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Tag:Derrick Johnson
Posted on: December 28, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Chiefs preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Reputations will be on the line in Denver this Sunday. A Broncos win keeps the Tim Tebow mania alive, as it means the Mile High City will host a playoff games for the first time in six years. John Elway would almost certainly be compelled to keep his promise of bringing Tebow back in 2012, and the Broncos might start building around their unconventional quarterback.

A Broncos loss, however, jeopardizes the Tebow mania, as the unskilled passer who does nothing but win would have finished the season on a three-game losing streak. The fallout would be even worse for Elway given that the loss will have come at the hands of Kyle Orton, the veteran quarterback whom Denver allowed Kansas City to claim scot-free. Here’s the breakdown of Sunday’s matchup:

Last time
1. The Week 10 matchup
When these teams met back in Week 10, the Broncos completed just two passes (total!). One of those passes happened to be a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Decker, which, mixed with 244 yards on 55 rushing attempts, was enough for a Broncos victory.

Schematically, the Chiefs were prepared to stop the Broncos’ freshly unwrapped read-option run game; they had athletic inside linebacker Derrick Johnson spy Tebow, brought safeties into the box and had outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston stay home on the edge.

Physically, however, the Chiefs defensive line got manhandled. Their lack of penetration allowed the Broncos to continuously pick up three and four yards on banal inside carries. Tebow registered two big runs off the read-option, isolating end Glenn Dorsey on one run and Lawrence Jackson on the other. Because those two former first-round picks were neutralized by one-on-one blocking, Denver’s interior linemen consistently got bodies on Kansas City’s linebackers.

On the other side, Denver’s pass-rush got to Matt Cassel and their back seven defenders simply “out-athleted” Kansas City’s skill players.

This time
2. Chiefs D vs. Broncos run game
Some of the sizzle has naturally left the read-option, but that isn’t to say it’s not still an effective approach. The read-option forces a defense to play ultra-sharp, assignment-based football. As we saw early in the Week 15 Patriots game at Denver, when defenders fail to take on blocks at proper angles or keep the action from going outside, they get gouged.

Expect the Chiefs to be better against the read-option this time around. Hali and Houston have been excellent edge run-defenders in recent weeks.  Dorsey and Jackson are still hit or miss, but they’re more likely to “hit” when they can play finesse and attack gaps or work down the line of scrimmage. Their misses pile up when they’re forced to play with power in a phone booth.

The Chiefs know this and now know how to gameplan accordingly. They just watched the Bills defensive linemen last week attack gaps to eliminate some of the running lanes for Bronco ballcarriers. Those defensive linemen did not make the tackle or even always occupy multiple blockers, but by taking some of the “options” out of the read-option, they made the ballcarrier hesitant and, thus, predictable. That translated to minimal gains against an eight-man box.

3. Kansas City manning-up in pass defense
The Bills were able to be aggressive with their eighth box defender because they knew they could stop the Bronco passing game with man coverage. That’s a great defensive tactic against Denver’s offense, as possession type receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are best handled that way.

Man defense also takes away the surprise factor in the screen game and keeps a spy on Tebow, which limits his scrambling. The irony is that Tebow has shown he’s more inclined to scramble against man coverage. The reason for this is, not being strong-armed or a precision passer, Tebow is uncomfortable fitting the ball into tight areas. To a young quarterback, NFL man coverage makes all areas appear tight. If Tebow’s first read isn’t there, his first instinct is to tuck and run.

The defensive risks in a man coverage approach are linebackers missing their assignments when they bite on a good read-option fake (which Buffalo’s did on Dante Rosario’s 32-yard catch-and-run), or players allowing themselves to be taken out of run defense position by an easy release (which is when a tight end runs a pass route away from the point of attack on a run play, carrying his man-defender with him right out of the picture).

The Chiefs – with two superb press corners in Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers outside, a shifty slot corner in Javier Arenas and athletic linebackers – should eagerly bog down and play man this Sunday. They beat the Packers with this formula two weeks ago and would have beaten the Raiders last week if they had stayed with it the entire game (they went to Tampa 2 a small handful of times and saw their safeties get burned by speedy receivers on two long passes that decided the outcome).

Broncos vs. Chiefs: Orton's revenge? (Getty Images)

4. Kyle Orton
In some ways, the seven-year pro is the consummate system quarterback. Whatever the system calls for, Orton delivers. He can post big numbers in a wide open aerial attack like he did two years ago under Josh McDaniels, or he can move the chains in a ball control scheme like he did two weeks ago under Romeo Crennel. His issues are consistency and playmaking.

Orton managed the game brilliantly against Green Bay two weeks ago and then threw two costly interceptions by failing to read basic safety help last week against Oakland. In Denver, Orton’s limitations showed up when John Fox and Mike McCoy installed a more traditional system to run with only mediocre receivers. Orton was unable to extend plays and improvise, which is why the Broncos offense was lethargic until Tebow replaced him.

Overall, the Chiefs can feel good about who they have under center in this game. Orton is certainly familiar with the opponent. He has terrific ball-handling skills, which allow him to manipulate safeties and execute play-action effectively. And since taking over, he’s made good use of his tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

5. Chiefs base offense
Tight ends and running backs could be prominent in the Chiefs’ passing attack this week given that linebackers Joe Mays and Von Miller aren’t great in coverage out of base defense. The Broncos will spend more time in base defense than they have in recent weeks, as the Crennel-led Chiefs predominantly utilize run-first personnel.

The run formations will keep Miller at strongside linebacker, nullifying his punishing first-step off the edge. Miller doesn’t have to line up at defensive end in order to rush the passer; he’s a great blitzer from the second level. However, teams lately have used a lot of three-and five-step drops against Denver, which completely nullifies a second-level blitzer and significantly softens the impact of pass-rushing ends. That’s the best way to contain Miller and Elvis Dumervil (who has come alive after a slow start).

Against the quick drops, the Broncos should tighten their coverage and force the Chiefs receivers to beat them early in the down. Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin are strong but not savvy enough to outmaneuver veterans like Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman. Steve Breaston is quick and can get early spacing by lining up off the line, but most of his (limited) damage this season has come on deeper crossing patterns, not quick strikes.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 17 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 5, 2011 11:46 am
 

Matt Forte to miss 2-4 weeks with sprained MCL?

Posted by Will Brinson



Matt Forte's injury on Sunday -- the running back left in the first quarter after Derrick Johnson tackled him -- might have backed the Bears season into a corner and taken away its claws. This is particularly true if Forte, as reports indicate, will miss between two and four weeks.

"I feel bad for Matt, especially with everything he's going through,'' wideout/returner Devin Hester said. "This is like a big slap in the face.''

Week 13 Recap

Hester, by the way, also said signing Donovan McNabb would be "a waste of time." Multiple reports out of Chicago indicate that Forte's injury is a Grade 2 MCL sprain and that it will require him to miss up to four weeks of playing time.

Interestingly, as Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune notes, Forte's played through a serious knee injury once already in his career. In 2009, Forte sprained his MCL in Week 3 of the season but never missed a game, eventually getting surgery in the following offseason.

There's one huge difference between 2009 and right now, though: Forte's contract.

The running back has wanted a new deal for several months now, and the Bears have simply refused to "pay the man." Whether or not Forte's willing to play through the injury this time around will be interesting; at least one of his teammates believes if he can, he will.

"He's a competitor," wideout Roy Williams said Sunday after the game, per The Trib. "That's what we are: We're competitors. A lot of people don't play this game for money. I don't. I could quit right now and be fine [financially]. I play because I love the game and I want to compete. That's the same with Forte. If he can play, he's going to play, no matter the money situation."

No one doubts that Forte wants to play. And even if Forte misses four weeks, it doesn't mean he's purposely laying low to guarantee himself a payday. In fact, far from it.

But it'd be hard to blame Forte if he was cautious with his returning timeline, given the way the Bears have handled his contract situation. Of course, Sunday was a perfect example of not only why Forte wants to get paid, but why the Bears haven't paid him.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 4, 2011 2:08 pm
 

Matt Forte ruled out with knee injury

Posted by Will Brinson

Things haven't been going the Bears way for a few weeks and the downturns continued on Sunday as running back Matt Forte was ruled out for the remainder of Chicago's game in Kansas City with a knee injury during the first quarter.

Forte got his spikes caught in the grass and took a clean shot from Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, then remained on the ground for several minutes before walking off, slowly, on his own power.

As our Bears Rapid Reporter Gene Chamberlain notes, a serious injury to Forte isn't just bad for the Bears, it's bad for Forte "personally," since he's been seeking a big-money deal from the Bears all season long.

Chicago's still capable of beating the Chiefs on Sunday -- after all, Kyle Orton's already entered and left the game with a finger injury! -- but losing Forte would put a serious damper on the realistic playoff possibilities for Chicago.

A combination of Caleb Hanie handing off to Chester Taylor and/or throwing to Johnny Knox and Roy Williams is likely too much for even the Bears defense and Devin Hester to overcome for multiple weeks.

Screenshot via

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:07 pm
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Chiefs preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Let’s be honest: Chiefs-Steelers is not a great matchup. It’s the Sunday night game because this week’s great matchups all fall on Turkey Day. A straight-up breakdown of this game would yield predictable analysis, with a “take your pick” list of reasons why the Steelers can be expected to cruise to victory (the most obvious being, Tyler Palko’s tendency to pat the ball and re-hitch in the pocket; if the Patriots D generated sacks and interceptions off that weakness, what will the Steelers D do?).

But this matchup is certainly not worthless. Analyzing its contrasts and comparisons gives us a chance to examine some of the broader pictures of today’s NFL. Here are five of them.


1. Valuing an offensive line
As passing games have evolved rapidly in recent years, we’ve started to change our outlook on offensive lines. These days every lineman weighs north of 300, and a lot of them move pretty well. What separates good and bad lines is the mental approach. The aggressiveness and versatility of blitzing defenses has put a premium on blockers’ intelligence.

It doesn’t matter how well a lineman moves his feet if those feet are taking him to the wrong assignment. With the league-wide increase in Byzantine defenses and quick, timing-based passes, for an offensive lineman, recognizing an assignment is often more challenging and important than executing an assignment.

The Steelers offensive line, battling countless injuries and personnel changeability the past few seasons, has struggled mightily at times in recognizing pass-blocking assignments. This is a window into another revelation. The idea that you need a great offensive line to protect your quarterback is becoming less and less valid. The reality is you need a great quarterback to protect your offensive line.

Now, don’t take this too far. Of course you need to protect your quarterback. But in today’s pass-oriented league, one superstar quarterback can compensate for five “not-so-superstar” offensive linemen. Most superstar quarterbacks do it through presnap reads (see Brees, Drew or Manning, Peyton -- two guys who have played behind arguably the worst offensive tackle combinations of their respective conferences the past few years). Ben Roethlisberger does it through incredible postsnap improvisational abilities.

No one can argue that the Steelers have had anything more than an average offensive line the past five seasons. But no one can argue that the Steelers offense has not been still been successful. It’s when your quarterback is, say a 28-year-old left-handed fringe backup, that your offensive line woes become problematic.

2. 3-4 defensive ends
A leading ingredient to the Steelers’ defensive success has been the outstanding play of their ends. This ingredient was secret until just recently, when Brett Keisel finally went to the Pro Bowl and casual observers finally appreciated Aaron Smith after injuries took him out of the lineup. The value of great 3-4 ends is that they can attract forms of double teams.

(We say forms of double-teams because there’s a misguided belief that a double-team is one player needing to be blocked by two blockers for an entire play; in reality, for an end, attracting a double-team simply means forcing a guard or tight end to make some sort of contact with you in a manner that prevents them from being able to get out in front and block an inside linebacker. Making that contact last the first 1.5 to 2 seconds of a play is all it takes. For many intents and purposes, a 3-4 end is actually more of a blocker than a pulling guard.)

The Steelers scheme calls for the ends to disrupt through motion more than power. Lateral mobility is a key trait. If both ends are destructive along the line of scrimmage, Pittsburgh’s three defensive linemen will stalemate the opposing team’s five offensive linemen, leaving room for the four linebackers to make plays. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert recognizes the value of this; he invested his ‘09 first-round pick on Ziggy Hood and his ’11 first-rounder on Cameron Heyward.

Scott Pioli also recognized this value when he became the Chiefs general manager in 2009. He converted defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, the No. 5 overall pick in ’08, to end and spent his No. 3 overall pick in ’09 on LSU’s Tyson Jackson. The results, however, have been disappointing. Dorsey and Jackson are both movement-oriented players. Problem is, Kansas City’s scheme is more like New England’s old 3-4, where the ends cause disruption not through motion but through sheer power.

Consequently, neither Dorsey nor Jackson have been worthy of consistent double teams. That was painfully apparent watching the Broncos-Chiefs film from Week 10. The Broncos didn’t win that game because Tim Tebow mastered the read option -- they won because their tackles manhandled the Chiefs ends one-on-one, allowing the guards to easily get a body on inside linebackers Derrick Johnson and Javon Belcher.

3. Chiefs Injuries impact -- tight end versatility
You could argue that Kansas City’s season ended when tight end Tony Moeaki tore his ACL in August. Moeaki was not just a flexible receiver who could work off the line of scrimmage or out of the slot -- he was also a versatile run-blocker. His ability to operate out of shifts and motions brought potency to the play-action game and allowed the Chiefs to disguise a lot of their run concepts.

In this sense, Moeaki was very similar to Heath Miller, Pittsburgh’s steady, soft-handed, fundamentally fine-tuned X-factor. In today’s NFL, where every play is preceded by a chess match at the line of scrimmage, a tight end who is versatile in the run AND pass game is invaluable.

4. Chiefs injury impact -- safety versatility
Same concept as tight end, just different side of the ball. The loss of Eric Berry (ACL Week 1) not only took away Kansas City’s rangiest pass defender, it also took away Romeo Crennel’s third-level blitzes, which previously had given opponents fits. Berry’s speed and open-field hitting made him an easily disguisable weapon. With him out, the Chiefs don’t just lose his big plays, they also lose the indecisiveness that his presence naturally instills in opponents.

As far as a parallel to this in the Steelers defense ... you can probably figure it out on your own

5. Understanding the value of a playmaker
On a similar note, let’s take this opportunity to grasp the full value of a playmaker like Jamaal Charles (lost for the season with an ACL in Week 2). As with Berry, when a weapon like Charles goes out, you don’t just lose explosive plays, you lose the threat of explosive plays. Charles was Kansas City’s only true playmaker (that is, a guy who can regularly create his own opportunities with the ball in his hands; the Steelers have two players like this: Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace).

It would take 10,000 words to explain, but in short, in watching film, it’s apparent that the difference between the way defenses attack an offense that has a truly explosive weapon versus the way a defense attacks an offense that don’t have one is staggering.

That likely stems from the difference in preparation during the week. Think about it. How much practice time does a defense devote specifically to “not getting killed” by Charles? With him gone, that’s how much practice time the defense now has to devote towards creating unique ways to attack.

A business analogy: as a defense, prepping for Charles is like sitting around the boardroom talking about covering your bases so you don’t get sued; prepping for “no Charles” is like sitting around the boardroom brainstorming the next big idea. Which meeting will ultimately lead to more sales?

What’s more, for an offense, when it becomes apparent that your gameplan is not working, a true playmaker still offers the hope and possibility of success. (And all the players know this.) Without a true playmaker, a staggering offense often hopes to simply control the damage by waiting for a lucky break. When that’s reflected in the play-calling, the entire team becomes reactionary.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 12 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 19, 2011 3:05 pm
 

Film Room: Raiders vs. Chiefs preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Imagine you get sick. You call your girlfriend to tell her that you’re sorry but you’re not going to be able to go with her to the ski resort this weekend. She says that’s no problem, she’ll just go with one of her friends. But when she scrolls through her contacts, she realizes she doesn’t have any friends nearby who are good skiers.

So, she calls to tell you to get well soon and also that she’s going to the ski resort with that guy her cousin knows from the gym. Oh, and the guy and her are moving in together after the trip but can the two of you still be friends? You can’t help but realize that if you’d never gotten sick, your girlfriend would not have started thinking about someone else.

If you can imagine this, then you can imagine how Jason Campbell is probably feeling right now. Let’s examine Jason Campbell’s Carson Palmer’s 4-2 Raiders as they head into their matchup against a Chiefs club that has won two straight coming off its bye but has been rocked by injuries and turmoil.


[Raiders vs. Chiefs PreGame]

1. The Decision
Forty-three million over four years, along with a first-and either first-or-second-round pick in exchange for a quarterback who became inconsistent after a slew of injuries and failed to manage the oversized personalities infiltrating his locker room and huddle in Cincinnati? That’s a steep price – probably too steep, in fact.

But you can understand the Raiders’ logic in going for a potential franchise quarterback. Like the skiing girlfriend, they’re attracted to strong-armed prototypes and are looking for a ring.

The Raiders knew they couldn’t get that ring with Campbell. Caretaking quarterbacks don’t cut it in today’s NFL. Campbell has always been too methodical in his reads and mechanics. He locks onto receivers, which limits what Hue Jackson can do with his gameplans. Campbell is athletic but seems to forget it whenever defenders flash in his face. In short, he has always been exactly what he’ll be when his collarbone heels: a quality backup.
That said, when a team goes all-in like the Raiders have here, they’d better be set in virtually all areas around the quarterback.

So how set are the rest of the Raiders?

2. Pass offense
It’s difficult to gauge Oakland’s passing attack because it has been tailored to hide Campbell’s limitations. But a safe assumption is that with Palmer aboard (whenever he does play), it will become downfield oriented. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore might be the fastest receiving trio in the league. Also, tight end Kevin Boss is not fast, but he’s effective stretching the seams.

Still, speed isn’t everything. The Raiders wideouts all remain raw. Heyward-Bey’s elevated reception total has been partly a function of facing favorable off-coverage. His hands are improved but still not naturally soft. As for Ford, durability and route running can be hit or miss. And Moore? He has done next to nothing since his breakout game at Buffalo.

Still, we’ve seen that (when healthy) these guys can give the Raiders firepower. And because Darren McFadden and fullback Marcel Reese are such dynamic weapons out of the backfield, Hue Jackson can comfortably sacrifice an extra receiver in the formation in order to employ a sixth offensive lineman.

Doing this makes for a better play-action game (a run-oriented team throwing out of a run formation) and also ameliorates right tackle Khalif Barnes’ weakness in pass protection.

3. Run offense
McFadden has blossomed into a legitimate top-five running back. The difference between now and two years ago is he’s staying healthy and has figured out how to get to the perimeter early in the run. That’s important because being such a stiff-hipped, straight-line runner, McFadden doesn’t have the type of agility and lateral burst needed to elude defenders at the line of scrimmage or second level. But he has uncanny speed and acceleration, which, when turned on full blast, make him hard to tackle cleanly.

The Raiders blockers have helped ignite Oakland’s explosive outside run game. Rookie guard Stefan Wisniewski has good movement skills (particularly in short areas) and center Samson Satele has been getting out in front with much greater consistency.

The Raiders also spend a lot of time in six-offensive linemen sets, with the nimble Khalif Barnes serving essentially as a 325-pound blocking tight end. Factor in Michael Bush’s between-the-tackles power and you have the making of a potent, sustainable rushing attack.

4. Defense
When the Raiders don’t surrender big plays they’re tough to trade blows with for four quarters. The defensive line is enormous and athletic, particularly inside where Richard Seymour (future Hall of Famer?) and Tommy Kelly present thundering power augmented by uncommon initial quickness.
The key to creating big plays against Oakland is isolating their linebackers.

Middle linebacker Rolando McClain plays slow (both mentally and physically) and can be exploited. Aaron Curry has only been in town one week, but if his track record from Seattle means anything, he too can be exploited, mainly in space outside the numbers or when forced to cover receivers horizontally. It’s surprising that Curry was handed Quinton Groves' job right away (Groves had been up and down but was getting more comfortable).

The secondary does indeed miss Nnamdi Asomugha, but any secondary would miss Nnamdi Asomugha. Stanford Routt has been adequate on the left side, and the versatile Michael Huff is having the best season of his career. Anytime a team plays predominant man coverage (like the Raiders do), the defensive backs are vulnerable. A pass-rush can help relieve this. The Raiders have great interior rushers but could stand to use a little more speed on the edges.

5. Kansas City’s chances
The question is whether the Chiefs can find some sort of run game without Jamaal Charles. So far, the answer has been no. Don’t expect that to change Sunday; Oakland’s defensive tackles should feast on Kansas City’s struggling interior line.

In the air, teams have been attacking the Raiders defense with play action and rollouts. Matt Cassel has the mobility and arm to make throws on the move (he did so frequently against the Vikings) but that’s usually by circumstance, not design. This is a shotgun passing offense, with success hinging on whether Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston can separate from Stanford Routt and DeMarcus Van Dyke (or Chris Johnson or Chimdi Chekwa, should either return from their hamstring injuries).

On the other side of the ball, Tamba Hali is one of the most disruptive players in all the land. He plays with perfect leverage and physically strong quickness in all cardinal directions. The Raiders don’t have anyone who can block him. Hali can’t do it alone, though, which is why Justin Houston needs to play with more decisiveness (tough to ask of a rookie sometimes). Kansas City’s secondary misses Eric Berry but has two physical corners (Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers) who can compensate, especially against raw wideouts.

Key matchup to watch: Darren McFadden against Derrick Johnson. Speed on speed.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 7 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 16, 2011 6:01 pm
Edited on: September 17, 2011 11:04 pm
 

Chiefs give CB Brandon Flowers contract extension

The Chiefs lock up another young player in CB Brandon Flowers. (US PRESSWIRE)
Posted by Ryan Wilson

Cornerback Brandon Flowers was part of that Chiefs' 2008 draft class that was going to revitalize an organization that had lost its way in midway through the Herm Edwards era. Fresh off a 2-14 season, the team landed Glenn Dorsey, Branden Albert, Flowers and Jamaal Charles with the first 73 picks. And Friday, Kansas City rewarded Flowers with a contract extension which, according to NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano, is for five years and $50 million, with $22 million guaranteed.

That's a nice haul for the fourth-year player. Unfortunately, the Chiefs are more than a good young cornerback away from defending their AFC West title in 2011. The team looked completely unprepared for the Bills (!) in Week 1, and they'll face the Lions Sunday, an outfit with plenty of offensive firepower and a defensive tackle that Kansas City coach Todd Haley doesn't know how to stop.

Flowers joins linebacker Derrick Johnson and rush linebacker Tamba Hali as Chiefs denders landing new deals in recent years; on the other side of the ball, the club has locked up Charles and Dwayne Bowe.

So while there were few positives to take from the Buffalo game (the best Haley could come up with: nobody quit), it's not like the organization isn't trying to retain its young players and build around them. Things seemed to be going well a year ago; Haley led the Chiefs to the division title and the playoffs in his second season, and quarterback Matt Cassel appeared capable of managing the offense.

In retrospect, a ridiculously easy schedule coupled with the Chargers' annual slow start made the Chiefs one of the pleasant surprises of 2010. But it also may have set them up to fail in 2011. Yes, we're only one week into the season, so there's much football to be played. And though Kansas City may not have all the pieces in place to compete right now, by signing Flowers, Johnson, Hali et al to long-term deals, there's clearly a plan for the future. That doesn't do much for fan morale right now, but it could be worse: you could be the Colts.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 6, 2011 1:16 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2011 4:54 pm
 

Chiefs vs. Ravens: 7-Point Wild Card Preview

Posted by Josh Katzowitz



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point playoff preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. And as an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. Baltimore Ravens (No. 5, AFC, 12-4) @ Kansas City Chiefs (No. 4, AFC, 10-6)

Despite the fifth seed, the Ravens have to be considered one of the favorites for the AFC title. The Chiefs catch a break by playing Baltimore at Arrowhead Stadium – where Kansas City is tough to beat – but Todd Haley’s squad will be considered the underdogs in this one. The Chiefs aren’t as healthy, they’re not as experienced in the postseason and they’re simply not as talented as the Ravens. Simple as that.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



After such a hot start to the season, Kansas City wasn’t quite as impressive in the final, oh, 13 games of the season, going an unremarkable (though by AFC West standards, phenomenal) 7-6. But you have to remember, the Chiefs went 2-4 in division play, and, in case you didn’t know, that’s not real good. Besides, in the playoffs you like to see top QBs go head to head (Manning vs. Brady; Favre vs. Vick; etc.). Matt Cassel vs. Joe Flacco isn’t quite as enticing and therefore, only worth 3/5 Moras.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Chiefs LBs

In the Chiefs 3-4 defensive scheme, Kansas City’s LBs are counted on to help stop the opponent’s run game. Overall this season, the Chiefs were pretty average in this regard, ranking 14th in the league by allowing 109.4 rushing yards per game. And Rice is anything but average.

You already know about the 1,220 yards gained this season and the five rushing touchdowns to go with it, but Rice has become of the league’s premier rushers in part because he doesn’t lose fumbles. That’s right. This season, despite 307 carries and 63 catches, Rice fumbled the ball exactly zero times. The Chiefs, by the way, caused 15 fumbles this season, the eighth-best mark in the league.

Kansas City has gotten good production out of LB Tamba Hali – he’s been the most explosive of his career this season with an AFC-best 14.5 sacks – and LB Derrick Johnson on the inside has been more than solid for the Chiefs.

If Hall and company can slow down Rice and make him less effective, that will allow the Chiefs to target Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, who doesn’t play great under constant pressure from the defense. But even then, Rice is still a big part of the team’s offense, catching a variety of passes out of the backfield.

He’s not easy to stop – the Steelers are the only squad this season to make Rice irrelevant – but if the Chiefs linebackers can slow him down, that’ll be a big help in pulling the upset.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

When Chiefs DE Shaun Smith played in Cincinnati, one of the local scribes nicknamed him "Hamburglar." In fact, one day, the reporter asked him if it was OK to call him by the new nickname, and Smith responded, "That’s fine. I like it." That’s why this video is so relevant.



Besides, the McDonald’s gag is better than any number of videos that the infamous Smith could have been involved with this season.

Like this one where, before viewing, you must turn your head to the side and cough.



5. The Chiefs will win if ...

They can continue to rely on their running game. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones have combined for 2,363 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, and with their help, Cassel hasn’t had to be the one to hoist the team on his shoulders.

6. The Ravens will win if ...

They force Cassel to have to beat them. Baltimore ranks fifth in the league against the run, and if they can force Kansas City into third and longs – or better yet, build a big enough lead that would turn the Chiefs into a pass-heavy offense – the Ravens will earn their third road playoff victory in the past three seasons.

7. Prediction: Ravens 20, Chiefs 7
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:05 am
Edited on: January 4, 2011 10:19 am
 

10 Wild Card stories worth your attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Momentum schmo-mentum

When a columnist or analyst starts talking about the momentum a team has or doesn’t have heading into the playoffs, really what they’re telling you is they don’t have anything to say about that particular team. Citing a team’s momentum is like citing a quarterback’s moxie or a head coach’s energy: it’s meaningless drivel.

The 2007 New York Giants lost two of their final three regular seasons games. How did momentum work out for them? Or what about the 2008 Arizona  Cardinals? They lost four of their last six regular season games, with three of those four losses by 21 points or more. They lacked momentum…heading into their Super Bowl run. Or there’s always the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who entered the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. If only they’d had momentum…they could have blown out the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, rather than beat them by a mere two touchdowns.

Momentum is relevant DURING games (we saw that early at rowdy Qwest Field in the Seahawks-Rams contest). But it’s not relevant week-to-week. It’s only logical that “momentum” would disappear after the game. After all, there are six days between games. And – just a guess – but the do-or-die scenario of an NFL playoff game changes the mood in the locker room over the course of those six days.

So here’s a promise: these next eight stories about the eight Wild Card teams will have nothing to do with “momentum”. The only references to what’s happened in recent weeks will pertain to actual events and tangible data – not that mythical force that lazy sportswriters have been allowed to pretend is real.



New Orleans Saints (No. 5 seed; 11-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (No. 4 seed; 7-9)   Saturday, 4:30, NBC


2.) Seahawks: undeserving

On Sunday night, many people saw the Seahawks play for the first time this season. Give them credit – thP. Carroll (US Presswire)ey deserved that win more than the Rams. The Seahawks got a solid game out of backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. In the second half they discovered their long-missing rushing attack, registering 141 yards (their third highest total on the season) They stifled the fruitless St. Louis passing attack and used the famous Qwest Field buzz to their advantage.

Now, let’s hope America doesn’t get short-sighted and say, “Sure, the Seahawks are only 7-9, but they actually looked pretty good Sunday night; maybe they deserve to be in the playoffs after all.”

Make no mistake: it is an embarrassment that this club is in the postseason tournament. The Bucs and Giants were both three games better than Seattle. Yes, it is an honor to win your division…but the old-timers who say winning a division warrants an automatic playoff spot are just plain wrong. Division titles meant more back in the five-team division format. But since realignment in 2002, a team now just has to beat out three other teams to win a division. The problem is, the NFL’s current playoff format was in place long before the 2002 realignment. A division title should warrant an automatic playoff bid…just as long as the division winner is ABOVE .500. Yes, there have only been three instances where a team with a .500 record or worse reached the postseason. But two of those instances have come since realignment. And in both of those instances, the outdated playoff system screwed over playoff caliber teams.

This time, it’s also screwing over NBC. The network pays the NFL $1.1 billion a year to cover the NFL. You think Dick Ebersol likes getting stuck with a losing team on the Sunday Night Football regular season finale? How about having to broadcast that losing team again the next week in the Wild Card opener?

If you’re wondering why the NFL would stick the Seahawks on NBC for a second consecutive week (not to mention give the Seahawks a short week after making them play late on Sunday), it’s because of the way the playoff television format shakes out. Here’s how it works (based on observation): the NFL views the Saturday night late game as the premier television slot and alternates between using an AFC and NFC game in that slot. Last year the league took the Philly-Dallas matchup from FOX and put it in NBC’s Saturday night slot. This year, it was CBS’s turn to give up its premium game. Thus, you get Colts-Jets (the NFL’s most marketable player against the biggest market team). Because the Colts-Jets is a 3 seed vs. 6 seed, the NFL chose the NFC’s 4 seed vs. 5 seed matchup to fill the other Saturday slot. D. Brees (US Presswire)

Why are we discussing the logistics of the broadcasting schedule rather than the Seahawks themselves here? Because this article is designated for true playoff teams.


3.) Saints: Unable to march in?

Last season the New Orleans Saints ranked sixth in the league in rushing. This season they ranked 28th. The Saints come into the postseason averaging just 68.3 yards per game on the ground over their last three outings. They have barely even bothered with establishing the run in any of those outings.

Injuries have likely factored into Sean Payton’s thinking here. Until this past Sunday, leading rusher Chris Ivory had been out with a bum hamstring. No. 1 running back Pierre Thomas has battled a bad ankle all season. Veteran midseason pickup Julius Jones is too inconsistent to feature, while Reggie Bush has stolen about $8 million from the team this season (Bush has often looked sluggish because he hasn’t been processing information well).

The lack of a run game is part of the reason Drew Brees threw 22 interceptions this year (Brees finished the season with a 12-game interception streak, the longest the NFL has seen since Jon Kitna in 2006).

Is this play-calling unbalance a major problem? Meh; there are worse things than relying heavily on the reigning Super Bowl MVP and his litany of receiving targets. But make no mistake: this is NOT the formula New Orleans used in its Super Bowl run last postseason.



New York Jets (No. 6 seed; 11-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Saturday, 8:00, NBC

4.) Jets: Surprisingly under-hyped?

At least the New York Jets didn’t sneak into the postseason through the backdoor like last year. Though the 11-5 Jets are two games better than they were in ’09, and though the offense has opened up considerably in Mark Sanchez’s second season, no one seems to consider this club on the verge of taking that next step. Except their head coach, of course. “I think we’re going to win it [all] this year,” Rex Ryan said after his team’s easy Week 17 victory over the Bills.

Because the Jets gave up 45 points in primetime to the Patriots and 38 points on a widely-watched Sunday afternoon game against the Bears, there is the perception that Ryan’s defense has dropped off from a year ago. But look at the numbers:

2009 Jets
98.6 rush yards allowed per game (8th in the NFL)
153.7 pass yards allowed per game (1st)D. Revis (US Presswire)
51.7 percent completion given up (1st)
32 total sacks (tied 18th)

2010 Jets:
90.9 rush yards allowed per game (3rd in the NFL)
200.6 pass yards allowed per game (6th)
50.7 percent completion given up (1st)
40 total sacks (8th)

All in all, the numbers between the two years are nearly identical. And the ’09 Jets forced just one more turnover than the ’10 Jets. The major difference between the ’09 Jets and ’10 Jets is that the ’09 Jets were not on Hard Knocks, were not playing on national television every other week and were not filling the tabloids with stories about harassment of a female supermodel reporter or foot fetishes.

A more important difference between the two is that the ’09 Jets could control games with their rushing attack (which always buttresses a good defense) while the ’10 Jets cannot. Expected breakout running back Shonn Greene has come close to topping his Wild Card performance against the Bengals last season. Thus, the ’10 Jets are still relying heavily on 31-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson, who has not rushed for more than 55 yards in a game since Week 5.



5.) Colts: Peeking at the right time

Okay, so the Titans gave the Colts a tighter Week 17 contest at Lucas Oil Field than anticipated. Defensively, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were neutralized by the stellar Tennessee tackles (Michael Roos and David Stewart). Offensively, Peyton Manning and company were held to just 23 points.
D. Rhodes (US Presswire)
Fine – go ahead and bet against Indy’s pass-rush and passing attack. A lot of you did earlier in the season (you know, when Manning showed he might be washed up by throwing 11 bad passes over a three-week stretch).

It’s easy to say these 10-6 Colts are not their usual dangerous selves. But the Colts failed to earn a bye in 2006, when they went on to win Super Bowl XLI. The Colts didn’t find momentum in the’06 playoffs – they found their run defense. That was the postseason in which Bob Sanders returned after playing just four regular season games.

Sanders won’t return again this time (IR, biceps), but that doesn’t mean the Indy run defense won’t progress. The progression is already underway, in fact. This past Sunday, the Colts held Chris Johnson to just 39 yards on 20 carries. The Titans as a whole managed just 51 yards on the ground. The week before, Indy held Oakland’s No. 2 ranked rushing attack to just 80 yards. The week before that, they held Jacksonville’s No. 3 ranked rushing attack to 67 yards.

What’s more, the Colts seem to have rediscovered their own rushing attack. Joseph Addai (who also helps tremendously as a pass-blocker) is back after missing eight games with a neck injury. Addai has rushed for 45 and 44 yards the past two weeks. More impressive has been veteran Dominic Rhodes. The soon-to-be-32-year-old locker room favorite was a member of the UFL’s Florida Tuskers just a few months ago. Since resurfacing in Indy, Rhodes has rushed for 172 yards in three games His quickness and veteran savvy give the offense everything it was missing when first-round bust Donald Brown was starting.

And, of course, the Colts still have Manning. And, while they’re without Austin Collie and Dallas Clark, they still have one of the league’s premier one-two punches at wide receiver in Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.



Baltimore Ravens (No. 5 seed; 12-4) @ Kansas City Chiefs (No. 4 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 1:00, CBS


6.) Ravens: Joe Flacco to come of age?

Last year in the Wild Card Round, the Ravens went into Foxboro and punched the Patriots in the mouth/nose/throat/gut/groin. They ran the ball 52 times for 234 yards, which is why few people crowed about Joe Flacco’s almost irrelevant performanJ. Flacco (US Presswire)ce. The then-second-year quarterback was 4/10 for 34 yards…on the day. An interception made Flacco’s passer rating an imperfect 10.

We wont’ see another Pop Warner gameplan like this from John Harbaugh’s club. Sure, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will be enticed to attack the Chiefs’ 15th-ranked run defense– especially given that Ray Rice looks fresher than he did early in the season and that Oakland’s Michael Bush gashed the Chiefs for 137 yards in Week 17 (most of those yards came from attacking the undersized defensive ends on off-tackle runs). But the Ravens have been grooming Flacco for this opportunity. His 2010 numbers wound up being nearly identical to his 2009 numbers – just 10 fewer attempts, nine fewer completions and nine more passing yards overall – but the Ravens used less six-man offensive line formations and more spread receiver sets this season. In other words, they put more on Flacco.
This makes sense considering Baltimore traded a small ransom for wideout Anquan Boldin, signed veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh, signed speedster Donte’ Stallworth and drafted tight end Ed Dickson. The Ravens have more aerial weapons than they’ve ever had, which is why this time they’ll ask their third-year franchise quarterback to be a weapon himself.



7.) Chiefs: Can coaches carry them?

For a man known for being difficult to work with, Todd Haley sure showed admirable humility this past offseason. The second-year head coach and respected offensive guru realized that clearing play-calling duties off his ultra crowded head coaching plate would ultimately help the team. So, Haley welcomed Charlie Weiss to his staff, knowing full-well that the former Patriots offensive coordinator would almost certainly get the lion’s share of the credit if, you know, Matt Cassel went from being a hot seat starter to 27 TD-7 INT passer.

Operating in Weiss’ familiar system (a system Cassel learned primarily from Josh McDaniels in New England), the 28-year-old ex-USC backup has been exactly what a team with the league’s best rushing attack needs: a caretaking quarterback capable of making the occasional big play. Much of the credit for Cassel’s success belongs to Weiss.

Weiss isn’t the only coach who has turned in a masterful season for the Chiefs. Offensive line coach Bill Muir has been fantastic with a callow unit that was originally thought to be very vulnerable at the tackle and center positions, while running backs coach Maurice Carthon has helped Jamaal Charles blossom into a 1,467-yard rusher (a 1,467-yard rusher who primarily comes off the T. Haley (US Presswire)bench, no less).

Defensively, coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system has flourished despite an undersized front seven and inexperienced secondary. That secondary, which has often featured dual rookies at the safety spots (first-rounder Eric Berry and fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis) plus a rookie in the slot (cornerback Javier Arenas) has benefitted from the tutelage of Hall of Fame defensive back Emmitt Thomas. Finally, give credit to linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who has overseen a unit that successfully transformed nickel inside ‘backers Derrick Johnson and Javon Belcher into starters. The emergence of the young safeties and those speedy linebackers has infused speed into the interior of Kansas City’s defense.

You could argue that no team maximizes its talent through a variety of personnel packages better than the Chiefs. But is the reliance on coaching a good thing? The Chiefs did not look very well coached in their season finale against the Raiders, particularly on offense. Cassel completed 11 of 33 throws and was under immense pressure the entire afternoon. One can’t help but wonder if the news about Weiss heading to Florida isn’t distracting (especially given that the relationship with Haley likely wound up having something to do with Weiss’ decision).



Green Bay Packers (No. 6 seed; 10-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 4:30, FOX


8.) Packers: DE-FENSE! (boom, boom) DE-FENSE! (boom, boom)

Columnists and analysts will be most tempted to fall back on the moment myth when talking about the Green Bay Packers this week. They’re that team that “nobody wants to face heading into the playoffs”. It’s true, Green Bay is hot right now. But the reason isn’t momentum – it’s talent, deception and aggression on the defensive side of the ball.
C. Woodson (US Presswire)
Injuries have ravaged the Packers D, but only in the front seven. Coordinator Dom Capers has still be able to prove what Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams proved last season, and what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau proved the season before that: you can basically do whatever you want with your front seven as long as you have an elite back four. In the NFL, an elite back four includes: a true cover corner (Tramon Williams, ala Jabari Greer/Ike Taylor), a rangy safety (Nick Collins, ala Darren Sharper/Ryan Clark) and a versatile playmaker (Charles Woodson, ala Roman Harper/Troy Polamalu).

What Capers has that Williams did not have (but that LeBeau certainly had) is a dominant pass-rusher. In fact, Green Bay might suddenly have two. Clay Matthews continues to punish teams with his speed off the edge (by the way, a side note, don’t listen to analysts who simply look at Matthews’ somewhat slender stature and determine he can’t anchor against the run – the guy has been a tremendous playside run defender the past few weeks). In addition to Matthews, undrafted rookie Erik Walden has exploded since filling in for injured Frank Zombo (another undrafted rookie who was filling in for injured Brandon Chillar….who was filling in for injured Brady Poppinga – seriously). Walden led the Packers with 11 tackles and two sacks Sunday against the Bears.

Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. Or, given that he hasn’t yet won a playoff game, perhaps we have to say he’s a quarterback with great skills. Either way, Rodgers makes Green Bay’s offense capable of greatness. But the absence of an adequate running back also makes Green Bay’s offense vulnerable.

The reason the Packers are in the postseason is because of their defense. It allowed just three points in the make-or-break finale against the Bears, and it forced six turnovers in the make-or-break matchup against the Giants the previous week.



9.) Eagles: A quarterback change?

Hard to believe – maybe even impossible to believe – but according to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio (via Pro Football Talk), Andy Reid may consider benching Michael Vick in Philly’s Wild Card game against Green Bay. The Eagles coaching staff is extremely alarmed by Vick’s inability to recognize presnap blitzes. As ESPN’s NFL Matchup Show pointed out, M. Vick (US Presswire)recognition problems are what led to most of the sacks Vick took against the Vikings in the Tuesday night loss.

Vick did not practice with the team prior to the meaningless Cowboys game (which he sat out in order to rest his battered 6’0”, 215-pound body). Instead, he spent the week studying Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. Vick torched that defense in his 2010 debut off the bench back in Week 1, but that was only because the Packers had spent the week preparing for quintessential pocket passer Kevin Kolb (whom they destroyed, by the way).

It’d be great to know how much time the Packers spend preparing for Kolb this week. Do they – or anyone – really believe Reid would have the gall to pull the league’s presumed MVP runner up in the playoffs? The backlash Mike Shanahan took for pulling Donovan McNabb in a regular season game at Detroit would be a mere blip compared to the backlash Reid would take for pulling Vick in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Eagles obviously hope it won’t come to this. And it probably won’t. But this Sunday will prove whether Vick has really become a student of the game. No question he’s putting forth the effort to study the film and playbook; the question is whether that effort will pay off.




10.) Quick Hits: The bye week teams

With so much focus on the immediate playoff matchups, it’s always amazing how far off the radar the No. 1 and 2 seed teams drop during Wild Card week. Here’s just a little something to help keep the bye week clubs in the back of your mind.;

**The Patriots finished with an NFL-best 14-2 record. It’s the fourth time in Bill Belichick’s career that he’s reached 14 wins. (Too bad this stat, like virtually all other regular season stats, will be rendered virtually moot in two years when the NFL decides to water down its flourishing product by adding two more games to the regular season).

**The Steelers will be as well rested as a BCS bowl team once they take the field for their Divisional Round matchup. Pittsburgh will have played the hapless Panthers on Thursday night in Week 16, rested for 10 days, played the hapless Browns in Week 17, then rested for another two weeks.

**The Falcons might be the most banal, methodical No. 1 seed in NFL history. Their season has consisted of nothing but 12-play, 77-yard drives capped with a Michael Turner/Tony Gonzalez/Roddy White touchdown.

**Lovie Smith was true to his word: the Bears played to win in Week 17. The Bears didn’t get the win, of course, but no player in that locker room regrets the effort. And doesn’t it just seem like ever since the Giants gave the undefeated Patriots all they could handle on that epic Saturday night contest at the end of the ’07 season, more teams have played to win in their meaningless games?

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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