ESPN NFL Programming Update – Week 14

First-Place Teams on Monday Night Football: Tom Brady’s Patriots vs. Matt Schaub’s Texans

In an AFC battle between first-place teams, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will host Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans on ESPN’s Monday Night Football on December 10, at 8:30 p.m. With a victory, the Patriots would capture a 10-win season for the 10th consecutive year. They have a 10-1 record in the last 11 games on MNF. Meanwhile, the Texans – in a quest to clinch the AFC South – strive to remain undefeated on the road. Mike Tirico will call the action with analyst Jon Gruden and sideline reporter Lisa Salters.

MNF will be televised on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. The game will also be available at WatchESPN.com and via the WatchESPN app on computers and tablets respectively, for those who receive video subscriptions from an affiliated provider.

Two hours before game time,Monday Night Countdown (6:30 p.m., ESPN) will begin with host Chris Berman and analysts Cris CarterMike DitkaTom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson and NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. On-site host Stuart Scott, analysts Trent Dilfer and Steve Young, columnist Rick Reilly and Salters will also take part in the pre-game show from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.  Highlights:

  • “Gruden Extra” with Tom Brady: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is having one of his best seasons with 25 touchdown passes and four interceptions.  The three-time Super Bowl champion joins Mike Tirico on the MNF bus to discuss his season.  (Tirico is sitting in for Jon Gruden, who will be in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday for the reunion of his Super Bowl XXXVII-winning team.)
  • Soundtracks – Bill Belichick:  Arguably, no head coach makes better in-game adjustments than Bill Belichick of the Patriots.  In Soundtracks, Countdown relives key in-game audio with Belichick on the sidelines during the Patriots week 11 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Rick Reilly Feature – J.J. Watt:  The Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is making a major impact on and off the field.  Watt befriended two brothers in Houston after they were paralyzed in a car crash that killed their parents. ESPN.com columnist and Countdown essayist Rick Reilly reports how Watt has impacted the lives of a Houston family following a tragedy.

Sunday NFL Countdown: A Conversation with Andrew Luck; Brandon Weeden’s Cause; and More

ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown Presented by IBM with Chris Berman, Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Suzy Kolber, Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski will preview week 14 on December 9, at 10 a.m. NFL Insider Adam Schefter and senior analyst Chris Mortensen will report the day’s news, and comedian Frank Caliendo will contribute his impressions of ESPN and NFL personalities.  Regular Countdown panelist Keyshawn Johnsonwill appear on the show from Tampa, Fla., where he’ll join Super Bowl XXXVII-winning teammates in a reunion during halftime of the Eagles-Buccaneers game.

Correspondents Bob Holtzman (Dallas at Cincinnati), Josina Anderson (Chicago at Minnesota), Sal Paolantonio (Baltimore at Washington), Ed Werder (San Diego at Pittsburgh) and Rachel Nichols (New Orleans at New York Giants) will report from game sites.  Highlights:

  • Luck Conversation: Last Sunday, quarterback Andrew Luck led his team to its eighth victory, setting the record for most wins by a rookie quarterback picked No. 1 in the Draft.  SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm sat down for a one-on-one conversation with the Colts quarterback.
  • Weeden’s Cause: On the field, Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden has shown promise as the guy who can lead the Browns back to football relevance. Off the field, Weeden’s impact back home in Oklahoma has been even more significant.  After developing a relationship with young child Gavin Kuykendallbattling a heart ailment, the rookie quarterback is now raising funds to help keep more pediatric surgeons in the state, reports Chris Connelly.
  • The Power of Momentum: In the last decade, Super Bowl-winning teams like the Giants, Packers, and Steelers have proved you don’t need to be 14-2 to win a Super Bowl. Just get hot at the right time and let momentum carry you to the Super Bowl.  Greg Garber consults with Ainissa Ramirez, a Yale University material scientist, to explain why momentum means something in the NFL.
  • Frank Caliendo:  The humorous segment has Caliendo playing ESPN host Bob Ley and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The program will include live look-ins at quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Andy Dalton and running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson during their pre-game routines leading into the 1 p.m. games.  Additional segments include Cris Carter’s “Where You At?, a tale of the tape in the battle of the Beltway – Baltimore at Washington, Jaworski and Hoge’s Xs and Os “Eye in the Sky,” and a look at the drama surrounding the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacking decisions.

Snickers NFL Matchup – Patriots First Down Passing; Texans Zone Run Game; Bengals Blitz Schemes; and More

NFL Matchup host Sal Paolantonio and analysts Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge will preview the weekend’s key matchups by taking viewers inside the film room with X’s and O’s analysis December 9, on ESPN at 6:30 a.m. (ESPN2 at 8:30 a.m.).  Highlights:

  • Blitz Breakdown – Bengals Blitz: The Cincinnati Bengals four-game win streak has been fueled by their defense. Hoge describes a blitz scheme the team uses to penetrate a seven-man pass- or run-protection scheme.
  • “Between the Lines” – Patriots 1st Down Passing:  Jaworski uses the telestrator to show why New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has the most first-down passing yards in the league.
  • “Eye in the Sky” – Tony Romo Leaving Plays on the Field: Despite the Dallas Cowboys win on Sunday, quarterback Tony Romo still left some plays on the field. Jaworski shows why Romo did not throw the ball to a wide-open Jason Witten, his favorite go-to player.
  • Hoge Breakdown – Steelers Defense versus RGIII:  To show how the Baltimore Ravens defense should play against the Washington Redskins, Hoge breaks down how the Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebackers remained disciplined in their defensive scheme to neutralize quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Redskins play-action pass game.
  • “Coaches Clicker” – Arian Foster 18-yard Run: With Arian Foster carrying the ball more than 20 times per game, the Texans have one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Hoge uses the clicker to show some blocking schemes in the offense that has led to Foster’s third straight 1,000-yard season.
  • “The Money Down” – Joe Flacco Sack/Fumble on 3rd Down: Jaworski diagnoses the problems the Ravens are having throwing the ball on third down and shows how quarterback Joe Flacco’s sack-fumble vs. the Steelers was because his receivers were unable to get open against man-coverage.
  • “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” – Jermichael Finley Chip:  Jaworski explains how the Green Bay Packers have used tight end Jermichael Finley in creative ways to help with blocking.
  • “Game within the Game” – Heath Miller:  Hoge analyses two plays and shows how Steelers tight end Heath Miller’s size and skill make him a matchup nightmare for both linebackers and defensive backs.
  • “Let’s See it Hoge” – Giants Struggle in Pass Protection:  In the New York Giants loss to the Redskins on Monday, their final fourth quarter drive was hampered by breakdowns in pass protection. Hoge breaks down a blitz that the Redskins used to put pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

ESPN.com’s Elizabeth Merrill – “Hot Read” on a Season of Loss in Kansas City

In this week’s “Hot Read,” ESPN.com senior writer Elizabeth Merrill reports how Kansas City, a middle-American city whose identity is inextricably tied to the on-the-field fortunes of its Chiefs football team, is struggling to come to grips with the murder-suicide of Kasandra Perkins by Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher.

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ESPN’s Jon Gruden Previews Texans-Patriots Monday Night Football Game

ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden previews this week’s big Monday Night Football matchup as Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans (11-1) face three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (9-3) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The primetime battle of top AFC contenders will be televised on ESPN on Monday, December 10, at 8:30 p.m. ET.

What are your thoughts on this week’s Texans-Patriots game?

You obviously have two of the most high-potent offenses in the NFL. You have two great defensive coaches. I’m excited about Tom Brady going up against Wade Phillips and the Houston Texans defense. The idea of seeing Matt Schaub and the balanced Texans offense going up against Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and the Patriots makes me want to get to Foxborough tonight.

What are keys to the game for both teams?

For the Texans, they possess the ball almost 36 minutes a game with their running game and high-percentage pass offense. I think keeping Tom Brady off the field and doing what they do on offense – protecting the ball, moving the ball and scoring points – is the recipe for success for the Texans. For the Patriots, they’re going to have to rely on Tom Brady once again – his ability to recognize, audible and attack. The Texans injuries in the secondary and at linebacker are going to make things difficult for Houston. This game has all the makings of a shootout.

I also think how the Patriots offensive line can handle the fierce front of the Texans is going to be something to watch. Houston has the best inside pass-rush that I’ve seen with Antonio Smith, J.J. Watt and Jared Crick coming in as the third tackle. They’ve got some real energy and playmaking inside.

What have you seen from quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Schaub this season?

Tom Brady’s expertise and clutch playmaking, talent and work ethic has been well-documented where Matt Schaub’s probably hasn’t. Schaub has won 15 out of 16. What he’s done behind the scenes in Houston rivals what Tom Brady does in New England. These are two very intelligent, highly motivated CEOs of their teams. They unify their football teams and epitomize everything you want in a quarterback. I kind of put them on the same level in terms of preparation, leadership and dominating the game from the neck up.

What are your impressions of J.J. Watt this season and what has impressed you the most?

He’s just unblockable. His stamina is incredible. He’s a tremendous athlete. A lot of people think he’s just a high-effort guy. He’s a rare athlete. He can get off the blocks and close. He can run over you. He has the elusiveness to run you down and change directions. He’s instinctive. He has the ability to reject passes when he knows he’s not going to get there, or when you’re going to throw the quick gain. He bats balls and he bats quarterbacks around. He’s an MVP candidate. There’s no question.

Is there an off-the-radar player – what you would call a “Gruden Grinder” – who is a potential difference-maker on Monday night?

I like Houston wide receiver Kevin Walter. He does a lot for the Texans as a blocker. This stretch running game is magnificent, but he cuts off the back side. He blocks the perimeter for these quick screens. He runs patterns. He catches balls. He’s a great pro football player. A lot of his production is not on the stat sheet.

A guy for New England is defensive end Rob Ninkovich. You watch Ninkovich on a snap-by-snap basis, you might not be overwhelmed by how good he is, but when you look at the whole game, and a series of games, he’s as valuable a member of the Patriots defense as anyone because he can play outside linebacker, inside linebacker, right end, left end. He can move around in their sub package. And he has skill to do all these things. I really like Ninkovich a lot.

Where do you rank the Texans and Patriots at this point in the season?

Houston is 11-1 for good reason. Their performance against the Ravens, the game we saw on Monday Night Football in New York against the Jets, going to Denver to beat the Broncos, there’s a consistency that’s impressive. They’ve had some injuries now and that’s the only concern I have. Brooks Reed and Brian Cushing are out. Johnathan Joseph has been out. They’re missing some key ingredients to their defense, but they can score with anyone and their effort and energy level is outstanding on defense. I think they are a favorite to get to the Super Bowl and win it. I would say the same about New England because of No. 12 and the head coach of the football team. They’ve had such great continuity. They can beat you in all three phases of the game, and they expect to win. They are used to winning. It’s hard to go against them.

How special is it to call a game of this magnitude in primetime on MNF this late in the season?

We had the world champions last week and one of the great up-and-coming stars of pro football in RGIII last week. This week, the two teams have combined for 20 victories. You want to coach in the biggest games, you want to play in the biggest games, and you want to broadcast the biggest games. And, if you’re a fan, you want to watch the biggest games. It’s exciting. It’s going to be a heck of a game.

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