Tag:Carlos Rogers
Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:45 pm
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2012 NFL Free Agency: NFC East preview

Can Jerry get Tony enough help in 2012? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas 2011 season reeked of redemption for a lost 2010 season much of the way through. Despite close (and awkward) losses to the Patriots, Jets and Lions, the Cowboys rolled into December on a four-game winning streak, with a shot at closing out the NFC East. Then things absolutely fell apart: Jason Garrett iced his own kicker in an overtime loss to Arizona, Tony Romo overthrew Miles Austin in a tight Week 14 loss to the Giants, Romo was injured the next week in a meaningless game against the Eagles and Dallas got pounded by the eventual Super Bowl champs on New Years Day. Then Jerry Jones team had to watch the 9-7 Giants march to a Super Bowl victory. Not a fun couple of months for them. And though most of the blame usually finds its way onto Romo or Garrett, significant upgrades on the offensive line and secondary could go a long way towards fixing the Cowboys problems and making them a legit contender.

Free Agents of Note
Linebacker Anthony Spencer was tagged on Monday by Dallas, so he'll be back at least one more year and could get a longer deal ... Tight end Martellus Bennett is a good blocker but hasn't panned out the way Dallas wanted ... Linebacker Keith Brooking is 36 but has drawn interest from Dallas to return in 2012 ... FB Tony Fiammetta is an RFA and needs to be retained, especially given the work he did for DeMarco Murray last year ... Linebacker Bradie James is 31 and could be gone ... Wide receiver Laurent Robinson really clicked with Tony Romo in 2012 and would be a big re-addition ... Punter Mat McBriar could be done in Dallas if the 'Boys want to move forward with Chris Jones.

Needs
Secondary
: Terence Newman, 33, could be a cap/age casualty and Abram Elam, Frank Walker and Alan Ball are free agents. If Dallas plans on remaining as aggressive as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wants them to be, they'll need to drastically improve the secondary.
Guard
: Tyron Smith and Doug Free flipped sides and are locked in at tackle, but the interior of the line needs improvement.

Targets
Brandon Carr or Cortland Finnegan would be an ideal target for Dallas as longer-term options. Neither is expected to remain with their respective teams. But if the Cowboys can't get Carr, they'll need to pursue some shorter-term options like Carlos Rogers. Guard is deep in free agency too, and it would behoove the Cowboys to invest in a stud like Carl Nicks. Getting Spencer signed to a long-term deal, rather than give him $9 million in 2012, would do a lot for their cap space.

New York Giants

It's crazy to think that the Super Bowl champion Giants looked DOA by the start of the regular season; an almost unbelievable (were it not true) string of injuries hit the team before the season began. The Giants looked even worse off in the middle of a late-season swoon that featured some of the toughest

Free Agents of Note:
Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham is going to get overpaid somewhere else based on his postseason performance ... Secret Super Bowl hero Steve Weatherford got the franchise tag Monday, so he'll be back in 2012 ... Wideout Domenik Hixon's already been re-signed ... Cornerback Aaron Ross says he wants to return but won't commit to a "hometown" discount ... Terrell Thomas was lost in the preseason but is closing in on a deal with the Giants ... Deon Grant is scheduled for free agency as well ... Both Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe tore their ACLs in the Super Bowl, so the Giants have to sign someone to play tight end ... Kareem McKenzie is 32-years-old and the Giants could be ready to move on after he struggled last season.

Needs
Tight End: This seems like a classic "address it at the end of the first round" issue, since the Giants could have their pick of Cody Fleener, Orson Charles and Dwayne Allen at No. 32. If not, they'll need to get someone from a not-so-attractive free agent pile.
Offensive Line: This is a unit that's getting older quickly. David Deihl can work anywhere on the line, but he's 31.
Secondary: If the Giants get Thomas, they could be fine here, as they've already got Corey Webster and Antrel Rolle. But last year proved how important depth really is, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them beef up the position.

Targets
The Giants are tight up against the salary cap this offseason, but are also coming off a year where they won the Super Bowl. The pressure isn't too intense on them to make a big splash with outside guys in free agency (nor should it be). If they can find value in a some cheaper offensive line options with a little upside (Geoff Schwartz anyone?) that would make the most sense in terms of an outside pick up.

Philadelphia Eagles

You know what happened here: a dream-team season quickly turned into a nightmare out of the gates, and the Eagles were the laughingstock of the NFL as they fell to 1-4. They finally turned things around with a four-game winning streak to close out at 8-8, giving Philly fans plenty of hope for 2012. (Not to mention helping Andy Reid's job security.) But there are still concerns here, because the Eagles have to get some linebackers and safeties in order to stop the run, manage their high-priced cornerbacks in a more efficient manner and keep Michael Vick from getting tattooed by opposing defenders. It's unlikely that Philly will make the same splash in free agency as they did in 2011, but that could actually be a good thing.

Free Agents: Running back Ronnie Brown might've thrown away (literally) any chance he had of returning to Philly ... DeSean Jackson got the franchise tag, and the team could still sign him long term or seek to trade him ... King Dunlap and Evan Mathis are both free agents on the offensive line; Mathis wants to return and should be priority No. 1 ... Trevor Laws, Juqua Parker and Derek Landri would depart the defensive line's depth if they all left ... Vince Young and Steve Smith, two big-name additions that didn't contribute much in 2011, seem likely to bolt.
Needs
Linebacker: Luke Koechly is the hot name for the Eagles in the draft, but his stock is rising and might not be available. Getting a middle linebacker who can stuff the run is absolutely essential for the Eagles defense in 2012. Adding some help at outside linebacker would be a bonus; acquiring linebackers isn't really Andy Reid's forte though.
Defensive Line Depth: The Eagles still have Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Trent Cole starting, but as noted above, they're going to need depth to keep those guys fresh throughout the year.

Targets
Linebacker, as noted, is the biggest need. Fortunately for the Eagles, there are some nice names out there. Stephen Tulloch and Curtis Lofton represent pricier, albeit talented, options at middle linebacker. Dan Connor's a name that's been rumored with Philly and he could make sense as a run-stopping specialist who doesn't cost that much.

Washington Redskins

As Clark Judge recently wrote, the Redskins are running out of options for 2012. Either get Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III or prepare to move on from Mike Shanahan. They'll have their chance at each, as Manning will be a free agent soon and the Rams are willing to deal the No. 2 pick in April's draft. And the Redskins success really could come down to the quarterback position: if they can get Manning or RG3 and put suitable weapons around one of those guys (I personally prefer RG3 for them), Washington could net a few more wins and at least challenge for the division title that Rex Grossman guaranteed before 2011 started.

Free Agents
Fred Davis was franchised and remains the team's most explosive offensive weapon but he needs to stay out of trouble ... Tim Hightower fits what Mike Shanahan wants to do but wasn't as effect ... London Fletcher is old but remains effective and the Redskins need him back ... Rex Grossman seems destined to remain with Shanny forever, even if it's just on one-year deals ... Graham Gano was tendered and should be back ... Washington's already re-signed center Will Montgomery ... LaRon Landry can't stay healthy but Washington might gamble on him at a cheap price ... Roy Helu makes Tim Hightower expendable, though Hightower was decent in his five starts before being injured.
Needs
Quarterback: Quite obviously.
Wide Receiver: Jabar Gaffney shouldn't be anyone's No. 1 wideout. If the Skins go with the Manning route, it's entirely possible they can lure other free-agent wideouts into town. Either way, reports indicate they want to get a "high-profile wide receiver" and that's a good thing. Pairing Manning or RG3 with a viable wideout could make this offense explosive in 2012.
Offensive Line: Washington's set at several slots on the front, but could use an upgrade on the right side, where Jamaal Brown in particular has not been as good as they'd hoped.
Targets
Manning's the main target here. If they can't get Peyton, then the Skins have to get RG3. Both are attainable, it's just whether or not the cost is prohibitive. Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Marques Colston would all qualify as "marquee" wideouts. Ben Grubbs and Carl Nicks would be obviously be tremendous adds and allow the Redskins to shift some personnel and improve their line. Evan Mathis would take away from a division opponent as well.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 8:12 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:21 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Cornerback rankings

Follow all our 2012 free-agent rankings here (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 cornerbacks.

The NFL is a passing league, which puts a premium on quarterbacks and wide receivers on offense, and pass rushers and cornerbacks on defense. Incidentally, these positions are among the league's highest paid, too. Go figure.

1. Cortland Finnegan

Breakdown: The former seventh-round pick out of Samford has turned a draft-day oversight into a career fueled by motivation. Finnegan's on-field skills are sometimes overlooked by his trash-talking and knack for playing just past the whistle. But there's no disputing his ability. And if the Titans don't re-sign him (the two sides were reportedly far apart on a deal earlier this week), expect a CB-needy team to pony up. Like, say, the Cowboys.

Possible landing spots: Cowboys, Titans, Texans (for the sheer Andre Johnson/Kevin Walter awkwardness)

2. Brent Grimes

UPDATE: The Falcons franchised Grimes Friday

Breakdown:
Another small-school player who has emerged as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. The Falcons are working to re-sign Grimes (worst case: they'll franchise him), who played opposite Dunta Robinson in recent seasons. ProFootballFocus ranks Grimes as their No. 1 free-agent CB, noting that he allowed just 258 total receiving yards in 2011.

Possible landing spots: Falcons

3. Carlos Rogers

Breakdown: Perhaps it's coincidence that Rogers' breakout performance came a year after he left the Redskins, the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2005. In Washington, he was considered a bust, a cornerback who got beat too often and dropped too many should-be interceptions. In San Francisco, he looked like the player the Skins envisioned they were getting on draft day. Rogers recorded six interceptions (he had eight in six previous seasons) and 18 passes defended in 2011, and said recently that he hopes to get a deal down with the 49ers before free agency. If not, he's a candidate for the franchise tag, assuming that honor doesn't go to safety Dashon Goldson

Possible landing spots: 49ers, Cowboys

4. Brandon Carr

Breakdown: Carr was taken in the fifth round of the 2008 draft as a Cover-2 cornerback. In three years, he's emerged as one of the Chiefs' best defenders and if he doesn't return to K.C. (the organization hopes to keep him), the Cowboys have grand plans of bringing him to Dallas (yes, just like Finnegan). Kansas City signed Stanford Routt in February but GM Scott Pioli said during a recent radio interview that "The signing of Stanford Routt does not impact where we’re at with Brandon Carr. As a matter of fact, Romeo and I both reached out to Brandon yesterday as this was unfolding and talked to him."

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Cowboys

5. Lardarius Webb

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: After a solid rookie campaign in 2009, Webb regressed in Year 2 only to have his best NFL season in 2011. The Ravens appear set to tender him as a restricted free agent and have him play opposite 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Williams. According to PFF, he didn't allow a single touchdown last season. Webb is also a capable return man.

Possible landing spots: Ravens

6. Terrell Thomas

Breakdown: Thomas suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason but the Giants could choose to re-sign him and let former first-rounder Aaron Ross walk. Thomas' 2010 season can kindly be described as disastrous, but he played well in 2009and at 27, he has plenty of upside. CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan tweeted Thursday that the Giants and Thomas are closing in on a deal.

Possible landing spots: Giants

7. Tracy Porter

Breakdown: Porter is best known as "that guy who was on the receiving end of the Peyton Manning Super Bowl gift," but he hasn't lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick. That's not to say he's been a disappointment just that he hasn't been a breakout player. In his top-50 free-agent rankings, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco offers an apt description: "He is a good, solid starting corner, and those guys get paid. The Saints probably won't be able to keep him. He turns 26 in August."

Possible landing spots: Lions

8. Aaron Ross

Breakdown: Ross, like former teammate Thomas, has been plagued by injuries. He's also one of the six Giants cornerbacks set to hit free agency. But unlike Thomas, the former first-rounder may have played his last down in New York. As the New York Daily News noted earlier this week, "(Thomas) was the starter over Ross before he tore his ACL in August. The Giants had even expressed an interest in extending his contract last summer before he got hurt." Still, like we said at the outset: this is a passing league, which means that even mediocre cornerbacks won't have trouble finding work. If Ross can stay healthy, he'll have a job.

Possible landing spots: Lions, Cowboys

9. Tim Jennings

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: At first glance, Jennings is undersized and outmatched. That explains why the Colts parted ways with him in 2009, four years after they drafted him in the second round. It's with some irony then that Jennings' performed well in the Bears' defense. As PFF points out, Jennings is primarily a Cover-2 cornerback, a potential limitation given that teams are moving away from that scheme. Even though he was benched last year, Jennings didn't allow a touchdown. While he's not a starter, he provides quality depth in the right system.

Possible landing spots: Cover-2 teams looking for a nickel or dime back

10. William Gay

Breakdown: Gay, like most names at the bottom of this list, isn't an NFL starter. The Steelers tried that in 2010 with disastrous results. But Gay is a pretty good nickel back who can serve as a spot starter. Given that Pittsburgh has invested five years into him learning Dick LeBeau's scheme, they might try to bring him back. If not, he won't have any issues landing with another team.

Possible landing spots: Steelers, Lions

Honorable Mention

Richard Marshall, Eric Wright, Rashean Mathis, Ronde Barber, Marcus Trufant, Phillip Buchanon, Jason Allen, Kelly Jennings, Adam Jones, Antwaun Molden, Cary Williams (RFA), Jacob Lacey (RFA), Keenan Lewis (RFA)

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Posted on: February 11, 2012 12:26 pm
 

Routt drawing interest on free agent market

According to his agent, a number of teams already have shown interest in Routt.  (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Though the Raiders obviously had no interest in paying cornerback Stanford Routt the remainder of his five-year, $55.4 million contract -- which is why they released him Thursday, a day before they owed him $5 million -- Routt is becoming quite popular around the league.

As ESPN Dallas reports, the Cowboys, Bills and Titans have shown interest in acquiring Routt -- who was one of the Raiders better defenders but who struggled toward the end of last season.

Routt’s agent said the cornerback will visit Buffalo and Tennessee, while the Vikings and Chiefs also have reached out to gauge the possibilities of working with Routt.

While he had the best statistical year of his career in 2011 -- Routt had career highs with four interceptions and 15 passes defended -- the film-watchers at Pro Football Focus weren’t quite as impressed.

PFF points out that Routt’s 17 penalties led the league among cornerbacks (eight defensive holding, seven pass interference, one illegal use of hands and one personal foul) and writes, “Routt graded reasonably well in coverage, and numbers are OK, but offset a LOT of receiving yardage with penalty yardage. Skews data.”

Routt also allowed nine touchdowns, the most in the NFL.

While Routt won’t be the top free agent cornerback on the market, he could draw some interest at a reduced rate. Not the same kind of interest as, say, Kansas City’s Brandon Carr (who was No. 2 on the top-50 free agents list put together by CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco), Atlanta’s Brent Grimes (No. 8), Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan (No. 14), San Francisco’s Carlos Rogers (No. 14), New Orleans’ Tracy Porter (No. 20) or New York’s Aaron Ross (No. 27).

Actually, come to think of it, the free agent market will be stacked with top-flight cornerbacks, and though Routt almost certainly will draw legitimate interest -- maybe more than he already has -- he can almost certainly forget about making more than $10 million a year. Or as PFF writes, “Not saying Routt can't play, but he was being vastly overpaid. Can be a reasonable pickup for a team on a more sensible contract.”

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Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants NFC CG preview

Can Smith and Harbaugh work some more magic Sunday? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

These teams gave us a very good game back in Week 10 from which we came away truly believing for the first time that San Francisco’s old school style might actually still work in today’s pass-happy NFL. However, not much can be drawn on from that game, as the Giants were without Ahmad Bradshaw, hadn’t yet gelled on the O-line and were still trying to figure things out in their defensive back seven.

New York is healthy now and, as you’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times, “playing with confidence”. Confidence does not breed success, it stems from success. Simply put, the Giants are a much better football team this time around.


1. Tougher task for Alex Smith
Alex Smith’s fourth quarter heroics last week might have been career-changing, at least pertaining to his public image. But lost in the excitement was the fact that Smith and his teammates struggled somewhat to identify blitzes throughout most of the contest.

And, until the final few minutes, Smith wasn’t comfortable against heavy coverage in the red zone. He caught fire once he started recognizing the one-on-one matchups for Vernon Davis BEFORE the snap (which wasn’t hard against the Saints’ Cover 0’s). Thus, after the snap, he didn’t have to worry about making the right decision – he just had to worry about throwing a good ball.  (To his credit, he did this extremely well.)

This week, Smith will have to worry about both. Given the mediocrity of San Francisco’s offensive tackles, the Giants’ four-man rush should be able to get pressure and force the Niners to keep backs and tight ends in to block (or at least chip). When the Giants do blitz, it’s usually a zone pass-rushing concept involving a linebacker (see Michael Boley’s two sacks at Green Bay).

Thus, all game Smith will be throwing into a more crowded secondary and without quickly defined reads. Unless Joe Staley and Anthony Davis play the game of their lives, Smith will also be throwing under some duress. Post-snap decision-making from a crowded pocket has always been Smith’s greatest weakness.

As he’s done all season, Jim Harbaugh will ameliorate Smith’s deficiencies by giving him simplified quick throws off three-step drops, utilizing play-action and, perhaps, calling throws on first down (where the coverages tend to be more basic). The Niners did this with great success in Week 10. In fact, they did it was great success throughout the season; Smith’s passer rating on first down was 101.6.

But at some point, just like last week, Smith is going to have to make a big-time throw in an obvious passing situation.


After dominating the Green Bay Packers last week, the New York Giants will travel to Candlestick Park to square off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they break down this matchup.

2. Smith’s targets
Smith isn’t the only passing game contributor who faces a tougher challenge this week. Michael Crabtree will likely be shadowed by Corey Webster, an outstanding all-around cover corner. Because Crabtree isn’t fast enough to run away from most corners, he has to beat them with body control and agility. Often, his best routes drag over the middle. When his routes go inside, it’s easy for the Giants to give Webster help (not that he needs much).

Smith’s top target, Vernon Davis, won’t be facing Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins in man coverage. Instead, he’ll go against Antrel Rolle, a more athletic cover artist whom the Arizona Cardinals originally drafted in the first round as a cornerback (the Saints drafted Jenkins as a corner, as well, but after a year they admitted what had been apparent from Day One: the stiff-hipped ex-Buckeye was better suited for safety).

And unlike last week, Davis won’t have just one defender to beat, as it’s highly unlikely the Giants will play only man and have Rolle constantly defend the 250-pound tight end one-on-one.

3. Gotta make it Gorey
Expect the run-first Niners to go back to the ground this week. Frank Gore got just 13 carries against New Orleans; he needs at least 22 against New York. If Gore can pound the rock against Perry Fewell’s big nickel defense (two linebackers, two safeties and Rolle playing a utility role as a third safety/linebacker/slot corner), the Giants may decide to go back to their base 4-3.

That would make for a less athletic front seven and present a greater possibility for Davis to draw matchups against linebackers.

Let’s keep it simple and also remember that, regardless of what the defense is doing, running is San Francisco’s bread and butter. They’re built around the power run, with booming and mobile left guard Mike Iupati pulling to the right of Pro Bowl center Jonathan Goodwin and working in unison with lead-blockers Bruce Miller and Justin Peelle (or Delanie Walker if he can get healthy).

That’s the formula that got this team here. And it happens to be the formula that can keep New York’s white hot quarterback off the field.

4. Giants passing game
New York’s rushing attack is nowhere near as dreadful as it was in September, October and November, but against the league’s stingiest run defense, it still can’t be counted on. The Giants will have to ride the golden right arm of Eli Manning. He isn’t facing a porous pass defense like he did a week ago. San Francisco has three corners who can stay with New York’s frighteningly athletic wide receivers.

In the last meeting, Carlos Rogers was sensational defending the slot, making a handful of great jumps on the ball and finishing with two interceptions. Rogers is good enough to handle Victor Cruz.

What really stood out in the first divisional round game was how well the Niner defensive backs – particularly safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner – tackled. Considering the DB’s penchant for forcing fumbles, the Giants may be hesitant to put Hakeem Nicks and Cruz in the catch-and-run situations that they enjoy.

5. San Fran’s defensive line
The 49ers were able to break down the Giants’ pass protection in the last meeting, but again, this Giants line has improved immensely since then.

Still, Aldon Smith, with his explosive first step and startlingly quick hands, is a nightmare matchup for David Diehl on the left side, while Kareem McKenzie will need a little help against the speed of Ahmad Brooks on the right. Then there’s Justin Smith, who makes four or five fantastic penetrative plays a game.

In addition to rushing the passer, the Niners’ front three/four is fast and athletic enough to hunt down screen passes outside the numbers. That’s assuming Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman don’t hunt them down first.

Against this dynamic front seven, the Giants won’t be able to count heavily on Ahmad Bradshaw or ancillary options like Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. Manning and his wide receivers will have to find ways to make big plays.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Championship games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:11 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 10:08 pm
 

Don't forget to give Niners defense credit

49ers defensive end Justin Smith was all over Brees Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The 49ers victory over New Orleans on Saturday might very well go down as one of the all-time great playoffs games. And Alex Smith is going to get a lot of credit for morphing into Joe Montana and leading the 49ers to a pair of lead-grabbing drives with less than 150 seconds on the clock. He deserves that credit, but let's not forget the effort that the Niners defense put forth against Drew Brees and the Saints for the majority of the game.

As we noted at halftime, San Francisco's physical play disrupted Brees, shut down any sort of rushing attack for the Saints and led to 13 points for a Niners offense that lost its identity for most of the game.

In fact, the Niners could've blown out the Saints if the offense had shown up for the first three quarters; even the Niners long scoring drive in the first quarter came off a Pierre Thomas fumble forced by Donte Whitner.

The secondary was resplendent with the exception of giving up two big plays to Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, and Carlos Rogers so many big plays you could practically hear the general area of Washington D.C. groaning in collective misery.


Justin Smith showed precisely why many people believe he was the best defensive player in the NFL this year and through most of three quarters, the Niners played what might've been the best defensive football this season. And rookie Aldon Smith continued to flash big-time potential, forcing his way through blocks to pressure Brees.

The offense simply didn't come to play for the second and third quarters, and for much of the game, the playcalling was curious. That's not to knock Greg Roman because the plays he busted out in the final three minutes more than made up for it, but the Niners still only ran the ball 22 times. That makes zero sense, especially with a 17-0 lead early on.

Whatever, the offense came through when it needed to, but in the wake of handing Smith all the due credit he deserves, let's not forget to give props to the defense for not just keeping the Niners in the game early, but actually offering San Francisco a chance to run away with an upset victory that eventually came anyway.

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Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:15 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 11:49 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Saints divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The league’s No. 2 scoring offense meets the No. 2 scoring defense at Candlestick on Saturday.

Neither side has faced this tall of an order this season. Here’s the breakdown.


1. Niners inside ‘backers on Saints stars
NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are the reason San Francisco had the league’s best all-around defense in 2011. Both are smart, supremely athletic and adept in traffic and space. Thus, both can play run or pass at the highest of levels, which is why neither comes off the field much.

All season long, defenses have tried to figure out not just how to stop Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, but how to simply line up against them. Do you use safeties on Graham and linebackers on Sproles? Vice Versa? Do you go with cornerbacks for both and risk getting run on?

The Niners might be the first team that doesn’t have to worry about personnel packages against these two, as they may put one First Team All-Pro linebacker on Graham and the other First Team All-Pro linebacker on Sproles. Whether the Niners can win those matchups is another discussion, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is extremely fortunate to be able to even consider it.

Instead of having his players focus on new strategies, he can have them focus on execution.

2. Handling the rest of New Orleans’ passing attack
The 49ers generally play zone out of their base defense and man when they go nickel or dime. Because Graham is like a third wide receiver, the Saints can stay predominantly in their base personnel if they’re more comfortable facing zone coverage. That should be the case Saturday, as San Fran’s cornerbacking trio of Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver outside and Carlos Rogers inside has been tremendous in man-to-man.

Those three are capable of matching up with Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Marques Colston – especially if safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are providing help as free roamers over the top.

Whitner is somewhat limited in coverage (his success tends to come when linebackers are blitzing, which defines the routes quickly and makes them easier to jump). Goldson, on the other hand, is very rangy.

Both players must be careful not to overreact to the subtle fakes and body language of Drew Brees. No quarterback manipulates deep safeties better than the new single season passing yards record holder.

Pressuring Brees is critical to stopping New Orleans. (Getty Images)

3. Pressuring Brees
San Francisco is willing to blitz but often doesn’t have to, thanks to the speed of edge-rushers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Smith works extremely well with All-Pro defensive end/tackle Justin Smith on the left side when it comes to twists and stunts. That’s something the Saints left offensive line has struggled with over the years.

This season, however, athletic left tackle Jermon Bushrod has finally polished his pass-blocking mechanics and perennial Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks has ironed out the kinks he had in lateral pass-blocking movement. Nicks is also great at picking up Bushrod’s slack as a help-blocker.

The real key will be whether the right side of the Saints’ line can keep Brees clean. This Saints started clicking after their loss to the Rams, when Sean Payton tweaked the protections to give his tackles help with chip blocks from backs and tight ends. That’s the only way the Saints could survive the slow feet of right tackle Zach Strief.

If Ahmad Brooks draws even one true solo matchup against Strief on third-and-long, it means something has gone terribly wrong. (Or, it means the Niners will have gambled with an overload pass-rush on that side, which is plausible given that Bowman and Willis are both excellent blitzers.)

4. Niners run game against Saints D
The Niners make no bones about it: they’re going to win with Frank Gore, not Alex Smith. They’re a power-run offense – literally. Most of their offense derives from power plays, with left guard Mike Iupati pulling and fullback Bruce Miller or H-back Delanie Walker lead-blocking. The Saints have the personnel to stop this.

Former Niners tackle Aubrayo Franklin is a clogger inside and, when he shows up, veteran Shaun Rogers is a destroyer off the bench behind the generally incognito Sedrick Ellis. Also, defensive ends Will Smith and Cameron Jordan might not have dazzling sack numbers (Jordan, this year’s first round pick, recorded all of one), but both are superb at crashing inside or sliding down the line of scrimmage.

At the second level, Jonathan Vilma is regarded as the star (and rightfully so – he calls the signals and patrols sideline-to-sideline), but strong safety Roman Harper might be the deciding character on Saturday. Harper’s presence is what makes the Saints’ front seven so fast.

That will be especially important when backup running back Kendall Hunter, an underrated tempo-changer with better quickness and burst than Frank Gore, is in the game.

5. Niners big pass plays vs. Saints secondary
Jim Harbaugh is masterful at installing simple wrinkles in his offense each week that take advantage of the opponent’s greatest weakness. This week that means building a few downfield shot-plays into the passing game.

The Saints led the league in 40-plus-yard pass plays allowed during the regular season. The Niners know that if they keep extra blockers in for pass protection help (which their O-line needs, especially at tackle, where Joe Staley is very average on the left side and Anthony Davis, despite getting an embarrassingly nonsensical All-Pro vote, is very inconsistent on the right side), the Saints, with their green-dog heavy blitz packages, will bring the house:

In case you missed it, in last Saturday night’s broadcast, Cris Collinsworth did a great job explaining a green dog blitz. A green-dog blitz is when a defender in man coverage rushes the quarterback after he sees that his man has stayed in to block. Thanks to the speed and aggression of their linebackers, the Saints green-dog blitz as effectively as any team in football.

Thus, there are one-on-one matchups to be had downfield. Though San Francisco’s offense has been Gingrich-level conservative this season, downfield shots off play-action, particularly when the ball’s just inside midfield, have actually been a consistent element in their gameplans.

The Niners have to intentionally design their big plays because, other than maybe tight end Vernon Davis, they don’t have anyone who can conjure them naturally.

Michael Crabtree has great body control but “inexplosive” speed. Kyle Williams is quick out of the slot but not over the top. Ted Ginn has playmaking POTENTIAL but isn’t consistent enough to be considered an actual PLAYMAKER.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 10:54 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The NFC’s top team from the East will travel some 3,000 miles to face the top team from the West in a game that could ultimately decide the No. 2 playoff seed. Here’s a five-point look at this matchup between two overachieving clubs.



1. Old School offenses
If not for HD quality picture and the first-down line, you could fool yourself into thinking the year is 1990 when watching these two offenses line up on Sunday. Both are built around traditional rushing attacks, operating predominantly out of classic 12, 21 or 22 personnel (12 personnel = 1 back, two tight ends; 21 personnel = two backs, one tight end; you can guess what 22 personnel equals).

The difference is that the Niners this season have successfully run the ball, while the Giants have not (San Francisco ranks sixth in the NFL with 137.6 yards rushing per game; New York ranks 29th with 88.8).

Jim Harbaugh has good horses in Frank Gore and the more dynamic but less experienced Kendall Hunter, but it’s not a glistening backfield like those found in Philadelphia, Houston or Oakland. To compensate, Harbaugh has done a masterful job manufacturing rushing yards through formation variations, motion and subtle subterfuge. The Niners show opponents a lot of different looks with their running back and tight end alignments. And with mobile guards like Mike Iupati and, to an extent, Adam Snyder, they can frequently change up their movement-oriented run-blocking techniques. They have the most variegated ground game in the NFL.
 
The Giants would like to mimic this, but Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t been healthy and Brandon Jacobs hasn’t been impactful. More encumbering has been the shakiness of the offensive line. The center position has been particularly problematic. David Baas has battled injuries and struggled with gap-shooting defensive tackles against Miami two weeks ago; when Baas has been out, Kevin Boothe has looked how you’d expect a career backup tackle to look at center. Most telling is that recently, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been almost exclusively aerial in his late-game play-calls.

2. The Quarterbacks
The Giants have managed six wins despite a sputtering ground game. The reason? Eli Manning has played the best football of his career. Herein lays the difference between New York and San Francisco. Both teams have former No. 1 overall drafted quarterbacks, but only one can put the game on its quarterback’s shoulders.

Manning is seeing the field clearer than ever (fortunately for him, New York’s front line struggles have not been in pass protection). His command of the offense and sound decision-making have propagated the eruptions of tight end Jake Ballard and slot receiver Victor Cruz. Ballard is an enhanced version of Kevin Boss; Cruz, with his unique body control and sticky hands, is a more explosive – though less stable – version of Steve Smith.

Something that’s not talked about often enough is Manning’s arm strength. He’s among the small handful of quarterbacks who truly can make all the throws; and he doesn’t need to be on balance or in perfect pocket conditions to do it.

Alex Smith, on the other hand, does need perfect pocket conditions. Smith is not functional with bodies around him. When he does have room, the throw usually has to target his first or second read, as he’s never had the poise to work deep in his progressions. This is one reason the Niners have spent so much time in 12 or 21 or 22 formations. When there are only three receivers running routes, defenses are more inclined to bring an eighth defender in the box, thus allowing for more one-on-one coverage concepts outside. This makes things simpler for the quarterback.

The Giants, on the other hand, are able to split into three, and sometimes four, receiver formations for long stretches and let Manning run the show.

3. Pass-rushes
These are two of the best pure pass-rushing defenses in the NFL. Pure meaning both are willing but not compelled to blitz. When they do blitz, it’s often primarily in an effort to command isolated matchups for rushers on the edge. For these defenses, those matchups will almost always be favorable.
 
For the Giants, Osi Umenyiora augments his incredible speed by being the league’s best snap-count anticipators in obvious passing situations. Opposite him, a healthy Justin Tuck is a versatile, fundamentally sharp force, and a rising Jason Pierre-Paul has willowy power and speed that make him a potentially more explosive version of Tuck. And don’t forget that linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka is a former first-round defensive end who can turn the corner.

You already know all this, though. What you may not know is that San Francisco’s pass-rushers are not too many rungs behind New York’s. Sixth-year pro Ahmad Brooks has finally learned how to apply his startling speed and fluidity on an everydown basis (even against the run, which close observers two years ago would not have predicted).

Rookie Aldon Smith plays with Manny Pacquiao-like hand-quickness to go with natural leverage that punctuates his first-round athleticism. What’s more, most 3-4 defenses don’t bank on getting pressure from their ends. But they don’t have a weapon like Justin Smith. He wears opponents out and makes three or four splash plays a week. Opposite Smith, Ray McDonald, when healthy (he injured his hamstring in Week 8) has been equally dynamic this season.

Both defenses have the versatility to create pass-rushing mismatches through position relocation and group concepts. All of the men mentioned above are outside players who can align inside, stand up as de facto blitzing linebackers or properly set up and execute crashes and stunts with teammates.

4. The Coverage Effect
These difficult-to-block four-man pass-rushes force quarterbacks to throw under duress into seven-man coverages. As they showed at New England last week, the Giants linebackers and safeties are getting more comfortable recognizing and attacking passing lanes. It helps that their cornerbacks, though inconsistent early in the season, can play press-man coverage outside.

Corey Webster has been particularly impressive in recent weeks, often shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver. He’s well equipped to defend the lithe but inexplosive Michael Crabtree.

The Niners love to play two-man out of their nickel defense. This puts cornerbacks Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver man-to-man on the wideouts and allows the two safeties, Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, to roam free over the top. Rogers, who starts outside but plays the slot in nickel, is having a career-year. Brown blends into the scheme in a good way. Culliver, a precocious third-round rookie, always plays with a great sense for his surroundings.

Even if Hakeem Nicks, discreetly a top-10 NFL receiver, returns from his hamstring injury this week, the Giants are going to have a tough time consistently getting wideouts open against this Niners secondary.

5. The inside linebackers
We saved the best for last: San Francisco’s inside linebackers (and just San Francisco’s – New York’s entire linebacking corps is very mediocre).

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the best inside linebacking duo in football. The past few years, Willis has rightfully been regarded as the best in the business. This season, he may be the second best on his own team, as Bowman, a 2010 third-round pick, leads San Fran in tackles.

Setting these two apart is the fact that they both play all three downs. That’s incredible in this day and age of spread offenses. In nickel and dime defense, Willis and Bowman perform coverage assignments normally reserved for defensive backs. They have the speed, change-of-direction prowess and awareness to do it. Both are quick-closing tacklers, instinctive run-defenders and innate playmakers.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 12, 2011 9:43 am
Edited on: October 12, 2011 10:51 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 5



Posted by Will Brinson

Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 5 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman     Cutler  Rogers  Janikowski  Harbaugh
Prisco     Best  Wilson  Novak  Jackson
Brinson Green-Ellis  Allen  Janikowski  Frazier
Katzowitz  R-berger  Wilson  Janikowski  Harbaugh
Wilson  R-Berger  Barnett  Janikowski  Schwartz
Week 5's in the books and so are our ballots -- let's recap exactly why people won what they won.

Jay Cutler got a vote because even though he lost, the Bears offensive line is embarrassing. But Ben Roethlisberger, who plays behind an inept line as well, got more votes for his ability to play through injury and do what Ben do.

On defense, beating the Eagles is still considered impressive apparently, because George Wilson (and Nick Barnett) were mentioned the most and pick up our Eye on Defense awards.

Sebastian Janikowski, aka the Polish Cannon, was nearly a unanimous selection for Eye on Special Teams -- he was one Nick Novak vote away from sweeping the award this week, and it's understandable given he bombed three fifty-yard field goals.

For Eye on Coaching, things were much different -- Hue Jackson was the emotional favorite heading in, but Jim Harbaugh's business-like beatdown of the Bucs garnered him enough support to pick up the award.

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Ryan Wilson
Jay Cutler Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
He didn't the win game. His statistics weren't great but it's rare to see a quarterback get the living hell beat of him like that and keep fighting. Fighting. That's not a word commonly associated with Cutler especially since half of league went on Twitter and trashed his toughness during that debacle of a playoff game last season. The only guy I saw get beat up more was Mark Sanchez against Baltimore. Cutler and Matt Forte almost single-handedly kept the Bears in the game.
Darren McFaddenBen Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
It took a sprained left foot to the franchise quarterback and injuries up and down the roster, but the Steelers' offense -- and Roethlisberger -- looked crisp and efficient against the Titans. Big Ben finished with five touchdowns, and 24 of 34 passing, with many of the completions coming on three-step drops. Funny how that works.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Jahvid Best Jahvid Best, RB, Lions
Best ran for163 yards on 12 carries, including an 88-yard touchdown run against the Bears Monday night that helped give the Lions a 21-10 win. He averaged 13.6 per carry. Best has big-play ability that compliments the Lions' wide-open passing game.
BenJarvus Green-EllisBenJarvus Green-Ellis
"The Law Firm" was supposed to lose carries to Stevan Ridley heading into the Jets game. So much for that -- Ellis won on summary judgment against Rex Ryan's defense, running for 136 yards and two TDs on 27 carries, using a punishing physicality to help the Patriots seal a crucial division victory.
Josh Katzowitz
Ben RoethlisbergerBen Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
We got word that Roethlisberger and his bad foot were limping around the locker room before the game. But after throwing for five touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s blowout win, Roethlisberger was either faking or it was just another “too tough to know any better” performances. He also did a nice job of adjusting in order to make up for a beat-up offensive line.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Wilson
Carlos RogersCarlos Rogers, CB, 49ers
He returned a Tampa Bay interception 31 yards for a touchdown. It was a good play but the truth is that entire 49ers defense deserved the award. They gave up just three points and you can see the 49ers start to take on the no-nonsense personality of the coach. This is what the 49ers had hoped to do when the organization hired Mike Singletary.
Nick Barnett Nick Barnett, LB, Bills
He intercepted Vick twice, including a pick-six. Of course, beating the Eagles isn't quite as prestigious as it was a month ago, but given the Bills' recent history, I'm guessing they won't quibble.

Prisco Brinson
George WilsonGeorge Wilson, S, Bills
Wilson doesn't get a lot of due, but he should. He was all over the field against the Eagles. He had 11 tackles, three passes defensed, an interception and a tackle for loss. He was everywhere in the Bills upset of the Eagles.
Jared AllenJared Allen, DE, Vikings
Allen did what he's done all year -- disrupt the passer. But this time, the Vikings finally won. Allen harassed Kevin Kolb into an absolutely horrible game, sacking him twice, picking up three tackles, three QB hits and recovering a fumble. Give Minny's D credit for finally holding a lead.
Katzowitz
George Wilson George Wilson, Nick Barnett, Bills
The Bills just keep on winning, and Sunday’s victory was a credit to their D. Wilson was all over the field with 11 tackles and a pick, and Barnett returned a Vick interception for a TD and then picked Vick again in the fourth quarter as the Eagles were driving for a potential game-tying touchdown.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Wilson
Sebastian JanikowskiSebastian Janikowski, K, Raidersy K
Janikowski tied an NFL record with three field goals of 50 yards or more. Not bad for a former fat boy party dude. Few players not named Vick have improved their public image over the years better than Janikowski. He's always had a strong leg but these days he's more disciplined and his accuracy and ability to boot long kicks makes him a terrific scoring threat.
Sebastian Janikowski Sebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
He was 4 for 4 on field-goal attempts, none closer than 42 yards. Janikowski also converted from 55, 54 and 50. We almost expected him to run on the field and intercept Matt Schaub in the end zone on the last play of the game, too.
Prisco Brinson
Nick NovakNick Novak, K, Chargers
When the Chargers lost Nate Kaeding for the season on opening day with a knee injury, there was great concern about the kicking game. Novak has alleviated those fears. He made all five of his field goals against Denver and hasn't missed this season.
Sebastian JanikowskiSebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
As awesome as the Polish Cannon's headshot is, I might just name him special teams player of the week every week from here on out. But he deserved it in Week 5, accounting for 13 of the Raiders 25 points with a 4-4 day, including three field goals longer than 50 yards each.
Katzowitz
Sebastian Janikowski Sebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
He kicked a 54-yard field goal and followed that up with a 55-yarder. Then, one from 50 and one from 42. It was fitting on this day in particular because he had been selected in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft. By Al Davis.
 
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Wilson
Jim HarbaughJim Harbaugh, 49ers
The 49ers are 4-1. Repeat: the formerly sorry ass 49ers and their formerly sorry quarterback Alex Smith are 4-1. Harbaugh has been able to make Smith into a viable quarterback threat. Repeat: Alex Smith is good. How'd that happen?: Harbaugh, that's how.
Jim SchwartzJim Schwartz, Lions
The Lions are 5-0, including Monday night's win over the Bears in their biggest game in more than a decade. For some perspective, Detroit won five games in a season or fewer six times during Matt Millen's eight-year reign of terror.

Prisco Brinson
Hue JacksonHue Jackson, Raiders
With the death of owner Al Davis hanging over this team, Jackson got his team ready to upset a good Houston team on the road. That takes keeping the focus. The Raiders are playing much better this season, and Jackson deserves the credit.
Leslie FrazierLeslie Frazier, Vikings
Good on Frazier for holding onto a lead and winning his first game as a full-time head coach in Minnesota -- Frazier's tenure with the Vikings started off ... interestingly, with the Vikings blowing a slew of double-digit leads. Sunday was a critical win for Frazier and the Vikes.
Katzowitz
Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
I thought about giving this award to Hue Jackson, just because of the emotion of the weekend with Al Davis’ death, but the 49ers are 4-1 and coming off a 48-3 destruction of pretty decent Buccaneers squad. You read that right: 4-1 and 48-3. That’s on Harbaugh.
 

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