NFL Week 5 Countdown to Kickoff
NFL ON FOX GAMES
Tampa Bay at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m. ET
What to watch for: Well, something is bound to give today. The 49ers are playing extremely physical on both sides of the ball and the defense, led by MLB Patrick Willis. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 26 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. But the Bucs are on a three-game winning streak, and mostly winning with smash-mouth football with RB LeGarrette Blount, who had his fifth career 100-yard rushing game on Monday night against the Colts.
There is no question that Smith likes to find TE Vernon Davis and it will Bucs CB Ronde Barber’s job to negate his effectiveness. Barber is the wild-card in the Bucs' defense, a player who is used similar to the Packers’ Charles Woodson in coverage and as a pass rusher. The 49ers figure to keep rookie RB Kendall Hunter heavily involved in the offense in order to keep Gore fresh for the fourth quarter.
The 49ers might have a healthy secondary for the first time this season. FS Dashon Goldson missed the first two games with a knee injury and SS Donte Whitner missed most of the last two with a hip injury. Without Whitner, the 49ers countered the Eagles with a four-cornerback alignment with Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Shawntae Spencer and rookie Chris Culliver along with S Reggie Smith. It worked fairly well, and don't be surprised if they try it again even though the Bucs lone deep threat is Mike Williams, who has five TDs in his last seven games. Although San Francisco handled the Eagles in the second half, the Bucs are beginning to generate a solid pass rush with DEs Adrian Clayborn and Michael Bennett and the good inside play of tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.
Czar's Scoop: Frank Gore, who wasn’t expected to play last Sunday because of a bum ankle, said this week that the Eagles quit once they got a taste of the 49ers’ running game in the fourth quarter. The Bucs won 21-0 in Candlestick Park last season, but QB Troy Smith was the starter, not Smith. Also, Jim Harbaugh wasn’t coaching, either.
The Bucs hear a lot about their ugly wins, like the penalty-filled victory over the Colts that also produced 466 yards of offense. “It really wasn’t pretty at all times, but that’s kind of us,” Freeman said, who has picked up 12 first downs in his 23 carries this season. “You want to go in every week and play a spot-free football game, but that’s rarely how it goes. I think we showed a lot of people. In regard to penalties, we didn’t turn the ball over. We continue to fight through adversity and play all four quarters. That’s kind of our make-up.”
San Francisco LB NaVorro Bowman, a second-year player, was given a game ball after the Eagles’ win. Bowman stopped four third-down plays by tackling Michael Vick in the open field twice, putting pressure on Vick and by recovering a fumble.
OTHER SUNDAY GAMES
Tennessee at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. ET: Nothing is going right for the defending AFC champion Steelers. QB Ben Roethlisberger (sprained foot) will play behind a MASH-unit like offensive line that has allowed 14 sacks and might have recently signed Max Starks in the lineup. The Steelers might have RB Isaac Redman replace Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring), who has been struggling. With OLB James Harrison out, the Steelers will reshuffle their linebackers, a unit that is allowing 119.5 rushing yards a game after allowing only 62.8 yards last season. Titans RB Chris Johnson gets lead blocker Ahmard Hall back from suspension while QB Matt Hasselbeck continues to play like the steal of free agency.
Oakland at Houston, 1 p.m. ET: It will probably be impossible for Texans coach Gary Kubiak not to call a lot of pass plays for Matt Schaub, but on paper this game looks like a run-fest. The Raiders lead the league with 178.8 rushing yards a game while Houston’s Arian Foster got untracked last Sunday against the Steelers (155 yards). Since 2010, Foster leads the league with 1,804 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Good news for the Raiders’ secondary is that Andre Johnson (hamstring) is out and they will have to gear their coverage to TE Owen Daniels, Foster and Kevin Walter. Jason Campbell has turned the ball over only three times and has been playing well on the road. Campbell has been sacked only twice, but Texans led NFL with 12 sacks.
Kansas City at Indianapolis, 1 p.m. ET: The Colts are going with QB Curtis Painter, who had TD throws of 87 and 59 yards against the Bucs on Monday night. Painter, though, is playing behind a very inexperienced offensive line with the exception of center Jeff Saturday. The Chiefs must crank up their pass rush like the Bucs did and make sure they have WR Reggie Wayne covered deep. Both teams, amazingly, are averaging 270 yards of offense. The Colts don’t have a running game, but the Chiefs do have Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster. Plus QB Matt Cassel got untracked last Sunday after Todd Haley got in his face, big-time, on the sidelines. KC’s No. 1 pick Jonathan Baldwin will make his NFL debut after breaking his thumb in a fight with teammates Jones.
Cincinnati at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. ET: In this battle of two rookie quarterbacks, it is interesting to note that both head coaches now have losing records. But Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio is definitely on the hotter seat than Marvin Lewis. Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver has made it clear he wants a playoff winner. Del Rio has a career 67-68 record while Lewis is 62-71-1. Del Rio is the only coach who has gone into his ninth season without winning a division title. The Bengals have the NFL’s top-rated defense. This figures to be a running showcase between Cedric Benson and Maurice Jones-Drew.
NY Jets at New England, 4:15 p.m. ET: The Patriots shoot for their 19th consecutive regular-season win at Gillette Stadium, but the Jets did win a playoff game here last season. The Pats have the NFL’s top offense with 507.5 yards a game, while the Tom Brady-Wes Welker combination has been ridiculous. Welker leads all receivers with 40 catches for 616 yards and is on pace to wipe Jerry Rice (yards) and Marvin Harrison (receptions) from the single-season record books. You have to believe CB Darrelle Revis draws the assignment on Welker. Jets QB Mark Sanchez should benefit from New England’s lack of a pass rush, plus the shocker that Bill Belichick’s defense is last in the NFL. Jets lost OLB Bryan Thomas for the season.
San Diego at Denver, 4:15 p.m. ET: Chargers QB Philip Rivers is 8-2 as a starter versus the Broncos, but he will have Vincent Jackson, but probably not Antonio Gates. The bad news for the Broncos is that Ryan Mathews, who scored three TDs here last season, is finally getting a heavy dose of action after struggling last year with injuries. He has a team-high 288 rushing yards and 19 catches for 254 yards, while splitting his role with Mike Tolbert earlier this year. In each of his last five games, he has at least 100 combined yards. Coach Norv Turner would like to see Mathews getting close to 25 carries a game.
Green Bay at Atlanta, 8:20 p.m. ET: The Falcons have been smarting ever since the Packers put 48 points on them, eliminating them from the playoffs last season. In two games against Atlanta last season, the Packers had 12 pass plays of 20 yards or more. QB Aaron Rodgers torched everyone in Atlanta’s secondary. Nickel back Chris Owens had a terrible night in the playoff loss, giving up completions of 34 yards to James Jones and 24 and 22 to Donald Driver. Still, the Falcons made no major move at cornerback, except for adding former Colt Kelvin Hayden in the offseason. In his fourth season, Falcons coach Mike Smith is 21-5 at home while Mike McCarthy is 12-5 indoors. With 148 points, the Packers are on pace to score 592. The NFL record is 589, set by the Patriots when they went 16-0 in 2007.