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Tag:Julio Jones
Posted on: January 10, 2012 11:02 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 18: Taylor needs time machine

Coach Killers is your postseason look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that ends Super Bowl aspirations and begins "So, where should we vacation?" discussions.

By Ryan Wilson

Ike Taylor, Mike Wallace - Steelers

It's not a stretch to say that cornerback Ike Taylor had his worst game as a professional at the worst possible time. In fact, he said as much after he spent Sunday afternoon helplessly chasing on-target Tim Tebow passes to Demaryius Thomas. By the time it was over, Thomas had 204 receiving yards, including the game-winning touchdown grab on the first play in overtime. (Incidentally, overtime took less time than explaining the new overtime rules.)

Understandably, Taylor, who a lot of people (us included) thought had a Pro Bowl-caliber season right up until the moment of the Steelers-Broncos kickoff, was upset and saddened by his performance. According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, after the game Taylor "sat in front of a ripped-up locker, staring blankly down at the floor."


Hey, at least the locker didn't outrun him to the end zone.

A day after choosing to not talk to the media (and we don't blame him), Taylor took to Twitter to take responsibility for what transpired in Denver.

"I apologize for playing the worst game at the wrong time apologize to my teammates steelernation and family. Luv y'all to def."

There is no doubt that Taylor's performance had everything to do with the outcome, but wide receiver Mike Wallace deserves some mention here, too.

The former third-round pick out of Ole Miss spent much of his first three seasons running go-routes past defenders who couldn't believe just how fast he was. At the beginning of the 2011 season, after Wallace had 16 touchdowns in 20 starts, the joke was that Ben Roethlisberger couldn't overthrow him deep. And for the first eight games or so that proved to be true.

But a confluence of events changed that over the final two months: the emergence of Antonio Brown, new defensive strategies to slow Wallace, and Ben Roethlisberger's ankle injury, which hampered his ability to throw accurately down the field, all affected Wallace's productivity. But the biggest problem was that Wallace just wasn't playing well.

A microcosm of his inconsistency was on display against the Broncos. With the Broncos leading 7-6, Roethlisberger completed what looked like a 52-yard pass to Wallace that was eminently catchable except for that Wallace didn't actually catch it. Denver challenged the ruling on the field, won, and Pittsburgh punted a play later.

But that wasn't the worst of it. With the Steelers trailing 17-6 in the third quarter, Wallace dropped a Roethlisberger lateral that was recovered by the Broncos on the Pittsburgh 18-yard line. Because the officials had blown the play dead it couldn't be reviewed which effectively means that horrible officiating had saved Wallace, who had dropped another throw (even if it would appear in the box score as only an incompletion).  If the play is called properly on the field, it's game over. Denver was already in field goal range and Pittsburgh seemed incapable of moving the ball on offense.

Yes, Taylor had his troubles Sunday, but Wallace wasn't far behind.

Atlanta Falcons offense

We could jus stay "everybody in the Falcons organization is responsible for the debacle in the Meadowlands" and just get on with our day. And in fact, the defense is a close 1a) for coach-killing honors this week because their third-ranked rush defense allowed the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to go to town on the ground (Football Outsiders ranked New York's run game 20th.) 

But it's Altanta's offense that never gave this team a chance. Atlanta scored two (TWO!) points, and technically, that was thanks to Eli Manning throwing the ball to no one out of his own end zone. Matt Ryan, meanwhile, was 24 of 41 for a measly 199 yards. His leading receiver on the day was rookie first-rounder Julio Jones (seven catches, 64 yards).

While there's no disputing that Jones had a great rookie season (54 receptions, 959 yards, 8 TDs), he wasn't worth what the Falcons gave up to get him on draft day 2011.

Quick refresher: Back in April, Cleveland traded the sixth-overall pick to the Atlanta in exchange for the Falcons' 2011 first, second and fourth-round picks, as well as a first and fourth-rounder in 2012.

Wild Card Recap
Atlanta promptly selected Julio Jones, who along with A.J. Green were considered can't-miss prospects. (And at the end of the season we can agree that they were just that.)

It's hard to fault the Browns for making that deal with the Falcons. After all, on draft day, New England coach Bill Belichick told Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, "Thomas, I'm just telling you as a friend. I wouldn't do it."

Belichick added that he thought Jonathan Baldwin was "just as good if not better" than Jones. Which leads us to this: the Browns weren't wrong to trade out of the No. 6 pick, but they really could've used a playmaker. And the Falcons could've settled for Baldwin, kept their draft picks, and been just as well off. (This has nothing to do with Jones' performance against the Giants, more a commentary on how the Falcons went all in and lost.) 

You could argue that the Jones deal wasn't a one-year, all-or-nothing proposition. Except that it sorta is. Yes, Jones will be in Atlanta for years but the trade was made because Dimitroff thought it gave the Falcons the best chance to win now. Why else would you give up a '12 first-rounder, too? 

Put differently: could Atlanta have made it to the playoffs with Baldwin, who went late in Round 1, instead of Jones (and they would've still had their 2011 second-rounder)? If you're willing to accept that as a possibility, then this season was a failure from the perspective of the Jones trade.

Another way to think about it: let's say there's a three-year horizon on the deal. Are the Falcons, as currently constituted, favorites to win the Super Bowl next season? Of course not. They'll be in the conversation as one of the NFC's playoff-caliber teams but not much else. Again, would that conversation be any different if they had Baldwin -- and a full complement of draft picks -- over Jones? Not likely.

And that's the point. This isn't an indictment on Jones' ability. Clearly, he's a special player. But the Falcons' front office took a gamble, it failed, and now, like 24 other teams, they're sitting on their couch wondering what happened.

Detroit Lions defense

It's hard to fault anybody faced with the task of slowing Drew Brees and the Saints offense, but as Lions head coach Jim Schwartz mentioned several times during his post-game comments Saturday: missed tackles, the inability to get off the field on third down and dropped interceptions (not to mention the happy whistle that negated a possible Lions defensive touchdown) conspired against a Detroit team that otherwise exorcised any remnants of Matt Millen's presence in the organization.

"Well, there is no question that they are a good team," Schwartz said. "They're 13-3, scoring 44 points a game (on average the last four weeks) and undefeated at home. There is no question that they are a good team. But when you face a team like that, you can't give them second opportunities."

And that's it right there. The difference between advancing in the playoffs and packing your bags one last time until minicamps usually comes down to a play, maybe two. There's no guarantee that the outcome would've been different if the Lions had twice picked off Brees, or had been allowed to return the Saints fumble for what looked like a touchdown, but it wouldn't have hurt.

“Should have been a touchdown because every other time in this league they let that play go and they don’t blow the whistle,” Schwartz said. “We were a victim of that last week (when officials ruled Titus Young didn't have two feet down on a touchdown catch and the Lions didn't have a challenge left to dispute the call) and for some reason in this game they decided to blow the whistle when that would have been seven points in this.”

Brees' numbers were, well, Brees-ian -- 33 of 43 for 466 yards and three touchdowns. But it will be the two interceptions that got away that will haunt Schwartz for some time.

"We were able to score on offense, missed a couple opportunities there but it was really more about missed opportunities on defense," he said during his Monday end-of-season press conference.

"With a team like the Saints, they are going to get some yards, but you got to find a way to stop drives and that is going to come from third downs that is going to come from turnovers. We stopped some drives in the first half with turnovers and had some other plays that we didn't make. We didn't do a very good job on third down. Even when we stopped them on third down, we allowed the conversion on fourth down and they were able to keep drives alive and then big plays, particularly in coverages that we shouldn't give up big plays. It just made it that we couldn't score enough with them because of those things."

Andy Dalton - Bengals

We could just as easily give this to Pacman Jones for getting toasted by Andre Johnson for a touchdown, or Chris Crocker for getting trucked on the way to the end zone by Arian Foster, but it was Andy Dalton, a rookie in name only, who played one of his worst games of the season.

A long day for Dalton. (Getty Images)
When it was over, he was 27 of 42 for 257 yards with three interceptions, although one -- the "wait, what just happened?!" pick-six from rookie defensive lineman J.J. Watt -- doesn't count. Dalton will throw thousands of NFL passes and he'll never ever see anything like that again.

Watts' acrobatics aside, Dalton was off and it played no small role in the outcome. To be fair, he was in the hospital three days before the game because of the flu, but this is the time of year when no one's healthy. Just ask the Texans' quarterbacks.

The Bengals remain winless in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis (the sad truth: Cincy hasn't won a postseason game since 1990 -- Dalton was three), but unlike previous teams, this one is young, full of promise and without egos. Which means no offseason reality shows or MLS tryouts or bull-riding stunts. Just a focus on getting better.

“I don’t want to end in the first round of the playoffs anymore,” Dalton said Monday, as he talked about becoming more of a leader next year. “You get to come back and critique all of the little things that you did in the season,” Dalton said. “You get to work with the guys and not just come into training camp where you have two weeks before your first preseason game. It will be nice to come in and watch stuff, try to get better and do a few things with everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page.”

“I’ll fly wherever he needs me,” Green said of Dalton and their offseason workout plans.

That used to be Carlson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco. Now it's Dalton and Green, who after just one season have the potential to be much better than their predecessors.

“[The past 12 months have] been a freaking whirlwind,” Dalton admitted. “Starting with the Rose Bowl, getting ready for the combine, Senior Bowl, pro day, getting drafted, getting married, a couple of weeks later moving up here. It’s been a crazy year. It seems stuff like that happened a long time ago, but its crazy it’s already over. It’s already 2012.”

And training camps are just seven months away.

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:03 am
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Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:30 pm
 

Brian VanGorder bolts Falcons for Auburn DC job

VanGorder left the Falcons for Auburn. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, known for good defenses and a better mustache, left his gig in Atlanta for the same job at Auburn, the team announced on Monday.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News

VanGorder's departure is a bit of a surprise, as the Falcons are coming off a strong defensive season, ranking third in the NFL against the rush and 12th in total yardage allowed. In his four years as coordinator (albeit under a defensive coach in Mike Smith who was hired at the same time), the Falcons defense has steadily improved in most categories, though they did slip in points allowed per game.

Plus, it's not often that a coordinator for an NFL team takes the same job at the college level. Though the title is the same, it's clearly a step down.

Which is why VanGorder's departure may be an indication that changes are coming for the Falcons; Smith is obviously safe, with the Falcons making the playoffs in three of his four years in Atlanta.

But should Mike Mularkey be worried about his job now? The Falcons offensive coordinator has done good work with Matt Ryan in his four years there, and he's up for some nice head-coaching opportunities, but if he doesn't land a gig, it's hard to imagine he wont' be scrutinized heavily in the offseason.

The Falcons offense is good and it has been good. But it's struggled mightily in three playoff games, even though two of the three were against the eventual NFC Champions (we'll let you know about the Giants).

This is nothing more than speculation, of course, but considering that VanGorder's unit outscored Mularkey's unit 2-0 on Sunday in an embarrassing wild-card loss in New York, it's hard to imagine that Thomas Dimitroff and Smith won't take a long, hard look at the coaching staff in preparing to reload for 2012.

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Posted on: January 5, 2012 10:37 am
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Falcons wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Both of these teams seem to be peaking at the right time. The Falcons are looking for their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith-Thomas Dimitroff era; the Giants are looking for a second improbable Super Bowl surge in five years. Here’s the breakdown:


1. Falcons offensive approach
The Falcons spent most of the season trying to figure out if they would remain the two tight end/two-back run-oriented offense that has defined them since Mike Smith and his offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey arrived, or if they’d go ahead and assume the pass-first identity that Thomas Dimitroff committed them to when he traded a bounty for the chance to draft Julio Jones.

In the end, the pass-first approach won out. After fullback Ovie Mughelli went down with a Week 7 knee injury and Jones’ iffy hamstring strengthened, the Falcons drifted to more three-receiver sets and wound up finishing fourth in the league in pass attempts.

They also expanded Ryan’s presnap freedoms. The fourth-year quarterback has considerable power when it comes to audibling and changing protections at the line of scrimmage. In fact, it’s not unheard of for the Falcons to eschew huddling for an entire half. There have been some rough patches – Jones, in particular, was prone to mental mistakes early on – but the Falcons are finally clear about being a passing team.

By working out of three-receiver sets, Atlanta makes it tougher for defenses to double both White and Jones, as doubling both all but ensures Tony Gonzalez gets matched up on a linebacker:

Gonzalez has made a living feasting on zone defenses with an option route. With an option after Gonzalez gets over the top of a linebacker’s coverage, he runs his route based on how the safety plays. A lot of times the safety’s actions are determined by how he’s reading other receivers’ routes. This illustration shows the concept in its simplest terms. Gonzo and his QB must diagnose the defense the same way. That’s never been a problem for Matt Ryan and the veteran TE.

Also, what people don’t think about is how the three-receiver sets can actually help Atlanta’s power run game. Yes, there are fewer lead-blockers or offensive linemen for Michael Turner to run behind, but if Turner can get to the perimeter, he’s more likely to meet a defensive back than linebacker.

Not many defensive backs can’t tackle the 244-pounder one-on-one. This season Turner rushed for 459 yards on 93 attempts (4.9 average) out of three receiver sets.

The Falcons have not completely abandoned their heavy run game (they constantly used a fullback or extra tight end last week, likely to assure that Tampa Bay’s atrocious middle linebacker, Mason Foster, stayed on the field). If they don’t go no-huddle, they’ll be more inclined to bring in Michael Palmer, Reggie Kelly or Mike Cox, rather than stay exclusively in the three-wide spread.

That said, no-huddle would be an excellent tactic for them Sunday, as it could help quell the Meadowlands crowd and slow down that Giants’ pass-rush.

2. New York’s big nickel package
After rookie nickel corner Prince Amukamara got torched for the umpteenth time in early/mid-December, the Giants reverted back to their “big nickel” defensive package, with Antrel Rolle sliding down to slot corner/outside linebacker and either Deon Grant or Tyler Sash coming in to fill Rolle’s safety spot.

Rolle, whom the Cardinals drafted in the first round as a cornerback out of Miami, has the skills to cover slot receivers, and he also happens to be a superb run-defender. In fact, he’s so good that the Giants often used their “big nickel” package against base offensive personnel last season. Rolle doesn’t just offer solidity against the run; he’s also a shrewd blitzer and help-defender in zone coverage. In short, he’s a poor man’s Charles Woodson.

Obviously, though, if the Giants were overwhelmingly better with Rolle at slot corner, they wouldn’t have moved him back to safety to begin this season. Rolle being in the slot does leave the secondary a bit more vulnerable in downfield coverage. Cornerback Corey Webster’s terrific work in solo coverage ameliorates this somewhat, but Aaron Ross is a bit of a concern on the other side.

3. Atlanta’s approach
If Webster defends Julio Jones, Matt Ryan will look for the mismatch with Roddy White. If Webster defends White, Ryan will look for Jones. The Giants may want to give Ryan one more presnap read to dissect by having Webster alternate between defending Jones and White.

Regardless of where Webster lines up, a big focus of Ryan’s will be on getting the ball out quickly. He’s more inclined to find his rhythm with three-and five-step-drops, just as Tony Romo did in the second half Sunday night (it was a mistake for the Cowboys to not go with this approach earlier in that game).

Matt Ryan will be celebrating if he can get the ball out quickly. (Getty Images)

Even if Ryan’s rhythm is not a concern – and maybe it isn’t; the guy is a cerebral, fundamentally sound passer – Atlanta’s pass protection IS. The Falcons’ front five is a mauling, power-based group that is below the NFL’s athletic median.

It holds up because the five cogs are cohesive and familiar to Ryan. But that isn’t enough when facing a technician like Justin Tuck, a lightning bolt like Osi Umenyiora or a freak like Jason Pierre-Paul.

The only way the Falcons can give Ryan enough time to take a shot downfield is if they go max protect. Thus, when the Falcons do get away from their three-wide personnel, they won’t just be looking to pound the rock – they’ll be looking to go deep. The Giants secondary should be on high alert for play-action.

4. Stopping Eli and the passing game
Cris Collinsworth mentioned early in last Sunday night’s broadcast that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan regretted not blitzing Eli Manning more when they met back in Week 14. But in the rematch, Ryan quickly found out that even his most creative blitzes couldn’t faze Manning.

The eighth-year veteran has reached that level where he himself can’t be beat. He simply has too much intelligence, poise and arm strength. Instead, the way to beat Manning is to beat his receivers and hope that leads to Giants mistakes.

Thus, don’t expect the Falcons to do anything more with their pass-rush than the occasional zone blitzes that they’ve used all season. They’re better off focusing on Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The Redskins discombobulated the Giants in Week 15 by bracketing the top receivers with corners underneath and safeties over the top. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was betting that Manning would get impatient and force some balls into those coverages. He was correct.

Stifling the receivers outside is a great approach because it forces Manning to work to his third and fourth reads. He’s more than capable of that….as long as his protection holds up. The Falcons have only a good-but-not-great pass-rush (free agent pickup Ray Edwards has been a disappointment), but it’s a pass-rush that’s capable of exploding at any moment thanks to the supple speed of John Abraham. When Manning’s primary reads are covered, this offense goes from being big-play oriented to dink and dunk. That bodes well for the Falcons (see item 5).

5. Atlanta’s speed
The emergence of Sean Weatherspoon has been huge for Atlanta’s defense. The second-year linebacker is a swift, powerful three-down player who attacks the run and can patrol sideline-to-sideline in underneath coverage. The Falcons have a second player of this ilk in Curtis Lofton, a sound fourth-year pro who lacks Weatherspoon’s elite athletic prowess but compensates with decisive diagnostic skills.

With these two working behind vociferous, quick defensive tackles like Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, it’s not only tough to run on the Falcons, it’s tough to execute screens, dumpoffs and shallow crosses. The intended receiver might catch the pass, but he’s not going far. If he does get away, he still has to get by William Moore and Thomas DeCoud, two of the game’s faster downhill safeties.
 
Overall, this speedy zone defense will be a problem for the Giants, a team that compensated for its bad run game this season by totaling 138 completions to Jake Ballard, Bear Pascoe, Henry Hynoski, D.J. Ware, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

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: December 22, 2011 10:41 am
Edited on: December 22, 2011 10:44 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 16's finer points

Julius Peppers will play a big role in stopping Aaron Rodgers. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Packers vs. Bears
The question is, What did the Chiefs do to make the Packers imperfect, and can the Bears do it too? In short, the Chiefs did nothing special. They ate up clock offensively, running on early downs and sustaining drives with conversions on several third-and-manageable situations. They stayed in base personnel That kept the Packers in their base 3-4, which is plainer than rice cake compared to the blitzes and disguises from their nickel and dime packages. Against that front, Kyle Orton was able to manipulate the defense with play action and eye movement.


Defensively, the Chiefs played press-man against the Packers’ receivers, which the Chiefs had just enough resources to do given Greg Jennings was out. They often rushed only three and forced Aaron Rodgers to beat them from the pocket. Normally, Rodgers would do that with ease, but Sunday he was uncharacteristically jumpy.

The Bears can certainly play this rudimentary style of football – any team can. But that doesn’t mean it will work for them. It hasn’t worked for them yet, after all. Caleb Hanie has been asked to manage the game and has often responded by ruining it (three interceptions in three of his four starts). With no staple ground attack, the Bears haven’t even been in position to play dink and dunk football.

Defensively, Chicago has moved away from the archaic Tampa 2 and towards more press coverage schemes. But their press coverage has not been pure man-to-man, perhaps because of Charles Tillman’s limitations in change-of-direction. It’s doubtful the Bears can simply out-execute the Packers’ receivers; instead they’ll need Julius Peppers & Co. to exploit that injury-riddled offensive line.

Cowboys vs. Eagles
Apparently the 2011 Eagles just needed 12 games to find their identity. The last two weeks they’ve looked like what everyone originally expected them to look like. It’s not that the players are finally getting comfortable in the system, it’s that the system has been tweaked and is finally logical.

Defensively, the Eagles have played more press-coverage and have mixed things up in their pass-rush (for example, aligning Trent Cole and Jason Babin at standup inside linebacker positions behind a two-man line against the Jets – a tactic that generated two of Babin’s three sacks).

They’ve moved Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to dime back, giving the slot nickel duties back to Joselio Hanson. They’ve inserted Casey Matthews back into the lineup, not as a starter but as a nickel linebacker, where he’s been fairly comfortable. Thanks to all this (and more), this defense has given up just 29 points and has recorded 11 sacks over the last two games.

Offensively, Philly’s line is doing a much better job picking up blitzes. The receivers are reading coverages and Michael Vick is playing with patience in the pocket. Vick’s limited football IQ has still led to a few unnecessary hits and missed opportunities, but the good has far outweighed the bad.

LeSean McCoy was bottled up by the Dolphins but, working out of spread formations, he produced 102 yards on 18 carries against the Jets. He’s scored five touchdowns the past two games.

The Eagles won their first meeting with the Cowboys handily. Even on the road this week, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them do that again.

Saints vs. Falcons
No one is playing better than Drew Brees right now, though Matt Ryan has played well enough to make the Falcons this year’s Wild Card Team That Nobody Wants to Face.

After an up and down start, Ryan has gotten comfortable with the Falcons’ new pass-oriented system. That system has had them operating out of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers) in a no-huddle. Ryan has called most of the game at the line of scrimmage.

This has helped Atlanta on several fronts. For one, Michael Turner, though a power back, has been very good running from the wider 2 x 1 receiver formations. In these sets, Turner gets a clearer picture of his running lanes and faces more cornerbacks and fewer linebackers at the second level.

Secondly, the Falcons can create more inside spacing for Tony Gonzalez, which punishes defenses that try to defend him with a linebacker. Defenses that put a safety on Gonzalez are leaving single coverage on either Julio Jones or Roddy White.

Perhaps the best benefit of the hurry-up is, with all the audibling, Ryan controls the pass protections. That’s given Ryan a much better understanding of where the defensive pressure is likely to come from. Ryan’s presnap protection calls will play a huge factor in the outcome Monday night, as the Saints are known for their aggressive blitzes.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 8, 2011 9:17 am
 

Pick-Six Podcast: George Atallah + Thurs Preview

By Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Despite there being no lockout, the NFLPA's been under fire for a number of issues (a lack of HGH testing, the suspensions of some Redskins, Cedric Benson) and union spokesman George Atallah was kind enough to join the show in break down where the union stands on those issues.

We also discuss in depth some of the issues surrounding HGH testing and whether or not it's a viable option for 2011.

Then Ryan and Will break down the Thursday night matchup between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, wondering if the Browns have any shot at all to upset the Steelers and if the trade that gave Atlanta Julio Jones (and the Browns Greg Little) is already a bust for Cleveland, and if Pittsburgh is the best team in the AFC.

The guys also break down Archie Manning's latest comments about Peyton and Andrew Luck and how they relate to the Colts future.

Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?

If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.



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Posted on: December 7, 2011 11:11 pm
 

Colt McCoy could really use a big-play WR

Turns out, Little might be better as a No. 2 receiver. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Cleveland Browns are in desperate need of a big-play wide receiver. They had a chance to land such a player during the 2011 NFL Draft. Instead, they traded the sixth-overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for the Falcons' 2011 first, second and fourth-round picks, as well as a first and fourth-rounder in 2012.

Atlanta promptly selected Julio Jones, who along with A.J. Green were considered can't-miss prospects. Green has been that and then some this season -- 50 catches, 832 yards, seven touchdowns. Jones has battled hamstring issues but has started nine games, catching 34 passes for 566 yards and two touchdowns.

The Browns, meanwhile, used their first-round pick on defensive tackle Phil Taylor and took wideout Greg Little in the second round. Little has struggled with drops this season and is considered something of a project. This has to be disconcerting to Cleveland's second-year quarterback Colt McCoy.

After playing well as a rookie, the expectations were that McCoy would continue to get better in Year 2, especially if the Browns gave him a legit downfield threat to complement Peyton Hillis and Josh Cribbs. That didn't happen.

Instead, McCoy has regressed, the offense has stalled, and the Browns (4-8) are one of the worst teams in the league. On Thursday, they'll face the 9-3 Steelers on NFL Network. Draft guru and color analyst Mike Mayock, who will work the game, spoke about the Browns' offense and McCoy and Little in particular.

"I think the kid's got the deck stacked against him a little bit right now," Mayock told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. "They don't really have anyone like a [Mike] Wallace or [A.J.] Green that can stretch the field for them vertically, and that's a difficult thing when you're a quarterback. Basically, you're kind of playing small ball. You're trying to run the football and move the chains with a lot of play-action and underneath stuff. And at some point, you've got to be more than that."

Mayock was also troubled by the Browns' unwillinginess (inability?) to throw the ball down the field.

"[McCoy's] not making the downfield throws and what's really happening is that teams are starting to squat on the wideouts, and it's difficult to watch when your offense is so compressed. It's an old-school West Coast offense -- a lot of three- and five-step drop, get the ball out of your hand. I understand it, but at some point you've got to watch this kid throw the ball. You've got to see more of the intermediate routes that demonstrate arm strength."

And that goes back to not having a premier pass catcher.

"Maybe the wide receivers aren't getting as much respect as you'd like," he said. "Greg Little is having a good year, but he's dropped four or five passes [actually six] in the two games I've watched. Mohamed Massaquoi is a pretty good receiver and Josh Cribbs obviously has the 'wow' factor, but he's certainly not a polished receiver."

It's hard to fault the Browns for making that deal with the Falcons. After all, on draft day, New England coach Bill Belichick told Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, "Thomas, I'm just telling you as a friend. I wouldn't do it."

Belichick added that he thought Jonathan Baldwin was "just as good if not better" than Jones. Which leads us to this: the Browns weren't wrong to trade out of the No. 6 pick, but they really could've used a playmaker.

As it stands, their offense is so predictable that people half-paying attention know what's coming.

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Posted on: November 13, 2011 11:59 am
 

Belichick didn't like Julio Jones draft-day deal

Posted by Will Brinson

When the Falcons decided to trade a pile of draft picks to the Browns for the rights to Julio Jones, there was reason to be skeptical, considering the bounty. But there was also reason to be optimistic if, as Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff thought, the Falcons were just one piece away from a team that was capable of going the distance.

Jones isn't necessarily guaranteed to be that piece, but he's shown flashes of being the prescription for what ails Atlanta's deep-threat problem. More interesting, though, is franchise-building savant Bill Belichick's reaction to the trade, before it happened, when Dimitroff called him to get his input on the deal.

"Thomas, I'm just telling you as a friend," Belichick told Dimitroff prior to the trade, per the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "I wouldn't do it."

Two things are important to recognize about Belichick's comment, which comes from Michael Holley's book about the coach. One, Belichick felt that Jonathan Baldwin, now a Chiefs wideout, was "just as good if not better." And two, hindsight is always 20/20.

None of that is to say that the deal worked for Atlanta. That still remains to be seen. In fact, their decision to jump up in the draft inherently hinges on their ability to make the playoffs.

What's interesting to me, how Atlanta and Cleveland fare aside, is what would have happened if Belichick, master of the draft-day manuevering, moved up to nab a top-tier prospect.

As I've noted over the past few weeks, the top seven picks in this recent draft are outstanding. Four of those players -- Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, Marcel Dareus and Aldon Smith -- would have an immediate impact on a terrible Patriots defense.

Belichick isn't a guy that jumps into the top 10 of the draft to pay heavily for a player with upside that doesn't equate to guaranteed. But is it possible he missed the economic trend of grabbing the best young players at a much more reasonable cost by virtue of sticking to his guns?

It absolutely is -- Belichick held five picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft. Trading up to grab an upper-tier selection would've been tough, but the Pats could've pulled it off. Guaranteeing that they landed a great player is a totally different ballgame of course, and it's hindsight to assume all the top picks from this year will succeed.

But exploiting the new rookie-wage scale is exactly the Moneyball-esque technique we've come to expect out of the Patriots and somehow, instead, New England's left wondering why Ras-I Dowling is on IR and the defense can't stop anyone.

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