Throughout the season, 49ers Pro Personnel Scout Ryan Myers helps with advance scouting which entails traveling each weekend to watch the 49ers next opponent. Myers provides evaluations and tips for the 49ers coaching staff. The pro department is also responsible for evaluating tape of potential free agents. Since he's watched a majority of the NFL teams, 49ers.com invited Myers to take part in year three of "What to Watch For" in the playoffs. Here's his take on the Conference Championship Round.
Jets @ Colts
Peyton Manning will need to continue to be Peyton Manning, that is diagnose the defense and make plays. Last week, he threw the ball 44 times, as he was 30-of-44 for 246 yards. The Colts are a throwing team first, but I expect them to have somewhat more of a balanced offensive attack this week. They'll do that to try and keep the Jets honest. I expect New York to continue to bring pressure.
Indianapolis loves their Colts and they're going to be excited for this game at Lucas Oil Stadium. That will be to the Colts advantage.
I would also anticipate all eyes will be on Reggie Wayne versus Darrelle Revis. It should be a great matchup there. With that said, expect other Colts receivers like Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon to have more balls thrown their way. Tight end Dallas Clark is another player I expect to be in the mix if Wayne's bottled up by Revis.
Back to the running game, Indianapolis hasn't been a big running team. But I've seen they have toughness in their running backs. Rookie first-round pick Donald Brown is a tough runner and he especially works to get yards after contact. He should get his fair share of carries this week because Joseph Addai is a little banged up.
On the other side of the field, the Jets have been bringing pressure all season long. Like most great defensive teams, they like to mix it up and disguise it. You just never know where the pressure is coming from. It could come from Calvin Pace, one of their outside linebackers rushing off the edge. It could be one of their corners, guys like former 49ers defensive back Donald Strickland coming from the nickel spot. They also use guys like safety Jim Leonhard and inside linebacker David Harris to apply pressure.
You just never know who is coming and they do such a great job with that. They'll have to keep it going this week. If they sit back in coverage against Manning, he'll just pick them apart. I think it's important for New York to roll into their coverages. They shouldn't show anything to Manning before the snap.
For example, if you want to play a cover-3 defense with one safety up top, you might want to show a cover-2 look with two safeties back deep. If Manning sees a two-safety look, he'll call an audible and the defense can get back into their actual coverage right before the play. Normally, he'll audible to what you're showing and then you can get back to the defense that you really want to run. That should slow them down and put a damper on their plan.
In terms of matchups, Wayne-Revis is the best one in this game. With Revis, you have the best cover cornerback in the NFL. And with Wayne, you have one of the best all-around wideouts in the league. It should be great to watch.
Wayne will be taking a trip to "Revis Island" (the cornerback's popular nickname) as they say in New York. But Wayne will have one thing in mind – win the battle. It should be physical between those two and it will be a physical game in general.
In terms of the Jets offense, Mark Sanchez has stepped up and showed that he does have the ability to manage the football game. He's out there having fun, but we do have to remember that he is still a rookie. There is still the possibility for him to make mistakes.
Knowing that, if the Colts shut down New York's running game, it'll be interesting how Sanchez responds. I'm curious to see if he throws interceptions or steps up to become the first rookie signal caller to lead his team to the Super Bowl. Shaun King (Tampa Bay), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) and Joe Flacco (last season with Baltimore) all came one game short from accomplishing that feat.
Sanchez has another great rookie at his side in running back Shonn Greene. For a third-round pick, he's definitely a strong runner and he has enough speed to break one. Just ask Chargers safety Eric Weddle who failed to bring Greene down in the open field. The missed tackle allowed Greene to score an important53-yard touchdown to put the Chargers away last week.
He picked up 128 yards against San Diego and I definitely expect him to be the core of the Jets offense again this week. But, I think Indianapolis' defense is really underrated. We haven't heard much about them.
Typically, you hear about Manning and all the things he brings to the table. Then you hear about all the weapons he has on offense. But, this defense was able to hold the Ravens to a field goal last week. That's big.
As a unit, they're fast, physical and they take great angles in pursuing opposing ball carriers. They make an effort to swarm and put 11 hats on the opposition. The Colts will have to stop the run and get after Sanchez. If they do stop Greene and Thomas Jones, they can send more pressure than the Jets offensive line can protect. They can use their Pro Bowl defensive ends in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to really get after Sanchez.
But it's going to be difficult for Freeney and Mathis to get pressure. New York has two solid tackles in D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody on the left and right sides respectively. I expect the defensive ends to line up wider than a normal five-technique. That way they'll have more room to work, and less of a tighter route to the quarterback if they had line up directly over the tackle.
In the end, I like the Colts at home to win. Like I said before, Indy loves their Colts and they'll be fired up for the game. The players will be ready to roll!
Vikings @ Saints
Let's start out by talking about Minnesota's offense, specifically quarterback Brett Favre. He's 40-years-old and one of the most respected figures playing in the game today. In the playoffs he has 43 career touchdown passes. He's 3-1 at the Superdome as a starter and that's where he'll be playing this weekend.
We saw what he could do in the playoffs last week. It was Favre showcasing his ability to make plays and make something out of nothing. He stayed alive to make plays down the field and that's what a gunslinger does.
Adrian Peterson has been bottled up so far this postseason. He had only 63 yards against the Cowboys, but I'd look for more of him this week against the Saints. I think Minnesota will use more of a balanced approach. They'll need to use Peterson often to keep the ball away from New Orleans' high-powered offense.
Sidney Rice stepped up and had a monster game against the Cowboys. He had six catches for 141 yards and three touchdowns last week. He's a playmaker who can create matchup problems for the Saints.
Getting into New Orleans defense, I think the home field advantage will be key to their overall success. The Superdome will be absolutely rocking. In a dome like that, the noise bounces off the ceiling and makes it hard for the visiting team to concentrate.
Darren Sharper, he's a veteran safety back there for New Orleans. He actually played with Favre in Green Bay and that means he knows Favre quite well. Sharper will have to have another big week and make sure that all the rest of the defensive backs are in the right position against Favre. He needs them to be in position to make plays and really, the Saints need his leadership back there. He's been a ball-hawk all season long and they'll need to him to continue that play this weekend.
The defensive line led by Will Smith (13 sacks in the regular season) will need to step up against Minnesota. It's a must. It's absolutely crucial that they find a way to get pressure on Favre. They'll need to get hits on him too, not just sacks.
In terms of getting in his face, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will need to dial up some pass stunts up front. They're referred to as "stunts" or "twists." The Saints will need to do that to get in Favre's throwing lanes and disrupt his timing.
I think the key for the Saints defense is to not abandon their run responsibilities. They can't get too consumed with stopping Favre and forget about Peterson. As soon as they do that, Peterson comes alive. It's important that they play disciplined, but relentless at the same time.
On other side of the ball, the leadership, poise and decision-making was apparent in Drew Brees' dismantling of the Arizona Cardinals defense. He threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a decisive win.
Last week, I mentioned that Reggie Bush would impact the game. I said he would take a punt back for a score and he did, he brought one back 83 yards for a touchdown. That was really Bush showcasing the skills that made him a top draft-pick. He can stop on a dime, make precision sharp cuts, get up field and he has speed to go to the house.
I think he'll remain a big part of their offensive plans this week. Bush got warmed up against the Cardinals and I expect them to utilize him more by creating mismatches. Not only as a running back taking a handoff, but catching the ball out of the backfield in the flat as well. They will find ways to get him the ball so he can make things happen.
New Orleans offensive line has done a solid job protecting Brees and creating running lanes for the running backs. With that in mind, it's absolutely crucial for them to keep Minnesota's big boys off of Brees.
Talking about Minnesota's front, I saw a very aggressive defensive line create problems for the Cowboys. They won the battle in the trenches, that's the bottom line. They got to Tony Romo, delivered some hits on him and they won the game.
Pat Williams will continue to be a force down the middle with Jared Allen coming off the edge. They suffered two blows with the injuries of defensive end Ray Edwards and defensive tackle Kevin Williams. If they do play, they won't be 100 percent. They won't be like they were last week, flying around and making plays all over the field.
I think this might be the toughest task for the Saints offensive line. They haven't seen guys like this. If Edwards and Williams are out or not up to their full potential, look for New Orleans to attack those areas a little more than they would otherwise.
Overall, I look forward to a great matchup. But in the end, I'm taking New Orleans to win at home in the Superdome. It's going to be a close one and it will come down to the wire.