Play Fantasy The Most Award Winning Fantasy game with real time scoring, top expert analysis, custom settings, and more. Play Now
 
Tag:Greg Manusky
Posted on: February 2, 2012 5:12 pm
 

Colts' Pagano talks on new hires Manusky, Arians

Follow all of CBSSports.com's Full Super Bowl Coverage (AP)

By Ryan Wilson

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts hired Greg Manusky Thursday to be the new defensive coordinator. He was fired by the Chargers last month and will now join Chuck Pagano's staff a week after Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler backed out of the job.

Full Super Bowl Coverage
Pagano met with the media to talk about the latest additions to his staff.

"[Greg's] been a player and coach in this league for a long time … and he'll bring great leadership and passion and energy to our organization and to the defensive side of the ball." Pagano also said that Manusky will call plays.

The new head coach was also asked about offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who was Peyton Manning's first quarterbacks coach with the Colts back in 1998. And now, 14 years later, he's returning to Indianapolis, which means that there's a good chance Arians will soon get to work with another rookie franchise quarterback.

There's still much to sort out, from Manning's future, to who the Colts will target with the first-overall pick in April's draft. (Andrew Luck is the early runaway favorite but Robert Griffin III will likely get consideration as well.)

"Bruce's resume speaks for itself," Pagano said. "He called plays at the highest level and he's won a Super Bowl."

Arians comes to the Colts after the Steelers chose not to renew his deal. Two weeks ago, he told the York Daily Record (Pa.) that he retired when he "wasn't offered a contract." After that, "it was an easy decision for me."

Arians added that team president Art Rooney II didn't give him a reason. "I can't answer that question," he said. "Only the people there can. That's the business. I know the job we did as a staff. I don't have any regrets."

He had been in Pittsburgh since 2004, after working with Pagano on Butch Davis' staff in Cleveland the previous three seasons. Arians was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2007, head coach Mike Tomlin's first year with the Steelers. In four of five seasons, Pittsburgh was a top-10 offense, according to Football Outsiders (and the only year they weren't, 2008, they won the Super Bowl). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger flourished under Arians, but the Steelers got away from what they had previously been known for: running the ball.

There will be no run-first subtexts in Indianapolis. The Colts need someone to nurture a young passer and you'd be hard-pressed to find a candidate more qualified than Arians.

"He understands how to develop quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks," Pagano said. "Bruce and I go back a long time. His philosophy matches our philosophy, and the pieces we're going to put around him [match] his passion and energy. He's a brilliant guy, he thinks outside the box so I feel really fortunate that Bruce is with us."

It was a peculiar split for Arians and the Steelers. Not because it came out of nowhere -- Rooney reportedly wanted Arians out several years ago and Roethlisberger and Tomlin fought to keep him -- but because the Steelers' offense had regularly been a top-10 unit going back to 2007.

Part of that is due to Roethlisberger, but that claim can be made about most winning teams: sustained success starts with the quarterback. And that's exactly what Pagano seems ready to do: rebuild this team around a franchise player. The only question, at least initially, is if that player will be Manning, Luck or someone else.

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 31, 2012 8:33 pm
 

Greg Knapp takes OC job with Raiders

By Josh Katzowitz

While T.J. Yates came out of nowhere to help lead the Texans to the playoffs after they lost Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to injury, his quarterbacks coach is getting a big promotion.

As the Houston Chronicle writes, Houston coach Gary Kubiak confirmed that Texans quarterback coach Greg Knapp has taken the Raiders offensive coordinator job.

Knapp shouldn’t be unfamiliar with the Raiders organization, considering he was their offensive coordinator from 2007-08 (he also has been the offensive coordinator for the 49ers and the Falcons).

Also, according to Foxsports.com, new Oakland coach Dennis Allen is trying to fill out his staff by interviewing former 49ers and Chargers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for the same job with the Raiders.

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: January 9, 2012 12:39 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2012 12:40 pm
 

Report: Bucs to interview Marty Schottenheimer

MartyBall last appeared in the NFL in 2006. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The Buccaneers aren't playing any games when it comes to seeking out a discipline-heavy coach to replace Raheem Morris, having already interviewed Mike Sherman for the open position.

And now, in some shocking news, they'll also talk to Marty Schottenheimer. Yes, Marty. That's according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, who reports that Schotty will talk with the Bucs on Tuesday about their head-coaching gig.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News

Marty last coached in the NFL in 2006, when he went 14-2 with the Chargers, won the AFC West, made it to the AFC Divisional Game and came one Marlon McCree dive to the ground after an interception shy of upsetting the Patriots and advancing to the AFC Championship Game.

After that season, Marty was fired when assistant coaches Cam Cameron, Wade Phillips (who's also talking to the Bucs this week), Rod Chudzinski and Greg Manusky all bolted for other gigs and his relationship with general manager A.J. Smith became extremely strained.

Schottenheimer, who has a career 61.3 winning percentage as a head coach in the NFL, won his first championship at any level with the Virginia Destroyers of the United Football League.

Though Marty might seem a bit old (68) to dive back into the NFL with a young team like the Buccaneers, it's possible that his hard-nosed, disciplined approach and an emphasis on "MartyBall" (read: run, run, pass, punt) could help reverse Tampa Bay's fortunes in 2011.

Another interesting aspect of a potential Marty hire in Tampa is the effect it would have on Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets offensive coordinator. Marty's son is believed to be out of New York one way or another, and jumping ship from the Jets to the Bucs would be a logical move for a coach who's already worked under his father at three different stops in his career.

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: January 5, 2012 1:14 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2012 6:00 pm
 

Chargers fire defensive coordinator Greg Manusky

Greg Manusky was fired by Norv Turner (US Presswire).By Josh Katzowitz

UPDATE: 5:58 p.m. ET - Several outlets are reporting that longtime Chargers defensive assistant John Pagano has been hired as the team's new defensive coordinator.

The Chargers will look for their second defensive coordinator since Jan. 2011. That’s because, as the San Diego Union Tribune reports, San Diego has fired Greg Manusky.

“I’d like to thank Greg for the passion and enthusiasm he brought to our team and coaching staff this past season,” Turner in a statement released by the team.

Only a season ago, after Ron Rivera left for the Panthers head coaching job (a job in which Manusky actually was one of four finalists), the Chargers hired Manusky to replace him. Before that, Manusky had been the 49ers defensive coordinator, but when Jim Harbaugh was hired, he made it clear Manusky wouldn’t stay in San Francisco.

When it became clear that Norv Turner and San Diego general manager A.J. Smith would be retained by owner Dean Spanos, some kind of change still needed to be made. Manusky -- whose unit finished 16th in the league  in yards allowed -- just became that fall guy.

Of course, this move IS rather interesting, considering this is what Turner said about Manusky THREE days ago.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News
"I would not characterize the hiring of Greg Manusky as a mistake," Turner said, via the North County Times. "He has done a good job for us. Losing so many guys and playing so many young players is difficult.

"Defensively, it's all about having impact players. If you don't have players that can [beat] a guy one-on-one and make a big play, you're not going to get the number of stops you need to get. It's been a hard year for all of us and a tough year for Greg, but I thought he did a good job."

So, if it’s not Manusky’s fault, as Turner flat-out says, but instead, the fault of whomever is in charge of player personnel, it sounds like Manusky got a raw deal. Especially since the general manager in charge of player personnel still has a job.

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: January 2, 2012 9:08 am
Edited on: January 8, 2012 1:42 pm
 

Latest coaching rumors, news

It's Black Monday and that means seats are heating. (Getty Images)
By Eye on Football Staff

Throughout the day on Monday (and now Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday!) week news and rumors will be flying about job security of various NFL coaches. Bookmark this page to stay updated constantly.

SUNDAY
1:10 p.m. ET
SATURDAY
9:20 p.m. ET
3 p.m. ET
  • Although Ray Horton realizes that Jeff Fisher has to be the No. 1 choice for the Rams job, the St. Louis Post Dispatch is reporting that if Fisher takes the Miami job, St. Louis will give a second look to Horton, the Cardinals defensive coordinator. Apparently, Horton's initial five-hour interview went very well. "When it was over they called my agent and said they were blown away by him, and he couldn't have been any better," Horton said.
  • According to Rapid Reporter Ron Clements, the Rams have received permission to interview Tennessee VP of football operations Lake Dawson and Titans VP of player personnel Ruston Webster for the vacant GM job. Both worked with Jeff Fisher in Tennessee.
  • CBSSports.com's Clark Judge speculates that Vikings defensive coordinator Fred Pagac might be fired soon. According to Judge, four candidates have already lined up interviews to replace him -- Steve Spagnuolo, Raheem Morris, Mel Tucker and Mike Singletary.
12 p.m. ET
  • The Chiefs reportedly have decided to remove the interim tag for coach Romeo Crennel, meaning the job is all his. It seems like general manager Scott Pioli wanted Crennel to have the job all along.
  • It didn't take long for the Patriots to hire their next offensive coordinator to replace Bill O'Brien. It's their old offensive coordinator of course as Josh McDaniels will take over O'Brien's spot for 2012 AND will begin work immediately, helping New England in this postseason.
  • According to NFL.com's Jason La Canfora, the Dolphins have permission from the Falcons to interview offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. Jacksonville already has shown interest in Mularkey.
FRIDAY
11:20 p.m. ET

12:13 p.m. ET

  • Ray Horton, the Cardinals defensive coordinator, is set to interview with the Rams for their head coaching position soon.

9:03 a.m. ET

THURSDAY

4:15 p.m. ET
  • Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has been a busy man lately, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Philben was in Kansas City on Wednesday, and by this weekend, he'll interview for the Dolphins head coaching job as well.
1:20 p.m. ET
  • Although he and general manager A.J. Smith kept their job, Chargers coach Norv Turner fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky after just one season. Interesting, because, three days ago, Turner said he thought Manusky had done a good job this year.

9:00 a.m. ET
  • Raheem Morris was spotted dining with Redskins brass, and Washington could be interested in hiring Morris as a defensive coach. The only problem with that scenario is that Buccaneers were the worst team in the league in points allowed this season.
  • Yahoo Sports' Michael Silver has written that the Jeff Fisher sweepstakes has become a two-way race between the Dolphins and the Rams. Fisher was scheduled to interview with St. Louis today.
  • NFL.com's Albert Breer is saying that Jay (not Jon!) Gruden is the favorite to land the head coaching job in Jacksonville. The Bengals offensive coordinator, however, can't interview until Cincinnati is out of the playoffs. Until then, it sounds like the Jaguars will continue to interview every hot offensive coordinator they can find.
WEDNESDAY

8:20 p.m. ET
  • According to multiple reports, Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien will interview for the Penn State job on Thursday. Though his interview with the school has been reported and then denied previously, it seems like O'Brien might have a real shot at landing this position, especially since it appears he's not a candidate for any current open NFL head coaching jobs.

5:58 p.m. ET
  • The Rams have requested permission from the Ravens to interview director of player personnel Eric DeCosta for the St. Louis general manager spot, according to PFT. DeCosta is seen as the possible successor to Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore. St. Louis also has received permission from the Falcons to interview director of player personnel Les Snead.

10:53 a.m. ET
TUESDAY

6:06 p.m. ET
  • Jeff Fisher's the hottest name on the coaching circuit and he officially visited Miami -- even flying there on a helicopter! -- to talk to owner Stephen Ross about the Dolphins gig.
2:40 p.m. ET
2:20 p.m. ET
10:19 a.m. ET
MONDAY
6:00 p.m. ET
  • Colts owner Jim Irsay calls firing Bill and Chris Polian a tough decision, and adds that "it's not outside the realm of possibility" that Jim Caldwell returns as head coach. When asked if Peyton Manning will play again he responded, "I don't."
4:28 p.m. ET
  • The Rams will interview Jeff Fisher this week for their vacant coaching job. If they land Fisher, then they would try to find a general manager.

4:03 p.m. ET
3:44 p.m. ET
  • According to the Buffalo News, Bills defensive coordinator George Edwards has been fired and replaced by Dave Wannstedt.

2:42 p.m. ET
  • According to the Chicago Tribune, Bears special teams coach Dave Toub will interview for the Dolphins job.

1:59 p.m. ET
  • A report from the New York Daily News says that Brian Schottenheimer will interview with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Because the Jets offense was just so awesome this year, apparently.
1:22 p.m. ET
  • Although there were reports that Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was the prime coaching target for Penn State, it sounds like O'Brien won't be headed to Happy Valley after all.
12:45 p.m. ET
  • During his last regular-season news conference, Colts coach Jim Caldwell said he's "moving forward" with his day-to-day work. Caldwell also said he met with owner Jim Irsay on Sunday night and with executives Bill and Chris Polian on Monday morning. Obviously, at this moment, Caldwell is still employed. Which led Indy Star reporter Phillip B. Wilson to tweet, "Colts fans, to be honest, I have no idea what's going on ... maybe team won't announce changes for another day or two, IDK."
11:56 a.m. ET
  • An interesting set of tweets from UniversalDraft.com's Chris Kouffman: "<s>@</s>ArmandoSalguero with a stunning revelation that Carl Peterson was told to have dinner w/ Jon Gruden and allowed to offer Gruden the job ... which included total control over football operations, ability to hire and fire whomever he wanted...and Gruden TURNED IT DOWN. Yikes."
  • The Dolphins release a statement saying they're gearing up for their coaching search.
11:32 a.m. ET
10:37 a.m. ET
  • We have our first victim on Black Monday! Steve Spagnuolo, as expected, was fired by the St. Louis on Monday. Spags was 10-38 in three years with the Rams but should be a hot name for defensive coordinator positions.
  • You want to talk about a coach in demand? How about Jeff Fisher. Mike Freeman writes that the two jobs that intrigue him the most are Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.
9:39 a.m. ET
  • Speaking of the Jets, their public relations staff announced that BOTH general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan will be at Monday's press conference. That's not "normal" and it could mean that people's jobs are in trouble.
  • Despite a disappointing season in which the Jets didn't make the playoffs, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine -- whose reputation has largely remained intact this year -- has reportedly drawn interest from the Dolphins.

9:07 a.m ET

  • CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman reports that the Bucs spent all evening gathering intel on Raheem Morris from players. Ownership is starting to believe that though they don't want to fire Morris, they might have to fire Morris.

Previously:

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 16, 2011 3:40 pm
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Chargers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Chargers have not won a game since we featured (and lauded) them in a Week 7 Film Room post. The Bears, on the other hand, are white-hot, having won four straight in taking over the NFC wild card lead.

Here’s a five-part breakdown of the two teams in this Sunday’s late afternoon showdown at Soldier Field.


1. Quarterback
It was not long ago that the preeminent strong-armed, interception-prone quarterback in his mid-twenties with an on-field demeanor that rubbed many the wrong way was Jay Cutler. This season, however, it’s Philip Rivers.

His league-leading 15 interceptions have been genuine turnovers – not the kind of cheap tipped picks that plagued Eli Manning last season. Rivers’ downfield accuracy has waffled. He also has been uncomfortable passing from a dirty pocket. That’s alarming given that his best trait in years past has been making strong throws in the face of pressure.

Cutler knows all about operating in the face of pressure. However, lately he’s been throwing from much cleaner platforms. Because he has the strongest raw arm in football, he does not necessarily need to set his feet in order to throw. He’s a solid athlete with underrated mobility that allows him to buy time. But it’s when the time is bestowed upon him and he is able to set his feet that he gets in rhythm.

It’s not quite a Brady/Brees/Rodgers-like rhythm – Cutler has too many fundamental flaws for that – but it’s a potent enough rhythm to carry a team to victory.

2. Offensive line
The reason Cutler has been more comfortable is he trusts his pass protection. Mike Martz knows that his unathletic offensive line cannot hold up long enough to consistently protect seven-step drops, so he’s built more three-and five-step drops into the gameplan (though the Bears did drift away from this just a bit against the Lions last week). As Cutler has said, he’s potent when he has room to throw.

To be fair, the Bears offensive linemen have elevated their play as of late. Guard Lance Louis has been particularly solid since becoming the new right tackle. Losing left guard Chris Williams (on I.R. with a wrist injury) hurts because, until Gabe Carimi returns from his knee problem (he’s missed seven games and underwent arthroscopic surgery last week), Frank Omiyale will likely play. Omiyale was a train wreck at right tackle earlier this season. He played guard earlier in his career, but if he were truly viable there, he never would have moved outside. Edwin Williams replaced Chris Williams last week, but the Bears have not named him the new starter. He could still be in the mix.

Either way, offensive line coach Mike Tice will have his hands full helping this group continue performing at an acceptable level.

Rivers has felt a lot of Cutler’s old pain as of late. Left tackle Marcus McNeill has fought injuries the past few weeks; after he left the Raiders game last Thursday night, backup Brandyn Dombrowski was eaten alive. Inside, backup left guard Cornell Green, filling in for All-Pro Kris Dielman (out since suffering a concussion-related seizure after the loss to the Jets), has struggled to move his feet in pass protection.

Even though Norv Turner’s playbook is heavy on slow-developing downfield passes, the Chargers did not give the left side of their line much help last Thursday. That should change going up against Julius Peppers.

3. Receivers
Once again, these two clubs are going in opposite directions. The Bears have recently gotten healthy outside, with Earl Bennett back and showing newfound quickness. Bennett is no longer just a plodding possession slot receiver – he’s Cutler’s go-to guy. His presence has eased the burdens on the unreliable Roy Williams and permanently raw Devin Hester.

Also, what can’t be understated is the brilliance of Matt Forte. His success on the ground has given the offense balance, which helps the passing attack. Forte is also one of the best receiving backs in the league.

The Chargers, on the other hand, are without Malcom Floyd (hip injury). His absence has been ameliorated by the flashes of athletic explosiveness from rookie Vincent Brown.

However, San Diego’s usual stars have disintegrated in recent weeks. Antonio Gates has looked heavy-footed and Vincent Jackson has consistently failed to separate against man coverage. Jackson had a three-touchdown outburst against Green Bay thanks in part to some coverage busts. But in the three games before that, he caught a total of seven balls for 98 yards. Last week against Oakland, he had just one reception for 22 yards.

4. Cornerbacks
It will be tough for Jackson to reignite at Soldier Field. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman is having arguably the best season of his stellar career. Tillman thoroughly won his one-on-one battle against Calvin Johnson last week, using a mixture of aggressive press coverage and well-timed post-reception physicality from off-coverage positions.

Tillman, like all Bears cornerbacks, used to only play one side of the field. It was part of Chicago’s strict Cover 2 scheme. But as this season has progressed, Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have drifted away from Cover 2 and more towards single-high safety concepts with the corners playing both man and zone principles. This allows the other safety to roam the field as an extra run supporter or, more often, versatile pass defender.

Consequently, the corners have moved around based on matchups. Tillman defends the opposing team’s biggest (and often most dangerous) receiver, while Tim Jennings (who is having the best season of his career) follows the smaller-but-quicker No. 2 receiver. The commendable performance of these corners is the reason Chicago has been able to spice up its defensive scheme.

In sticking with our theme, San Diego’s secondary has been increasingly disappointing the past month. Left corner Quintin Jammer and slot corner Dante Hughes have been fine, but on the right side, Antoine Cason and rookie Marcus Gilchrest have taken turns replacing one another in the starting lineup. Free safety Eric Weddle moves well and has some interceptions, but he’s not a true stopper.



5. Defensive front
A feeble pass-rush doesn’t help matters for San Diego. The loss of Shaun Phillips (still out with a foot injury) and Larry English (injured reserve) leaves the Chargers with journeymen Antwan Barnes and Travis LaBoy on the edges. Barnes is fast and has actually been as impactful as his team-high six sacks suggest. LaBoy’s run defense compensates for his low sack total (1).

Still, the bottom line is the forces that once buttressed San Diego’s pass-rushing depth are now the forces that comprise San Diego’s pass-rush period.

If the Chargers want to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback, they have to blitz. Inside linebacker Victor Butler and slot corner Dante Hughes are the two best options for this. Blitzing is not preferable for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, though.

It’s never been preferable for the Bears. They almost exclusively use a traditional four-man pass-rush, which works when you have a deep rotation, a highly-skilled No. 2 rusher like Israel Idonije and a monster like Peppers. In an effort to create matchup problems, Peppers has been lining up at both end positions and, lately, inside on certain passing downs.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 11 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 3, 2011 10:13 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 9's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Eagles vs. Bears
You could make a strong case that both of these offenses are built around their star running backs. The Eagles have football’s No. 1 offense and lead the league with 179 yards rushing per game (20 more than Oakland’s No. 2 ranked ground game). Running back LeSean McCoy is second in the NFL with 754 yards rushing. The Bears’ 16th-ranked offense would likely rank somewhere in the mid-twenties if not for Matt Forte’s 672 yards on the ground and 419 yards through the air.

These are the best two running backs in the NFC not named Adrian Peterson. (And both are significantly better receivers than Peterson.) Two years ago, neither was very good. McCoy was a callow, unpolished rookie who could not always read basic defenses. Forte was an inexplicably sluggish runner averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. So what’s changed since then?

One noticeable improvement is in both players’ lateral agility. Though not as emphasized as speed, quickness or power, lateral agility is the most important attribute for an NFL back. It’s often the difference between college runners and pro runners. In short, lateral agility is a running back’s quickness and explosiveness when going left and right. It plays a central role in how he sets up blocks and creates his own space.

Unless you’re an incredibly gifted downhill runner playing behind a decent run-blocking front (ala Darren McFadden), lateral agility is vital in the NFL, where holes close quicker than a hiccup and defenses feature 11 world class athletes, most of whom can immediately diagnose about 90 percent of the run plays they see.

McCoy has the best pure lateral agility in the league. He had it as a rookie but just recently learned to implement it with timing and purpose. He can explode left and right behind the line or at the second level. Most laterally agile running backs, including Forte, have to be on the move in order to cut sharply. McCoy can do it from a standstill (which is why Philly is so fond of draws and delayed handoffs). Forte can occasionally do it from a standstill, though with his smooth, patient running style, he’s much more effective off motion.

On Sunday, keep a count of how many of McCoy’s and Forte’s touches are impacted by their east-west prowess.



Patriots vs. Giants
The key to the Giants’ upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the pressure the Giants pass-rush put on Tom Brady. New York’s then-defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, brilliantly had his linebackers crowd and attack the A-gaps. That did a few things.

For one, it put extra defenders directly in Tom Brady’s line of vision, which would make any quarterback subtly feel a bit hurried. That hurriedness left New England without enough time to run Randy Moss on deep routes.

Another thing it did was force the Patriot running backs to stay in and pass protect. And because there were multiple defenders crowding the A-gaps, the Patriots focused their protection help inside, which left one-on-one mismatches outside for Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

Some things have changed in the four years since 18-1. Spagnuolo is now in St. Louis. Moss is retired. So is Strahan. The Patriots’ high-powered passing game has become horizontal instead of vertical. But despite the changes, don’t be surprised if the Giants once again crowd and/or attack New England’s A gaps this Sunday.

Teams like the Jets, Cowboys and Steelers have shown that the best way to pressure Brady is with bodies up the middle. The goal is not always to sack him – it can be to mentally preoccupy him with what’s going on inside. When Brady’s doing that, he seems to lose a little trust in stepping into throws and sensing his protection on the edges.

The Giants had great success with A-gap blitz concepts against the Dolphins last week. Mathias Kiwanuka is a potent defensive end who happens to play linebacker. He’s natural standing up over the center in nickel defense. Lately, end Dave Tollefson, himself a good athlete, has also been used as an A-gap blitzing joker. In these instances, the Giants don’t just rush the A-gaps, they also confuse offensive linemen and set up stunts and edge-rushes for Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.

New England’s answer to New York’s A-gap attacks will be quick passes in the flats. Wes Welker is not a bad guy to turn to for that.

Chargers vs. Packers
Green Bay can take the lipstick off the pig that is San Diego’s defense. The No. 1 ranked defense from 2010 has been decent but not necessarily impressive under new coordinator Greg Manusky in 2011. A soft schedule has made it difficult to pass full judgment. The Chargers rank sixth in yards allowed, but they’ve faced the Vikings, Dolphins, Broncos, Jets and Chiefs (twice) – all inexplosive offenses.

The Packers have the most lethal offensive attack in football. It’s not just that Aaron Rodgers has been nearly flawless, or that his top five receiving targets would all be No. 1 or 2 targets on a typical team. It’s that the Packers have perhaps the best formation variation in the league. This, with their array of weapons, strongly tests a defense’s depth, intelligence and confidence.

Currently, the Chargers are vulnerable at cornerback. Antoine Cason appeared on the verge of stardom late last year, but the ’08 first-round pick has reverted to the baffling inconsistencies that marred his first two seasons as a pro. Cason normally plays the right outside. The Packers love to create one-on-one matchups for Greg Jennings by lining him up as the X-iso receiver on the left side (across from the right cornerback) in 1x3 receiver sets. It’s a matchup Rodgers goes to virtually every time.

With four receivers on the field, Cason will have to play. Marcus Gilchrest and Quentin Jammer are the outside starters; Dante Hughes is the slot nickel. The Chargers like to blitz Hughes and will likely align him across from the receiver furthest inside on the three-receiver side. Jammer plays outside on the defensive left. That leaves either Cason or Gilchrest, a second-round rookie, to face Jennings outside on the right.

This isn’t a fantasy column, but here’s a tip: if your opponent has Greg Jennings on his or her team, remove yourself from the trash-talking email thread this week.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 9 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
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.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com