Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:58 pm
By Josh Katzowitz
As we enter the final weekend of the season, a number of squads are just playing out the string, hoping to put a solid performance on film, ready to clean out their lockers and look ahead to next year. While only four games on this week’s schedule mean absolutely nothing in terms of the postseason, quite a few of those teams are just looking to play spoiler.
And looking to the 2012 draft, where they can begin to rebuild their team or shore up that one position that could put them over the hump for next season. That’s why we’re taking the 10-worst teams in the league this year and finding one major flaw that needs to be fixed from April 26-28 in New York City’s Radio Music Hall.
For these teams -- and their fans -- the time has come to salivate at the prospects of landing the exact right guy that could change their fortunes for years to come.
10. Bills: Defensive line -- I didn’t like the Ryan Fitzpatrick $59 million extension earlier this year, and I hate it now. But I think Buffalo has other concerns for the moment, and they come on defense. For one, Buffalo has a tough time stopping the run. First-round pick Marcell Dareus has been a bit inconsistent at the nose tackle, but he also has the ability to play like a monster. The 3-4 ends, though, need to be better. Injured tackle Kyle Williams obviously will help when he returns next season, but the ability to rush the passer once in a while also would help (Buffalo’s 25 sacks ranks 30th in the league).
9. Dolphins: Quarterback -- Look, the Dolphins have some talent. They proved that when Tony Sparano’s job was on the line, and they started winning games. They proved it by nearly beating Tom Brady, and they proved it by nearly beating Tim Tebow (that last point was a joke). While Matt Moore has been much better than expected after taking over for Chad Henne, he’s a Band-Aid. I think most of us would agree that Henne isn’t the answer as the starter, and perhaps, he and Moore could have a battle to see who could back-up a legit starting quarterback. Reggie Bush established himself as a 1,000-yard rusher, and with a talented quarterback like Robert Griffin III (if he lasts that long in the draft), the Dolphins could begin pushing for AFC East crowns.
8. Browns: Pass rushers -- Cleveland got two defensive linemen early last year (tackle Phil Taylor in the first round and end Jabaal Sheard in the second), and they’ve done a nice job on the left side of the defensive line. But the defense ranks 25th in the league in sacks, and defensive end Jayme Mitchell hasn’t had a great season. Marcus Benard, coming off a solid rookie season last year, is on IR, and if the Browns could get one more high-end rusher in the draft, they’d have talent and depth.
7. Redskins: Quarterback -- It’s probably time for Mike Shanahan to come to the realization that his quarterback picks the past two years have been disastrous (Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck). He said the other day that the rebuild of this franchise has taken more time than he thought, but a standout quarterback obviously would help that process along. Shanahan also said that there was no question in his mind that he’d be back next season, but unless he finds a way to invigorate his offense, that might be a different story this time next year.
6. Chiefs: Right tackle -- Looking across Kansas City’s depth chart, there’s not one position group that so obviously needs to be overhauled. The Chiefs have talent, even if some of those positions don’t have much depth. But right tackle Barry Richardson has badly struggled this season. According Pro Football Focus, Richardson is the worst-rated offensive tackle in the league (the decision to cut Jared Gaither near the end of the season was a bad one). Left tackle Branden Albert is solid, but the right side of the line needs to be reworked.
5. Buccaneers: Run defenders -- The Buccaneers tried to shore up their defensive end spots last draft, taking Adrian Clayborn in the first round and Da’Quan Bowers in the second round. Considering Tampa Bay ranks dead last in sacks, the experiment hasn’t paid off immediate dividends. But the Buccaneers are also terrible against the run, and even though tackle Albert Haynesworth has played better than most of us had a right to expect, there are still huge holes to fill in the lineup.
4. Vikings: Secondary -- The Vikings rank as the 31st-worst defense in the NFL, but in reality, their front seven has talent (for instance, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway). Minnesota lost Antoine Winfield (its best corner) early in the year, Chris Cook has legal troubles, safety Jamarca Sanford has struggled badly and the rest of the safeties have been ravaged by injuries. It’s no wonder opposing quarterbacks dominate the Vikings defensive backs. On the season, Minnesota has recorded seven interceptions, worst in the NFL. The Vikings need to find somebody who can force turnovers in order to improve this unit.
3. Jaguars: Receivers – Oh, how they need receivers. Yes, Blaine Gabbert has been, by far, the worst rookie quarterback to play this year, but Jacksonville, even with new ownership and a new coach, probably needs to give him more than a season to see if he’s a quarterback of the future. He also needs somebody who can catch his passes. Here are Jacksonville’s top-three receivers: Mike Thomas, Jarret Dillard, and yeah, nobody else. In fact, there’s a good chance running back Maurice Jones-Drew will end up as the team’s leading pass-catcher this season. Hard to blame Gabbert completely when his receiving corps is so bad.
2. Colts: Running backs -- Assuming Peyton Manning returns healthy next season -- admittedly, a huge assumption -- his receivers should continue to be fine (this, of course, depends on what happens with free agents Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon). But we’ve seen this year that without a running game, a Manning-less Colts squad has very little chance of doing anything (mostly because Manning makes up for SO many team deficiencies). Joseph Addai, who’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry and probably won’t get to 500 rushing yards on the season for the second year in a row, might be released into free agency, and Donald Brown, while improved, isn’t a legit No. 1 running back. The Colts obviously have a big decision to make regarding Manning and Andrew Luck, but taking a running back probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.
1.Rams: Offensive linemen -- There’s been talk that maybe the Rams should grab Luck if they end up with the No. 1 pick. Which, with Sam Bradford on the team, would be ludicrous. Instead, St. Louis should be focused on how to put together an offensive line that doesn’t lead the league in sacks allowed. The biggest problem, not including injuries to Jason Smith and Jacob Bell that have hurt the unit, has been the line’s interior. Linemen aren’t the sexiest position, but damn, St. Louis needs to find some that can stay healthy and keep Bradford and Steven Jackson out of danger.
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Tags: Adrian Clayborn, Albert Haynesworth, Andrew Luck, Antoine Winfield, Barry Richardson, Blaine Gabbert, Branden Albert, Buffalo Bills, Chad Greenway, Chad Henne, Chris Cook, Cleveland Browns, Da'Quan Bowers, Donald Brown, Donovan McNabb, Indianapolis Colts, Jabaal Sheard, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jacob Bell, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Jarret Dillard, Jason Smith, Jayme Mitchell, John Beck, Joseph Addai, Josh Katzowitz, Kansas City Chiefs, Kevin Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus, Marcus Benard, Matt Moore, Maurice Jones-Drew, Miami Dolphins, Mike Shanahan, Mike Thomas, Minnesota Vikings, Peyton Manning, Phil Taylor, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Bush, Reggie Wayne, Rex Grossman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, Steven Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tony Sparano, Top Ten, Washington Redskins
Posted on: November 15, 2011 11:15 am
Edited on: November 15, 2011 11:16 am
Posted by Ryan Wilson
Before Monday night's matchup with the Packers, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield had missed four games because of a neck injury. He'll now miss the final seven weeks of the season after breaking his clavicle in the second half of Minnesota's 45-7 loss in Green Bay.
During his brief appearance, Winfield made an impact and showed that, even at 34, he's still one of the league's best tackling cornerbacks. Of course, a roster full of Pro Bowl defensive backs wouldn't slow Aaron Rodgers, who continues to treat real NFL games like Madden, where he's on Superstar mode and everybody else is stuck in easy mode.
According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings defense ranks 21st against the pass through nine weeks. That doesn't look to change anytime soon with Winfield again on the shelf.
PFT.com notes that Winfield, 34, earns a base salary of $6.75 million in 2011. He’s scheduled to make $7 million and $7.25 million, in 2012 and 2013, the last year of his current contract.
We're guessing at some point soon Winfield reworks his deal or the Vikings could choose to cut him altogether. At 2-7, there are too many other needs on the roster to keep a 30-something cornerback who struggles to stay healthy.
Clearly, this is Donovan McNabb's fault. (That's a joke, obviously, but it seems like whenever anything goes wrong, McNabb is somehow responsible.)
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Posted on: October 12, 2011 11:30 am
Edited on: October 14, 2011 9:43 am
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit
Few people are excited about this week’s Sunday Night game. The 1-4 Vikings and 2-3 Bears look like non-contenders in an NFC North division housing a pair of 5-0 clubs. This Film Room post is not about the Bears-Vikings game. We’ll touch on the matchup towards the end simply because it’d be weird not to. But the main point here is to examine why the Tampa 2 defense – which both these teams run – is on its death bed.
1. Tampa 2: What it is
The Tampa 2 (aka Cover 2) is a classic zone scheme. Four pass-rushers up front; three linebackers underneath; a left and right cornerback outside; and, as the "2" refers to, two safeties over the top.
Against the pass, as the illustration to the right (click to enlarge) shows, the safeties each cover half the field deep. The linebackers and cornerbacks each cover 1/5th of the field underneath. The middle linebacker is responsible for any vertical routes inside. Up front, the linemen shoot the gaps. There’s no blitzing.
The advantages are that all pass defenders have straightforward responsibilities and the action (for the most part) always takes place in front of them. As for the disadvantage ...
2. Run Defense
In football there are two traditional ways to stop the run: have a defensive line that wins battles in the trenches or have a strong-tackling safety drop down as an eighth man in the box. A Cover 2 naturally misses on both of these. The defensive linemen are instructed to rush the passer first and play the run if it’s convenient along the way.
Defensive line penetration is great for stopping the run, but it can be hit or miss (especially if the offense knows that the defensive linemen are trying to penetrate on every play). The safeties must stay back and cover deep. If they step forward, they run the risk of biting on play-action (which is a great way to get beat deep).
Because of this, Tampa 2 defenses rely on their linebackers and cornerbacks (yes, cornerbacks) to stop the run. More on this in item 4.
Worth noting is that not all Tampa 2 defenses are bad against the run. In fact, the Vikings and Bears have been spectacular in run defense over the years. That’s a product of phenomenal personnel.
The Vikings have had the Williams Wall at tackle (and Pat Williams actually played a nose tackle role, which is a twist on a traditional Cover 2 front) and the Bears have had star linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But Tampa 2 teams without top-echelon run-stuffers (like the Colts) are very susceptible to the run.
3. Tampa 2 vulnerabilities
Cover 2 defenses are vanilla by nature. That was fine in the late 90s and early 2000s when the scheme was still new and offenses weren’t spreading the field every down. But complex, motion-oriented offenses have an easy time creating mismatches against a Cover 2.
Heck, even basic offensive formations can create mismatches. For example, something the Eagles do against a Cover 2 is line up their speedy receivers in minus splits (close to the formation).
Because Cover 2 cornerbacks always line up outside, this formation dictates that DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin run their routes against linebackers and safeties. Talk about a mismatch.
There are other avenues for mismatches. For a long time, Cover 2 defenses did not have No. 1 and No. 2 corners, but instead, left and right corners. If the left corner stunk, offenses would simply align their best receiver over there. Mercifully, most Cover 2 defenses (the Bears and Vikings included) have recently shown a willingness to at least move their corners from one side to the other based on where they expect certain receivers to be.
That still doesn’t mean a defense will get the corner-on-receiver matchup it desires. This past Monday, Calvin Johnson ran what amounted to a slant-and-go against the Bears’ Cover 2. Charles Tillman stayed with Johnson for about 15 yards. He should have jammed Johnson in an effort to reroute him. Instead, he played the basic Cover 2 technique, which meant he let Johnson go once Johnson went inside towards safety Chris Harris’ deep zone. That left the most athletic wideout in the world matched up on a strong safety. The result was a 73-yard touchdown.
Besides matchup issues, there are natural voids in the Cover 2 that everyone knows about. The gaps 15-20 yards downfield outside the numbers are the main ones, though the voids behind the linebackers in the seams can be enticing too. Really, Cover 2 is the new Prevent Defense. And because the Cover 2 became such a popular defense in the early 2000s, every offense in the NFL has a special chapter in its playbook specifically designed for beating it.
4. Stringent personnel needs
Obviously, a Cover 2 is not a completely hapless defense. If it were, nobody would run it. With the right personnel, the scheme can be quite viable. A great defensive line can sometimes be enough; look at the 2011 Lions or previous years’ Colts, for example (But keep in mind, great defensive lines are going to make any scheme look good.)
Because of the Cover 2’s simplicity and NFL offense’s familiarity with it, the “right personnel” has gone from being “strongly recommended” to “absolutely required”. And the bar for the “right personnel” has risen considerably.
In a Cover 2, you must generate a pass-rush with only four defensive linemen. Thus, you need top-notch speed rushers and defensive tackles with outstanding initial quickness. Those types of players are usually found only in the first rounds.
Because the cornerbacks only defend the first 10-15 yards outside, and because the safeties are aligned so deep, Cover 2 cornerbacks are counted on as part of the run defense. Thus, they need to be good tacklers. This is why Antoine Winfield is so potent in Minnesota’s D. Or why, in part, Ronde Barber has stuck around for so long in Tampa Bay. Or why Indianapolis always brings in firm-tackling corners.
It’s also why you’re always hearing about Tampa 2 teams needing fast linebackers. Yes, the linebackers need speed in order to play the pass (especially the middle linebacker, who must run with any targets running vertically between the numbers). But really, Tampa 2 linebacker speed is needed for stopping the run. With the cornerbacks lined up along the front, the defensive linemen are told to shoot the gaps and force runners to that help outside. It’s up to the linebackers to chase them down along the way.
Finding quality Cover 2 type players is certainly not impossible. Problem is, if you don’t have the right guy in every spot, offenses can easily punish you. If a team like the Packers has a weak spot on D, they can use disguises and zone blitz concepts to cover it. If a team like the Bears or Vikings have a weak spot, they can only hope that their defensive ends reach the quarterback before the quarterback exploits it.
5. Studs and Duds
The star defensive players for both teams have lived up to their end of the deal. For the Bears, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has moved with more quickness and fluidity than in any of the past three seasons. Monday night’s game aside, Lance Briggs has been the fierce hitter he always is. Julius Peppers has only two sacks, but he’s been a force in bits, if not chunks. Opposite him, Israel Idonije, who has great movement skills and a real feel for executing moves based on the situation, remains one of the most underrated ends in the game.
For the Vikings, Jared Allen has recaptured his 2008/2009 form. End Brian Robison has been fast and tenacious. In fact, he’s having a much better season than Ray Edwards is having in Atlanta. As usual, defensive tackle Kevin Williams has shown his uncommon mobility/power combination. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has been stout in coverage, and E.J. Henderson, while not always great versus the pass, remains a smart, assertive downhill force against the run.
The problem is both teams have had a propensity to give up big plays, in part due to iffy play at safety. It’s worse with the Bear than the Vikings. But, on the flip side, the Vikings’ offense has been worse than the Bears’. We could write a thousand posts explaining what’s wrong with both offenses. In short, neither has a good line nor the receivers necessary for their respective systems.
Perhaps this is the week that these offenses find their rhythms through the air. After all, both will be facing plenty of Cover 2 looks.
So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 6 games.
Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Tags: Antoine Winfield, Bears vs. Vikings, Bears vs. Vikings Preview, Brian Robison, Brian Urlacher, Calvin Johnson, Cedric Griffin, Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears, Chris Harris, DeSean Jackson, E.J. Henderson, Film Room, Israel Idonlije, Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Kevin Williams, Lance Briggs, Leslie Frazier, Lovie Smith, Minnesota Vikings, Pat Williams, Philadelphia Eagles, Ray Edwards
Posted on: April 10, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 10, 2011 4:43 pm
Posted by Andy Benoit
Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups .
The Vikings’ perils couldn’t have been any worse for Minnesotans and any better for bloggers. Brett Favre drama took on a whole new tenor. Added to the cacophony of “Will he play?” questions was “Do you think it was him?” speculation.
Favre’s acrimonious relationship with Brad Childress did not improve, either, which was part of the reason the head coach was unable to survive through November.
Things didn’t pick up once Childress was fired. Symbolically, and fortunately for Zygi Wilf and his cadre of business cohorts seeking a new stadium, also literally, the Metrodome roof collapsed, leaving this team homeless for the holidays. The novelty of relocated Monday night games distracted from the fact that the Vikings finished the season in the same way they started it: with a thud.
There is no reason to keep Naufahu Tahi on the roster. Even if the 29-year-old fullback had played well in 2010 (and he did not), his presence would be a hindrance. Adrian Peterson is a violent, decisive runner who does not have good patience when it comes to setting up his blocks. Peterson’s natural tendency is to get the ball and explode.
When there is a fullback in front of him, he’s forced to slow down and wait for the play to develop. Tahi, like most fullbacks, can’t hit the hole as quickly as Peterson can, even when he’s starting out two yards closer to the hole.
Peterson is better in an empty backfield. And, with a plethora of tight ends already on the roster, including blocking specialists Jeff Dugan and Jim Kleinsasser, the Vikings are better running out of dual tight end formations anyway. Save a roster spot; dump the fullback.
Favre is really gone this time (*) and, with Childress gone, the front office has realized it is finally free to admit that Tarvaris Jackson is not the answer.
2. Offensive Tackle
The Vikings won’t draft someone at this position because that’d be admitting it was a mistake to sign Bryant McKinnie to a long-term deal and invest a second-round draft pick in Phil Loadholt. The reality is, the 6’8” 350-pound McKinnie’s heart is the size of a dwarf’s. The 6’8”, 335-pound Loadholt is still developing but is yet to show any signs of ferocity.
Antoine Winfield is creeping up in age but can still play, especially if asked to man the slot. Problem is, Minnesota doesn’t have any stability outside. Cedric Griffin tore both ACL’s at different times in 2010. Asher Allen has become every quarterback’s favorite opponent. Last year’s second-round pick, Chris Cook, has character concerns and just six games to his name, thanks to injuries as a rookie.
This team’s window of opportunity has closed. The Vikings knew this was coming – why do you think they were so desperate in their pursuit of Favre last summer? Now they must develop a new green quarterback behind an offensive line that is much, much worse than people realize (Favre’s quick decision making masked many pass protection deficiencies last season).
The defense, which already needs help in the secondary given that the pass-rush has tailed off, will take a step back if nose tackle Pat Williams does not return (he’s an unrestricted free agent).
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Posted on: January 30, 2011 9:13 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2011 9:35 pm
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
The NFC secondary has taken over this Pro Bowl.
You’ve got Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall, who intercepted Chargers QB Philip Rivers and then picked up a fumble from Patriots WR Wes Welker and returned it 33 yards for the touchdown. You’ve got Falcons CB Brent Grimes, who made a fantastic interception against Colts QB Peyton Manning. You’ve got Vikings CB Antoine Winfield who intercepted Matt Cassel.
You’ve got an AFC which has only managed 57 passing yards for the first half.
OK, so most of the rest of this game has been brutal. Defensive ends are barely getting out of their stances, offensive linemen are placing just one hand on the pass-rusher (and holding them off), and there’s not much hitting.
And that’s OK. The name of the game is to have fun and not get hurt, and that’s exactly what we’re getting.
But the NFC secondary has put on a show nonetheless, particularly Hall and Grimes, leading the NFC to a 42-7 halftime lead.
For Hall, it’s a little bit of retribution for those who said he shouldn’t have been a Pro Bowler, mostly because it seemed his entire candidancy was based mostly on his four-interception second half against the Bears in Week 6.
For Grimes, it shows as validation that the four-year player, despite the fact he was challenged a league-high 119 times this season, continued to make a name for himself with 23 passes defended and five interceptions.
For Winfield – who, like Grimes, was a replacement Pro Bowler – it shows that he still plays at a high level after 12 years in the NFL.
Other than that, yeah, it’s a Pro Bowl. But at least the NFC secondary is making it exciting
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Posted on: January 24, 2011 12:23 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2011 1:20 pm
Posted by Andy Benoit
Tags: Antoine Winfield, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Brent Grimes, Brett Keisel, Brian Orakpo, Chad Clifton, Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, Donald Penn, Eric Berry, Green Bay Packers, Greg Jennings, Indianapolis Colts, James Harrison, Jeff Saturday, Kansas City Chiefs, Larry Fitzgerald, Maurkice Pouncey, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Nick Collins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pro Bowl, Roman Harper, Tamba Hali, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tramon Williams, Troy Polamalu, Washington Redskins
Posted on: January 24, 2011 10:53 am
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Posted on: December 30, 2010 8:36 am
Edited on: December 30, 2010 8:37 am
Posted by Andy Benoit
The NFL delivered its weekly pats on the back Wednesday. Here are the Players of the Week for Week 16:
AFC OFFENSE: Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs
153 receiving yards on six catches (25.5 average), including a 75-yard touchdown reception in the Chiefs’ 34-14 win against Tennessee.
He has a career-best five 100-yard receiving games in 2010.
AFC DEFENSE: Ed Reed, S, Ravens
Helped the Ravens secure a postseason berth with two interceptions and three tackles in a 20-10 win at Cleveland.
The Ravens are now 10-0 when Reed has multiple interceptions in a game.
AFC SPECIAL TEAMS: Jacoby Ford, KR, Raiders
Totaled 188 kickoff return yards, including a 99-yard kick return-touchdown in the Raiders’ 31-26 loss against Indianapolis.
Ford became only the second player in NFL history with two return touchdowns on the opening kickoff in the same season (Ike Thomas of the Cowboys in 1971). His other return came on November 28 against the Dolphins. His three kick returns in a season ties Leon Washington’s NFL record.
NFC OFFENSE: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Completed 25 of 37 passes (67.6 percent) for a career-high 404 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 139.9 passer rating in the Packers’ 45-17 win over the New York Giants.
It was the 10th time in Rodgers’ career that he has thrown at least three touchdowns with no interceptions, the most in NFL history by a quarterback within three seasons of his first start (Kurt Warner, 9).
NFC DEFENSE: Antoine Winfield, CB, Vikings
Had eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a 45-yard fumble-return touchdown in the Vikings’ 24-14 win at Philadelphia. Also disrupted several plays by getting pressure on Michael Vick.
NFC SPECIAL TEAMS: Graham Gano, K, Redskins
Converted both field-goal attempts against the Jaguars, including the game-winning 31-yarder. It was Gano’s third game-winner this season.
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