Tag:Tramon Williams
Posted on: November 16, 2011 4:09 pm
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Film Room: Packers vs. Buccaneers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Green Bay Packers are off to the best start of any Defending Champion since the ‘99 Broncos. With legitimate buzz about a perfect season getting louder, let’s look at some of subtle but important elements that make this team great.


1. Aaron Rodgers hidden traits
Through nine games, Rodgers is playing the quarterback position better than anyone has ever played it. No need to sit here and talk about his arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, mobility and “moxie” – all it takes are two eyes and a pulse for an observer to notice these things.

Besides, it’s the little things that set Rodgers apart. Things like….
  • Footwork: This past Monday night, Jon Gruden shrewdly pointed out that when taking a shotgun snap, the right-handed Rodgers keeps his right foot back. All other right-handed quarterbacks keep their left foot back. By keeping his right foot back, Rodgers is in position to throw the second he receives the ball. This is critical given how many quick slants and smoke screens the Packers throw. Rodgers’ footwork is not just unique in the shotgun. He’s incredibly crafty in how he angles his drop-backs ever so slightly to impact opposing pass-rushers’ path to him. It’s something you generally wouldn’t notice unless you have to play against him. Rodgers’ subtle footwork adjustments can be a tremendous help to Green Bay’s offensive line.
  • Presnap vocals: Rodgers recognizes defenses as well as any quarterback in the game and uses the snap count better than anyone. This Sunday, keep track not just of how many times Buccaneer defensive linemen jump offsides (Adrian Clayborn and Albert Haynesworth both had some issues with this last week) but how many times the linebackers and cornerbacks are baited into accidentally showing their hand. Rodgers is remarkable in the way he recognizes any flinch and mentally processes a defender’s initial move. Good dummy cadences allow him to do that.
  • Precision accuracy: Rodgers has the ability to succeed even on plays where the defense’s scheme defeats Green Bay’s offensive concept. His ball command is a big reason why. Most accurate passers simply hit the dart board; Rodgers routinely hits the bull’s-eye. He puts the ball not just on a receiver, but in the most favorable location for that receiver. This is why the Packers are the best in football when it comes to running after the catch. The last passer who threw with the quick release and velocity necessary for near-perfect precision was Kurt Warner. The difference between Rodgers and Warner is Rodgers exhibits this kind of accuracy in the pocket AND outside on the move (he’s the best movement passer in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman included).
2. Formation versatility
The Packers offense is a nightmare to prepare for. They have a bottomless trove of formations and personnel packages. They regularly use three different running backs, five different wide receivers and four different tight ends, with formations reflecting virtually every possible combination of those groupings.

And thanks to the versatility and potency of Jermichael Finley, defenses often can’t decipher whether it will be a run or pass formation until the Packers line up. Even then, it can be hard to decipher, as it’s not uncommon for Finley to shift before the snap. The Packers run a lot of the same plays but out of different formations.

This formation versatility allows Green Bay’s rushing attack to stay afloat. Talent-wise, it’s not a great ground game. James Starks and Ryan Grant are both methodical, gaping-hole runners who can’t redirect quickly or create their own space. It helps that they play with a strong, versatile lead-blocker in John Kuhn and behind stud right guard Josh Sitton and crafty center Scott Wells. H-back Tom Crabtree is also a positive factor in run packages.

But what really makes a difference is that the Packers are a threat to throw out of run formations. They have a viable screen game, they’re great in play-action and Rodgers is not afraid to go downfield even if there’s only one wideout in the formation (the first touchdown to Jordy Nelson in Super Bowl XLV is a great example).

The Bucs safeties struggled in run-pass recognition against the Texans last week. And their linebackers really struggled against the run (middle ‘backer Mason Foster is about as stiff as they come). Don’t be surprised if the Packers pound the Bucs on the ground and later throw the safeties a curveball with a downfield shot out of heavy personnel.

3. Receiver distribution

Receiver distribution can be explained with simple who-where-how questions: WHO are the receivers on the field, HOW do they line up and WHERE do they run? The “who” is always favorable to Green Bay. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley form the most formidable quintet in the NFL. All are fast, fundamentally sound and well-schooled in Mike McCarthy’s system.

It’s in the “where” and “how” that McCarthy doesn’t get enough credit. Along with Sean Payton, McCarthy is the best in the business at creating big passes through alignment and route combinations. The Packers create a lot of mismatches simply by lining certain players up in certain areas. They create even more mismatches by designing routes that work off one another.

The best example is their 3 x 1 receiver set (three receivers to one side, one receiver to the other). Greg Jennings is often the X-iso receiver (i.e. the receiver on the one-receiver side). From this formation, an outside route by Jennings all but guarantees one-on-one coverage (a safety over the top can’t cover enough ground quick enough to help outside; even if he could, the three receives being on the other side of the field usually demands that he be over there).

If Jennings runs an inside route, Rodgers has a one-on-one matchup to locate on the three-receiver side. He identifies these matchups almost instantaneously. And with the vast talent at receiver, the one-on-one matchup will almost always favor Green Bay. Defenses that try to nullify this by playing zone to the three-receiver side are punished by route combinations that work off one another by attacking the boundaries of the zones (i.e., that grey area where one defender’s zone ends and another’s begins).

McCarthy’s goal is to slow down a defender’s mental process just enough to give his quarterback time to strike. The second quarter touchdown pass to Jennings in Super Bowl XLV is a great example:


1. The play involved a formation shift, as Greg Jennings’ motion turned a 2 x 2 receiver set into a 3 x 1. This shifted the Steelers’ zone coverage from a Cover 2 to a man-zone scheme, with Ike Taylor playing man against the lone receiver (Andrew Quarless) outside and the rest of the defenders playing zone.

2. In this scenario, the backside safety (the safety furthest from the three receivers) is responsible for the 3 receiver (the receiver nearest the slot). That was Ryan Clark on the right side.

 

3. It was a great route combination by the Packers. The far outside receiver (Donald Driver) ran a hitch, which forced that cornerback to sit on the route. Because that corner had to sit, he could not help against the second receiver (Jordy Nelson), who was running a seam route downfield. Thus, the deep safety, Troy Polamalu, now had to worry about Nelson.


4. The problem was, Polamalu also had the receiver furthest inside (Jennings) screaming at him. Naturally, Polamalu froze for a split second, as he was mentally processing two different receivers racing into the edges of his zone. This created natural confusion with Ryan Clark, who was responsible for that inside receiver and had a lot of ground to cover. Clark had stayed in his original Cover 2 positioning a beat too long (an understandable mistake given Pittsburgh’s fondness for disguising coverage).

5. Rodgers recognized all this. It was exactly how the play was designed to work. The coverage was decent, but Rodgers’ arm was better. Touchdown.

4. The other side of the ball
Green Bay’s defense is as versatile as its offense. It’s a unit that has been inconsistent this season, but don’t think for a second that this group isn’t capable of winning a game on its own in any given week.

Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme can quickly morph into a 2-4-5 or 1-4-6 scheme, depending on the pass-happiness of the opponent (expect more 3-4 looks this Sunday, as the Bucs utilize a lot of base personnel on early downs). The flexibility of the defensive backs allows the Packers to disguise blitzes before the snap and alter coverages after the snap. These are two of the leading principles of Capers’ system.

Why other teams don’t simply mimic Capers’ effective, playmaking-oriented scheme is because of personnel limitations. Capers enjoys the rare fortune of having the four most critical weapons that a defense in today’s NFL can have: an interior clogger (B.J. Raji), an edge-rusher (Clay Matthews), a cover corner (Tramon Williams) and a versatile slot corner/safety (Charles Woodson). Star players make the role players around them better. The Packers D has stars at every level.

5. The Woodson factor
Matthews might be Green Bay’s most valuable defender simply because there isn’t another pass-rusher on the roster (or perhaps in the league) with his initial quickness and sheer speed. But Woodson has a far greater hand in what the Packers do schematically.

An elite cover corner early in his career, the 35-year-old veteran has morphed into more of a freelancing box safety, ala Troy Polamalu. This isn’t to say Woodson can’t still cover. His five interceptions this season – and outstanding performance playing bump-and-run outside in place of an injured Tramon Williams at Carolina in Week 2 – prove that he can. But he’s more dangerous in the box.

Woodson is an elite blitzer and run defender from the slot. He’s surprisingly physical. His greatest traits are his timing and the unique paths he takes in attack. Woodson recognizes offensive concepts quickly, not just in terms of where the play is going, but when it is designed to get there. He adjusts accordingly, which is why you almost never see him get blocked.

Woodson’s impact is not just felt through his own big plays, either. He is brilliant at getting to spots on the field that he knows will redirect the offense back into the teeth of the defense. A lot of times, the goal of Woodson’s blitz is not to get a sack, but rather, to simply force the quarterback to move into a vulnerable area that the rest of the defense is secretly attacking.

Guys like Woodson only come around every decade or so. They’re rare because it takes about 8-10 years for a player to master the game’s nuances. By that time, most players have declined athletically. The ones that don’t go to Canton.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 22, 2011 1:22 pm
 

For the gambler in you, Week 7

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Each Saturday, we’ll take the best -- and most clever -- odds collected by bodog.com for the upcoming week and give our take. This is important stuff, perhaps the most important post you’ll read all week. Because if you can’t lose money while watching a game in which you have absolutely no effect, what’s the point of watching sports at all?

There were, by the way, plenty of Carson Palmer prop bets, but since it’s looking like he’s not going to start, I’ll ignore them and continue on with the bets that are likely to happen.

Tim Tebow -- total passing yards Week 7      
   
Over/Under 175½

If you’ve picked Tebow for your fantasy league, you’re not (I assume) counting on many 300-yard passing games from him. Instead, you’re betting that he’ll give you a little of everything. Some passing, some quality running, some short-yardage touchdowns. I’d go under here, because I don’t see the Broncos putting Tebow in the position to have to pass the ball 25 times (unless they fall far behind). And even if he did, I don’t see him completing enough passes to break 175. I’d actually be more inclined to go over if this was total rushing yards.

Tim Tebow -- total rushing yards Week 7   
      
Over/Under 45½

Based on what I previously wrote: obviously, I’d go over.

Christian Ponder -- total interceptions Week 7   

Over ½  (-300)

Under ½ (+240)

Hmm, a rookie quarterback making his first start. Against a team that employs Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. Against an organization that is undefeated and coming off a Super Bowl championship. I might go slightly over.

Will Jimmy Graham record 100 or more receiving yards Week 7? (Note:  Jimmy Graham has tied the NFL record for tight ends with four straight 100 yard receiving games)  

Yes +200
   
No -300
   
Considering Graham broke Sean Payton’s knee last week, I don’t think Graham will even get to play this week. Obviously, I’m kidding. Although Graham is now one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets, I’d go no. Records are really tough to break, and Graham won’t do it this week.

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Posted on: September 29, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 11:58 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Most underrated

D. McFadden is one of the league's most underrated players (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

You know all the big-name players, even if they’re past their prime. Guys who once were great and impactful and who were rated exactly as their athleticism required. Now, though, some of those players have begun their descent into the final phases of their career, but fans, remembering their past exploits, still think of them as high-end performers on the field.

Now, they’re making way for players you’ve probably heard of but can’t place. Players who you’ve seen but can’t remember on which team they reside.Players who are overshadowed and under the radar. The players who won’t be considered underrated for much longer.

In this week’s Top Ten with a Twist, we feature the best players who are not as well known as they should be. You can call them underrated and call them under the radar, but their teams and their teammates know how important they are. They are, in fact, some of the best players in the league who aren’t necessarily considered the best players in the league.

10. Sean Lee: He won’t be a name only hardcore fans recognize for much longer. He was just named NFC defensive player of the month after a sensational start to the season (31 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries). Lee had knocked long-time starting linebacker Keith Brooking out of the lineup, and with the way he’s playing, you can certainly see why. He has been scary this year.

9. Hakeem Nicks: Considering wide receiver is one of the most glamorous positions in the sport, it’s tough to find a guy who you could call underrated -- conversely, there’s no shortage of players we could consider overrated at this position. But Nicks is one of those guys who doesn’t get the national attention (even though he plays in New York!) of a Calvin Johnson, an Andre Johnson or a DeSean Jackson. And while Nicks might not quite be on the same level as those receivers, he’s close. His 79 catches, 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 is a testament to that.

8. Ryan Kalil: You might have been shocked when the Panthers gave him a six-year, $49 million ($28 million guaranteed) deal before this season to make him the highest-paid center in the game, but those around the league know his value. He’s versatile in pass protection and run-blocking, and he doesn’t get called for holding penalties. Is he the best center in the league? Probably not as long as Nick Mangold is playing, but Kalil is still one of the top guys out there.

7. Vince Wilfork: He gets plenty of attention -- especially when he’s picking off passes and strolling his way back up the field -- but when compared to defensive tackles like Haloti Ngata, Ndamukong Suh or (gasp!) Albert Haynesworth, Wilfork doesn’t get the admiration he deserves. Despite his size -- he very well could be playing in the 400-pound range -- he’s one of the most athletic big men you’ll see. He’s one of the best run-stoppers around, and he’s the anchor of the Patriots defense. You know him, but he still hasn’t made his way to superstar status.



6. Darren Sproles: It was thought that the new kickoff rules would hinder Sproles, and that was probably one of the reasons the Chargers didn’t re-sign him in the offseason. But Sproles has continued to prove his wealth, settling into the Saints backfield, where he’s shown he can still rush (7.4 yards per carry), catch the ball (21 receptions, second-best among running backs) and score (he’s recorded a touchdown in all three games). He’s like a Reggie Bush who actually is effective for the Saints. Oh, and he can still return kicks (sixth in the league among those who have at least five chances) and return punts (second in the league).

5. Tramon Williams: Although he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl, Williams isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the Eagles cornerback trio (Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) or the Jets duo (Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie). Plus, he plays in the shadow of Charles Woodson, who is still one of the best cornerbacks in the league after 14 seasons. But Williams has shown why he’s a top-10 cornerback. He’s not avoided by other team’s quarterbacks quite as much as Asomugha and Revis -- that’s a byproduct of playing with Woodson -- but he’s shown that when his receiver is targeted, Williams is one of the better cover corners in the league.

4. Rob Gronkowski: Who are the best tight ends in the league? Antonio Gates? That’s true if he’s healthy. Tony Gonzalez? That’s true if this was five years ago. Jason Witten? Yes, he probably is the top tight end out there. But you know who’s really close to him? That’s Gronkowski -- who, in his second season in the league, is one big reason the Patriots offense has been so dominant this season. He was decent as a rookie last season, but he’s exploded for five touchdowns already this year, and with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the lineup in New England, that is a tough, tough matchup for the opposing teams’ linebackers.

3. Brandon Pettigrew: Last Sunday was the perfect example of why Pettigrew can make a Lions fan’s mouth water. He played through a shoulder injury, yet he managed to catch 11 passes for 112 yards in Detroit’s huge comeback victory against the Vikings. He’s probably not on the same level as Witten or Gronkowski, and yes, he drops the easy passes way too much (even if he also makes the spectacular catches). But in his third season in the league, he shows real potential to be a top-five tight end.

2. Trent Cole: He’s always good for between 55-80 tackles a year. He’s always good for between eight and 13 sacks. He’s almost always assured to be making life difficult for whichever offensive tackle who is charged with slowing his momentum. Cole might be the best player many NFL fans don’t know anything about. But this year, he’s off to a hot start in Philadelphia with three sacks. He’s a monster, and even if you haven’t heard his name very much, you can be sure the league’s offensive linemen have.

1. Darren McFadden: Along with Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, McFadden might be a top-three running back in this league. But since he plays in the black hole of Oakland, he wasn’t discussed as much as those who have lesser talent. That’s changing this year with the Raiders off to a 2-1 start and McFadden performing like the best back in the league. In 2010, McFadden gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage, and through three games this season, he’s rushed for 393 yards and three touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 84 yards and another score. If he keeps playing like that, he won’t belong on this list next year. Because everybody is going to know about him.

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Posted on: September 18, 2011 5:06 pm
 

Cam Newton breaks more rookie passing records

Posted by Will Brinson

The Carolina Panthers are 0-2 after their home loss to Green Bay Sunday, but there's reason for optimism in Charlotte these days, and it's all because of Cam Newton.

Following up on his record-breaking performance in Phoenix last week, Newton put on another impressive show against the Packers, throwing for 432 yards and adding two touchdowns, one on the ground and one through the air.

Newton also threw three interceptions, so everything wasn't sunshine and roses, but his second big game managed to break some more records and put him in impressive company.

The Panthers rookie became just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games. (Read that again, please.)

Newton is also the second- and third-youngest player to record 400-yard passing games. And he's the only rookie to throw for consecutive 400-yard passing games to start a career.

Additionally, his 432 yards broke the record for most passing yards in a game by a rookie, previously held by Matthew Stafford and ... Cam Newton. From last week.

This isn't to say that Newton is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and I'll have much more on the subject for Sorting the Sunday Pile on Monday morning, and it's absolutely worth noting that Newton picked up some serious junk-time yardage against the Packers.

He also made some indefensible -- well, "being a rookie" is an OK defense, but still -- throws against the Packers that resulted in the three picks.

But the reality is that this is not some sort of mirage, and it is not an accident that he's succeeding at the NFL level. Newton is the real deal, and so are the numbers.

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Posted on: September 18, 2011 11:41 am
 

Tramon Williams out Sunday against Panthers

Posted by Will Brinson


Cam Newton broke out in a big way during his debut, throwing for a first-game rookie-record 422 yards against Arizona. He's getting a slightly tougher test in Week 2, though, as the Panthers welcome the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and their slew of dangerous defensive backs.

Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are, arguably, the best trifecta in the league. Good news for Newton (and Panthers fans) then, as Williams is inactive for the Packers, thanks to a shoulder bruise he suffered against New Orleans in the NFL opener last week.

Shields and Woodson are still a nasty combo -- and the Packers have announced that Shields will start -- but the Panthers, who are double-digit dogs at home, should consider themselves at least a little lucky that Williams isn't playing.

Running back Alex Green, cornerback Davon House, tackle Derek Sherrod, defensive end Mike Neal and linebackers Vic So'oto and Frank Zombo are also inactive for Green Bay on Sunday.

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Posted on: September 9, 2011 5:10 pm
 

Tramon Williams only has a shoulder bruise

Posted by Will Brinson

There wasn't much from Thursday night's 42-34 victory over New Orleans that should make the Packers unhappy. But a potential injury to Tramon Williams -- the cornerback was helped off the field, holding his arm and grimacing painfully -- would certainly take some luster off the win.

Good news, then, for Green Bay, as it appears that Williams only suffered a bruised shoulder.

"It was positive from what we thought. Tramon's a Pro Bowl-caliber football player," McCarthy said, per Bill Huber of Packer Report. "He allows us to play certain ways."

You really can't classify how important the development of Williams as an elite cornerback in 2010 was. Not only did he make some huge plays, but when the Packers line up in Dom Capers' funky defensive formations, Williams being able to lock down opposing wide receivers so Charles Woodson can do his roving thing is absolutely crucial.

More on Saints at Packers

Also, Williams is just, you know, really good. A step back for him in 2011 and/or an injury would be a serious problem. Fortunately the Packers avoided it. In other Packers news, Randall Cobb apparently got really, really, really lucky last night.

Not only did he run the wrong route on his touchdown reception, but he definitely did not have Mike McCarthy's permission to take the ball out of the end zone when he returned it for a touchdown.

"I just trust in God, he told me to bring it out," Cobb said. "I'm NOT supposed to bring that out. I'm NOT. Some things are just illogical and some other things are just the power of God."

Far be it from me to question the power of the Big Guy but, um, Randall, dude, you should probably slow your roll on letting your higher power dictate what you do on the football field. Otherwise you're gonna end up on the bench faster than Aaron Rodgers can hit your back shoulder.

In fact, Cobb would absolutely be in the doghouse today were it not for the broken tackle on the 25-yard-line that allowed him to spin out and take off for the end zone.

"Thank God you can't hear what we say on those headsets," McCarthy said. "Because I wasn't cheering for him until he spun out of that tackle on the 25."

So, yeah, while it's awesome that the Big Guy got Cobb into the end zone, he needs to remember that even "He" doesn't have control over the Packers depth chart.

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Posted on: July 7, 2011 9:12 am
Edited on: July 7, 2011 9:38 am
 

Who we want to see on Hard Knocks '11

Hard Knocks (Getty).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Throughout the lockout that seems neverending -- now at 114 days and counting!!! -- we’ve seen players get arrested, we’ve seen the NFL and the NFLPA come together and then bicker and then come together and then bicker, and we’ve seen players sue their girlfriends for their engagement rings.

Most disturbing, we’ve seen the signs that Brett Favre might want to return for another season.

We’ve also heard plenty about how a lost preseason would cost the NFL $800 million if the lockout continues through August and into September.

But when it comes to the preseason and how much is on the line, you know what we haven’t heard about? We haven’t heard which squad will be the subject of the annual highlight of August –- HBO’s "Hard Knocks."  

Oh, we know which teams have already declined the invitation (or supposedly, declined the invitation). Among them are the Buccaneers, the Broncos, the Lions and the Falcons (who might be open to doing it in the future), and at this point, it seems as if nobody wants to be on the show. Making matters tougher are those who say cooperating with Hard Knocks is a mistake.

Assuming we’ll see a preseason this year that would provide a platform for the Hard Knocks crew to start filming -- and CBSSports.coms’ Mike Freeman writes that it’s getting close --here are five teams we’d like to see featured on Hard Knocks. Many of them might not be interested for one reason or another, but if we have a fantasy roster, this is it.

Panthers


NewtonThe big storyline: Simply put: the entertainer and the icon, Cam Newton. We want to see how he learns the offense; we want to see if his teammates rally around him; we want to get an early idea of whether Carolina made a bad decision last April. Or maybe he’s the next superstar in the game. Either way, he’s one of the biggest storylines of the preseason, and we want to be inside the locker room to see what happens.

The foil: Jimmy Clausen. How is he going to react to Newton? What happens when Newton badly fakes out some defender destined for the practice squad and gains 30 yards on a broken play? Will the director then cut to Clausen as he raises a fist to the sky in anger? And what happens if Clausen, um, actually outplays Newton?

Two other compelling reasons: 1) NFL.com’s Gil Brandt has mentioned in the past couple of days that Favre has offered to help mentor Newton. Can you imagine the video that could come from this, especially if the camera caught Favre alone in the locker room sending a text message? 2) WR Steve Smith: is he going to play for the Panthers or not?

Patriots


The big storyline: The same guy who makes sure this show would never feature his team on his watch. That would be coach Bill Belichick. How fascinating would it be to see how Belichick builds a team and how he relates to his players? Would we get to see Belichick’s team meeting in which he implicitly tells his team how to answer questions from the media (in the most uninteresting way possible)? Kidding aside, we want to see a future Hall of Fame coach behind the scenes and uncensored.

The foil: Rex Ryan. Is there any way to get a split screen of the Jets coach talking trash about Belichick -- hey, he’s not here to kiss anybody’s ring! – while Belichick coldly goes about finding a way to make Ryan pay for his words?

Two other compelling reasons: 1) Danny Woodhead: he was on Hard Knocks with the Jets last season, and though he’s not in danger of being cut with New England, I still want to know why Woodhead, all of a sudden, is so freaking good. 2) G Logan Mankins (and his agent) has said some not very complimentary things about the Patriots management, all in the name of landing a large contract. Will he be kinder and gentler this preseason?

Packers


The big storyline: Obviously, the Lombardi Trophy. Hard Knocks has never followed a team the preseason after it won the Super Bowl, so it’d be cool to see the ring ceremony the public wasn’t allowed to witness a few weeks back (I’m assuming Hard Knocks wasn’t actually there, but it’d be cool nonetheless) while watching the Packers attempt a repeat.

The foil: Charles Woodson vs. Tramon Williams. Woodson is the bigger name, but he’s older than Williams and there’s a pretty good chance Williams is the better CB these days. Maybe we’d really get to see if Woodson is close to the end, and if Williams can replace Woodson’s outrageous production.

Two other compelling reasons: 1) Would Aaron Rodgers sign autographs for the fans at training camp? Because, as we all know, he doesn’t like signing for cancer patients (I kid, I kid). 2) Last year, little-used cornerback Brandon Underwood had a sexual assault charge hanging over his head all season (he pleaded no contest to a lesser charge). Now, he’s been charged with disorderly conduct after an alleged physical altercation with his soon-to-be ex-wife. Underwood isn’t a great quote, but his story might make for an interesting change of pace on the show.

PhillipsTexans


The big storyline: The will-they-or-won’t-they-fire-him as it relates to coach Gary Kubiak. I’m kind of surprised he’s still coaching in Houston actually, and the last time Hard Knocks featured this kind of storyline, it was Wade Phillips with the Cowboys. Now, Phillips is Kubiak’s defensive coordinator. How hot can that boiler room get anyway?

The foil: The secondary. This is what I wrote in the Texans offseason checkup: “The secondary (Kareem Jackson, Glover Quin, Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson) were just tremendously bad. If the Texans can’t get this fixed, it doesn’t matter who’s coordinating the defense, because Houston simply won’t win.” I don’t disagree with that.

Two other compelling reasons: 1) Though he came off a bit bumbling in Season 4 with the Cowboys, Phillips is a sympathetic figure. And the man has proved he can coordinate a defense. I want to see how he transforms a 4-3 sieve-like defense into a 3-4 defense that potentially could save Kubiak’s job. 2) Will QB Matt Schaub ever get into the playoffs? He’s the best quarterback in the league who hasn’t gotten there.

Raiders


The big storyline: Obviously, Al Davis, and the one question I want to know. How hands-on is he these days?

The foil: Nnamdi Asomugha: Just like Darrelle Revis last season with the Jets, we’re not going to see too much of the talented free agent cornerback on the TV. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see any of Antonio Cromartie either (psst, see video below).

Two other compelling reasons: 1) New coach Hue Jackson finally gets his chance at running a team. Forget that Tom Cable went 6-0 in the AFC West last year without making the playoffs -- still a pretty damn impressive feat. Davis got rid of him, just like he gets rid of everybody after a couple years. Will Jackson be an exception? 2) Al Davis: Seriously, I want as much Al Davis as possible.



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Posted on: March 18, 2011 9:56 am
Edited on: March 21, 2011 10:35 am
 

Offseason Checkup: Green Bay Packers

Posted by Andy Benoit



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups. Also, check out our checkup podcast:


In the postseason, this 10-6 number six seed got white hot and wound up bringing the Lombardi Trophy back home. Aaron Rodgers played the quarterback position as masterfully as anyone in the last five years. In three of Green Bay’s four playoff games, Rodgers threw three touchdowns and posted a passer rating above 110. The offense was aided by the emergence of running back James Starks, who helped lend balance to Mike McCarthy’s de facto spread West Coast system. But with the way Green Bay’s passing game was clicking, a backfield feature Gilbert Brown Frank Winters probably could have sufficed.

It’s easy to play offense when you have a defense that surrendered more than 20 points in only three games all season. Dom Capers was brilliant in concocting a byzantine 3-4 scheme built around the versatility of rover Charles Woodson, pass-rushing prowess of Clay Matthews, athleticism of corners Sam Shields and Tramon Williams and strength of the B.J. Raji-led front line.


Success, depth
NFL Offseason

Backup receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones both had 45-plus catches and 550-plus yards in 2010. Don’t expect that to be the case in 2011. Tight end Jermichael Finley will be healthy and once again manning the slot in three-and four-receiver formations. Finley, the team’s most lethal weapon, will be priority No. 1. (Note: With Nelson and Jones both on the rise, it’s possible that veteran Donald Driver could become the forgotten wideout.)

With Finley being versatile enough to line up anywhere, we’ll likely see more formation shifts from Green Bay before the snap. For a defensive coordinator, that’s a terrifying thought given how shrewd Rogers is already in the presnap phase.


Not to cop out, but there aren’t any. When you lead your conference in injuries, all holes on your roster will be exposed. Unless, of course, you somehow plug them again and again. That’s exactly what the Packers did in 2010. Consequently, this team is now two deep at every position.

Of course, if you want to push the issue, you could argue for:

1. Backup interior lineman
The Packers brass is said to be high on Marshall Newhouse, but the fifth-round pick from a year ago is yet to see the field. Veteran utility backup Jason Spitz is injury prone and not likely to be back.

2. Outside linebacker
Snatching someone who can start ahead of Clay Matthews wouldn’t be a bad idea if the right player is available. Because of injuries, Brad Jones, Brady Poppinga, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden all started games at this spot last season. The athletic Jones was the best of the bunch, but even he did not shine as a surefire first-stringer.

3. Defensive rover
Charles Woodson isn’t going to live forever. And the 34-year-old is somewhat injury prone, anyway. Replacing the über-versatile veteran is next to impossible, but if Ted Thompson sees a safety he likes (and Woodson is more of a safety than corner these days), he could give his likely future Hall of Famer an understudy. Jarrett Bush, of course, filled in admirably when Woodson was out during the second half of Super Bowl XLV, but Dom Capers still had to trim his playbook.


Anything short of a Super Bowl repeat would be a failure. Every time a team wins a title, scores of hackneyed pundits squawk about how we could be seeing the beginning of a dynasty. That sentiment actually feels true with these Packers.

Rodgers is in his prime. So is the rest of the offense, which happens to be stacked at all the skill positions. Defensively, Dom Capers is the best in the business when it comes to in-game adjustments and variations of 3-4 blitzes. Capers has all the pieces he had in 2010, which includes four Pro Bowlers plus ascending NT B.J. Raji.

The lockout helps the Packers more than most teams because they’re deep and their core has been together for three years now.

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