Tag:Jerricho Cotchery
Posted on: February 29, 2012 5:38 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 8:06 pm
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Steelers set to release WR Hines Ward

Hines Ward was Super Bowl XL MVP and the face of the Steelers  for more than a decade. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

After 14 seasons, 1,000 receptions and 85 touchdowns, Hines Ward's tenure in Pittsburgh is all but over. It was once a matter of if, now it's when, and team president Art Rooney II provided those details Wednesday.

“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Rooney told the team’s website.

“Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines’ accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best.”

Ward released a statement of his own (via NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano):

"This isn't how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago," he said. "I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life. To Mr. Rooney, thank you for allowing me to play for one of the greatest organizations in the world. To my fans and in particular, Steeler Nation, thank you for your support and all the great memories. I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold. I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac tweeted Wednesday that the organization felt that Ward had nothing left.

gerrydulac
Decision to release 86 was not about money. He could've offered to play for free and wouldn't matter. Coaches feel he can't play anymore.
2/29/12 7:12 PM

gerrydulac
Ward would have been Sunday inactive if Steelers kept him. They didn't want him taking a roster spot at expense of developing young player.
2/29/12 7:14 PM

The 2011 season was Ward's worst since his rookie campaign; he lost his starting job to second-year standout Antonio Brown and managed just 46 catches for 381 yards (and a career-worst 8.3 YPC average), and two touchdowns. Part of Ward's decline can be blamed on age (he's 35), but he also suffered a severely sprained ankle in Week 4's loss to the Texans.

Whatever the explanation, the Steelers are ready to move on without him, which means that the 2012 offense will feature quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace -- assuming the team extends his contract (he won't be franchised, at least to hear general manager Kevin Colbert at last week's combine). The three wideouts, none older than 25, constitute one of the league's most dynamic receiver corps, which should make new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's job a lot easier.

Ward, meanwhile, thinks he has a few years left. It just won't be in Pittsburgh -- unless the team re-signs him later this the summer, perhaps an option given that there are currently three wide receivers on the roster. More likely: the Steelers make a run at Jerricho Cotchery, who they signed to a one-year deal before the 2011 season to be the No. 5 wideout. By December, he had also surpassed Ward on the depth chart and proved to be a capable underneath target and a willing blocker.

While the Steelers continue their free agency and draft preparations, and Ward contemplates his NFL future, the conversation will inevitably turn to the latter's Hall of Fame credentials. In our minds, he's a lock. Then again, we don't have a vote.

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Posted on: January 6, 2012 9:32 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Steelers wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It hardly seems fair that a 12-win team has to go on the road to face an eight-win team, but the NFL’s playoff seeding system is designed to reward division champions. That includes the rare division champion that enters the postseason on a three-game losing streak.

Here’s a breakdown of what many expect to be a massacre.


1. Broncos offense has no prayer
We covered everything there is to know about the Broncos’ offense last week in preparation for their Week 17 bout with the Chiefs. Nothing has changed. It’s clear that press-man coverage can overwhelm Denver’s passing attack, as the receivers don’t have the quickness to separate and Tim Tebow doesn’t have the mechanics, timing or confidence to fit balls into tight windows.

It’s rare to see the zone-based Steelers play press-man coverage, though they did so with great success against the Patriots in Week 8. Usually, shutdown corner Ike Taylor (yes, SHUTDOWN corner) plays press coverage against the opposing team’s top wideout (in this case, Demaryius Thomas), while William Gay, Keenan Lewis and/or Bryant McFadden play a variation of zone on the other side.

If Dick LeBeau wants to bait Tebow into interceptions, the Steelers may still stick with their traditional approach:

This shot from Super Bowl XLV illustrates the Steelers’ traditional approach to coverage: Ike Taylor playing press-man against the opposing team’s top receiver (Greg Jennings) on one side, with the rest of the secondary playing zone on the other (you can tell it’s zone by how cornerback Bryant McFadden is lined up off the line and with his body open slightly towards the inside).

The Broncos don’t have a threatening tight end, so Tebow would be throwing into heavy zones against athletic corners. If LeBeau wants to pressure Tebow with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and bait him into the usual slew of incompletions, he can play man-to-man. Whatever LeBeau chooses will work; we’re talking about the league’s top-ranked pass defense against the league’s most inept passing quarterback.

Lately, Denver’s read-option run game has still produced yardage, though only because of the high volume of carries. If the Broncos couldn’t muster more than three points by running against Kansas City’s 3-4, they can’t be expected to muster ANY points running against Pittsburgh’s.

A key to Denver’s run game is getting offensive linemen clean to inside linebackers. No three-man defensive line does a better job at protecting its inside linebackers than Pittsburgh’s. That’s why Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior are able to play with their ears pinned back.

2. A roll of the dice
Because it feels a little too simplistic to declare the Broncos’ chances at moving the ball to be zero (even if they are), we’ll use this section to present creative ideas for how the Broncos might – MIGHT – manage to muster a semblance of offense on Sunday.

The first idea is to just throw deep and hope luck tilts your way (a cornerback falls down, a ref calls pass interference, two Steelers collide while going after the same easy interception, etc.). Don’t count on Denver doing this, though. It goes against everything John Fox has stood for since turning to Tebow, and it also requires that, you know, Tebow actually throw downfield accurately.

Another idea is to draw up trick plays. Lots of trick plays. Problem is, a defense as experienced and disciplined as Pittsburgh’s is not going to bite. You might make chance-taker Troy Polamalu pay for a gamble once or twice, but more likely he’ll make YOU pay even more for YOUR gamble.

A third (and stronger) idea is to run the ball outside. In the past, outside running was guaranteed to fail against the Steelers. This season, however, Timmons and Farrior have not been as sharp in lateral run defense. That’s why Pittsburgh has struggled a bit against zone teams. The Broncos no longer have a zone run game (it left shortly after Shanahan departed), but it might not be crazy to hastily install one given that their usual approach will not work anyway.

Denver’s lack of running back speed is an issue here, but again: their usual approach will not work anyway!

3. Pittsburgh’s passing attack
As lopsided as this matchup seems, the final score could be tight given that Pittsburgh’s offense might have trouble against John Fox’s and Dennis Allen’s defense. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers come out throwing in an effort to build a quick lead that forces the Broncos to go to the air early.
 
Against the Browns last week, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians chose to spread the field with 3 x 2 empty backfield sets on passing downs. This may have been to get the ball out quickly so that Ben Roethlisberger would not have to make plays on his bum ankle. Though Roethlisberger has gotten much better in his presnap reads and sudden decision making, his natural inclination is still to extend the play. Thus, Big Ben still held the ball plenty long last week.

He won’t be able to do that this week, though – not under the same gameplan, anyway. Offensive tackles Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert may have been be able to handle Browns defensive ends Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard on an island (Sheard just barely, actually), but they won’t have a snowball’s chance against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

If Roethlisberger is to buy time for his receivers downfield, his offensive tackles will need running backs and tight ends to chip-block, if not stay in completely and double-team. Something else to keep in mind: Miller, D.J. Williams and Brian Dawkins all excel as inside blitzers. Blitz pickup is an area in which the Steelers interior line, particularly left guard Chris Kemoeatu, struggles.

Brown's emerged as one of Pittsburgh's best receiving options. (Getty Images)

4. The passing matchups
Even though protection could be a problem, it’s possible the Steelers will still spread the field and let Roethlisberger run around and make plays. We’ve seen them before give up piles of sacks this way but make up for it with big plays.

The Broncos have a good secondary now that undrafted rookie Chris Harris has blossomed at nickel corner, but they’re thin and inexperienced at safety and vulnerable with Jonathan Wilhite at dime corner.

If the Broncos decide to eliminate Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh’s new No. 1 receiver) with Champ Bailey, there will be big-play opportunities for Mike Wallace against the limited-ranged safeties. If Bailey defends Wallace, Andre Goodman can spar with Brown but probably not for as long as Roethlisberger can extend the play. Chris Harris will be tested by Emmanuel Sanders’ speed, and Wilhite will have fits trying to defend Jerricho Cotchery underneath.

As much as the Broncos might like their secondary, they can’t expect it to be the league’s first unit that sustains coverage against the Steelers’ prolonged improvisational plays. Thus, when the Broncos do blitz, don’t be surprised if they bring the kitchen sink to ensure that Roethlisberger goes down or throws hot.

5. Steelers run game
Rashard Mendenhall will be missed, but the Steelers can tread water with Isaac Redman. The third-year running back doesn’t have Mendenhall’s corner-turning speed and acceleration, but in confined areas he shows looser hips than you’d guess. Where Pittsburgh’s backfield woes will really show up is in the pass game. Mewelde Moore’s absence (foot injury) leaves them without a prominent openfield dumpoff receiver.

But this is a relatively minor issue. The primary job of the Steelers’ backfield is to pound the rock when called upon, which Redman and straight-line back John Clay are capable of doing. Also, Pittsburgh’s offensive line, especially with the superb pull-blocking skills of Kemoeatu, is capable of moving the pile down the stretch.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 25, 2011 1:06 pm
 

Ward unlikely to regain starting job anytime soon

Ward puts the team first before individual accomplishments. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

For the first time since Week 1 of the 2000 season, a span of 184 games, a healthy Hines Ward wasn't in the Steelers' starting lineup when Pittsburgh faced Cincinnati on November 13. Instead, second-year wideout Antonio Brown replaced Ward and that doesn't look to change anytime soon.

Through 10 games, Mike Wallace leads the team with 53 catches and 922 receiving yards. Brown is second (44 catches, 626 yards), followed by tight end Heath Miller (38, 465) and then Ward (27, 268).

But Ward, one of the most popular and productive players in Steelers history, is just 19 catches short of 1,000 for his career, which has been accomplished just seven times previously. With six games left on the schedule, it's reasonable to think he could reach the milestone by January, but as his role diminishes so too will the opportunities.

Days after Brown replaced him against the Bengals, Ward was accepting of his new role.

"It's not about me, it's about the team," he said on November 16, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The bottom line is, we won the (Cincinnati) game. …

"It's a different role. I am still going to be the biggest cheerleader because I want to win. Whatever I can do to help this team win ball games, giving advice or when my number is called (by) making a play. Just continue doing that and have a positive attitude."


The Pittsburgh Steelers will prepare to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. Who will come out with the victory? NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz take a look at this matchup.

But it wasn't just the case of Brown starting over Ward. Jerricho Cotchery, signed to a one-year deal during free agency, got Ward's snaps as the slot receiver, and he even scored a touchdown against the Bengals. But Cotchery called Ward "my biggest supporter."

Wallace, who Ward has taken under his wing, added: "As soon as I'd get to the sidelines, he'd be like, 'You should have done this, you should have done that. I saw this, I saw that,'. He sees everything and knows everything that's going on. He's like an extra coach out there. "When you have a guy that's been here and the situation he's in and he's still positive about it, how can I come to the sidelines and be down or mad or have anything bad to say?"

Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked Tuesday about Ward's place on the depth chart.

"That is to be determined," he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. … "Obviously, Hines is a very capable man, as are some others. We will do what is best in terms of giving us an opportunity to win this game."

Ward's touches could be even tougher to come by going forward. One of Pittsburgh's other young wideouts, Emmanuel Sanders, is expected to return to the lineup either this Sunday or next after missing time with a knee injury.

For now, though, Ward seems to have come to terms with his fate. And it hasn't gone unnoticed.

“On this team, there are a lot of great players who have an opportunity to put up big numbers and stats,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, via the Beaver County Times. “As Coach (Arians) touched on, for us to be a true Super Bowl contender, people have to put their own personal goals and Pro Bowl things and things like that on the back shelf for the betterment of the team. I think Hines has done that.”

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Posted on: August 28, 2011 5:39 pm
 

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever



Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Steelers may have annual issues along its offensive line, but the passing game has been among the NFL's best during the Ben Roethlisberger era. Since drafting him 11th overall in 2004, Pittsburgh has ranked no worse than ninth in passing efficiency in six of seven seasons (as determined by the friendly eggheads at FootballOusiders.com).

But the outfit historically known for the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach to matriculating the ball down the field has been a mediocre running team over that time (their average rushing efficiency rank since '04: 14th in the NFL). If the first three weeks of the preseason is any indication, there's a great chance both units will improve in 2011, which is scary news for the rest of the AFC.

Roethlisberger has been near-flawless in three games that have no bearing on the standings but provide a glimpse of what's to come once the final scores count. He's 21 of 31 (67.7%) for 361 yards and four touchdowns, hasn't come close to throwing an interception, and his passer rating is an otherworldly 146.6. And while Ben's accustomed to showing well in the preseason, and having it carry over to the regular season (notable exceptions: offseasons involving near-death motorcycle accidents and league-sanctioned four-game suspensions), 2011 could be the year he unanimously joins the conversation as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.


PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 27: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during a pre-season game on August 27, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Part of it will be because he's healthier than he was a year ago when the Steelers went 12-4 and lost to the Packers in the Super Bowl. But he also seems to be making better reads, throwing more accurately and playing with more poise. Oh, and not only is this the best group of pass-catchers Roethlisberger's ever seen in Pittsburgh, but arguably the most complete wide receivers corps in the league. (In regards to the former, the bar isn't particularly high -- this is a man whose three best wideouts during the 2005 Super Bowl season included Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El. The latter claim requires some justification, however, and that's what we aim to do.)

Roethlisberger still has Ward, but there's also the most explosive deep threat in the game, Mike Wallace; two young players who came out of nowhere to add depth as rookies last season in Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown; and recently signed Jerricho Cotchery.

A year ago, Wallace had 60 catches for 1,275 yards (a mind-blowing 21.0-yards-per-catch average) and 10 touchdowns. And while defenses would love to double- and triple-team him this season, they'll do so at their own risk because Brown has emerged as Wallace 2.0, but possibly more dynamic. He showed glimpses of talent during the second half of 2010, no play more memorable than his catch during the AFC Divisional Game against the Ravens, a 58-yarder on third and forever that sealed Baltimore's fate and Pittsburgh's place in the conference finals.

Heading into last offseason, Sanders was ahead of Brown on the depth chart. For the season, Sanders had 28 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and played well enough to take the No. 3 WR job from Randle El. But a broken foot suffered during the Super Bowl, and a stress fracture in his other foot that required surgery earlier this month, has kept Sanders on the sidelines while Brown has played like a Pro Bowler -- he has nine receptions for 230 yards (a 25.6 YPC average) and three touchdowns in the preseason, and he also ripped off a 51-yard kickoff return to start Saturday's game against the Falcons. Brown finished the evening with four catches for 137 yards, including a pair of touchdown grabs, one for 77 yards, the other for 44 yards.

More Steelers News

Three years ago, shortly after the Steelers used their first two draft picks on running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked why the team chose not to bolster the offensive line to protect Roethlisberger. At the time, his response might've sounded flippant, but in retrospect, the man knew what he was talking about.

“There are two schools of thought to protect a quarterback,” Tomlin said at the time. ”You can get linemen or you can get him weapons — people that people have to account for. Obviously with [the Mendenhall] pick, we’ve gotten a weapon. So what he is able to do on a football field will help our quarterback and our football team.”

The Steelers have drafted offensive linemen in early rounds since -- center Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year, and because of injuries, rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert has seen time with the first team this preseason.

But Tomlin's larger point remains: defenses can choose to blitz Roethlisberger silly because of Pittsburgh's unexceptional offensive line, but it'll come at a cost in the form of big plays. On the other hand, defenses can choose to crowd the line of scrimmage in the hopes that the Steelers run, something they did with alarming frequency on first downs during the first half of 2010 (some of that can be attributed to a Roethlisberger-less offense during the first month of the season). But the Steelers now have the weapons to do something other than run Mendenhall into an eight-man wall.

But the running game, which has lagged behind the passing game in recent years, could also be effective this season. Part of the reason is that Mendenhall and Isaac Redman continue to get better. But it's also because defenses can't just load up the box to stop the run, and double-team Wallace because Ward and Randle El couldn't beat a linebacker in a foot race.

The emergence of Brown and Sanders, to go along with zone-busters Ward and Cotchery, create the sort of mismatches that lead to a lot of big plays and a ton of points. It will also open up running lanes for Mendenhall and Redman.

Teams will continue to blitz Roethlisberger, at least early in the season, just because he welcomes contact and the line continues to be the offense's weakest link. But at some point in the coming months, defenses might have to rethink that strategy. Eight-man fronts and constant pressure could be a thing of the past, which is what happens when, as Tomlin pointed out back in 2008, you surround your quarterback with a bunch of weapons.

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Posted on: August 5, 2011 3:53 pm
Edited on: August 5, 2011 4:01 pm
 

Chargers reach agreement with WR Malcom Floyd

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Ravens, with a huge need for a big-play wide receiver to line up opposite Anquan Boldin, had an offer on the table for Malcom Floyd*. On Friday, Floyd, who spent the previous seven seasons in San Diego mostly as a backup, re-signed with the Chargers.

Chargers.com reports that the team reached an agreement with Floyd on a two-year deal.

“We have a lot of happy Chargers today with the return of Malcom,” General Manager A.J. Smith said. “He has been an integral part of our team and it’s great to have him back. He is a very talented receiver and that will just add to the continuity of our offensive unit.”

In 2010, Floyd caught 37 passes for 717 yards (19.4 ypc) and 6 TDs. The season before, he hauled in 45 passes for 776 yards (17.2 ypc) and 1 TD. At 6-5, Floyd is an obvious red-zone target, but he's also capable of stretching the field as evidenced by his DeSean Jacksonian yards-per-catch average. He'll rejoin another 6-5 pass-catcher, Vincent Jackson, as well as Patrick Crayton, Kelley Washington, Laurent Robinson and highly touted rookie Vincent Brown as potential options for QB Philip Rivers.

Floyd will likely be the second or third WR in a Chargers' offense that features tight end Antonio Gates and one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Ravens, who have been trying desperately to find legit pass-catching options for young QB Joe Flacco. As it stands, Baltimore has Boldin, rookie Torrey Smith and, well, not much else. Thirty-seven-year-old Derrick Mason could return (despite his age, he has been productive for the Ravens), and perhaps the organization will make a run at recently released Jets wideout Jerricho Cotchery.

We have yet to play a preseason game but Ravens fans are already questioning if Flacco can lead the team to a Super Bowl. We're not absolving Flacco of blame in Baltimore's recent playoff losses, but it would certainly be a lot easier for him if he had someone to throw the ball to.

* UPDATE: According to Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens had trouble clearing enough cap room for Floyd.

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Posted on: August 4, 2011 1:14 pm
 

Plaxico injures ankle; Mason in, Cotchery out?

Posted by Will Brinson

The Jets wide receiver corps is in serious flux as the head into 2011. With the exception of Santonio Holmes -- who also signed a five-year deal worth $50 million in the offseason, if you want to count that -- it's entirely likely that the group catching balls from Mark Sanchez will look entirely different.

For starters, there's the presence of Plaxico Burress who, by the by, is dealing with an injured ankle after "tweaking" it on Wednesday while "running around, trying to stay sharp." And it's not even the same ankle injury he's deal with in the past. So that should be concerning, right?

Well, coach Rex Ryan said, per our Jets Rapid Reporter Lisa Zimmerman, it's "nothing serious."

And, according to Burress, if this were a game week, he'd be able to practice and/or play.

In other news, the Jets appear on the verge of signing former Ravens wideout (and therefore "teammate" of Ryan's) Derrick Mason, who was cut by Baltimore during their Borders-like employee cuts last week.

To make room for Mason, it looks like Jerricho Cotchery will get the axe.

"If [Mason] passes the physical, he's on the team and I won't be," Cotchery said, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. "It's time to move on."

So that means in a very short time, the Jets will have gone from Santonio Holmes/Braylon Edwards/Jerricho Cotchery/Brad Smith to Santonio Holmes/Plaxico Burress/Derrick Mason in terms of their wide-receiver depth chart.

If that happens, is that an upgrade?

No, I'm pretty sure it's not. In fact, there's a pretty good chance that it's a huge downgrade.

Cotchery was praised last year for his toughness, despite playing the slot and not getting any of the love that Edwards/Holmes did. And while Santonio might be one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL, he's going to see a lot more coverage coming his way if the only two options on the field are both 30-plus, with one of them just a few months removed from a lengthy absence from football.

All that being said, you can't fault the Jets for some of the moves -- the Santonio signing is justified as long as he doesn't get suspended, Edwards is a troublemaker and not worth the money they might give him, and there's no way they could have paid Brad Smith what the Bills gave and justified it.

But giving Burress $3 million guaranteed and dumping a locker room leader and consistent on-field presence like Cotchery? That reeks of a mistake, even if Cotchery's dealing with offseason back surgery.

Fortunately for the wideout, he's probably got options. As I noted on Twitter, both the Panthers and Chargers stand out as great options for Cotchery. The Panthers could use veteran wide receiver help to draw coverage away from Steve Smith and mentor David Gettis and Brandon LaFell.

Cotchery was Philip Rivers' No.-1 target in college and the Chargers are currently looking for someone to line up opposite Vincent Jackson.

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Posted on: March 23, 2011 5:38 pm
 

Jerricho Cotchery recovering from back surgery

Posted by Andy Benoit
J. Cotchery (US Presswire)
Jerricho Cotchery’s 2010 season was even more impressive than originally thought. The Jets received revealed to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York that he played with a herniated disc for much of the year. Cotchery underwent back surgery (a microdiscectomy) on February to address the issue.

Doctors shaved off a piece of the disc that was pressing against a nerve. Cotchery had been battling shooting pain down his leg and into his foot, particularly after the injury escalated in October.

"It wasn't a good feeling," he said. "It was pretty painful. I wouldn't want any football player to have to go through that."
Cotchery should be fine for 2011, though the lockout is complicating his rehab.

"That's the toughest thing, not being around the people that know my body the best," he said. "I can't even talk to [the Jets' trainers], that's the crazy part about it. I like the place I go to, but everything I need is in the Jets' facility."

Cotchery’s value to the Jets could soon escalate. Starters Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes are both free agents. And so is reserve Brad Smith. Holmes figures to return, but Edwards might be tougher to keep. If one of them gets away, Cotchery would likely reclaim his starting spot.

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Category: NFL
Posted on: December 23, 2010 1:12 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2010 1:20 pm
 

Key Matchup Wk16: Jets offense vs. Bears defense

Posted by Andy Benoit

The discussion about the Jets has shifted after last week’s game in Pittsburgh. No longer are we talking about Mark Sanchez crumbling before our eyes. Brian Schottenheimer’s simplified Week 15 gameplan – more bubble screens, quick slants and throws with defined reads – helped the young quarterback regain his confidence and rhythm.M. Sanchez (US Presswire)
B. Urlacher (US Presswire)
But just because Sanchez was solid against the Steelers – and solid was all he was – doesn’t mean we can simply dismiss his struggles the previous two weeks. This Sunday still presents a “prove it” game for the second-year pro. The Jets come in with the league’s sixth-ranked run offense. The Bears have the league’s third-ranked run defense. The Jets won’t be able to run at will this Sunday; on more than one occasion, they’ll have to rely on Sanchez’s arm.

The difference between this week and last week for Sanchez will be in his throwing lanes. Quick strikes against a 3-4 blitzing D like Pittsburgh’s are very different than quick strikes against a 4-3 zone D like Chicago’s. The Bears have the most athletic pass defending linebackers in football. Brian Urlacher’s range down the middle of the field is arguably the most crucial staple in Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme. Lance Briggs’ speed in the flats gives Chicago’s front seven a unique playmaking dimension. When Sanchez needs to regain his comfort, he tends to look for tight end Dustin Keller. But the very nature of Chicago’s coverage scheme, highlighted by the star linebackers, takes away the simple passes over the middle and in the flats. Thus, there’s no guarantee that Keller, Jerricho Cotchery and LaDainian Tomlinson will be a surefire safety valve for Sanchez on Sunday.

The way to beat the Bears is to expose their limited safeties by seeking big plays through the air. Chris Harris is essentially a fourth linebacker; rookie Major Wright is at his best playing downhill and attacking the box; Danieal Manning has range but lacks awareness.

For the Jets, it’s key to force these guys to run away from the line of scrimmage and into space (where they’ll have to read route combinations). The Bear cornerbacks are stiff, plodding athletes (by cornerback standards). Those corners shouldn’t have much trouble with Braylon Edwards, but shifty, speedy Santonio Holmes is a whole other story.

The Jets will need multiple big plays downfield from Holmes in order to win this game. Such plays tend to be slow-developing, which puts added pressure on the offensive line. With occasional help from a tight end or fullback, D’Brickashaw Ferguson can hang with Julius Peppers. But on the other side, New York must overcome the glaring mismatch of backup right tackle Wayne Hunter against underrated defensive end Israel Idonije.

The Jet and Bear defenses, more than most defenses, thrive off turnovers. Last week’s Jets-Steelers game was free of all turnovers. If this week’s Jets-Bears game follows a similar pattern, the outcome will hinge on whether the Jet passing game can generate big plays.

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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