Originally Published: October 27, 2011

Sunday Countdown: Your weekly NFL guide

Weekly Picks

Mike Ditka Keyshawn Johnson Cris Carter Tom Jackson
  Ditka Johnson Carter Jackson
Arizona @ Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore
Minnesota @ Carolina Carolina Carolina Carolina Carolina
Jacksonville @ Houston Houston Houston Houston Houston
Miami @ N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants
New Orleans @ St. Louis New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans
Indianapolis @ Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee
Detroit @ Denver Detroit Detroit Detroit Detroit
Washington @ Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo
Cincinnati @ Seattle Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati
Cleveland @ San Francisco San Francisco San Francisco San Francisco San Francisco
New England @ Pittsburgh Pittsburgh New England New England New England
Dallas @ Philadelphia Dallas Philadelphia Dallas Philadelphia
San Diego @ Kansas City Kansas City Kansas City San Diego Kansas City
Week 8 Record 10-3 10-3 8-5 10-3
Overall Record 77-39 80-36 78-38 84-32
More picks: Experts | SportsNation: Pick Week 8

Countdown Confidential

By Sal Paolantonio and Ed Werder

Advanced studies: On Tuesday, his normal day off, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick came to work early, went into a darkened room with his rookie center, Jason Kelce, and started rolling the tape of the Dallas defense -- particularly the complex blitz schemes devised by coordinator Rob Ryan.

"We found that they like to move around a lot," said Kelce. "You really got to lock in, declare who the offensive line is working to and off of. Then the backs got to know. The tight ends now have to know where they're going to. And ultimately, Mike knows who he's got to throw hot off of."

With offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and offensive line coach Howard Mudd walking in and out of the room, Vick and Kelce tried to develop a set of blitz tendencies and clues.

"I can't tell you what we came up with," Kelce said. "That would be giving away too much."

The key is Vick, who -- this year -- has final authority to determine the protection once he gets to the line of scrimmage. Kelce identifies the defense and sets the protection. But Vick has been given overriding power. Last season, he didn't have that authority and it cost him. Vick was often caught doing a poor job of recognizing the unblocked defender and reacting properly, and taking an ugly sack.

"You just have to be able to do it in the moment and on the field," said Vick, who has never faced a Ryan defense. "It's something we have to work on. I think we're doing a good job as far as understanding what we do versus what they do."

The offensive line will key on DeMarcus Ware, the outside linebacker who has 9½ career sacks against the Eagles, second-most against any opponent.

"We've got to find him, because Rob likes to move him all over the line of scrimmage," said Eagles tackle Todd Herremans, who will move back to right tackle now that left tackle Jason Peters is back in the starting lineup after missing two games with a hamstring strain. "Find DeMarcus. Then get him blocked."

-- Sal Paolantonio
Shift to shotgun? John Elway became a prolific young quarterback early in his career when Denver coach Dan Reeves put him in a shotgun offense for the majority of the Broncos' offensive snaps. Two decades later, John Fox might want to consider a similar move for Tim Tebow, even though he vowed to other Broncos starters they would not be required to endure a system change to accommodate a different quarterback.

Tebow lacks Elway's powerful, accurate arm and natural throwing motion. Elway has told Tebow he must eventually prove capable of winning from the pocket. That's not his strength at the moment, and it seems obvious the Broncos should consider creating an opportunity for Tebow to emphasize his greatest talents as they attempt to evaluate him and try to win at the same time.

"I feel I can play the game from the pocket, but I also realize I don't want to just play from the pocket," Tebow said. "Not many quarterbacks do just play from the pocket. The hottest quarterback in the NFL right now -- Aaron Rodgers -- doesn't just play from the pocket. You know a lot of his biggest plays are play-action, getting out of the pocket, scrambling. I watched it first-hand when we played them. You don't have to just sit there in the pocket. And that was important to me because I believe I can go out there and accomplish some of those same things.'' While nobody should assume Tebow played to the best of his ability last week against the Dolphins in a game he rescued at the end, his accuracy problems from the pocket were obvious. No quarterback has a higher percentage of what are categorized as off-target throws. Fourteen of Tebow's 37 pass attempts this season have been scouted as over- or underthrown incompletions.

Tebow's numbers when he keeps the ball are more impressive, although they raise the potential of an eventual injury. Of his rushing yards, 66.7 percent have come after contact. Cam Newton is the only quarterback with a higher number.

Because Tebow was clearly a better quarterback in the final five minutes against the Dolphins with the Broncos using spread formations and Tebow taking the snap from the shotgun, why wouldn't Fox emphasize those types of plays rather than force Tebow to deliver the ball from the pocket Sunday while making his first home start of the season?

"He's not a conventional quarterback and that's not always a bad thing,"' Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "You have 16 games in NFL, and we might see one game with this type of quarterback and run game and that makes it very difficult for us in terms of preparation. Normally, I rush to a certain spot and expect the quarterback to be, and that's not what happens with Tebow -- and he's left-handed on top of that."

Before Tebow made his first start this season, the Broncos traded Brandon Lloyd, the team's best receiver. Before he makes his second start, they've lost Willis McGahee, their best running back. That might make Tebow the best runner Denver has -- something he can do quite capably from the shotgun.

-- Ed Werder

MVP Watch

By Mike Sando

Aaron Rodgers has topped the MVP Watch list five weeks in a row.

He's the obvious favorite heading into the Green Bay Packers' bye week.

Without him, the Packers might be 3-4 or 2-5 instead of 7-0. But would they be as bad as the 0-7 Indianapolis Colts have been without Peyton Manning? Would they be getting blown out 62-7, the way Indy got blown out at New Orleans?


If the MVP award honors true value, then, surely Manning must factor into the discussion somewhere, no?

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
One of the stat breakdowns I receive from ESPN each week breaks down how quarterbacks fare based on how far their passes travel past the line of scrimmage. Some players produce better results throwing short, others fare better on deep balls, and so on. Rodgers has a 10 to 2 ratio of TDs to INTs on short passes, a 4 to 0 ratio on intermediate passes and a 6 to 1 ratio on deeper passes. Any questions?

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Unlike Rodgers, Brady has been relatively unproductive on passes traveling at least 21 yards past the line of scrimmage. He has completed 8 of 25 such throws (13 of 21 for Rodgers) with one TD and one INT. His Total QBR (85.7) on these throws ranks only 22nd. His NFL passer rating on these throws (72.1) ranks only 18th. But with Wes Welker catching everything underneath -- no drops this season after finishing 2010 with 11 -- Brady is doing just fine overall.

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