Tag:Julius Peppers
Posted on: February 27, 2012 1:08 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Defensive End Rankings

It sounds like Houston isn't remotely interested in letting Williams test free agency. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the defensive ends.

Most of the categories in our 2012 free agent rankings are fairly straightforward. Running backs are running backs. Tight ends are tight ends. Quarterbacks are quarterbacks. But when it comes to the defensive line, the category gets a little blurry.

Some defensive ends also play defensive tackle. Defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme oftentimes line up as an outside linebacker. That makes ranking them in a single list a bit more complicated. Though some of the following players won’t always line up as a defensive end, the idea that each of these players will be asked to rush the passer remains the same. So, we list them as defensive ends.

1. Mario Williams

Breakdown: Williams quickly caught on to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme where he played as more of an end/linebacker hybrid and recorded five sacks in the only five games in which he participated last year. Williams likely will return to terrorizing tackles and quarterbacks on nearly every snap if he leaves Houston and signs with a team that uses the 4-3. True, Williams is coming off a pectoral muscle injury that sent him to the IR list, but he says he’s healthy and the former No. 1 overall pick is going to be expensive. That said, Texans general manager Rick Smith continues to say that re-signing Williams is one of the teams’ top offseason priorities, though there’s a real question whether Houston has the cap room to do so. Even though Williams has failed to reach double-digits in sacks for the past three years, he still could win the richest defensive player contract of all time if he leaves Houston.

Possible Landing Spots:Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans
Avril made a name for himself in 2011. (Getty Images)

2. Cliff Avril


Breakdown: Although he’s not as well-known as teammates Ndamukong Suh or (probably) Nick Fairley, Avril emerged as one of the nastiest ends in the league this year. His 11 sacks were a career high, and he even managed his first career interception. The problem on Avril’s end is that there’s almost no chance Detroit will let him get anywhere near free agency. The Lions and Avril are working on a long-term deal. General manager Martin Mayhew said that while he doesn’t want to franchise-tag Avril, he’s also not willing to lose him. If that occurs, Avril -- who has hinted at holding out -- will have to decide if he wants to be on time for training camp.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions

3. Calais Campbell


Breakdowns: The past three seasons, Campbell has been consistent, and he has consistently improved, increasing his tackle totals every season and notching a career-high eight sacks in 2011 for the Cardinals. But like Avril, he’s got very little chance to test himself on the free agent market, because it sounds like if Arizona can’t come to terms on a long-term contract, the Cardinals will tag him. But unlike Avril, Campbell said he’s OK with that scenario. Besides, if he is tagged and makes close to $11 million for 2012 and puts forth another career-best performance, he’ll have the chance to set himself up with a huge contract.
 
Possible Landing Spots: Cardinals

4. Robert Mathis


Breakdown: Since he’s spent his entire nine-year career in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine Mathis in a non-Colts uniform -- almost as tough, I suppose, as imagining Peyton Manning in something other than blue and white. The potential problem, though, is new coach Chuck Pagano seems intent on installing the 3-4 scheme, and that will be a transition for somebody who’s always been a 4-3 end (it’s worth noting that CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco doesn’t seem concerned with the Colts turning Mathis into a pass-rushing linebacker). The Colts have said they want to keep Mathis in Indianapolis, but Dwight Freeney will cost $19 million against the salary cap. Another possibility for Mathis is the Colts placing the franchise tag on him, but considering Mathis is 31, the delaying of a long-term contract isn’t necessarily a great option for him.

Possible Landing Spots: Titans, Falcons, Colts

5. John Abraham

Abraham believes he's worth $12 million a year, even though he'll turn 34 before next season. (US Presswire)

Breakdown: Although Abraham will turn 34 before the start of the 2012 season, he still should draw plenty of interest throughout the league, simply because he continues to be one of the elite ends around. He’s durable, playing at least 15 games per season in the last five years, and he continues to churn out double-digit sack totals on a near-annual basis (his 9.5 sacks in 2011 just missed the cutoff). Can he command a long-term contract? Probably not, because of his age. Is he still a top-10 defensive end? Probably, yes. But is he worth $12 million? According to Abraham, the answer is: absolutely. “Check out the five top ends,” Abraham told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Everybody is getting 12-plus. I made $8 million last year. Everybody is saying, ‘Oh, he’s so greedy.’ How am I greedy when I’m just trying to get paid the same thing they are getting paid?” The chances of Abraham getting $12 million? Slim to none.

Possible Landing Spots: Giants, Buccaneers, Patriots

6. Cory Redding

Breakdown: He had a rough year in 2009 in his only season with the Lions, but since moving to Baltimore and playing with the Ravens for the past two seasons, Redding has returned to being a solid end who can stop the run and who occasionally can muster a sack (he’s got 7.5  combined in the past two seasons). But Redding will turn 32 next season, and he had injuries at the end of last year that slowed him a bit (even though it was one of the best seasons of his career). He’s probably not a great long-term value for most teams in the league, but the Ravens are a fan of him, particularly since he took on a leadership role when linebacker Ray Lewis missed four games. Redding just seems to fit in well with Baltimore’s defense. But remember, Pagano lurks to the west in Indianapolis.

Possible Landing Spots:Colts, Ravens

7. Jeremy Mincey


Breakdown: Mincey certainly picked the best time to have a career year. In his contract year, he recorded 57 tackles, eight sacks and an interception. Considering he didn’t combine for those numbers during the first five seasons of his career, that should tell you about Mincey’s mindset entering 2011. Or, it should tell you that last season was simply an anomaly (or, I suppose, you could say that it just took Mincey a long time to develop). Either way, Mincey is looking to get paid -- he’s on record saying he won’t give Jacksonville a hometown discount -- and though it appears the Jaguars would like to keep him, they’ll have to figure out where he fits in with the team’s finances (it should be noted that Jacksonville has plenty of room under the salary cap).

Possible Landing Spots: Jaguars, Bills

8. Israel Idonije


Breakdown: He obviously doesn’t get the love that’s reserved for teammate Julius Peppers, but Idonije notched a career-high 52 tackles last season (along with five sacks). Even better for Chicago, Idonije seems intent on returning to the Bears. “I want to be here,” Idonije said earlier this month. “I have an incredible relationship with the coaching staff, and I understand the system. So my No. 1 focus is to stay.” He even intimated he would give Chicago a hometown discount. He probably won’t command an expensive long-term deal, and he’ll probably be worth it for the Bears.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears

9.  Mark Anderson


Breakdown: Anderson is a strange case, because as ESPN Boston pointed out, he only played 47.6 percent of the Patriots snaps last year. Yet, he still managed 10 sacks. Also, he played all but one snap in the team’s final two games after Andre Carter suffered a quad injury.  Carter also is an unrestricted free agent, but reportedly, Anderson is a better bet to be re-signed by New England.

Possible Landing Spot: Patriots, Dolphins

10. Honorable Mentions


Unrestricted: Kendall Langford, Raheem Brock, Red Bryant, Andre Carter

Restricted: Phillip Merling, Michael Bennett

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Posted on: January 23, 2012 2:04 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 3:38 pm
 

Cam Newton and other Pro Bowl roster additions

NewtonBy Josh Katzowitz

Now that the Patriots and Giants officially are heading to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI, that means nobody from New England and New York will be flying to Honolulu this week for the Pro Bowl.

Which means we get tons of additions and deletions to the roster!

Here’s the list so far.

-Panthers standout rookie quarterback Cam Newton will replace Eli Manning on the NFC roster. As you well know, Newton threw for 4,051 yards passing, the most ever by a rookie quarterback in NFL history while recording 21 touchdowns and posting an 84.5 quarterback rating. Newton also rushed for 14 scores, the most ever by an NFL quarterback.

-Bears defensive end Julius Peppers will take over for New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul. This is Peppers’ seventh Pro Bowl appearance, and it’s the first time since Richard Dent in the mid-1980s that a Chicago defensive end has made the roster in back-to-back seasons.

-Jets guard Brandon Moore will replace New England’s Brian Waters on the AFC roster. This is Moore’s first Pro Bowl selection. Ravens guard Ben Grubbs will take over for Logan Mankins.

-Bad news for Tim Tebow. According to Pro Football Talk, Ben Roethlisberger “definitely” is attending the Pro Bowl festivities, meaning Tebow, the second alternate, will be staying home this week (and maybe going on tour with Brad Paisley instead).

-As the Cincinnati Enquirer reports, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton replaces Tom Brady, tight end Jermaine Gresham replaces Rob Gronkowski and defensive tackle Geno Atkins replaces Vince Wilfork.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 25, 2011 11:47 pm
 

Packers win again, but have some issues

K. Bell gained 121 yards in Chicago's loss to Green Bay (AP).By Josh Katzowitz

Not many people gave the Bears much of a chance to upset the Packers on Sunday night. Not with Chicago missing its first-string quarterback, starting a guy who was coaching high school football not so long ago, and playing a third- and fourth-string running back in place of Matt Forte.

But Chicago’s Josh McCown was more than solid, running back Kahlil Bell looked fantastic and Chicago played evenly with the Packers in the first half (and ultimately outgained Green Bay 441-364). But the Packers did what the Packers do and dominated the second half to finish off Chicago 35-21 and secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Before we anoint the Packers an automatic Super Bowl team, though, they still have issues they need to correct. Here are three that the Bears helped expose tonight.

Run defense: It’s easy to talk about how (statistically) poor the Packers pass defense is (though Green Bay has faced the second-most pass attempts in the league this season, so the statistics look a little worse than they should), but the run defense isn’t all that wonderful either.

Without Ryan Pickett, who was out with a head injury, in the lineup, the Packers showcased a major weakness through the entire first half. Bell -- the Bears third-string running back -- looked like an All-Pro, gaining 89 yards on 14 carries in the first half (he finished with 121 yards). Last year on their run to the Super Bowl, the Packers allowed 114.9 rushing yards per game, ranking 18th in the NFL. This year, after Sunday’s game, they give up 114.4 yards per contest, ranking 16th.

Listen, that’s not terrible. But against a Bears team that was one-dimensional, starting a third-string quarterback, the Packers knew Chicago would have to rely on its running game. Green Bay just couldn’t stop it. Against most teams, the Packers offense doesn’t allow that to matter, but in the playoffs, when Green Bay could be facing a top-notch defense like the 49ers, this could become a major hole.

Week 16 recap
Makeshift offensive line: The line actually played well vs. a Bears defense that boasts Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers. Marshall Newhouse handled Peppers well, and despite missing left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the Bears garnered just one sack. But this is potentially a problem in the future, because you can’t expect Newhouse and T.J. Lang, normally a guard, to keep up that pace in replacing Clifton and Bulaga.

Besides, without the starting tackles in there, Rodgers looks to make quick passes or get out in space on play-action. If Clifton, who’s been out since Week 5 with a bad hamstring, and Bulaga (a sprained knee last week who might not return until the postseason) can be back for the playoffs, that probably would make Rodgers -- who was sacked four times in last week’s loss to the Chiefs -- feel better.

Running game: Twice, in the span of one series, the Packers running back busted up a play and forced Aaron Rodgers to scramble a few yards and then fall down to avoid danger. Once, it was Ryan Grant, once it was James Starks and both times Rodgers couldn’t have been happy.

Starks and Grant were basically invisible anyway. They combined to record 57 yards on 14 carries, and overall, the Packers run game ranks 27th in the NFL. Even if the Packers become the most one-dimensional team in the league, it probably won’t matter with Rodgers running the team. But if he struggles in the playoffs or gets injured, Green Bay could be in trouble.

But Clay Matthews made a good point after the game in regards to how these issues could affect the team in the future.

“When you have a quarterback like that,” Matthews said on NBC, “you’re allowed to make a couple mistakes.”

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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 12, 2011 9:54 am
Edited on: December 12, 2011 10:11 am
 

Urlacher on Tebow: 'He's a good running back'

By Will Brinson



Top of the Tebow to you, folks. Monday is the day where the bandwagon following Tim Tebow and the Broncos probably becomes too crowded (and the coverage of Tebow finally reaches a saturation point). Just do not expect Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to be on board.

Week 14 Recap

Urlacher, speaking to the press after Denver's miraculous 13-10 victory over Chicago Sunday, said that Tebow as "a good running back."

"He’s a good running back," Urlacher said Sunday. He does a good job for them. They have a good offense with him back there. They do some different plays. I thought we did a good job overall."

The Bears did a great job, really, when it came to defending Tebow much of the game. The problem was they became too reactionary late in the game, which allowed Tebow to succeed through the air, Tebow's receivers stopped dropping every pass, and Caleb Hanie/Marion Barber couldn't put any points on the board.

Back to Urlacher's slight of Tebow, though -- the Broncos quarterback appreciates it. Of course.

"Coming from a really good player, that means a lot," Tebow said when asked about Urlacher's comments.

That cracks me up for some reason. But other players on the Bears defense don't find it quite so funny.

"We missed some opportunities in the game," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We have to finish better; that’s pretty much it. It wasn’t anything special that [Tebow] did."

Lance Briggs, the linebacker who last week pointed out how mad he'd be if the Bears lost, was a bit more subdued.

"Played hard," Briggs would only say when asked about Tebow's performance.

Briggs is probably the only one who's right about this. Tebow did play hard, but he also did do something special and he did not act like a good running back on Sunday. In fact, he was pretty ineffective on the ground and didn't really get rolling until he turned into an all-world passer -- against the Bears defense -- in the fourth quarter and overtime.

It's OK to be upset about losing but at least give the guy his due.


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Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:40 pm
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Chargers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:29 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 9



Posted by Will Brinson


Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 9 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Manning Dolphins  W-ford Harbaugh
Judge Rodgers Peppers Peterson Coughlin
Prisco  Jones Harrison Peterson  Smith
Brinson McGahee  Peprah Peterson  Sparano
Katzowitz  Moore  Peprah  Cards  Smith
Wilson Rodgers  Peprah Peterson  Sparano
Week 9's wrapped up and it's hardware time. This week we've got some new faces ... but a couple old ones.

Aaron Rodgers continued to Aaron Rodgers the Aaron Rodgers Award. At this point, it's surprising when he doesn't win.

Speaking of winning, the Packers got a huge help in their dubya thanks to safety Charlie Peprah, who picked two passes and picked up our Eye on Defense Award for Week 9.

Patrick Peterson ran his third punt back of the year, and that resulted in his second-straight Eye on Special Teams Award.

And Tony Sparano was tied for Lovie Smith for our Eye on Coaching Award, but we gave the tiebreaker to Sparano since, well, you know.

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Eli Manning Eli Manning, QB, Giants
Deja goober all over again. Sure, the younger Manning sometimes looks perpetually goofy but on Sunday he beat the Patriots -- again -- in exciting fashion. I think we're about to see Manning explode and go from good to great. Maybe not Aaron Rodgers great but top echelon great. Dare I say elite.
Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
People tell me nobody could play better than Tom Brady last season, except Rodgers is. He just savaged San Diego for four more touchdowns and is on schedule for 48. Yeah, the Packers' defense has holes, but what difference does it make when this guy keeps dissecting defenses for yards, points and victories.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Julio Jones Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
He had two long touchdown catches, one of 50 yards and one of 80 yards. He showed why the Falcons traded up in the draft to get him. Jones was also in his first game back from injury, which makes it even more impressive. I could give this to Aaron Rodgers every week, but is that right?
Willis McGaheeWillis McGahee, RB, Broncos
Considering the Raiders D let Tim Tebow rumble for more than 100 yards too, McGahee's 163-yard day might be discounted by some. But the dude had surgery on his hand less than two weeks ago and he's the real reason the Broncos are just one game back of the division lead now.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Matt MooreMatt Moore, QB, Dolphins
The last Dolphins quarterback to throw three touchdowns in a game was Chad Henne in 2008. That, amazingly, was three years ago. Matt Moore did it at Kansas City in the week’s biggest upset. Moore was 17 of 23 for 244 yards and those three scores, and he actually played pretty damn well. He also did Tony Sparano a big favor by getting the deserving man a victory.
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
This was the most underwhelming four-touchdown performance I can remember. But that's what happens when you're consistently much better than everybody else: the spectacular appears mundane. Against the Chargers, Rodgers completed 81 percent of his passes for 247 yards, and rushed for another 52. His counterpart Philip Rivers threw six touchdowns on the day but loses out to Rodgers for the Week 9 hat tip because two of them were of the pick-six variety.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Cameron WakeDolphins DST
I'm going to violate the rules here and hope my man Will Brinson, who deftly organizes these, doesn't punch me in the face. And I'm taking the Dolphins as a whole. Jeez, they deserve an honor, any honor, after this season and what they did to Kansas City was joyous: they sacked Matt Cassel five times and forced him out of the pocket nine more. The Chiefs had allowed only 13 total sacks allowed up to that point
Julius Peppers Julius Peppers, DE, Bears
He didn't produce big numbers, but he led the Bears to an unexpected victory over Philadelphia. He had the team's only sack, he deflected a pass and, in general, was a thorn in the side of a Philadelphia offense that had trouble getting untracked all evening. Basically, he proved why he's worth the money Chicago pays him.
Prisco Brinson
James HarrisonJames Harrison, LB, Steelers
I know it came in a losing effort, but he had three sacks in his first game back from a broken orbital bone. The guy was a terror, with one exception. Where was he on the final drive?
Charlie PeprahCharlie Peprah, S, Packers
Peprah's supposed to be the weak link in a Packers secondary that hasn't been impressive this year, but on Sunday he picked off Philip Rivers twice. The first pick he took back to the house (providing the point differential for a win) and the second was to seal Green Bay's victory.
Katzowitz Wilson
Charlie PeprahCharlie Peprah, S, Packers
For as bad as the Packers secondary has been this season -- 31st in the NFL?!?! – Peprah played a huge part in Green Bay’s win in San Diego, intercepting Philip Rivers and then breaking five tackles to score. Then he ended San Diego’s chances by picking Rivers again in the final minutes.
Charlie Peprah Charlie Peprah, S, Packers
Peprah intercepted Philip Rivers twice Sunday, including a 40-yard pick-six in the first quarter and another on the Chargers' last drive which he returned 76 yards. That made him San Diego's second-leading receiver on the day behind Vincent Jackson.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Steve WeatherfordSteve Weatherford, P, Giants
On Sunday against the Giants, the Patriots started their drives at the five six, 17, 20, 11 and nine yard lines in the first half. They were fighting for their lives all day thanks to Weatherford.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Can we just retire the award with this guy? That's three punt returns he's taken to the house. They're not going to win many this year, anyway, right? So what happens if they have a chance for, say, Andrew Luck or Landry Jones? Peterson might have spared them that decision.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, CardinalsPatrick Peterson
This was easy. He became only the second player to rip a punt for a touchdown to win a game in overtime. And it was 99 yards, no less. Peterson now has three punt returns for scores in his first eight games -- a rookie record.
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson tied a rookie record with his third punt -- the 99-yard game-winner against St. Louis -- taken to the house, which means he's got eight more games to break that tie with Devin Hester. Speaking of Hester, maybe teams should stop kicking at Peterson, too.
Katzowitz Wilson
Patrick Peterson Cardinals DST
Calais Campbell blocked Josh Brown's 42-yard field goal attempt to win in regulation, and then Peterson stunningly returned a punt 99 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Afterward, Peterson said he doesn’t know why teams still punt to him. I don’t know why either.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Remember in the spring when there were concerns that, at 6-0, 220, Peterson might need to drop some weight to be effective in the NFL? Whatever the scale reads now, that's his optimum playing weight.

Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
John HarbaughJohn Harbaugh, Ravens
There were doubts about Harbaugh's quarterback, Joe Flacco. And there were doubts about his team's mental toughness then he goes into Pittsburgh and wins. That win means the Ravens swept the season series with the Steelers and put themselves in good position to win the AFC North.
Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin, Giants
He went to Gillette Stadium, a place where nobody but Tom Bray and Bill Belichick win, and somehow, some way, pulled off a last-second upset. Of course, it always helps when Eli Manning is on your side, but Coughlin had his team ready for an improbable outcome. That's why the Giants are on top of the NFC East.
Prisco Brinson
Lovie SmithLovie Smith, Bears
Lovie took a team that was a heavy nine-point underdog into Philadelphia against a supposedly hot team in the Eagles and cooled them off. The Bears had a great scheme to slow down Mike Vick. 

Tony SparanoTony Sparano, Dolphins
2011 is a lost season for Miami, unless you're a big fan of Andrew Luck. But despite that, Sparano's done an incredible job of keeping his team motivated to play each week. They nearly upset the Giants in Week 8 and straight-up pummeled the Chiefs in Week 9.
Katzowitz Wilson
Lovie Smith Lovie Smith, Bears
Smith’s seat was growing warmer by the day with the Bears at 2-3, but now that Chicago has won three straight, Smith must be commended on the way his team dominated Minnesota, the way he set up his team for London to beat the Bucs and for the way the Bears beat the Eagles. Also, props to Mike Martz, who finally has figured out that his offensive line really should protect the quarterback.
Tony Sparano Tony Sparano, Dolphins
There's a very good chance Sparano's name will never again appear in our weekly awards so we're seizing the opportunity to recognize a man who could very well be out of a job before the new year. He beat the Chiefs in Kansas City, and he did it by getting the most out of Matt Moore, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall.


Posted on: October 19, 2011 4:21 pm
 

Keep an Eye On: Week 7's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Saints vs. Colts
New Orleans’ two new weapons
The Saints have redefined their passing attack. It now runs through Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. Graham has been far and away the best tight end in football this season. All onlookers could observe last season that the former Hurricanes power forward possessed considerable raw talent, but few could have predicted he’d polish it this quickly.

Graham has a natural feel for gaining positioning against pass defenders (insert obligatory “like a rebounder” comment here) and, best of all, he’s a hands-catcher who snags the ball away from his body. This makes him nearly impossible to defend, given his size and elevation abilities. Helping the cause is that the Saints align Graham all over the formation, which gives defenses fits in deciding what personnel package to use (most, including the Bucs this past week, have been going with nickel and treating Graham like a slot receiver).

Graham is Brees’s go-to guy. Sproles might be Sean Payton’s.

When the Saints are trying to dictate the tempo of a drive, they often look to get Sproles the ball underneath. The key is putting him in positions to run after the catch. This could mean screens, though often it has meant short outs and ins on spread plays where wideouts run deep to lift the coverage. Sproles has remarkable quickness and elusiveness, amplified by a rare-found ability to start and stop. He’s been much better in this offense than Reggie Bush ever was.

So how will the Colts defend the two new weapons? They’re a zone-based defense with fast linebackers. That helps against Sproles, but it does little for containing Graham. If the Saints can find ways to pass protect long enough to run vertical routes outside, that’ll prevent the Colts safeties from running under and over Graham’s routes. This would spell a fifth-straight 100-yard game for the rising star.



Dolphins vs. Broncos
Tebow’s limited resources
You couldn’t ask for more favorable conditions for a new starting young quarterback: two weeks to prepare, a game at Miami (where the weather is nice and the crowd is irrelevant) and facing a defense that, even with a beast like Cameron Wake, has for some reason completely forgotten how to rush the passer.

Trading your No. 1 receiver just days before the game might not seem favorable to a young quarterback, but that receiver was unenthused about playing with Tebow and hadn’t been getting open in Denver’s new ball-control offense anyway. Plus, he was liable to leave after the season, and his spot is ready to be filled by a now-healthy (hopefully) Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas is a possession target, whereas Brandon Lloyd was more of a vertical threat (though not a burner). The Broncos already have a litany of possession targets, such as Eric Decker, Matt Willis and, when healthy, Eddie Royal. This lack of vertical speed compresses the field and narrows throwing lanes, which isn’t good with a slow-reading young quarterback who has a long windup and prefers to improvise outside the pocket.

The Dolphins are healthy at cornerback again; with no downfield threats to worry about, don’t be surprised if this is the week they finally figure out how to reach the quarterback.

Bears vs. Buccaneers (London)
Forces up front
When playing well, these teams offer two of the faster defensive front sevens in football. The Bucs defensive ends – vastly improved Michael Bennett and explosive rookie Adrian Clayborn – feasted on the shoddy Saints tackles last week and should be licking their chops for J’Marcus Webb and Lance Louis (a guard by trade who has taken over for the overwhelmed Frank Omiyale on the right side).

Linebacker Geno Hayes played with instincts and speed against the Saints, which hasn’t always been the case this season. He’ll have a big say in whether the Bucs can contain Mr. Do It All, Matt Forte.

For Chicago, the mission will be attacking right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Julius Peppers, bum knee and all, is a force who can matchup with Donald Penn on the left side. Same goes for underrated Israel Idonije. But over the years, when it’s rained on Trueblood, it’s poured. He’s the guy to go after.
The Bucs don’t have a backfield star like Matt Forte to build around, though Earnest Graham is a productive receiver who, as he showed last week, can add a dimension of surprising (though subtle) inside quickness and elusiveness.

Don’t be stunned if Graham becomes a bigger component in the run game even after LeGarrette Blount gets healthy. Graham, however, is facing a much greater challenge this week than he faced last week; Chicago’s linebackers are just as fast as New Orleans’ but a lot more physical.

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

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