The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

Four Teams, Four Surprises

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There are quite a few things that bear watching on Championship weekend, as under the radar as they may be. First of all, will the Arizona Cardinals continue their highly improbable run game/run defense turnaround in the postseason? As I detailed in this week's DVOA Matchup, Arizona's run defense has been especially stingy of late. They've been playing with far more gap control and assignment correctness, to borrow from coaching parlance, but will it last if Brian Westbrook is healthy?

The Eagles, meanwhile, have the best run defense nobody's talking about -- first overall in DVOA over the second half of the regular season. Yes, better than the Ravens and Steelers. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley played like a man among boys against the Giants last week, and the Eagles stopped the defending Super Bowl champs from converting opportunities over and over again. If the Cardinals can't sustain drives, and they're forced to rely only on the big play -- well, the Eagles will see your Larry Fitzgerald and raise you an Asante Samuel.

The Steelers like to set up in running formations and pass, and vice versa. Their offensive line has been a liability all year, and trickeration is one way to set the best defenses on their heels. When they go with a bunch formation (three receivers lined up tight to one side), and it looks like a pass, don't be surprised if they keep two receivers, or one receiver and a tight end, back to block, and send Willie Parker off the edge to that side. Especially of one of those receivers is Hines Ward, who may block better than anyone else who plays the position. Likewise, if Pittsburgh motions Ward to the side of a two-tight end set, it's not necessarily Student Body Right. When the defense flows to stop Parker, the play might be a slant over the middle.

You may or may not have seen the Ravens' unbalanced offensive line, but get ready for it. They like to send an extra tackle to one side for a power advantage in their running game, and in pass protection. This will be especially important against the sack-happy Steelers.

This sets up to be one of the better Championship weekend in recent memory, as there doesn't appear to be a clear, overwhelming favorite in either game.

By Doug Farrar  |  January 16, 2009; 1:28 PM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , Baltimore Ravens , Doug Farrar , Philadelphia Eagles , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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