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NFL Touchdown Playoff Quick Keys

Arizona Cardinals

Key vs. Atlanta was...
The play of the Arizona front four. Rightfully maligned as an inconsistent and lethargic unit late in the season, Clancy Pendergast's defensive line exploded against a somewhat undersized Falcons front five. Matt Ryan was pressured all day and sacked three times, and the league's second leading rusher, Michael Turner, was held to just 42 yards on 18 carries.

Veteran defensive end Bertrand Berry was particularly effective working against rookie left tackle Sam Baker (who had been battling back problems in the weeks leading up to the game). The Falcons also made the mistake of not double-teaming defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Instead, they singled him up with former undrafted free agent Harvey Dahl. Dockett is by no means a superstar, but his quick hands make him extremely dangerous in a three-technique. Plus, simple film study reveals that Dockett – who is by far Arizona's most important D-lineman – dominates against single blocking, but disappears against double teams.

Key vs. Carolina will be...

Stopping one of the league's best rushing attacks. Don't expect the Cardinals to do it. As well as the front four played Saturday, it's doubtful they can reenact the performance against an oversized and aggressive Carolina offensive line. A lot of responsibility will fall on the linebackers. Arizona will need Karlos Dansby to be in his brilliant mode (a tossup given the way Dansby's week-to-week output fluctuates). It was shrewd of Pendergast to limit middle linebacker Gerald Hayes to one-gap responsibilities against Atlanta – watch Hayes on tape and you'll quickly see that he's a star when he does not have to think, but a liability when he does. Stopping the run is the first key for the Cardinals, but it might not be enough anyway. It remains to be seen whether Antrel Rolle is a good enough safety to help the corners contain Steve Smith.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key vs. Minnesota was...

Doing exactly what everyone thought they'd do: load the box to stop Adrian Peterson (20 carries, 83 yards, though only 43 yards on 19 carries if you take away his one big run), then blitz Tarvaris Jackson in third-and-long situations. Right now the Eagles front seven is as venomous as it's ever been under Jim Johnson, and that's saying a lot. Two players who have really emerged are middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and pass-rushing defensive end Chris Clemons.

Key vs. New York will be...

Letting the stars shine. It's pretty simple when you're facing a divisional rival for the third time this season, and fourth time in the postseason. Both sides know what the other side brings. For Philly, it will be about Andy Reid continuing to go to Brian Westbrook, and Donovan McNabb prioritizing speedy rookie receiver DeSean Jackson when making his reads. The Eagles will struggle to run against the Giants, just like they struggled to run against Minnesota. But slow developing plays – such as screens and draws – are always a way to isolate Westbrook's skills. As for finding Jackson, Philly would be wise to get him the ball early and in space (end-arounds, bubble screens, etc.). This allows the rookie to be creative and search for the homerun. It's important for Jackson to become the aggressor early, for he will have a tough time against the physical Giant cornerbacks, and the Eagles can't afford to have him get rattled like he did against Washington.

San Diego Chargers

Key vs. Colts was...
Winning the chess match on defense. As brilliant as Darren Sproles was – by the way, have you heard that he's small and special? – the Chargers won their Wild Card matchup by limiting Peyton Manning and the Colts offense to just 17 points. Not many teams match wits with the league MVP. But, under the guidance of inside linebacker Stephen Cooper and new defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, that's what San Diego was able to do.

Key vs. Steelers will be...
Big plays from the secondary. You wouldn't know it from Saturday, but San Diego has one of the worst rated pass defenses in football. But talent-wise, they're actually one of the best defensive backfields. When on, Antonio Cromartie is a playmaker and Quintin Jammer is a sheer stopper. Plus, first-round rookie Antoine Cason seems to become more instinctive each week. At safety, the soaring confidence of Eric Weddle and no-brainer promotion of Steve Gregory over the unreliable Clinton Hart has fully transformed this defensive backfield into a different unit than the one Ben Roethlisberger and company saw back in Week 11.

Also key for the Chargers will be stretching the field offensively with Vincent Jackson. Don't expect San Diego to control the action in the box like they did against the Colts. There is a world of difference between running against an undersized Indy front seven and the fire-spitting Steelers group coordinated by Dick LeBeau. This becomes especially true when your featured ballcarrier is as tiny as Sproles.

Baltimore Ravens

Key vs. Miami was...
Forcing turnovers. Perhaps the most flattering statement that Baltimore can hear after their 27-9 victory at Miami is that Chad Pennington did not play poorly. But the league's MVP runner-up still threw four interceptions, mainly because he was facing a defense that utterly stifled his rushing attack and aggressively took advantage of his limited receiving corps.

Key vs. Tennessee will be...

Doing it again. The Ravens are a team on fire right now. They look like Super Bowl material. The tendency is to say that in the Divisional Round, Joe Flacco, who was just 9/23 against the Dolphins for a pedestrian 135 yards, needs to pick his game up a notch or two. But that's just not the case. The Ravens are good enough to win this game without Flacco making any plays. They have a reliable rushing attack spearheaded by pounder Le'Ron McClain and closer Willis McGahee. Defensively, they just dominated a Dolphins offense that relies on running the ball and minimizing mistakes behind their veteran passer. Hmmm…what other AFC offense relies on a consistent ground attack and veteran game-manager under center?

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