After breaking down film and critiquing the teams heading into Week 15, Scouts Inc. tells you what to watch for this week.
The Steelers' secondary plays a lot of Cover 2 schemes and SS Troy Polamalu loves to play center field, read the play and attack the ball. The former USC Trojan is very physical, and coordinator Dick LeBeau isn't afraid to send him on a blitz or put him near the line of scrimmage. He takes great angles in run support, closes quickly and is very effective chasing from the back side. Polamalu also has great instincts as a pass defender and showed them off against Dallas. He set the tone early by intercepting QB Tony Romo on the Cowboys' first drive. Polamalu dropped into Cover 2, but as WR Terrell Owens ran his route, he anticipated the intermediate out route and broke to the open spot before Owens came out of his break. This was an easy pick for Polamalu, who also had nine tackles.
He is a tremendous game-changer, and Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco must be aware of him on every play.
While the Steelers have Polamalu, the Ravens counter with FS Ed Reed. He is an even bigger ball hawk, and his return abilities after an interception are legendary. Reed also plays some Cover 2 schemes, but he has tremendous man-to-man type skills, as well. He isn't as good in run support as Polamalu, but he does a great job of stripping the ball when he tackles. The former Miami Hurricane baited and picked off Redskins QB Jason Campbell twice this past week. On his second interception, Reed stayed back and let Campbell think he had a great matchup for TE Chris Cooley on a seam route. The Ravens showed a zone blitz and Reed didn't break on the ball until it left Campbell's hands. Reed baited Campbell so well, the QB didn't even see Reed until the ball was in the air.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger must be aware of Reed because he is a game-changer. Both the Steelers' and Ravens' defenses should have great games in large part due to the play of Polamalu and Reed. These two are among the best players at their positions in the NFL.
Not Romo's fault
A lot of people are criticizing QB Tony Romo for not being on the same page as his receivers, but when you break down the film, he doesn't deserve the blame. On the play that resulted in the Steelers' game-winning interception, it looked like Romo threw a short pass to TE Jason Witten due to a lack of communication, but that wasn't the case. In fact, Witten wasn't even Romo's intended receiver. Witten lined up on the same side as WRs Owens and Patrick Crayton and ran a deep seam route, which was supposed to clear out the area. Crayton was supposed to come across underneath and make the catch -- but that didn't happen. If Crayton made the catch, he would have had plenty of room to run after the catch, but he stopped his route instead.
Romo also had to hurry his passes for most of the game because his offensive tackles, Marc Colombo and Flozell Adams, couldn't hold up versus the Steelers' pass rush. The Cowboys look to be a group of talented underachievers who continue to make little mistakes. They are backed into a corner this week versus a very disciplined Giants team. The winner of this game will be the team that makes the fewest mistakes, which doesn't bode well for Dallas.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.