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NFL Week 7 Countdown

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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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You don’t hire Mike Martz as your offensive coordinator unless you have a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle. The Bears thought that former first-round pick Chris Williams would be that guy. Today, Williams is starting against the Redskins at left guard — left GUARD! When Martz was running the offense for the St. Louis Rams, Kurt Warner’s left tackle was Orlando Pace, and he was very, very good 10 seasons ago. Chicago is currently using a former guard, Frank Omiyale, at left tackle.

Cutler has already suffered a concussion — missing six quarters of action in six games — and still leads the NFL with 23 sacks. Cutler, who admits to having five concussions in his short NFL career, is being sacked more than once every 10 times he drops back to throw.

The only Chicago offensive lineman with any big-time credentials is center Olin Kreutz, who is in his 13th season. Kreutz is good, but isn’t Pro Bowl great anymore. In fact, Kreutz is the only starter who hasn’t been reshuffled since opening day. Tice is coaching four new starters, including rookie J’Marcus Webb at right tackle.

The really sad part about all this is that Chicago really does have some good receivers. Although everyone said it was a waste of time switching him from exclusively a return specialist, Devin Hester is actually pretty good. His touchdown catch against the Cowboys proved that, but in his last three games he has five catches for 42 yards. And Johnny Knox is as good as any deep receiver in the league. The bad part is that Cutler is generally under too much pressure to accurately find either Hester or Knox deep.

Like we thought when the season began, tight end Greg Olsen tends to disappear as a receiver because he’s asked to protect the perimeter. Olsen wasn’t built for that; he’s a nifty intermediate receiver. Chicago is hurting so much to find protection for Cutler that they often don’t activate or even use Desmond Clark, the team’s other receiving tight end. Clark has one catch.

The Bears won four of their first five games, but last week’s loss to the lowly Seattle Seahawks exposed their offensive philosophy and possibly their playoff aspirations. Yes, they are still in first place in the NFC North, but does anyone believe they will really solve this protection problem and keep Cutler upright?

At the moment, the Bears don’t have an offensive identity. Yes, they steamrolled the winless Carolina Panthers without a real quarterback, considering Todd Collins, who was at the helm that day, has been banished to third-team status.

And who really is in charge? Martz is calling the plays, but shouldn’t head coach Lovie Smith have some veto power? Shouldn’t he be more involved instead of simply talking to his defensive players when his offense is on the field?

Nobody really knows if the Bears can run effectively, no matter what down it is. The Bears’ third-down conversion rate of 17.6 percent is one of the worst in the league. Of course, it’s that bad because their average distance on third down is 7.91 yards. Even Johnny Unitas would have difficulty converting a bevy of 3rd-and-eights all day long.

How bad are the Bears?

“They have holes all over the place,” said Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers, obviously psyched for today’s game.

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NFL on FOX games:

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: There is not a quicker, more disruptive defensive line in all of football than Tennessee’s and they should be a great test for Philadelphia’s young offensive line, one that has allowed only one sack the past three games. A couple weeks ago the Titans dominated Dallas, sacking Tony Romo six times. Kevin Kolb has been very good at escaping trouble and making plays on the run and that will be essential in this game. With WR DeSean Jackson sidelined with a concussion, Jason Avant will be the second receiver with Jeremy Maclin in most of the Eagles’ two-wide receiver formations. This move will definitely put more pressure on Kevin Kolb to be productive and he may focus too much on Maclin. Rookie Riley Cooper, who has had his own concussion problems this season, will be the third receiver. Look for Eagles rookie Chad Hall lining up all over the formation, including occasionally in the backfield. The big key will be Philadelphia’s screen game to LeSean McCoy.

With Titans backup QB Kerry Collins starting for injured Vince Young, it could tighten the running lanes for Chris Johnson. Young runs a lot of bootlegs, something you won’t see from Collins. In fact, the Titans may want to test the Eagles secondary.

CZAR'S SCOOP: For the second consecutive game, Michael Vick will be the third quarterback, giving him another week to rest his rib cartilage. The Eagles are off next weekend. Everyone talks about Vick re-signing with the team, but why wouldn’t he test the free-agent market first? Several teams need starting quarterbacks. Besides, why continue to butt heads with Kolb, who is a good buddy?

The Eagles have had five players suffer concussions this season (the NFL total is 46), including players hurt in training camp and preseason games. Titans coach Jeff Fisher is worried that the league’s new emphasis might lower defenders’ strike zone areas back to the legs and knee areas, possibly leading to more knee injuries. Titans WR Kenny Britt, who was involved in a bar-room brawl, won’t start as punishment, but he will play. The Titans need Britt and Justin Gage in order to give Kerry Collins a fighting chance.

Titans DE Jason Babin, who spent last season with the Eagles, signed a one-year, $1 million offer sheet with Tennessee, and the Eagles declined to match. Now, Babin has a career-high six sacks..

San Francisco at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The winless Panthers return to Matt Moore at quarterback, and lucky for him WR Steve Smith is also back in the lineup. There is a chance that 49ers CB Nate Clements (ankle) won’t play and may be replaced by Will James. If Clements doesn’t go, this should help the Moore-to-Smith combination. Smith is making an earlier-than-expected return from a high ankle injury in the hopes of jump-starting the team's league-worst offense. In their most recent game, the Panthers started a rookie QB as well as rookies at both WR positions, the first time that had been done in the NFL since 1999. If Smith is fully healthy, he will help stretch the field and give runners DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart room to run.

If the 49ers are really going to make a run for the NFC West title, this is a game they must win. San Francisco sounds like it wants to open up its offense and move away from the trap running game that features Frank Gore and his 116 carries. Gore as accounted for more (755 yards) than 40 percent of his team’s offense. If the offensive change is true, look for veteran RB Brian Westbrook (five carries this season) to be more involved in the offense.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The 49ers are flying directly from Charlotte after the game to London, where they play next week. Owner Jed York likes the overseas games and wanted to get there as soon as possible. The Broncos, who will be playing the 49ers next Sunday, don’t plan to arrive until Friday. Who knows whether this is a good idea or not? It might have made more sense to remain on the East Coast and practice for a couple of days before heading to England. Both today’s game and the London game will be played at 10 a.m. PST. The 49ers have had two other 10 a.m. starts this season, in Kansas City and Atlanta, both of which turned out to be losses. In fact, in the last eight seasons the 49ers have won only five games that have started at 10 a.m. on the West Coast. Four of them were against St. Louis. One was against Detroit.

The Panthers have made another lineup change, benching Mackenzy Bernadeau, who has started the last five games at right guard, and will move RT Geoff Schwartz inside. Garry Williams will make his first NFL start at right tackle. The last time the 49ers visited the Panthers, Patrick Willis finished with 18 tackles. This year, he's only reached the double-digit mark once.

St. Louis at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Although two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL are competing –— Sam Bradford vs. Josh Freeman — the Rams’ defensive front could hold the key to the game. The Bucs are hurting at fullback and St. Louis may hold an edge with defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Gary Gibson going against the Bucs’ interior line of guards Keydrick Vincent and Davin Joseph and center Jeremy Zuttah, starting again for injured Jeff Faine. Robbins has been stout against the run, plus has two sacks and six QB hits.

The Rams' other big edge is RB Steven Jackson, who had 109 yards against the Chargers last Sunday. The Bucs are allowing 158 yards rushing a game while getting very little out of their own RB Cadillac Williams. Bradford has performed well despite losing his two best receivers for the season. He found a new one last Sunday in rookie Danario Alexander for a TD, and the Rams have big hopes for this former Missouri star who has had four knee surgeries. Both teams have three wins this season. “I told the football team they are 3-3, which means we’re an average football team,” said Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo. “You are what your record says, and we’re average. We don’t want to be average.”

CZAR’S SCOOP: The Bucs’ No. 1 pick Gerald McCoy has no sacks and still is learning how to play the under tackle position. “I can’t be (Warren) Sapp,” McCoy said. “I don’t know why people keep expecting me to be. I’m Gerald McCoy. He’s 5-nothing, I'm 6-4. That’s a big difference. We are who we are.”

Since 2007, the Rams have lost 22 of 26 road games, and the losses have mostly been ugly. In 12 of the losses, the Rams have scored fewer than 10 points. In 13 of the losses, they have allowed 30 or more points, including four of 40 or more.

Rams DE Chris Long, the oldest son of Hall of Famer and FOX NFL Sunday analyst Howie Long, was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Long had two sacks, two hits and a pressure against San Diego’s Philip Rivers. The Rams totaled seven sacks, their highest total in seven seasons. “We all had a good game up front and we all deserve a lot of credit for the pressure we were able to generate,” Long said. “That’s what happens when things are going well, the right plays are getting called, the right rushes are being dialed up, and we’re playing well and taking advantage of our opportunities.”

DE James Hall leads the Rams with six sacks. The Rams have 17 sacks already, or just eight fewer than they recorded all last season. The Bucs have only four sacks.

-->Arizona at Seattle, 4:05 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This game is for first place in the NFC West and for the past two seasons, the Cardinals have won here. The Cardinals have won 12 of their past 14 games against the NFC West. Cardinals rookie QB Max Hall will make his first career road start in one of the league's loudest venues — and with significant rain and wind in the forecast. Seattle has the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense, but will load the box against the run, dial up blitzes on passing downs and dare Hall to make plays downfield. The Cardinals will counter with a conservative game plan despite the return of receivers Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. Hall has shown a tendency to make poor decisions early in games, and the Cardinals can’t afford to fall behind. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, who has 26 receptions and two TDs on the year, could have a big day if Kelly Jennings (hamstring) can’t go. That means that rookie Walter Thurmond must shut down one of the game’s best. Seattle must contain RB Tim Hightower, who leads Arizona with 236 yards.

The Seahawks’ offense realized an immediate benefit from RB Marshawn Lynch last weekend. The offensive line is still a concern, but the Cardinals have just eight sacks on the season. Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck is coming off his best game of the season, completing 25 passes for 242 yards and a TD against the Bears. Look for a continuation of the up-tempo style that suits Hasselbeck.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Arizona ILB Gerald Hayes, who spent six weeks on the physically unable to perform list because of back surgery, is slated to be a spot player today. A starter the past four years, Hayes should play about 20 snaps.

Hall became the first undrafted free agent quarterback to start a game in Week 6 or earlier since the Seahawks’ Jim Zorn did the same thing in Seattle’s first season in the NFL in 1976. Seattle had lost 17 consecutive road games outside the NFC West before winning in Chicago last Sunday.

Seattle has discarded all of their high-priced receivers, but they are very happy with a reborn Mike Williams, Deon Butler and tight end John Carlson. The Seahawks are well situated for the future, salary-cap wise.

Other Sunday games

Oakland at Denver, 4:15 p.m. ET: QB Jason Campbell is expected to start for the Raiders, although Kyle Boller got as much work with the first-team offense in practice this week. The Raiders are awful stopping the run, but the Broncos love to throw with Kyle Orton, so this has the makings of an odd game. Orton is on pace to throw for 5,100 yards this season. Three Denver receivers already have at least 30 receptions. Raiders RB Darren McFadden (hamstring) is expected to play.

Minnesota at Green Bay, 8:20 p.m. ET: Weird stat category: Brett Favre, no longer a Packer, will make his 119th start at Lambeau Field, passing John Elway, who had 118 starts at Mile High for the Broncos. Favre was unbelievable last season in whipping Green Bay twice, but his offensive line isn’t as good — look our for Clay Matthews — and his elbow is hurting. The addition of Randy Moss has helped him find Percy Harvin in the slot. The Packers are beat up while Minnesota’s secondary is very thin, especially if rookie CB Chris Cook can’t play. Aaron Rodgers figures to use a three to four-wide receiver set. Rodgers owns a 1-11 record in games decided by four points or less.
 

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Broncos, Packers, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Giants, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Nate Clements, Olin Kreutz, Chad Johnson, James Hall, Todd Collins, Tony Gonzalez, Todd Bouman, Kerry Collins, Kris Brown, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Smith Sr., Mike Williams, Brian Williams, Patrick Ramsey, Brian Westbrook, Ed Reed, James Harrison, Gerald Hayes, Chris Johnson, Philip Rivers, Dunta Robinson, Steven Jackson, Jason Babin, Nate Kaeding, Chris Cooley, Patrick Crayton, Jason Campbell, Frank Gore, Mike Williams, Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton, Chris Harris, Vince Young, Jay Cutler, DeAngelo Williams, Jason Avant, Steve Breaston, Steve Smith, Patrick Willis, Kevin Kolb, Matt Moore, Chris Williams, Chris Johnson, John Carlson, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice, Chad Henne, Chris Long, Matt Ryan, Ryan Torain, Tim Hightower, Johnny Knox, Brian Orakpo, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Garry Williams, Ryan Mathews, Chad Hall, Colt McCoy, Trent Williams, Sam Bradford, Max Hall

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