Tag:Dustin Keller
Posted on: December 21, 2011 2:46 pm
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Film Room: Jets vs. Giants Christmas eve preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


This Christmas Eve battle carries significant playoff implications for both New York teams. With the hype already built in, we can get right to the breakdown.


1. Rex Ryan
The loquacious third-year head coach has already said his is the better team in this game and if that “better team” loses, the blame will be on him. That would make two weeks in a row.

Rarely do we call out a coaching staff in Film Room posts; it’s dicey given the depth of preparation and various subtle and unknown factors that go into a gameplan. But rarely do we see one staff thoroughly outwit another staff the way Andy Reid and his crew did against Ryan & Co. last week.

The Eagles offensive line and backs had no trouble stoning the Jets’ blitzes. That’s noteworthy given that Philly’s front five and LeSean McCoy have been inconsistent in blitz pickup this season. With Jim Leonhard injured, the Jets had to scale back their coverages. They may have scaled too far back; Michael Vick, a poor field reader, diagnosed the Jets’ secondary with ease.

Afterwards, there were reports that Eagles receivers were calling out the coverages prior to the snap. In most of those instances, the Eagles were aligned in spread formations, which widened the Jets defense. That gave Vick clearer looks and, as NFL Matchup Show executive producer Greg Cosell pointed out, it dictated some favorable blocking advantages for the Eagles run game. Instead of adjusting and being proactive, the Jets stagnated and became reactive.

2. Giants run game vs. Jets D
Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine are two of the best in the business. It’s unlikely they’ll be flat two games in a row. It helps that they’re facing a Giants offense that can’t run the ball. When the Giants do attempt to run (and they will), it won’t be from spread formations like the Eagles. They’re a power run team that girth over quickness up front and relies on fullbacks and tight ends on the edges and lead-blocks.

The Jets are tailored to stop this brand of rushing. Nose tackle Sione Pouha will command extra attention inside, leaving one-on-one mismatches for either Muhammad Wilkerson (a fast-rising rookie with a willowy frame and improved explosiveness) or Mike DeVito (a low-to-the-ground energy guy with an underrated burst).

That’s just in the trenches. At the second level, the Jets linebackers present even greater problems. About the only way to beat them is to make them guess wrong (solid, assertive veteran Bart Scott especially can misdiagnose and overreact at times). The Giants running backs, however, have not proven fleet enough this season to trust on draws, counters or other misdirection runs.
Ballard and Keller have been safety valves for their QBs this season. (Getty Images)

3. Tight Ends
In recent weeks, Jake Ballard has evolved from a lumbering but effective seam pass-catcher to something of a potent all-around receiver. He runs a wider variety of routes than anyone would have guessed and is more than a dumpoff option for Eli Manning. One reason for this could be because defenses have been more inclined to double the Giants receivers outside.

The Jets may not have to double given they can match Darrelle Revis on Hakeem Nicks. But that doesn’t mean Ballard won’t be a significant factor Sunday. The Jets linebackers are not particularly comfortable in coverage, and Manning may even like the matchup of Ballard on safety Eric Smith.

Because the Jets corners play so much man, they’re not going to be too responsive to play-action (the corners are outside and watching the receiver, not inside where they can see the quarterback and linemen carry out fakes). Thus, when Manning does fake a handoff, it’s likely Ballard’s defender is the one he’ll be trying to manipulate.

For the Jets, tight end Dustin Keller is critical because, as you’re about to read, he’s Mark Sanchez’s safety valve.

4. Jets passing game
The Giants are usually willing to cover tight ends with linebackers, especially if nickel ‘backer Jacquian Williams is on the field. It’s possible, though, that they’ll find a way to put a safety on Keller.

He’s often Sanchez’s go-to guy in passing situations. This is gold star for Keller, but more than that, it’s a black checkmark for Sanchez. Because he’s as jittery in the pocket and as unreliable in his progressions as he was his rookie year, the Jets’ passing attack is full of simplified one-read plays. A lot of those one-read plays – rollouts, short drag patterns, flairs to the flats, short hooks, etc. – naturally target a tight end. It helps that Sanchez, for all his short-comings, is superb throwing quickly between the numbers.

The Jets have not been able to consistently incorporate their wide receivers in the passing game this season. Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress have not gone over 50 yards receiving in the same game since Week 1. Four times they’ve both been held to 40 yards or less. Some of that is on them (Burress, in particular, has had trouble getting separation as of late), but most of that is on Sanchez and an offensive line that, thanks to right tackle Wayne Hunter, can’t always sustain protection for a seven-step drop.

Perhaps this is the week the receivers come to life. One of them – likely Holmes – will be blanketed by Corey Webster, but the other will get to face either Aaron Ross or Prince Amukumara, two players who have struggled, especially in man coverage.

5. Jets run game
If turnovers hadn’t put the Jets in such an early hole at Philadelphia, we probably would be talking not about Rex Ryan getting outcoached but about Shonn Greene running all over the Eagles D.

The Jets ground game has had some juice in recent weeks. Greene is finally playing downhill, and the line, anchored by indomitable center Nick Mangold, has done a good job hiding its weaknesses and highlighting its strengths (examples: simple pull-blocks for left guard Matt Slauson, running off and not behind finesse left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, tight ends lining up on the right so that Hunter can maximize his raw strength as a strict north/south blocker, etc.).

The Giants, with their iffy linebacking unit, are not a staunch run defense (though second-year end Jason Pierre-Paul is coming close to singlehandedly changing that).

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: January 24, 2011 9:44 pm
 

Jets headset failed during AFC championship

M. Sanchez couldn't hear plays on his headset for much of Sunday's game (US Presswire). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

The Jets were losing badly to the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday, and it was pretty freezing outside. Making matters worse, though, was that New York QB Mark Sanchez, at times, had a tough time communicating with his coaches because the headset he was wearing kept malfunctioning.

Though it might sound like Pittsburghian subterfuge, that’s not how the Jets were playing it afterward.

"It never really happened for that long of a time," Sanchez said, via ESPN New York. "We had to use a walkie-talkie at one point and (offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) was just yelling calls in at one point. It was just another challenge, and we almost overcame it."

According to the story, the primary headset stopped working after the first possession, and the backup failed with about 8 minutes to go in the game when the Jets were trying to get into the end zone from the 2-yard line.

Which is an unfortunate time for that to occur.

From the story:

Sanchez had to run over to the sideline to talk to Schottenheimer. He also needed to yell out the calls to others on the offense as the Steelers fans at Heinz Field roared over the confusion.

"The problem was the headset kept going out multiple times during the game," Sanchez said, "so I had to run over and get a couple calls, piece together some calls on the headset that came in broken up. It was one of those things we were fighting through. I was proud of our guys for trying to piece it together."

Jets tight end Dustin Keller said the offense had to rush a few times because of the time it took to get the calls communicated. On that goal-line series when the problems were magnified, the Jets turned the ball over on downs after failing to gain 2 yards in four tries.


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Posted on: December 27, 2010 1:18 am
Edited on: December 27, 2010 1:19 am
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 16

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. The NFC’s new most dangerous team?

It took a little over three hours for the Green Bay Packers to become the favorites in the running for this year’s “Wild-Card team that nobody wants to face” moniker. Their 45-17 dismantling of the New York Giants was a showcase of explosion, bA. Rodgers (US Presswire)oth offensively and defensively. Aaron Rodgers completed passes of 36, 26 and 24 yards to Greg Jennings. He lasered an 80-yard catch-and-run score to Jordy Nelson (safety Deon Grant’s lack of burst helped the play) and later found the lanky slot receiver for a 38-yarder. Rodgers also found Donald Driver for a 33-yarder against cornerback Terrell Thomas, who was targeted all afternoon.

The Packers did not run particularly well. Brandon Jackson managed just 39 yards on 18 attempts; the rest of the team combined for a more-respectable 80 yards on 17 attempts. However, perhaps building off their rushing success from last Sunday at New England, the Packer offense at least showed balance early on, running on 10 of its first 20 plays and having 18 rush attempts vs. 23 pass attempts at halftime. (By the way, in what was perhaps the emptiest quote of the year, Mike McCarthy told FOX sideline reporter Pam Oliver at halftime that he’d like his team to have better run/pass balance in the second half).

At the end of the day, Rodgers sealed the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award with 404 yards and four touchdowns. Numbers half that good would have gotten a win considering Green Bay’s defense forced five turnovers. FORCED is the operative word here; Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble was bad, but the story of that play was Charles Woodson getting in the backfield and punching the ball out. And Woodson’s punch out wasn’t as fierce as the one Clay Matthews had on Brandon Jacobs two possessions later.

Aside from a few uncharacteristic deep coverage blunders in man-to-man by cornerback Tramon Williams, Dom Capers’ unit was excellent. Injuries have left the Pack D with a few deficiencies this season, but as the ’09 Saints showed, personnel deficiencies can be masked with big plays generated by an aggressive, complex scheme.



2. A Giant meltdown unfolding?

The New York papers on Monday aren’t going to characterize Sunday’s game as a “Packers win” – they’ll characterize it as a “Giants loss”. And that will be accurate. The Giants were as sloppy as the Packers were great. Eli Manning tossed four interceptions, bringing his league-leading total to 24 on the season. If interceptions weren’t automatically credited to the quarterback but, instead, charged to culpable players the same way errors are charged in baseball, Manning’s pick total would be somewhere around 15 this season. No passer has been shafted by his receivers in the turnovers department quite like Manning this season. And it’s not just the tipped balls; improper route running as a result of bad reads have become a specialty with this group (Hakeem Nicks illustrated this on more than one occasion Sunday).
A. Bradshaw (US Presswire)
The Giants have also struggled to run the ball these past two weeks. You can’t help but wonder if the re-insertion of Shaun O’Hara at center is to blame. O’Hara is one of the best veteran blockers in the game, but the Giants found a rhythm when he was hurt and guard Rich Seubert was filling-in in the middle. That rhythm has been nonexistent in the two weeks since O’Hara returned.

Also non-existent is New York’s pass-rush – at least on paper. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck were able to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but only once did that pressure result in a sack. Rodgers’ mobility and natural playmaking prowess took over this game. A week ago, it was Michael Vick’s mobility and natural playmaking prowess taking over. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has concocted two good gameplans the past two weeks, but given the breakdowns from his defense, it’s possible he’s now questioning whether his back seven is talented enough to handle the heavy doses of man coverage.

The New York media is going to turn all of these issues into a “Tom Coughlin hot seat” discussion, which is understandable but nevertheless silly. The Giants’ problems have not been schematic or strategic, they’ve been mental. And those mental problems have not been continuous like the problems we saw in Dallas or are currently seeing in San Francisco. Rather, the mental mistakes have just been of the spectacular variety. The Giants are fine for nine plays, but on the 10th, they’ll make the grand blunder. It’s easy for a columnist to chalk this up to Coughlin losing the team, but players don’t do things like fumble, miss tackles against amazing offensive athletes or punt the ball to the wrong spot because they’ve stopped listening to their coach. Coaching changes come about when teams stop playing hard. If anything, the Giants are playing too hard and pressing. Nevertheless, this rationale will hold little water in the Big Apple this week, as Coughlin’s seat is warming with his team now needings serious outside help just to reach the postseason.



3. As for that other New York squad…

No playoff worries for the Jets – they’re in. They have David Garrard to thank. The Jaguars quarterback gave the Redskins excellent field position with his overthrown interception to Carlos Rogers in the first quarter, leading to a Rex Grossman one-yard touchdown pass. Then, in overtime, Garrard did it again, only this time he went with an underthrow to complete the pick (cornerback Kevin Barnes as the lucky recipient). Barnes’ interception set up Graham Gano’s third successful overtime field goal on the season, which dropped the Jaguars to 8-7 and eliminated them as New York’s only chaser the AFC Wild Card race.

So the Jets are in despite losing 38-34 at Chicago. Not an ideal clinching scenario, of course. Perhaps there is reason to worry about the Jet defense. After all, Jay Cutler had three touchdown passes of 25-plus yards…in the third quarter alone. And Matt Forte needed just 13 carries to become the first player in 21 games to rush for 100 yards against Rex Ryan’s D* (Forte finished with 113 yards on 19 carries). The Jets got no pass-rush Sunday and looked totally unaccustomed to the concept of tackling players in frigid temperatures. But, as you’ll read about in Story 4, there was one factor that could tag a legitimate asterisk on this aspersion of the defense.
D. Keller (US Presswire)
The rest of Story 3 pertains to a Jets offense that posted 27 points (Dwight Lowery’s interception return provided the other seven). In short, it was spectacular. Pretty much everything that was predicted in my Week 16 Key Matchup feature proved to be 180 degrees wrong. Shonn Greene managed 70 yards on 12 carries (by the way, don’t be surprised if Greene once again becomes the featured back in the postseason; LaDainian Tomlinson, who has been a somewhat listless ballcarrier the past two months, had just 28 yards on 13 carries Sunday). Mark Sanchez completed 24/37 by throwing consistently over the middle of the field. His favorite target was Dustin Keller (seven catches, 79 yards).

Credit Brian Schottenheimer for devising one of the shrewdest offensive gameplans we’ve seen this season. Schottenheimer used a host of presnap gyrations and postsnap misdirections to get the speedy Bears linebackers flowing away from the play and to enabled Sanchez to make simple reads and short, comfortable throws. Even most of the plays in which Sanchez went downfield and hit his second or third target were a result of brilliant design (the one that comes to mind is Santonio Holmes’ 23-yard touchdown in which safety Danieal Manning was forced to abandon his deep zone and pick up Keller’s drag route over the middle).

Last Sunday, the Jets got their first offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving. This Sunday, they got their first passing touchdown since Thanksgiving. Even in a losing effort, they’ve all but run out of statistical droughts just in time for the playoffs.
*It was believed that Rashard Mendenhall had 100 yards rushing against the Jets last week. However, the powers that be went back a day after the game and ruled that Mendenhall actually had 99 yards.




4. Soldier Field Quagmire

Here’s a prediction: in an upcoming postseason game the Bears will give up a bunch of big plays and lose at home to a team they’ll believe they were better than. They’ll come away realizing that the atrocious field conditions at Soldier Field will always do what they did in Week 16 against the Jets: create an enormous advantage for the offense. On a sloppy field, pass-rushers can’t get enough traction to fire off the ball (this is part of the reason New York’s athletic but inexperienced right tackle Wayne Hunter singlehandedly shutout Julius Peppers) and defensive backs can’t recover quickly enough to handle a receiver’s double move.

Realizing that they’re still a defensive team even though Jay Cutler has blossomed in Mike Martz’s well-crafted and well-taught system, the Bears will look to ensure that a sloppy field never costs them another Super Bowl run again. Thus, in 2011, out with the mud and sand painted to look like grass and in with the ultra-consistent field turf.

You might be thinking that the Bears should actually enjoy their sloppy field. After all, the field is the same for both teams, and at least the Bears, unlike their opponents, are familiar with it. That’s a valid concept, but in this case, the conditions are so extreme that no team can render an advantage. Only offensive players benefit, and even they would like a more reliable playing surface. This is why the Bear players have been vociferously griping about the field conditions this season.

Of course, the Bears don’t necessarily have to risk learning a tough lesson in the playoffs here. They can install FieldTurf tomorrow if they want. The Patriots did that in the middle of the ’06 season. And the Cowboys replaced their Astroturf with FieldTurf in the middle of the ’02 season.



5. Chargers make us kick ourselves
P. Rivers (US Presswire)
Have you ever found yourself counting on a close friend to come through big for you but doubting that they actually will? Perhaps you are working on an important project together. Or maybe you need the close friend to give you a ride to the airport. Or loan you something of necessity. Or just be a sidekick at a special event. Anyway, as the big moment draws nearer, you have a feeling that your close friend is not going to come through. But because they’re a close friend and because they’ve come through before, you ignore your intuition.

Then, sure enough, when the moment comes, your close friend doesn’t come through and you’re left wondering why you didn’t act when you thought you saw it coming.

This is what watching the 2010 San Diego Chargers has been like. We figured the Chargers would win the AFC West because they always win the AFC West. When they stumbled out of the gates with a 2-5 record, we started to worry. When they rebounded but then suffered an ugly loss to the Raiders a few weeks ago, we got nervous but ultimately assumed everything was still cool.

Then, sure enough, on Sunday, the perennial AFC West champs went to Cincinnati and got pummeled by a Bengals team that, as it turns out, is probably better without its divisive star receivers. The loss dropped San Diego to 8-7 and officially out of the postseason. The team that we worried would let us down but assumed would somehow not let us down wound up letting us down.

It’s shocking that it was THIS Charger team that finally fell short in the end. Yes, the bumbling special teams put the club in a 2-5 hole. And yes, injuries and holdouts pocked the offense. But it’s still an offense that ranks second in total yards. Oh, and by the way, the defense ranks FIRST in total yards. In any year, it would be unusual for a No. 2 offense or a No. 1 defense to miss the postseason. For a No. 2 offense and a No. 1 defense to be of the same team AND miss the postseason? Unbelievable.



6. A head coaching career headed to the Singletary – errr, cemetery

In a small (and rare) victory for justice in the NFC West, the Cardinals beat the Cowboys on an improbable finish Christmas night (as meaningless games go, that one was as entertaining as it gets). The Cardinals’ win makes it possible for the 49ers to finish last in football’s worst division (Arizona just needs to beat San Fran next week).
M. Singletary (US Presswire)
No team deserves a basement finish more than San Francisco. Mike Singletary has been a lame duck since virtually Halloween – and the players have known it. Twice this season Singletary has questioned a quarterback on the sideline only to have the quarterback shout back in his face: Alex Smith in the Sunday night loss against Philadelphia and Troy Smith most recently in the 25-17 loss at St. Louis.
Not long after shouting at Singletary, Troy was benched for Alex. Alex will be remembered this game for showing horrendous pocket awareness on the final fourth quarter drive low-lighted by his second down sack and Ted Ginn’s inexplicable failure to get out of bounds after converting a fourth down in the waning seconds.

It’s not fair to criticize either Smith for shouting at their head coach because we don’t know what was being said. But it IS fair to ask: Can you imagine Belichick/Cowher/Tomlin/Dungy/Parce
lls etc. having a quarterback shout in their face? Sure, it’s a competitive, emotional game. But you just don’t see head coaches get shouted at by quarterbacks. Even when Rich Gannon and Jon Gruden would bicker, all that was was bickering. The Smiths and Singletary haven’t been merely bickering. Neither Smith has a reputation for being an insubordinate guy (though some believe Alex Smith helped run Mike Nolan out of town). On the surface, it looks like not all the Niner players, and not these quarterbacks in particular, truly respect the head coach.

It might not matter, as Singletary is out now. Jed York will likely hire a GM before he hires a new head coach. Too bad Bruce Allen is already locked up in Washington; Allen’s presence wouldn’t hurt San Francisco’s chances at coaxing Jon Gruden back to the Bay Area.
Whoever the new GM is, he’d better have an eye for quarterbacks. That seems to be all the 49ers are truly missing. San Francisco’s defensive front seven is borderline outstanding (just ask the Rams, who managed 60 yards on 28 rushing attempts Sunday). There are playmakers at all the offensive skill positions. And, though the offensive line has struggled, it’s a unit that features two first-round rookies (left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis).



7. The all-important meaningless games

A side effect that had to be unforeseen when the NFL decided to schedule only divisional matchups for Week 17 is the bizarre scenario of teams still chasing playoff berths but having a meaningless game in Week 16. The Colts and Seahawks both experienced this Sunday. Because the Jaguars lost early to the Redskins, the Colts did not technically need to win at Oakland. All that matters is that they beat the Titans next week. For the Seahawks, the same situation played out at Tampa Bay because of the Niners’ loss to the Rams.

The Seahawks played like a team that fully understood this scenario. The Bucs did whatever they wanted against them. Josh Freeman tossed five touchdowns, which matched the number of incompletions he had on 26 pass attempts. LeGarrette Blount racked up 164 yards on 18 carries. Tampa’s defense held Seattle to 179 yards. Seattle scored only eight points after Matt Hasselbeck left with a non-contact hip injury. The 38-15 loss means the Seahawks’ average D. Rhodes (US Presswire)margin of defeat this season is an astonishing 21 points. The closest of their nine losses was 15 points (Week 11 vs. the Saints).

The Colts, on the other hand, played like a team that had no idea it was partaking in a meaningless game. For starters, they did not roll over and put Curtis Painter on the field. They did, however, put Dominic Rhodes on the field, but only because they think the veteran journeyman might end up being their featured back in the playoffs. Joseph Addai returned after missing eight weeks with a neck injury. The first-round pick of ’06 was brought along fairly slowly, finishing the game with 45 yards on 12 carries.

For the past two months, another former first-round pick, Donald Brown, has been filling in for Addai. However, the Colts brass may finally be admitting what they’ve likely been grumbling all along: Brown lacks the necessary quickness and vision to be a quality NFL back. Brown got only six carries against the Raiders; Rhodes got 17. But wait! Brown was coming off a career-best 129 yards rushing against the Jaguars! He was snatched off the waiver wires in all my fantasy leagues! He’s a young first-rounder! No way the Colts would choose Rhodes over him!

But that seems to be the case. The reality is the NFL is not a gaping-holes league. What Brown did against Jacksonville was a product of Jacksonville’s poor linebacking and safety play. Rhodes has better shiftiness and awareness than Brown. Rhodes’ return to relevance may end up saving the Colts. Indy rushed for 191 yards against the Raiders. If they can muster even a modest threat running the ball, they’ll be a tough out.



8. A higher power in Denver

Tim Tebow’s second NFL start was a Testament – err, testament to the value of mobility for a young quarterback. John Madden always said that it’s important a young passer be able to move because, inevitably, a young passer is going to panic under duress and be inclined to flee the pocket. Tebow did not show a whole lot of panic facing Houston, owner of the league’s worst pass defense (if not worst defense overall….did you know the Texans have now set an all-time NFL record by allowing 24 points in 14 games this season?).

The first-round rookie threw for 308 yards, completing 16/29 passes. Tebow also scrambled for 27 yards on 10 runs, including his game-winning six-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Lloyd was responsible for 111 of Tebow’s yards. Most enchanting was Lloyd’s spectacular 41-yarder in which he elevated to show off his otherworldly suppleness.

Bronco fans were happy with Tebow, but Panther fans were thrilled. Denver’s win locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft for the lowly Panthers.



9. Business as usual for Baltimore

Ray Lewis vowed that the Ravens would not let Peyton Hillis run over them again. (Hillis rushed for 144 yards against this club in his Week 3 NFL coming out party.) There isn’t a soul alive who didn’t believe all week that Lewis was good for his word here. Which is why there isn’t a soul alive who is the least bit surprised with Baltimore’s matter-of-fact 20-10 win at Cleveland.

Ed Reed had a pair of interceptions in this game (Colt McCoy struggled with accuracy and had too many balls hang up in the air); the Ravens are now 10-0 when Reed has a multi-pick game. Some might say Reed was on fire Sunday. I’d love to, except doing so would, at this point, be a sorry, obvious joke given what happened with Reed’s jacket on the sideline late in the fourth quarter.



10. Quick Hits

**Santonio Holmes vowed to the CBS broadcast crew earlier in the week that he’d never wears sleeves during a game because sleeves caused him to fumble once at Ohio State. Then Holmes wore sleeves against the Bears. And, sure enough, he fumbled early in the first half.

**Hard to believe that the upper bowl at Arrowhead Stadium was only half full fJ. Flacco (US Presswire)or the Chiefs division-clinching win against the Titans. The Chiefs, remember, sold out a record 156 straight games from December 1990 through December 2009.

**I have heard from a few people recently about the outstanding play of Bills NT Kyle Williams. I’ll have to watch the film closer after the season, but on a surface level glance, I have trouble believing any members of the league’s worst run defense is playing very well. Every time I looked over at the Patriots-Bills game Sunday, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead were picking up five yards on runs that should have gone for one or two. It’s been that way all season with the Bills.

**Despite being a game manager his first two seasons as a pro, on Sunday Joe Flacco became just the sixth player in NFL history to throw for 10,000 yards in his first three years.

**Aaron Rodgers debuted his new, safer helmet against the Giants. My question is if the NFL is so concerned about concussions, why aren’t more players, whether they’ve had a concussion or not, being forced to make this helmet switch?

**The Raiders-Colts final score (31-26) was only close because the Raiders got an opening kickoff touchdown return from Jacoby Ford and 59-yard and 54-yard field goals from Sebastian Janikowski.

**The Chargers ought to be worried about first-round rookie Ryan Mathews. Besides being injury prone and inconsistent, the Fresno State product has been downright inexplosive. Mathews’ 24-yard touchdown scamper against the Bengals marked his longest run on the season.

**Will Brinson and I reviewed all of the major Week 16 stories in the CBSSports.com Football Podcast Sunday night. Click here to check it out.


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Posted on: December 23, 2010 1:12 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2010 1:20 pm
 

Key Matchup Wk16: Jets offense vs. Bears defense

Posted by Andy Benoit

The discussion about the Jets has shifted after last week’s game in Pittsburgh. No longer are we talking about Mark Sanchez crumbling before our eyes. Brian Schottenheimer’s simplified Week 15 gameplan – more bubble screens, quick slants and throws with defined reads – helped the young quarterback regain his confidence and rhythm.M. Sanchez (US Presswire)
B. Urlacher (US Presswire)
But just because Sanchez was solid against the Steelers – and solid was all he was – doesn’t mean we can simply dismiss his struggles the previous two weeks. This Sunday still presents a “prove it” game for the second-year pro. The Jets come in with the league’s sixth-ranked run offense. The Bears have the league’s third-ranked run defense. The Jets won’t be able to run at will this Sunday; on more than one occasion, they’ll have to rely on Sanchez’s arm.

The difference between this week and last week for Sanchez will be in his throwing lanes. Quick strikes against a 3-4 blitzing D like Pittsburgh’s are very different than quick strikes against a 4-3 zone D like Chicago’s. The Bears have the most athletic pass defending linebackers in football. Brian Urlacher’s range down the middle of the field is arguably the most crucial staple in Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme. Lance Briggs’ speed in the flats gives Chicago’s front seven a unique playmaking dimension. When Sanchez needs to regain his comfort, he tends to look for tight end Dustin Keller. But the very nature of Chicago’s coverage scheme, highlighted by the star linebackers, takes away the simple passes over the middle and in the flats. Thus, there’s no guarantee that Keller, Jerricho Cotchery and LaDainian Tomlinson will be a surefire safety valve for Sanchez on Sunday.

The way to beat the Bears is to expose their limited safeties by seeking big plays through the air. Chris Harris is essentially a fourth linebacker; rookie Major Wright is at his best playing downhill and attacking the box; Danieal Manning has range but lacks awareness.

For the Jets, it’s key to force these guys to run away from the line of scrimmage and into space (where they’ll have to read route combinations). The Bear cornerbacks are stiff, plodding athletes (by cornerback standards). Those corners shouldn’t have much trouble with Braylon Edwards, but shifty, speedy Santonio Holmes is a whole other story.

The Jets will need multiple big plays downfield from Holmes in order to win this game. Such plays tend to be slow-developing, which puts added pressure on the offensive line. With occasional help from a tight end or fullback, D’Brickashaw Ferguson can hang with Julius Peppers. But on the other side, New York must overcome the glaring mismatch of backup right tackle Wayne Hunter against underrated defensive end Israel Idonije.

The Jet and Bear defenses, more than most defenses, thrive off turnovers. Last week’s Jets-Steelers game was free of all turnovers. If this week’s Jets-Bears game follows a similar pattern, the outcome will hinge on whether the Jet passing game can generate big plays.

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Posted on: November 20, 2010 2:13 pm
 

Week 11 injury report analysis Part I

Posted by Andy Benoit

Ravens @ Panthers
M. Schaub (US Presswire)
Ravens guard Chris Chester is questionable with a skin infection. If he’s unable to go, utility backup Tony Moll would fill-in. That would be a downgrade in terms of run-blocking mobility, though Baltimore would survive.

The Panthers are without pretty much any offensive player worth watching. QB Jimmy Clausen is out (concussion). RB Jonathan Stewart is also concussed and won’t play. Same goes for rookie WR Brandon LaFell. RB DeAngelo Williams is done for the season with a foot injury. With backup RB Tyrell Sutton also out (ankle), the run game will fall on the shoulders of Mike Goodson. Against this Ravens defense it will be tough for the second-year pro to match his 100-yard output of a week ago.

Texans @ Jets

Matt Schaub is expected to play after being hospitalized midweek with a bursa sac problem. Schaub won’t have Owen Daniels (hamstring) to throw to, though.

The Jets are in a similar situation. QB Mark Sanchez (calf) was less than 100 percent all week but will play. But he won’t have arguably his favorite inside target, WR Jerricho Cotchery (groin). Expect TE Dustin Keller to play a more prominent role, especially given that Houston has no safeties who are adept in coverage and two linebackers who are questionable (Zach Diles, illness; Xavier Adibi, hamstring).

The only other injury of note here is Jets cornerback Dwight Lowery, who is out with a head injury.

Bills @ Bengals

No C.J. Spiller (hamstring) for the Bills, which means they’ll have to find someone else to dance along the outside running lanes and distrust the run-blocking. Hamstring injuries struck Buffalo’s defensive line, with Spencer Johnson out and Kyle Williams having been limited in practice this week.

The Bengals could list half their team as questionable with a bad attitude, but that would only be an admission of their failed personnel moves. Thus, they’ll stick to listing traditional injuries. Included in those injuries are both starting defensive ends being on the shelf (Antwan Odom, wrist; Jonathan Fanene, hamstring), backup DE Frostee Rucker likely joining them (knee, no practice all week) and DT Tank Johnson very doubtful with a bum knee. Slot CB Morgan Trent also has a bum knee and won’t play. If that’s not enough, LB Rey Maualuga (thigh) and S Chris Crocker (calf) were limited in practice and are both questionable.

Of course, we’re talking about two teams with a combined three wins, so really, besides Bills’ and Bengals’ friends and family, is anyone really that concerned about who takes the field Sunday?

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Posted on: October 21, 2010 6:44 pm
 

NFL posts their safety memo video online

Posted by Will Brinson

The NFL put its players "on notice" yesterday, issuing a league-wide memo (it was also distributed to the media, for what it's worth) that instructed everyone involved as to how the league would dole out punishment for illegal hits.

There was also an instructional video, narrated by Ray Anderson, given to the teams. Now the NFL has published that video online, although, oddly, they declined to embed it (even though this is typical NFL policy -- you can watch the video here if you want).

Some highlights of the video include:
  • Ray Anderson's quote: "If a player misses his aiming point, he will nevertheless be responsible for what he hits."
  • Ray Lewis' MONSTER hit on Dustin Keller during the first week of the season is "proper technique." (This is fantastic not because it's not proper, but because Ray-Ray devastated him. It just happened to be legal.)
  • The fact that Meriweather's hit on Heap was shown about five times.
  • A how-to on clean hits (see the Ray Lewis shot), which does feature some of this season's most devastating "YOU GOT JACKED UP" moments, were "YOU GOT JACKED UP" not shut down because it's the type of thing that causes this sort of overreaction by fostering fan love for gigantic hits.
The essential premise of the video is that the NFL is bringing the thunder on anyone who hits another person's "head or neck area" and leads with their forearm, shoulder or head. Additionally, it's the defender's responsibility to make sure that contact doesn't happen, even if it's unintentional, and if it does, punishment will be doled. 
Posted on: September 27, 2010 12:23 am
Edited on: September 27, 2010 12:31 am
 

Jets move to the front of the class in AFC East

Posted by Will Brinson

The Jets started the season with an embarrassing offensive performance in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens that had many people questioning whether Mark Sanchez could effectively utilize his weapons and deliver on all of their offseason "Super Bowl or bust" claims. After a second straight three touchdown performance that resulted in a 31-23 victory over the Dolphins in South Beach, the second-year quarterback is inspiring different questions.

Namely: is this team the top contender to win the AFC East?

The answer to that is, "absolutely." The Jets manhandled a very good Dolphins defense from the get-go, as Sanchez repeatedly targeted emerging tight end Dustin Keller, who racked up 91 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

"We kept telling everyone who would listen that this kid had learned and the offseason was about as impressive as it gets," Ryan said. "And I think you're seeing the dividends of that hard work now."

Given where this team stood after six quarters of football -- staring 0-2 in the face with a potential loss to the Patriots in Week 2 -- and where they stand after three weeks of football -- tied for first in the division -- kudos have to be given to the coaching staff for getting the offense prepped enough to take on a divisional foe that

"I told them in the locker room that I have confidence in our offense, but I don't know if I really believe that statement," Rex Ryan said afterward.

Clearly, the Jets staff did a good job of that; equally as impressive was their ability to take the distracting situation of Braylon Edwards' DUI earlier in the week and move past it to win a game.

"It's an unfortunate situation, obviously," Ryan said. "I thought we dealt with it, I thought we supported our player -- we support all our players.

But, you know, that's really all I'm gonna say. But we're behind our guys all the way. And this is a tough team and I told you that last year -- we all saw that last year and that's what we can hang our hat on."

Edwards, "suspended" for the first quarter of the game , was a difference-maker too, utilizing his boxer-esque technique for getting pumped up to score on a hitch route turned 67-yard touchdown pass.

But one thing's important to remember -- this isn't a Dolphins team that should be taken lightly, even if the defense completely caved against a Jets team that no one thought would light up South Beach for 30-plus points.

Brandon Marshall and Chad Henne seemed to find a pretty good rhythm, Devone Bess is a dangerous weapon and obviously Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams can run pretty darn well too.

And given the Patriots struggles on defense in the past two weeks, it's not hard to imagine that this division could end up coming down to the two teams who battled out in a surprising shootout Sunday night. But for now, despite even 2-1 records, the Jets get the nod as the East's top team.

Just, uh, don't tell them that. We don't want anyone getting too excited and thinking they have to start celebrating.

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Posted on: September 21, 2010 11:25 pm
 

Young AFC East tight ends getting it done

Posted by Andy Benoit

There were plenty of big-name receivers on the field in New York Sunday (Moss, Welker, Edwards, Cotchery) but the stars of the passing game were the young tight ends.

For the Patriots, fourth-round rookie Aaron Hernandez led the way with 101 yards on six receptions. The popular thing to say about the ex-Florida Gator is that, at a willowy 6’2”, 250 pounds, he looks more like a wide receiver. Indeed, Hernandez has rare fluidity and suppleness. More than half of his yards were a result of deft running after the catch. But since everyone is talking about his build, let’s make a big deal about Hernandez’s youth. Did you know Hernandez won’t be of drinking age until November 6?

For the Jets, tight end Dustin Keller came to life after catching just two passes for nine yards and failing to pick up a crucial first down late in Week 1 against the Ravens. Keller, who, like Hernandez, is practically a glorified slot receiver, caught seven balls for 115 yards against the Patriots.

If the Jets want Mark Sanchez to continue opening up the offense, they’ll need Keller’s receiving prowess in the slot. He is the young quarterback’s safety outlet.

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