5 Questions: Why to go for 16-0

Every week, John Czarnecki hits the hot league topics by

interviewing one of our NFL on FOX game analysts. This week’s

guest: Tim Ryan.

If you were a starter for the Colts or Saints, would you

want to rest once you clinched or would you want go for the

unbeaten record?

It would depend on my condition. The hardest thing for some

players is when the coach starts saying that these certain skilled

guys are going to rest — but we don’t have enough linemen so

you’re going to have to start. That always confused me as a player,

and how players like myself looked at it. The other part of it is

that you have no choice because the coach is going to make that

decision.

But if I wasn’t injured, I think I would want to play. As a

player, I would want to keep the momentum going. Of course, I would

be in favor of chilling during the practice week while still

getting your head ready to play.

I would want to keep winning. I would want to be undefeated.

I want to be part of history. When you are that close, why not?

When you look at the schedules of both the Colts and the Saints

there’s no reason why either one of these teams should lose any of

these last three games. I know the New Orleans defense is hurting

right now, but they still have enough to keep winning.

If I’m not injured, I want to play, keep things rolling and

be part of something special. I know winning the Super Bowl is the

whole thing, the ultimate goal. But if you can go 19-0, if you can

get that, wow.

I know it’s a real dilemma and that a lot of coaches are

having a lot of problems right now making these decisions. But I

also think it has been proven over the last few seasons that the

year Indy won the Super Bowl they had to play all the way to the

end. The years that they were eliminated early, they stopped and

rested guys. I think it helps playing right through to the end

unless you are really hurt.

But let me tell you this right now, if I’m Jack Del Rio and

Peyton Manning is in there, I am sending the freaking house at him.

I don’t care if he does complete a few passes early, I’m going to

come after him and rock him and hope that Jim Caldwell pulls Peyton

early. The Jaguars need to win.

What went wrong with the Steelers? Is Big Ben vs. Hines

Ward still an issue or is it simply too tough to repeat these

days?

I think 10 things went wrong with the Steelers that were more

critical to them losing than Hines Ward questioning Big Ben. That

was just Hines not being smart and making an emotional statement

that had some truth to it. When your quarterback takes his reps all

week, and is preparing like he’s going to play, you assume he’s

playing. Then all of sudden, the day before the game he isn’t.

There would be questions about that.

I think Pittsburgh’s biggest problem is the offense. I know

you can say that Ben’s passing got them to the Super Bowl last

year, no question, but this real lack of a commitment to a running

game is hurting this team. And offensive coordinator Bruce Arians

is sticking to that approach.

I know Ben loves to spread the offense, but defenses are

catching on to them. Look at how the Green Bay cornerbacks will

play them this Sunday and see how they do against them. I know

Steeler football has changed, but to only run it a minimal amount

of times while asking Ben to hold it and hold it and improvise back

there? Well, bad things are going to happen.

That’s No. 1. All the kick returns and fumble returns and the

pick sixes and those eight returns for touchdowns against the

special teams. That’s been brutal.

Part of the running game problem is that they have no

blocking fullback, no blocking tight end. That’s not the Steelers

way.

Defensively, the injury to Troy Polamalu was monumental. Yes,

they won games last year without him, but they are not capable of

it now. They don’t have the depth. I think letting go of cornerback

Bryant McFadden was a tactical error only because they

overestimated that his replacement, William Gay, could be a quality

player. But he’s too little (5-foot-10) for run support.

The other major injury was losing defensive end Aaron Smith.

I know they are still No. 1 against the run, but Bill Cowher will

tell you that he is the most underrated end in the NFL who is

playing in a 3-4 defense. The push he gives in the pass game simply

helped all of their edge rushers. They also don’t have an

interception by a cornerback after 13 games.

And it’s difficult to repeat in this league. You can’t

measure the hunger aspect for the guys playing, but I know it’s

hard to pedal downhill. When things go bad, it definitely gets into

the spirit of the team a little bit.

The Cardinals look great one week and bad the next. How do

they get over that hump and be consistent?

The Cardinals are simply the Cardinals. They have been

fortunate to play in the NFC West, a division that has obviously

has been down these past two seasons, but they are 9-2 in the West

over this time. The 49ers have the two wins against them this year,

but they have always matched up well against the Cardinals.

That being said, there’s still a lot to like about the

Cardinals, starting with their new defensive coordinator Billy

Davis. I think he’s going to be really, really good. But you have

to understand he is young at being a coordinator, and he does so

much stuff schematically with the fire-zones and some of the stuff

right out of Dick LeBeau’s and Dom Capers’ playbook. I mean, the

players are still trying to figure everything out, but the more

reps they get, the better they are going to be. There have been

mistakes made, too.

OK, Kurt Warner didn’t have his deal going Monday night vs.

the 49ers, but when he does he’s still very, very capable. I think

he followed one game of five picks this season by throwing five

touchdowns the next game. I like rookie RB Beanie Wells.

I still think they are going to win their last three games. I

guess that last game against Green Bay will probably be for either

a No. 3 or 4 seed, so it depends on how they look at the playoff

matchups. But I still see them as darkhorse in the playoffs this

year. Defensively, they have the ability to be really, really good,

plus they do have an exceptional passing game.

Do you think all the rules changes that favor the offenses

have ruined defensive football in the NFL? Who has the best defense

for the playoffs?

The rules have always favored the offenses, but I disagree

with that premise.

I think there is still very good defensive play in the

league. It’s just that so many teams are in the spread offense, in

a shotgun and in 2½ seconds the ball is out of there. Guys are

still playing the same way, but the style of offensive football has

deeply affected defensive play.

What I do like about some of the new safety rules changes is

that it has, for the most part, eliminated many of the blatant,

stupid personal foul penalties of the past. I do think they’ve been

able to get rid of some of the after-the-whistle cheap-shot hits,

too; things that I never liked.

Now, we still see big hits on defenseless receivers and some

helmet-to-helmet hits on the quarterback. Guys are still going to

sell out to get there. But for a lot of defensive linemen who are

rushing the passer, it’s one, two and the ball is out and now guys

have to make a tackle in space. That’s where the game has changed

for me. Just look at Drew Brees. Peyton Manning. Look at these

teams that don’t give up sacks. There’s no time to get there

because some of these quarterbacks are very smart, they get a

pre-snap read and they get rid of ball so quickly from the shotgun.

The defensive linemen don’t have a chance when a good quarterback

is on his game.

In many of these of games, they decide to send extra guys at

the quarterback. You’re sending extra pressure. Then there’s really

nobody in coverage to where their used to be an outside linebacker

trailing on the slant route, now that backer is rushing the

quarterback.

Now, you’re not seeing that big blow-up hit from the

weak-side linebacker on that slant receiver. In the old west-coast

offense, there was always someone to tattoo that receiver. But now

that the passing game has gone away from an under center game,

defenses have changed to more fire-zone blitzes and quick pressure

schemes.

That’s what has changed the game to me and how we see it. I

can’t believe how many, three and four-receiver sets we see now on

almost every play.

Are the 49ers on the right track for the future or do they

still need a quarterback to run this spread offense?

I think they are on the right track. Like I was saying, this

is the style of offensive football we’re seeing these days.

I think they made the right pick with Michael Crabtree, and

Alex Smith did learn this offense from Urban Meyer (at Utah). If

Alex can just stay healthy for these final three games and continue

on this trend that he’s been on. I’m not even saying that they have

to win. But he has to keep playing like he’s been playing. If that

happens, I think it definitely prohibits them from spending one of

their two first-round picks on a quarterback. Or packaging those

picks to move up.

I say they should just bring back Alex and Shaun Hill, they

know what they have there and they have him at backup money. Plus,

I know they really liked Nate Davis, the lefty from Ball State.

He’s a rookie and he’s really raw. I know Alex didn’t look great

the other night against the Cardinals, but he did make some good

throws when he had to.

I think they will stay the path that they are on and maybe

grab another receiver and maybe an offensive lineman with their two

picks. I really do believe they can build around Alex, Crabtree,

Vernon Davis and Frank Gore.