Tag:E.J. Henderson
Posted on: November 30, 2011 4:08 pm
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 13's finer points

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Saints vs. Lions
A good over/under on total passing yards for this game is 700. Both teams have gun-slinging quarterbacks and depth at receiver. What’s interesting is the way that receiving talent is used.

Calvin Johnson is the most physically gifted wideout (if not player) in the NFL. He’s the fulcrum of the Lions’ attack. That’s actually part of the reason why Detroit’s offense is at the 300 level while New Orleans’ is at the 500. Johnson is not fundamentally refined. He runs only mediocre routes and does not always read complex coverages well. Hence, he hasn’t always been great against committed double-teams.

Fortunately for Johnson, his weaknesses are drastically mitigated by the magnitude of his strengths. In short, his lack of refinement hasn’t mattered a whole lot because he can outrun and out-jump everyone anyway. This may in fact be part of the reason he’s unrefined – it hasn’t been necessary for coaches to waste time and energy teaching him fundamentals.


It might be a different story if Johnson were a Saint, though. Sean Payton’s offense is very layered and malleable. Receivers must be able to precisely run a litany of routes from a litany of different spots on the field. If they can’t, they won’t play, no matter how high they’re drafted (just ask Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson, two high-round picks who often rode the pine early in their careers). Johnson would certainly have been a No. 1 receiver for the Saints from day one, but he would have been asked to learn more, too.

Certainly, there are other factors that go into the making of the Lions’ and Saints’ offense. Drew Brees is a wiser quarterback than Matthew Stafford at this point, plus the Saints have a better interior offensive line and more complete run game. But in terms of week-to-week sustainability, the fundamental soundness of the Saints receivers trumps the insane athleticism of Calvin Johnson. A defense can drastically alter the Lions passing game by taking away just one player. Against the Saints, a defense must take away three or four players.

Cardinals vs. Cowboys
It’s been a good year for inside linebackers in the NFC. A lot of attention has been paid to the duo in San Francisco (Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman), and rightfully so. Brian Urlacher has been tremendous (as usual) in Chicago.

He’s not talked about often, but Minnesota’s E.J. Henderson has been nearly as good as Urlacher (at least against the run). And from this matchup, Dallas’ Sean Lee has received plaudits for his work in coverage (Lee’s attack speed against the run is also superb).

There’s another NFC linebacker in this elite class that few know about: Arizona’s Daryl Washington. The 230-pounder from TCU was in and out of the lineup as a second-round rookie last season. This season, he’s been in and out of opposing backfields. Washington leads the Cardinals with 59 solo tackles (Paris Lenon leads the team with 68 total tackles). He also has eight tackles for loss and three sacks.

Each week Washington jumps out resoundingly on film, showing sideline-to-sideline speed and a downhill burst that can make the other 21 players look sluggish in comparison. Speed is only relevant if it’s taking you in the right direction, though. What has set Washington apart is his improved recognition.

He identifies run concepts and angles to the ball with preternatural instincts (they have to be preternatural because such sharp instincts can’t be cultivated in just one-and-a-half seasons). Those instincts apply in coverage, as well, evidenced by Washington’s two interceptions and six passes defensed this season.

Redskins vs. Jets
Does it seem harsh to start comparing Mark Sanchez to Rex Grossman? The third-year quarterback has not quite fallen to that level in terms of turnovers and bonehead mistakes, but the clock management and decision-making gaffes, not to mention the 11 interceptions and five turnovers returned for touchdowns, are hard to overlook.

Rich Gannon – who is quickly becoming one of the premiere color commentators in the business and, it’s worth noting, briefly tutored Sanchez a few years ago – recently made a few very astute observations about the ex-Trojan. One was that when Sanchez misses, he tends to miss behind his receiver. Gannon suspects this is because Sanchez is routinely late with his eyes; he’s not a quick field-scanner or anticipator.

More concerning is Sanchez’s jitteriness in the pocket. He perceives pass-rush pressure before it arrives (a crippling weakness that usually lands a player out of the league or in a career backup role). He’s overly concerned about getting hit, which causes him to tuck the ball, flee the pocket or make ill-advised throws.

These were things scouts worried about with Sanchez coming out of USC, where he had the uncommon luxury of always throwing from a clean pocket. Sanchez showed these weaknesses as a rookie, which was fine. But it’s not fine that he’s still showing them after nearly 50 professional starts.

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: November 20, 2011 6:09 pm
 

Heyward-Bey has feeling, should travel home

D. Heyward-Bey had feeling after this hit (AP).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Early in the fourth quarter of the Raiders-Vikings game, Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a pass across the middle of the field, and while Cedric Griffin tackled him, E.J. Henderson’s knee caught Heyward-Bey in the head and knocked off his helmet.

While the play looked serious and awfully scary, Raiders coach Hue Jackson said Heyward-Bey had full use of extremities. Jackson also said he was optimistic that Heyward-Bey would travel home with his teammates tonight.

Heyward-Bey led the team with four catches for 43 yards in Oakland's win, and as he was stretchered off the field, his raised his left hand to the sky, much to the relief of everybody watching.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 12, 2011 11:30 am
Edited on: October 14, 2011 9:43 am
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Vikings preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Few people are excited about this week’s Sunday Night game. The 1-4 Vikings and 2-3 Bears look like non-contenders in an NFC North division housing a pair of 5-0 clubs. This Film Room post is not about the Bears-Vikings game. We’ll touch on the matchup towards the end simply because it’d be weird not to. But the main point here is to examine why the Tampa 2 defense – which both these teams run – is on its death bed.



1. Tampa 2: What it is
The Tampa 2 (aka Cover 2) is a classic zone scheme. Four pass-rushers up front; three linebackers underneath; a left and right cornerback outside; and, as the "2" refers to, two safeties over the top.

Against the pass, as the illustration to the right (click to enlarge) shows, the safeties each cover half the field deep. The linebackers and cornerbacks each cover 1/5th of the field underneath. The middle linebacker is responsible for any vertical routes inside. Up front, the linemen shoot the gaps. There’s no blitzing.

The advantages are that all pass defenders have straightforward responsibilities and the action (for the most part) always takes place in front of them. As for the disadvantage ...

2. Run Defense
In football there are two traditional ways to stop the run: have a defensive line that wins battles in the trenches or have a strong-tackling safety drop down as an eighth man in the box. A Cover 2 naturally misses on both of these. The defensive linemen are instructed to rush the passer first and play the run if it’s convenient along the way.

Defensive line penetration is great for stopping the run, but it can be hit or miss (especially if the offense knows that the defensive linemen are trying to penetrate on every play). The safeties must stay back and cover deep. If they step forward, they run the risk of biting on play-action (which is a great way to get beat deep).

Because of this, Tampa 2 defenses rely on their linebackers and cornerbacks (yes, cornerbacks) to stop the run. More on this in item 4.
Worth noting is that not all Tampa 2 defenses are bad against the run. In fact, the Vikings and Bears have been spectacular in run defense over the years. That’s a product of phenomenal personnel.

The Vikings have had the Williams Wall at tackle (and Pat Williams actually played a nose tackle role, which is a twist on a traditional Cover 2 front) and the Bears have had star linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But Tampa 2 teams without top-echelon run-stuffers (like the Colts) are very susceptible to the run.

3. Tampa 2 vulnerabilities
Cover 2 defenses are vanilla by nature. That was fine in the late 90s and early 2000s when the scheme was still new and offenses weren’t spreading the field every down. But complex, motion-oriented offenses have an easy time creating mismatches against a Cover 2.

Heck, even basic offensive formations can create mismatches. For example, something the Eagles do against a Cover 2 is line up their speedy receivers in minus splits (close to the formation).

Because Cover 2 cornerbacks always line up outside, this formation dictates that DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin run their routes against linebackers and safeties. Talk about a mismatch.

There are other avenues for mismatches. For a long time, Cover 2 defenses did not have No. 1 and No. 2 corners, but instead, left and right corners. If the left corner stunk, offenses would simply align their best receiver over there. Mercifully, most Cover 2 defenses (the Bears and Vikings included) have recently shown a willingness to at least move their corners from one side to the other based on where they expect certain receivers to be.

That still doesn’t mean a defense will get the corner-on-receiver matchup it desires. This past Monday, Calvin Johnson ran what amounted to a slant-and-go against the Bears’ Cover 2. Charles Tillman stayed with Johnson for about 15 yards. He should have jammed Johnson in an effort to reroute him. Instead, he played the basic Cover 2 technique, which meant he let Johnson go once Johnson went inside towards safety Chris Harris’ deep zone. That left the most athletic wideout in the world matched up on a strong safety. The result was a 73-yard touchdown.

Besides matchup issues, there are natural voids in the Cover 2 that everyone knows about. The gaps 15-20 yards downfield outside the numbers are the main ones, though the voids behind the linebackers in the seams can be enticing too. Really, Cover 2 is the new Prevent Defense. And because the Cover 2 became such a popular defense in the early 2000s, every offense in the NFL has a special chapter in its playbook specifically designed for beating it.

4. Stringent personnel needs
Obviously, a Cover 2 is not a completely hapless defense. If it were, nobody would run it. With the right personnel, the scheme can be quite viable. A great defensive line can sometimes be enough; look at the 2011 Lions or previous years’ Colts, for example (But keep in mind, great defensive lines are going to make any scheme look good.)

Because of the Cover 2’s simplicity and NFL offense’s familiarity with it, the “right personnel” has gone from being “strongly recommended” to “absolutely required”. And the bar for the “right personnel” has risen considerably.

In a Cover 2, you must generate a pass-rush with only four defensive linemen. Thus, you need top-notch speed rushers and defensive tackles with outstanding initial quickness. Those types of players are usually found only in the first rounds.
 
Because the cornerbacks only defend the first 10-15 yards outside, and because the safeties are aligned so deep, Cover 2 cornerbacks are counted on as part of the run defense. Thus, they need to be good tacklers. This is why Antoine Winfield is so potent in Minnesota’s D. Or why, in part, Ronde Barber has stuck around for so long in Tampa Bay. Or why Indianapolis always brings in firm-tackling corners.

It’s also why you’re always hearing about Tampa 2 teams needing fast linebackers. Yes, the linebackers need speed in order to play the pass (especially the middle linebacker, who must run with any targets running vertically between the numbers). But really, Tampa 2 linebacker speed is needed for stopping the run. With the cornerbacks lined up along the front, the defensive linemen are told to shoot the gaps and force runners to that help outside. It’s up to the linebackers to chase them down along the way.

Finding quality Cover 2 type players is certainly not impossible. Problem is, if you don’t have the right guy in every spot, offenses can easily punish you. If a team like the Packers has a weak spot on D, they can use disguises and zone blitz concepts to cover it. If a team like the Bears or Vikings have a weak spot, they can only hope that their defensive ends reach the quarterback before the quarterback exploits it.  

5. Studs and Duds
The star defensive players for both teams have lived up to their end of the deal. For the Bears, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has moved with more quickness and fluidity than in any of the past three seasons. Monday night’s game aside, Lance Briggs has been the fierce hitter he always is. Julius Peppers has only two sacks, but he’s been a force in bits, if not chunks. Opposite him, Israel Idonije, who has great movement skills and a real feel for executing moves based on the situation, remains one of the most underrated ends in the game.

For the Vikings, Jared Allen has recaptured his 2008/2009 form. End Brian Robison has been fast and tenacious. In fact, he’s having a much better season than Ray Edwards is having in Atlanta. As usual, defensive tackle Kevin Williams has shown his uncommon mobility/power combination. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has been stout in coverage, and E.J. Henderson, while not always great versus the pass, remains a smart, assertive downhill force against the run.
 
The problem is both teams have had a propensity to give up big plays, in part due to iffy play at safety. It’s worse with the Bear than the Vikings. But, on the flip side, the Vikings’ offense has been worse than the Bears’. We could write a thousand posts explaining what’s wrong with both offenses. In short, neither has a good line nor the receivers necessary for their respective systems.

Perhaps this is the week that these offenses find their rhythms through the air. After all, both will be facing plenty of Cover 2 looks.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 6 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: August 10, 2010 11:58 pm
 

E.J. Henderson's remarkable recovery

Posted by Andy Benoit

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote a very compelling piece on Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson today. Few expected Henderson to be on the field for 2010 training camp. The seventh-year pro was arguably the best 4-3 middle linebacker in all of football last season, but he suffered a gruesome fractured femur in December that, many believe, put his chances of ever playing again on the wrong side of 50/50.
 E. Henderson (US Presswire)
After the injury, doctors placed a permanent titanium rod in Henderson’s leg. He was in a wheelchair for six weeks, on crutches for another six weeks and walking with a cane for six weeks after that. It seemed his likely best-case scenario would be to get placed on PUP for training camp and sneak onto the 53-man roster sometime after all the trees lost their leaves.

But instead, Henderson is on the field and, in his estimation, competing for the Week 1 starting job (at this point, his replacement, second-year pro Jasper Brinkley, still has the edge, but that’s subject to change). Seifert writes:

Henderson has cut his original recovery timetable in half, and in the process surpassed every milestone set in front of him. His final hurdle will be a big one -- actual game experience -- but it's not out of the question that he could play in Saturday's preseason opener at St. Louis.

"I've pretty much known I would get back as soon as I was able to walk again," Henderson said. "Seeing the progress I made each and every week, I knew I would be ready to rock."


Initial reports suggested it would take up to a year for Henderson's leg to heal, but in their first meeting after the injury, Henderson told Vikings coach Brad Childress that he would "set a whole new protocol" for rehabilitating the injury.

Childress wanted to play it safe and put Henderson on PUP, but Henderson proved to be well-conditioned and ready to go. In fact, he’s been working with the first team defense this week. He still has more mountains to climb, but at this rate, Henderson is poised to claim the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award before Halloween.


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: August 10, 2010 11:50 pm
Edited on: August 10, 2010 11:52 pm
This entry has been removed by the administrator.

Post Deleted by Administrator

This message has been removed by the administrator.

Posted on: June 23, 2010 4:26 pm
 

Brinkley Priming for MLB Duties in Minnesota

Minnesota’s E.J. Henderson was arguably the best Mike linebacker in football last season. But in December, the seventh-year pro suffered the type of broken leg that television networks hesitate to even show viewers. Henderson, entering his eighth season, has vowed to be on the field in Week 1, but the sad reality is such a scenario is unlikely.

Thus, replacement Jasper Brinkley will have the weight of his world back on his shoulders. He told the Star Tribune that he’s “definitely” preparing as if he’ll be the starter. The hope is that the world isn’t quite as heavy this time.

As a fifth-round rookie last year, Brinkley was often slow to diagnose run plays and was vulnerable in coverage. Whereas Henderson took advantage of playing behind the Williams Wall by attacking downhill, Brinkley had a tendency to drift east and west.

But on the bright side, Brinkley showed good explosiveness when he trusted his recognition. And he proved he can operate in trash.

Brinkley has had a good offseason. “I definitely feel like I came a long way," he said after a June minicamp. "Last year was a whole lot of learning for me. I call it teach tape. So definitely got in here this offseason and critiqued myself really hard because you’re your [own] worst critic. So [there were] a lot of things I wanted to work on and I came out here and got better.”

Expect a successful ’10 campaign for the ex-South Carolina Gamecock. He’s fortunate to be playing behind the NFL’s best four-man line and between to two rock-solid outside linebackers, Chad Greenway and Ben Leber.


--Andy Benoit

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter

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