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

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 8 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 18, 2011 5:00 pm
 

Tracking Tebow, Week 11: Now do you believe?

We're Tracking Tebow … because it's impossible not to watch. 

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has a saying: Style points don't matter. The Broncos should patent the phrase, or at the very least, make it a part of their 2011 marketing strategy: "The Denver Broncos: Where Style Points Don't Matter … but Winning Does."

Of course, Tim Tebow doesn't need much help selling this team to the locals -- and now the rest of the nation. Not after his latest comeback performance, one that included a "Yep, we're running and you can't stop us" game plan against Rex Ryan, the guy who literally wrote the book on defending the read-option.

Artist rendering of the Broncos' new helmet.
You know how announcers will sometimes say "(Typical NFL quarterback) has a clock in his head and he knows the ball has to be out of his hands after 2.5 seconds"? Tebow has no such clock (and no pocket awareness to speak of). Instead, his alarm sounds after 55 minutes of horrific football, signifying that now it matters, now it's time to play.

It happened in Tebow's first start of the season, Week 7 in Miami; he couldn't have looked worse through three quarters and two-thirds of another. And then, as if somebody flipped the switch on the electric football game, Tebow made plays with his arm and his feet (mostly his feet), and he had the ball in his hands for the decisive score.

Which was pretty much the script to the sequal we saw Thursday night against the Jets. Tebow drove the Broncos 95 yards with just over five minutes on the clock, and he scored on a 20-yard quarterback keeper that everybody knew was coming but no one could stop.

Like the Dolphins game, a solid Jets defensive effort was wasted on one ill-timed lapse that resulted in a Tebow score.

With 1:06 on the clock, the Jets leading 13-10, and the Broncos facing a 3rd and 4 from the New York 20, Tebow lined up in the shotgun. The Jets brought eight men to the line of scrimmage because there was no way Tebow would throw the ball. Too many things could go wrong. Plus, if the Jets stopped him, Denver could kick a field goal, tie the score, and take it to overtime.

Jets safety Eric Smith was on the line of scrimmage, lined up to the outside of the tight end on the right side of the formation (Tebow's left). His job was to keep Tebow from getting outside the pocket, instead forcing him into the middle of the field where, in theory, other Jets defenders would be waiting to make the tackle. Smith didn't do his job, he lost contain, Tebow beat him to the corner, and 20 yards later, that was that. Ball game.

The dotted lines are what should've happened -- Smith contains Tebow, forcing him inside. The solid lines are what actually happened: Smith took a horrible angle, Tebow scored (you can see a video of the play below).

“When you look at it, it’s a tough thing on him,” Jets head coach Ryan said during the post-game presser when asked about Smith’s angle. “I’ll just say this, it’s a tough assignment. There is no question. Quite honestly, I’ll take Eric Smith every day of the week. He’s a tremendous player. Could we have said, ‘Hey, [have] him be wider? Should the end be wider? Everybody be wider.’ Maybe you could’ve, but you have to give Tebow credit. He made the play. I will say this, Eric sold out. Eric laid it on the line for us and we came up a little empty. [He] made a diving stab at him, but he never quite got him on the ground. Again, when you look at it, I think it’s easy to obviously second-guess, but we need to start looking forward, instead of behind us.”

Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey had a different take.

"When I saw that all-out blitz, I was like, 'That is so stupid,' " he said. "They hadn't really done that all day. Once he broke the contain, that's a wrap."

Last week, Tebow was 2 for 8 and the Broncos ran the ball 55 times (mostly featuring the read-option), and beat the Chiefs. Thursday, by our unofficial count, the Broncos ran conventional running plays 15 times and went with some form of the option (both run and pass) 22 times. Tebow finished the evening 9 for 20 for 104 yards, and added 68 yards on the ground on eight carries.

Before The (New) Drive, the Jets defense held Tebow to 6 of 15 passing for 69 yards, and two carries for 11 more over 11 drives. Those 11 drives resulted in eight punts, a turnover on downs, a fumble and a field goal. And then the alarm sounded…


Lost amid all the post-game revelry and Tebowing is something we pointed out on Friday's Pick-6 Podcast (see podcast player above): the real MVP of the game was rookie linebacker Von Miller. He harassed Mark Sanchez from start to finish, and if not for the play of the Broncos' defense, Tebow never would've been in position score the winning touchdown.

But they did and he was. And now the Broncos are 5-5.

Denver has as legit shot to win the AFC West because it's a weak division, but also because through Tebow, all things are possible.

No, it ain't pretty, but style points don't matter, remember? 


                                                   Play by Play



(Note: Below are the plays -- both running and passing -- involving Tebow. You can view the entire play-by-play breakdown here)



Added bonus: a handy bar graph showing us what our eyes tell us every week. As pass attempts go down, QB rating -- and more importantly -- rushing attempts go up. And the Broncos win.



                                                        Quotes



“He did it. Tim Tebow did it. He shocked me, he probably shocked a lot of people, but he did it. We played them well through the whole game, until that last play. We played them well. Tim Tebow's legs took them to victory, ran them to victory." - Jets CB Darrelle Revis.

"Everybody looks at him from the outside. They don't see what he has on the inside. Yeah, he might not be the greatest passer. But give him a chance at the end? I've never seen anything like it." - Broncos CB Champ Bailey

"It's a lot easier to believe when you see results. That's the biggest (win) I've been a part of. At 1-4, it was very gloomy. Now, our confidence is huge." - Broncos CB Andre Goodman

Some props for Miller:

“As far as (Jets right tackle) Wayne Hunter was concerned, he was going up against an outstanding football player. Von Miller, I think, will be a Pro Bowl player this year. If not this year, he’ll be one next year. And that’s going to be tough on anybody. I thought Wayne, for the most part, did a nice job on him, but he did get Wayne a couple of times. There’s no question about that. [Miller’s] just an outstanding player and those things happen. It’s unfortunate, but Wayne might block him for 90 percent of the time, but the 10 percent that the guy got the better of Wayne are the ones that everybody is going to be focused on.” - Jets head coach Rex Ryan

Speaking of Miller…

"Tebow magic. I believe in it. I feel so happy that he's having the success that he's having. I'm glad he's able to shut up his critics. It seems like everybody wants to bash him. They don't take into account his will." - Broncos LB Von Miller


                                                   Audio-Visual



Here are the moving-pictures of that final, fateful Broncos drive:


Stop. Tebow Time.

John Elway, like everybody else on the planet, doesn't know what to make of Tebow:


Elway and Tebow: two styles, same result (layin' it on a bit thick, we know).

Tebow on brushing off his doubters (of which there are many, though their numbers are dwindling):


Tim Tebow led another fourth-quarter comeback drive ending with a 20-yard touchdown run in the final minute, to lift the Broncos over the Jets 17-13 on Thursday night. Tebow had a few choice words for his critics.

A despondent Rex Ryan talks after the Thursday night loss:


The Jets may need to win out to have a chance at the playoffs.


                                                   Eye on Tebow




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Posted on: November 18, 2011 10:02 am
 

Tebow leaves Jets in state of shock

Rex Ryan's decision to call an all-out blitz late was a bad one (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

While Tebow-mania descended upon Denver following the Broncos 17-13 win against the Jets on Thursday, the atmosphere inside New York’s locker room was a smidge different. Coach Rex Ryan, during his postgame presser, looked devastated and emotional, and there was an element of disbelief sprinkled among the players as they dressed for their trip home.

"I'm just so shocked right now," Revis said, via Newsday. "The only thing I can say is he ran the offense the best way he could and they ended up driving on us on that touchdown drive. He did it. Tim Tebow did it. He shocked me. He probably shocked a lot of people. But he did it."

Considering Revis said earlier in the week that Tebow running the option couldn’t work for a whole season and that “the biggest thing for the secondary is for us not to fall asleep,” Revis must have really been surprised by Tebow’s ability to lead his team on a game-winning 95-yard drive.

While Rex Ryan literally wrote the book on how to stop the read-option, the Jets made a critical mistake on the Broncos final offensive play of the game. With Denver facing a third and four from the Broncos 20-yard line, the Jets sent a full-out blitz up the middle of the line -- eight defenders rushed the quarterback -- but Tebow immediately recognized it, scrambled left, beat safety Eric Smith to the outside and raced to the end zone.

Tebow Tebows the Jets
"Obviously, a critical error," Ryan said. "But Tebow made the play. We thought that play was coming, but we never got it defended."

Afterward, Ryan was asked about the thought process behind the decision to blitz, and he said (again, via Newsday), “I’d rather not.”

That’s because the play-call was a bit strange if the Jets were actually expecting the run. Which they were. If they thought Tebow was going to pass, an all-out blitz would have been a fine call. But that’s not what New York thought was going to happen. Which makes the play-call suspect.

"You don't bring all-out pressure when you expect the run,” Smith said. "We just run what's called. It's really frustrating. It's a letdown. It's a bad feeling."

“It's one of those things where you just have to catch him, because nobody else is around. It's frustrating when you play like that and you get to that last drive and they go 95 yards and you can't stop them."

Aha, that’s the power of Tebow Time. And for now, nobody is quite sure how to stop it. Not even the guy who wrote the book.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 18, 2011 10:02 am
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Posted on: November 18, 2011 12:07 am
Edited on: November 18, 2011 12:11 am
 

Stop me if you've heard this: terrible Tebow wins

T. Tebow scores the game-winning touchdown against New York (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With less than 6 minutes to play, Tim Tebow had 95 yards to salvation. Down by three points and playing in the comforts of home, Tebow, leader of men, could have been the hero for his team. And it’s actually what we’ve come to expect.

Coming from behind to beat the Dolphins. Knocking off the Carson Palmer-led Raiders. Hurling just eight passes last week in upsetting the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Of course, Tebow was going to lead the Broncos to the game-winning score, but there was no way he was actually going to do it. Right? Until that’s exactly what he did, leading a 12-play drive that ended with Tebow keeping the ball for himself to score the 20-yard touchdown.

It was crazy and heart-pumping and … just screwy. But it was also completely predictable.

“I trust him,” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said on the NFL Network afterward. “I trust him with everything. No matter how many interceptions he throws or how many touchdowns, I’m going to ride with him until the end.”

T. Tebow is 4-1 this year as a starter (AP).For the most part, Tebow had been his regular self -- barely an NFL quarterback. Not two-completion terrible, but bad nonetheless. Yet, the Broncos were within striking distance -- mostly because the Jets offense had been just as bad and because Broncos cornerback Andre Goodman intercepted Mark Sanchez and returned it for a touchdown to give Denver some much-needed points.

But there’s something about Tebow. I can’t put my finger on it. Obviously, none of his opponents can either. Never have we seen a quarterback who’s so clearly not an NFL quarterback continue to be successful as an NFL quarterback.

And as bad as this game was to watch, Tebow made it worth it in the final six minutes.

On the first snap of the drive, Tebow hit Eddie Royal on the goal line, and somehow the Broncos receiver barely escaped Jets safety Jim Leonhard in the end zone and ran for eight yards and out of safety danger. On the second snap, running the option, Tebow kept the ball, running 15 yards for the first down. Later, on third down and with the Broncos in a five-receiver split, Tebow kept it again and ran for the first down.

On the next play, he ran at Darrelle Revis, and Revis kind of side-stepped him, allowing Tebow to gain more yards. Tebow, once again, was playing eerily well with the game on the line. Once again, he had improved his game dramatically. Yes, some of his throws on that drive were grossly inaccurate -- he short-hopped at least one receiver -- but he also hit Dante Rosario for another first down at the Jets 29 yard line.

And then, redemption.

On third and four from the 20-yard line, he made the stadium explode when he recognized a blitz coming up the middle, scrambled around the left end of the line to avoid it, beat Eric Smith to the edge and then broke Smith’s tackle to score the game-winning touchdown.

You know, much was made this week about how Broncos coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy had installed a read-option offense that would increase Tebow’s potential success. Fox already had all but said that Tebow wouldn’t survive in a typical professional offense, so he would bring college ball back to Tebow.

For most of Thursday’s game, it still didn’t work. Occassionally, the Broncos showed flashes of how the option could be successful. But for the most part, Denver was shooting three-and-out blanks (although punter Dustin Colquitt had a pretty good night!). You could look at the game, and say, “See, a high school offense doesn’t work in the NFL.” And you’d be right.

But for some reason, it works for Tebow. And for some reason, Tebow works for the NFL. He wins games, and at this point, you have to stop using the caveat, “Well, he sucks.” Because at some point, that issue becomes moot, and the only thing that matters is this: Tebow is 4-1 as a starter, and the playoffs are still in sight.
 
“He’s the most mind-blowing, polarizing figure I’ve ever seen in football,” NFL analyst Mike Mayock said.

That’s as good a description and explanation as any.  

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Posted on: October 19, 2011 10:12 am
 

Film Room: Jets vs. Chargers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



For the first time in the Norv Turner era, the San Diego Chargers enter their sixth game of the season with a record other than 2-3. Now that the perennial power of the AFC West is finally living up to high expectations out of the gate, no one seems interested in acknowledging them.

That’s about to change. The Chargers’ matchup against the Jets is the only marquee game on an otherwise shabby Week 7 schedule. Below is a breakdown of that game and this very good San Diego team.

(Ed. Note: But first, our film-room edition of the Pick-Six Podcast. Subscribe via iTunes here.)


1. Norv Turner’s offense
Slow starts and a seemingly lax, bland personality have made Turner ripe for criticism over the years. But what no honest critic can deny is Turner has always been ahead of the offensive strategizing curve, particularly recently, as the Chargers have finished in the top five in scoring each year since he arrived.

Turner’s offense is unique. While the rest of the NFL is spreading out, the Chargers operate predominantly out of base personnel (two backs, two receivers and a tight end). Turner believes that you don’t need to align horizontally in order to attack vertically. The Chargers refer frequently to seven-step drops and dictate one-on-one matchups for their gazelle-like receivers by designing routes that go outside the numbers.

This tactic is fairly easy when Antonio Gates is in the lineup, as safeties are compelled to focus on him in the middle. When Gates is sidelined, as he’s been since Week 3, the receivers’ routes are inclined to develop more slowly, which forces the offensive line to elevate its play (blocking on a seven-step drop is not easy). San Diego’s front five has answered that challenge this season.

One-on-one matchups outside can also be commanded simply by lining up in base formations. With a line as powerful on the ground as San Diego’s, defenses are compelled to have a safety eye the running back, if not walk all the way down into the box. Otherwise, the Chargers can run with ease against a seven-man front. A preoccupied safety can’t offer viable help in coverage outside.

Long developing routes not only generate big plays (San Diego frequently finishes near the top of the league in 20-plus-yard passes), they also stretch a defense, which creates space for dumpoff passes to targets coming out of the backfield. Fullback Mike Tolbert (a surprisingly skilled receiver) and running back Ryan Mathews have combined for 48 catches this season, averaging over 10 yards per pop.

2. The personnel and matchups
The Jets don’t mind the Chargers creating one-on-one matchups for their receivers. They’re used to that, in fact, given the way Darrelle Revis shadows the opposing team’s top wideout with no safety help. Expect Revis to blanket Vincent Jackson, and expect Vincent Jackson to see few balls come his way (Revis is coming off a two-interception performance, and the Chargers had no problem going away from Jackson when he was guarded by Champ Bailey two weeks ago).

This leaves Antonio Cromartie-Malcolm Floyd as the key matchup. Cromartie is built to defend downfield routes; he’s a long-striding runner who likes to track the ball in the air, rather than rely on physical jams and proper press technique. If he can handle Floyd one-on-one, the Jets are in business. Most likely, though, he’ll need some help.

With two corners who, for the most part, can match up to San Diego’s receivers, it will be interesting to see how New York defends the running backs underneath. The Jets indiscriminately integrate their linebackers and safeties into blitzes and zone exchanges. Rex Ryan will likely utilize those blitzes and zone exchanges given that even if the Jets can’t sack Philip Rivers, they can at least disrupt and discourage his seven-step drops. Thus, Jim Leonhard, Eric Smith, Bart Scott and David Harris could all take turns blitzing the passer and spying the backs.

3. Philip Rivers
Often, systems are only as good as the quarterback running them. The Chargers have one of the game’s best in Rivers. He is a perfect fit for Turner’s offense. The seven-step drops require a strong arm and the toughness to make throws with defenders bearing down on him.

Rivers has this – all in one package, in fact.

Thanks to his shot-put throwing motion, he does not need much room in order to throw. He can push the ball downfield without having to fully step forward or, obviously, wind up. Mentally, his focus when a hit’s on the horizon is as impressive as anyone’s in the game.

4. The run game
Because Turner’s offense is built largely around manipulating the strong safety, it, more than most, thrives on run-pass balance. That’s why the Chargers traded up last season to draft Ryan Mathews in the first-round. After a disappointing, injury-filled rookie campaign, the first-rounder from Fresno State has started to blossom in recent weeks. Mathews has very fluid lateral agility, which makes him potent in space. The issue has been whether he can create his own space. Last season, he struggled to press the hole and break the line of scrimmage at full speed. That’s a sign of a runner thinking too much.

Mathews has corrected this. He seems to be reading defenses before the snap more than after the snap. As a result, he’s rushed for 98, 81 and 125 yards his last three outings. It helps that he plays with solid lead-blockers in Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester, a mobile interior line, a capable road-grader like Marcus McNeil and arguably the game’s best left guard, Kris Dielman.

5. Other side of the ball
San Diego’s defense has been every bit as effective as the offense this season. Coordinator Greg Manusky has a very straightforward approach, often basing his tactics on the down and distance. With his corners playing so well and with this being a cohesive veteran unit, Manusky does not have to get cute in his approach.

Aside from the willowy Shaun Phillips, the Chargers don’t have a dominant pass-rusher, though Larry English and Antwan Barnes have both flashed occasionally this season. Still, Manusky is willing to blitz on third down, usually with a traditional inside linebacker who can give the Chargers a fifth pass-rusher to dictate that the speed guys face one-on-one matchups outside. The Jets’ floundering pass attack shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for the Bolts.

What might be a problem is New York’s run game. True, it has been stagnant this season. It’s starting to look like Shonn Greene’s ’09 postseason coming out party will also be the pinnacle of his career. But we’ve seen the Jets succeed before.

Physically, they have the potential to pound the rock, and the Chargers’ run defense stumbled against Willis McGahee and the Broncos two weeks ago. Starting ends Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo are both on the mend, and nose tackle Antonio Garay, while a quality player, has not stepped up accordingly. Hard to picture that changing against Nick Mangold.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 28, 2011 11:27 pm
 

Eric Smith fined $10K for hit on Emmanuel Sanders

Posted by Will Brinson

Jets safety Eric Smith did a pretty good job filling in for Jim Leonhard after Leonhard's season-ending injury. But it also ending him costing him, financially, as the safety was reportedly hit with a $10,000 fine for his hit on Emmanuel Sanders in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game.

That's according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, and it's not the first time Smith's been fined this season -- he got nailed $7,500 for crushing Wes Welker earlier in the year.

Smith also got nailed for a $50,000 fine against Anquan Boldin back in 2008 to the tune of $50,000, so this isn't his first run-in with the law, needless to say.

Given the warning the NFL handed out before the divisional playoff games, it's no surprise to see them hand out fines now, even if the amounts (like the $10,000 Julius Peppers was fined for his hit in the NFC Championship game) might seem a little low.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 17, 2011 1:02 am
Edited on: January 17, 2011 2:16 pm
 

10 championship round stories worth attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Jets Win; So how are we supposed to feel?

Normally, a sixth seeded 8.5-point underdog going on the road and upsetting the runaway Super Bowl favorite would classify as one of those feel-good Cinderella stories. But because the garrulous New York Jets have irritated so many this season, we find ourselves in a silent state of ambiguity. Did anyone actually stop and think befoNew York (US Presswire)rehand about the possibility of the Jets backing up their words? Or were we all too busy preparing our clever one-liners about comeuppance and karma?

Most troubling for Jets haters is that the Jets didn’t just beat the Pats, they beat them while staying true to form. A great example was how Shonn Greene opted for the blatant 15-yard celebration penalty after his de facto final-coffin-nail touchdown run. It was an immature and untimely gaffe that Greene’s coach was surely going to chew him out for. That is, if Greene’s coach hadn’t run (OK, lumbered) to the end zone to join the celebration.

To be fair, Greene’s coach had plenty to celebrate. Rex Ryan said all along that this matchup was about him and Bill Belichick. Well, Ryan won it. The Jets defense stifled New England’s high-powered offense by pressuring Tom Brady (Mike DeVito had his best game of the season; Shaun Ellis had two of New York’s five sacks; Jason Taylor put left tackle Matt Light on skates in the second half).

The Jets pressured Brady primarily by locking down his receivers. Deep in the fourth quarter, Ryan’s gameplan was still befuddling Brady and the Pats (you think New England was intentionally milking the clock on that fruitless 15-play drive?). Maddeningly enough, the Jet most responsible for the lockdown job on Brady’s targets was, aside from the brilliant Darrelle Revis, one Antonio Cromartie. The ex-Charger might be an utterly unlikeable reprobate, but the reality is, the Jets wouldn’t be returning to the AFC Championship without him.

Cromartie wasn’t the only “villain” responsible for the win Sunday. Wideouts Santonio Holmes (who served a four-game suspension early in the season) and Braylon Edwards (who was arrested for DUI in September) both had crucial touchdown catches. And neither was shy about enjoying the moment.

So the Jets walked their talk. No one could have predicted it. After all, they lost by 42 in Foxboro just a month earlier. Not to mention, theirs was the type of talk that even Moses would have had trouble walking. But because they did it, we get at least one more week of hearing them rattle off all the reasons they’re going to win the Super Bowl. And this time, we’ll have to listen quietly.

 

2.) Aaron Rodgers: the best quarterback left? A. Rodgers (US Presswire)

Hard to believe that “Aaron Rodgers has never won a playoff game” was actually a viable storyline earlier this month. Rodgers’ performance at Atlanta Saturday night (31 of 36, 366 yards, three touchdowns) was within arm’s reach of flawless. It was Rodger’s second straight three touchdown-zero interception playoff performance. And let’s not forget, the man registered 633 yards while throwing five touchdowns to just one interception in Green Bay’s final two must-win games on the regular season (coming off his second concussion of the year, no less).

Rodgers is the quarterback many experts would choose if starting a team right now. That’s saying something considering Ben Roethlisberger, two wins away from a third Super Bowl ring, is only 20 months older than Rodgers. Rodgers, like Roethlisberger, has an innate ability to extend a play and find his third or fourth read. Also like Roethlisberger (and Cutler, too), Rodgers is blessed with incredible natural tools (strong arm, mobility, etc.).

But it’s Rodgers’ shrewd presnap awareness that sets him apart. The three other remaining quarterbacks are all, at best, average when it comes to diagnosing a defense before the snap. Rodgers, as his wideouts will tell you, is fantastic. Maybe – MAYBE – that’s because he, unlike the other three remaining quarterbacks, was not shoved into the starting lineup as a first-round rookie.


3.) Sanchez’s Spotlight

An indirect (or perhaps direct) consequence of Rex Ryan’s loquaciousness is that it diminishes the media’s spotlight on quarterback Mark Sanchez. Who’s to say whether that’s Ryan’s intent. (The guess here is it’s not, given that Ryan at one point talked openly about benching his young signalcaller.) But given Sanchez’s youth and the disposition of the New York media, a diminished spotlight is probably a good thing.
M. Sanchez (US Presswire)
Think about the intensity of the spotlight if it weren’t diminished. The Jets traded up to draft the USC superstar  fifth overall. In two seasons Sanchez has led the Jets to two AFC title game appearances. He already holds the franchise record with four career playoff wins. This postseason, he has defeated Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Granted, Sanchez did not outplay Manning. But with three touchdowns and no turnovers at New England, he did outplay Brady. (And besides, we’re talking about a media spotlight here; it doesn’t matter to the headline writers if he outplayed Manning).

This is a quarterback who could easily be overhyped. Adding fuel to the Sanchez fire is the fact that he’s far and away the most prominent Latino player in today’s NFL. Given America’s changing demographics, you think marketing execs aren’t salivating at this?

In a lot of respects, Sanchez still has a long ways to go as an NFL passer. But so did Eli Manning after two seasons. The New York media could not resist the urge to pile on Manning. That’s partly because Manning never had the luxury of playing for an attention-grabbing head coach.

 

4.) The irony of Santonio Holmes

The Jets probably wouldn’t be in the AFC Championship if they hadn’tS. Holmes (US Presswire) brought in Santonio Holmes. His speed, quickness and precise route running have infused a big-play element into an otherwise run-of-the-mill passing game. Holmes’ tiptoe (or tip-right-knee) touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone at Foxboro gave the Jets a critical 10-point advantage late in the second half. Earlier in the year, Holmes helped the Jets keep winning while they went through somewhat of a rough patch by registering a 52-yard catch-and-run set up a game-winning overtime field goal against the Lions in Week 9 and a 37-yard overtime touchdown against the Browns in Week 10.

Where the irony comes in is the Steelers might not be in the AFC Championship if not for dumping Holmes. Sure, Holmes was just as important a big-play weapon for Pittsburgh as he’s been for New York. (We all remember Super Bowl 43.) But Holmes’ extensive off-field transgressions also flew in the face of everything the Rooney Family’s organization stands for. It’s the commitment to character that, in the big scheme of things, has laid the foundation for the Steelers’ six Super Bowl titles.

What’s more, if Holmes didn’t depart Pittsburgh, third-year pro Mike Wallace might not have become a 1,200-yard receiver and lethal big-play specialist. And youngsters Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown probably wouldn’t have gotten enough reps to assume critical roles come playoff time.

 

5.) Jerry Angelo’s and Lovie Smith’s Gambles Pay Off

Before this season, every decision-maker in Chicago was on the hot seat. No seats were hotter than those hosting general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith. In 2009, Angelo gave up a pair of first-round draft choices and handful of attractive ancillary pieces (namely quarterback Kyle Orton) to acquire Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. The cannon-armed but petulant 26-year-old (at the time) tossed a league-high 26 interceptions in his first season as a Bear. L. Smith (US Presswire)

In the ensuing offseason, outside observers understood that Angelo had no choice but to stick with Cutler. What they didn’t understand was why Angelo would not invest in an offensive line to help protect his quarterback. Instead of bringing in reinforcements for one of the least talented front fives in football, Angelo handed more than $40 million in guaranteed money to free agent defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers was a great acquisition, but his price tag would doom the organization if he remained as inconsistent as he was in Carolina.

As it’s turned out, Peppers has been sensational in Chicago. His eight sacks don’t begin to tell the story of his dominance. Brian Urlacher (whose return after missing 15 games with a wrist injury also reinvigorated the Bears D) says his first-year teammate deserves Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Cutler has been less spectacular than Peppers though still good enough to lead the Bears to an NFC North division title (despite operating behind a questionable front five). Credit the arrival of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. And, credit Martz’s arrival to Lovie Smith. Knowing that a fourth straight missed postseason would result in his unemployment, the defensive-minded Smith called upon the most offensive-minded coach football has seen in the past 10 years. Smith and Martz were old friends from their days in St. Louis, but many doubted that there would be enough humility in the air for their seemingly clashing philosophies to gel.

But gel they have, thanks to Smith’s willingness to be hands-off. He has let Martz handle the offense. He’s let Mike Tice, another former head coach, handle the offensive line. Tice has made chicken soup out of chicken…well, you know.

The offensive line’s consistent improvements are comparable to the consistent improvements of Chicago’s more-talented defensive line. Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina have been particularly impressive, thanks to the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, the defensive line specialist who accepted the defensive coordinating responsibilities thrust upon him by Smith.

In all, with his job on the line, Lovie Smith delegated major responsibilities to three former head coaches who are now assistants on his staff. How many of the other 31 Type A personalities running NFL teams would be willing to do THAT?


6.) The AFC’s Rich Defensive Casts

The Jets and Steelers both run 3-4 defenses littered with big-name stars. For the Jets, it begins and ends with Darrelle Revis, the best shutdown corner since Deion Sanders (if not the best all-around cornerback of the post 80’s era). Then there’s playmaker Antonio Cromartie. And inside linebackers Bart Scott (outspoken Pro Bowl caliber veteran) and David Harris (tackling machine whom colleagues voted team MVP). Plus, outside linebacker Jason Taylor is a future Hall of Famer. I. Taylor (US Presswire)

The Steelers, of course, have the most identifiable defensive player in football: Troy Polamalu. Outside linebacker James Harrison is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and his counterpart LaMarr Woodley is not far behind. Plus, most fans recognize nose tackle Casey Hampton because a.) He’s the size of a small house and b.) He’s the fulcrum to a run defense that, in nine years under Dick LeBeau, has never ranked worse than No. 3.

LeBeau, a Hall of Fame player and innovator of the 3-4’s famed zone blitz, is a star himself – just like the coach behind the Jets’ complicated 3-4 scheme. All in all, the 2010 AFC Championship is ripe with big defensive names. But without the little defensive names, neither team would be here.

For the Jets, as we highlighted a few weeks ago, defensive end Mike Devito has been playing out of his mind. So has Shaun Ellis, who recorded two sacks and a slew of quarterback pressures against the Patriots. Backup nose tackle Sione Pouha, who took over when Kris Jenkins went down in Week 1, has also been pushing the pile with regularity. Pouha’s not the only backup thriving; safety Eric Smith has done a noble job filling in for injured defensive signalcaller Jim Leonhard. Smith brings valuable headhunting prowess to what is an otherwise finesse secondary (Revis aside), plus he’s a reliable filler against the run.

On Pittsburgh’s D, because Ike Taylor drops interceptions the way John Mayer drops women, many don’t recognize him as an elite corner. But that’s exactly what the lanky 6’2” veteran is. Taylor’s ability to shadow in man coverage and extend his long arms into passing lanes out of zone positions make him a bona fide stopper (which is exactly what a cornerback is supposed to be). What’s more, Taylor, like every Steeler defender, can tackle.

Before he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, defensive end Brett Keisel would have earned an Ike Taylor-like “unsung hero” paragraph. Keisel is finally getting the recognition he deserves, so instead of piling on there, we’ll close by mentioning that Ryan Clark (aka “Pittsburgh’s other safety”) is one of the fiercest openfield hitters in the NFL.


7.) Rethinking Brady, Belichick and the Patriots

Stop and think about New England’s last three playoff appearances. There was the stunning divisional round loss at home to the rival Jets on Sunday. Last year, it was the blowout wild card loss at home to the Ravens. And in 2007 it waT. Brady (US Presswire)s the astonishing Super Bowl defeat and derailed perfect season at the hands of the Giants.

We think of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick almost as untouchable geniuses above all criticism. That’s understandable. They’re still the only head coach-quarterback duo to ever win three rings in a four-year span. And the reason two of their last three playoff defeats have been so shocking is because of the dominance that immediately preceded it: New England was a perfect 16-0 in ’07 and an NFL-best 14-2 in ’10.

That said, it was six years ago that Belichick and Brady last hoisted a Lombardi Trophy. And keep in mind, in 2006, the Patriots blew an 18-point second half lead to Indy in the AFC Championship.

Is this story meant to call into question the reputation of the NFL’s current greatest head coach and quarterback? Absolutely not. Over the past six years, Belichick and Brady have still accomplished more with less talent around them than anyone in football. But the beginning chapters of these men’s book were about the auras of two untouchable legends. In the middle chapters, that aura evaporated.


8.) Pro Bowl Snubs Shine

There were two NFC cornerbacks whom many felt got the shaft from Pro Bowl voters: Green Bay’s Tramon Williams and Chicago’s Charles Tillman. Largely because of their performance in the divisional round, both will be on the field for the NFC Championship Sunday.

Williams’ postseason brilliance began a week earlier than Tillman’s. The athlT. Williams (US Presswire)etic undrafted veteran who took over the No. 2 job when Al Harris blew out his knee last season clinched Green Bay’s wild card victory with an end zone interception in the closing minutes at Philly. Williams snagged a second end zone pick in similar fashion at Atlanta: by maintaining underneath technique against a bigger receiver (in this case, Michael Jenkins). After keeping points off the board with two interceptions, Williams put points on it with his third. With nine seconds left in the first half and the Falcons trying to get in field goal range, Williams jumped Matt Ryan’s ill-advised sideline pass to Roddy White and took it to the house for a momentum-swinging 14-point lead that Atlanta would not overcome.

As for Tillman, his excellence was key to Chicago's defensive dominance against Seattle. The Bears’ only true cover corner normally mans the left side of the D. But on Sunday, Tillman shadowed Mike Williams, holding Matt Hasselbeck's No. 1 target to four catches for 15 yards. Yes, Williams caught two touchdowns, but the second was thanks to sheer luck that resulted from Tillman’s textbook deflection.

It will be interesting to see what matchups Tramon Williams and Tillman draw this Sunday. Williams has the speed to run with Johnny Knox outside (figure the Packers will put an inside defender on Devin Hester, as Hester usually aligns in the slot). Tillman will have to rely on his physicality to keep the quicker Greg Jennings in check.


9.) Seahawks-Bears: Tough Watch

So the Seattle Seahawks weren’t a Cinderella team after all; watching them at Chicago was more like watching one of the evil stepsisters dance at the ball. Or like watching a sub-.500 team try to win a playoff game on the road. The game felt over before the midpoint of quarter two. As divisional round contests go, it was awful television. Shame. J. Cutler (US Presswire)

But whatever, doesn’t matter now. Besides, the story of Sunday’s unwatchable NFC divisional round game wasn’t the Seahawks, it was the Bears. Jay Cutler threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns in his first postseason game since high school. Aside from a small handful of first half glitches, Chicago’s once-putrid offensive line gave Cutler all the time in the world to throw. And when Cutler couldn’t find a receiver, he scrambled for positive yardage (he finished with 43 yards and two touchdowns on eight runs).

On the other side of the ball, the results were what you’d expect from the NFC’s No. 1 run defense going up against the NFC’s No. 16 run offense. With the Seahawks feeling compelled to throw on 49 of 61 offensive snaps, the Bears were able to sit back in that Lovie Smith Cover 2 and let their speed take over. Mike Williams, who appeared to tweak his upper leg early in the game, was manhandled by Charles Tillman. That hurt because the loss of tight end John Carlson (head injury) prevented Seattle from fully attacking Chicago’s questionable safeties.

If you want to get picky, the only concern Bears fans can take away from Sunday is that their defense took its foot off the gas late in the fourth quarter.


10. Quick Hits

*Most people believe that the Ravens lost at Pittsburgh because of turnovers. That’s valid, though let’s not forget, late in the fourth quarter Anquan Boldin dropped a huge touchdown in the end zone and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who had been carping for more balls all season, dropped a very catchable fourth-and-19.

*Terrell Suggs should change his name to Terrell Rooney because he owns the Steelers. Suggs had three sacks Saturday, giving him 15.5 in 18 career games against Pittsburgh.

*A storyline from Baltimore that didn’t get talked about (because of the nonstop intensity of the contest itself) is whether this was Ed Reed’s final game. The future Hall of Fame safety is 32 and contemplated retirement this past offseason.

*The Atlanta Falcons need to add one more playmaker to the center of their defense. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton is solid but does not have star tools. Neither of the safeties is a game breaker.

*Was anyone else surprised that Pete Carroll elected to punt with his team down 28-10 and just over six minutes to play?

*When Danny Woodhead fumbled in the fourth quarter (recovered by the Patriots) it brought to mind the episode of Hard Knocks where Rex Ryan flipped out in the preseason finale after so many of the Jets backups fumbled. In that episode, Ryan put Woodhead back in the game specifically because he knew he wouldn’t cough up the ball.

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