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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: November 1, 2011 3:49 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 3:51 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 8



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 8 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  McCoy Houston Peterson  Reid
Judge Jackson  Dareus Peterson Tomlin
Prisco  McCoy  Long Peterson Spags
Brinson  McCoy  Long Peterson Spags
Katzowitz Jackson Taylor Peterson Frazier
Wilson  McCoy Woodley Peterson Spags
Week 8's in the books and we're (almost/kind of) halfway home in the 2011 NFL season. Let's get to the hardware.

LeSean McCoy might have stayed in the game too long -- he was carrying the rock with the Eagles up a lot of points -- but it worked out for him here, as he nudged out the Rams Steven Jackson for our Eye on Offense Award, thanks to 185 rushing yards.

Chris Long clotheslined his way to the Eye on Defense Award, thanks to a trifecta of sacks against Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a stunning upset.

Long's coach Steve Spagnuolo was rewarded as well, as his gameplan against New Orleans, despite being horribly overmatched, resulted in the least predictable win of the NFL season thus far.

And rookie Patrick Peterson, though his team lost, picked up the Eye on Special Teams Award for his beasty 82-yard touchdown return.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
The Cowboys allegedly had the top-ranked rushing defense. Then McCoy got a hold of it on Sunday night and by the time he was done with it left totally humiliated. McCoy had 30 carries for 185 yards and two scores. It was stunning to watch. The offensive line play, the play calling, the cutback running. The Cowboys are still licking their wounds.
Steven JacksonSteven Jackson, RB, Rams
First, he tells teammates what it will take to beat New Orleans. Then he demonstrates it, running for 159 yards and scoring twice in a stunning upset. Jackson is a terrific player on a not-so-terrific team, and it's games like this where we're reminded just how good the guy can be.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
He rushed for 185 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdown in the Eagles' rout of the Cowboys. His 6.2 per-rush average is what really impresses me. McCoy is having an Offensive Player of the Year type of season.
LeSean McCoyLeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
McCoy took advantage of a brilliant gameplan by Andy Reid (let Dallas' rushers get upfield and then cut Shady loose) for a career day, and he's now the only player in the NFL to score a TD in every game, after rolling for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Steven JacksonSteven Jackson, RB, Rams
He was such a big part of getting the Rams off the schneid, I’d be foolish not to recognize him. From recovering teammates’ fumbles to rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, Jackson did it all. He caught passes, he gained yards, he yelled at teammates. And most impressively, he helped lead St. Louis to a huge win against the Saints without the contributions of Sam Bradford
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
The combination of the Eagles bye week, a renewed focus on the running game and Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan flapping his gums created a perfect storm that took the shape of Shady McCoy. Eight weeks into the season and the Eagles finally look like … the Dream Team. Maybe Andy Reid should serious consideration to, you know, committing to the running game.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Chris HoustonChris Houston, CB, Lions
Did his part to end the phony quarterback candicacy of Tim Tebow with a 100-yard interception return for a score. Houston did not "Tebow" which was good. No need to rub it in.
Marcel Dareus Marcel Dareus, DT, Bills
Now you know why the Bills took this guy with the third pick. It was a no-brainer. They wanted someone to plug the middle of the league's worst run defense, and Dareus is that someone. He had two-and-a-half sacks and three quarterbacks hits in Buffalo's rout of Washington, the first time Mike Shanahan has been shut out in the NFL.
Prisco Brinson
Chris LongChris Long, DE, Rams
He had three sacks against the Saints and spent the day in the backfield. Long is a relentless player who plays hard all the time, and that showed up against the Saints. He's getting better every year.
Chris LongChris Long, DE, Rams
Howie's kid was the cog in a Rams defense that quite unexpectedly shocked the world in their beatdown of the Saints, piling up three sacks on Drew Brees, including a third clothesline-like blow that's as brutal a sack as I've seen in a while.
Katzowitz Wilson
Ike Taylor Ike Taylor, CB, Steelers
There were others around the league with more impressive games. Guys who had big sack totals, those who mocked  the opposing quarterback. But Taylor was such a huge key in shutting down New England’s Wes Welker in the Steelers win. Welker was limited to six catches for 39 yards, his lowest output since Week 16 of last year, and Taylor was to blame.
LaMarr Woodley LaMarr Woodley, LB, Steelers
He only played two and a half quarters, but in that time he managed to harass Tom Brady into plenty of hurried throws, many of which were off target, and not more than 10 yards downfield. Woodley also had two sacks, giving him nine for the year, a total made even more impressive given that he had just 1.5 sacks through the first month of the season.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, WR/KR, Cardinals
An 82-yard punt return was one of several keys that sparked the biggest comeback in Baltimore Ravens history. If it wasn't for Peterson, Joe Flacco might still be getting booed. (Yes, I'm being a smartass.)
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
For the second time this season he returns a punt for a touchdown, and while it wasn't enough to beat Baltimore it was enough to make the game interesting. Peterson is a special talent, with some regarding him as the best player in this year's draft. Peterson will be a premier cornerback. For now, he's a premier return specialist.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against the Ravens, giving Arizona a 24-3 lead. They didn't hold on, but he still gets this award.
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson became just the third rookie in NFL history to return two kicks of 80+ yards in a single season (Devin Hester and Craig Yeast are the others) with his ridiculous 82-yard TD return against the Ravens. A standout rookie in a fabulous rookie class.
Katzowitz Wilson
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Those who watched Peterson take a Ravens punt return back 82 yards for the touchdown won’t soon forget how easy the rookie first-round draft pick made it look. He looked so smooth, accelerating up the middle of the field and breaking five Baltimore tackles, that it was enough for me to award him this honor on the strength of just one play.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He's still developing as a CB, but his ability on special teams is what makes him so dangerous. He shed five would-be tacklers on his touchdown return against the Ravens, and these weren't whiffed tackles. These were Ravens players who went from Peterson's shoulder pads, to his waste to his knees before ending up on the turf wondering what happened. It's too bad Peterson can't play quarterback, too.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Andy ReidAndy Reid, HC, Eagles
Moved to 13-0 after bye weeks. Think about that for a moment. Here's a bye week. There's Andy Reid. Bye week + Reid = Win. There is no bigger guarantee in the NFL other than the Dolphins losing.

Mike Munchak Mike Tomlin, Steelers
He found a way to beat arch-nemesis New England ... er Tom Brady ... by remaining patient with his offensive game plan, controlling the clock and keeping Brady off the field. On defense, the Steelers were in man-to-man defense 70 percent of the time, bottling up Brady's receivers at the line, before unleashing the attack dogs on third down. Perfect.
Prisco Brinson
Steve SpagnuoloSteve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
His team was 14-point dogs to the Saints on a day they were playing without their starting quarterback. So what happens? They dominate the game. They ran it, played good defense, and pulled off the upset for their first victory of the season. Who else can ever be mentioned here?   
Steve SpagnuoloSteve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
There was zero chance the Rams were winning this game, against the high-scoring Saints and without quarterback Sam Bradford. But Spags designed a defensive attack that smothered Drew Brees, and he was smart enough to hand the ball to an inspired running back in Steven Jackson.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Leslie Frazier, HC, Vikings
Just for the simple fact that Frazier recognized that Christian Ponder would provide a spark to his teamand replaced Donovan McNabb with Ponder as the starting quarterback. Sure, Mike Shanahan can tell you it wasn’t an unprecedented decision, but after beating the Panthers, it seemed like it came at the perfect time.
Steve Spagnuolo Steve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
The man beat Drew Brees and one of the league's best offenses with a defense that is without its top four cornerbacks. And the Rams' offense was led not by Sam Bradford by by A.J. Feeley. In fact, we should name the award after Spagnuolo.


Posted on: November 13, 2010 10:33 pm
 

Week 10 injury news and analysis, part IV

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Panthers at Buccaneers

Tampa Bay center Jeff Faine, who’s missed the past four games, badly wants to get back into action after dealing with a quadriceps injury, while T Jeremy Trueblood (out the past two contests with a knee) looks to return as well. Both are questionable and game-time decisions.

Faine had full participation in all three practices this week, while Trueblood was full-go for two of them, but Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris wants to see how they look in pregame warmups before giving them the go-ahead.

For Carolina, RBs Jonathan Stewart (concussion) and DeAngelo Williams (foot) are out and won’t play. So that’s, you know, not a great sign for the Panthers. LB Nic Harris, meanwhile, is probable.

Lions at Bills

It looks like QB Shaun Hill will get the chance to replace the injured Matthew Stafford for the second time this season. Hill, who broke his forearm the first time he took over the Detroit offense this year, is probable to make his return to the game. Among the questionables for the Lions: DE Cliff Avril, S C.C. Brown, CB Chris Houston and CB Alphonso Smith.

Also, K Jason Hanson is out, and in response this week, Detroit signed Dave Rayner. Which is unfortunate, because I think all of us would have liked to see Ndamukong Suh take another crack at kicking point after attempts and field goals.

Three players Buffalo really could use this week are out, including LB Andra Davis, LB Shawne Merriman, and WR Roscoe Parrish.

Eagles at Redskins

There are seven Washington players on the injury report. All of them are questionable. They include OT Stephon Heyer, S LaRon Landry  QB Donovan McNabb, LB Brian Orakpo, WR Brandon Banks, RB Clinton Portis, and RB Ryan Torain.

Of those seven, Portis won’t play but Torain will, along with McNabb. A decision about Banks will be made gametime. The Redskins would like to have him back, because he’s been so good as a return specialist.

Eagles G Max Jean-Gilles, who’s been feeling the effects of a concussion, was cleared to play today. He remains questionable, though, on the injury report. Meanwhile, G Nick Cole is probable, and coach Andy Reid hasn’t determined who will start between the two of them.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .

Posted on: September 17, 2010 8:27 am
 

Week 2 Key Matchup: defending Michael Vick

Posted by Andy Benoit

It usually takes a national holiday to inspire Americans to watch a Lions game. This week, however, a lot of eyes will be on Motown with football fans tuning in for Michael Vick’s expected starting debut as the Eagles quarterback. Vick looked like the Vick of old in Philadelphia’s second half loss to Green Bay. His electrifying athleticism is back. So how will Detroit defend him?M. Vick (US Presswire)

The short answer: with zone coverage. Zone defense, whether it’s traditional Cover 2 with cornerbacks guarding the flats and safeties covering the deep middle, or Quarters with each of the four defensive backs taking ¼ of the field, is the obvious tactic against a mobile quarterback because it allows defenders to see all of the action in front of them. In man coverage, defenders must follow the receiver and turn their back to the ball. When teams see man coverage, they often design their routes simply to clear out defenders against the run (FYI, Sean Payton happens to be a genius with this tactic). You obviously can’t leave that kind of open field for Vick.

Thus, look for Detroit to strictly play zone defense Sunday. (For what’s it worth, you can tell what type of coverage defenders, especially linebackers, are playing by how they take their first step. A first step towards the line of scrimmage usually indicates man coverage; a first step backing away from the line of scrimmage indicates zone.)

Chances are, even without Vick, the Lions would have played a lot of zone against the Eagles anyway. Reason being, the Lions cornerbacks simply don’t have the speed or agility to handle the quickness of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Because the way to beat Jackson is with physicality at the line of scrimmage, and because Lions corner Chris Houston is ineffective when he’s not physical, don’t be surprised if Houston and company try to get a jam on the Eagle receivers before dropping into their zone. This will not only disrupt the timing of the routes, but it will also disguise some of the defensive looks for Vick. You have to figure Vick will be a tad rusty in his reads, given that he hasn’t had a team game-plan specifically against him in roughly three years.

Last week, once Vick entered the game, the Packers secondary employed some of the purest zone coverages known to football.

However, the Packers remained aggressive with their front seven blitz tactics. This flustered Philly’s passing game at times, but whenever Vick was able to flee the pocket and get outside the widest defender, he found plenty of open space to eat up (hence his 103 yards rushing). The Lions can’t afford to yield those kind of running lanes.

Don’t be surprised if Detroit shadows Vick with a linebacker. Using a shadow linebacker can be expensive in coverage, but it’s not like Vick scans the field with the quickness of a Manning or a Brees. A shadowing linebacker doesn’t just provide a fulltime potential tackler against the quarterback, it also forces him to scramble outside, where the sideline can act as a 12th defender. When Vick was a Falcon, no team defended his running better than Bucs. The Bucs were a zone-based team (Tampa 2) that used their fast linebackers to shadow and force Vick outside.

The Lions used Landon Johnson and Julian Peterson as their nickel linebackers in Week 1; of the two, the versatile and athletic Peterson would make the best shadow option. In base packages, middle linebacker DeAndre Levy, who did not play in Week 1, is Detroit’s best athlete, though coaches may want Levy focused on attacking downhill.

Keeping Vick’s scrambling in check is a tall order. The Lions, with their iffy back seven personnel, will need a dominant performance from Ndamukong Suh and company just to have shot. At least the blueprint is clear.


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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