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Tag:Ed Dickson
Posted on: January 18, 2012 2:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs. Ravens AFC CG preview

Brady and Lewis will match wits in the AFC Championship Game. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Tom Brady is right: the Ravens are the best team the Patriots have faced this season.

Cam Cameron’s offense poses problems for Bill Belichick’s defense, while Ray Lewis’ defense actually has a fighting chance against Brady’s offense. Here’s the breakdown.



1. Patriots formation versatility
Keep in mind, the Patriots, at least offensively, are also the best team the Ravens have faced all season. Their versatility is like nothing we’ve seen before.

Last Saturday they spent a bulk of the game in a no-huddle that featured tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and wideouts Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman. Remarkably, they were able to run effectively out of this personnel grouping, as Hernandez carried the ball five times out of the backfield for 61 yards.

Those runs are almost just gravy – something the defense must now respect. The real purpose of putting Hernandez in the backfield is the same purpose as all of New England’s other alignments: to get a potent pass catcher matched up on a linebacker. Even safeties have major trouble covering Hernandez and Gronkowski.

This game will be no exception, as Baltimore’s strong safety Bernard Pollard is simply not capable of doing it, and the Ravens are unlikely to remove Ed Reed from centerfield. Brady rarely throws in the direction of starting cornerbacks. Even when he goes to Wes Welker, it’s often when Welker has drawn a matchup against a backup slot corner or non-cornerback.

Because the Patriots don’t try to confuse defenses so much as force them into bad matchups, HOW the Patriots line up to play is almost more important than how they actually play. Most of the damage is done through crafty presnap alignment. (This is one reason so many of Brady’s throws come off three-and five-step drops; the decision of where to go with the ball is made prior to the snap.)

The Patriots frequently go up-tempo to prevent defenses from having enough time to regroup or alter matchups before the snap. The only sure way to take the chess match element out of the equations and force the Patriots to win with execution is to play press-man coverage across the board. Problem is, no defense, including Baltimore’s, has enough quality cover artists to do this.


After a win over the Texans last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will take on Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this game. Watch the game on CBS at 3 PM ET. 

2. Baltimore’s response
The Ravens may not have enough cover artists to play the Patriots man-to-man, but they might be the one team capable of matching wits with them. Ray Lewis is arguably the smartest front seven defender in the league, while Ed Reed is arguably the smartest back four defender. Those two are capable of recognizing New England’s subtle tendencies and getting their teammates into the proper defensive play-call.

Of course, Brady and Bill O’Brien know this and will likely inject a few tendency-breaking wrinkles into the gameplan. Of course, the Ravens know that the Patriots know that they know this, and the Patriots know that the Ravens know that they know and ... you get the idea – this has the potential to be one heck of a chess match.

Look for the Ravens to do plenty of presnap communicating and disguising at the line of scrimmage. It helps that they’re comfortable playing a plethora of different coverages. The outcome may be decided by which side can bully the other into a reactionary position. The Patriots can do that by going hurry-up; the Ravens can do it by blitzing fervidly up the middle.

3. Ravens pass-rush
To beat Tom Brady, you have to rob him of the trust he has in his pass protection. Brady – like any quarterback – does not like pressure directly in his face. And though he’s as tough in the pocket as anyone in the game, he has a tendency to get just a tad jumpy after taking a few hits from edge-rushers.

Recent playoff history shows that if a defense can create pressure and doubt, Brady will eventually start eating up the play clock worrying about protections. That makes him a significantly less dangerous player versus when he’s hurrying things up and concentrating on his receivers’ routes.

The question is, can the Ravens generate a pass-rush? If they blitz, they likely can. But one of the best kept secrets in football is that this is generally a four-man rushing defense. Because the Ravens use so many 3-4 or 2-5 fronts, their four pass-rushers come from a variety of different spots, thus creating the illusion of a blitz:

The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

Above (click image to enlarge): Upon first glance, this appears to be a blitz featuring five, possibly six pass-rushers.

Below: The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

The Ravens’ four-man rush has seemingly evaporated over the last month. It registered a quiet five sacks over the final three weeks of the regular season and then got zero pressure on T.J. Yates in the divisional round. With talents like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, it’s imprudent to assume the pressure can’t suddenly return.

But worth noting is that the Patriots’ pass protection in the last month has also been as sharp as the Ravens’ pass-rush has been dull.

4. Dialing in on Ray Rice
Bill Belichick always builds his defensive gameplan around eliminating the opponents’ greatest strength. This season, no man has done a better job at eliminating Ray Rice than Cam Cameron. (Rice averaged less than 10 carries a game in Baltimore’s four losses.)

To be fair, Cameron has featured Rice most of the season, and the results thus far speak for themselves: 13 wins and Rice leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage.

But if Belichick has inside linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo shadow Rice, or if he brings safety Patrick Chung down in the box every play or has his linebackers sellout against the run, will Cameron have enough patience to stay with his superstar?

The Patriots run defense is coming together, while their secondary can be tempting to attack.

5. Baltimore’s passing game
It was virtually nonexistent against Houston, mainly because deep threat Torrey Smith was nullified by Johnathan Joseph. The Patriots don’t have a corner on Joseph’s level (or even in Joseph’s stratosphere).

If the Ravens want to take their deep shots with Smith, all they’ll have to do is block a mundane Patriots pass-rush (last week’s performance at Foxboro notwithstanding). Devin McCourty was serviceable as a nickel free safety against Denver, but it remains to be seen whether the struggling corner can suddenly play a new position when facing a strong-armed quarterback and polished play-action passing game.

In other matchups, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson were quiet against Houston but should be able to work the seams against New England. Anquan Boldin will be extremely problematic for the Pats. The thought of him working outside against Kyle Arrington seems patently unfair; inside is even worse, as the Patriots don’t have a true slot corner.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:42 am
Edited on: January 13, 2012 9:44 am
 

Film Room: Ravens vs. Texans divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The Texans are hoping they can do what the Ravens did three years ago: reach the AFC Championship with a rookie quarterback. Like the ‘08 Ravens, Houston’s rookie quarterback is a complimentary piece, not the focal point.

Gary Kubiak might be offensive-minded, but his current squad is built around the run and defense. Come to think of it, so are the current Ravens ... if they play their cards right. Here’s the breakdown.


1. Baltimore’s offensive approach
With Joe Flacco turning 27 next week and entering his eighth playoff contest, the manual says this is the time for the quarterback’s coming out party. But it’d be unwise of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to buy into that.

Cameron has been Flacco’s most boisterous supporter – and rightfully so. He and John Harbaugh have gradually loosened the quarterback’s reigns over the past three years and all but removed them this year. That approach has had its ups and downs, but through it all the Ravens have continued to win.

Flacco had a poor season statistically – his completion percentage dropped below 60 for the first time, which is why he averaged a career-low 6.7 yards per attempt – but he was also playing with more freedom/responsibility than ever. You can tell a lot about what a coaching staff thinks of its quarterback by the plays it calls.

Most fans just assume the black-and-blue Ravens have a safe, methodical passing game. In reality, much of what the Ravens do centers more around Flacco’s big arm. Instead of using Anquan Boldin primarily underneath, the Ravens often push the ball to him downfield outside the numbers. They use their tight ends down the seams and it’s not uncommon for Flacco to launch multiple bombs in a half, usually targeting rookie burner Torrey Smith.

It’s encouraging that the Ravens have opened things up, but in this case the numbers don’t lie: Baltimore’s offense is inconsistent through the air and survives primarily because of Ray Rice. The fourth-year superstar led the league with 2,068 yards from scrimmage. In Baltimore’s 12 wins, Rice rushed for an average of 100 yards on 21 carries. In their four losses, he averaged 39 yards on nine carries (and in those losses, the score was never lopsided, making Rice’s decreased touches hard to explain).

Rice is one of the league’s few runners who can consistently move the chains with power or go the distance with speed. His low center of gravity lends him superb lateral explosiveness. That’s deadly behind an effective zone-blocking line that features guards as mobile as Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda.

Will Joseph try to neutralize Boldin this time? (Getty Images)

2. Facing Houston’s D
If Cameron wants to win, he’ll work the offense through Rice. The Texans’ swarming front seven can be difficult to run against, but the Ravens have the game’s most effective lead-blocking fullback in Vontae Leach. He takes great angles to blocks and hits moving targets adroitly, which can help neutralize the downhill speed of linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. The objective of the Ravens run game is to get the defense flowing laterally and allow Rice to cut it up inside.

Flacco won’t be irrelevant, of course. In fact, it’s not unforeseeable for Houston to bottle up the run early and for Baltimore to take to the air. Getting Anquan Boldin back from a knee injury is huge, as he’s a much tougher inside matchup than agility-based tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens have the speed to beat teams downfield, but Torrey Smith is still raw and can be taken out of a game by an elite corner like Johnathan Joseph. It will be interesting to see who the Texans have their No. 1 corner defend. If it’s Smith, they theoretically eliminate Baltimore’s field-stretching prowess. But last time these teams met, Boldin was the one who caught eight balls for 133 yards. Wade Phillips may not be willing to surrender that again.

Regardless of how the secondary matches up, Flacco will have to play with poise. Even when they’re not sacking quarterbacks, the Texans pass-rushers are disruptive. Flacco was impressive keeping his eyes downfield and sliding in the pocket in the last meeting, but he’s still somewhat of a week-to-week player in this sense.

3. Test for Yates
All in all, T.J. Yates has done a commendable job keeping the ship afloat.

 Gary Kubiak did not ask a lot of the rookie in the wild card round. In response, Yates was somewhat reactive reading the field, but he capitalized when a big-play opportunity came about (Andre Johnson’s double move on Pacman Jones). He also did not turn the ball over (though it was lucky that Chris Crocker dropped a surefire pick-six in the second half).

This performance, however, came against Cincinnati’s 4-3, zone-based scheme, which was similar to what Yates saw from the Jaguars, Falcons and Titans in previous starts. Yates is yet to face a 3-4, or even a blitz-oriented defense. He’ll face both Sunday, when the Ravens show him things he’s never seen before.

4. Ravens secondary
One thing Yates has never seen before is a safety like Ed Reed. The future Hall of Famer is not just rangier than all of Yates’ previous foes, he’s much savvier. Most safeties force turnovers by baiting quarterbacks into throws on a given play. Reed will bait a quarterback throughout the game.

He’ll bite on the first route of a play in the second quarter; then in the fourth quarter, against a similar play, Reed will assume the quarterback knows not to try to fool him twice. Thus, while every other safety would play conservative and make sure not to give up that first route again, Reed will abandon that first assignment and jump the second route.

This is how he gets a lot of his interceptions. He’s a master at recognizing how offenses use certain plays to set up other plays. This is no different than a great chess player thinking four or five moves ahead.

It’s unreasonable to expect a third-string rookie quarterback to win the mental battle against Reed. Thus, the Texans might be hesitant to have Andre Johnson stretch the field too many times.

Reed isn’t the only noteworthy defensive back in purple. Lardarius Webb has had a terrific season playing outside and in the slot. Webb defends the deep ball as well as any corner, and he’s great at jumping passing lanes from over-man coverage. His versatility expands what the Ravens can do with their disguises.

5. Houston’s run game
It will be difficult for Arian Foster to get outside against the Ravens the way he did against the Bengals. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is too good as a downhill run defender and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson are the best in the business when it comes to setting the edge:

You’ve probably heard the term “setting the edge”. Setting the edge is when an outside run defender (in a 3-4 it’s usually an outside linebacker) entrenches himself along the line of scrimmage or in the backfield near the offensive tackle or tight end. In doing so, he forces the running back to either cut back into the teeth of the defense or run parallel to the line of scrimmage (which allows time for other defenders to chase him down).

No outside linebacking duo sets the edge better than Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson. This snapshot offers an extreme example of fantastic edge-setting. Suggs didn’t just stalemate Duane Brown – he drove him back four yards.
(AP)

These days, the key to running on Baltimore is, believe it or not, attacking Ray Lewis. The 36-year-old Pro Bowler is still terrific at diagnosing plays, shedding blocks and wrapping up anywhere near the hash marks, but since returning from his toe injury (perhaps too soon), Lewis’s lateral limitations have been exacerbated.

When he’s going east and west, ballcarriers have little trouble bursting by him (especially when the ballcarrier hits the hole with as much authority as Arian Foster).

To get Lewis going sideways, the Texans linemen will have to have fully beat Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody and Cory Redding off the ball. Houston’s front line doesn’t have the strength to block any of those guys – especially Ngata, even though the 345-pound monster has looked less than 100 percent down the stretch – but as a cohesive zone unit, they can nullify them by quickly establishing favorable angles.

That’s exactly what they did against the Bengals, who can be considered a good “pretest” for a bout with the Ravens.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:17 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Thanksgiving preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Lions vs. Packers
The nice thing about having a defense built around your four-man front is that when facing a seemingly unstoppable passing attack, you don’t have to concoct a complicated gameplan and hope that your speed-oriented defenders can somehow give the performance of a lifetime. Because an erupting front four, by nature of alignment, can cut off the lifeline of any pass play by flooding a quarterback’s face, you can stick with your traditional zone concepts on the back end.

This is the standard, obvious approach for the Lions. And really, it’s their only prayer for upsetting the undefeated Packers. The Lions selected Nick Fairley in the first round because they knew that with Ndamukong Suh already inside, they would have at least one favorable one-on-one matchup on every passing down. Those visions have started to play out in recent weeks, as Fairley, in limited reps, has shown uncommon quick-twitch burst for a man of his size.



A way teams have lately combated (or tried to combat) Detroit’s interior quickness is with draws and misdirection runs and screens (think receivers running ghost reverses during a handoff or quarterbacks faking the action one way and going to a ballcarrier the other way). The idea is to let the defensive tackles take themselves out of position with their quick penetration and to get Detroit’s incredibly fast-flowing linebackers going in the wrong direction.

This approach, however, is not conducive to Green Bay’s personnel. The Packers are good at screen pass execution, but none of their running backs have the initial quickness or speed to execute delay-type plays. Thus, expect the Packers to combat Detroit’s inside pass-rush by spreading the field and putting Aaron Rodgers in three-step drops.

Normally, offenses spread the field to stretch the defense and make it easier for the quarterback to recognize blitzes and coverage concepts. That’s not necessary against a basic zone scheme like Detroit’s. But what spreading the field still does is create more space for the defensive backs to cover. Detroit’s defensive backs have improved this season, but they’re still not dynamic or deep enough to contain Green Bay’s receiving corps in large open areas.

Final note: much of Aaron Rodgers’ presnap brilliance derives from his use of dummy snap counts. However, those won’t be relevant if the Ford Field crowd is as loud as expected. The Packers may want to consider going hurry-up. They know they won’t be able to communicate vocally anyway, so they likely installed a bunch of hand signals in practice this week. They’re prepared.

What’s more, they know that a hurry-up can swing momentum and take the crowd out of it, plus it would prevent the Lions from rotating their defensive linemen -- a tactic they rely heavily on.

Cowboys vs. Dolphins
Both teams come in riding a three-game win-streak, thanks largely to the play of their quarterbacks. Tony Romo has posted passer ratings of 113, 148 and 112 his last three outings. Matt Moore has posted 133, 75 and 147.

Romo is having, by far, the best season of his career. He’s been accurate, poised in the pocket and sound in his decision making. These are the effects of his improvements. What analysts don’t focus on often enough are the improvements themselves.

Romo is doing a better job at diagnosing defenses in the presnap phase and adjusting his protections in response. Consequently, postsnap, he’s not surprised by blitzes, plus he’s recognizing coverage shifts and how they impact his receivers’ route combinations. These had been Romo’s areas of weakness.

As for Moore, he’s been steady, but the Dolphins would be foolish to think they don’t still need to look for a quarterback after this season. Lately Moore has often thrown out of base personnel, which means he’s been going against base defenses. That’s fine, but it won’t be as easy against the Cowboys, whose base personnel includes a versatile superstar in DeMarcus Ware and superb pass-defending linebacker in Sean Lee.

Dallas has the resources to take away Dolphins underrated receiving fullback Charles Clay, and Rob Ryan is willing to mix things up no matter what personnel he has on the field. Remember, Moore has only had half a week to study Ryan’s multitude of defensive looks.



Ravens vs. 49ers
Because Ray Rice is averaging less than nine carries per game in his team’s three losses this season, there’s the assumption that the Ravens must run the ball in order to win. But last week against Cincinnati, the Ravens won on the strength of their passing attack. They got 104 yards rushing on 20 carries from Rice, but 59 of those yards came on one run.

Overall, the sustaining element that a run game is supposed to provide simply wasn’t there. The Ravens struggled in short-yardage -- though not on the goal-line, where Marshal Yanda stood out and where Rice has been effective all season -- and could not pound on the ground when trying to protect their fourth quarter lead.

There’s still hope for the run game this season. Aside from overrated left tackle Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore’s front five is adequately suited for this zone-blocking scheme -- especially now that left guard Ben Grubbs is back. Rice and Ricky Williams are smart runners, and Vontae Leach is a top-three fullback.

That said, don’t expect a breakout this week. San Francisco has the best run defense in pro football (by a wide margin, in fact). The brilliant play of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman is the primary reason why.

Willis and Bowman pose additional issues for the Ravens. Against the Bengals, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron compensated for the lackluster run game by calling play-action rollouts for Joe Flacco. That forced the Bengals linebackers to be decision-makers and pass defenders – which they’re capable of, but not simultaneously. Willis and Bowman won’t be manipulated like this. Both hunt up coverage assignments extremely well and both have the athleticism to cover Baltimore’s underneath mismatch creators, Rice and Ed Dickson.

The Ravens’ best chance at offensive success Thanksgiving night is to go max protect and take downfield shots with Torrey Smith and Lee Evans. Their best chance at overall success is to protect field position and wait for their defense to make a big play in a low-scoring game.

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 9, 2011 10:01 pm
 

Tomlin said to be furious about NFL fine on Clark

Clark's collision with Dickson resulted in a $40,000 fine. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

On Tuesday there were reports that Ryan Clark and Ray Lewis could expect fines for their play in Sunday night's Ravens-Steelers game. Wednesday it became a reality; Clark was docked $40,000 and Lewis $20,000.

And not long after the fines were announced, Clark spoke frankly on the matter.

"Somebody else needs to step in ... not that I respected Roger [Goodell] before this ... but this is ridiculous," he said. "I'm not going to sit across from [the Commissioner] unless they handcuff me. which is probably the next step anyway."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette writes that Steelers head coach "was said to be furious when he learned about the fine from the league office today."

In a statement released by the team, Tomlin called the fine excessive.

"I am a proponent of player safety and the league's pursuit of improvement in this area," he said. "I, like the vast majority of people in this industry, witness daily the steep price that these young men pay to play this game on so many levels. Ryan has my full support if he chooses to appeal this in any way."

Judge for yourself:


Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also supports Clark and thinks that NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith should get involved.

"It's unfortunate," he said."You never want to see one of your guys get hit, especially for that much money. I went back and watched it. If you slow down and watch it, it's about as picture-perfect of a tackle you can make. His head was down right across the chest and the back of his helmet maybe grazed the wide receivers bottom of the face mask. Someone needs to stand up and do something -- like De Smith. He is our player guy, stand up and do something for our players."

Reviewing Week 9

Fair point. Smith hasn't been seen since the lockout ended. Maybe that's why, when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly asked James Harrison Wednesday if De Smith should get involved his response was "Who's that?"

(We're pretty sure that was Harrison being sarcastic.)

But it's not just those in the Steelers organization that think Clark's punishment was exorbitant. Sports Illustrated's Peter King sent the following tweets Wednesday:

"Watched replay of Clark's hit on Dickson 20/25 times. Clark lowers head, aims for chest w/right shoulder. Clips Dickson facemask w/helmet. … This is not the kind of hit to generate a 40k fine. Clark DID hit helmet--but he clearly was aiming lower. Some fine? OK. 40? No way. … 'Fine Clark till he stops.; Stops what? Lowering his head and aiming for a guy's sternum? Bury a guy when he AIMS for head. Clark didn't."

As our colleague Will Brinson wrote earlier, the reason Clark is now out $40,000 wasn't the result of some blindfolded dart-throwing exercise down at league headquarters. It's because the NFL's fine schedule plainly states that the second offense for "Impermissible Use of the Helmet" will run you … $40,000.

The players are well aware of this. They're just apoplectic at the amount. Well, that and the arbitrary nature with with Goodell metes out punishments. Like, say, this.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 2:22 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 3:10 pm
 

Ryan Clark fined $40K, Ray Lewis fined $20K

Posted by Will Brinson



Everyone knows that Ravens-Steelers games are a different (read: more violent) brand of football and that was exactly the case on Sunday night, when Baltimore snuck out a win in Pittsburgh. Ray Lewis and Ryan Clark delivered the most notable hits of the evening -- Lewis knocked Hines Ward with a clear helmet-to-helmet hit but wasn't flagged, while Clark picked up a 15-yard penalty for a hit on Ed Dickson.

Tuesday, Ryan Wilson told you to expect fines for both guys, and on Wednesday, they came down from the league. Lewis was fined $20,000 for his hit on Ward and Clark was fined $40,000 by the NFL for his hit on Dickson. Clark is especially unhappy about it.

Reviewing Week 9

"The hit wasn't malicious at all," Clark said, per Will Graves of the Associated Press. "i know how to knock somebody out if i want to knock them out. Am I supposed to let him catch it and then wait for him and hug him? Should I throw a pillow at him? Should I blow a whistle?"

And the Steelers safety had some choice words for Commissioner Roger Goodell as well.

"Somebody else needs to step in ... not that I respected Roger before this ... but this is ridiculous," Clark said. "I'm not going to sit across from [the Commissioner] unless they handcuff me. which is probably the next step anyway."

Lewis wasn't happy either, but had less aggressive words for the league office.

"Yeah, I heard from the league and like I said they fined me whatever they was going to fine me," Lewis said, via Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times. "The thing is you definitely respect them trying to protect player safety. At the same time, it won't change not one way I play this week no matter what the fine is. You can't stop playing defense the way defense has always been created to play. When the receiver has the ball, your job is to disengage him from the ball. You never want to hurt nobody.

"I've been in this business too long. I just think once you start getting into these fines I don't know how they come up with the numbers most of the time."

Well, actually, the NFL has a pretty standardized system for fines, though there is some confusion about the application. A fine for a hit on a defenseless player or impermissible use of a helmet (including illegal launching) is $20,000, which explains Lewis' fine.

And a repeat-offender fine is $40,000, which is why Clark, who's been targeted more than once by the NFL, got double what Lewis did, even though the safety claims the hit wasn't against league rules.

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: November 8, 2011 4:14 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 4:20 pm
 

Lewis, Harrison, Clark could face fines

Several players could be lighter in the wallet following the Sunday night game. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth must've mentioned it a dozen times Sunday night: the Ravens-Steelers rivalry transcends the NFL's recent emphasis on player safety. It was old-school football, where people actually hit each other. And if that resulted in the league handing down fines then so be it.

Well, it sounds like that's exactly what will happen. Ray Lewis, Ryan Clark and James Harrison can all expect to be out some money after hits the NFL will almost certainly deem illegal, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday.

Lewis, the Ravens' ageless linebacker, had arguably the most egregious hit, a head shot to Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward that sent him to the bench with "concussion-like symptoms." Lewis wasn't flagged on the play.

Clark's open-field collision with tight end Ed Dickson was penalized at the time (unnecessary roughness -- hit on a defenseless receiver), and this could be his second fine for a personal-foul penalty in as many weeks. Against New England in Week 8, Clark incurred what turned out to be a $15,000 penalty for a late hit on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

(Three years ago, Clark did this to Wes Welker. He was flagged on the play, but the NFL later admitted that it was a legal hit and he wasn't fined. Now look at us, fining guys for low blocks.)

The NFL also has an issue with Harrison's third-quarter helmet-to-helmet hit on running back Ray Rice, though replays show Harrison falling on Rice at the end of a play. At the time, it seemed innocuous -- and legal -- but the league's history of arbitrary punishments suggests that everything's fineable.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who received a Gatorade bath for the Week 9 win and later cut his chin celebrating with general manager Ozzie Newsome, didn't "want to get into that conversation right now" when asked about the hits leveled by Clark and Lewis.

"I mean, it's tough. There's no doubt about it, it's tough. It's fast and it's physical and all that, but the rules are in place for a reason, and that's the way it works," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
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