Tag:Arian Foster
Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:33 pm
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2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers

Jackson's a big winner Monday, as he escaped the franchise tag like it was a defensive back. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

A record 21 players received a franchise tag in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, including six kicker-types. You can see everyone that got tagged at our 2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker. Let's break down the winners and losers below.

Winners

Vincent Jackson: Jackson held out most of 2010 because he wanted to get paid. He then signed his franchise-tag tender in 2011 because he wanted to get guaranteed money. Now that the Bolts declined to tag him, he's going to get filthy rich as one of the top two wide receivers to hit the free-agent market on March 13. Jackson and Marques Colston are the two top talents on a market that features several teams -- the Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, and Seahawks, to name a few -- in need of a wideout.

Carl Nicks: Nicks reportedly hasn't heard anything on a new deal from the Saints and with New Orleans not reaching a deal with quarterback Drew Brees before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, Nicks is going to hit the open market on March 13. He's 26, a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in

Matt Flynn: Flynn wasn't expected to receive a tag from the Packers, but it's official now, and that means he'll hit the free-agent market. This is critical for Flynn given the number of quarterback-needy teams out there. It's also critical because the Packers won't control his next destination; if they tagged Flynn for the price of $14.4 million guaranteed (which he would sprint to sign), then they'd almost certainly end up trading him. Now Flynn gets to land a bigger contract on the open market.

Brandon Carr: The Chiefs decided to use their franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe. That's a smart move, considering they signed cornerback Stanford Routt recently. But it also means that Carr, a 25-year-old defensive back coming off his best season in 2011, will have the chance to hit the open market. Young free-agent cornerbacks are a coveted commodity, and Carr should expect to get paid handsomely.

Stevie Johnson: The leverage of the guaranteed money involved with using the franchise tag on a wide receiver ($9.4 million) coupled with the deadline on Monday really escalated the talks with the Bills and Johnson, and he ended up netting a deal worth $7.25 million per year. That's not exactly on par with the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, but

Losers

Wes Welker: The Pats could very well end up getting Wes Welker signed to a long-term deal, but he can't be happy about being put in a situation that could have him not reaching full free agency until he turns 32 (he'll turn 31 in May of this offseason) if the Patriots simply want him to play another year on the franchise-tag value. Welker would've hit a market that paid him handsomely and it might be difficult for the Patriots to pay him the money he wants over longer period of time. We could see a holdout here.

New Orleans Saints: As if things weren't bad enough for the Saints -- see here, here, here, here, here and, whew, here -- they're likely going to lose their top wide receiver (Marques Colston) and one of their top offensive linemen (Nicks) to free agency. Their quarterback (Drew Brees) is not happy with his contract situation, and losing two weapons like that won't do much to improve his mood. So once they get done with BountyGate, there should be plenty of more fun to deal with.

Cliff Avril
: Detroit should be thrilled that they bring Avril back, but that doesn't mean the defensive end has to be happy. He's not, because he knows he'd kill on the open market this season. He'll get more than $10 million guaranteed next year and that's why it seemed possible that the Lions could let him walk -- they've got more than half their salary cap tied up in Avril, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson next year. So there's some good news: the Lions very much would like to lock up Avril to a long deal.

Houston Texans
: The Texans locked up Arian Foster to a five-year deal that takes him through his 30-year-old season, which is perfect timing for a running back. But it's also giving a lot of money to a running back. (Foster is a tremendously talented guy, a perfect fit for what the Texans do, a great pass-blocker, a great pass-catcher and many other things. But he is still a running back.) On that same day, they were unable to secure Mario Williams, who was their No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Super Mario will become a free agent, and unless he's willing to take a serious discount to stay with the Texans, it's hard to fathom how they keep him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seemed like the Steelers decision to go on a cutting spree and get below the salary-cap line would result in them using the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, who's a restricted free agent. They didn't and because of a confluence of events, they could be in trouble. One, Stevie got $7.2 million a year just now. Two, Jackson and Colston will get big money in free agency. And three, various tags on other high-profile wide receivers will draw more interest for teams that could consider giving Wallace an offer sheet. He may very well end up staying with the Steelers, but there's at least reason to be concerned.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 8:39 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 12:09 pm
 

Texans, Arian Foster reach five-year deal

Everyone in Houston, including Foster, should be celebrating on Monday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Arian Foster, the NFL's leading rusher in 2010 and a restricted free agent to be, was priority No. 1 on the Texans offseason to-do list. Houston can put a check by his name, as they've extended the running back for the next five years.

Latest NFL News, Notes

That news, originally reported by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, was confirmed by Mike McCartney, Foster's agent. Foster's contract is reportedly worth $43.5 million over the life of the deal, with a guaranteed $20.75 million. The running back will also reportedly make $30 million over the first three years of the contract.

As McClain noted, it is indeed a "major coup" for both the Texans and Foster. Foster told CBSSports.com at the Super Bowl that he "100 percent" wanted to be back with the Texans.

Houston's issue was that if they used the restricted free agent tender on Foster, a team with an extra first-round pick (hello, Cincinnati) could conceivably make him an offer and lure him away. Or, at the very least, force the Texans to match without a contract they didn't negotiate.

The Texans likely would've been forced to use the franchise tag on Foster, meaning he would get $7.7 million guaranteed. They're already hampered enough by salary-cap issues without loading that digit onto their balance sheet.

For Foster, the long-term money is big. He's the ultimate NFL success story, going from an undrafted free agent to the league's leading rusher in 2010. In 2011, Foster missed three starts because of an injury he suffered in the preseason, but he still managed to pile up over 1,200 yards.

He's a perfect fit in Gary Kubiak's offense, and by making a deal with Foster now, the Texans essentially own his rights until he's 30, when most running backs careers begin to trend downhill.

Now comes the interesting part: how will Foster's contract affect the rest of the running-back market? Foster's deal is very similar to that of DeAngelo Williams (Williams got $43 million over five years with $21 million guaranteed) which is great news for guys like Ray Rice and Matt Forte.

Rice reportedly wanted "Adrian Peterson money" but that wasn't happening. But contracts similar to what Williams got weren't out of the question, even though Williams contract really seemed to throw the market out of whack relative to the Panthers running back's value. Now Foster's deal only solidifies the market: Five years, $43 million and $20 million guaranteed is a starting point for guys like Rice and Forte going forward.

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Posted on: February 25, 2012 2:51 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Tight End Rankings

Shiancoe leads what is a fairly unimpressive group of free agent tight ends. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the tight ends.

Originally for this post, I listed Jermichael Finley for the No. 1 spot on this list. Obviously, he was an easy call, because he was so obviously the best tight end on the market. Now, though, he’s a signed a two-year deal with the Packers worth about $7.5 million per season, and therefore, the free agent tight end class of 2012 suddenly has grown awfully weak (let’s face it, it wasn’t all that great with Finley on top either).

The best tight ends in the game -- guys like New England’s Rob Gronkowski, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and Finley -- are safely secure with their respective teams, and those teams who actually are looking for tight ends will have to draw on a list with very few, if any, top-line playmakers. Considering Gronkowski and Graham are helping to redefine the position, that’s not great news. Nevertheless, here we go.

1. Visanthe Shiancoe

Breakdown: Since catching 56 passes for 566 yards and 11 touchdowns when Brett Favre was throwing to him, Shiancoe’s production has decreased the past two seasons, especially in 2011 when he caught 36 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns. Since he made $4.5 million last season, it doesn’t seem likely the Vikings will re-sign him. Especially since the Vikings seem high on Kyle Rudolph. But unless Favre is planning to return for another season (and let’s face it, we can never rule out this option), the value of Shiancoe isn’t as high as it once was.

Potential Landing Spots: Giants, Browns

2. Martellus Bennett


Breakdown: Though Bennett doesn’t have impressive receiving numbers, that’s not what he’s called upon to do. Instead, he’ll be one of the more valuable tight ends in free agency because he’s top-notch run blocker. Bennett oftentimes is overshadowed by his teammate Jason Witten, but his worth to the Cowboys is evident every time Bennett steps on the field (it also seems evident, though, that Bennett’s time in Dallas is finished). But in order to get paid tons of money, he needs to show he can catch the ball, and that’s something missing from his arsenal at this point.

Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Broncos, Jets, Bengals

3. Joel Dreessen


Breakdown: Dreessen is a solid tight end, and he’s been an important cog for the Texans as quarterback Matt Schaub, receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster have turned Houston into a consistent top-10 offense in the past three years. He’s not a big-time pass catcher, but he’s a solid run-blocker (as Foster, Ben Tate and Derrick Ward likely would attest). The Texans would like to keep their two tight end set, but assuming Owen Daniels can stay healthy, Dreessen becomes a little more expendable in Houston.
Fred Davis
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs, Jets, Giants, Texans, Redskins

4. Fred Davis

Breakdown: He’s actually a pretty good candidate to be franchise-tagged by the Redskins (safety LaRon Landry (and his muscles!) is another candidate), and considering he caught 59 passes for 796 yards in 12 games last year in the best season of his career, Davis is a potential emerging star. Unfortunately for Davis, he was suspended for the final four games of the season for a failed drug test, and if he happens to fail another one, he’d be suspended for a year. So, there’s a little bit of a gray cloud following him around, and teams that need a tight end might shy away from a potential off-the-field problem like that.

Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

5. Jeremy Shockey


Breakdown: It was only four years ago when Shockey was considered an elite tight end, good for about 60 catches, 600 yards and six touchdowns per season from 2004-07. He’s been hurt (literally) by injuries, and after the Saints released him in 2010, he was solid enough  last season in Charlotte (though the team did like the toughness he brought to the squad). Shockey has talked about wanting to play in Miami -- he’s also talked apparently about retiring, though it seems like everybody is denying it at that point -- but with Anthony Fasano already entrenched as the Dolphins tight end, Shockey probably would have to be content to play as the No. 2 tight end. He made $4 million last season, and in order to return to the Panthers to play with tight end Greg Olsen, he’d probably have to take a paycut.

Potential Landing Spots: Dolphins, Giants, Panthers
Shockey

6. John Carlson


Breakdown: Carlson missed the entire season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, so there will be plenty of caution surrounding him, even though he’s caught at least 50 passes in two of his first three seasons in the league. Making matters worse, Carlson said in January that he’s not completely healed, estimating that he was only at 90 percent. “Obviously missing the season is not ideal,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune. “But that was the situation I was in. I feel really good. I didn’t beat my body up over the course of the season and my shoulder is repaired.” Carlson is also a solid run-blocker, and he seems like one of those guys who could move into the top-10 of tight ends around the league.

Potential Landing Spots:Seahawks, Rams

7. Jacob Tamme


Breakdown: Like most everybody inside the Indianapolis franchise, Tamme suffered without Peyton Manning around. Playing in place of the injured Dallas Clark, Tamme caught 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns in 2010. Last year, those numbers dropped to 19 for 177 and one. Which obviously is not the kind of season you want to have in a contract year, but it reflects Tamme’s position on the team and, probably, in the league. He’s a solid backup, the No. 2 tight end in a two-tight end set. He has talent, but it’s unclear how much of that was reflected off Manning. He could be a low-risk, somewhat-high reward guy for the right team.

Potential Landing Spots: Colts, Dolphins, Broncos, Bengals

8. Honorable Mention


Unrestricted free agents: Scott Chandler, Reggie Kelly, Daniel Fells
Restricted free agents: None

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Posted on: February 23, 2012 9:05 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:28 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Running back rankings

Players are willing to get the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in their future. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the running backs.

1. Ray Rice

Breakdown: Ray Rice told CBSSports.com back in October that "I think the Ravens are going to do the right thing … with the contract situation, I'll leave it in their hands." As it stands, Rice is a free agent. And it appears that while the Ravens may eventually "do the right thing" and sign him to a long-term contract (though almost certainly nowhere near Adrian Peterson-type money), the short-term plan is to franchise him. At 25, Rice hasn't yet reached his prime, which is all the more reason the Ravens should find a way to keep him in Baltimore for the next five years.

NFL Draft prep
The problem, of course, is that running backs are fungible. We've beaten this dead horse beyond recognition but it's worth repeating: teams can find relatively productive backs for little money. Knowing that, it doesn't make sense to use a non-trivial part of the salary cap to pay running backs, even those well above replacement level. It's why were were adamant last summer that the Titans shouldn't pay Chris Johnson. (They did and he was underwhelming in 2011, rushing for 1,047 yards -- 4.0 YPC -- and four touchdowns.)

That said, Rice isn't your typical back. In addition to his ability to run the ball, he's also a dangerous pass catcher. How dangerous? He led Baltimore in receptions in 2011 (76), was second behind Anquan Boldin in 2010 (63), and first in 2009 (78). For all the talk about Joe Flacco wanting a new deal, the Ravens' offense goes through Rice.

Potential landing spots: Ravens. That's it. If he gets away, Baltimore deserves whatever fate awaits them. Rice fits any system but is especially dangerous when he's utilized. That seems obvious but it's something offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgot at various points during the 2011 season.

2. Matt Forte

Breakdown: Forte missed the final month of the 2011 season with a knee injury but it won't have any impact on what the Bears think he's worth. They have no plans to let him hit free agency -- earlier this month team president Ted Phillips said, "We'd like to (work out a long-term deal). But as (new GM) Phil (Emery) pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

And while #paydaman was the Twitter meme of the '11 season for Forte, he seems amenable to the franchise tag if it leads somewhere beyond a one-and-done deal.

"It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag)," Forte said a few days after Phillips' comments above. "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."

Plus, with offensive coordinator Mike Martz gone and Mike Tice named as his replacement, the offense shouldn't require six weeks to find its rhythm. Ideally, a healthy mix of pass and run will keep Cutler upright and the Bears competitive in the NFC North. Forte, clearly, is a big part of that.

Potential landing spots: The Bears have no intentions of letting Forte get away, but like Rice, he'd fit in pretty much any offense. He's a capable pass-catcher and north-south runner.

3. Arian Foster

 Foster wants to stay in Houston '100 percent' (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Foster told CBSSports.com at the Super Bowl that he "100 percent" wants to be back with the Texans and it sounds like the Texans 100 percent want him back.  As of early January, the two sides hadn't made progress on a new contract, and like Forte, Foster doesn't seem averse to the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in his future. Unlike Forte, Foster is a restricted free agent, which means the Texans have the option to sign him to a tender offer, which would be much less than the one-year franchise-tag value of $7.7 million.

Could the Texans' offense survive without Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing leader? Yeah, sure. They still have Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Ben Tate. But Foster is only 25, and he's played on an undrafted free agent's salary the last two seasons. He's certainly outperformed his previous deal, now it's up to Foster's agent and the organization to find some middle ground.

Potential landing spots: The Texans. The franchise tag guarantees that other teams won't even get a shot at landing him. That said, he'd fit perfectly in the Redskins' scheme (they run virtually the same offense as the Texans, just with less talented players).

4. Marshawn Lynch

Breakdown: In the wacky world of Pete Carroll, trading a second-rounder for Charlie Whitehurst makes sense. So too does signing Tarvaris Jackson. To Carroll's credit, he said "thanks but no thanks" when his Heisman-winning quarterback during his USC days, Matt Leinart, was dumped by the Cardinals. And he had something to do with bringing Marshawn Lynch to Seattle for a 2011 fourth-rounder and a 2012 fifth-rounder. Lynch carried the Seahawks to a playoff win over the Saints in 2010, and rushed for 12,04 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.

Lynch was Seattle's most consistent offensive weapon last season (this explains the Peyton Manning scuttlebutt) and earlier this week the word on the street was that the team was in "deep" contract talks with Lynch and would consider using the franchise tag if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

We're not sure that's the best use of resources for an offense with plenty of issues. Unlike the Ravens, Bears and Texans -- all teams with top-15 quarterbacks -- the Seahawks might want to take that $7.7 million they'd use on Lynch and address other needs (quarterback, wide receiver, or a couple running backs, for example).

Potential landing spots: Seahawks, Bengals, Jets, Redskins

5. Michael Bush

Breakdown: Darren McFadden played in just seven games last season but the Raiders' rush offense still ranked 11th in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Much of that was due to Michael Bush, who ran for 977 yards (3.8 YPC) and seven touchdowns, and added 418 yards receiving.

Still, despite his '11 success, when training camp begins, McFadden will be atop the depth chart. Running backs-by-committee are en vogue so it's reasonable to think that Bush will get plenty of work but he wants to be a starter (likely because it comes with starter money). And for that reason, the Contra Costa Times' Steve Corkran wrote last week that Bush might prefer the franchise tag to a long-term deal. Corkran pointed out that new general manager Reggie McKenzie has a knack for developing running backs, which could mean that Bush will be elsewhere next season.

Potential landing spots: Bengals (former Raiders coach Hue Jackson is an assistant there), Buccaneers, Redskins

6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Breakdown: ESPN.com's Mike Reiss broke down Green-Ellis' situation nicely last week: "The view from here is that the Patriots would like Green-Ellis to return and have a price in mind. The question then becomes if that price is attractive enough that it sparks Green-Ellis to sign before hitting free agency."

Free agency starts March 13. There will be a glut of running backs on the market and there's no promise that Green-Ellis will get more in free agency than he would from the Pats. It's more likely that New England will offer something less than market value because a) they typically handle the salary cap well, and b) they'll sell it as "we're a winner, if you go elsewhere you'll be in rebuilding mode."

And then there's c): the Pats drafted two running backs last April -- Shane Vereen in Round 2, Stevan Ridley in Round 3 -- and should they not be able to re-sign Green-Ellis they'd have plenty of depth at the position (something they seem oddly incapable of at wide receiver). As always, as long as Tom Brady is on the field, the Patriots will have a good chance to win. It would be nice to have Green-Ellis behind him but New England's offense will survive either way.

Potential landing spots: Patriots, Chiefs (Scott Pioli's the GM)

7. Cedric Benson

Breakdown: It's seldom players go to Cincinnati to revitalize careers but Benson isn't your typical NFL running back. The Bears' former No. 4 pick in 2005, he was considered a bust until he joined the Bengals in 2008. He rushed for 1,251 yards in 2009, 1,111 in 2010 and 1,067 last season.

This offseason, the organization has talked about getting backup Bernard Scott more touches next season. Benson, meanwhile, has taken to publicly calling out the Bengals -- not the best negotiating strategy.

“We didn’t stick on what the offense was built on," Benson said during an appearance this week on SiriusXM. "When we had Carson and Chad we kept a strong identity in the run game and we kind of got away from it and didn’t let that part of the offense grow and bit the bullet on it a little bit.”

As for Benson's future in Cincy, we think this comment pretty much says it all: “I’m not sure [where things stand]. We haven’t had any talks about a new deal.”

Last offseason, the organization dumped Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton and made the playoffs. The in-with-the-new personnel philosophy will apparently continue this offseason, too.

Potential landing spots: Benson's skills have diminished to the point that he's probably not worth more than a veteran minimum deal. Given his baggage, it makes more sense for a team looking for running back depth to sign a young player.

8. Peyton Hillis

Cleveland wants to keep Hillis? (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Whether Hillis was a victim of the Madden curse (he thinks he was) or he just got really bad really fast, the fact remains: he cost himself a lot of money in 2011. Hillis was traded from the Broncos to the Browns for Tim Tebow's No. 1 fan, Brady Quinn, and Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. He played in just 10 games last season, rushing for 587 yards and three scores.

Not good. Not good at all.

There were concerns during the season that Hillis let his impending contract negotiations affect his decision to play. As you might expect, that didn't go over well with teammates or fans. Still, the Browns said last month that they want Hillis back after he "worked his way into the team's good graces" over the final six weeks.

A source tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot that the organization might even consider franchising (!) Hillis if they come to terms with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. That sounds, well, silly but then again, we're talking about the Browns.

Potential landing spots: Browns, Patriots (where derailed careers get back on track), Broncos (two Tebows, one backfield)

9. Ryan Grant

Breakdown: The team appeared to favor James Starks but he's had trouble staying on the field. In 2011, Grant had 14 starts and rushed 134 times for 559 yards and two touchdowns. Not particularly noteworthy, but then again, he played in Aaron Rodgers' offense. He'll be 30 in December and while he rushed for more than 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009, an ACL injury sidelined him for all but one game in 2010.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Rob Reischel wrote that "Packer general manager Ted Thompson won't make a heavy investment in a running back Grant's age… So Grant will test free agency, and he is unlikely to return unless there's little interest on the open market."

Grant seems to understand the situation. "We'll see," he said. "I know I have a lot left. I think I showed that at the end of the year here. Would like to be back . . . but we'll just have to see."

Potential landing spots: Teams looking for running back-by-committee members willing to play for the veteran minimum. Barring injuries, not sure there will be much of a market.

10. Honorable Mention

Unrestricted free agents: Mike Tolbert, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Smith, Thomas Jones

Restricted free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

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Posted on: February 4, 2012 1:16 pm
 

Arian Foster '100 percent' wants back with Texans

Talking fashion with Foster at the Playboy red carpet. (Will Brinson, CBSSports.com)
By Will Brinson

INDIANAPOLIS -- Arian Foster's a talented running back. He's also a fashion savant. We caught up with Foster on Friday night at the Playboy/Bud Light blue carpet and talked with him about both.

Foster, who's a restricted free agent after this season, said he "100 percent" wants back with the Texans and he talks about making the playoffs in the video below.

We also touch on some lighter stuff, like my fashion sense, the awesomeness of wearing loafers + no socks, and how old my CBS microphone is.



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Posted on: January 15, 2012 4:51 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 5:34 pm
 

Texans defense will lead them back to postseason

Houston's defense could be one of the NFL's best in the years to come (AP).

By Josh Katzowitz

No matter what happens with T.J. Yates -- and he most likely will return to backing up Matt Schaub next season -- the Texans have to be pleased (no, they have to be ecstatic) with the way the season ended.

Not with the final result today obviously, falling to Baltimore 20-13 in the AFC divisional playoffs. But with the successful introduction of Yates in the final seven games of the season, with the showing by Arian Foster that proved he wasn’t a one-year wonder, and, perhaps most impressively, with the young defense that dominated the Ravens offense for most of the afternoon.

On a third-and-inches late in the game, with Baltimore trying to seal the outcome, the defense stuffed Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach to give Yates one more chance to tie the game. Earlier in the half, with the Ravens trying to increase their lead on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Brooks Reed and Tim Dobbins met Ray Rice at the goal line for no gain. The Texans sacked Joe Flacco five times. They pressured him numerous other times.

They were nasty, they hit hard (as Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck made sure to point out on his Twitter feed after Houston stopped Rice), and they gave a preview of the future. As in, Houston could be the toughest defense in the league for the next several years.

Already, Houston received great news when defensive coordinator – and, in my mind, the assistant coach of the year -- Wade Phillips withdrew his name from consideration for the Buccaneers head coaching job. “My first priority is to be here,” Phillips said when he was still being considered for the Tampa Bay job. “I like it here. I love it here. You know we’ve had such a magical year and we’re going to keep it going so that’s my first choice.”

But on Saturday, look at who was making an impact. Reed had 2 ½ sacks. As did J.J. Watt. Connor Barwin was a beast, and Brian Cushing was all over the place. That’s a rookie, a rookie, a third-year player and a third-year player, respectively, in the Texans front-seven. Plus, with the vast improvement of the secondary with Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, Houston’s defense will continue to be a special unit.

You know who wasn’t there, wasn’t around the last 13 games, in fact? That’d be former No. 1 pick Mario Williams, who tore his pectoral muscle in October. While Williams has been a standout defensive end during his career, he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

Is it worth it to bring back a 4-3 defensive end into Phillips’ 3-4 scheme? Williams seemed to adjust pretty well in Phillips’ new defense (he had five sacks in five games, after all), but the Texans played damn well after he was lost for the season. The Texans will have to ask themselves if signing Williams to a big-money deal is absolutely necessary to continue their defensive domination.

On Sunday, the real problem was the Texans’ first-quarter jitters, Yates’ interceptions and Jacoby Jones’ disastrous punt-returning. But with Schaub, Foster and that nasty defense returning next season, Houston will be a scary team to face. And a definite Super Bowl contender.



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Posted on: January 15, 2012 2:43 pm
 

Texans recover in second quarter to tighten game

J. Jones had a rough first half (US Presswire).

By Josh Katzowitz

The Texans looked so good, so calm in their first playoff game last week in Houston, casually knocking off the Bengals in the wild card round. The running game was successful, the defense was strong and quarterback T.J. Yates managed the game nicely.

But in the first quarter of their first road playoff game in franchise history, they looked like they didn’t belong, falling behind by two touchdowns to a hungry, rested Ravens squad at home. But thanks to Arian Foster, whose 95 yards on 15 first-half carries is the most Baltimore has ever allowed in a playoff game (an entire playoff game, that is) and a Texans offensive line that bullied the Ravens defensive line, the Texans head into halftime losing only 17-13.

Considering how the Texans played in the first quarter, they’re lucky to be in the game. While Yates, who looked terrible, tried to get the ball to Andre Johnson, Ray Lewis should have intercepted his third-down pass, and on the next series, with Yates trying to hit the same target, Lardarius Webb picked him in Texans territory.

Jacoby Jones didn’t exactly help his squad, muffing two punts, including one that the Ravens recovered on the 2-yard line, and in the first quarter, Texans receiver Kevin Walter dropped a perfect pass on an out route that could have given his team the first down.

Yates didn’t look good, but then again, neither did anybody else on the Houston squad.

And though the Texans fell behind 17-3, they continued running the ball, and Foster rewarded them with some explosive runs and a fantastic one-handed catch. Behind 17-6 and with a third and goal on the 1-yard line in which Houston needed a touchdown to stay close, Foster went off right end, made a nice cut and barreled his way into the end zone.

“At this point,” CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf said when Houston was behind by two touchdowns, “T.J. Yates must feel like an inexperienced quarterback.”

Thanks to Foster, Yates probably feels a little differently right now.

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Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:42 am
Edited on: January 13, 2012 9:44 am
 

Film Room: Ravens vs. Texans divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The Texans are hoping they can do what the Ravens did three years ago: reach the AFC Championship with a rookie quarterback. Like the ‘08 Ravens, Houston’s rookie quarterback is a complimentary piece, not the focal point.

Gary Kubiak might be offensive-minded, but his current squad is built around the run and defense. Come to think of it, so are the current Ravens ... if they play their cards right. Here’s the breakdown.


1. Baltimore’s offensive approach
With Joe Flacco turning 27 next week and entering his eighth playoff contest, the manual says this is the time for the quarterback’s coming out party. But it’d be unwise of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to buy into that.

Cameron has been Flacco’s most boisterous supporter – and rightfully so. He and John Harbaugh have gradually loosened the quarterback’s reigns over the past three years and all but removed them this year. That approach has had its ups and downs, but through it all the Ravens have continued to win.

Flacco had a poor season statistically – his completion percentage dropped below 60 for the first time, which is why he averaged a career-low 6.7 yards per attempt – but he was also playing with more freedom/responsibility than ever. You can tell a lot about what a coaching staff thinks of its quarterback by the plays it calls.

Most fans just assume the black-and-blue Ravens have a safe, methodical passing game. In reality, much of what the Ravens do centers more around Flacco’s big arm. Instead of using Anquan Boldin primarily underneath, the Ravens often push the ball to him downfield outside the numbers. They use their tight ends down the seams and it’s not uncommon for Flacco to launch multiple bombs in a half, usually targeting rookie burner Torrey Smith.

It’s encouraging that the Ravens have opened things up, but in this case the numbers don’t lie: Baltimore’s offense is inconsistent through the air and survives primarily because of Ray Rice. The fourth-year superstar led the league with 2,068 yards from scrimmage. In Baltimore’s 12 wins, Rice rushed for an average of 100 yards on 21 carries. In their four losses, he averaged 39 yards on nine carries (and in those losses, the score was never lopsided, making Rice’s decreased touches hard to explain).

Rice is one of the league’s few runners who can consistently move the chains with power or go the distance with speed. His low center of gravity lends him superb lateral explosiveness. That’s deadly behind an effective zone-blocking line that features guards as mobile as Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda.

Will Joseph try to neutralize Boldin this time? (Getty Images)

2. Facing Houston’s D
If Cameron wants to win, he’ll work the offense through Rice. The Texans’ swarming front seven can be difficult to run against, but the Ravens have the game’s most effective lead-blocking fullback in Vontae Leach. He takes great angles to blocks and hits moving targets adroitly, which can help neutralize the downhill speed of linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. The objective of the Ravens run game is to get the defense flowing laterally and allow Rice to cut it up inside.

Flacco won’t be irrelevant, of course. In fact, it’s not unforeseeable for Houston to bottle up the run early and for Baltimore to take to the air. Getting Anquan Boldin back from a knee injury is huge, as he’s a much tougher inside matchup than agility-based tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens have the speed to beat teams downfield, but Torrey Smith is still raw and can be taken out of a game by an elite corner like Johnathan Joseph. It will be interesting to see who the Texans have their No. 1 corner defend. If it’s Smith, they theoretically eliminate Baltimore’s field-stretching prowess. But last time these teams met, Boldin was the one who caught eight balls for 133 yards. Wade Phillips may not be willing to surrender that again.

Regardless of how the secondary matches up, Flacco will have to play with poise. Even when they’re not sacking quarterbacks, the Texans pass-rushers are disruptive. Flacco was impressive keeping his eyes downfield and sliding in the pocket in the last meeting, but he’s still somewhat of a week-to-week player in this sense.

3. Test for Yates
All in all, T.J. Yates has done a commendable job keeping the ship afloat.

 Gary Kubiak did not ask a lot of the rookie in the wild card round. In response, Yates was somewhat reactive reading the field, but he capitalized when a big-play opportunity came about (Andre Johnson’s double move on Pacman Jones). He also did not turn the ball over (though it was lucky that Chris Crocker dropped a surefire pick-six in the second half).

This performance, however, came against Cincinnati’s 4-3, zone-based scheme, which was similar to what Yates saw from the Jaguars, Falcons and Titans in previous starts. Yates is yet to face a 3-4, or even a blitz-oriented defense. He’ll face both Sunday, when the Ravens show him things he’s never seen before.

4. Ravens secondary
One thing Yates has never seen before is a safety like Ed Reed. The future Hall of Famer is not just rangier than all of Yates’ previous foes, he’s much savvier. Most safeties force turnovers by baiting quarterbacks into throws on a given play. Reed will bait a quarterback throughout the game.

He’ll bite on the first route of a play in the second quarter; then in the fourth quarter, against a similar play, Reed will assume the quarterback knows not to try to fool him twice. Thus, while every other safety would play conservative and make sure not to give up that first route again, Reed will abandon that first assignment and jump the second route.

This is how he gets a lot of his interceptions. He’s a master at recognizing how offenses use certain plays to set up other plays. This is no different than a great chess player thinking four or five moves ahead.

It’s unreasonable to expect a third-string rookie quarterback to win the mental battle against Reed. Thus, the Texans might be hesitant to have Andre Johnson stretch the field too many times.

Reed isn’t the only noteworthy defensive back in purple. Lardarius Webb has had a terrific season playing outside and in the slot. Webb defends the deep ball as well as any corner, and he’s great at jumping passing lanes from over-man coverage. His versatility expands what the Ravens can do with their disguises.

5. Houston’s run game
It will be difficult for Arian Foster to get outside against the Ravens the way he did against the Bengals. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is too good as a downhill run defender and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson are the best in the business when it comes to setting the edge:

You’ve probably heard the term “setting the edge”. Setting the edge is when an outside run defender (in a 3-4 it’s usually an outside linebacker) entrenches himself along the line of scrimmage or in the backfield near the offensive tackle or tight end. In doing so, he forces the running back to either cut back into the teeth of the defense or run parallel to the line of scrimmage (which allows time for other defenders to chase him down).

No outside linebacking duo sets the edge better than Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson. This snapshot offers an extreme example of fantastic edge-setting. Suggs didn’t just stalemate Duane Brown – he drove him back four yards.
(AP)

These days, the key to running on Baltimore is, believe it or not, attacking Ray Lewis. The 36-year-old Pro Bowler is still terrific at diagnosing plays, shedding blocks and wrapping up anywhere near the hash marks, but since returning from his toe injury (perhaps too soon), Lewis’s lateral limitations have been exacerbated.

When he’s going east and west, ballcarriers have little trouble bursting by him (especially when the ballcarrier hits the hole with as much authority as Arian Foster).

To get Lewis going sideways, the Texans linemen will have to have fully beat Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody and Cory Redding off the ball. Houston’s front line doesn’t have the strength to block any of those guys – especially Ngata, even though the 345-pound monster has looked less than 100 percent down the stretch – but as a cohesive zone unit, they can nullify them by quickly establishing favorable angles.

That’s exactly what they did against the Bengals, who can be considered a good “pretest” for a bout with the Ravens.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com