5 Questions: Why to go for 16-0

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

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.

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