Tag:Akeem Ayers
Posted on: December 7, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:09 pm
 

Film Room: Titans vs. Saints preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


While we weren’t looking, the Tennessee Titans got to 7-5 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race. This week they have a widely televised game against the New Orleans Saints. Perhaps it’s time we get to know Mike Munchak’s club.

Here are some tidbits on one of this week’s showcase games.


1. Saints O vs. Titans D: 31 flavors vs. vanilla
Sean Payton has been known to use 15 different formations on his first 15 plays. As offensive variety goes, the Saints are boundless and peerless. The Titans defense, under Jerry Gray, is the polar opposite. They’ve been the easiest unit to watch on film this season because they line up in base zones, they rarely move before the snap and it’s always clear what each player is trying to do. It’s an execution-based defense.

In this model, the Titans try to make opponents play conservatively and methodically. Instead of trying to beat the offense big once or twice and risk having the offense beat THEM big, the Titans would rather make the offense beat them small again and again, without making any bad mistakes. This formula works against middle-tier offenses – like the Broncos, Browns, Colts, Bucs and Bills, all of whom the Titans have held below 20 points. But unless an execution-based defense has a few top-level playmakers – like the Bears with Brian Urlacher or, in past years, the Colts with Dwight Freeney – it won’t hold up against upper-tier competition.

The Titans have a mobile, fairly athletic defensive line but one that’s devoid of premium pass-rushers. Their linebackers are reliable but not sideline-to-sideline players; it might even be considered a weak unit when outrageously overrated middle ‘backer Barrett Ruud is in the lineup (he’s been out most of the past month with a groin; rookie Colin McCarthy has been an upgrade in his stead). The secondary is sound but not ball-hawking.

The way to beat Drew Brees is to confuse him (which isn’t easy). He’s far too sharp as a progression-read passer for a defense to simply line up and play against. Unless luck intervenes or a few Titans defenders play the game of their lives, we’ll see Brees lead four or five ABC-123 type clock-eating scoring drives Sunday.

2. Chris Johnson
Pilloried for the destruction of fantasy teams nationwide the first 10 weeks of the season, the $30 million running back has rushed for over 100 yards in three of his last four outings. Not until these past two weeks did Johnson show his old acceleration and burst. We may never know what got him off track early in the year, but he appears to be on track now (he’ll have to stay on track a little longer before we fully trust him again).

One theory people floated was that his offensive line was struggling. That’s simply not true. It’s easy to blame the linemen because they’re big, faceless cogs in a unit. But ask yourself this commonsense question: What’s more likely? That one player (Johnson) suddenly stunk, or that FIVE players (the line) suddenly stunk? Johnson’s line wasn’t bad – Johnson was bad. He was stopping his feet to redirect, looking for holes rather than reading the movement of defenders and spinning mud when hitting the gas.

This isn’t to say that Johnson’s line has been sterling this season. Until they started consistently landing blocks on the move last week, guards Jake Scott and Leroy Harris looked very average (Scott maybe even a cut below that). Gritty veteran right tackle David Stewart has at times relied too much on grit and not enough on technique. Even steady Pro Bowl left tackle Michael Roos has struggled a bit (though more in pass-protection than run-blocking). But inconsistent means good AND bad. Until recently, the Titans line had been a tad inconsistent, while their running back had been just plain bad. We’ll see if Johnson can maintain his rhythm against a fast Saints run defense.

3. Titans O vs. Saints D: manufacturing big plays to compensate for a weakness
We’ve covered before how Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dials up so many risky, complex blitzes in part because he does not have a good enough pass-rushing front four to simply line up and play. On a similar note, Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has done a good job generating big pass plays this season through design.

With Kenny Britt injured, the Titans do not have any receivers who can consistently burn one-on-one coverage. Thus, instead of dictating the terms of engagement and just attacking through the air, the Titans have used route combinations in response to specific defensive looks. That’s good coaching.

Some examples that stand out: in Week 4, the Titans killed the Browns’ man coverages with a litany of natural pick plays (Nate Washington’s 57-yarder to set up a late first half touchdown being the highlight). In Week 13 they found ways to isolate Buffalo’s untested seventh-round rookie cornerback Justin Rogers with presnap motion.

In Week 3 they used a deep crossing route with unassuming tight end Craig Stevens:

The Titans knew that outside cornerback Cassius Vaughan was responsible for covering the defensive left third of field. So they sent wideout Marc Mariani on a fly route to carry Vaughan deep. That temporarily left an unoccupied void that Stevens’ crossing pattern was timed to hit. 

When Stevens caught the ball, Vaughan was out of position and facing the wrong direction. This well-timed, clever approach compensated for Stevens’ lack of speed.

This is quality stuff. It’s not necessarily sustainable – at some point, talent becomes a requirement in pro football – but it’s making the most of your resources.

4. Defending Graham
When facing the Saints, your defensive gameplan often centers around how you decide to defend Jimmy Graham. As the best receiving tight end in football, Graham, frankly, deserves a cornerback’s attention. But most teams can’t afford to sacrifice their run defense by playing a third corner on every down. So, they compromise by using a safety.

Then there are the brave teams that try to stop Graham with a linebacker (like the Giants two weeks ago, who put Jacquian Williams on Graham so that they could have one of their faster safeties defend Darren Sproles).

The Titans play a lot of zone coverage. Even a lot of their man coverages have sprinkles of zone concepts with cautious safety alignments over the top. Because of this, the Titans will likely be stuck in a few linebacker-on-Graham scenarios. Perhaps they’re comfortable with this.

In base defense, Will Witherspoon has been a savvy pass defender over the years. He’s not super savvy, though, as he comes out in nickel. Of course, that’s partly because rookie linebacker Akeem Ayers moves well in space, particularly near the inside flats. Ayers, however, is more inclined to make a tackle that merely prevents a run-after-catch, as opposed to actually breaking up a pass.

Expect Graham to get his usual touches, especially given that the zone defenders will constantly be peaking at Sproles coming out of the backfield.

5. Film Tidbits
Some miscellaneous trends for your viewing pleasure:
--when Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins creeps down into the box, it’s almost always to blitz.

--if the Titans do have one specific target they try to get the ball to, it’s tight end Jared Cook. He’s far from a go-to guy (inconsistent fundamentals, not as good a runner as his athleticism suggests), but he’s well-built and can create a mismatch once or twice a game. It usually comes when he detaches from the formation.

--The Titans like to use backup running back Javon Ringer in hurry-up offense. Ringer can catch and, more importantly, he’s a better pass-blocker than Chris Johnson. (We’ll see if Ringer’s hurry-up reps continue now that Johnson has gotten back to his normal self).

--The Saints almost always throw to the inside receiver in a given formation. It’s not often that the ball goes outside. (This tidbit came from film guru Greg Cosell, executive producer of the NFL Matchup Show.)

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 14 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: May 7, 2011 10:51 am
 

Titans are done with Randy Moss

Moss Posted by Josh Katzowitz

If there was any doubt in your mind – and really, there shouldn’t have been – it’s now official. WR Randy Moss will not be rejoining the Titans squad.

That’s the word from Tennessee GM Mike Reinfeldt, who took part in a conference call with Titans season ticket holders and broke the predictable news to them.

“I honestly don’t think we’ll try to re-sign him,” Reinfeldt said, via the Tennessean. “We’ve got some young guys we like and I think at this point in his career he will probably go elsewhere.”

Where that is, well, no one knows, though Moss has made it clear he wouldn’t mind a return engagement with the Patriots, and the Jets might actually be intrigued in perhaps trying to find a place for him – though I think most of us would agree that Rex Ryan’s squad shouldn’t bother.

In other Titans news, Reinfeldt said he liked second-year QB Rusty Smith, but not necessarily as a starter (“He could be a pretty good darn backup for a while,” Reinfeldt said in comments that I’m sure Smith would LOVE to read). Reinfeldt also said he’d love to have back MLB Stephen Tulloch. This, even though Tennessee drafted two linebackers (Akeem Ayers in the second round and Colin McCarthy in the fourth round) with its first four picks last week.

Right now, it’s unclear whether Tulloch would be a restricted or an unrestricted free agent.

“I think what we tried to do (in the draft) at the linebacker position and in all the positions is really create as much competition as possible: Get as many good football players as you can at each spot,” Reinfeldt said. “(But) Stephen Tulloch is a good football player and we want him back.”

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Posted on: April 12, 2011 2:03 pm
 

Hot Routes 4.12.11: Brady weeps ... over 'Idol'

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • Tom Brady, as you will see about 5,000* times over the next few hours, is going to cry on television soon. A certain four-letter sports network got him to weep on camera about his sixth-round selection back in 2000 and, well, it's a heart-wrenching story about how tough his life's been. Or maybe he just likes to cry a lot? After all, the gents over at Tauntr.com did happen to catch a montage of him sobbing over the recent booting of Pia from "American Idol."
  • According to Tim Leiweke, the CEO of AEG and therefore a primary investor in the downtown L.A. stadium effort, the NFL will "double" its rights fees in the next television contract negotiations. Yowza.
Posted on: April 3, 2011 2:34 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: San Diego Chargers

Posted by Will Brinson

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups.



2010 was a weird year for the San Diego Chargers. They had all the tools necessary to contend for a Super Bowl, and in a season when parity reigned supreme, that should have equated with success. It didn't, though, because the San Diego got off to one of its patented slow starts, performed epically horrible on special teams, and couldn't close out inferior teams.

Statistically, though, it was all there. Philip Rivers was a machine on offense, piling up big stats despite throwing to guys like Legadu Naanee, Patrick Crayton, Randy McMichael and Seyi Ajirotutu. Part of what got those A-listers on the top of the Bolts' receiving stats was injuries (well, most was injuries), and part was the holdout of Vincent Jackson. Oh yes, and Mike Tolbert -- just like everyone expected -- was the team's leading rusher.

Defensively, San Diego thrived despite not having an elite pass-rushing presence. In fact, just like on offense, they were the No. 1-ranked team in the league. And yet, again, no playoffs. It's a really odd conundrum, frankly, and it's either a really weird fluke or it's indicative of a bigger problem within the organization. Given the Chargers' typically annual success, the jury's still out on the latter, but another slow start and sloppy manner of missing the playoffs could change that in 2011.



Special Teams, Depth

It's not all that hard to pinpoint the problems for the Chargers in 2010. Pretty clearly, special teams cost them a couple of wins and therefore a shot at the postseason (plus, likely a divisional title). 

Of course, fixing special teams is much easier than, say, fixing a giant hole at quarterback, and it's entirely possible that with the right personnel moves, the Chargers will be fine in that area in 2011. In fact, once some veterans were plugged into the special teams unit, San Diego was much better at the third leg of football than it was earlier in the year. (At that point, though, it was just too late.) 

Perhaps the bigger problem for the Chargers in 2011 will be the status of certain players. Vincent Jackson was franchised, but depending on how the CBA shakes out, he could be gone. It seems somewhat reasonable that he's around for one more year. Malcolm Floyd could be out the door as well, meaning the Chargers' depth at wide receiver could be crushed back to late-last-year levels. If Kevin Burnett, Stephen Cooper, Eric Weddle, Jacques Cesaire, Travis Johnson leave, the defense is going to take a hit too. It's part of the problem with the way A.J. Smith built the team -- if the labor negotiations don't favor the league, San Diego's depth suffers.



1. Defensive End
As might have been said 5,000 times in these previews thus far, it's a pretty good year to need depth at defensive line. So it wouldn't be surprising at all to see the Chargers nab a defensive end with their first-round pick. J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Adrian Clayborn are all highly likely/possible picks for San Diego at No. 18.

2. Linebacker
Shaun Phillips had a monster year in 2010, but San Diego needs to beef up their linebacking corps, unless they actually think that Larry English can end up performing to his first-round expectations. (And, speaking of which, not exactly a great last pair of years in the first round for A.J. Smith, huh? Ryan Mathews and Larry English aren't exactly justifying their top-20 status.) English could still justify the selection, but there's some serious talent that would fit San Diego's scheme in guys like Robert Quinn, Akeem Ayers and Ryan Kerrigan, the latter two of whom should fall to 18 pretty easily. Quinn's a guy that would be a steal at 18 and could also be a trade-up target for Smith if hops up the board again in 2011.

3. Wide Receiver
Talk about an up-in-the-air position for the Bolts: if Jackson and Floyd end up leaving, they're going to need some serious help here. Buster Davis isn't going to pan out and while Antonio Gates should technically qualify as "depth" at wideout, having Naanee and Ajirotutu as the top receiving options just isn't going to cut it. Smith and Norv Turner know they can have success with less than elite talent, though, so seeing them take a wideout with an early pick would be a bit surprising.



Look, the Chargers are capable of winning it all in 2011. Statistics don't mean everything (obviously), but if a team is the top offensive AND defensive team, it means there's enough talent on the roster to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. Living up to the lofty expectations this franchise has set for the past few years in 2011 will require two things: not making simple mistakes and actually remembering that football starts in September.

It would help, too, for the Bolts to address some of their defensive needs as well. And for their last two first-rounders -- English and Mathews -- to play up to their potential. Should all of that happen in 2011 and the Chargers don't win the division and/or at least make a run to the playoffs, it's entirely possible that Norv Turner's job could be on the line once again. At this point, there's no viable reason for a team with this much success -- statistically speaking -- not to be converting their high-end performance into more wins.

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Posted on: March 27, 2011 2:17 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: New Orleans Saints

Posted by Will Brinson

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups. Also, check out our checkup podcast:





The 2010 Saints, by virtue of the way the 2009 Saints ended their season, were a disappointment. Not a disappointment in the way most season-after Super Bowl champs end up, of course, but a disappointment nonetheless. 

Things could have been different had the defending champs been more prepared for a Seahawks team that shocked the world with their postseason upset, the biggest surprise of which was their ability to actually score 41 points. Of course, things would have been different if their division hadn't markedly improved as well -- the Buccaneers nearly made a playoff run and the Atlanta Falcons' success in 2010 has already been well-chronicled. 

That means, too, that the division won't be getting any easier in the future. Fortunately for the Saints, their championship window -- Drew Brees turned 32 shortly after the Saints loss to Seattle -- is wide open for a few more years, with the right additions in the offseason.



Running Game, Defense

It was all but impossible for the Saints to repeat the success they had on defense in 2009, when the team generated a ridiculous 39 turnovers. That's not because Gregg Williams' defense is gimmicky or anything. It's because generating almost 2.5 turnovers per game doesn't involve just good gameplanning and skill; it also involves a little bit of luck. That same luck didn't return for New Orleans in 2010, as they created just 25 turnovers (which is still a respectable, middle-of-the-pack number). 

Some more luck required in having a great season: health. And the Saints didn't stay healthy in 2010, at least with respect to the running game. By the time they were getting bounced by the Seahawks in the postseason, Sean Payton's crew was forced to trot out Julius Jones for 15 carries. That's a clear-cut sign that things aren't going perfectly in your backfield.

There was another sign that some things weren't working right: Marshawn Lynch's (literally) earth-shaking run to the end zone that sealed the deal for Seattle. Give all due credit to Beast Mode for his ability to rumble on, around and through defenders, but it's also a microcosmic example of how the Saints need to find improvement in their run defense if they want to get back to the Super Bowl in 2011.



1. Running Back
It's entirely possible that the Saints could survive with a combination of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory. In fact, if all of those guys are healthy, and Bush is willing to take a paycut, that's not too terrible a situation. One key thing to remember, though, is that the Saints were an elite rushing team when they won the Super Bowl. In 2010? Not so much. It seems pretty unlikely that New Orleans would burn an early pick on a running back -- unless Mark Ingram happens to slip -- but don't be surprised if they take a look at some depth for the position when the draft rolls around.

2. Outside Linebacker
The Saints don't exactly have the most amazing defensive personnel on the front seven, and even though Jonathan Vilma's a big name, he's not high-caliber enough to warrant giving the Saints a pass on their linebacking corps. Adding a pass-rusher from edge and some speed and pursuit skills from the linebacker position -- think Akeem Ayers possibly? -- could do a lot to improve a defense that's shown significant holes against the run in recent years.

3. Defensive End
Shaun Rogers' presence via free agency could be a HUGE improvement for this defensive line. (Alternately, it could also be a tremendous bust and/or he might not stay healthy.) Either way, expect the Saints, if they don't look linebacker in the first round, to target some help for the defensive line. Will Smith is aging, Rogers isn't going to be a staple, and this team needs some youth on the defensive front. Given that this is one of the deepest defensive line draft classes we've seen in a while, it would make a lot of sense to pick up value late in the first round.



It's a good thing to be a team like the Saints, who face a substantial amount of scrutiny thanks to their success in recent years. Really, the Payton Era for New Orleans has been about as successful as one could hope -- a .613 winning percentage and a Super Bowl win for a team that struggled for many a year is a pretty incredible feat.

It's also a good thing to look at a roster -- in the case of the Saints -- and be able to identify two very specific problems on the roster, both of which can be tweaked, in order to get right back to a championship run. In the Saints case, they have that non-problem problem, and you can expect them to address it during the offseason and get right back to winning games in 2011. 

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com