|Dangerous pass rusher Alex Brown has his sights on Aaron Rodgers as the Bears and Packers renew their rivalry.|
Here are some key matchups to keep an eye on in Week 11:
Chicago DE Alex Brown vs. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers
The Bears-Packers series is a great rivalry that somehow doesn't receive the kind of publicity that Dallas-Washington gets, but it is nevertheless one of the best in football. It's certainly the oldest. This will be the 175th time these two teams have played in a series that began in 1921. Since 1923, the teams have met at least twice in every year with the exception of the strike-shortened 1982 season.
To generate revenue, there were seven seasons between 1926 and 1933 when the teams played three games during the season. And there has probably never been a defensive rivalry like there was in 1932, when these teams combined for a total of 11 points in three games.
And by the way ... Green Bay will be seeking its 699th overall win this week, while the Bears are going for their 667th win. Those totals are the two best of any NFL franchise.
Brown is the Bears' leading pass rusher. He shows good quickness, and his favorite move is to get the edge and slap to the corner. He is more into rushing the pass than playing the run. He does a good job getting off blocks and into the gaps; he will see the chip block coming and spin away from it.
Rodgers needs to bring his "A" game against the Bears. In his three starts against division opponents this season, he has four TD passes, zero INTs, and 648 passing yards. The Bears will try confuse him by bringing linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to the line and making Rodgers guess as to whether they are faking the blitz or really coming.
Rodgers is a good athlete and he needs to use that athleticism here, because his offensive line is not having a great year and the running game has been struggling.
Another key matchup in this game: Packers LB A.J. Hawk, who is likely play middle linebacker because of the season-ending injury to Nick Barnett, versus Bears RB Matt Forte, the team's leading rusher and receiver.
Tennessee LB Keith Bulluck vs. Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew
This battle between 2007 AFC playoff teams has taken an interesting twist. The Jaguars were the team expected to challenge the Colts this year for the AFC South title -- yet it is the Titans that have won 12 consecutive games, including the first nine games of this season, and have a three-game lead over the rest of the AFC for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Both coaches played college football at USC and both had NFL careers as defensive players. Tennessee's Jeff Fisher played 49 career NFL games at defensive back; Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio played 160 games at linebacker and was selected to the 1995 Pro Bowl.
Speaking of linebackers, Bulluck is a great athlete who plays at a high level. He is very good at slipping blocks and is very good as both a hitter and a sure tackler. He has the speed to run with tight ends and cover running backs out of the backfield. He has very good hands -- he played safety in college -- and does a good job blitzing. Bulluck's biggest weakness is that he has trouble when teams run right at him in a power formation. Overall, even with the likes of DT Albert Haynesworth in the lineup, Bulluck is really the Titans' team leader on a defense that leads the NFL in takeaways.
Jones-Drew is the Jaguars' leading rusher and he's tied for second in the NFL with nine rushing TDs. He is short (5-7) but not little. He has scored 32 TDs in two-and-a-half seasons, dating back to the start of the 2006 season. He can make explosive plays at any time in a game, and from anywhere on the field -- last week against Detroit, he had three TDs in one quarter. Jones-Drew is well-built in the lower body -- his legs are like tree stumps -- which makes him hard to bring down. I'm reminded of the game in 2006 versus New England, when it looked like six defenders were on top of him and he broke loose for a TD. He's good at draws and screen passes.
San Diego LT Marcus McNeill vs. Pittsburgh OLB James Harrison
Pittsburgh has never lost at home to the Chargers -- they are 12-0, averaging 28.8 points in those games. This season, the Steelers rank first in the NFL in total defense, allowing 240 yards per game, and they lead the NFL with 34 sacks.
This is a must-win game for both teams. The Steelers are tied with Baltimore at 6-3 atop the AFC North, with a tough remaining schedule. The Chargers, meanwhile, are a game behind Denver in the AFC South, and Denver owns the tiebreaker.
You have to pass the ball to beat Pittsburgh, and the Steelers will be without two of their top three cornerbacks this week. But the Chargers can only take advantage of that if McNeill wins this matchup and keeps Harrison away from San Diego QB Philip Rivers. McNeill is in his third NFL season and has played in the Pro Bowl after each of his first two. He has long arms and is able to slide his feet and redirect the pass rusher, which will be very important in this matchup.
Harrison, an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2004, has 10 sacks this season. He is a natural leverage player who can get under blocks against both the run and the pass. He is most effective as a blitzer when he can hit the gaps. He's one of those guys you need to block until the whistle blows, because he's an outstanding competitor.
Another key matchup in this game: Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who you can be sure will have something special planned, versus Chargers coach Norv Turner, one of the NFL's best offensive play-callers.
Dallas QB Tony Romo vs. Washington QB Jason Campbell
Few matchups are bigger winners for the fans and the broadcasting network than a night game in Washington against the hated rival Cowboys. Among the many interesting notes pertaining to this rivalry: The Cowboys' first-ever regular-season road win came in Washington in 1961 before a crowd of 21,142; Tom Landry earned the last if his 250 career wins in Washington in 1988; and the Redskins' current coach, Jim Zorn, signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 1975.
Romo has missed the last three games with a broken pinkie. Prior to that, he had 14 TD passes -- which is still tied for third in the NFC -- and a passer rating of 103.5. He has outstanding athletic ability and is one of the more intriguing success stories in recent NFL history. Romo has a quick release, good arm strength and accuracy, and somewhat of a risk-taking tendency that will get him into trouble. He was the NFC's starter in the Pro Bowl last season.
Campbell is emerging as a top quarterback in the league, and he has been aided a great deal this season by a very good running game (Washington is fourth in rushing offense). Campbell has a very strong arm and improving accuracy -- which is very important in the Redskins' version of the West Coast offense. Campbell, who did not throw an interception in his first eight games this season, has a quick release and is very good at avoiding pressure. That said, he does have trouble with the blitz and will make some mistakes when pressured.
Another key matchup in this game: Cowboys WR Terrell Owens versus Redskins CB Carlos Rogers. In the Week 4 meeting between these teams, Owens had 18 passes thrown to him, catching seven for 71 yards and one TD. Rogers lined up against Owens all over the field in that game, and he most likely will do the same here. The Redskins have allowed only two 100-yard receiving games this season.
Denver LT Ryan Clady vs. Atlanta DE John Abraham
Clady is a very good young left tackle. Denver QB Jay Cutler passed for a career-high 447 yards last week in Cleveland, and Denver will need to pass in order to win this game.
Abraham, meanwhile, is having a career year, with 11 sacks in nine games. Abraham lines up everywhere, but he will be lined up at right end -- going up against Clady -- a high percentage of the time.