominant backs big yardage totals, as Clinton Portis, Priest Holmes and Corey Dillon all learned in the past month. More catching up and more picks could be on the horizon for Leftwich and the Jaguars.

Denver vs. New England
Denver Offense
Sacked/G=2.00
Rush TDs/G=.88
Rush Avg.=4.8
New England Defense
Sacks/G=2.63
Rush TDs Against/G=.88
Rush Avg. Against=3.7
Denver Defense
Sacks/G=2.63
Rush TDs Against/G=.50
Rush Avg. Against=4.1
New England Offense
Sacked/G=2.13
Rush TDs/G=.63
Rush Avg.=3.7

When the Broncos have the ball - The struggle continued for the depleted Denver offense last week. Forced to start third-string QB Danny Kanell and minus starting LT Ephraim Salaam and two of the team's top four receivers, matters were made even worse with starting RT Matt Lepsis' second-quarter ejection.

Kanell's two longest pass completions were to Ray Lewis and Gary Baxter - both members of the Baltimore defense. Denver's 194 yards were more than 145 fewer than its average through the season's first seven games. Clinton Portis managed a modest 86 yards on 22 carries and failed to score.

Things won't get any easier for the Broncos in week 9 against the Pats, who enter the game No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense and No. 3 against the run (89 yards per game). The Patriots also rank fourth in the NFL in third down defense, having allowed just 34 conversions in 110 third down attempts (30.9 percent). New England have held four opponents to <30 percent conversion rate so far this season. Denver, however, is No. 1 in the league in third down defense, limiting opponents to just 31-for-109 (28.4 percent).

RT Lepsis will be back, and Denver's offensive line will need to get Portis untracked early in order to keep the Pats honest against the pass. If not, Kanell may have a long day doing much of anything, but especially trying to avoid a persistent New England pass rush.

When the Patriots have the ball - New England's running game resurfaced to help the Patriots control the clock and stretch their lead in the fourth quarter against the Browns. Kevin Faulk tallied a career-high 96 yards at 4.2 yards per carry, which helped to hide the fact that the Pats ran for 3.1 yards per carry as a team.

New England should find the going on the ground even tougher against the Broncos, who allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season to the Ravens' Jamal Lewis. This could be a low-scoring affair and the Denver defense will more than likely need its "A" game for the Broncos to even have a shot, because points are sure to be at a premium for the Denver offense. Luckily, the Broncos are second in the NFL in total defense, allowing 271.4 yards per game. This game may come down to what happens in the red zone. New England is 27th (36.4%) while the Broncos are 7th (57.7%). If the Boncos can get a short field, they've got a shot. If they have to drive eighty yards each possession, the Patriots will make up for their lack of efficiency inside the opponent's 20 by having twice as many opportunities.