Tag:A.J. Hawk
Posted on: January 12, 2012 6:32 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 8:43 am

Film Room: Packers vs. Giants divisional preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

We can only hope this game is as entertaining as the December 4th shootout, which Green Bay won on a brilliant last minute field goal drive.

Since that day the Packers have looked mortal and the Giants have grown white hot. Can Round II produce a different outcome? Here’s the breakdown.

1. Slowing the Pack’s aerial attack
The Giants used a diverse array of coverages against the Packers in the last meeting and actually had Aaron Rodgers a bit out of sorts early on. Still, even though he wasn’t as sharp as usual, Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four scores (not a bad “off day”).

New York’s two-deep safety zone looks gave Green Bay the most trouble, but the only way a defense can get away with playing zone against this offense a second time is if it sprinkles those zones with disguises and man concepts.

You can’t outsmart the Packers; you can only hope to out-execute them. Generally, that means winning press-man battles on the outside. That’s what Kansas City was able to do, though they have better press corners than New York and didn’t have to deal with Greg Jennings (out at the time with a knee).

The Packers do a great job creating one-on-one matchups for Greg Jennings through play design. In example A (left), Jennings ran his route against rookie Prince Amukamara to the outside, while Donald Drive ran down the seam. This combination eliminated the possibility of free safety Antrel Rolle helping the overmatched Amukamara, who was flagged for pass interference. In example B (right), Jennings aligned in the slot, away from the tight end and running back. Because Jennings was running an outside route from this alignment, there was no way a safety or linebacker could help cornerback Aaron Ross on this play.

Interesting side note: the Packers usually create one-on-one matchups for Jennings by lining him up as the X-receiver in a 1 x 3 set (in other words, Jennings all alone on the left side, three receivers on the right side). However, they did not throw a single pass to Jennings from this formation against the Giants in Week 13.

Without Jennings, a good secondary has a shot at stymieing this receiving corps (for not only are a Jennings-less Pack without their No. 1 receiver, but suddenly No. 2 receiver Jordy Nelson must face a No. 1 corner, No. 3 receiver Donald Driver must face a No. 2 corner and so on). With Jennings, a good secondary still isn’t enough; a defense needs help from up front.

Pressuring Rodgers is difficult with his speed. (Getty Images)

2. Pressuring Rodgers
It’s easy to say New York’s key is having its four-man pass-rush get to Rodgers. But that only matters if the pass-rush pressure equates to sacks.

In the last meeting, Jason Pierre-Paul absolutely owned backup left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Rodgers was under duress all afternoon. But all that meant was he ran around more before completing his throws. Rodgers is so athletic, so strong-armed and so good at keeping his eyes downfield that pass-rush pressure does not disrupt his rhythm, it merely alters it.

The Giants dominated the line of scrimmage last game and finished with just two sacks. Unless they get six or seven sacks (unlikely, especially with Green Bay getting Chad Clifton back), their pass-rush won’t be a difference-making factor.

3. Matching up to Finley
The Giants have shown a perplexing willingness to defend elite tight ends with linebacker Jacquian Williams this season. Against the Saints in Week 12, Williams at times defended Jimmy Graham while safety Antrel Rolle defended Darren Sproles.

The next week, Williams guarded Jermichael Finley while Rolle guarded ... James Starks. (Seriously?!) Finley wound up beating Williams’ in man coverage for 24 yards on the game-winning field goal drive and finished the day with six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. (The damage would have been worse if he hadn’t dropped three balls.)

Will the Giants take this approach again, or will they go to their dime defense and treat Finley as a wide receiver (which they’ve also done at times against elite tight ends this season)? Going dime would allow Rolle to defend Finley, though it would also put vulnerable rookie Prince Amukamara on either Donald Driver or Jordy Nelson.

4. Giants offense
As you might surmise, the Packers offense has too many weapons for the Giants to defend. Hence, Eli Manning will be compelled to once again light up the scoreboard. As we’ve explored the past several weeks, Manning is razor sharp against the blitz. The belief here is that an attack-oriented defensive approach will not work against the eighth-year veteran.

But Green Bay isn’t built to play any other way – at least not out of their nickel package. Dom Capers’ scheme is predicated on creating one-on-one matchups for Clay Matthews by blitzing others and using Charles Woodson as a joker. This might yield yards, but it can also create interceptions (the Packers had 31 on the season, which was at least eight more than any other team).

Manning is a virtual lock for 300 yards, but if he can be coaxed into at least two picks, the Pack are a virtual lock to host the NFC Title game.

5. Unless…
The Giants control the game on the ground. This idea seemed absurd a few weeks ago, but lately New York’s front five has gelled and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have rediscovered their ability to break tackles running downhill.

The Giants spent a lot of time in base personnel last game, though primarily for passing purposes (they ran the ball just 20 times). They wanted to limit Capers’ nickel blitzes and also throw against Packers backup inside linebackers Rob Francois and D.J. Smith (who were playing for the injured Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk).

With the Packers back to full strength and the Giants’ passing game having significantly improved in three-receiver sets, throwing from base personnel might not be as big a factor this time round. But the ground game might be a bigger factor – especially if the Giants don’t believe the return of defensive lineman Ryan Pickett can suddenly stabilize Green Bay’s wavering run defense.

It will be fascinating to see how Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride calls the game early on.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 30, 2011 2:54 pm

Film Room: Giants vs. Packers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

What you’re about to read is not a prediction for the Giants to knockoff the undefeated Packers. The Giants are banged up, have lost back-to-back primetime games and are coming off a trouncing by the Saints offense.

Come Sunday, they’ll have had only six days to prepare for the even-more-prolific Packers – a team coming off a mini bye after playing last Thursday. But there are myriad opportunities to read about why Green Bay can further push New York into one of its patented late-season declines.

We already know which is the better team here. So instead of just joining the masses, let’s challenge ourselves by examining how/why the Giants might be able to pull off an upset.

1. Throwing from base personnel
The Giants offense is most comfortable operating out of base personnel (two backs, one tight end, two receivers). Base personnel gives the Giants more opportunities for a balanced run-pass gameplan and aids their play-action.

More importantly, if last year’s Week 16 matchup between these two clubs is any indication, the Packers will match the Giants’ base personnel with their own 3-4 base personnel. Green Bay is considerably less dangerous lining up in a standard 3-4. Most of Dom Capers’ blitzes and subterfuge come from the nickel 2-4-5 package (with Charles Woodson sliding into the slot).

Against the Pack’s basic 3-4, the Giants pass-blockers can worry less about identifying blitzes and more about traditional execution. The front five can focus on sliding protection towards Clay Matthews and the running backs will have a cleaner look at their help-blocking assignments (such as chipping on the edges or covering for a lineman who gets confounded by a stunt).

What’s more, out of base personnel, the Giants running backs would be bigger factors in the pass game, and Eli Manning would also have a chance to attack A.J. Hawk in coverage. Hawk has recently improved as a space player, but offenses still prefer throwing at him inside and down the seams versus throwing at Charles Woodson or the safeties against the nickel look.

Tight end Jake Ballard (30 receptions, 490 yards this season) gives the Giants an auspicious target in this matchup.

2. The Bradshaw factor
If Ahmad Bradshaw does not return from his foot injury this week, you might as well watch Rams-Niners or Cardinals-Cowboys or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills during the late afternoon window. Without Bradshaw in the backfield, it will be very difficult for New York to throw out of base personnel, as Brandon Jacobs plays with oven mitts over his hands and D.J. Ware has not shown impressive start/stop quickness in the flats.

Bradshaw is a quick, versatile receiver and an underrated pass-blocker. More importantly, he’s far and away New York’s best runner (Jacobs can still plow over defenders when he has a head full of steam, but his lack of initial burst is a real hindrance to the ground game).

Running the ball is critical for the Giants because it helps keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.

3. The Eli factor
If Eli Manning is not in the tail end of that Tom Brady elite class, he’s comfortably at the very head of the class right after it. It sounds implausible, but Little Brother these days is underrated. Manning is having a career-year despite injuries to his receivers, top running back and offensive line (most recently, left tackle Will Beatty, who missed Monday’s game with a detached retina and will sit out again Sunday).

The Giants offense, even with the injuries and disappearance of its rushing attack (82.3 yards per game, 32nd in the NFL) has managed to post 22.9 points per contest (16th in NFL).

Manning, with his audible powers at the line, almost never lets the Giants attempt an ill-fated play. What’s not talked about enough is his arm strength. He has the gun to get the ball outside the numbers or through tight windows – and he can do it while throwing off-balance or falling back with defenders in his face. He’s as tough in the pocket as any quarterback in the game and, in the last year or two, he’s become routinely accurate.

4. How to attack downfield
The Giants may not prefer to spread the field and make this a shootout – they don’t have the wide receiver depth for that, especially if Mario Manningham’s knee remains an issue. But given the brilliance of the Packers offense, it’s possible – if not probable – that Big Blue will have to score 30-plus in order to win.

If that’s the case, the Giants may want to copy the Chargers’ approach from Week 9, when Philip Rivers & Co. hung 38 points and 460 yards on the Pack. In that game, San Diego lined up in condensed formations, with their receivers in minus splits (inside the numbers). With receivers starting their routes closer to the middle of the field, the Packer defensive backs were forced to defend more space, as they could not rely on the sideline for help:

The Chargers have good receivers and they got great protection up front that day, so they were able to capitalize on the condensed formations. The Giants receivers might be a grade below the Chargers’ (it’s debatable), but regardless, they’re capable of winning one-on-one matchups in space. The Giants’ O-line struggled two weeks ago against the Eagles, but it’s been stellar in protection most of this season.

Condensed formations don’t just create more space for receivers’ routes, they also create opportunities for picks and rubs with crossing routes, which present problems for any defense in man coverage.

5. Giants defense
As we covered in last week’s Film Room post, the Giants like to use their big nickel defense (two linebackers, three safeties) against an offense’s base personnel – especially when the offense has a versatile tight end (like Jimmy Graham last week or Jermichael Finley this week). Expect to see Deon Grant, Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips all on the field for most of this game.

It’s impossible to devise a gameplan that can stop Rodgers and this Green Bay passing attack. Your best bet is to bank on what you do best. For the Giants, that means rushing the passer with four. They got absolutely nothing from their pass-rush Monday night, which was disappointing given the glaring mismatch they had with their ends against the Saints’ iffy tackles. A four-man rush gives coordinator Perry Fewell seven defenders to play with in coverage, which allows for tighter zones and plenty of freelance defenders in man schemes.

The Giants stymied the Patriots with tight man coverage across the board a few weeks ago. That may not work in this matchup. The Packer receivers are the best in the league at beating man-to-man (in part because Rodgers is a genius when it comes to back-shoulder throws). Plus, the Patriots have a horizontal passing game; the Packers are more capable at beating you vertically. One slip by a man defender can equal six points for the offense.

In all likelihood, there won’t be just one simple solution for Fewell and his men on Sunday. They’ll have to mix coverages and try different things, all the while hoping that their star-studded pass-rush can show up.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 13 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 17, 2011 8:11 pm

Woodson doesn't get Hawk's inside joke

HawkPosted by Josh Katzowitz

When Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk apologized for flipping off his teammates on the sideline during Sunday’s win vs. the Rams and claimed it was an inside joke, that made sense. Although he was right to apologize, you can forgive the guy for a little bit of sophomoric humor.

Except nobody seems to know who the inside joke was for, and nobody knows what exactly that joke is.

Hawk declined to name names Sunday after the game, and cornerback Charles Woodson said on the Jim Rome radio show (H/T to Pro Football Talk) that he doesn’t know what Hawk is talking about.

“No, I had not heard about it,” Woodson said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that. From what I heard it was some kind of inside joke but I have no clue. I don’t know who else knew about it either. I guess there were a couple people who knew about it but it caught everybody else off guard. So the joke’s on us I guess.”

It’s a joke that’s turning out to be not so funny for Hawk, who likely will face a fine from the league for his lewd gesture.

This is what Hawk said after the game: “It’s kind of been a running joke with some of my teammates. There was no anger or malice or anything. It was a joke and I kind of got caught up in the emotions of the game. I definitely apologize if any kids or anyone else saw it. I have a daughter myself so I wouldn’t want her doing that. I got excited and got caught up in the game and it was just a bad joke. I definitely won’t do it again.”

That’s three times he mentioned the word “joke,” so even if nobody else knows what he’s talking about, give points to Hawk for his consistency.

Plus, Hawk provides a good lesson for all the would-be flipper-offers. The next time somebody decides to extend his middle finger and then says, “Hey media, that was an inside joke,” he should make sure to let his teammates know beforehand. Otherwise, it’s not going to be nearly as funny. And it’s going to continue to cost the offender plenty of money.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: August 17, 2011 12:31 pm

Podcast: AJ Hawk, Power Rankings, good/bad/ugly

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Power rankings time! Pete Prisco's got his out and what would a Wednesday be without some lively debate about where teams rank before the season even starts? And with our columnists dispatched to three specific locations, we talk about breaking the NFL into three catagories (good/bad/ugly) -- where does your team fall?

Also, A.J. Hawk, linebacker for the defending champion Green Bay Packers, joins the podcast. We talk about the Packers flying under the radar, if they're motivated by the Eagles being a "dream team," how he's embracing a role as a leader and what he thinks about HGH testing.

"I think it's awesome that they're going to start testing for HGH," Hawk told CBSSports.com. "I think it's a great thing for the game. I think baseball showed throughout their whole time that if you don't test for something, guys are going to do it. I have no idea -- I've obviously never watched anyone or seen anyone do it, but I'm not stupid. I know it's going on.

"They can take my blood every single day if they want. I won't oppose that ever."

So, yeah, excellent stuff -- we also talk about his work with Gatorade on their "Beat the Heat" campaign, on the 10-year anniversary of Korey Stringer's death. (Go to NFL.com/TrainingCamp to download the free Heat Safety Kit.)

Ryan and I also discuss whether the recent Miami scandal will have any effect on current NFL players and talk about Aaron Maybin jumping ship from the Bills to the Jets.

All that -- and much, much, more -- by clicking the play button below. Also, SUBSCRIBE VIA ITUNES.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: June 23, 2011 4:27 pm
Edited on: June 23, 2011 4:33 pm

Hot Routes 6.23.11: Lost in translation

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

  • What happens to the Bills once Ralph Wilson no longer owns the team? Could they be readying themselves for a move to L.A.?
  • The disorderly person case involving Titans WR Kenny Britt was adjourned until July 12, the Hoboken (N.J.) Municipal Court told the Tennessean.
  • If you donate to the United Way to help those affected by the Massachusetts tornados, the Patriots will match it. Up to $100,000.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:49 am

Hawk not impressed by players workouts

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

While the concept of a player-organized workout during the lockout seems like a great idea in theory – hey everybody, let’s work on our game to keep in shape, maintain our chemistry and camaraderie, and show everybody that we really want to play football!!! – Packers LB A.J. Hawk has a different theory about the effectiveness of such workouts.

Basically, he says, they’re not very useful at all.

"I've heard that different guys' workouts from different teams have just been a disaster,” Hawk told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They're working out at bad high school fields and equipment and all that kind of stuff."

And that’s even if the high school will actually LET them on the field, right Greg Olsen?

Though the Packers haven’t scheduled any offseason workouts, Hawk isn’t worried about his teammates getting fat and lazy.

"We're all ready to come back. We never got out of shape," said Hawk. "The player gatherings are a good thing to get together and be with your teammates - that's the most I would take from it."

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .

Posted on: March 2, 2011 11:54 pm

Report: Hawk to sign a new deal with Packers

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Well, former Packers LB A.J. Hawkcut earlier today by Green Bay in lieu of paying him his $10 million salary for 2011 – wasn’t without a team for very long.

According to TMJ 4 out of Milwaukee, Hawk will sign a five-year deal with the Packers. Apparently, he’ll fly to Green Bay on Thursday and sign the new contract before the CBA expires.

For the Packers, it’s a victory, because they’ll get to keep their leading tackler at what I imagine will be a reduced rate (at least for 2011).

For Hawk, it’s a victory (though less so), because he knows defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme so well and because he’s well-respected inside the locker room. And because, in times like these, it's good to have a job.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 2, 2011 5:41 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2011 5:55 pm

Packers cut Hawk and his $10 million salary

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

In a move that seemingly was made only for financial reasons, the Packers released LB A.J. Hawk this afternoon.

Hawk You might not realize this, but Hawk led the Super Bowl champs in total tackles this season with 111 (his best number since his rookie season), and he’s been a full-time starter since Green Bay drafted him in 2006.

But Hawk also was slated to make a guaranteed $10 million for 2011, and clearly, Green Bay wasn’t interested in doling out that kind of cash, particularly when the Packers have a glut of inside linebackers (Desmond Bishop, Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar) on their roster.

That, however, doesn’t mean Hawk is done in Green Bay. He certainly could be tempted to return to the Packers if he’s willing to accept a reduced deal.

Of course, for a team that needs help in its 3-4 defense and wants to spend some cash at the ILB position, Hawk could make a pretty great addition.

Said Packers GM Ted Thompson in a statement released by the team: "With A.J., the business side of the game is driving this decision. We’re hopeful that we can continue to work with A.J. to have him be a part of our team in the future."

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com