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Tag:Nate Clements
Posted on: January 4, 2012 11:21 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 11:46 am
 

Film Room: Texans vs. Bengals wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Bengals managed to back-in to the playoffs despite going 1-6 against teams with a winning record. They may not seem like a dangerous playoff opponent, but if you’re the Texans – a team that’s 0-0 all-time in postseason play – every playoff opponent is dangerous. Here’s a breakdown of the Saturday afternoon wild card matchup.


1. Bengals run game vs. Texans front seven
Cincinnati’s methodical, power-based rushing attack (ranked 19th) struggles against fast defensive front sevens. Cedric Benson has more lateral agility than you’d guess, but he lacks the elite initial quickness to make dramatic cutbacks early in the run.

This lends a certain predictability to Cincinnati’s ground game. Less concerned about getting burned in their own over-pursuit, front seven defenders take a faster, more attack-oriented approach.

The Bengals counter this by overloading with six-man offensive lines and multiple lead-and motion-blockers. A speedy defense might trip them up early in the game, but the belief is Benson and his blockers can wear it down late.

That wasn’t the case when these teams met in Week 14. The Bengals tried to go to the ground to protect a late lead, but Benson totaled minus-five yards on five carries in the fourth quarter. Not only are the Texans’ linebackers collectively faster than any in the NFL, but defensive ends – J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and Tim Jamison are elite penetrating run-stoppers.

If the Bengals want to sustain offense against Wade Phillips’ crew, they’ll have to go to the air.

2. Dalton and the passing attack
The second-rounder from TCU has been one of the steadiest, most cerebral game-managers in all of football this season. What Dalton lacks in arm strength he makes up for in timing, poise and confidence.

First-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has built a system ideally suited for Dalton, featuring play-action and rollouts, moving pockets and quick-strike reads to the slot and flats (hence the expanded joker role for tight end Jermaine Gresham). Dalton has the pocket toughness and moxie to make it work.

But that speedy front seven from Houston can jeopardize all this. It’s not just that the Texans sack quarterbacks (they ranked sixth in that department this season), it’s that they make them play fast. Connor Barwin’s and Brooks Reed’s relentless off the edge rattles pockets; J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith are two of the few 3-4 ends who can beat a pass-blocker with a quick first step; and perhaps most significant, inside linebacker

Brian Cushing blitzes with impeccable speed and timing. Cushing’s effectiveness in this sense is a big reason why Houston has frequently had success blitzing with just five rushers. Able to keep defenders back, the Texans have racked up gobs of coverage sacks.

Dalton is willing to hang in there against the blitz (worth noting is that last time these teams met, Phillips was more aggressive than usual, occasionally playing Cover 0 and bringing the entire gauntlet of defenders). He’s been just a tad inconsistent in his precision accuracy the last few games, and he quietly struggled throughout the year on deep balls. These issues, however, have not derived from hasty or flawed mechanics and aren’t prominent enough for a defense to intentionally exploit.

Green and Joseph will square off again in the playoffs. (Getty Images)

3. Johnathan Joseph on A.J. Green
The Bengals passing attack centers around the downfield acrobatics of A.J. Green. They take several deep shots a game with the rookie Pro Bowler – often off play-action from run formations – and have him clear out coverage for the underneath receivers in the flats.

Interestingly, Green will be guarded by Johnathan Joseph, the sensational ex-Bengals corner who’s now the fulcrum of Houston’s coverage schemes. Joseph is arguably the premier deep ball defender in the NFL. That’s a big reason why he’s in the select group of corners who truly shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver week in and week out.

Joseph’s unique talent lends multiplicity and versatility to the rest of Houston’s secondary. That’s something Dalton and his ancillary targets must adjust to (one-on-one coverage for Jerome Simpson is not guaranteed this Saturday). The Joseph-Green matchup could very well decide the outcome. The last bout was a draw; Green finished with just 59 yards receiving but did have a tremendous 36-yard touchdown.

4. Bengals D vs. T.J. Yates
Even though it was Yates’ first start on the road, Gary Kubiak did not keep tight reigns on his fifth-round rookie quarterback at Cincinnati. He ran Houston’s regular passing attack, which is built around play-action off the stretch handoff (see: below), screens and downfield crossing patterns that attack man-to-man or Cover 3 (a zone the Bengals commonly play against base offensive personnel).

If you could characterize Gary Kubiak’s offense in one snapshot, this would be it. This is the stretch handoff, the most potent play in Houston’s zone run game. We froze the shot here because it’s indeterminable whether it’s a run or a play-action pass. Look at the Bengals back level defenders. The linebackers (53 Thomas Howard and 58 Rey Maualuga) have no choice but to flow right; the defensive backs are playing back and not attacking the run or their receiver.

The stretch handoff forces an entire defense to pause before committing to an attack. It presents a more dynamic play-action element because when it’s finally revealed whether the quarterback handed the ball off or kept it himself, the play has been unfolding for nearly two seconds (much longer than a traditional play-action). By this point, if it’s a handoff, the offensive linemen are further down their run-blocking paths; if it’s a pass, the receivers are further into their routes. Thus, any defenders who misdiagnoses the play is caught even further out of position than usual.

This is the case if the stretch play is executed well. As an offense, the risk is that when your stretch play is executed poorly, the drawn-out time elements work just as potently against you, as defenders that easily sniff out what you’re doing now have more time to react.

Kubiak trusted Yates to make plays; aside from a few short-armed throws, Yates responded extremely well. He exhibited his quick release, poise in the pocket and patience in progressions, completing 26 of 44 for 300 yards and engineering a brilliant 13-play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive.

Since then, Yates’ confidence has led to a few bad decisions. He had two atrocious interceptions in the loss to Carolina and did not push the ball downfield the next week when Indianapolis’ defense took away the crossing routes and rollout passes. There’s no telling how Yates might respond to unfamiliar looks in a playoff game.

A deep, lively defensive line has allowed Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to drift away from some of the high-risk pressure concepts that have long defined his system, but don’t be surprised if Zimmer throws a few safety/corner blitzes at the rookie on Saturday.

5. Texans zone run game
Even if they’re confident in Yates and finally have Andre Johnson at full force, the Texans will center their offensive attack around the ground game. Their front five is by far the best zone-blocking unit in the league – LT Duane Brown, C Chris Myers and RT Eric Winston have all had Pro Bowl caliber seasons – and they have the AFC’s best all-around runner in Arian Foster.

Compact 220-pound backup Ben Tate can also move the chains. The Bengals have a staunch run defense, thanks to meaty nose tackle Domata Peko and the great one-on-one play of his sidekick Geno Atkins. They also benefit from the athleticism at linebackers and the superb outside tackling of cornerback Nate Clements.

However, this defense did give up a big run to Ben Tate in Week 14 and got burned on huge runs by Ray Rice (who plays in a zone scheme similar to Houston’s) in both losses to Baltimore.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Wild Card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

 

1. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.


3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).


It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:


If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.

MUFFED PUNTS

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.

WORTH 1,000 WORDS


GIF O' THE WEEK

No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:17 pm
 

Film Room: Bengals vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



So let’s get this straight: the Steelers, at a respectable 6-3, are in third place of the AFC North? And it’s not the soft-scheduled Browns they’re chasing, but rather, the dysfunctional Bengals?

We’re going to find out over the next two months whether the Bengals are a Cinderella story or a farce. First, let’s establish some expectations by examining what the film has revealed over the past two months.



1. The ginger rookie & Jon Gruden’s brother
There’s a growing movement to anoint Andy Dalton the Offensive Rookie of the Year instead of Cam Newton. That’s a fair. Dalton’s team is 6-2, Newton’s is 2-6. But let’s keep our perspective and remember that Dalton is NOT the physical specimen that Newton is. He doesn’t have Newton’s arm, wheels or athletic improv skills. And he’s not being asked to do the same things as Newton.

That said, Dalton has been much closer to Newton’s athletic level than anyone would have ever guessed. He has shown the arm strength to make just about every throw that first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has asked of him. He’s been poised when operating from a muddied pocket, and he’s very good at releasing the ball on the move.

Gruden has done a phenomenal job playing to Dalton’s strengths. The Bengals have a balanced attack that hinges on play-action and rollouts, two concepts that slice the field for a quarterback and help define his reads (see graphic). Gruden also incorporates a lot of three-and five-step drops – another simplification tactic. As a result, the Bengals offense has not only been nearly mistake-free but also calm and consistent.

A play-action rollout simplifies things for a quarterback by essentially slicing the field in half. In this sample (against a basic two-man coverage), a fake handoff compels the defense to flow left. The only defenders who go right are the ones responsible for the two receivers running their patterns to the right.

Quarterbacking 101 teaches you to never throw across your body or back across the field. Thus, after the quarterback rolls out, he only has to read the right side of the field, which consists of nothing but his two receivers and their defensive matchups. Often, the read is simplified even more by throwing to wherever the free safety is not giving help-coverage. If a play is there, it’s easy for the quarterback to see.

If nothing’s there, the quarterback has plenty of room to throw the ball away or scramble.

2. The “sure thing” receiver & other weapons
Wideout A.J. Green has been exactly what you’d expect a No. 4 overall pick to be in Year One. He’s averaging roughly five catches, 75 yards and a little more than half a touchdown per game. He’s clearly Dalton’s go-to guy, being targeted almost automatically when facing one-on-one coverage. Green has a wide catching radius thanks to uncommon body control and a great vertical leap. He’ll climb to the top echelon of receivers once he polishes his route running (he has a bad tendency to yield ground and inside positioning on downfield patterns).

The receiving weapons around Green have been solid. Jermaine Gresham can cause matchup problems in the flats. Veteran Donald Lee has filled in well in the wake of Gresham’s hamstring injury the past two weeks. Jerome Simpson has shown why the team did not discipline him harshly after police found Costco amounts of marijuana in his home this past September. To be blunt, Simpson’s quickness is too valuable to take off the field. He’s much more reliable than Andre Caldwell.

Surprisingly, the black-and-blue ground game that figured to define Cincy’s offense has been extremely average thus far (the statistics support this, as Cincy ranks 28th with 3.7 yards per carry). Cedric Benson is a methodical, patient runner who needs steady blocking in order to thrive. He has gotten that, but not at the level he did two years ago when he averaged nearly 100 yards per game.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, despite a poor outing last week, has played at a Pro Bowl level, and right tackle Andre Smith has flashed astonishing power a few times. But the interior line and ancillary blockers (such as a sixth offensive lineman/fullback/tight end) have been up-and-down.

3. Defensive Overview
The Bengals have a deep, active defensive line that’s extremely potent against the run but just so-so against the pass. Tackles Geno Atkins and Pat Sims both regularly win phone booth matchups in impressive fashion, and Domata Peko almost always punishes teams who try to block him one-on-one. If he’s not penetrating, he’s stalemating in a way that allows teammates to make plays.
 
None of these inside players are dominant pass-rushers, though. And there isn’t much firepower outside. End Michael Johnson uses his athleticism in myriad ways but is not a regular presence in the backfield. Intriguing second-year pro Carlos Dunlap replaces Robert Geathers on passing downs. Dunlap, with his unusual upright style and sinewy explosiveness, is certainly capable of reaching the quarterback, but he’s also capable of disappearing for long stretches.

An impotent pass-rush can put considerable pressure on a secondary. Leon Hall is an elite cover corner who does not command a lot of safety help over the top. Using him in isolated solo coverage is a double-edge sword that has stabbed opponents slightly more than it’s stabbed the Bengals this season. Safeties Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker are hit-or-miss in coverage but capable of playing in space or the box. They give Mike Zimmer options.

Veteran Nate Clements has done a commendable job replacing Johnathan Joseph. Clements has been especially aggressive in short, underneath coverage. Helping in this facet is the fact that linebackers Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson both move well in the flats. It’s a little surprising that Lawson, who is replaced by Brandon Johnson in nickel (Johnson is the more comfortable of the two between the tackles), hasn’t been asked to put his hand in the dirt on passing downs.

4. Something to consider
This is a sharp, fundamentally sound defense that plays well as a unit in Mike Zimmer’s fairly aggressive scheme. But it’s also a defense that has yet to be tested. Look at the Bengals’ schedule thus far. They opened against Cleveland and Denver, two teams with major problems at wide receiver.

They faced San Francisco in Week 3, a good team but a very, very basic offense. They beat Buffalo in Week 4. Buffalo has a much-improved offense, but they’re not exactly Green Bay. Or even Dallas (never mind what the stats might say). After that it was Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Seattle, three teams with a total of zero proven quarterbacks. Last week the Bengals handled a Tennessee offense that’s respectable but nothing close to dynamic (especially through the air).

You couldn’t ask to face a more banal collection of offenses. This defense is fantastic against the run, but it remains to be seen how it will respond against a rhythmic, up-tempo passing attack.  

5. Matchup with the Steelers
Pittsburgh does have an elite, formidable offense. Cincinnati’s ho-hum pass-rush is not ideal for defending Ben Roethlisberger’s late-in-the-down magic.

The Bengals at least catch a break with wideout Emmanuel Sanders being out (arthroscopic knee surgery). Sanders would have given the Steelers aerial attack third source of speed, which Zimmer’s nickel unit may not be equipped to combat. Instead, it will be either Hines Ward or Jericho Cotchery threatening to catch six-yard slants out of the slot.

On the other side, the only defense comparable to Pittsburgh’s that this Cincy offense has faced is San Francisco’s in Week 3. The Niners were physical in taking away the receivers’ quick routes. The result was eight points and a 1/10 third down success rate for the Bengals. However, Dalton’s game has expanded since then. If need be, it’s possible, though not probable, that he’ll be able to put the team on his back and open things up for the first time this season.

Unless there continues to be slews of the fortuitous field position breaks that this Bengals offense has frequently enjoyed this season, he’ll need to.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 4, 2011 10:25 am
Edited on: November 4, 2011 10:26 am
 

Five questions (or more) with Chris Crocker

C. Crocker has been a key defender in Cincinnati (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Chris Crocker has played on good Bengals teams and bad Bengals teams. Mostly bad. But now that Cincinnati is 5-2, Crocker is receiving a bit more recognition for being a key component on a Bengals squad that has one of the league’s best defenses. After starting only six games during his first years in Cleveland, he’s started 83 of the last 89 contests he’s played, and he’s had himself a nice career. Seven games into this season, he’s already surpassed his career high with 2.5 sacks on the year.

He’s also one of the better quotes in the Bengals locker room, always willing to speak about whatever’s on his mind with nary a nod to the idea of political correctness. That’s not to say he’s in the same league as former teammates Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens. Those guys talked because they liked to hear themselves speak. When Crocker speaks, he usually has something interesting to say.

Knowing that, we caught up with Crocker earlier this week where we talked about life in the Bengals organization this year, how the team moved past the Carson Palmer controversy and why Owens can’t get a job.

Previous Five Questions (or more):

Sept. 16:
Actor/former Patriots DB Brian White

Sept. 30: Bills RB Fred Jackson

Oct. 7: Sweetness author Jeff Pearlman

Oct. 21: 49ers LB Aldon Smith

1. CBSSports.com: I was around that locker room for six years, and I know what that organization is like and what the mood in the locker room has been when the team’s been bad. What’s different this year?

Chris Crocker: I can talk specifically on defense where the majority of the guys are the same guys who have been here. Offensively, we’ve changed a lot of guys. We already had really good guys the locker room. It’s just been what the perception has been. We don’t have a Chad (Ochocinco) anymore that’s always in the media. All of our guys are low-key. We don’t have the guys who are in the limelight. The perception has changed. A lot of the guys we had before were getting into trouble with DUIs and suspensions. We’ve always had a good group of guys. We just don’t have any more Hollywood.

2. CBS: I don’t think I was alone in the national media in picking the Bengals to struggle, to go maybe 4-12 or 3-13. That obviously wasn’t right, but if you looked at what was happening, Carson Palmer was maybe going to go, the top two receivers from last year would leave, and we didn’t know why Marvin Lewis came back. Why are you guys winning?

Crocker: Offensively, we haven’t been very good since I’ve been here. I’m not saying that to kick my teammates in the butt. The truth of the matter is we haven’t been great. The defense, we felt like we were the strength of the team. No matter what, we felt like we had to carry our team. It just so happened that we stumbled on a quarterback that could manage the game, we’re very talented at the wide receiver spot, and Cedric (Benson) re-signed. Everything really jelled on the offensive side of the ball. We knew we were going to play stingy defense. But the (offensive) formula has worked for us. There were a lot of questions -- who’s going to be the quarterback, the running back, the receivers, and on defense we had questions too. But we felt like the nucleus was the same. Outside of these walls, nobody saw us as good. But every year, nobody sees us as good, so why should it be any different?

C. Crocker said the team doesn't have any Hollywood this year (US Presswire).3. CBS: But losing Johnathan Joseph to the Texans was a major thing, right? I mean, Joseph and Leon Hall were considered to be one of the better young cornerback tandems in the league.

Crocker: Going into the season, it was a big blow. Me and Leon and John have all been together. We had formed something that was really special. He leaves to go elsewhere, which is fine. He was entitled to do that. But what we were going to do? Nate Clements was a free agent, and he fit right in. He’s been a great player in this league for a while. For him coming in, it was just a matter of time. How long would it take him to learn the system and get on the same page? It’s been really good. You couldn’t have put a better guy in there.

CBS: Why did it fit Clements so well?

Crocker: First of all, experience supersedes everything. He’s a very smart guy. He really wanted to come in here and really get on the same page with everybody. He wasn’t coming here with the attitude that he’s been there and done that. He came in with the attitude that he could learn. It’s hard when you’re an old guy, you get stuck in your ways. But he was completely opposite of that. He wanted to be part of something special. But with us, it’s week to week. If we don’t play well the next week, then we’re a piece of crap. Especially in the media. We want to go out there and play well.

CBS: Yeah, but us in the media can also say, “Well, the Bengals really haven’t faced any great quarterbacks. They haven’t really played anybody yet. Their schedule is weak. They haven’t played Baltimore or Pittsburgh yet."

Crocker: When people say that, you know that you don’t ever apologize for winning. Those other guys in the division, they’re playing the same teams we are. You don’t apologize for winning in this league. We’ll see those guys down the road and see where we stand then.

4. CBS: Regarding Carson Palmer, what was the locker room attitude about him? He had been such a good member of the team, but then he bailed. Did Carson abandon you guys, or did he have a good point?

Crocker: In Cincinnati in general, he had been the quarterback for so long, maybe the fans and the organization were scared of change. Sometimes change is good. In this case, it works out for us. If he didn’t want to be here, that’s fine. It’s all good and dandy. We knew our offense wasn’t the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Let’s be real. We weren’t playing John Elway. I like Carson, but let’s look at what we were.

5. CBS: What about Terrell Owens? You played with him last year, saw him in practice. Does he still have what it takes? Why doesn’t he have a job?

Crocker: I’ll say this. When we talk about how perception is reality, the perception around the league is that he’s a bad locker room guy and a bad teammate. Organizations don’t want to bring that dynamic in the locker room, especially with him 37 or 38 years old. I just don’t think people are willing to do it. I’m not saying he’s a bad teammate, but he was called one when he was in San Fran, in Philly, in Dallas. It’s like a circus. Teams just don’t want to go that route. You bring him in, and you bring in all the stuff that goes with it. He seems healthy, he looks healthy. I’m not a GM, but it’s something you worry about.

CBS: Was it a circus last year with Owens and Ochocinco?

Crocker: I’ll go off what he said. He talks so bad about organizations that nobody wants to deal with that. You bring him in here, and it’s all good. But when it goes bad, he talks bad about the organization. My only rule is this: you might have gripes and you might not be happy, but you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I think that’s how organizations feel about him.

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Posted on: August 3, 2011 9:11 am
 

49ers sign Carlos Rogers to 1-year deal

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Cornerback Carlos Rogers entered free agency as a second-tier option behind Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph, Antonio Cromartie and Ike Taylor, and Tuesday, after those players had signed new lucrative long-term deals, Rogers inked a one-year contract with the 49ers.

The former Auburn standout was a first-round pick of the Redskins in 2005 and he never lived up to expectations in Washington. Playing opposite Shawn Springs and DeAngelo Hall for most of his career, Rogers was often targeted by opposing offenses and struggled with dropped interceptions (he has just eight picks in his six-year career; by comparison, Jay Cutler threw four to Hall in one game last season).

Still, at 30 he's relatively young, plenty athletic and has started 68 NFL games. The 49ers will likely insert Rogers into the starting lineup opposite Shawntae Spencer, where he will take over for recently released Nate Clements.

Rogers' one-year contract indicates that San Francisco wasn't interested in investing much money or time into him, but if he plays well in 2011 that could mean one more handsome payday in his future. If he struggles, then he'll probably be looking for another one-year deal next offseason. For now, though, he appears to be an NFL starting cornerback.

CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco notes that third-round pick Chris Culliver will join Tarell Brown, Phillip Adams and Tramaine Brock for playing time in the secondary.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 12:33 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: San Francisco 49ers

Posted by Will Brinson



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups



The 49ers were doomed almost from the very start of last season. After all, check out their schedule for the first five games – the Seahawks, the Saints, the Chiefs, the Falcons and the Eagles (all made the playoffs and combined for a 51-29 record while knocking off the 49ers) – but two weeks after running through that gauntlet, San Francisco fell to the Panthers also. So, that’s not too good.

Neither, for that matter, was coach Mike Singletary, who was fired after Week 16, and neither was much of anybody else. The offense ranked 24th in the league – almost a miracle considering Alex Smith and Troy Smith traded off starting QB spots and RB Frank Gore missed the last five games because of a fractured hip – and though the defense was actually slightly better than average, San Francisco just couldn’t put it together under Singletary’s leadership.




Quarterback Issues

When Singletary named Troy Smith as his starting QB midway through the season, you knew neither of them were long for their respective jobs. When Singletary replaced andinjured Alex Smith with Troy Smith in Week 10 and then switched back to Alex the next week (and then continued to switch the two throughout the rest of the year), there was almost no chance San Francisco would win consistently.

Actually, the trouble began earlier in the season during that infamous Sundayy Night Football game when the San Francisco fans booed Alex Smith and demanding to see the backup QB, and Singletary thought hard about replacing him with David Carr. Smith then led a near comeback attempt vs. the Eagles. Still, not a great sequence for San Francisco.


1. Patient History
We gave the patient history of this position in the section above, so now, let’s figure out what the 49ers will do about it. They actually could keep Alex Smith – they’ve already offered him a one-year contract – but it’s unclear whether Smith will sign it. But yeah, it might make sense for San Francisco to look for quarterbacks in the draft. And remember, Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb are still out there as well.

2. Jim Harbaugh
He’s got zero NFL head coaching experience, but 49ers fans have to be excited about the possibilities (considering his success at Stanford and because his brother, John, has done such a bang-up job with the Ravens), and considering he’s getting paid $25 million over five years, he’d BETTER have more success than Singletary. And don’t forget: San Francisco also hired Trent Baalke as GM in the offseason. So, the 49ers are kind of starting over.

3. Cornerback
Nate Clements is fine at one CB spot, but Shawntae Spencer didn’t have a great year last season. Which is why it makes sense for San Francisco to grab either LSU’s Patrick Peterson or Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara with the No. 7 pick in the draft.




The defense is good enough to compete. The 49ers LB corps with Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes (and maybe Manny Lawson) is pretty darn good, and the defensive line, led by Justin Smith, does a nice job as well. The problem here is offense, and not just at QB either.

Gore is coming off a bad injury, and WR Michael Crabtree still hasn’t broken out in a big way. Assuming Harbaugh can get the respect of his team right away – something Singletary struggled with last season – San Francisco could get back to 8-8. Which means the 49ers could contend for the NFC West crown.

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Posted on: December 17, 2010 12:31 am
 

With V-Jax, the Chargers could be deadly

V. Jackson is excited after catching a 58-yard TD pass (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

In his first game of the 2010 season, Chargers WR Vincent Jackson didn’t last one quarter before excusing himself from the contest with a calf injury. Then, he missed the next week.

For a guy who’d been shouting in the preseason about a new contract before refusing to sign his tender, holding out, getting his bluff called by San Diego GM A.J. Smith and serving two suspensions, this was not an especially impressive showing.

When he finally returned in last week’s 31-0 San Diego victory against the Chiefs, he tallied two catches for 29 yards. This, you might have asked, was the player who crowed about wanting one of the top WR salaries in the league? This, even though he originally was scheduled to make $3.2 million this season (that salary was later slashed to $600,000, so yeah, his refusal to sign his tender wasn’t a great financial decision).

If you had doubted Jackson’s abilities, look no further than the Chargers 34-7 victory against the 49ers tonight, because Jackson was nothing short of incredible. He finished with five catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns, and he was simply outstanding. His first score was his most impressive, when he out-leapt San Francisco CB Nate Clements for a 58-yard touchdown to give San Diego a 7-0 lead.

From there, the Chargers – and Jackson – never looked back.

San Diego is currently in the middle of its yearly December restoration project when it has to overcome a slow start to the season only to make a huge run to win the AFC West and make the playoffs.

With tonight’s win, the Chargers are a half-game back of the Chiefs, who face the Rams this weekend and could be without quarterback Matt Cassel again. Unquestionably, San Diego – which has won six of its past seven games – has the momentum going into its final two games of the season (against the Bengals and the Broncos, two should-be wins), as opposed to the Chiefs, who gone 3-3 in their past six games.

The Chargers still have to hope they can actually make the playoffs – if the Chiefs win out, it’d still be tough for the Chargers to get a Wild Card, even with a 10-6 record.

But …

But if San Diego can make the postseason, the Chargers will be a tough squad to play. Assuming TE Antonio Gates and WR Malcom Floyd are healthy enough to play, assuming Jackson continues to perform like he did tonight, assuming the Chargers defense continues to play well and assuming QB Philip Rivers continues to be an MVP candidate, this team will be a tough out in the postseason.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Jackson told the NFL Network after the game. “This team is moving in the right direction. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

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Posted on: October 30, 2010 1:21 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2010 1:25 pm
 

Week 8 injury report analysis Part I

Posted by Andy Benoit

Broncos @ 49ers

The Broncos kept LB Wesley Woodyard, LB Robert Ayers, CB Perrish Cox, S Darcel McBath and DE Kevin Vickerson back home in The States for this one. The absence of these five players is a serious blow to Denver’s defensive depth. At least S Brian Dawkins (knee) and CB Andre Goodman (quad) are probable. Both sat out last week’s debacle against Oakland.

Considering both of these teams have a bye next week, is it even worth it for the Broncos to play Dawkins and Goodman this week against a 49ers passing attack that is without starting QB Alex Smith (shoulder) and relying on a somewhat hobbled Vernon Davis (questionable; ankle)?

Because the Broncos love to sling the ball, it’s worth noting that Niners CB Tarell Brown (back) is doubtful and CB Nate Clements (ankle) is probable.

Jaguars @ Cowboys

The Cowboys are likely without Tony Romo for the season, given that the team will almost certainly be eliminated from playoff contention once his shoulder heals. The Jags are getting THEIR quarterback, David Garrard, back after a 1 ½-game absence (concussion). How’s this for freaky: every quarterback that has replaced Garrard at some point this season has goL. Hall (US Presswire)tten injured. Luke McCown blew out his knee working relief duty in Week 1. Trent Edwards dinged his right thumb after Garrard suffered his concussion against the Titans. And now, last week’s starter, Todd Bouman, is questionable with a right finger injury.

Also questionable is Jaguars DE Jeremy Mincey (hand), who was just given the starting job ahead of disappointing former first-round pick Derrick Harvey (who should be listed as questionable each week with an iffy skill set).

Jacksonville’s interior defensive line should step up in this game. The Cowboys are still without left guard Kyle Kosier (ankle) and his backup Montrae Holland (groin). Phil Costa will start for them. Cornerback Terence Newman is expected to play despite sore ribs. Knowing Newman, though, he’ll come out of the game with a false injury scare at least twice.

Dolphins @ Bengals

Not a single player of consequence is listed on Miami’s injury report. For the Bengals, it’s the other way around. Essentially Cincy’s entire secondary is listed as questionable, with the exception of S Roy Williams, who is doubtful (knee), and CB Leon Hall, who is probable (hamstring). Hall missed Wednesday and Thursday’s workout. His counterpart, Johnathan Joseph (ankle), missed Wednesday and most of Thursday. Backup CB Morgan Trent also sat both days. And, oh yeah, nickelback Adam Jones was just placed on IR (neck). Considering the Bengals have next to no pass rush, the injuries in the defensive backfield are an extra major concern.

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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