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Tag:Brandon Pettigrew
Posted on: January 4, 2012 4:15 pm
 

Film Room: Saints vs. Lions wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


This wild card contest, featuring the NFL’s No. 1 and No. 5 offenses, might play out more like a college bowl game, with a back-and-forth barrage of points and yards. Unlike a bowl game, however, we can be sure that the barrage is a product of great quarterbacking and not mistakes from shaky underclassmen defenders.

Oh, also, unlike a bowl game, the outcome actually matters in the bigger picture, as the winner will still be in contention for a title.


1. Any hope of stopping the Saints’ offense?
Not really. The Lions gave up 31 points and 438 yards when these teams squared off in Week 13. They were without starting corner Chris Houston and starting free safety Louis Delmas that night, but attributing the loss to those players’ absence would be like attributing The Simpsons early-2000s popularity dip to the death of Maude Flanders.

The last team to slow Sean Payton’s offensive juggernaut was – believe it or not – St. Louis. They did it with a feisty four-man rush, press-man coverage outside and zone coverage inside. But that was 10 weeks ago – before Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod found his groove in pass protection (the first-time Pro Bowler has improved tremendously after being a major pass-blocking liability his first 4 ½ years).

Of course, the Lions will still have an effective pass-rush even if Bushrod can contain the relentless Kyle Vanden Bosch. And they have linebackers and safeties who have the speed to be rangy in coverage. And their corners, while primarily off-coverage zone defenders, have actually been impressive at times in man-to-man on third down this season.

But in the end, this is still a vanilla Cover 2 defense that would be nothing more than a house of straw if it got away from its foundation against Drew Brees. Not that Brees and the Saints can’t exploit Cover 2:

Something the Saints do as well as any team in football is create favorable matchups for wide receivers by aligning them in tight splits. This is easy to do against a Cover 2 defense like Detroit’s. In this shot, Devery Henderson is aligned tight, and Marques Colston (New Orleans’ top slot weapon) is even tighter. Because Cover 2 defenses always keep their outside corners on opposite sides of the field, the nature of this offensive alignment dictates that either Colston or Henderson can run an inside route against a linebacker or safety. In this case, we show you the option for Colston.

2. A crazy idea…
The Lions should do what all Cover 2 teams essentially do: commit to bend-but-don’t-break defense. Only in this case, they actually can break – as long as they bend a lot first. The Saints thrive on fast tempo and big plays – especially at home. If they have the ball, they’re going to score.

The Lions should try to make those scores come after 10 or 12 plays, rather than four or five. Coaxing an offense into long drives may sound insane, but think about: The more plays the Saints run, the more chances there are for a freak turnover. Also, the more chances for a red zone stop. Most important, long drives eat clock and shorten the game. That could keep the contest artificially close down the stretch.

Of course, this extreme bend-but-don’t-break idea is based on Detroit’s offense being able to dominate New Orleans’ defense ... which didn’t happen in Week 13.

3. Recapping the last meeting
A lot of Matthew Stafford’s 408 yards passing in the last meeting were empty, as the Saints held the Lions to just 17 points. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams took an uncharacteristically cautious approach, often rushing only three or four and focusing on double-and triple-team tactics against Calvin Johnson.

Williams often had his best corner, Jabari Greer, shadow Megatron, with plenty of help over the top and inside. Because Johnson devours man coverage, the Saints stayed mostly in zone (though they did match up man-to-man a bit when Detroit went to base personnel).

This formula held Johnson to 69 yards on six catches, though the numbers would have been much different if Stafford hadn’t underthrown him on what would have been a 53-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The rest of the Lions receiving targets took advantage of their opportunities against the Johnson-intensive coverage.

TE Tony Scheffler had 41 yards receiving; RB Kevin Smith had 46; Nate Burleson posted 93 (though his performance was overshadowed by three offensive pass interference flags); second-round rookie Titus Young had 90 yards (though he too overshadowed his performance with mistakes – mainly a boneheaded personal foul after the whistle).

In the end, though, it was the lack of big plays from Johnson that stood out.

4. Forecasting this meeting
Gregg Williams may go conservative again. His defense aims to create turnovers and chaos through fervid six-man blitzes, but that aggression is part of the reason the Saints’ yielded a league-high 14 passes of 40-plus yards this season. Against a top-notch aerial attacks like Detroit’s, a high-risk/high-reward approach is unlikely to go in your favor.

But Williams also knows that when Detroit has struggled, it’s been due to Stafford’s waffling accuracy and decision-making. Those issues calmed down considerably over the season’s final month, but there’s no telling how the 23-year-old might respond under the pressure of dueling with Brees in Detroit’s first playoff game since 1999. Williams will want to find out.

Stafford isn’t the easiest quarterback to blitz, though. He has a strong arm, quick release and the willingness to make stick throws with defenders racing at him. The Lions don’t have elite pass-blockers, but because they operate almost exclusively out of the shotgun, Stafford can be tough for defenders to reach.

Williams might find a happy-medium by playing coverage but giving his back seven defenders extra freedom in moving around and disguising their looks before the snap. That would get Stafford’s mental gears grinding. The Lions don’t like motile defensive presnap looks – that’s why they rarely use presnap motion themselves.

5. The X-factors
Figure Williams is going to do all he can to make someone other than Calvin Johnson beat him. The guys who must step up are tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.

They both give the Lions formation versatility from base personnel by lining up along the front line, in the slot or split out wide. This is often done to create mismatches for, but on Saturday it will create mismatches for THEM.

If the Saints blitz, the tight ends are logical quick-strike outlets. If the Saints play coverage, one of the tight ends will draw a favorable matchup against strong safety Roman Harper (who got destroyed in coverage at Seattle in last year’s wild card).

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 22, 2011 10:01 am
 

Film Room: Lions vs. Chargers preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The Lions were that Feel Good team of 2011. Then they started shoving coaches after the game, hitting quarterbacks after the throw, fighting opponents after the play, stomping linemen after the whistle and meekly apologizing for it all after the fact. Thus, they’re now the team everybody wants to see get its comeuppance.

In some ways, they’re like the Chargers – a team that, over the years, has mastered the art of irritating casual onlookers. They haven’t done it with reckless hostility, but rather, perplexing underachievement. If the NFL were like college basketball, where Final Four appearances and division titles mattered, the Chargers would be a dynasty.


Instead, they’re the club that always falls on its face but somehow manages to sneak into the postseason…only to fall on its face again. At least during the regular season they get hot at the right time – this year looking like no exception.

Let’s breakdown these two irritating clubs.

1. Motion
The Chargers offense is perhaps the best in football at using presnap motion to dissect a defense and create favorable matchups. Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan recently took a page out of Norv Turner’s playbook.

After operating out of static formations virtually all season, the Lions created glaring mismatches by motioning Calvin Johnson into the slot against the Raiders last week. The results were extraordinary: Johnson, often working against Oakland’s backup safeties, had a career-high 214 yards receiving. Matthew Stafford threw for 391, with four touchdowns and no turnovers.

It might reason that the Lions will use more presnap motions this week, but that’s not a sure thing. If creating big-play opportunities were as simple as putting players in motion, Linehan would have had his players doing that long ago. But when you change your formation, the defense changes. When the defense is playing man, the changes are easy to read. But when the defense is playing zone, things become more complex.

With an inexperienced quarterback (Stafford will be making only his 28th start Sunday), fairly young tight end (Brandon Pettigrew), rookie wide receiver (Titus Young) and athletic but somewhat unrefined superstar (Johnson), Linehan may once again prefer to keep the Chargers defense – which usually plays to the situation, meaning zone on early downs and man on third down – as static as possible. The drawback with a static offense is it’s obviously easier for the defense to decipher, as there are fewer complexities in route combinations.

2. The running backs
Ryan Mathews has improved throughout his second season. He has the quickness, lateral agility and tempo-changing ability to create his own space or turn the corner. Physicality, down-to-down consistency, ball security and durability remain issues. In a pinch, the Chargers know they can fall back on the powerful, surprisingly versatile Mike Tolbert.

The Lions’ run game became an afterthought when rookie Mikel Leshoure’s Achilles tore in August. Statistically, things actually picked up on the ground for Detroit after receiving-oriented Jahvid Best went out with a concussion.

When healthy, Best’s replacement, Kevin Smith, has shown some suddenness and shiftiness, which makes him a good fit for this shotgun system. But overall, Detroit is unquestionably a pass-first team (28th in rushing yards, 31st in rushing attempts). That’s fine – as their 28 points per game (fourth best in NFL) attest.

3. Chargers O-line vs. Lions D-line
Figure San Diego must score 30 points to beat Detroit. That would have been dicey a few weeks ago when left tackle Marcus McNeill and left guard Kris Dielman first went down with injuries. But with left tackle Jared Gaither coming aboard and relieving helpless backup Brandyn Dombrowski, the front five has stabilized. Dielman’s replacement, Tyronne Green, has settled down in pass protection, and center Nick Hardwick has looked like his former Pro Bowl self.

Philip Rivers is arguably the best in the business at stepping into throws with defenders bearing down. He doesn’t need a clean pocket – just protection that can hold up for a seven-stop drop. The Chargers are up to the task, even if they’re facing the Lions’ high-octane front four. Last week, that front four was actually neutralized by a middle-tier Raiders bunch that had struggled mightily in prior weeks.

4. Rivers and his receivers
If Rivers is not under duress, he’ll throw for at least 325 yards Sunday. The Lions play some of the most basic Cover 2 and Cover 3 zones in football and simply don’t have the personnel to stay with Vincent Jackson or Malcom Floyd – especially with starting free safety Louis Delmas out.

Lions corners Chris Houston and Eric Wright are at their best playing off-coverage, where they can see a route develop in front of them and drive on the ball. The vertical nature of San Diego’s passing game, which is heavy on double moves, can be anathema to that brand of cornerbacking.

Inside, though Detroit’s linebackers can run, and though middle ‘backer Stephen Tulloch can play with depth in zone coverage, the Antonio Gates factor is still a major plus for the Boltz. Gates looks healthier than he has all season.



5. Screen game
Last week the Raiders became the latest team to successfully attack the Lions with screen passes. Because the Lions’ front seven defenders all play with their ears pinned back, offenses frequently use delay and misdirection tactics to coax them out of position. The faster a defender reacts in the wrong direction, the more daunting his recovery task.

San Diego regularly incorporates its running backs in the passing game (Tolbert and Mathews each have 47 receptions on the season). Expect several of the running back’s passes to be screens this week, especially early in the game when the Lions will, as always, will be amped up.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 8 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 11, 2011 12:34 pm
 

Jim Schwartz draws line in sand for his team

PettigrewBy Josh Katzowitz

With a rash of postplay personal foul penalties last week, not to mention the whole Ndamukong Suh saga, it sounds like Lions Jim Schwartz has had enough.

As ESPN reports, Schwartz told his team that he’s invoking a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to postplay personal foul flags. If somebody is penalized, Schwartz said he’ll be banished to the bench for the rest of the day.

Even if it’s Matthew Stafford? Apparently, yes.

Schwartz came to the decision after watching Brandon Pettigrew bump an official last week, taking a $25,000 fine in the process, Stefan Logan earn a taunting penalty when he flipped the ball to his opponent, and Titus Young shoving a Saints player in the face after a play was finished.

“Obviously, everything on the field is a reflection of the organization,” Schwartz said, via the NY Times. “It’s a reflection of the head coach, it’s a reflection of all the coaches and reflections of the players.

“That’s not a presentation we want.”

Nate Burleson, a receiver who was called for four (!) penalties last week, weighed in with his thoughts on how the Lions could rein in themselves.

“Now that we’re actually in the hunt, the microscope is bigger, and we’ve had some issues,” he told the paper. “A guy getting suspended. Those same mistakes aren’t going to fly anymore.

“They’re not going to be swept under the rug. The ref’s not going to look at that and hold his flag, like he did earlier in the season. Now, he’s saying: ‘Oh, those are the Detroit Lions. They’re the guys who are going to do a little bit extra.’ That flag is coming out a lot faster.

“The other teams are probably saying, ‘Hey, if you pick at these guys, they’ll end up doing something stupid.’”

Thus far, those other teams have been absolutely correct.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 9, 2011 6:16 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2011 1:43 am
 

Seymour fined $30K; Pettigrew, Mayo punished

PettigrewBy Josh Katzowitz

The NFL lesson of the week: don’t punch a fellow player or touch an official in anything other than a loving matter. Otherwise, the NFL is going to take a few bucks out of your wallet. This, of course, isn’t news, but considering Richard Seymour is a repeat offender, maybe this IS a lesson he needs to continue to learning.

Anyway, here’s a roundup of some of the biggest fines levied by the league this week.

Richard Seymour, $30,000: Seymour was tagged $25,000 last year when he struck Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with an open hand, but the NFL has decided a second violation (when he gave Miami's Richie Incognito the business last Sunday) only was worth $5,000 more. As Rapid Reporter Eric Gillman points out, that’s three ejections in three seasons with the Raiders for Seymour, so, really, you have to applaud his consistency.

Jerod Mayo, $25,000: As Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard points out, Mayo was tagged for roughing Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky and striking him in the head and neck area. This, even though Mayo wasn’t flagged during the game for the alleged penalty.

Brandon Pettigrew, $25,000: The NFL just HATES it when a player makes contact with an official, even if the contact was somewhat inadvertent and not necessarily intended for said official. But Pettigrew got caught bumping an official while going after Saints safety Roman Harper, and thus he gets a big fine, via Rapid Reporter John Kreger. Why he wasn’t kicked out of the game immediately, we don’t know.

Shaun Chapas, $20,000: You want to know why Chapas is having a bad day? Because, as ESPN Dallas writes, Chapas, a rookie Cowboys fullback, made a little more than $22,000 last Sunday, but since he blind-sided Cardinals linebacker Reggie Walker, the NFL wants to take most of that away. Also, Chapas wasn’t penalized on the play.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 5, 2011 2:20 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 13

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 13 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

 

1. Tebowtainment

Before diving into another Tim Tebow victory -- this time a 35-32 squeaker on the road in Minnesota -- let's go ahead and get you ready for the upcoming week of screaming talking head mania by offering up the Official Tebow Haters Stat Du Jour: opponent's victories!

As people will tell you over the next seven days, Denver's last five victories came against five teams five teams with a combined 25 victories. (Don't think I'm defending that, just know that I'm preparing you for it.)

You know why people are going to focus on that, as well as the Vikings two-win season and a miserable Minnesota secondary?

Because Tebow just won a game by being a -- gasp! -- traditional passer. Tebow went 10 of 15 for 202 yards and two touchdowns and only rushed the ball four times, one of which was was a lateral kneel to set up the game-winning field goal.

The result of Sunday's win is the most improbable of improbable situations: Denver being the favorite to land the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs. With "just" the Bears, Patriots, Bills and Chiefs remaining on the schedule, Denver's in a better position than Oakland (losers Sunday, with the Packers, Lions, Chiefs and Chargers remaining) to make the postseason.

And if you're a Tebow hater, you better get your block button on Twitter ready, because things are about to get hairy when they get there. On the other hand, if you're a Tebow hater, what's your beef with a team that utilizes an opportunistic defense, a run-based offense that doesn't make mistakes and a quarterback who may or may not have mystical powers to win games?

I understand that people have to argue about something during the week, but are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?

2. You Just Iced Yourself, Bro

On Sunday, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett took clock mismanagement to an entirely new level in Dallas' 19-13 loss to Arizona in overtime.

First off, Garrett iced his own kicker. Icing an opponent's kicker is a foolhardy move, because it really doesn't work all that well in the first place. But icing your own kicker? That's the stuff that Jim Mora rants -- and knee-jerk firings -- are made of.

Somehow, though, Garrett's ridiculous decision wasn't his worst move of the Cowboys loss. With over a minute remaining, Dallas facing a second and 20 and holding two timeouts, Tony Romo took the snap and completed a pass to Dez Bryant for nine yards. 30 seconds later, Romo took another snap and hit Bryant for 15 yards and a first down, then spiked the ball with eight seconds remaining on the clock.

No timeouts used, 53 seconds burnt and the Cowboys still needing Dan Bailey to kick a 49-yard field goal. Cue up icing of Bailey, and cue up a Kevin Kolb-led game-winning drive for the Cardinals in their first possession in overtime.

There's no need to dive into the hyperbole-filled world of "worst clock management ever," but suffice to say Wade Phillips is laughing his jolly ass off somewhere right now.

3. Yes We Cam ... But Maybe We Shouldn't

Sunday -- a 38-19 win for Carolina over Tampa Bay -- was a big day for Cam Newton. The Panthers won. (It's the most important thing, haven't you heard?) Newton won his first division game. Newton picked up his first winning "streak." And the rookie phenom had, arguably, his best game as a professional quarterback.

Newton went 12 of 21 for and only threw for 204 yards, but he had one touchdown through the air, no turnovers and managed 54 rushing yards on 13 carries and three rushing touchdowns.

That total, by the by, means Newton now holds the single-season rookie record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 13, leaving poor Steve Grogan with no other real historical notation to his name.

Here's the crazy thing though: Newton's just five touchdowns short of Eric Dickerson's record for rushing touchdowns in a season by any rookie. With four games to go, 18 or 19 is well within his sights.

Should it be, though? I say no, and that's coming from someone who's a conductor on the CamWagon and a Newton fantasy owner. Here's why: Newton hasn't learned how to avoid contact yet. He's getting a little better about avoiding shots, but watching him go into a headfirst horizontal spin has to make Jerry Richardson's heart skip a couple of beats.

On a day when you win by 19 points against a terrible rushing defense like Tampa's, especially when they don't have their starting quarterback, there's no reason why Newton has three more carries than DeAngelo Williams, who got $43 million this offseason.

Watching Cam break Dickerson's record would be fun, but not as fun as watching Cam stay healthy over the next decade.

4. Defining Swagger

For the first few weeks of the season, I'm pretty confident I pumped a lot of words in this space in the direction of the Detroit Lions because of their new-found attitude under coach Jim Schwartz.

A "swagger," if you will. Well, it's backfiring, and backfiring badly. Sunday was a perfect example, as the Lions piled up well over 100 yards in penalties -- most of them incredibly stupid and chippy -- during their 31-17 loss to New Orleans.

Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham preach a hard-nose brand of football, and that's great for a Lions team that's been pushed around and publicly mocked for more than a decade because of futility in every aspect.

But you can't give away games by trying to be tough. The Lions, for the first time in a looooong time, are in the middle of a playoff race, and other contenders (the Giants, the Bears, the Falcons, the Cowboys) are imploding all around them.

Did they learn nothing from Ndamukong Suh getting suspended for ridiculously dumb and violent on-field actions? Just go out and be tough without being dumb.

Having swagger doesn't mean having to be stupid.


5. Hibernation Time

Say what you will about Caleb Hanie, but the Bears had a shot at the playoffs even with Jay Cutler out. But after Matt Forte sprained his MCL in Sunday's 10-3 loss to Kansas City, that pipedream just went down the tube.

Hanie was 11 of 24 for 133 yards and three picks, Marion Barber carried the rock 14 times for 44 yards and anyone watching the game knew that it was going to take a Bears defensive touchdown to win that game.

The Bears got burnt because Kansas City hit a Hail Mary to Dexter McCluster at the end of the half, and as pointed out last week, Romeo Crennel really does deserve some love for the defensive schemes he's cooking up these days, but this is a Chicago team that looked like a legit Super Bowl contender just three weeks ago.

Since then, they've been absolutely snakebit with injuries to stars, and even if they're still technically "in" the NFC playoffs as of today, is that defense really going to shut out three of the next four opponents?

Or, put more a little succinctly: Chicago just lost to Tyler Palko. Goodnight, sweet Bears.

6. Next Man Up

Speaking of injuries to key players, can we go ahead and get love for the work Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips are doing in Houston?

Because as soft as the Texans schedule is, Kubes somehow managed to shock the world (well, some of us) by beating Atlanta 17-10 despite having T.J. Yates under center.

But what's new, right? The Texans, as Clark Judge noted on Sunday from Houston, have won without every single one of their stars and it's not just because this team gets to beat up on the cupcakes of the AFC South.

It's because they've got established a quality of depth on this team that allows them to succeed despite potentially debilitating injuries to critical players.

"Because we have a defense that's playing well," Arian Foster said after the game. "We have receivers that can make plays. [We have] a solid offensive line. We have running backs who can make plays. We have weapons around him to help [Yates]."

This steady diet of consistency and quality of depth is precisely why Houston hasn't -- and won't -- collapse under the weight of a run to the playoffs this year.


7. Rookie Wall

The BCS laid a couple of stinkbombs on Sunday that would actually make Jim Caldwell cringe, but the most important thing for us NFL types is that the college season is now over. Not because we want it to end, but now's a good measuring stick of the rookie wall.

The last time Andy Dalton, leading a surprising Bengals playoff run, played a game after the first weekend of December, it was probably on a month's worth of rest, because of the bowl system.

This year, Dalton gets four games in that stretch, with about six days in between each one.

And though the Red Rifle wasn't awful during Sunday's 35-7 loss to Pittsburgh, he was banged up and beat down enough that Bruce Gradkowski came in for mop-up duty.

As noted above, I'm all for keeping rookies safe. But there's got to be some concern that Dalton's entering an unknown area in terms of wear and tear on his body and mind.

It probably won't help that he gets a pair of elite defenses -- Baltimore and Houston -- over the next few weeks either.

8. Please Don't Punch the Zebras

Twice on Sunday we saw players -- Da'Quan Bowers of the Buccaneers and Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions -- make what could at best be called "incidental" contact with referees on the field.

Both Bowers and Pettigrew were involved in scuffles on the field and neither was going after the official, but when they were being pulled away from whatever mini-ruckus was taking place, both struck the official.

That's a 15-yard penalty and it should be an ejection. Only Pettigrew was flagged and neither was ejected. (Oddly, when Bowers lashed out, Brian Price was booted to the locker room by coach Raheem Morris.)

It's not an epidemic running around, but with some of the non-calls we've seen on violent plays this year, it's a little disappointing that the guys in stripes aren't making more of a concerted effort to look out for their own safety.

Expect fines for both guys, particularly if the league wants to ensure players aren't taking aggressive contact with the officials on the field of play.

9. Save Our Sparanos

My man Pete Prisco already broke down the odiferous nature of Oakland's 34-14 stinkbomb in Miami on Sunday, but there's something else at play here: is Tony Sparano saving his job?

Because the Dolphins are suddenly riding a hot streak (they've won four of their last five) that seemed impossible after an 0-7 start to the season. Not only are they no longer the worst team in the NFL, they might not even be the worst team in their division, what with the 5-7 Bills racing them back to the bottom.

Matt Moore looks like Matt Moore looked when Matt Moore was helping the Panthers win meaningless games late in 2009, and Reggie Bush looks like Reggie Bush looked when ... well, Reggie Bush hasn't ever looked like this. But he looks good.

The defense is stifling teams (I don't care how many starters the Raiders were missing), and Miami's got three winnable games on their schedule remaining, as they play the Eagles and Jets at home and the Bills on the road.

If Sparano gets this team to 7-9 by winning seven of their last nine, it really seems inconceivable that Stephen Ross could can him.

10. Utah, Gimme Two

If you're listening to the podcast -- and why aren't you listening and/or subscribing -- you probably heard us rant on the ridiculous nature of two-point conversion usage in football.

And if you're not listening, here's a synopsis: people are doing it wrong. A great example occurred during the Packers-Giants game on Sunday (eventually won by Green Bay 38-35). With 3:35 remaining, the Packers held a one-point lead when Aaron Rodgers hit Donald Driver for a ridiculous touchdown grab.

Up seven points, the Packers had two choices. One, kick the extra point (and go up eight). Or two, go for two and have roughly a 50-percent chance (the conversion rate for two-point conversions) of going up nine points.

An unsuccessful conversion would simply mean the Giants needed to go down and score a touchdown, same as before, except without having to score a two-point conversion afterward. (Same odds apply here for the Giants getting theirs, obviously.)

A successful two-point conversion, however, would put the Packers up nine points, which means the Giants would need to go down, score a touchdown, kick an extra point, recover an onsides kick and then get in range to kick a long field goal. The odds of this happening are a) much worse than the Giants scoring and getting a two-point conversion; or b) much, much, much lower than a coin flip.

For whatever reason, coaches -- and most fans -- don't understand the tremendous advantage being up two possessions present, as opposed to simply being up eight points. The reward (basically ending the game) substantially outweighs the risk (a tie ballgame), however.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... The Packers tied the second-longest winning streak in NFL history, and are just three shy of the 03-04 Patriots, who won 21 straight.
... Frank Gore passed Joe Perry as the 49ers all-time leading rusher, on a day when San Francisco clinched the division.
... Drew Brees became the first player in NFL history to record 4,000 passing yards in his team's first 12 games.
... Jimmy Graham became the first Saints tight end in history to top 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
... Hines Ward became the 19th player in NFL history with 12,000 receiving yards in his career Sunday.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

A combo GIF this week! Via SBNation, first we have Hakeem Nicks showing the world how to do the not-so-sissy strut:



And then Nicks following that dance up by doing ... this:


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Steve Spagnuolo -- On the bright side, there might be an opening for a defensive coordinator in Philly ...
  • Jim Caldwell -- You can't not fire your coach if he goes 0-16, right?
  • Andy Reid --  I still don't buy that Philly dumps him, but his seat is warm for sure.
  • Raheem Morris -- Losing to the Panthers, even without Josh Freeman, isn't helping Morris.
  • Norv Turner -- He can get off this list with a playoff berth. So, yeah, um, yeah.

MVP Watch

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers continued their pursuit of perfection, but for the first time all season, Rodgers didn't look totally ridiculously amazing. He was still really good, though. And no one was that much better -- Tom Brady's got a case building, I suppose, but Rodgers is winning in a walkaway, barring something silly happening over the next four weeks.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 3:17 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 9:43 pm
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Lions preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



It’s impossible to avoid the Tim Tebow coverage at this point. Since you’ll be hearing about the Broncos-Lions game all week, you might as well make the best of it and be familiar with the two teams. Here is a five-point rundown of the matchup, starting with a quick ode to You Know Who.



1. Tebow
The argument is no longer whether Tebow can become a more conventional quarterback; it’s whether the Broncos can win without him becoming a conventional quarterback. The elongated throwing motion probably isn’t going away. The flawed footwork may improve, but no guarantees. The arm strength will likely always be what it is: middling.

At this point, the Broncos coaching staff is limiting Tebow’s reads with simplified gameplans. That’s common with young quarterbacks. But usually young quarterbacks have more passing tools to work with. Tebow has running tools, which are hard to successfully incorporate into an NFL gameplan.

Tebow worshipers love to tout his “It Factor”. Twice now we’ve seen that “It Factor” late in the fourth quarter when the trailing Broncos have been compelled to cut loose Tebow’s inner sandlot soul. And it’s worked. So why doesn’t John Fox have Tebow play this way for all four quarters? Because he fears that if he did, the Broncos would trail by 30 late in the fourth instead of the usual 15 or 16.

Let’s look at the rest of this matchup.

2. Broncos offense
As we highlighted in last week’s Finer Points analysis, the Broncos have severe limitations at wide receiver. None of their targets are vertical threats. Eric Decker gets off press coverage well but is restricted to underneath stuff. Eddie Royal is an uninspiring slasher. Demaryius Thomas is solid and has upside, but only in a possession sense. And undrafted Matt Willis is untested.

Because of this, the Broncos are a throwback offense that operates out of traditional two-backs, one-tight end sets and abides largely by the laws of run-run-pass. That’s not a winning formula, but if the run game is working, it can at least be a “not losing” formula.

The run game has worked the past two weeks. Though Willis McGahee rushed for 103 yards against the Packers in Week 6, 125 yards against the Chargers in Week 5 and 76 yards against the Dolphins this past Sunday, he's out for for at least the next month with a broken hand. That means, Knowshon Moreno -- last year's first-round pick who is a mechanic, finesse-based back who has been relegated to third down duties -- will take over. Like McGahee, at least Moreno has the benefit of operating behind an offensive line that is well sized and, for the most part, athletic.

3. Lions defense
The Lions run defense is not nearly as bad as its ranking (28) indicates. A few missed tackles have led to big gains on the ground. Missed tackles are the type of mistakes that can quickly be corrected. The Lions have one of the deepest, most athletic defensive lines in football.

The line’s ability to win early in the down allows speedy linebackers DeAndre Levy, Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch to play untouched and downhill – something all three are doing extremely well. Safety Louis Delmas is also outstanding at locating and quickly filling the point of attack against the run. He’ll see plenty of time in the box given Denver’s nonexistent downfield passing game.

Denver needs to forget about running outside and instead attack Detroit right up the gut. That may seem problematic given the presence of Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams, but in the last two weeks, the Niners and Falcons, two other power-run teams, have taken a clever approach to this.

Instead of trying to stop Ndamukong Suh’s initial penetration, the Falcons, taking a page out of the 49ers’ playbook, found a way to use it against him. Right guard Garrett Reynolds let Suh get his amazing jump off the ball.



Center Todd McClure swept around to shield Suh backside, while Michael Turner carried the ball right to the spot that Suh vacated. Reynolds stepped to his right to take care of the defensive end (an easy block given the angle of the hole it was creating) and right tackle Tyson Clabo was able to immediately work up to the second level and block the linebacker (also an easy block given that the linebacker had virtually no time to diagnose and react).



The 49ers used a similar tactic the previous week (see the video here), only with different players. They let Suh get penetration and blocked him backside with motioning tight end Delanie Walker. Center Jonathan Goodwin went cleanly to the second level to block the linebacker, while right guard Adam Snyder handled the left defensive tackle that Goodwin left behind.



This concept did three things for the Falcons and 49ers:

1. Eliminated Suh from the play without costing the offense an extra blocker in a double team, and without asking the right guard to win a one-on-one matchup that few, if any, right guards could possibly win.

2. Opened a natural hole in the A-gap, which is the easiest hole for a running back to hit quickly.

3. Allowed an offensive lineman to immediately reach a linebacker without being touched (a run-blocker’s dream).

Expect the Broncos to try a similar tactic this Sunday. It will be interesting to see what adjustment the Lions will have made to combat this (it’s doubtful they’d ask Suh to NOT penetrate off the snap).

4. Lions offense
This unit has had the chinks in its armor exposed the past two weeks. At this point, Matthew Stafford and the Lions are overly dependent on Calvin Johnson. That’s fine when Jahvid Best is in the lineup. But with Best out, the Lions don’t pose much of a run threat out of shotgun (overwhelmingly their favorite formation).

They also lose Best’s outside presence on bubble screens. This allows defenses to be more aggressive near the line of scrimmage against Titus Young, Nate Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, all of whom struggled last Sunday.

This puts more pressure on Johnson. He’s an otherworldly talent, but he’s never been inspiring against intense double coverage (he was nowhere near as impactful against the Niners two weeks ago as his 113 yards suggested).

Also, as we saw against the Falcons, with the passing game’s quick-strike element suppressed, this unathletic front five gets exposed.

5. Broncos defense
The Broncos have the resources to exploit Detroit’s pass-blocking. Von Miller is the AFC’s answer to Clay Matthews. Elvis Dumervil has had a quiet season but will still a handful for Jeff Backus. And last week the safeties and linebackers timed their blitzes extremely well.

The Broncos also have the resources to keep up with Detroit’s passing attack. Champ Bailey is still a top-tier cornerback, shadowing the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver week in and week out. Bailey will need rookie free safety Quinton Carter (who has replaced Rahim Moore) to be a little more reliable in help coverage than he’s been, but with a respectable pass-rush, the Broncos shouldn’t feel too nervous about this matchup.

Nickel linebackers D.J. Williams (insane athlete) and Wesley Woodyard are both stellar pass defenders who can contain Pettigrew. The deciding factor will be whether cornerbacks Andre Goodman and Jonathan Wilhite can physically stymie Burleson and Young. Teams have targeted Wilhite, who’s been in and out of the lineup.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 8 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:37 am
 

Keep an Eye On: Week 6's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Raiders vs. Browns
Keep an eye on: Raiders passing game
The Raiders are a run-first team, no doubt. That shouldn’t change against the Browns.

Cleveland can stop the run well enough, especially if middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson stays clean from blockers. But at some point, Jason Campbell will have to make a play or two through the air. Expect Darren McFadden to be the primary receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Throws to McFadden have easy, defined reads for Campbell (who often flounders late in his progressions and when his pocket gets too crowded for him to take a full step into his throw) and they should be available given the way Cleveland’s linebackers have struggled in underneath coverage. Most of those struggles have come against athletic tight ends.

The Raiders, however, are more inclined to run tight end Kevin Boss down the seam and swing McFadden underneath. The Browns will likely commit a safety (perhaps T.J. Ward) to tight end coverage and allow Scott Fujita to cover McFadden (expect zone principles since Fujita doesn’t have a prayer at running with McFadden in man coverage).

This isn’t to say Campbell won’t go to his wide receivers. He’s been attacking deep more in October than he did in September. That’s a response to the new speedy duo of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both are raw but potentially lethal. (No. 3 receiver Jacoby Ford is also a burner.) They’re not a potent one-two punch yet, though. Moore’s only big game came against the Bills, when Heyward-Bey was out of the lineup.

We may find out which receiver the Raiders like better this Sunday. Campbell has avoided throwing at top-flight corners this season (he hardly looked to Darrelle Revis’ side in Week 3 and rarely challenged Houston’s Johnathan Joseph in Week 5). Browns second-year sensation Joe Haden is most definitely a top-flight corner (he may have the most natural change-of-direction ability of any defensive player in football).

If Haden returns from his sprained knee, he’ll likely line up on the defensive left side. Whoever Oakland puts on the offensive left side (i.e. away from Haden) figures to be the go-to target. That could tell you what wide receiver pecking order the Raiders prefer.



Ravens vs. Texans
Keep an eye on: Brian Cushing
The third-year pro has been arguably the best inside linebacker in the AFC this season. That’s significant considering how mightily Cushing struggled as the middle linebacker in Houston’s 4-3 scheme last season.

But the inside duties are different in Wade Phillips’ new 3-4. With less field to cover, Cushing has been able to be more of an attacker than a reader-and-reactor. That’s a style best suited for his speed and ferocity.
 
Cushing hunts down outside runs extremely well and shows vigor when tasked with clearing out a lead-blocker. Both are critical traits for containing a Ravens ground game featuring a dynamic B-and C-gap runner like Ray Rice and a fullback like Vontae Leach.

Cushing is also noteworthy because of what he means to Houston’s pass-rush. Against the Raiders last week, Phillips resorted to frequent inside blitzes in an effort to instill panic in Oakland’s pass protectors and command one-on-one matchups for the rushers outside. Cushing continuously stood out for timing his blitzes well and executing them with reckless abandon.

With Mario Williams out, Phillips may feel compelled to be even more aggressive with linebacker blitzes. And he’s certainly seen the Week 4 film of Joe Flacco and the Ravens struggling to sort out many of the Jets’ inside blitzes.

Lions vs. 49ers
Keep an eye on: the tight ends
The 49ers and Lions are very different offenses. The Lions run a modern, semi-spread, aerial attacking offense. The 49ers run a 1980s, compact, ground-pounding offense.

That’s primarily a function of the quarterbacks. Though both are former No. 1 overall picks, Matthew Stafford is gun-slinger while Alex Smith is, comparatively, a spitball shooter. (To be fair, Smith did have a terrific game against the Bucs. He diagnosed coverages well and made a few stick throws.)

Though vastly different, both offenses are built around the same base personnel package: two tight ends. The Lions frequently line up with Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew while the Niners often feature Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The conundrum that two tight end personnel presents for a defense is in deciding what personnel to respond with.

Go with nickel and you risk getting run on (especially when facing the Niners, given that Davis and Walker are both solid run-blockers). Go with a base defense and you risk getting thrown on (especially with the Lions since Scheffler often splits out as a third receiver in the slot).
 
All four tight ends are weapons. For the Lions, Brandon Pettigrew is surprisingly mobile given his 265-pound frame and ’09 knee injury (from which he’s seemingly gained mobility through rehabbing). Scheffler is a swift downfield target.

For the Niners, Vernon Davis is as athletic as they come. No one save for maybe Jermichael Finley is as dangerous down the seams. Delanie Walker is not as good as Bay Area fans think, but he’s versatile in patterns and can block from a standstill position, off of motion or in a lead out of the backfield.

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Posted on: September 29, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 11:58 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Most underrated

D. McFadden is one of the league's most underrated players (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

You know all the big-name players, even if they’re past their prime. Guys who once were great and impactful and who were rated exactly as their athleticism required. Now, though, some of those players have begun their descent into the final phases of their career, but fans, remembering their past exploits, still think of them as high-end performers on the field.

Now, they’re making way for players you’ve probably heard of but can’t place. Players who you’ve seen but can’t remember on which team they reside.Players who are overshadowed and under the radar. The players who won’t be considered underrated for much longer.

In this week’s Top Ten with a Twist, we feature the best players who are not as well known as they should be. You can call them underrated and call them under the radar, but their teams and their teammates know how important they are. They are, in fact, some of the best players in the league who aren’t necessarily considered the best players in the league.

10. Sean Lee: He won’t be a name only hardcore fans recognize for much longer. He was just named NFC defensive player of the month after a sensational start to the season (31 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries). Lee had knocked long-time starting linebacker Keith Brooking out of the lineup, and with the way he’s playing, you can certainly see why. He has been scary this year.

9. Hakeem Nicks: Considering wide receiver is one of the most glamorous positions in the sport, it’s tough to find a guy who you could call underrated -- conversely, there’s no shortage of players we could consider overrated at this position. But Nicks is one of those guys who doesn’t get the national attention (even though he plays in New York!) of a Calvin Johnson, an Andre Johnson or a DeSean Jackson. And while Nicks might not quite be on the same level as those receivers, he’s close. His 79 catches, 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 is a testament to that.

8. Ryan Kalil: You might have been shocked when the Panthers gave him a six-year, $49 million ($28 million guaranteed) deal before this season to make him the highest-paid center in the game, but those around the league know his value. He’s versatile in pass protection and run-blocking, and he doesn’t get called for holding penalties. Is he the best center in the league? Probably not as long as Nick Mangold is playing, but Kalil is still one of the top guys out there.

7. Vince Wilfork: He gets plenty of attention -- especially when he’s picking off passes and strolling his way back up the field -- but when compared to defensive tackles like Haloti Ngata, Ndamukong Suh or (gasp!) Albert Haynesworth, Wilfork doesn’t get the admiration he deserves. Despite his size -- he very well could be playing in the 400-pound range -- he’s one of the most athletic big men you’ll see. He’s one of the best run-stoppers around, and he’s the anchor of the Patriots defense. You know him, but he still hasn’t made his way to superstar status.



6. Darren Sproles: It was thought that the new kickoff rules would hinder Sproles, and that was probably one of the reasons the Chargers didn’t re-sign him in the offseason. But Sproles has continued to prove his wealth, settling into the Saints backfield, where he’s shown he can still rush (7.4 yards per carry), catch the ball (21 receptions, second-best among running backs) and score (he’s recorded a touchdown in all three games). He’s like a Reggie Bush who actually is effective for the Saints. Oh, and he can still return kicks (sixth in the league among those who have at least five chances) and return punts (second in the league).

5. Tramon Williams: Although he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl, Williams isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the Eagles cornerback trio (Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) or the Jets duo (Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie). Plus, he plays in the shadow of Charles Woodson, who is still one of the best cornerbacks in the league after 14 seasons. But Williams has shown why he’s a top-10 cornerback. He’s not avoided by other team’s quarterbacks quite as much as Asomugha and Revis -- that’s a byproduct of playing with Woodson -- but he’s shown that when his receiver is targeted, Williams is one of the better cover corners in the league.

4. Rob Gronkowski: Who are the best tight ends in the league? Antonio Gates? That’s true if he’s healthy. Tony Gonzalez? That’s true if this was five years ago. Jason Witten? Yes, he probably is the top tight end out there. But you know who’s really close to him? That’s Gronkowski -- who, in his second season in the league, is one big reason the Patriots offense has been so dominant this season. He was decent as a rookie last season, but he’s exploded for five touchdowns already this year, and with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the lineup in New England, that is a tough, tough matchup for the opposing teams’ linebackers.

3. Brandon Pettigrew: Last Sunday was the perfect example of why Pettigrew can make a Lions fan’s mouth water. He played through a shoulder injury, yet he managed to catch 11 passes for 112 yards in Detroit’s huge comeback victory against the Vikings. He’s probably not on the same level as Witten or Gronkowski, and yes, he drops the easy passes way too much (even if he also makes the spectacular catches). But in his third season in the league, he shows real potential to be a top-five tight end.

2. Trent Cole: He’s always good for between 55-80 tackles a year. He’s always good for between eight and 13 sacks. He’s almost always assured to be making life difficult for whichever offensive tackle who is charged with slowing his momentum. Cole might be the best player many NFL fans don’t know anything about. But this year, he’s off to a hot start in Philadelphia with three sacks. He’s a monster, and even if you haven’t heard his name very much, you can be sure the league’s offensive linemen have.

1. Darren McFadden: Along with Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, McFadden might be a top-three running back in this league. But since he plays in the black hole of Oakland, he wasn’t discussed as much as those who have lesser talent. That’s changing this year with the Raiders off to a 2-1 start and McFadden performing like the best back in the league. In 2010, McFadden gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage, and through three games this season, he’s rushed for 393 yards and three touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 84 yards and another score. If he keeps playing like that, he won’t belong on this list next year. Because everybody is going to know about him.

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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