Tag:Hakeem Nicks
Posted on: February 18, 2012 7:31 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 7:32 pm
 

No performance-based pay for players in 2011

Despite Cruz's breakout season, there will be no performance-based paychecks in his immediate future. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Unlike 2002-2009, there will be no performance-based pay for NFL players following the 2011 season, NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis told the Newark Star-Ledger this week. This was also the case in 2010's uncapped season and the ramifications mean this: guys like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz will earn their base salaries for last season and not a dime more based on on-field contributions.

"Francis wrote in an email that money has been allocated elsewhere to overall salaries and benefits following the lockout and the agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement," the Star-Ledger's Mike Garalo wrote Friday. "One example of where such money has been redirected was the $3-million salary-cap exemption teams received to keep veterans this past season. This season, teams will have three $1.5-million exemptions.

"According to Francis, performance-based pay is a part of the new CBA and will be paid out in the future, though the league and the union are 'still negotiating the language.'"

In 2009, the last year for performance-based pay, Vikings center John Sullivan was rewarded with a $397,555 bonus (his base salary: $385,000) and Giants cornerback Bruce Johnson earned an extra $270,766.

Nicks, in the third year of his rookie deal, made a base salary of $575,000 in 2011. Cruz, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010, made just $405,000. (The Freakonomics blog breaks down an entire team of players who outperformed their current contracts.)

Performance-based pay was a means of rewarding low-salaried players based on productivity. And while five or six-figure checks may not mean much for guys pulling down tens of millions annually, it's a huge deal for young players making league minimum or close to it. But the system hasn't been abolished entirely; in fact, as PFT points out, the new collective-bargaining agreement explains that the fund will exist “[i]n each year League Year after the 2011 League Year.”

Which is good news for (relatively) low wage earners in 2012, less so for the Freakonomics' Dough Bowl All-Stars.

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 11:08 am
 

Brady told O'Brien he threw ball away on safety

Hard to blame Brady for throwing it away. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Much ado's been made about the safety on the first Patriots offensive play of the game in the Super Bowl last Sunday -- Tom Brady threw the ball to no one while standing in his own end zone. But was intentional grounding the right call? And did some receiver mess up a route that caused Brady to throw the ball where he did?

Turns out, no. Brady actually was throwing it away. On the Sound FX portion of NFL Replay, NFL Films caught Brady telling (former) offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien that he did in fact throw it away after first trying to find Rob Gronkowski, then Wes Welker and finally feeling heat from Justin Tuck.

"I looked to Gronk, I looked to Wes, he dropped and then I felt [Tuck]," Brady said. "I had no place to throw it away. I threw it over his head. I didn't want to throw an interception."

So it's a pretty clear case of intentional grounding, provided Brady was in the pocket (he was) and therefore a clear safety provided Brady was in the end zone (he was). That didn't stop Bill Belichick from arguing the call with referee John Parry through.

Sound FX picked up Belichick calling Parry over and saying "The intentional grounding call ..."

"What's the problem with it?" Parry replied.

"He had a guy coming in there -- he didn't throw it to him. But he had a guy that was coming in there," Belichick said. "I mean, damn."

There are four parts up on NFL.com (if you don't have NFL Network) and all are worth watching. As we noted earlier on Thursday, one clip shows Belichick telling his defense to stifle Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and "make" the Giants find Mario Manningham on their final drive.

Unfortunately for Belichick, that worked out about as well as his attempt to argue that Brady didn't throw the ball away.

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 9:17 am
Edited on: February 9, 2012 9:44 am
 

Belichick at SB: 'Make em go to Manningham'

Eli didn't mind going to Manningham. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

It's always fascinating to see how NFL sausage is made: Sound FX and NFL replays do just that. There's a particularly interesting nugget from Sunday's Super Bowl that occurred in between "The Drop" by Wes Welker and "The Catch XLVI" by Mario Manningham.

Bill Belichick, talking to the Patriots defense, told them how to handle pass protection. He wanted them to bottle up Giants wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and "make 'em go to Manningham."

"This is still a Cruz and Nicks game," Belichick said on the sideline. "I mean, I know we're right on 'em. It's tight. But those are still the guys. Make 'em go to Manningham. Make 'em go to Pascoe. Alright? Let's make sure we get Cruz and Nicks."

You know how this works out, right? Not well: Eli Manning slung a teardrop towards the Patriots sideline that Manningham somehow managed to real in ... right in front of Belichick. Belichick challenged and lost.

"He caught it," a dejected Tom Brady said in the Sound FX video.

Thought not for any real fault of either Belichick or his defensive backs. Manning got what he admitted was a bad look at Manningham (after he looked to Cruz and Nicks, who were covered) and just made an unbelievable throw into an unbelievably tight window. I can still see the ball in the air when I try to envision it. There's no way he should've completed that pass.

And it's probably a matchup that Belichick would take again.

H/T: Ultimate NYG

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Posted on: February 6, 2012 12:12 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 12:15 am
 

Sorting the SB Pile: New York wideouts are giant

Posted by Will Brinson

Manningham's toe-tapping changed the momentum of the game. (AP)

Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and, um, sorts through it for you. The big story, winners and losers and sometimes fancy moving pictures. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter.

The Turning Point

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL might be a quarterbacks league, but if you don't think the guys catching the passes are the most important players on an NFL roster these days, you need to re-think your approach to what constitutes a truly dangerous team. Look no further than Mario Manningham, who's insanely difficult catch on the first play of the Giants final drive sparked New York to its second Super Bowl victory in five years.

"That was the turning point," fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks said about Manningham's catch. "Mario comes up in clutch situations time in and time out throughout these playoffs and that was just another time of him showcasing that."

Manningham, who had a down regular season but made huge catches in recent games, simply "wasn't going to let the ball go."

"I knew I had to freeze my feet when the ball touched my fingertips," Manningham said. "Wherever I was at when the ball hit my fingertips, I just froze my feet and fell. I knew I was either going to get hit or hit the ground. I knew something was going to happen but that I couldn't let that ball go."

He didn't and the Giants were able to march 88 yards the field to score. What makes it particularly impressive is that the Patriots forced Manningham and Nicks to step up by blanketing the salsa-dancing Victor Cruz after his touchdown catch in the first quarter.

That's why Manning, even though was facing a Cover-2 look from the Pats secondary and didn't have a good window to work the ball in. But he trusted Manningham, found a look, stepped up and made a big-boy throw in the biggest moment on the biggest possible stage.

"Usually that is not your best match-up," Manning said afterward. "I looked that way. I saw I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline. Great catch by [Manningham], keeping both feet in. That's a huge play in the game right there, when you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of field."

This isn't to say that Manning wouldn't be great without his wideouts. He would. He's a great quarterback and he played like it, particularly on that final drive and the start of the game, when Manning kicked things off by going 10 for 10.

"We notice," Nicks said of the quarterback's start. "We notice everything. We notice when he's clicking. We know when we have to step up and get the job done. Our hard work that we put in through the week and in practice and in film room just paid off."

Manningham's catch was ridiculous; but more than anything it's a microcosm of how much these wideouts meant to the Giants during their run.

Cruz carried New York at times during the regular season. Manningham scored a touchdown in the first three playoff games. How about Nicks? He only finished the season with 28 catches, 444 receiving yards and four touchdowns ... in the playoffs. The catches

Nicks was nearly unstoppable on Sunday in Indy, making big catch after big catch in traffic, going up for slightly overthrown balls and reeling them in, including a pair of critical grabs on the final drive.

"You just address [the fourth quarter] like any other time," Nicks said. "We knew what we were capable of doing. We knew we could come through in clutch situations."

That's what they did, and it should look familiar. It's the same formula that the Packers used last year when they toppled the Steelers. Nicks and Cruz are actually better than Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. And Jordy Nelson had a superior year in 2011 to Manningham, but his 2010 season (45 catches, 582 yards), followed by a postseason full of big catches is eerily reminiscent of the year Manningham (39 catches, 523 yards) just had.

"I think we as an offense have been very, very successful," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said afterwards. "Certainly the trigger-man's got to do his job. I think collectively the receivers have really stepped up, made some tremendous plays. Mario did it tonight, but it's been either Victor or Hakeem. Somebody as made some big plays, so as a group, they expect to do well. They expect to put it in the end zone."

Take it back two more years and look at the defending champions -- the Steelers and the Saints -- and you have talented wide receiving corps making catches on a huge stage.

The Patriots, like the Steelers before them, didn't have enough bodies to cover the weapons offered by their opponent. They decided to shut down the Giants top option -- Cruz -- and got torched by Nicks and Manningham.

It's the definition of sound roster-building. Given all the hype surrounding the Pats tight ends in 2011, it's particularly ironic that the Giants receivers were the key to beating the Patriots. Or maybe it's just proper NFL evolution.

Winners

Eli Manning: He has two Super Bowls and these are not backdoor-luck wins either. The 2007 victory might've been defensively-based, but the win doesn't happen if Eli doesn't make some monster plays. On Sunday, he truly propelled himself into a rare class of quarterback; with less than four minutes to go and 88 yards to move the ball, Eli, quite simply, got it done. The receivers helped, of course, but he made huge plays.

Tom Coughlin
: Homeboy is 5-1 in his career against Belichick and has two Super Bowl wins in the last five years. Eight weeks ago? He was on the freaking hot seat. Now he's probably headed to the Hall of Fame if he can coach another three to four strong years in New York. If he wants, he can coach there forever, regardless of what ignorant and impatient fans say amid losing streaks. Two Super Bowls is the equivalent of a lifetime contract in the NFL.

Mario Manningham
: Manningham didn't make every single catch, and he wasn't as good as Hakeem Nicks on Sunday night, but he had five catches for 73 yards and none were more important than a toe-tapping 38-yard catch along the Patriots sideline late in the fourth quarter. With 3:46 left on the clock and down two points, the Giants took a shot, Manning made a big-boy throw and Manningham made an absolutely insane catch along the sidelines. Not only did it totally flip momentum and give the Giants better field position, but it forced Bill Belichick to burn a timeout to challenge the play.

NFL Honors: Awards shows are ticking timebombs stuffed with potential disaster. Which is what makes it so impressive that the NFL pulled of a polished, professional, tidy and entertaining one-hour special that managed to dole out all the big end-of-year awards in impressive fashion. The only question is: what took so long?

Indianapolis: The city of Indy isn't supposed to be a great location for a Super Bowl, but the town gets an A+ from us for their effort in Super Bowl 46. Things were a little rowdy and crowded downtown over the weekend and I could've dealt with a few less bag checks, but it's hard to give Indy other than a gargantuan round of applause for the way they set up and ran the Super Bowl. Everyone was courteous, the weather was wonderful, people running hotels and restaurants adapted to surging crowds. (Even the people in Indy got quotes to the press box faster than Dallas did.) Sunday night's game -- and absolutely thriller -- was the perfect cap to a well-run weekend.

It's a crippling Super Bowl loss for Belichick and Brady. (AP)

Losers

Tom Brady: There's not much difference between 4-1 and 3-2. It's just one game. But if Brady was 4-1 in Super Bowls, we'd be talking about him as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Instead, some people will label Brady as "the guy who couldn't beat Eli on the big stage." Travel back in time to January of 2008 and inform someone of that information. They'll laugh at you and double down on their monster bet on the Patriots the first time these teams met up. Brady's an all-time gamer, for sure. No one can take away three Super Bowls. But it's going to be hard to win an argument where you claim he's the GOAT.

Ahmad Bradshaw: The first loser to ever score a game-winning touchdown, Bradshaw scored what might be the weirdest TD in NFL history. (See: below.) He took the handoff, started doing what he's done thousands of times in his life and ran up the middle. Only he wasn't supposed to score. He did anyway, falling into the end zone and giving Brady nearly a minute left on the clock to attempt a comeback. It would be awkward to be him if Brady had completed the Hail Mary.

Bill Belichick: Maybe it was just karma for cutting Tiquan Underwood?

Madonna: When Mrs. Brinson is texting me to tell me how boring the Super Bowl halftime show was, that's not a good thing. And look, Madonna was big time and I know a lot of people enjoyed the show, but she lip-synched most of it, played one song that no one really likes, and another that no one knows. You're not here pimping your new album. Play the stuff people want. All that was missing from that fiasco was a painting of Alex Rodriguez as a centaur.

Peyton Manning: Peyton's not a huge loser, because he gets to celebrate his brother winning a second Super Bowl. That's cool stuff. I'd be pumped if my brother won a second Super Bowl. Actually, I take that back. If I was an NFL quarterback and my brother was an NFL quarterback and he had one more Super Bowl than me, I'd be furious, and probably a little bitter. And if it so happened that I was dealing with a neck injury, I'd probably be pretty motivated to catch him.

GIF O' THE WEEK


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Posted on: February 5, 2012 10:01 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 11:48 pm
 

Manning, again, beats the Pats when it counts

C. Blackburn's interception of Tom Brady helped change the game for New York (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)
By Josh Katzowitz

INDIANAPOLIS – Eli Manning did it again.

Four years ago, Manning proved he was one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the game, leading the Giants to the shell-shocking Super Bowl victory against the undefeated Patriots, and at Super Bowl XLVI, he cemented himself as one of the most-elite signal-callers in the game.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Manning is an all-timer, maybe a future Hall of Famer. Maybe not quite as good as brother Peyton. But Peyton only has one Super Bowl ring. Now, his younger brother has two.

Losing for most of the second half, Manning, with 3:46 to play, led the Giants on a nine-play, 88-yard drive to pull off the 21-17 upset of the Patriots.
Eli Manning was the Super Bowl MVP (AP)

Once again, Manning beat Tom Brady in the final game of the season. Once again, Giants coach Tom Coughlin knocked off New England’s Bill Belichick in the most-important contest of the year. Once again, Manning needed to be clutch in the final minutes with his team trailing the favored Patriots, and yes, once again, Manning delivered the victory.

Not surprisingly, he was the Super Bowl MVP and led a 9-7 team to the NFL title -- the first time that's ever happened.

While there were no David Tyree moments -- not one receiver caught the ball off his helmet -- Manning’s first throw of the final drive was a 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham that advanced the ball to midfield. From there, it was a 16-yard pass to Manningham, a two-yard throw to Manningham and a 14-yard throw to Hakeem Nicks.

After a seven-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning completed a four-yard pass to Nicks to set up the Giants game-winning score.

But here was a potential problem: with 57 seconds remaining, the Patriots simply allowed New York to score a touchdown so they’d get the ball back, and though Bradshaw tried to stop himself, his momentum carried him into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.

"These guys never quit," Manning told NBC's Dan Patrick on the field afterward. "We had great faith in each other. ... It just feels good to win a Super Bowl, no matter where we are."

On fourth and 16 deep in his own territory, Brady kept the game alive by throwing a first-down ball to Deion Branch. After back-to-back incompletions, Brady took the final snap of the game with 5 seconds to play, and though his Hail Mary attempt was batted around in the end zone, it fell harmlessly to the turf to seal the Giants win.

For the first 26 minutes of the second half, the Patriots were in control of the game and seemed likely to get New England its first Super Bowl title since 2004.
Ahmad Bradshaw tried to stop himself from falling into the end zone but ultimately couldn't. (AP)

Many of the pregame storylines -- the Giants were going to pick on the Patriots secondary all night, New England’s offense would be much less dynamic without a completely-healthy Rob Gronkowski and the New York defense would spook Tom Brady once again -- hadn’t panned out.

Instead, after falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter, Brady was fantastic on the final drive of the first half, completing all 10 of his passes. Though Jason Pierre-Paul stuffed Danny Woodhead on second and goal from the 3 for a 1-yard loss, Brady, with all kinds of time provided by his offensive line, found Woodhead for the four-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 10-9 lead at halftime.

The 14-play, 96-yard drive tied a Super Bowl record for longest drive, and that momentum continued in to the third quarter. Though Madonna elongated halftime with her mostly-panned performance, the Patriots came out hot in the second half, as Brady went 6-for-6 on the first drive of the third quarter and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Except for his performance in the first half, New England's offense struggled behind Tom Brady. (AP)
On those two game-turning drives, Brady was 16 of 16 for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and he proved that many of those pregame prognostications were inaccurate.

Except the Patriots offense didn’t do much of anything else after that.

Gronkowski, like we thought, wasn’t much of a factor except as a decoy and a blocking tight end. Even with the best tight end in the game suffering from a high ankle sprain, New England’s offense, especially went it went to no-huddle, was dynamic enough in the middle of the game. Brady did try to go deep to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter, but Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn intercepted him.

But after that strong output in the drives sandwiching intermission -- Brady completed a Super Bowl-record 16-straight passes -- New York’s defense stopped the Patriots.

The Giants couldn’t have had a better start defensively after the Patriots forced a punt and New York punter Steve Weatherford dropped a kick at the New England 6. On the first Patriots play from scrimmage, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck got good pressure, and Brady released the ball across the middle of the field before he took the hit.

But officials penalized him for intentional grounding, and since Brady was in the end zone when he threw the ball, it was ruled a safety to give New York a 2-0 lead -- the second time this postseason the Giants had opened a game with a safety.

Giants 21, Patriots 17
On the next drive, Manning, who started the game 9 of 9 for 77 yards and a touchdown, found Victor Cruz for the 2-yard score to give New York a nine-point advantage. At that point, New York had run 17 plays to the Patriots total of 1.

But toward the end of the second quarter, the Patriots started playing better.

Still, the Giants kept themselves in the game. Even though New York fumbled three times, they managed to recover two of them and the other was wiped out by a Patriots penalty. After falling behind 17-9, Lawrence Tynes kicked a 38-yard and a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-15.

After the game, Coughlin was asked by NBC to talk about how he matched the Super Bowl total of his mentor, Bill Parcells.

Said Coughlin: "I'm not about comparisions."

Fair enough, but we know enough to say this. Coughlin shouldn't ever have to worry about his job security in New York again, and Eli Manning never should have to worry about being overshadowed by his brother.

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Posted on: January 21, 2012 1:38 am
 

Nicks, Ballard not completely healthy for NYG

NicksBy Josh Katzowitz

As the Giants struggle with a stomach bug that seems to be going around the team -- Eli Manning apparently passed it off to David Baas, who missed practice Friday -- two of Manning’s top targets are not 100 percent healthy.

Receiver Hakeem Nicks rolled his ankle in practice Friday, a somewhat-common occurrence for him, and tight end Jake Ballard had a procedure on his knee this week that has left him questionable to play Sunday vs. the Giants.

Not to worry, both said, because they’re both going to play. In fact, one reporter asked what it would take to keep them off the field for Sunday’s NFC title game vs. the 49ers.

"Nothing I can think of, off the top of my head,”  Nicks said, via the NY Daily News.

“If I was missing a leg, that’s probably what it would take to keep me off the field,” said Ballard.

While Nicks should be good to go, there’s apparently some concern regarding Ballard. He didn’t have surgery, but there were reports Friday that Ballard had an injection to help reduce the swelling in his knee, stemming from a partially-torn PCL he suffered late in the year that kept him out of the final two regular-season games.

“A PCL isn't going to heal overnight,” Ballard said. “To really get healthy, it's about six or seven weeks without playing football. That’s not going to happen, so I’ll be ready to go … I think I’ll be better off than before. (The injection) should help it a lot.”



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Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants NFC CG preview

Can Smith and Harbaugh work some more magic Sunday? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

These teams gave us a very good game back in Week 10 from which we came away truly believing for the first time that San Francisco’s old school style might actually still work in today’s pass-happy NFL. However, not much can be drawn on from that game, as the Giants were without Ahmad Bradshaw, hadn’t yet gelled on the O-line and were still trying to figure things out in their defensive back seven.

New York is healthy now and, as you’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times, “playing with confidence”. Confidence does not breed success, it stems from success. Simply put, the Giants are a much better football team this time around.


1. Tougher task for Alex Smith
Alex Smith’s fourth quarter heroics last week might have been career-changing, at least pertaining to his public image. But lost in the excitement was the fact that Smith and his teammates struggled somewhat to identify blitzes throughout most of the contest.

And, until the final few minutes, Smith wasn’t comfortable against heavy coverage in the red zone. He caught fire once he started recognizing the one-on-one matchups for Vernon Davis BEFORE the snap (which wasn’t hard against the Saints’ Cover 0’s). Thus, after the snap, he didn’t have to worry about making the right decision – he just had to worry about throwing a good ball.  (To his credit, he did this extremely well.)

This week, Smith will have to worry about both. Given the mediocrity of San Francisco’s offensive tackles, the Giants’ four-man rush should be able to get pressure and force the Niners to keep backs and tight ends in to block (or at least chip). When the Giants do blitz, it’s usually a zone pass-rushing concept involving a linebacker (see Michael Boley’s two sacks at Green Bay).

Thus, all game Smith will be throwing into a more crowded secondary and without quickly defined reads. Unless Joe Staley and Anthony Davis play the game of their lives, Smith will also be throwing under some duress. Post-snap decision-making from a crowded pocket has always been Smith’s greatest weakness.

As he’s done all season, Jim Harbaugh will ameliorate Smith’s deficiencies by giving him simplified quick throws off three-step drops, utilizing play-action and, perhaps, calling throws on first down (where the coverages tend to be more basic). The Niners did this with great success in Week 10. In fact, they did it was great success throughout the season; Smith’s passer rating on first down was 101.6.

But at some point, just like last week, Smith is going to have to make a big-time throw in an obvious passing situation.


After dominating the Green Bay Packers last week, the New York Giants will travel to Candlestick Park to square off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they break down this matchup.

2. Smith’s targets
Smith isn’t the only passing game contributor who faces a tougher challenge this week. Michael Crabtree will likely be shadowed by Corey Webster, an outstanding all-around cover corner. Because Crabtree isn’t fast enough to run away from most corners, he has to beat them with body control and agility. Often, his best routes drag over the middle. When his routes go inside, it’s easy for the Giants to give Webster help (not that he needs much).

Smith’s top target, Vernon Davis, won’t be facing Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins in man coverage. Instead, he’ll go against Antrel Rolle, a more athletic cover artist whom the Arizona Cardinals originally drafted in the first round as a cornerback (the Saints drafted Jenkins as a corner, as well, but after a year they admitted what had been apparent from Day One: the stiff-hipped ex-Buckeye was better suited for safety).

And unlike last week, Davis won’t have just one defender to beat, as it’s highly unlikely the Giants will play only man and have Rolle constantly defend the 250-pound tight end one-on-one.

3. Gotta make it Gorey
Expect the run-first Niners to go back to the ground this week. Frank Gore got just 13 carries against New Orleans; he needs at least 22 against New York. If Gore can pound the rock against Perry Fewell’s big nickel defense (two linebackers, two safeties and Rolle playing a utility role as a third safety/linebacker/slot corner), the Giants may decide to go back to their base 4-3.

That would make for a less athletic front seven and present a greater possibility for Davis to draw matchups against linebackers.

Let’s keep it simple and also remember that, regardless of what the defense is doing, running is San Francisco’s bread and butter. They’re built around the power run, with booming and mobile left guard Mike Iupati pulling to the right of Pro Bowl center Jonathan Goodwin and working in unison with lead-blockers Bruce Miller and Justin Peelle (or Delanie Walker if he can get healthy).

That’s the formula that got this team here. And it happens to be the formula that can keep New York’s white hot quarterback off the field.

4. Giants passing game
New York’s rushing attack is nowhere near as dreadful as it was in September, October and November, but against the league’s stingiest run defense, it still can’t be counted on. The Giants will have to ride the golden right arm of Eli Manning. He isn’t facing a porous pass defense like he did a week ago. San Francisco has three corners who can stay with New York’s frighteningly athletic wide receivers.

In the last meeting, Carlos Rogers was sensational defending the slot, making a handful of great jumps on the ball and finishing with two interceptions. Rogers is good enough to handle Victor Cruz.

What really stood out in the first divisional round game was how well the Niner defensive backs – particularly safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner – tackled. Considering the DB’s penchant for forcing fumbles, the Giants may be hesitant to put Hakeem Nicks and Cruz in the catch-and-run situations that they enjoy.

5. San Fran’s defensive line
The 49ers were able to break down the Giants’ pass protection in the last meeting, but again, this Giants line has improved immensely since then.

Still, Aldon Smith, with his explosive first step and startlingly quick hands, is a nightmare matchup for David Diehl on the left side, while Kareem McKenzie will need a little help against the speed of Ahmad Brooks on the right. Then there’s Justin Smith, who makes four or five fantastic penetrative plays a game.

In addition to rushing the passer, the Niners’ front three/four is fast and athletic enough to hunt down screen passes outside the numbers. That’s assuming Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman don’t hunt them down first.

Against this dynamic front seven, the Giants won’t be able to count heavily on Ahmad Bradshaw or ancillary options like Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. Manning and his wide receivers will have to find ways to make big plays.

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 15, 2012 8:14 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 9:27 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Best Super Bowl matchup?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Divisional Round recap below and don't forget to subscribe via iTunes.

Ranking the Possible Super Bowl Matchups

Although there were some fairly drama-free games in the NFL playoffs thus far, there's no question we've been treated to some serious story-lining; Alex Smith's redemption alone was worth the price of admission. And with only three games remaining in the NFL season, we've narrowed the group of teams down a group of four elite squads that should produce an action-packed storyline.

But how do the matchups stack up in terms of watchability, entertainment value and general awesomeness? Here's my ranking:

1. Patriots vs. Giants
It's impossible to underscore how dramatic this matchup would be: after the Giants lost to the undefeated Packers 38-35, there was chatter of how this season looked eerily familiar to 2007 ... when the Giants upended the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in a game that was one of the most memorable Super Bowls in NFL history.

That was the last time the Patriots made the Super Bowl and since then, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have come under fire for not winning playoff games. The Pats won't be worried about their perfect season anymore, of course, but the Giants look very similar to the team that won the Super Bowl in 2007, thanks to a dominant pass rush and Eli Manning truly elevating his game.

The storyline, which would consist primarily of the word "revenge," might get a bit stale, but there would be an incredible amount of players with stories from that year and an ax to grind.

If you root for drama, star power and some trash talk, this is the matchup you want to see.

2. Ravens vs. Giants
The last time these teams faced off in the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis was Super Bowl MVP and the Baltimore defense had their way with Kerry Collins, picking him off four times en route to a 34-7 blowout.

Also: Tiki Barber was relevant, if that tells you anything about how long ago that was.

From a football perspective, this could be a high-scoring game that will go either way; a good game from Joe Flacco would probably result in a Ravens win, but no one will bank on that, so the Giants will be favored (maybe 4.5 points?).

Both teams are explosive enough on offense, but even more explosive on defense. We'd see points, but we'd also see plenty of smashmouth football. If someone got out to a big lead, the game wouldn't necessarily be over -- seeing Eli lead a comeback against the vaunted Ravens defense would be entertaining as all get-out.

And the chatter leading up to the game would be simply amazing. Jason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis? If you're a media member, you should be drooling at the quotability factor for this one.

3. Patriots vs. 49ers
The fact that these two teams play such contrasting styles could set the Super Bowl up for an interesting and perplexing matchup, but it's hard to believe that the Pats would be favored by less than a touchdown in this scenario.

Maybe San Francisco could pull off the upset: we've already seen that they can keep Drew Brees and the Saints down if given two weeks to prepare. And they'll absolutely be given the "no one believes in us" card if such a matchup takes place.

Here's the problem though: as good as Alex Smith looked on Saturday late, he didn't look like Brady did later that night. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL that can, theoretically, match up in their base formation against the Pats tight ends.

But if Angry Brady show up again (and, we have to assume he showed up against the Ravens if they're here), this game could look like the last time the 49ers made the Super Bowl, only in reverse.

4. Ravens vs. 49ers
In terms of pure on-field entertainment value, this is a nightmare situation. Both the 49ers and Ravens succeed by running the ball and playing defense so it makes zero sense for this matchup to actually happen, given the importance of quarterback play in the NFL and the high-powered offenses we've seen so far in 2012.

Yes, their coaches are freaking brothers and there's no question that Harbaugh Bowl 2.0 -- the pair dueled it out on Thanksgiving night -- would provide an incredible amount of entertainment in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

But how quickly would the "They're Related!" storyline get old? It might take a day, maybe two tops. Trust me, with that much free time you'll be sick of it before media day even happens, and don't even get me started on the players.

There's some star power here, but it's primarily on the defensive end with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith (if anyone knows who he is anyway) and the like.

Joe Flacco versus Alex Smith? Yuck. We'd be treated to a defensive battle along the likes of that 16-6 Ravens victory on Turkey Day. Or the BCS Championship Game.

On the bright side, at least the teams would've gotten there through a playoff. (Read: legitimately.)

Winners

Alex Smith: Sports are funny, because moments -- not careers -- ultimately tend to define certain players. Smith is one of those players and a pair of moments on Saturday -- his 28-yard touchdown run and then "The Snatch" in the end zone -- redefined his career. He could blossom into one of the next great NFL quarterbacks or he could sign a big contract and become a bust again. It won't matter, because Saturday's game will always remain a turning point of some point. Smith likely won't ever justify his draft slot or being taken over Aaron Rodgers, but Saturday was an unbelievable redemption story.

Eli Manning
: Manning was, in my brain, approximately 145 for 146 on third down on Sunday night against the Packers. Every time Green Bay got him in a bad spot, the dude sat back in the pocket, waited until things opened up, and drilled a beautiful pass to a wide-open receiver. He's had an amazing season that could've been even better, and he's finally getting the credit he deserves.

Marques Colston
: Colston's set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the lasting memory he provided potential suitors was an outstanding effort, as he caught nine balls for 136 yards and a toe-tapping touchdown that was basically the only time a Saints player got deep in the first half on Saturday. If the Saints don't reach a long-term deal with Drew Brees, they'll have to franchise him, and that means Colston can get loose on the market and make a pile of money.

Bill Belichick: All season long the chatter was that Belichick's defense would hinder the Patriots from winning a Super Bowl. Maybe that's true -- we'll find out next Sunday against Baltimore. But the the Broncos were supposed to have a physical running game right? And the blew up the Steelers defense? Right? Belichick showed why he's a defensive genius and one of the all-time great coaches in that blowout.

Hakeem Nicks: Thanks to Victor Cruz' breakout season in 2011, Nicks kind of got loss in the shuffle. He shouldn't have: his performance against Green Bay was stunning, and broke off a 66-yard, gazelle-like touchdown run and then broke the Packers spirit with a Hail-Mary catch at the end of the half. His final line? Seven catches, 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Jenkins got abused by Davis all day long. (Getty Images)

Losers

Malcolm Jenkins: You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone? (Screenshots via Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles.)

Jacoby Jones
:
Dude tried to field a punt off a hop inside his own 20 on the Texans second possession of the game, didn't field it cleanly, got rocked, fumbled the ball and gave the Ravens a free touchdown. In case you missed it, the Ravens won by seven points.

Cam Cameron
: With the Texans holding two timeouts, 3:04 left in the game and the Ravens up four and in the Texans red zone, Cameron called for two pass plays. Both passes were incomplete and the Ravens kicked a field goal with 2:56 left. They burned eight seconds and didn't make the Texans use a timeout. Then on third and a half-inch with 1:38 remaining, Cameron called for a Vonta Leach run, instead of having his fullback block for Ray Rice. There never should've been enough time for a second possession for Houston in the first place.

NFL Officials: For two consecutive weekends, the NFL officiating has been, quite simply, terrible. The guys in stripes have a really difficult job, made even more difficult in today's world where jerks take pictures of their televisions and post them to Twitter. But during the NFL playoffs, the quality of work done by the zebras has really highlighted some of the flaws in the way in-game rules are applied in football. Something's gotta change.

Tim Tebow: We'd also accept John Elway or John Fox here, because the offseason's going to be miserable for all three of them despite winning a division title and a playoff game. Tebow's poor showing against the Patriots means everyone's got to wonder if he can be a "real" quarterback for the Broncos and as such, every time Fox, Elway or Tebow get anywhere near a microphone, they'll be asked about Tebow's status. It will unquestionably be annoying by the time next season starts.

State Farm: You guys really going to keep running the "Discount Double Check" commercials for the next month? Because that's going to be more awkward than Pepsi Max running Rex Ryan halftime speeches after the Jets miss the playoffs. (Please don't raise my insurance rates though.)

The Big Questions

 
Plenty of questions still remain about Flacco. (AP)

1. Did Joe Flacco answer his critics on Sunday?
Nope. The playcalling was bad and the Texans have a really good defense, but Flacco looked pretty awful all things considered. His two touchdown passes were nice, but were it not for some sick catches from his receivers, Flacco's numbers (14 of 27 for 176 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) would've been much worse. It's not all his fault this game was so close, but an elite performance would've resulted in a blowout.

2. Should Alex Smith have fallen down before scoring late Saturday?
Yes. This debate livened up our Twitter followers on Saturday evening, but the reality is, with the 49ers down 24-23 and Smith should've fallen to the ground, let the Niners melt the clock, force the Saints to use their timeouts, and the kick a field goal with, in the best-case scenario, no time remaining. Instead, Drew Brees got the ball back with 1:51 remaining and had time to score. Of course, he also scored too quickly, giving Smith time to cement his comeback legacy in San Francisco, but that's beside the point. Smith going down could have iced the game away, we just wouldn't have gotten all that drama.

3. Is it time for Gregg Williams to get out of town?
Probably. Williams shouldn't be the scapegoat for New Orleans lack of success, because he called a heck of a game on Saturday against the 49ers. With the Saints offense struggling, Williams defense kept the Saints in the game by limiting the 49ers points off turnovers. But because Smith drove the Niners to two scores in the last 150 seconds, you can bet that Williams will get a lot of the blame. He's got an easy out by joining Jeff Fisher with the Rams and he should probably jump on that.

4. Do we need full-time referees?
NO. Wilson and I batted this idea around some on chat (and talked about it on the podcast), but why would giving referees more money and job security equate to an incentive for them to be right more often? It doesn't. Giving them more time to learn the rules and properly apply them? Yeah, that would be great. It would also be great if the NFL made applying the rules in a fashion that doesn't screw up the game more practical, but that's another story for another day.

5. Is being a wild-card in the playoffs better?
Maybe? I dunno. I do know this: you look at the Packers and you look at the Giants. One team basically got three weeks off and cooled down from an unholy hot streak. The other team squeaked into the playoffs and got hot, playing their best football at the right time. The latter team, the Giants, are still alive.

6. Is Tom Coughlin still on the hot seat?

LOL. Also, LOL at Giants fans who wanted Coughlin fired and/or put on the hot seat when the Giants were losing to the Saints-49ers-Packers in succession, with a surprising win against the Patriots mixed in. Give the dude an extension already, he deserves it.

7. Will you please provide a picture of Andy Reid in the Punt/Pass/Kick contest?
Thought you'd never ask. Every single time the contest winners are shown on television, I can't help but think of this amazing photo:



8. How good can the 49ers offense be?

Very good. I think -- the progression of Vernon Davis and Alex Smith over the course of the season leads me to believe Harbaugh would be smart to bring his signal caller back, keep some continuity and let the pieces on the offense grow into the system even more, like they did throughout the year. It's quite possible they could end up being potent.

GIF O' THE WEEK

Decent catch by Arian Foster here:

Worth 1,000 Words


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