Sunday Morning Under the Helmet: What To Watch for in NFL Week 13

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent IDecember 6, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 08:  Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans celebrates after he scored a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 8, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's another week, it's another Sunday, and it's another great day for NFL football!

Today we'll take a look at an NFC East showdown in the Meadowlands that could yield surprising results and let you know which of the league's last remaining undefeateds will lose today.

Matchup of the Week: Dallas Cowboys (8-3) at New York Giants (6-5)

Last time these two teams met it was an NFC East battle between two 1-0 teams with Super Bowl hopes.

Today's game is a bit different. It's still an NFC East showdown with lots at stake, but the Cowboys are 8-3 and have won six of their last seven and the Giants are 6-5 having lost five of their last six games since starting the season 5-0.

The Giants are desperate. They've looked like a completely different team than the Giants that were 5-0 after five weeks.

Scoring points has been an issue on offense and keeping opponents from scoring has been a problem on defense.

They've allowed an average of 31.7 points per game in their last six and are averaging only 20 themselves while being outscored 190-121 over that period.

Eli Manning's protection is very important for the Giants and has been a problem in their losses. Manning has been sacked 15 times in their five losses but only three times in their six wins. Clearly, New York's offensive line has to find a way to protect their quarterback.

Protecting Manning will be very tough against the Cowboys, though.

DeMarcus Ware is Dallas' best pass rusher and has played well in his last seven games in which he has eight sacks. He'll be hungry to get to Manning today because he and the rest of the Cowboys defense failed to get a sack in their Week Two game in which they allowed 330 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants' 33-31 victory.

Mario Manningham and Steve Smith were on the receiving end of most of Manning's passes in that game.

Manningham caught 10 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. Smith also hauled in 10 passes and racked up 134 yards and one touchdown.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo and company have had a very good season on offense so far this season.

Romo is seventh in the league with 2,933 yards passing. He has thrown 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 60.2 percent of his passes.

Coming into the season it was expected that Jason Witten and Roy Williams would be Romo's go-to guys. Witten leads the team in receptions with 59 for 588 yards and one touchdown but Williams has not been the factor he was expected to be. Williams has only 26 catches for 444 yards and four touchdowns.

Miles Austin, not Williams, has become Romo's top wide receiver.

Austin has 42 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns. He leads the league with six touchdown catches of 20 yards or more. Austin has had three games of 145 yards or more including Week Five's franchise record 250 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs.

The Cowboys rushing attack has also been impressive this season. With Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice all playing a major part out of the backfield, the 'Boys rank sixth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

Their three-headed monster in the backfield allows them to have fresh legs in the game at all times and lets them use Barber late in the fourth quarter to close out games like he did so well back in 2007.

But it may not be about the X's and O's and all the matchups and player statistics in this game. One key factor may be the fact that it is now December.

Since 2006, the Cowboys are 26-9 in games in September, October and November combined but just 5-8 in December. They'll need to find a way to win in December this season, especially today against their division rivals.

Keys to the game

-Pressure on Eli Manning

-Romo, Austin, Witten

-Who can run the ball better?

-Can the Cowboys get over their December woes?

Prediction: Giants win 27-25.

Small Names, Big Games

Here we will take a look at three non-superstars who will post big numbers in Week 13.

Donnie Avery (WR, St. Louis)

Donnie Avery has not lived up to the expectations that were put on him after his rookie season a year ago.

In 11 games this season, Avery, who's labeled as the team's No. 1 receiver, has only 34 catches for 466 yards and five touchdowns.

Today, however, things could change for Avery when he goes against a Chicago Bears team that has allowed an average of 214.2 passing yards against them this season including 392 yards to Brett Favre and the Vikings in their 36-10 loss last week.

Look for Avery to have one of his best games of the season this afternoon.

Jeremy Maclin (WR, Philadelphia)

The Eagles will be without their top weapon in the passing game today when DeSean Jackson sits out against the Atlanta Falcons due to the concussion he suffered in last week's game. Therefore, rookie Jeremy Maclin will see an increase in his opportunities today.

Maclin has 42 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns already this season. He's averaging 67.7 receiving yards in his last three games.

Today, Maclin should have even more success when he goes head-to-head against the Falcons' 27th ranked pass defense.

Kyle Orton (QB, Denver)

Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton has had an up and down season so far in '09.

He's had games where he has put up big numbers, like his 330 yard performance against the Patriots in Week Five, but he's also had games where he has struggled like his three interception game against the Steelers in Week Nine.

Today, Orton goes against the Chiefs' 30th ranked pass defense. With his best weapon, Brandon Marshall, heating up of late, expect Orton to have a great game this afternoon.

Others To Watch: Jamaal Charles (RB, Kansas City), Pat White (QB, Miami), Austin Collie (WR, Indianapolis)

Upset Alert!: Tennessee (5-6) over Indianapolis (11-0)???

The Tennessee Titans are one of the NFL's hottest teams right now. However, the Colts are even hotter.

The Titans are riding an impressive five game winning streak, the Colts are going for their 21st consecutive regular season win.

But today one of those streaks will come to an end, and it won't be the Titans'.

That's right, today the Indianapolis Colts will lose!

If the Colts do win today, they will tie New England for the longest regular season win streak in NFL history. What's ironic about today's game is that the Patriots' win streak began a week after a loss to the Miami Dolphins and ended against the Dolphins. The Colts' current streak began against the Pats one week after losing to the Titans. Will their streak end today against the last team they lost to?

To continue their own mini-streak, the Titans need quarterback Vince Young to continue his great play.

Since taking over the starting job in Week Eight, Young has been very impressive. In his five starts this season, he has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,010 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. Dating back to the 2007 season, Young has won nine consecutive starts.

Last week's performance against the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, was by far Young's best as an NFL quarterback.

Against the Cards, VY threw for a career high 387 yards (his previous high was 305 yards in '07).

But with under two minutes to play, Young and the Titans trailed and needed a touchdown. To make things worse, they had to go 99 yards if they planned on winning.

It didn't seem likely, but in a John Elway kind of way, Young led his team all the way down the field and completed the game-winning touchdown to rookie Kenny Britt on fourth-and-goal as time ran out to win the game for the Titans.

But all the credit can't go to Young, others have contributed to this turnaround as well.

Those contributors include the NFL's leading rusher Chris Johnson.

Johnson is on an incredible pace in what has been an unbelievable sophomore season. He is averaging 127 yards per game and is already only four yards shy of the 1400 mark.

Johnson has run for at least 125 yards in each of his last six games. He is averaging 154.7 total yards from scrimmage in those six games.

Clearly, Johnson is the focal point of the Titans offense and will likely be the focus for the Colts defense. Johnson's worst game of the season came back in Week Five against the Colts when he was held to a mere 34 yards on the ground. The Titans have to make sure Johnson has a much better performance this time around.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans will have to stop MVP candidate Peyton Manning and his multitude of weapons in the pass attack.

In the Colts' Week Five 31-9 win over the Titans, Manning threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns.

On that night the Titans failed to get to Manning who made them pay. This afternoon, Tennessee will have to find ways to get a lot more pressure on Manning and force mistakes.

Will the Titans be the team to finally get to the Colts and be responsible for putting that first "1" in Indy's loss column?

The Colts have had many chances to lose over the last five weeks. In fact, they've set an NFL record with five consecutive wins after trailing in the fourth quarter. At some point they're not going to be able to comeback and that day will be today...

Keys for TEN

-Dominate with Johnson and Young

-Don't get fooled on Manning's play-action

-Put pressure on Manning

-Don't let up, stay aggressive

Prediction: Titans win 30-24.


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