Tag:T.J. Ward
Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:37 am
 

Keep an Eye On: Week 6's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Raiders vs. Browns
Keep an eye on: Raiders passing game
The Raiders are a run-first team, no doubt. That shouldn’t change against the Browns.

Cleveland can stop the run well enough, especially if middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson stays clean from blockers. But at some point, Jason Campbell will have to make a play or two through the air. Expect Darren McFadden to be the primary receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Throws to McFadden have easy, defined reads for Campbell (who often flounders late in his progressions and when his pocket gets too crowded for him to take a full step into his throw) and they should be available given the way Cleveland’s linebackers have struggled in underneath coverage. Most of those struggles have come against athletic tight ends.

The Raiders, however, are more inclined to run tight end Kevin Boss down the seam and swing McFadden underneath. The Browns will likely commit a safety (perhaps T.J. Ward) to tight end coverage and allow Scott Fujita to cover McFadden (expect zone principles since Fujita doesn’t have a prayer at running with McFadden in man coverage).

This isn’t to say Campbell won’t go to his wide receivers. He’s been attacking deep more in October than he did in September. That’s a response to the new speedy duo of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both are raw but potentially lethal. (No. 3 receiver Jacoby Ford is also a burner.) They’re not a potent one-two punch yet, though. Moore’s only big game came against the Bills, when Heyward-Bey was out of the lineup.

We may find out which receiver the Raiders like better this Sunday. Campbell has avoided throwing at top-flight corners this season (he hardly looked to Darrelle Revis’ side in Week 3 and rarely challenged Houston’s Johnathan Joseph in Week 5). Browns second-year sensation Joe Haden is most definitely a top-flight corner (he may have the most natural change-of-direction ability of any defensive player in football).

If Haden returns from his sprained knee, he’ll likely line up on the defensive left side. Whoever Oakland puts on the offensive left side (i.e. away from Haden) figures to be the go-to target. That could tell you what wide receiver pecking order the Raiders prefer.



Ravens vs. Texans
Keep an eye on: Brian Cushing
The third-year pro has been arguably the best inside linebacker in the AFC this season. That’s significant considering how mightily Cushing struggled as the middle linebacker in Houston’s 4-3 scheme last season.

But the inside duties are different in Wade Phillips’ new 3-4. With less field to cover, Cushing has been able to be more of an attacker than a reader-and-reactor. That’s a style best suited for his speed and ferocity.
 
Cushing hunts down outside runs extremely well and shows vigor when tasked with clearing out a lead-blocker. Both are critical traits for containing a Ravens ground game featuring a dynamic B-and C-gap runner like Ray Rice and a fullback like Vontae Leach.

Cushing is also noteworthy because of what he means to Houston’s pass-rush. Against the Raiders last week, Phillips resorted to frequent inside blitzes in an effort to instill panic in Oakland’s pass protectors and command one-on-one matchups for the rushers outside. Cushing continuously stood out for timing his blitzes well and executing them with reckless abandon.

With Mario Williams out, Phillips may feel compelled to be even more aggressive with linebacker blitzes. And he’s certainly seen the Week 4 film of Joe Flacco and the Ravens struggling to sort out many of the Jets’ inside blitzes.

Lions vs. 49ers
Keep an eye on: the tight ends
The 49ers and Lions are very different offenses. The Lions run a modern, semi-spread, aerial attacking offense. The 49ers run a 1980s, compact, ground-pounding offense.

That’s primarily a function of the quarterbacks. Though both are former No. 1 overall picks, Matthew Stafford is gun-slinger while Alex Smith is, comparatively, a spitball shooter. (To be fair, Smith did have a terrific game against the Bucs. He diagnosed coverages well and made a few stick throws.)

Though vastly different, both offenses are built around the same base personnel package: two tight ends. The Lions frequently line up with Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew while the Niners often feature Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The conundrum that two tight end personnel presents for a defense is in deciding what personnel to respond with.

Go with nickel and you risk getting run on (especially when facing the Niners, given that Davis and Walker are both solid run-blockers). Go with a base defense and you risk getting thrown on (especially with the Lions since Scheffler often splits out as a third receiver in the slot).
 
All four tight ends are weapons. For the Lions, Brandon Pettigrew is surprisingly mobile given his 265-pound frame and ’09 knee injury (from which he’s seemingly gained mobility through rehabbing). Scheffler is a swift downfield target.

For the Niners, Vernon Davis is as athletic as they come. No one save for maybe Jermichael Finley is as dangerous down the seams. Delanie Walker is not as good as Bay Area fans think, but he’s versatile in patterns and can block from a standstill position, off of motion or in a lead out of the backfield.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 2, 2010 3:29 pm
 

Top Ten With a Twist: New Faces

L. Tomlinson has been one of the most impressive players in the NFL this season (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Some arrived via free agency. Some were left on the garbage pile and only had one or two teams show interest. Some didn’t have much of a choice if they wanted to continue playing NFL football. And some were highly-touted rookies who commanded humongous signing bonuses and who have lived up to their end of the bargain.

Today, we spotlight the top-10 players who are performing brilliantly in their first year with a new team. We’re talking about rookies, we’re talking about free agents, we’re talking about those whose careers were left for dead.

All of the following have impacted their new teams in many ways and all have made the front offices who signed them seem clairvoyant in the process (though, in the case of a couple players, the decision to add them wasn’t exactly brain surgery). So, here’s to those who have found a new lease on life (or a new burgeoning career) with their new team.

10. Jason Babin, DE, Titans: The career-high sack total for Babin, a seven-year veteran, was five coming into this season – set in 2006 while in Houston. This year, through eight games, he’s got seven. So, what happened this season, especially after recording just 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year with the Eagles? According to Babin, it’s just been a matter of getting more playing time. OK, if you say so.

9. Colt McCoy, QB, Browns: Aside from any rookie QB not named Sam Bradford, McCoy has done pretty darn well as a first-year signal-caller. He’s only played the past two games for Cleveland, but he’s hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for a touchdown, two picks and a QB rating of 76.5. OK, he’s not great, but he’s been light years ahead of Jimmy Clausen and Max Hall. Plus, he’s coming off a win against the Saints.

8. Terrell Owens, WR, Bengals: You still have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Owens. He’s the kind of player who, often times, doesn’t put out special effort to knock down a bad pass so the opponent doesn’t pick it (this happened at least twice last week), but he’s also still the kind of player who can rack up a team-leading 45 catches for 629 yards and five touchdowns. Ultimately, it was probably the right move for Cincinnati to sign him. In three weeks, though, that might not be the case.

7. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Steelers: Pittsburgh’s first-round pick beat out Justin Hartwig at the beginning of the season for the starting center role, and Pouncey has performed well thus far. He’s really helped glue together a Steelers offensive line that had major questions raised about it coming into the season.N. Suh has begun to dominate the opponent's offensive line for Detroit (Getty).

6. Dez Bryant, WR/PR, Cowboys: One of the bright spots in Dallas this year. We knew Bryant was going to be a good one, and he has not disappointed, catching 29 passes for 349 yards for three touchdowns (Roy Williams, by the way, is 22 for 327 and five, respectively). But he’s been downright electric while fielding kicks, returning two punts for touchdowns and averaging 16.5 yards per punt, second in the NFL for those who have at least 10 returns.

5. Thomas Jones/Ryan Torain/Peyton Hillis, RBs, Chiefs/Redskins/Browns: Yes, I’m cheating a bit here, listing three players in one spot, but that doesn’t take away from how well these guys have played – and how unexpected their production has been. The Jets figured they didn’t need Jones any more, but he’s rushed for 538 yards through seven games with the Chiefs. Torain has replaced Clinton Portis pretty well, and Hillis (460 yards, five touchdowns) has been the biggest surprise at all (he certainly has surprised Denver coach Josh McDaniels, who let go of Hillis after last season).

4. Brandon Marshall, WR, Dolphins: Marshall has typical diva receiver tendencies, but he’s been one of the best players in the league so far this season. After Marshall was traded away from Denver (ahem, McDaniels), he’s done nothing but produce in Miami, ranking fourth in the league with 47 catches for 588 yards. The one disappointing stat: he’s only recorded one touchdown.

3. Earl Thomas (Seahawks)/T.J. Ward/Ndamukong Suh, S/S/DT, Seahawks/Browns/Lion: Sigh, again I’m cheating. But considering all these first-year players are vying for defensive rookie of the year honors, it makes sense to lump them all together. Thomas has proven that he’s one of the most instinctual players in the league with four interceptions, tied for third-best in the NFL. Ward took some heat for the nasty hit he put on Cincinnati’s Jordan Shipley, but his big-hit ability has helped lead him to 60 tackles (fourth-most among safeties). And Suh is living up to his lofty billing, blowing up interior offensive linemen and recording 6.5 sacks. He’s going to be a monster for as long as he steps on the field.

2. Sam Bradford, QB, Rams: I’m not sure most of us could have expected Bradford, the No. 1 pick from last year’s Draft, to play so well a mere eight games into this pro career. He’s completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,674 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The numbers don’t look fantastic, but you have to take into account his poise and his savvy and the fact he doesn’t have a big-name receiver upon whom he can lean. Plus, he’s got the Rams, one of the worst NFL teams coming into the season, at the 4-4 mark. He has been pretty outstanding. Not bad considering he missed most of last year at Oklahoma with the shoulder injury.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets: Somehow, Tomlinson has found the fountain of youth. It wasn’t in San Diego apparently. Perhaps it was in New Jersey the whole time. On the season, Tomlinson has gained 544 yards and five touchdowns and has taken Shonn Greene’s job away from him. He has been perhaps the most surprising player in the league this year. He’s definitely been the No. 1 new face.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: October 8, 2010 3:04 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2010 3:34 pm
 

Shipley out but Ward in (justice pronounced dead)

Posted by Andy Benoit

Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley has been ruled out for Sunday’s game due to a concussion. The concussion was the result of an egregious cheap shot from Browns rookie safety T.J. Ward. If you haven’t seen the hit, take a look at it here:

Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Ward was fined $15,000 for the hit. That is an outlandishly soft punishment that should leave the executives at 280 Park Avenue feeling embarrassed. Jets safety Eric Smith was fined $50,000 and suspended one game for his hit on Anquan Boldin in 2008.

Fortunately, Shipley was not injured as badly as Boldin was. But that doesn’t make Ward’s hit any better than Smith’s. Why is it that Shipley has to sit out Sunday but the man who delivered the dirty hit that caused the injury gets to play? Ward should have been suspended.

"I just tried to make a play and unfortunately he got hurt," Ward said, according to ESPN. "It's part of the violent game we play. If you play that position, it kind of comes with the territory."

It’s too early to declare Ward a dirty player. But this was certainly a dirty play. Eric Mangini defended Ward’s hit, calling it “an aggressive play.” This prompted Shipley’s teammate, Terrell Owens, to tell Chad Ochocinco on The T.Ocho Show (seriously), “Look who it's coming from. Probably 90 percent of his players don't like him [Mangini] anyway. I don't like him. We got to see him again anyway, so we'll see who's going to do some cheap shots next game. Hit me like that."

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .

Posted on: August 24, 2010 11:33 am
 

Hot in Cleveland - well lukewarm, anyway

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Last year at this time, the Browns were staring at a mess. Their quarterback choices were Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. WR Braylon Edwards would soon be on his way out of town. RB Jamal Lewis was getting old.

New head coach Eric Mangini already was facing problems within the organization. And as Tony Grossi from the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, “Mike Furrey was one of the surest tacklers in the secondary. Yes, Mike Furrey, the possession receiver.”

Life is different now in Berea, Ohio, though.

Jake Delhomme might only be a slight upgrade – if that – but at least the QB spot isn’t in question, though if the coaches wanted to make things interesting, they could throw in Seneca Wallace every now and again (I’m not sure what the deal is here, but Grossi also mentions third-round pick Colt McCoy needs to play well in the final two preseason games in order to make the roster). Rookies Joe Haden and T.J. Ward have performed well in the secondary during training camp, and RB Jerome Harrison rushed for 561 yards in the final three games of last season.

Of course there are still plenty of questions in Cleveland and there’s almost no chance they won’t finish last in the AFC North, but life just seems a little bit better for the Browns. At least compared to last year.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: July 26, 2010 9:48 am
 

Browns sign second-rounder Montario Hardesty

Montario Hardesty, the Cleveland Browns' second-rounder, has come to terms with the team on a deal according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain-Dealer .

Joe Haden and T.J. Ward (the Browns first- and other second-rounder, respectively) remain unsigned, but the news that Hardesty's headed towards camp is good for Cleveland: regardless of the rushing totals for Jerome Harrison at the end of 2009, there's a reason why Cleveland moved several picks to slide up and grab Hardesty when they did. (Outside of "he's really talented" -- Harrison's run was a bit of a scheduling mirage.)

Specifically, the Browns believe that they can be a much more offensively potent team with some Hardesty and Harrison splitting carries. Oh yes: they have Jake Delhomme starting at quarterback (most likely), so the more firepower they can generate at the running back position, the better.

-- Will Brinson

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com