Tag:Ed Reed
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 18, 2012 1:35 pm
 

Flacco on Reed quotes: 'Not that big of an issue'

Flacco doesn't care what anyone thinks, apparently. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Monday, Ravens safety Ed Reed had some interesting things to say about Joe Flacco, stating that against the Texans it didn't look like Flacco 'had a hold on the offense.'

The much-maligned quarterback's been frustrated lately, calling out the media before the Houston game, but he said Wednesday that Reed's comments were 'not that big of an issue.'

"It was a little funny to me, I was a little caught off guard," Flacco said when asked about Reed's comments. "But we talked about it, it's not really that big of a deal. When I first saw it, I thought' What's going on?' But like I said, we talked about it, we're a team around here, it's not that big of an issue."

Flacco was asked a follow-up question and responded by asking the media, "You guys aren't going to let it go huh?"

So the media moved on to wondering if Flacco might start getting some respect from fans and the media if he and the Ravens "finally" (our quote, because it's amusing that there's some desperation involved in a four-year stint as a starting quarterback) won a Super Bowl with him under center.

"I don't care," the mustachioed Flacco said. "I'll be wearing a ring and we'll holding a trophy and the perception probably won't change but it doesn't really matter."

Flacco probably cares more about his contract status -- though he says he won't be thinking about it -- which will most certainly change if he ends up holding the Lombardi Trophy. (And will probably change regardless; winning a Super Bowl will just give him lots of leverage.)

Because he's right about how he's treated. He's won five playoff games. He's been to the playoffs four times in four years. Those are usually the issues young quarterbacks deal with when it comes to developing a negative reputation around the NFL. Flacco, instead, is guilty of having too good a defense and too good a running game, as well as not being a guy that a team can just let throw the ball 60 times.

Yes, we're totally guilty of calling him out on those counts. (Although our colleague Mike Freeman got Flacco's back in Wednesday's 10-Point Stance.) We have no problem with that. And Flacco shouldn't either -- there are worse crosses to bear in life.

But he should also understand what these next two games mean to his reputation, his contract status and his teammates: everything.

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Posted on: January 17, 2012 9:05 pm
 

Forget the media: Flacco now has to convince Reed

FlaccoBy Josh Katzowitz

A few days go, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco called out the media, saying, "I’m sure if we win (vs. the Texans), I’ll have nothing to do with why we won according to you guys.”

Then, Flacco went out and showed that he was exactly right. With his 14-of-27, 176-yard, two-touchdown, five-sack performance, he didn't have much to do with the reason Baltimore advanced to the AFC title game vs. the Patriots.

Now, instead of calling out anybody, his own teammates are sticking it to Flacco himself.

“They had a lot of guys in the box on him and they were giving it to him. I think a couple of times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn’t look like he had a hold on the offense,” safety Ed Reed said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I don’t know how much of [that was] the play calling … but it just didn’t look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past.

"It was just kind of like they [were] telling him [what] to do -- throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys.”

And as anybody who watched the game last weekend, Reed realizes Flacco needs to play a tiny bit better against New England to have a chance to upset the Patriots.

“He can’t play like that,” Reed said. “One specific play that sticks out to me was when Ray Rice came out and got pushed out of the backfield and [Flacco] still threw him the ball and he had Torrey Smith on the outside. I can see that sitting on the sideline or sitting in the stands. You don’t know what someone else is seeing.”

Flacco wasn’t the only one to draw the ire of Reed. The safety also said the offensive line has to block better. But now on Sunday, Flacco doesn’t only have to win the respect of the media (not that he cares). He has to win over his own teammates.

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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: December 21, 2011 4:52 pm
 

Rodgers tops Pro Bowl voting; Tebow third AFC QB

Aaron Rodgers led the way in all Pro Bowl voting.(Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

We've wondered whether or not Tim Tebow is a Pro-Bowl candidate before this year and the answer is probably "no." But that doesn't matter when it comes to Pro-Bowl voting, where Tebow was the third-highest vote getter among AFC quarterbacks.

Aaron Rodgers, named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year on Wednesday, was the top vote-getter among all NFL players, pulling in 1,581,982 votes from fans. Tom Brady was second among all NFL players with 1,454,311 votes. Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski joined Brady in the top 10, via NFL.com:

Top-10 Pro Bowl Vote Getters
Player Position Team Votes
Aaron Rodgers
QB Packers 1,581,982
Tom Brady
QB Patriots 1,454,311
Drew Brees
QB Saints 1,188,893
Calvin Johnson
WR Lions 1,180,777
Wes Welker
WR Patriots 1,133,787
LeSean McCoy
RB Eagles 962,824
Rob Gronkowski
TE Patriots 936,886
Ben Roethlisberger
QB Steelers 935,535
Adrian Peterson
RB Vikings 925,554
Mike Wallace
WR Steelers 923,073

So, yeah, breaking: the Patriots and Steelers are popular! Also popular? Tebow.

AFC Pro Bowl Leaders by Position
Offense Defense
Player Pos Team Votes Player Pos Team Votes
Tom Brady
QB Patriots 1,454,311 Andre Carter
DE Patriots 511,693
Arian Foster
RB Texans 896,804 Haloti Ngata
DT Ravens 592,603
Vonta Leach
FB Ravens 149,801 Terrell Suggs
OLB Ravens 546,851
Wes Welker
WR Patriots 1,133,787 Ray Lewis
MLB Ravens 413,222
Rob Gronkowski
TE Patriots 936,886 Darrelle Revis
CB Jets 561,986
Michael Oher
OT Ravens 327,644 Troy Polamalu
SS Steelers 230,649
Logan Mankins
G Patriots 337,844 Ed Reed
FS Ravens 198,075
Maurkice Pouncey
C Steelers 376,457 Shane Lechler
P Raiders 228,782
Sebastian Janikowski
K Raiders 244,512 Joe McKnight
KR Jets 140,926

Once again, I'll point out that the Ravens and Patriots are popular (and also good at what they do), along with the Steelers. Brendon Ayanbadejo was the leading "special teams" vote-getter, with 106,515. On the NFC side, well, I hope you like the Packers:

NFC Pro Bowl Leaders by Position
Offense Defense
Player Pos Team Votes Player Pos Team Votes
Aaron Rodgers
QB Packers 1,581,982 Jared Allen
DE Vikings 784,527
LeSean McCoy
RB Eagles 962,824 Justin Smith
DT 49ers 525,578
John Kuhn
FB Packers 322,260 DeMarcus Ware
OLB Cowboys 581,554
Calvin Johnson
WR Lions 1,180,777 Patrick Willis
MLB 49ers 581,554
Jimmy Graham
TE Saints 725,612 Charles Woodson
CB Packers 763,198
Chad Clifton
OT Packers 392,106 Roman Harper
SS Saints 147,542
T.J. Lang
G Packers 327,740 Morgan Burnett
FS Packers 223,292
Scott Wells
C Packers 436,693 Andy Lee
P 49ers 161,812
Mason Crosby
K Packers 184,665 Devin Hester
KR Bears 268,293

For the NFC, Jarrett Bush of the Packers received the most special teams votes with 134,696. (And yes, I suppose I could have kick returners on the offense side, but I'm not trying to have my tables be all uneven. Oh no I'm not.)

Naturally, none of this means any of these guys are guaranteed to make the Pro Bowl -- the fan vote only counts as one-third of the total. The players vote is worth two-thirds. But there's a good chance that many of these guys will end up in the Pro Bowl.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 19, 2011 10:03 pm
 

Ed Reed sympathizes with Ochocinco

C. Ochocinco has struggled this year, which has surprised E. Reed (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

How far has Chad Ochocinco fallen? One of his old rivals, Ravens safety Ed Reed, said he’s rooting for him and that he misses him. That's when you know things aren't going well for you.

“I’m kind of wondering where is Chad, all the noise that you usually hear,” Reed said, via the Baltimore Sun.

Reed isn’t hearing it, because Ochocinco has been irrelevant for the Patriots, catching only 11 passes and scoring exactly zero touchdowns.

Against Reed, though, Ochocinco had plenty of success. In 18 career games vs. Baltimore when he was with Bengals, Ochocinco caught 91 passes for 1,361 yards (both of which are the most he’s accumulated against any other opponent) and seven touchdowns. But these days, Ochocinco has become invisible in New England.

His absence has surprised Reed.

“You start to see some true things when guys start to get moved around in different leagues,” Reed said. “I would’ve thought that he still would’ve been a great receiver, especially over there in New England. But obviously, there’s something that’s not right. So I hope Chad gets it together because I know he’s still a great player and has still got great attributes about him.”

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Posted on: November 2, 2011 10:51 am
Edited on: November 4, 2011 9:37 am
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Ravens preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



The greatest rivalry in today’s NFL is renewed Sunday night when Baltimore travels to Pittsburgh. Though both teams have drifted towards being pass-oriented offenses, these smashmouth defenses can still make this game the type of fistfight we’ve all come to love. Here’s a look at two of the league’s meanest, most successful defensive units.

1. Baltimore’s philosophy
The Ravens are not as geared towards Byzantine blitzes as they were during the Rex Ryan years. New coordinator Chuck Pagano is more inclined to use a four-man front in nickel and let pass-rushers Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger use their strength/speed combination on the edges.

This isn’t to say Pagano won’t blitz; he still brings some heat with inside linebackers and slot corners. But he uses stunts and the dominance of Haloti Ngata to generate individual matchups for guys outside. This creates similar end results to what Dick LeBeau does with his zone blitzes.


2. Pittsburgh’s philosophy
The zone blitz’s basic principle is getting pressure on the quarterback without sacrificing bodies in coverage. About half the time a zone blitz is actually a zone exchange, which means four pass-rushers who are coming from untraditional spots (say three rushers on one side and just one on the other, for example).

A lot of Pittsburgh’s blitzes are determined by the offense’s receiver distribution. This is a versatile approach that requires smart, experienced defenders, particularly in the defensive backfield where the coverage is usually a matchup-zone concept. Matchup zones require defenders to pass wide receivers off to one another. The Steelers and Ravens both do this extremely well.

As for Pittsburgh’s blitzes themselves, the goal is not to get pass-rushers in clean – though that’s certainly nice when it happens – but rather, to get LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison in one-on-one matchups against running backs or tight ends. The Steelers do this by overloading their attack to one side of the formation or, sometimes, aligning both Woodley and Harrison on the same side. Doing this can compel an offense to keep its running back in to pass protect, which can be a nice way to nullify a dangerous receiving threat (like, say Ray Rice).

Of course, Woodley and Harrison are likely both out this Sunday. That’s huge, especially if Jason Worilds (an unknown but gifted second-year pro who is potentially the next great Steeler outside linebacker) remains on the shelf with a quad injury. Deepening the damage is that inside linebacker James Farrior is also out. Farrior is great at timing his blitzes in a way that jars blockers and creates one-on-one matchups for others.

3. The safeties
A lot of defensive schemes look good when there’s a future first ballot Hall of Famer at safety. Ed Reed is a ridiculously smart, ridiculously rangy free safety who takes chances that no other players could take. He’s a centerfielder who’s capable of swooping into the box. Troy Polamalu is a ridiculously smart, ridiculously explosive strong safety who also takes chances that no other players could take. Polamalu is a box defender who’s capable of flying back into centerfield.

As a quarterback you obviously have to know where these safeties are at all times. Usually this kind of knowledge can tip you off as to what the defense is running. But Reed’s and Polamalu’s range allows them to disguise and redirect their intentions after the snap. Thus, the main reason a quarterback must focus on them is simply to avoid a turnover.

Something to keep in mind: Reed and Polamalu allow their respective defenses to be great in different ways. But their defenses also allow THEM be great. Neither could freelance as much as they do if not for playing with trustworthy teammates who consistently execute their own assignments.

4. Defensive Lines
On a similar note, great defenses always control the trenches. So much of defensive schemes are built around defending the pass. But effective blitzes or coverage designs are rendered moot if the offense can ram the ball down your throat. The Steelers have a stalwart nose tackle in Casey Hampton flanked by active defensive ends who can occupy two blockers by playing with strong east and west movement.

This is critical because the congestion these players create allows the linebackers to attack the run cleanly. In case there’s any doubt about how important the ends are to Pittsburgh’s scheme, recognize that GM Kevin Colbert spent his ’09 first-round pick on Ziggy Hood and his ’11 first-round pick on Cameron Heyward.

The Ravens linebackers also attack the run cleanly thanks to a potent defensive front. Baltimore’s defensive front goes about things slightly differently, though. While Pittsburgh’s ends are more athletic and aim to create congestion via movement, Baltimore’s ends are more powerful and aim to create congestion via penetration.

The emergence of nose tackle Terrence Cody has been critical this season. Cody is a load with some burst. He struggles to hold ground against double teams, but at least he’s drawing the double teams. His doing so gives Chuck Pagano more freedom in the way he uses Haloti Ngata, the most destructive defensive lineman in football.



5. Unheralded superstars
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed command a lot of headlines – and understandably so. And Ngata, deservedly, gets more recognition with each passing week. But the best player on Baltimore’s defense may just be Terrell Suggs. Because the ninth-year pro has never led the league in sacks, people assume he’s merely a good player.

But Suggs’ sack numbers don’t show that he’s the best run-defending outside ‘backer in the league, playside or backside. And they don’t show how he physically wears down an opponent over the course of a game. Suggs moves like a gazelle but, when engaged in a phone booth, has the power of a rhino.

The Steelers also have a first-class star flying under the radar: Ike Taylor. It’s mind-boggling that the 31-year-old cornerback did not draw more interest on the open market this past offseason. Taylor often defends the opposing team’s top receiver man-to-man while the rest of the defense play zone.

Last week he held Wes Welker to six catches for 39 yards, which is remarkable considering Taylor is not too accustom to lining up over the slot. The week before, he held Larry Fitzgerald to four catches for 78 yards. Taylor often shows up on TV for the wrong reasons – penalties and dropped interceptions – but he shows up on film as the key to Pittsburgh’s coverages.

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Posted on: September 23, 2011 10:30 am
Edited on: September 23, 2011 10:56 am
 

Giants coach Perry Fewell doesn't deny faking

Perry Fewell and Deon Grant respond to accusations by Bryan Kehl(Getty Images/US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson


We're four days into "Fake injuries: Why, lord, why?" and while the mock outrage has waned, the conversation about whether it's acceptable to take dives continues. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe sent out a helpful reminder that "this isn't soccer, play like you have a pair" (the league sent out its own memo on the matter, too), but that came a day after former Giants linebacker Bryan Kehl accused Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell of teaching his players to fake injuries.

When asked about it Thursday, Fewell, instead of flat-out denying the charge, offered this: "I can't say I've ever done that and I can't say that I haven't done that."

Informative. There's more.

"I know that [Giants safety Deon Grant] was down and I was glad that he got up, and he was able to play. If the guy can't play to his full potential and he was hurt, then he was hurt. But I can't say I did and I can't say I've never done that. So I'm not gonna go back and forth about it."

Weird, we thought "maybe, maybe not" was exactly what it meant to go back and forth. Not to worry, though; Perry defended himself when asked if Kehl's accusations were an attack on his integrity. "I'm not gonna respond."

The Giants and injurygate

That's a peculiar reply to somebody calling you out like that. But Grant, the player accused of faking an injury during Monday night's Rams-Giants game, had Fewell's back (Grant has defended himself, too).

"That's a lie. That's a lie," Grant said after Giants practice on Thursday. "Perry never said that a day in his meetings since I've been here. And Kehl's been here as long as I have with Perry Fewell."

Grant then hedged.

"And even if (Fewell did teach players to fake injuries), that was a coward move to me," Grant said of Kehl. "Even if that's something I was coached and I go somewhere else, I'm not selling out the guys that I went to war with. That's just not me. So that's a coward move if that was the case, and he still said something about it, but it's even worse when he lies. A grown man lying on another grown man, that's terrible."

Right. It's almost as awkward as a grown man saying something like, say, "I can't say I've ever done that and I can't say that I haven't done that."

Look, we don't have a dog in this fight, and in the scheme of things, pretend boo-boos are hardly the scourge on the NFL that some folks have made it out to be. In fact, we're with Ravens safety Ed Reed, who was asked if he thought the Giants were faking Monday night.

“I don’t know if they were pretending, man,” Reed said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “Sometimes guys get tired. But it’s all within the game. It’s all tactical stuff that you need to use. Whatever it takes.”

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