NFL

Countdown to Kickoff: Week 5

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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NFL on FOX games — Green Bay at Washington, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers wants to use more spread formations out of a shotgun, especially if Green Bay can’t run effectively with its RB tandem of John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson. And it makes sense, considering the Redskins are allowing 305 passing yards per game. Washington should be caught up in a matchup dilemma with Packers TE Jermichael Finley, because the Redskins' safeties are better coming forward than covering any receiver laterally. It looks like rookie RT Bryan Bulaga will start for the Packers’ Mark Tauscher. You can bet that the Redskins, who will be minus DT Albert Haynesworth because of a death in the family, will put multiple blitz packages at the rookie.

Defensively, the Packers must contain Donovan McNabb, a nemesis of theirs when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles. McNabb scrambled for some key runs last week and the Packers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to rush for 205 yards on 21 carries after four games. With Green Bay so intent on rushing the quarterback, they are leaving so much room underneath whenever they use only two defensive linemen. It’s a scheme problem because the Packers are using so many young secondary players. Charles Woodson has been gambling more, but it has been paying off. Woodson will line up against Redskins WR Santana Moss much of the game. RB Ryan Torain starts for Clinton Portis, who could miss as many as six games.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The word inside the Packers is that many in the personnel department wanted to pull the trigger on acquiring Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo, but GM Ted Thompson didn’t want to do it. Seattle gave up a fourth-round pick, but the Packers may have been asked for a conditional third-rounder. Another one of Vinny Cerrato’s old Redskins draft choices bit the dust Friday as WR Devin Thomas was released in order to activate RB Keiland Williams from the practice squad.

Packers DE Cullen Jenkins, a versatile defender because he can play end in a 3-4 alignment and also be a three-technique tackle in a four-man line, is unhappy that the team hasn’t approached him about a new contract. “It’s almost like a slap in the face,” Jenkins said. “I’m not the type of player that causes a big scene. You just kind of feel like you’re not in the plans, like they just don’t see you as a valuable player.” Jenkins came cheaply in 2007, getting a $4 million bonus and $15.84 million for four years. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next year. Jenkins, 30, should have a lot of offers if there’s an open market next season. On money paid this season, the Packers ranked sixth in the NFL at $138.5 million.

With Josh Bidwill down, the Redskins signed last year’s punter, Hunter Smith. The Packers could have tried to sign Redskins RB Ryan Torain off of Washington’s practice squad. Instead, they signed his ASU teammates Dimitri Vance from Atlanta’s practice squad. Coach Mike Shanahan drafted Torain in the sixth round in 2008. Torain's college career was cut short by a foot fracture in 2007. He also scored a three on the Wonderlic intelligence test. That could be his problem with blitz pick-ups.

N.Y. Giants at Houston, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Giants continue to worry about their offense, as well as their NFL-high 13 turnovers and 29 penalties. For example, last week they stuffed Bears QB Jay Cutler and had 10 sacks, but still labored to win despite holding Chicago to only three points. New York will again have Adam Koets starting at center for Shaun O’Hara and Bear Pascoe lining up at fullback for Madison Hedgecock. The Texans are excited to welcome LB Brian Cushing back from a four-game suspension, and he should be chasing Eli Manning. However, the game’s key is for Manning to have time in order to go deep against the league’s worst pass defense. Houston has a very young secondary. Mario Williams (groin) missed some practice time last week, but he will play.

Texans WR Andre Johnson (ankle) will also return to the starting lineup after missing last week’s game in Oakland. The lone question mark is WR Jacoby Jones (strained calf); even though he’s listed as a game-time decision, he probably won’t play. The Giants must contain RB Arian Foster. If they don’t, Matt Schaub could hurt them all day on play-action passes. Houston is 3-1 for the first time in franchise history.

CZAR’S SCOOP: It may be so hot in Houston Sunday that the Reliant Stadium roof will be closed, allowing for an air-conditioned day. In four games, Ahmad Bradshaw has lost three fumbles, which puts him on pace for 12 this season. If that happens, it would be the most ever by a Giants running back and twice the number of turnovers that Tiki Barber ever had in a single season. Barber, who was booed during last Sunday night’s Ring of Honor ceremonies, had 35 fumbles, but never put it on the ground more than nine times a year. He never lost more than six in any one season. Then, Coughlin cured Barber of his fumbling by insisting, prior to the 2004 season, that he carry the football properly everywhere he went during his work days at Giants Stadium. High and tight.

The loss of versatile defender Mathias Kiwanuka (neck strain) has forced the Giants to shuffle their lineup. Rookie Jason Pierre-Paul moved into the rotation at defensive end and Justin Tuck did drop into a linebacker’s role, something Kiwanuka could do. The Giants may even line up in more three-safety defensive alignments. New Giant Antrel Rolle doesn’t have an interception after being known as a ball-hawking safety. “It seems like I can’t even (pay) a team to throw in my direction now,” Rolle said. “I don’t know what’s causing that, but I haven’t really touched the ball. It definitely isn’t the scheme.”

Chicago at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Panthers are really up against it. They are playing with a rookie quarterback in Jimmy Clausen and three rookie receivers in David Gettis, Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards after the release of Dwayne Jarrett and the injury to Steve Smith. You can bet that former Panthers DE Julius Peppers will be hunting. Interestingly, Peppers has spent most of his life in North Carolina, but he expects to be booed today. “That’s what fans do,” Peppers said. “It’s part of the game. You’re there to boo the opposing team, and I’m not a part of the team anymore, so I understand that.” The Panthers are still missing RT Jeff Otah, and to protect Clausen they will be running DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

Todd Collins will start for Bears QB Jay Cutler, who suffered a concussion against the Giants. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz swears he’s going to run more than he has all season, using both Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte and Taylor have combined for only 200 yards on 69 carries. After the release of pass rusher Mark Anderson, the Bears won’t activate his replacement, Charles Grant, for this game.

CZAR’S SCOOP: If the Panthers lose and slip to 0-5, there could be rumblings next week of putting several stars on the trading block. How about injured WR Steve Smith to the Patriots? And with RB DeAngelo Williams in the final year of his contract, do the Panthers want to sign him to a long-term deal or trade him? Williams would be the perfect back for the Packers because he can run and catch very well out of the backfield.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, whose sons are no longer working for the team, doesn’t have any long-term plans in place with both coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney in the last year of their contracts. You almost wonder if Richardson is looking for a buyer for his franchise, or possibly a part-owner.

Tampa Bay at Cincinnati, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Bucs are coming off a bye week and are totally healthy. They plan to rotate running backs Cadillac Williams, who is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, with rookie LeGarrette Blount. QB Josh Freeman will see a lot of man coverage, so he must be accurate when throwing deep outs and crossing patterns. Bengals CB Leon Hall has three interceptions in his last three games and will be shadowing Bucs WR Mike Williams.

Bengals WR Terrell Owens is coming off a 222-yard performance and will frequently draw Bucs CB Aqib Talib. Despite T.O.’s big day, he has only one more reception than Chad Ochocinco. The Bengals definitely need to get RB Cedric Benson untracked. He has found no room to run inside the red zone this season. Benson’s longest run is 13 yards and he’s scored only two touchdowns. Cincinnati’s offensive line just seems more adept at pass blocking this season.

CZAR’S SCOOP: One big reason why Bengals coach Marvin Lewis hasn’t gotten a contract extension – he’s in the final year of his contract – is because he’s hired an agent and won’t negotiate with owner Mike Brown directly. A lot of pro scouts believe that Carson Palmer’s elbow surgery has slowed down his fastball and that’s why he’s been struggling. Palmer had been intercepted three times and been sacked seven times.

After the cutdowns to the final 53, Lewis was pretty confident about his chances of getting Dez Briscoe signed to the practice squad. However, Tampa Bay offered a better opportunity and signed him to the rookie minimum of $325,000. Lewis thought it was a dumb move by the Bucs. “When you overpay a guy on the practice squad, you create a problem for teams,” Lewis said this week. “I don’t know that teams want to set that precedent and they did with Dez.”

It has been 21 years since the Bengals have defeated the Bucs. The last Cincinnati win over Tampa Bay was a 56-23 decision at Riverfront Stadium in 1989. Under Lewis, the Bengals are 11-2-1 in home games against the NFC.

Atlanta at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Falcons haven’t won here since 1971, but that shouldn’t come into play because they appear to be the better all-around team. Jake Delhomme (high right ankle) is healthy enough to be the backup quarterback, but Seneca Wallace will start again for the Browns. The Browns’ passing game has struggled with Wallace, going the last 21 minutes of last week’s game without a completion. RB Peyton Hillis, the lone bright spot on offense for Cleveland with a touchdown in all four games, will start despite a thigh bruise. There is a chance that Jerome Harrison could get more carries.

The Falcons worked all offseason in hopes of dealing with 3-4 defenses better than they did a year ago, and Cleveland’s front seven players should give them problems. The key is whether Atlanta’s offensive line can adequately protect Matt Ryan. The Browns gamble a lot in the secondary, often leaving key receivers in one-on-one coverage. If that happens, it could be another big day for Roddy White. Jason Snelling and Michael Turner have combined for 579 rushing yards and the Browns should see a lot of both runners. Falcons WR Michael Jenkins has been ruled out once again.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Many in Atlanta thought it was bush of 49ers coach Mike Singletary to not shake hands with Falcons coach Mike Smith after last Sunday’s game. Smith stood around midfield for over a minute waiting and looking for Singletary, only to be told that he had turned away and headed into the locker room. Singletary apparently was upset that he never got a second interview in Atlanta when the job went to Smith. Singletary did admit last week that he displayed poor sportsmanship in failing to meet Smith.

The Browns are still fuming about the $15,000 fine given to rookie safety T.J. Ward for his high hit on Bengals rookie WR Jordan Shipley last week. Shipley suffered a concussion on the play and won’t play today. This will be the first game that Falcons receiver coach Terry Robiskie will get to see his son, Brian, play for the Browns.

St. Louis at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Rams are finally getting healthy on both sides of the ball, and it looks like WR Laurent Robinson will be able to play today. RB Steven Jackson played on one leg last week and claims he’s about 90 percent with his groin strain. His mere presence takes a lot of heat off rookie QB Sam Bradford, who has won his last two starts. The key to this game is for the Rams offensive line to protect Bradford and also open some holes for Jackson against the Lions’ much-improved defensive front four.

The Lions carved up the Packers’ 3-4 defense last week with a wide array of underneath crossing routes, but they will have to be more creative against the Rams’ 4-3 front and the fact that they tend to stay in a two-deep look in order to keep Calvin Johnson from breaking any long plays. The good news for Johnson is that WR Nate Burleson returns to give QB Shaun Hill another option. Last season, Jackson ran for 149 yards in the Rams’ 17-10 win over the Lions. Rams MLB James Laurinaitis must focus on Lions RB Jahvid Best and keep him from breaking any long pass plays.

CZAR’S SCOOP: There is a good chance that Lions QB Matthew Stafford could be ready to return to practice full-time next week and play against the Giants. The Rams have really improved their red-zone defense. Last season, they had the NFL’s fourth-worst unit, allowing touchdowns on 61 percent of opposing possessions. This season, they have allowed only three touchdowns in 12 visits — that 25 percent conversion rate is the second-best in the league.

The Lions are feeling really good about the acquisition of CB Alphonso Smith, who was acquired when TE Dan Gronkowski was traded to Denver. Smith moves into the starting lineup after collecting interceptions in each of the last two games at Minnesota and Green Bay. “He’s been a ball hawk,” Schwartz said. “He’s a guy who can play the ball in the air. He’s also a young player, a guy we thought a lot of (in the 2009 draft).” The Broncos drafted Smith on the second round out of Wake Forest, 37th overall, in 2009. They traded a first-round pick in 2010 to Seattle for that pick. But Smith busted out in Denver, playing in 15 games without a start and also without an interception. Smith set the ACC record with 21 career interceptions.

New Orleans at Arizona, 4:05 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Cardinals love the energy and confidence of Max Hall, but it does seem awfully early in the season to be turning the team over to a rookie quarterback. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald continues to struggle as the slot receiver, a position that Anquan Boldin handled in the past. The good news for Fitzgerald and Hall is that the Saints will start rookie CB Patrick Robinson for injured Tracy Porter. The Cardinals do want to run the ball and look for Beanie Wells, who has been upset with his playing time, to see more first-half carries. New Orleans defensive end Will Smith will test his groin injury in pregame warmups.

With Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas out, rookie Chris Ivory will be the Saints' running back on first and second down with veteran Ladell Betts, who can handle blitz pick-up, the passing-down running back. The Saints have been playing more conservatively on offense this season – they have scored 20 points just twice – but Drew Brees should have some opportunities to go deep against the Cardinals. John Carney, who was three-for-three last week, will handle the field-goal kicking again for the Saints.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The big worry in the Big Easy this week is whether Mike Ornstein, the former marketing rep for Reggie Bush and close confidante of coach Sean Payton, is talking too much to federal prosecutors about his involvement with the scalping of Super Bowl tickets. Ornstein has already pleaded guilty to mail fraud and wire fraud and is awaiting sentencing. Many around the league are wondering what club personnel facilitated him during his long NFL career. Ornstein, who began his career with the Raiders in the early 1980s, has been close to many head coaches, general managers and NFL stars since that time. The case originated in Cleveland and Ornstein did spend an entire season (1998) there when the Browns re-entered the league as an expansion team. Ornstein has returned to his home in the Los Angeles area and most believe he would never implicate Payton or any Saints employees.

With the benching of Derek Anderson, the Cardinals are starting to take some heat for not securing a better veteran quarterback for the team, knowing how little confidence the coaching staff had in Matt Leinart, who was released during training camp.

Other Sunday games

NFL BLITZ: WEEK 17

We get you ready for all this week's games with our NFL Blitz.

Kansas City at Indianapolis, 1 p.m. ET: If you are still alive in your “Survivor” pool, the Colts appear to be today’s best selection. Colts QB Peyton Manning will be facing a secondary that features three rookies — free safety Eric Berry, strong safety Kendrick Lewis and nickel back Javier Arenas. Manning will stay away from third-year corner Brandon Flowers, who already has two interceptions, one of them returned for a touchdown. Berry said that he practiced against Manning at Tennessee whenever he returned to campus. “The one thing I learned was not to bite on the pump fake,” Berry said.

Denver at Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET: Ravens QB Joe Flacco is coming off his best game of the season, showing tremendous poise in the fourth quarter to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Broncos CB Champ Bailey has commented that Flacco has a lot more weapons, starting with Anquan Boldin. This could be a pass-happy game because the Broncos can’t run while Kyle Orton has thrown for 1,419 yards in the first four games. The Ravens generally struggle after big wins, but claim to be focused for this one. Ray Rice is their big advantage, plus the improvement of their offensive line.

Jacksonville at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET: Despite missing the playoffs for 10, going on 11, straight seasons, the Bills have sold out 90 percent of their games. The club’s streak of 26 straight sellouts ended with this game because Buffalo is 0-4 for first time since 2004. The last time they were 0-5 was 1985. With the trade of Marshawn Lynch, popular running back Fred Jackson becomes the starter once again. The Bills rank last in total yards with 237. Josh Scobee banged a career-long 59-yard field goal last week to beat the Colts. This year Scobee is 5-for-5 with his shortest field goal coming from 44 yards away.

Tennessee at Dallas, 4:15 p.m. ET: The Cowboys are gearing up to stop Titans RB Chris Johnson, preferring to take their chances with QB Vince Young. It is important, too, that Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff dominates inside because Young doesn’t like pressure in his face. The Titans have won 10 straight against NFC opponents, plus they own a gaudy record of 51-2 when they are ahead going into the fourth quarter on the road. The Cowboys know they are going against a very physical team, but also would like to get big-play Felix Jones untracked.

San Diego at Oakland, 4:15 p.m. ET: The Chargers are going for their 14th straight win over the Raiders, who are scoring more on offense, but still having a difficult time finding some wins. The Raiders will be pounding Michael Bush at the Chargers, who are hurting at the linebacker position. Darren McFadden has been ruled out. Philip Rivers has already thrown for nine touchdowns, six of them to TE Antonio Gates. The Chargers have also found a decent running combo in Mike Tolbert and rookie Ryan Mathews, who averaging a combined 5.3 yards a carry.

Philadelphia at San Francisco, 8:20 p.m. ET: The Eagles got good news that RB LeSean McCoy can play, wearing a flak jacket to protect a fractured rib. The 49ers are winless and need a win to get back into the NFC West race, and the best approach might be running Frank Gore. The Eagles just surrendered 169 rushing yards to the Redskins, and have allowed 130 yards or more in three games. Kevin Kolb gets the start for the injured Michael Vick, who may miss only one more game. Last season, the Eagles played poorly on the West Coast, losing to both the Raiders and Chargers.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Saints, Giants, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Chargers, Texans, Michael Vick, Mark Tauscher, Hunter Smith, Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Santana Moss, Al Harris, Donovan McNabb, Steve Smith Sr., Mike Williams, Clinton Portis, Julius Peppers, John Carney, Shaun Hill, Anquan Boldin, Nate Burleson, Andre Johnson, Nick Barnett, Chris Johnson, Matt Schaub, Will Smith, Steven Jackson, Michael Jenkins, Chris Cooley, Eli Manning, Michael Turner, Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Rodgers, Jeremiah Ratliff, John Kuhn, Mario Williams, Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, DeAngelo Williams, Mark Anderson, Fred Jackson, Tramon Williams, Steve Smith, Brandon Jackson, Michael Bush, Calvin Johnson, Leon Hall, Pierre Thomas, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Matt Ryan, Ryan Torain, Mike Tolbert, Dan Gronkowski, Bear Pascoe, Alphonso Smith, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best, Brandon LaFell, T.J. Ward, Max Hall, Keiland Williams

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