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Tag:Marc Mariani
Posted on: December 20, 2011 10:58 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

Max Starks - Steelers

To be fair to Max, the Steelers cut him during the summer, something about him being out of shape. And then, a month into the season, after it was abundantly clear that Jonathan Scott wasn't a capable NFL starting left tackle, Pittsburgh re-signed Starks, promptly inserted him into the lineup, and the offensive line immediately improved.

And given how well the Steelers had been playing in the two and a half months since Starks returned to the team, it's hard to quibble with one performance. But hey, that's what we do here.

Rookie Aldon Smith, a situational pass rusher at this stage of his career, treated Starks like a 350-pound rag doll Monday night. Any shortcomings along the offensive line are usually mitigated by Ben Roethlisberger's mobility in the pocket, but the Steelers quarterback was playing on bum ankle that so hobble him that we're pretty sure Tommy Maddox could've beat him in a foot race.


Aldon Smith puts on a clinic as he takes down Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on 2.5 sacks Monday night, setting the 49ers' rookie record at 13 with two games left in the season.

Starks held his own in the first half, primarily because the close score meant that Pittsburgh's rushing attack was still part of the game plan. But after the 49ers went up 13-3 in the second half it was, as they say, on like Donkey Kong. To paraphrase Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football, if the game had gone on much longer, Smith would've earned a trip to Canton on that singular performance. (The only thing missing: the wind spring sack dance.)

A healthy Big Ben and a soft schedule over the final two weeks (Rams, at Browns) should mean more consistent play throughout the offense. Also not hurting: getting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back. He missed the 49ers game with a high-ankle sprain of his own.

Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith - Ravens

Heading into the season, the Ravens secondary -- particularly cornerback -- was thought to be a liability. Former practice-squad player Cary Williams has started 14 games this season and for the most part he's been solid. Against the Chargers, he spent the evening chasing after whichever target Philip Rivers just found wide open streaking across the field.

And you could argue Jimmy Smith's night was worse. Chargers head coach Norv Turner identified the rookie first-round pick as a target and Norv was true to his word. Rivers ended the night completing 74 percent of his throws for 270 yards and a touchdown. More than that: he wasn't touched all game. That's right, the team with more offensive line issues than the Steelers, and who were working on their third left tackle of the season, kept Rivers clean against one of the NFL's most ferocious pass rushes.

Put differently: Baltimore's shortcomings don't all fall to Williams and Smith. The front seven didn't do their job and if we really want to point fingers, Joe Flacco played like, well, crap. The lesson: don't take Tim Tebow's name in vain. Nothing good will come of it.

Stanford Routt, Rolando McClain, Raiders

Obviously, this honor should go to head coach Hue Jackson for his inexplicable decision to not triple and quadruple-team Calvin Johnson during the last drive of Sunday's game, one that proved to be the difference. (But this is 'Coach Killers.' Presumably, Jackson's into self-preservation even if his coaching decisions scream otherwise.) Instead, Jackson blamed execution not play-calling for Johnson getting open, even though one play call had linebacker Rolando McClain responsible for covering Johnson 40 yards down the field.

“Yeah, that’s called the Tampa-2," Jackson said. "That’s what the middle linebacker does — he runs right down the middle of the field. They made the play and we didn’t.”

We don't know much about football strategizing, but that seems like a recipe for losing.

Oakland likes to play a lot of man-to-man and cornerback Stanford Routt was burdened with covering Johnson for most of the game. He had a costly pass interference penalty that gave Detroit the ball at the Raiders six-yard line with 48 seconds to go. Wondering how that ended? Yep, a Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. The goal post was the closet object in coverage on the play.


See how Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson led the Lions on a seven-play, 98-yard drive to defeat the Raiders in Oakland.

“It isn’t a scheme issue. The ball’s laying up in the air. You gotta go make that play. Their guy made it and we didn’t. So they won the game." Jackson said, according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore.

Well, it is a scheme issue when the scheme doesn't have anyone in Johnson's vicinity.

Santonio Holmes - Jets

You have to wonder what goes through a player's mind when he makes the conscious decision to do something stupid. The Bills' Stevie Johnson had to know that as soon as he went to the ground during his "I shot myself in the leg" homage to Plaxico Burress touchdown dance in Week 12 that he was going to get a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.

On Sunday, with the Jets trailing 28-9, Holmes finally held onto the ball long enough to get into the end zone (he already had a fumble and caused an interception by misplaying a Mark Sanchez pass).

Hand the ball to the official, head to the sidelines and try to figure out how get back in this game.

That should've been the thought that ran through Holmes' mind. Nope. Instead, he put the ball on the ground, stepped on it, and pretended to fly. Like an eagle. Um, yeah, using the ball as a prop? That's a 15-yard penalty.


Good news: Holmes scores. Bad news: he gets a stupid celebration penalty.

In the scheme of things it didn't matter; the Eagles blew the doors off the Jets and 15 yards here or there wasn't going to be the difference. But the penalty is symptomatic of something larger: Rex Ryan's inability to control his locker room. Holmes is a six-year veteran and a team captain. He's also one of New York's best players. But there's a chance he will be one of New York's best players sitting on the couch in January.

Ryan, for his part, nailed the role of the enabling parent.

“He apologized for that to me but I’ll say this about Santonio and every other player on this team: They have my 100 percent support and we’re in this thing together. … Are we perfect? No. None of us are perfect, but I'm just saying that you wish that thing never happened," Ryan said. "I don't think it will happen again, but again, I have his back, he has mine and this whole team is that way. We just have to come out and fight for each other, we know it was a mistake and we'll learn from it."

In two weeks, the Jets might have plenty of time to replay all the mistakes from the past season.

Marc Mariani - Titans

We were all set to blame Chris Johnson for the Titans' loss to the Colts, but pointing the finger at one of the league's worst running backs has become unoriginal 15 weeks into the season. And while Mariani had very little to do with Tennessee getting steamrolled by an 0-13 team, this play perfectly embodies the Titans' Sunday afternoon experience at Lucas Oil Stadium.

With the Colts leading 17-6, Mariani, Tennessee's return man, misplayed a kickoff in the end zone. No big deal -- it happens all the time … except that Mariani accidentally drop-kicked the ball out of bounds at about the six-inch line.

“I botched my responsibility,” Mariani said. “Their kicker (Pat McAfee) line-drived that one and I was trying to make a play, but it was all over the place and took an unbelievable bounce.”

The miscue proved to be harmless; the Titans gained a few first downs before eventually punting.

As for the real culprits Sunday, take your pick: Johnson (15 rushes, 55 yards); Matt Hasselbeck (a pick-six -- including the first interception by a Colts cornerback all season -- and another pick in the Colts end zone); Jared Cook (huge fumble in Indy territory); and the entire Titans defense for getting Donald Brown'd in the fourth quarter with Indy leading just 20-13. And perhaps more embarrassingly, giving Dan Orlovsky his first career victory. (Orolovsky had been 0-7 with the 2008 Lions and 0-2 with the Colts in 2011.)


Tennessee goes tackling-optional on Brown's 80-yard TD run.

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Posted on: December 7, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:09 pm
 

Film Room: Titans vs. Saints preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


While we weren’t looking, the Tennessee Titans got to 7-5 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race. This week they have a widely televised game against the New Orleans Saints. Perhaps it’s time we get to know Mike Munchak’s club.

Here are some tidbits on one of this week’s showcase games.


1. Saints O vs. Titans D: 31 flavors vs. vanilla
Sean Payton has been known to use 15 different formations on his first 15 plays. As offensive variety goes, the Saints are boundless and peerless. The Titans defense, under Jerry Gray, is the polar opposite. They’ve been the easiest unit to watch on film this season because they line up in base zones, they rarely move before the snap and it’s always clear what each player is trying to do. It’s an execution-based defense.

In this model, the Titans try to make opponents play conservatively and methodically. Instead of trying to beat the offense big once or twice and risk having the offense beat THEM big, the Titans would rather make the offense beat them small again and again, without making any bad mistakes. This formula works against middle-tier offenses – like the Broncos, Browns, Colts, Bucs and Bills, all of whom the Titans have held below 20 points. But unless an execution-based defense has a few top-level playmakers – like the Bears with Brian Urlacher or, in past years, the Colts with Dwight Freeney – it won’t hold up against upper-tier competition.

The Titans have a mobile, fairly athletic defensive line but one that’s devoid of premium pass-rushers. Their linebackers are reliable but not sideline-to-sideline players; it might even be considered a weak unit when outrageously overrated middle ‘backer Barrett Ruud is in the lineup (he’s been out most of the past month with a groin; rookie Colin McCarthy has been an upgrade in his stead). The secondary is sound but not ball-hawking.

The way to beat Drew Brees is to confuse him (which isn’t easy). He’s far too sharp as a progression-read passer for a defense to simply line up and play against. Unless luck intervenes or a few Titans defenders play the game of their lives, we’ll see Brees lead four or five ABC-123 type clock-eating scoring drives Sunday.

2. Chris Johnson
Pilloried for the destruction of fantasy teams nationwide the first 10 weeks of the season, the $30 million running back has rushed for over 100 yards in three of his last four outings. Not until these past two weeks did Johnson show his old acceleration and burst. We may never know what got him off track early in the year, but he appears to be on track now (he’ll have to stay on track a little longer before we fully trust him again).

One theory people floated was that his offensive line was struggling. That’s simply not true. It’s easy to blame the linemen because they’re big, faceless cogs in a unit. But ask yourself this commonsense question: What’s more likely? That one player (Johnson) suddenly stunk, or that FIVE players (the line) suddenly stunk? Johnson’s line wasn’t bad – Johnson was bad. He was stopping his feet to redirect, looking for holes rather than reading the movement of defenders and spinning mud when hitting the gas.

This isn’t to say that Johnson’s line has been sterling this season. Until they started consistently landing blocks on the move last week, guards Jake Scott and Leroy Harris looked very average (Scott maybe even a cut below that). Gritty veteran right tackle David Stewart has at times relied too much on grit and not enough on technique. Even steady Pro Bowl left tackle Michael Roos has struggled a bit (though more in pass-protection than run-blocking). But inconsistent means good AND bad. Until recently, the Titans line had been a tad inconsistent, while their running back had been just plain bad. We’ll see if Johnson can maintain his rhythm against a fast Saints run defense.

3. Titans O vs. Saints D: manufacturing big plays to compensate for a weakness
We’ve covered before how Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dials up so many risky, complex blitzes in part because he does not have a good enough pass-rushing front four to simply line up and play. On a similar note, Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has done a good job generating big pass plays this season through design.

With Kenny Britt injured, the Titans do not have any receivers who can consistently burn one-on-one coverage. Thus, instead of dictating the terms of engagement and just attacking through the air, the Titans have used route combinations in response to specific defensive looks. That’s good coaching.

Some examples that stand out: in Week 4, the Titans killed the Browns’ man coverages with a litany of natural pick plays (Nate Washington’s 57-yarder to set up a late first half touchdown being the highlight). In Week 13 they found ways to isolate Buffalo’s untested seventh-round rookie cornerback Justin Rogers with presnap motion.

In Week 3 they used a deep crossing route with unassuming tight end Craig Stevens:

The Titans knew that outside cornerback Cassius Vaughan was responsible for covering the defensive left third of field. So they sent wideout Marc Mariani on a fly route to carry Vaughan deep. That temporarily left an unoccupied void that Stevens’ crossing pattern was timed to hit. 

When Stevens caught the ball, Vaughan was out of position and facing the wrong direction. This well-timed, clever approach compensated for Stevens’ lack of speed.

This is quality stuff. It’s not necessarily sustainable – at some point, talent becomes a requirement in pro football – but it’s making the most of your resources.

4. Defending Graham
When facing the Saints, your defensive gameplan often centers around how you decide to defend Jimmy Graham. As the best receiving tight end in football, Graham, frankly, deserves a cornerback’s attention. But most teams can’t afford to sacrifice their run defense by playing a third corner on every down. So, they compromise by using a safety.

Then there are the brave teams that try to stop Graham with a linebacker (like the Giants two weeks ago, who put Jacquian Williams on Graham so that they could have one of their faster safeties defend Darren Sproles).

The Titans play a lot of zone coverage. Even a lot of their man coverages have sprinkles of zone concepts with cautious safety alignments over the top. Because of this, the Titans will likely be stuck in a few linebacker-on-Graham scenarios. Perhaps they’re comfortable with this.

In base defense, Will Witherspoon has been a savvy pass defender over the years. He’s not super savvy, though, as he comes out in nickel. Of course, that’s partly because rookie linebacker Akeem Ayers moves well in space, particularly near the inside flats. Ayers, however, is more inclined to make a tackle that merely prevents a run-after-catch, as opposed to actually breaking up a pass.

Expect Graham to get his usual touches, especially given that the zone defenders will constantly be peaking at Sproles coming out of the backfield.

5. Film Tidbits
Some miscellaneous trends for your viewing pleasure:
--when Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins creeps down into the box, it’s almost always to blitz.

--if the Titans do have one specific target they try to get the ball to, it’s tight end Jared Cook. He’s far from a go-to guy (inconsistent fundamentals, not as good a runner as his athleticism suggests), but he’s well-built and can create a mismatch once or twice a game. It usually comes when he detaches from the formation.

--The Titans like to use backup running back Javon Ringer in hurry-up offense. Ringer can catch and, more importantly, he’s a better pass-blocker than Chris Johnson. (We’ll see if Ringer’s hurry-up reps continue now that Johnson has gotten back to his normal self).

--The Saints almost always throw to the inside receiver in a given formation. It’s not often that the ball goes outside. (This tidbit came from film guru Greg Cosell, executive producer of the NFL Matchup Show.)

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 14 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 23, 2010 12:55 pm
 

Top Ten With a Twist: Biggest and best insults

Jeff Fisher and V. Young aren't exactly getting along these days (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Part of the reason we all follow sports is for all the insult material. I insult your team. You insult his team. You all insult my intelligence. There’s nothing better than a solid day of watching football and insulting all your buddies and having them insult you right back.

Unless it’s watching other people insult each other. Which happens ALL the time in the NFL. I’m not necessarily talking about players woofing at each other on the field, though that obviously has its place on any top-ten insults list. But I’m talking about the crowd insulting a player, a team insulting one of its own or a player insulting a coach in front of the rest of his teammates (psst, this last one might have occurred this past week).

So, let’s explore the best of what the NFL has to offer as far as metaphorically slapping people in the face. And if you choose to ignore this story, your mother wears Army boots.

10. Jonathan Stewart to Panthers offensive line: We’ll start it off relatively mild. After Stewart rushed for 30 yards on 14 carries vs. the Rams in Week 7, he complained about how his offensive line wasn’t opening enough holes. Sure, Stewart has a rushing average of 3.0, but unless Mike Goodson (220 combined yards in the past two games, 12 yards MORE than Stewart’s season total) is rushing behind a different offensive line, I’m not buying Stewart’s argument.

9. Thirty one NFL teams to Marc Mariani: The rookie, drafted in the seventh round this year as the No. 222 overall pick has been a breakout performer for the Titans. Listen, just because he played at Montana doesn’t mean he can’t hang in the NFL. Look at his stats as a punt returner. He’s third in the NFL with a 17.1 yards per punt average and his 87-yard TD return Sunday was his second score of the year.

8. Carson Palmer to Chad Ochocinco: Palmer has found a new play toy with Terrell Owens – who’s got 12 more catches and four more TDs than Ochocinco. Partially, it’s because Ochocinco, at times, doesn’t run the most technically-proficient routes. Of course, Owens gives up on plays some of the time, but there’s little question Owens has been much more effective this season. And Palmer knows it.

7. John Fox to his bosses/fanbase: I’m not sure this qualifies as an insult because I’m not sure exactly what’s going on in Fox’s head. But here’s what I know: he won’t be back as coach in Carolina next year and he decided not to use backup QB Tony Pike and started Brian St. Pierre last week instead, although St. Pierre was a stay-at-home dad the week before. Pike, a rookie, probably wouldn’t have done much better, but this was an odd move.

B. St. Pierre made his first career start last week, even though he was a stay-at-home dad the week before (US Presswire). 6. San Francisco’s Week 2 MNF crowd to Alex Smith: When you call for David Carr to replace your starting quarterback, Candlestick Park crowd, you insult EVERYONE.

5. Michael Vick to dog lovers everywhere: This is an interesting dynamic. If you’re a dog lover, is it impossible to root for Vick? I love dogs, but I think Vick has paid his debt to society and he shouldn’t be scorned for the rest of his life. I also have friends who would like to see Vick ripped limb by limb by one of his former pets, and they always will hope for that moment. Is it me, or do people make a bigger stink about Vick than they do about, say, Ravens WR Donte Stallworth who pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter and then served only 24 days in jail?

4. Dallas Cowboys to Wade Phillips: Weird how, as soon as Jerry Jones pick-slips Phillips, Dallas suddenly plays some of its finest football of the season. Interim coach Jason Garrett probably should get a tiny bit of credit, but why suddenly are the Cowboys on a two-game winning streak? Probably because they all hated Phillips and wanted him to fail and fail hard (I kid, I kid).

3. Terrell Owens to Donovan McNabb: It’s beyond me why Owens would feel it necessary to comment on McNabb’s new contract with the Redskins, asking how the new deal could be justified while Washington and McNabb were taking a beating by the Eagles. McNabb came back and basically asked why a guy playing on a 2-7 (now 2-8) team was criticizing anybody. And it was a good point. A better point: why do we listen to Owens at all when he talks this kind of trash?

2. Vince Young to Jeff Fisher: Just one paraphrased quote when Young departed the Titans locker room Sunday while Fisher was giving his postgame talk said it all. “I’m not walking out on my teammates; I’m walking out on you.” The repercussions of that statement will be felt by Fisher and Young for years to come.

1. NFL owners/players to NFL fans: This one hasn’t happened yet, but it’s been hanging over the entire season like a low-lying storm cloud that’s ready to unleash hell at some point soon. Of course, I mean the impending owner lockout, which would stop all work in the NFL. I have a hard time believing the owners and players won’t work something out before the start of the 2011 season, but it’s entirely possible they could give you the biggest insult of all: no football.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: November 22, 2010 6:24 pm
 

Hot Routes 11.22.10: Week 11 boxscore tidbits

Hot Routes

Posted by Andy Benoit

Did you notice the Giants only had 208 yards of total offense against the Eagles Sunday night?

Justin Tuck had three sacks and was phenomenal in containment outside and against the run.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis racked up 96 yards on 21 carries against the Colts.

Donald Brown had 68 yards on 17 carries, but 36 of those yards came on one good run. Brown was his usual ineffective self for most of the night. J. Mayo (US Presswire)

Jerod Mayo led the Patriots with 15 tackles, though fellow inside linebacker Gary Guyton stood out more. Guyton had nine tackles.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 21/34, 316 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Fred Jackson and Cedric Benson both rushed for over 115 yards.

For the second week in a row, the Bills won and Lee Evans caught just two passes. (Not trying to suggest there’s a correlation between the two.) Steve Johnson has become Buffalo’s No. 1 wideout. He had eight catches for 137 yards and three scores against the Bengals.

For the second straight week, Felix Jones gave the Cowboys 51 yards on the ground. That is his second highest rushing output of the season.

Jahvid Best, who is battling a bad foot, had just two yards on three carries. Or maybe it was three yards on two carries. Anyway, he was a non-factor.

Dez Bryant averaged minus-two yards per catch on all of his non-touchdown receptions Sunday.

Very rarely does a DT lead his team in tackles. That’s what Ndamukong Suh did for the Lions (eight stops).

Before leaving with a re-aggravated groin injury, Clinton Portis looked fresh on five carries (32 yards).

Pilloried all week for poor route running, Redskins wideout Joey Galloway caught three passes for 32 yards. That was three more than Randy Moss caught, by the way.

Titans rookie Marc Mariani recorded his second touchdown return of the season (87 yards on a punt).

It came predominantly in garbage time, but Derek Anderson was 25/46 for 295 yards and a touchdown. And Matt Cassel, who raised the bar for garbage time excellence last week, was a sturdy 15/24 for 193 yards and two touchdowns.

Dwayne Bowe caught two touchdowns, giving him a Chiefs record six-straight games with a touchdown. Bowe is on pace for 1,100 yards and 18 TD’s.

Adrian Wilson led the Cardinals with seven tackles after struggling a week ago.

Thanks to the big deficit, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson got only 14 carries Sunday (72 yards). That was only two more carries than the Packers gave Dimitri Nance (37 yards).

Sidney Rice’s debut: three catches, 56 yards.

Clay Matthews added another sack to his records (league-high 11.5 on the season). He also had two tackles for a loss and two hits on the quarterback.

LaDainian Tomlinson still looks fresh. He only managed 36 yards on 12 carries, but he turned in 71 yards on seven receptions.

Joel Dreessen could wind up keeping the starting tight end job even once Owen Daniels is healthy. Dreessen, who is a slightly better blocker than Daniels, caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.

With RT Damien Woody out, the Texans got three sacks (two from Mario Williams) and seven hits on Mark Sanchez.

Pittsburgh held Oakland to 61 yards rushing, which is par for the course for the Steelers this season.

Jason Campbell was 7/19 for 70 yards and a pick before getting benched in the second half. Bruce Gradkowski finished 13/24 for 98 yards and a pick.

Rashard Mendenhall’s 59 yards rushing were just four more yards than Ben Roethlisberger had on the ground.

James Harrison had two sacks, two tackles for a loss and two hits on the quarterback (one of which drew a ridiculous roughing the passer flag)…and those numbers still don’t describe the depth of his impact Sunday.

Joe Flacco had his first 300-yard passing game of the season against the Panthers.

Ray Lewis got his 30th career interception (and took it to the house).

The Jaguars won despite six turnovers (four from David Garrard).

Peyton Hillis was held to 48 yards on 21 carries, though he produced 95 yards on six receptions.

The Jaguars sacked Colt McCoy six times. Six sacks used to be a half-season for Jacksonville.

Interesting: Michael Turner got 28 carries for Atlanta (131 yards) and Jason Snelling got just one.

Who needs Pierre Thomas? Chris Ivory turned in99 yards on 23 carries for the Saints.

Brandon Stokley, Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu all had at least five catches and 75 yards for the Seahawks.

The 49ers generated only 71 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay’s bottom-feeder run defense. Forty five of those yards came from Troy Smith scrambles.

Mike Williams, barely 48 hours removed from a DUI arrest, caught all three passes thrown his way. Williams finished with 54 yards and a touchdown.

Patrick Willis stamped his ticket to Hawaii: two sacks, two tackles for a loss, two QB hits and a team-high 13 tackles.

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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