NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to preview Monday's Patriots-Texans game and discuss news from around the league.
Lombardi looked ahead to Monday's big showdown between the Patriots and Texans and said that the team that will have the advantage is the one that can set the pace.
“I think this is going to be a fascinating game for both sides,” Lombardi said. “Both teams are the No. 1 and the No. 2 in the NFL in terms of scoring points in the first quarter and second quarter. Both teams are in a rush to establish the lead. Both teams like to play from in front. I think it’s going to be who starts fastest and who plays with a tempo and creates it and can get off the field. When you watch Houston, Houston is about winning every down. They get yards and positive yards. … I think New England’s objective is to try to get the lead, play from in front. Force the Texans to try to have to block and pass protect and go from there and utilize their physicality in terms of their defense to try to put pressure on [Matt] Schaub. … I think the one who can set the pace is going to be one who has the best advantage.”
Lombardi said the Patriots have to watch out for defensive end J.J. Watt. He notes that Watt is especially dangerous tipping passes.
“He’s a physical force,” Lombardi said. “You have to know where he is all the time. He knows the protection is always being slid to him. He understands that. I think you have to allow him, to make sure he doesn’t beat you, you’re going to double him. I think you've got to make sure you’re careful if you are throwing the football to make sure that you get it over him. He has 15½ passes broken up, 16½ sacks, that’s over 30 opportunities to create turnovers. That’s really rare in an NFL defensive lineman.”
Lombardi complimented the Texans offense but didn’t classify Schaub as an elite quarterback.
“No, but I think the offense is elite,” Lombardi said. “I think Gary Kubiak does a great job of understanding who they are on offense. Part of what I was talking about establishing the lead is critical, because they’re a run team early, they’re play-action pass team. They take shots. I wouldn’t be shocked if the first play of the game was a shot up the field. They’re going to try to make big chunks of yards. They know they need to run the ball with Arian Foster but they’re going to throw it up the field. This offense fits Schaub perfectly. ... He’s smart. He’s accurate. Does he have a gun? No. Is he the most elite athlete? No. But he’s a very productive player and they utilize him within the system extremely well.”
These teams very well could meet again in the playoffs, and Lombardi said Monday’s game will help the teams in planning for that potential playoff matchup.
“I think it will mean a lot,” Lombardi said. “Both teams will know how each one wants to play them. I think that’s going to be the chess match in the first quarter and then both teams, if they meet again in the playoffs, will have an adjustment to what they did. I think it will come down to the matchup of the players. This is a game where coaching is going to be very good on both sides of the ball. … As we get into the playoffs … is [Rob Gronkowski] back? How do they matchup to Gronkowski in the playoffs? Who they going to handle on [Aaron] Hernandez? What safety can cover him? … And conversely, how New England handles Andre Johnson, how they handle Owen Daniels. I think all of those things are going to play into effect.”
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On worrying about the gun culture as a team executive: “You have to know about the players and you have to understand the culture. … You'd better make sure you do as much reading and as much understanding to learn how you’re dealing with them. I think you really have to live in the footsteps of the person before you get them in your building and understand who they are.”
On the Jets' quarterback situation and Rex Ryan naming Mark Sanchez starter: “He had no choice. Look, Mark Sanchez is due $8.25 millon guaranteed. He gets paid it whether the Jets cut him or not. I think his cap hit is $17 million. … I mean, Rex had no real options. This is the quarterback that they made a decision to go with and I think they have to."
On this Sunday's Ravens-Redskins game: “I want to see how [Robert Griffin III] handles it. I think Baltimore is a little bit tougher than people think. I think Baltimore will bounce back this week. I think it will be a good game. RGIII threw for 167 yards last week, I think he’s going to have to throw the ball better in this game to beat the Ravens. I think the Ravens will make plays in the passing game. The Redskins defense kind of got off the hook last week, especially considering they were able to get the Giants off the field in the fourth quarter.”
On Chargers QB Philip Rivers: “I think Philip Rivers is like the boxer that’s been hit too much. Anytime a quarterback gets hit too much, it’s not good for him. I think it affects him. I think he’s seeing things and is reacting to things. I think pressure has gotten to him. … I think he’s been hit way too much. It’s going to take a rehabilitation project to get him back. He’s not nearly the elite player that he once was.”
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