Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 7 games.
Can Kevin Kolb stay on a roll against an opportunistic defense? You can throw for a lot of yards against the Titans, as the Giants and Cowboys showed. But the Titans' secondary is good at keeping teams out of the end zone. They've only given up six passing touchdowns this season and they have a knack for making plays in the red zone, as Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw knows all too well. Cortland Finnegan is one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league, but I think Jeremy Maclin can get open against him. If the Titans sell out to stop Maclin, Kolb will look for Jason Avant and Brent Celek. Against a quick defensive line -- Dave Ball and Jason Babin have been outstanding -- Kolb will have to unload the ball quickly. LeSean McCoy has emerged as a big-time threat in the passing game, so look for him to try to get in matchups with former teammate Will Witherspoon in space. In a hostile environment, it's imperative that the Eagles have their quick game working early. I think Avant will be open on some drag routes because the Titans' safeties will let him cross their faces. If the Eagles have one turnover or less, I think they’ll win. The Titans feed off defensive takeaways. When they don't happen, this can look like a pretty ordinary team.
The Cowboys must be aware of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora at all times. Umenyiora has turned into the same beast we remember from '07. The Cowboys are going to have to help Marc Colombo against Umenyiora because of his speed and ability to get low around the edge. The former Pro Bowler has eight sacks and a staggering seven forced fumbles on the season. When Mathias Kiwanuka went down with a neck injury following the Titans game, Umenyiora raised his level of play significantly. And as Justin Tuck likes to point out, defensive tackle Barry Cofield is having a remarkable season. It's a good thing the Giants weren't able to complete that draft-day trade with him. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has great respect for the Giants' defensive line, and that's why you'll likely see a steady dose of screens again this week. I do think Romo will try to see if he can get Witten matched up against Giants middle linebacker Jonathan Goff early in this game. By the way, Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and Tuck (ankle) missed Friday's practice, but they're both expected to play.
The Redskins can't fall asleep in the secondary. You would hope the Skins have watched film of what the Giants did to the Bears three weeks ago. Jay Cutler was under siege from the opening snap of that game. He's really bad about holding the ball too long. If outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Lorenzo Alexander can make Cutler uncomfortable, he's a mistake waiting to happen. This is a game where you always must be looking for the strip. The Bears killed the Cowboys by dumping the ball to Matt Forte and Devin Hester in the quick passing game. That set up a deep ball to Johnny Knox. The Bears don't have possession receivers, but they do have wideouts who can fly. Kareem Moore and LaRon Landry must make sure they're getting proper depth. And DeAngelo Hall must stop questioning his coaches long enough to have his head in the game Sunday and not give up any deep balls.
Can the Cowboys cut down on their penalties against the Giants? Coach Wade Phillips hired officials for practice this week in an effort to identify some of the problems. The Cowboys lead the league by averaging 80.8 yards per game from penalties. They're called for nearly 10 penalties per game. The Giants were on a similar pace earlier in the season, but they've eliminated some of those mistakes. All this talk about how well the Cowboys have played from Phillips and Jerry Jones is falling on deaf ears. If they have 10 penalties against the Giants on Monday, I think they'll lose.
Eagles linebackers must be on their game against Titans RB Chris Johnson. The Eagles were solid against Frank Gore and Michael Turner, but they realize that Johnson has a different gear. He's having a down year by his ridiculous standards, but he's still capable of going off for 170 yards and three touchdowns against pretty much any defense in the league. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has preached the importance of "gap-sound" football this week in practice.
"As soon as you think you have him stopped, he cuts it back and he hits a seam and he's off to the races,” McDermott told reporters Thursday.
The Titans are the rare team that will stay with the running game if they fall behind by 10 points or so. Honestly, it's probably worse for the Eagles if Kerry Collins starts for Vince Young. With Young, you know he's only going to throw the ball about 20 times. Collins is still capable of having a big day in the passing game, though. But the Titans are smart enough never to abandon the running game.