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Tag:Bryant McFadden
Posted on: January 6, 2012 9:32 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Steelers wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It hardly seems fair that a 12-win team has to go on the road to face an eight-win team, but the NFL’s playoff seeding system is designed to reward division champions. That includes the rare division champion that enters the postseason on a three-game losing streak.

Here’s a breakdown of what many expect to be a massacre.


1. Broncos offense has no prayer
We covered everything there is to know about the Broncos’ offense last week in preparation for their Week 17 bout with the Chiefs. Nothing has changed. It’s clear that press-man coverage can overwhelm Denver’s passing attack, as the receivers don’t have the quickness to separate and Tim Tebow doesn’t have the mechanics, timing or confidence to fit balls into tight windows.

It’s rare to see the zone-based Steelers play press-man coverage, though they did so with great success against the Patriots in Week 8. Usually, shutdown corner Ike Taylor (yes, SHUTDOWN corner) plays press coverage against the opposing team’s top wideout (in this case, Demaryius Thomas), while William Gay, Keenan Lewis and/or Bryant McFadden play a variation of zone on the other side.

If Dick LeBeau wants to bait Tebow into interceptions, the Steelers may still stick with their traditional approach:

This shot from Super Bowl XLV illustrates the Steelers’ traditional approach to coverage: Ike Taylor playing press-man against the opposing team’s top receiver (Greg Jennings) on one side, with the rest of the secondary playing zone on the other (you can tell it’s zone by how cornerback Bryant McFadden is lined up off the line and with his body open slightly towards the inside).

The Broncos don’t have a threatening tight end, so Tebow would be throwing into heavy zones against athletic corners. If LeBeau wants to pressure Tebow with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and bait him into the usual slew of incompletions, he can play man-to-man. Whatever LeBeau chooses will work; we’re talking about the league’s top-ranked pass defense against the league’s most inept passing quarterback.

Lately, Denver’s read-option run game has still produced yardage, though only because of the high volume of carries. If the Broncos couldn’t muster more than three points by running against Kansas City’s 3-4, they can’t be expected to muster ANY points running against Pittsburgh’s.

A key to Denver’s run game is getting offensive linemen clean to inside linebackers. No three-man defensive line does a better job at protecting its inside linebackers than Pittsburgh’s. That’s why Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior are able to play with their ears pinned back.

2. A roll of the dice
Because it feels a little too simplistic to declare the Broncos’ chances at moving the ball to be zero (even if they are), we’ll use this section to present creative ideas for how the Broncos might – MIGHT – manage to muster a semblance of offense on Sunday.

The first idea is to just throw deep and hope luck tilts your way (a cornerback falls down, a ref calls pass interference, two Steelers collide while going after the same easy interception, etc.). Don’t count on Denver doing this, though. It goes against everything John Fox has stood for since turning to Tebow, and it also requires that, you know, Tebow actually throw downfield accurately.

Another idea is to draw up trick plays. Lots of trick plays. Problem is, a defense as experienced and disciplined as Pittsburgh’s is not going to bite. You might make chance-taker Troy Polamalu pay for a gamble once or twice, but more likely he’ll make YOU pay even more for YOUR gamble.

A third (and stronger) idea is to run the ball outside. In the past, outside running was guaranteed to fail against the Steelers. This season, however, Timmons and Farrior have not been as sharp in lateral run defense. That’s why Pittsburgh has struggled a bit against zone teams. The Broncos no longer have a zone run game (it left shortly after Shanahan departed), but it might not be crazy to hastily install one given that their usual approach will not work anyway.

Denver’s lack of running back speed is an issue here, but again: their usual approach will not work anyway!

3. Pittsburgh’s passing attack
As lopsided as this matchup seems, the final score could be tight given that Pittsburgh’s offense might have trouble against John Fox’s and Dennis Allen’s defense. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers come out throwing in an effort to build a quick lead that forces the Broncos to go to the air early.
 
Against the Browns last week, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians chose to spread the field with 3 x 2 empty backfield sets on passing downs. This may have been to get the ball out quickly so that Ben Roethlisberger would not have to make plays on his bum ankle. Though Roethlisberger has gotten much better in his presnap reads and sudden decision making, his natural inclination is still to extend the play. Thus, Big Ben still held the ball plenty long last week.

He won’t be able to do that this week, though – not under the same gameplan, anyway. Offensive tackles Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert may have been be able to handle Browns defensive ends Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard on an island (Sheard just barely, actually), but they won’t have a snowball’s chance against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

If Roethlisberger is to buy time for his receivers downfield, his offensive tackles will need running backs and tight ends to chip-block, if not stay in completely and double-team. Something else to keep in mind: Miller, D.J. Williams and Brian Dawkins all excel as inside blitzers. Blitz pickup is an area in which the Steelers interior line, particularly left guard Chris Kemoeatu, struggles.

Brown's emerged as one of Pittsburgh's best receiving options. (Getty Images)

4. The passing matchups
Even though protection could be a problem, it’s possible the Steelers will still spread the field and let Roethlisberger run around and make plays. We’ve seen them before give up piles of sacks this way but make up for it with big plays.

The Broncos have a good secondary now that undrafted rookie Chris Harris has blossomed at nickel corner, but they’re thin and inexperienced at safety and vulnerable with Jonathan Wilhite at dime corner.

If the Broncos decide to eliminate Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh’s new No. 1 receiver) with Champ Bailey, there will be big-play opportunities for Mike Wallace against the limited-ranged safeties. If Bailey defends Wallace, Andre Goodman can spar with Brown but probably not for as long as Roethlisberger can extend the play. Chris Harris will be tested by Emmanuel Sanders’ speed, and Wilhite will have fits trying to defend Jerricho Cotchery underneath.

As much as the Broncos might like their secondary, they can’t expect it to be the league’s first unit that sustains coverage against the Steelers’ prolonged improvisational plays. Thus, when the Broncos do blitz, don’t be surprised if they bring the kitchen sink to ensure that Roethlisberger goes down or throws hot.

5. Steelers run game
Rashard Mendenhall will be missed, but the Steelers can tread water with Isaac Redman. The third-year running back doesn’t have Mendenhall’s corner-turning speed and acceleration, but in confined areas he shows looser hips than you’d guess. Where Pittsburgh’s backfield woes will really show up is in the pass game. Mewelde Moore’s absence (foot injury) leaves them without a prominent openfield dumpoff receiver.

But this is a relatively minor issue. The primary job of the Steelers’ backfield is to pound the rock when called upon, which Redman and straight-line back John Clay are capable of doing. Also, Pittsburgh’s offensive line, especially with the superb pull-blocking skills of Kemoeatu, is capable of moving the pile down the stretch.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: February 2, 2011 4:09 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2011 3:18 pm
 

Matchup breakdown: Packers O vs. Steelers D

Posted by Andy Benoit

The Packers’ ground game doesn’t have a prayer against a Steeler run defense that ranks third all-time in the modern era. Center Scott Wells is a cagey veteran, but he struggled all season to hold ground against vociferous nose tackles. There may not be a more punishing run-stopping nose in the game than Casey Hampton. Even if the Packers can somehow neutralize that interior mismatch (and it’s doubtful they can), James StarkD. Driver (US Presswire)s, decent as he’s been this postseason, lacks the speed and agility to elude Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Pittsburgh’s superb linebacking corps.

Green Bay’s best chance on Sunday will be to isolate their wideouts against the Steelers defensive backs. Don’t be surprised if the Packers spend most of the game in four wide receiver sets. That would force Dick LeBeau to play nickel or dime and keep either his leader (James Farrior) or most athletic player (Lawrence Timmons) off the field. It would also isolate at least one of Green Bay’s wideouts on one of Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks.

For Green Bay, the most attractive mismatch in the passing game will be inside. Steelers nickelback William Gay, who occasionally struggles in man coverage, will have his hands full against either James Jones or Jordy Nelson.

Also, expect the Packers to keep Greg Jennings on the right side of the formation, where he’s more likely to face Bryant McFadden. McFadden, like his counterpart Ike Taylor, is stout enough as a tackler to keep the catch-and-run happy Packer receivers from breaking a big one. But unlike Taylor, McFadden does not have great length or catch-up speed over the top. Jennings, one the crispest and most befuddling downfield route runners in the game, can exploit this.

Most importantly, spreading the field will create natural throwing alleys for Rodgers. This is critical because, with Chad Clifton going against James Harrison and Bryan Bulaga going against LaMarr Woodley, shaky pass protection will limit Rodgers to mostly three-step drops.

It will be fascinating to see whether LeBeau allows Rodgers to complete passes off three-step drops or whether he tries to counter the quick pass. Countering it likely means taking a reactionary defensive approach – something that is generally unfamiliar for LeBeau’s unit. Normally the Steelers love to blitz their inside linebackers (often this is what creates one-on-one scenarios for their potent outside linebackers). But to counter Rodgers’ quick strikes, the Steelers may drop eight into coverage and rush only three. Harrison and Woodley are both adept in space. If the linebackers are dropping back, Pittsburgh’s corners get to play zone instead of man. That helps appease the mismatch against Green Bay’s wideouts.

The X-factor, as usual, is Troy Polamalu. How LeBeau decides to utilize his most dynamic playmaker will determine whether the Steelers blitz or drop back. If Polamalu roves around the box, expect blitz. If he roves around centerfield, expect drop back.

Speaking of Polamalu, here's what LeBeau had to say about the legendary safety.



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Posted on: February 2, 2011 1:11 am
Edited on: February 6, 2011 2:53 am
 

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive roster breakdown

Posted by Will Brinson & Andy Benoit

Perhaps the most fascinating thing if you look (at a glance anyway) at Pittsburgh and Green Bay is that they've built their teams "properly." (AKA "the opposite of Dan Snyder.) They draft smart, and they sign smarter. At least that's what we're lead to believe, right?

Andy and I set out to check the roster breakdown for both teams. En route, we* managed to figure out not only where they're coming from, but what they'll do for their respective teams in the Super Bowl.

Name POS Acquired Scouting Report
Ziggy Hood
DE 
Drafted 32nd overall, 1st Round 2009 
First-round pick in ’09 has not shown drastic progress with playing time. Plays too tall to generate anchoring power; must get more physical in traffic.
Casey Hampton
NT
Drafted 19th overall, 1st Round 2001
The key to Pittsburgh’s vaunted run defense. A “325-pounder” who simply can’t be dislodged. Nimble lateral agility and surprising initial quickness give him playmaking prowess, too.
Brett Keisel
DE
Drafted 242nd overall, 7th round 2002
Long-deserved Pro Bowl honors were finally recognized this season. Far and away the most athletic 3-4 defensive end in football.
Aaron Smith
DL
Drafted 109th, 5th Round 1999
Venerated 12-year veteran hopes to play for the first time since tearing his triceps in October. If he can’t go, the forceful but somewhat sluggish Nick Eaton will continue to see action.
LaMarr Woodley
LOLB
Drafted 46th overall, 2nd Round 2007
His first and second steps are as effective as all but maybe six or seven pass-rushers in the NFL. Exerts tremendous strength whether he’s making a tackle or shedding a block.
James Farrior
LILB
8th overall, 1st Round 1997 NYJ; FA 2002
A 36-year-old whose downhill quickness suggests he’s 26. Instincts against the run are superb.
Lawrence Timmons
RILB
Drafted 15th overall, 1st Round 2007
Whoever's the 2nd most athletic ILB in football is barely a speck in this man’s rearview mirror. Instincts have improved precipitously. In short, he’s already a superstar (and maybe Pittsburgh’s best player on D).
James Harrison
ROLB
UDFA 2002 PIT; FA PIT 2004 Known for four or five illegal hits, but the thousands of legal ones he’s delivered have been just as punishing.
Larry Foote
5 LB
Drafted 128th overall, 4th Round PIT; FA, 2010
This defense does not skip a beat when he gives Farrior a breather. Is fantastic at blowing up the opponents’ lead-blocker.
Ike Taylor
CB
Drafted 125th overall, 4th Round 2003
Lanky cover artist who can operate in man or zone. If not for so many dropped interceptions over the years, he’d be regarded by many as a top 10 corner.
Troy Polamalu
SS
Drafted 16th overall, 1st round 2003
Llike the Steelers have a 12 on 11 advantage when he’s out there. The difference between him and other star defenders? 2 things: his calves (which give him NBA-caliber vertical leap and incredible closing explosiveness) and unwavering trust in his instincts.
Ryan Clark
FS UDFA, 2002, WAS; FA 2006
Hard-hitting, intelligent veteran leader who has decent range in coverage.
Bryant McFadden
CB
Drafted 62nd overall, 2nd Round 2005
If this defense has a weak spot, he’d be it. And that’s NOT to say he isn’t solid.
William Gay
NB
Drafted 170th overall, 5th round, 2007
OK when he can be a playmaker, but struggles when he has to be a play-stopper.
Ryan Mundy
SS Drafted 194th overall, 6th Round, 2008
Still learning. Didn’t make the costly mistakes this season that hounded him in ’09.

*Scouting smarts credited to Benoit. HTML and research credited to Brinson.
Posted on: February 1, 2011 11:05 pm
 

Steelers develop players through patience

Posted by Andy Benoit

The Steelers are arguably the best-operated franchise in football. It’s easy and smart to laud their drafting, but it’s what they do with those drafted players that sets the organization apart. The SteelerT. Polamalu (US Presswire)s, more than any other team, let their rookies develop out of a backup role. Maurkice Pouncey is the only first-round pick other than Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller to start in his first year.

Roethlisberger only started in 2004 because veteran Tommy Maddox got hurt. Miller started in 2005 because he was just too polished. (It helped that the Steelers frequently employed two tight end formations that year).Pouncey, who left Florida after his junior year, only started because his performance in minicamp and practice was out of this world. The plan had been for the 21-year-old to learn the game as a backup guard and ease into the starting lineup around 2012.

Take a look at the path Pittsburgh’s other high-drafted player took to get into the starting lineup:


RB Rashard Mendenhall, 1st round, 2008

One start in his injury-shortened ’08 season. Began ’09 on the bench behind Willie Parker  before earning the starting job in October.


WR Mike Wallace, 3rd round, 2009


The No. 3 receiver as a rookie, his promise instilled in management the confidence to dump Santonio Holmes in 2010.


DE Ziggy Hood, 1st round, 2009

Came off the bench all last year. Would have stayed in a reserve role this season if not for Aaron Smith’s triceps injury.


ILB Lawrence Timmons, 1st round, 2007

Was drafted to play outside linebacker and learn the game behind James Harrison. However, slow progress on that front led to a position change, which proved to be a brilliant move. Timmons took over inside for Larry in 2009. By 2010, he was one of the three or four best 3-4 inside linebackers in the game.


OLB LaMarr Woodley, 2nd round, 2007

Spent his first season learning the ropes behind star veteran Joey Porter. Assumed a first-string role in 2008 and posted 11.5 sacks.


CB Bryant McFadden, 2nd round, 2005

Started just one game as a rookie. In fact, didn’t become a starter until 2008.


S Troy Polamalu, 1st round, 2003

Struggled out of the gate and didn’t start a single game in ’03. Cracked the first string in ’04 and has been “pretty good” ever since.

 

Posted on: January 20, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2011 2:47 pm
 

Assessing the X-factors: Super Bowl hopefuls

Posted by Andy Benoit

Only four teams are still standing in the 2010 NFL season, and each believes they’re destined to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb 6. The Steelers have hoisted the trophy a record six times. The Jets have hoisted it zero times but only because the stingy NFL does not hand out hardware for self-proclaimed preseason titles.

The Bears have won gobs of titles, but only one of them has been in the Super Bowl era (1985). The Packers have won three times that many Super Bowls (’66, ’67 and ’96). Neither the Packers nor Bears ever had to go through the other during the postseason to claim their title. In fact, they’ve only met in the playoffs once – and that came a week after Pearl Harbor. Yet, many fans have acquiesced to the television executives and marketing gurus telling them to view this as the best rivalry in football. In the spirit of Championship Week hype, we’ll go with it.

It will stoke the Bear-Packer rivalry when one of the teams ruins the other’s Super Bowl chances this Sunday. We’ll assume the same concept will also lay the groundwork for a Jets-Steelers rivalry (so far it’s been a bizarre love fest between those two teams).

So what are all these teams’ chances at actually making it to Arlington and having a shot at the Lombardi Trophy? Well, technically, 50 percent each. But vagueness disguised as mathematics is no fun. And neither is breaking down the same key matchups a million times. So, instead, we’ll drum up some Super Bowl appearance odds based on various X factors.

*taking the opponent’s factors into consideration


Green Bay Packers

Known to Football Fans for:
Offensive weaponry, aggressive 3-4 defense
C. Woodson (US Presswire)
Known to Non-football fans for: Cheeseheads

Most dangerous X factor: Charles Woodson

Most subtle X factor: Mike McCarthy’s occasionally questionable clock management

Injury factor: Nothing new this week (a nice changeup for a team that’s been a mash unit all season)

External conditions factor: Must adapt to the unfamiliar and unstable Soldier Field surface

Favorable karmic factor: Taking a hard line against Brett Favre’s wishy-washiness three years ago by turning to Aaron Rodgers
Unfavorable karmic factor: Stringing Rodgers along for three years before that (though to be fair, that Favre guy was pretty darn good)

Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: +8

Final Super Bowl appearance chances: 58 percent



Chicago Bears

Known to Football Fans for:
Black and blue offense that we’re all still trying to remember is actually more of pass-first Mike Martz offense now. Also, known for classic Cover 2 defenseJ. Cutler (US Presswire)

Known to Non-football fans for: Da Bears

Most dangerous X factor: Devin Hester

Most subtle X factor: The offensive line’s ability (or inability?) to diagnose blitzes before the snap

Injury factor:
Safety Chris Harris missed practice earlier this week with a sore hip

External conditions factor: Haven’t faced an above .500 team in the postseason since losing to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI

Favorable karmic factor: Jay Cutler and Mike Martz have been able to put their big egos aside and get along just fine

Unfavorable karmic factor: Cutler and Martz are only here because so many others got sick of dealing with those big egos
Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: -8

Final title chances: 42 percent



New York Jets

Known to Football Fans for:
Complex defensive scheme, run-first offense led by young quarterback and brashness
Known to Non-football fans for: Hard Knocks, Ines Sainz, foot fetishes and, before those things, being that “Oh that’s right, there are TWO teams from New York” team
R. Ryan (US Presswire)
Most dangerous X factor: Brad Smith

Most subtle X factor: The unheralded defensive line’s ability to get penetration against the run.

Injury factor: WR/KR Brad Smith (groin) practiced this week after sitting out against the Patriots; OLB/DE Jason Taylor did not practice (concussion)

External conditions factor: Attempting field goals in Heinz Field is unsettling. Attempting field goals in Heinz Field with a bewilderingly up-and-down kicker like Nick Folk? Downright nerve-wracking.

Favorable karmic factor: Their confidence

Unfavorable karmic factor: Their arrogance

Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: -13

Final title chances: 37 percent



Pittsburgh Steelers

Known to Football Fans for:
Being the consummate NFL franchise

Known to Non-football fans for: Being the last true remindB. Roethlisberger (US Presswire)er that Pittsburgh once had a burgeoning steel industry

Most dangerous X factor:
Troy Polamalu

Most subtle X factor: Nose tackle Casey Hampton’s immovability against the run

Injury factor:
SS Troy Polamalu once again rested his sore Achilles; CB Bryant McFadden sat out with a strained abdomen; DE Aaron Smith (triceps) practiced for first time since October but will not play Sunday.

External conditions factor: Because they didn’t lose them all in a row like their intrastate neighbors to the east, you don’t hear much about this: the Steelers have lost four AFC title games since 1994. All at home, by the way.

Favorable karmic factor: Management dumping bright star Santonio Holmes after his off-field transgressions

Unfavorable karmic factor: Management not dumping brighter star Ben Roethlisberger after his off-field transgressions

Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: +13

Final title chances: 63 percent


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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