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Tag:Von Miller
Posted on: February 4, 2012 6:39 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 12:02 pm
 

Rodgers wins MVP, Brees and Suggs get POY Awards

Your 2012 NFL MVP is Rodgers. (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)
By Will Brinson

INDIANAPOLIS -- Aaron Rodgers won the 2012 NFL MVP Award on Saturday night with Peyton Manning presenting him the hardware at the first-ever NFL Honors awards in Indy, the night before the Super Bowl.

"Looking forward to seeing you on the field again," Rodgers said as Peyton walked off the stage, before thanking his teammates and fans.

Rodgers was in a close race with Drew Brees for MVP late in the season but blew away the Saints quarterback in the voting, as he received 48 of a possible 50 first-place votes.

Brees got the consolation prize of winning the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award on Saturday night in a season where he broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a single season, throwing for 5,676 yards and a record-setting 468 completions. Brees received 43 votes for the award.

"Some pretty remarkable things happened that we were all lucky to be a part of," Brees said, reminiscing about his season. "The older you get the more you appreciate the opportunities and the moments."

The Ravens Terrell Suggs landed the award for Defensive Player of the Year Suggs, also known as T-Sizzle, delivered the funniest line of the night during his acceptance speech.

"I want to thank my parents for deciding to go through with it," Suggs said.
Newton is the NFL's rookie of the year. (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)

Cam Newton, the Panthers star quarterback, was the first award-winner at the first-ever NFL Honors ceremony, netting the AP Rookie of the Year Award in Indianapolis at the Super Bowl. He also won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award, voted on by fans. Broncos linebacker Von Miller won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Newton received 47 of 50 votes from AP voters; Miller received 39 of 50 possible votes. Andy Dalton and Aldon Smith were the respective runner-ups.

Latest from the Super Bowl

"Even with the lockout, that still didn't stop my process for preparing for the NFL," Newton said. "Whether it with Chris Weinke, George Whitfield, IMG -- everyone had a major role in the success I had this year."

Miller recorded 11.5 sacks with the Broncos and helped lead them to a shocking AFC West division title. Newton broke a number of different records, throwing for the most passing yards (4,051) by a rookie in NFL history, breaking the mark that Peyton Manning set in 1998. Newton also set the record for most rushing touchdowns by any quarterback, scoring 14 times on the ground.

Jim Harbaugh led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and garnered 45 of 50 votes for the AP Coach of the Year Award. Mike McCarthy netted three votes and Denver's John Fox received two.

Matthew Stafford received 21 of 50 votes in winning the AP Comeback Player of the Year Award. The presumed favorite, Alex Smith, only finished third.

Ravens center Matt Birk was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

"This award is not about the recipient, but rather a celebration of the decades-long tradition of NFL players using their unique platform to touch lives and make a positive impact in the communities in which they work and live," Birk said.

He wouldn't comment on whether or not he would return to play again in 2012.


Follow all of CBSSports.com's Full Super Bowl Coverage (Photo credit: Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)

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Posted on: January 29, 2012 10:48 pm
 

Pro Bowl incentives don't pan out

V. Jackson played in the Pro Bowl (AP).By Josh Katzowitz

A couple new exciting (!) features this season were supposed to make this year’s Pro Bowl slightly more palatable. It didn’t exactly work.

The first change was to make it a more financially-sound decision for the players to give an effort by rewarding the winning players with $50,000 and the losers a paltry $25,000.*

So, how’d that work out? Well, look at the tweet from Bears radio sideline reporter @ZachZaidman, who tweeted the following in the first quarter: “I'd rather watch players in the Pro Bowl tweet about playing in the Pro Bowl than watch them play in the Pro Bowl.”

Indeed, most of the effort given in Hawaii was rather, um, lacking. Which is totally understandable and to be expected. There’s no sense in badly injuring yourself in order to triumph in a glorified All Star game. So, no matter the monetary incentive, an extra $25,000 isn’t going to make the risk/reward ratio any different.

* For the record, this is similar to what Will Brinson proposed last year when he wrote the NFL should make it a winner-take-all event.

“Make it winner-take-all so that each player's legitimately motivated to win the game and make the Pro Bowl competitive,” Will wrote.

Heck of an idea by Will and the NFL. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.


The second change, though, really could have been interesting. Well, as interesting as anything else the Pro Bowl could offer.

The NFL relaxed its in-game tweeting prohibition and actually set up computer stations on the sideline so players could instantly translate their in-game ramblings into 140-word thoughts. It was, um, not so exciting.

Or as the Newark Star Ledger’s @StevePoliti tweeted, “Tweeting stations. I turned on the Pro Bowl, and they're talking about tweeting stations."

Here’s a sampling of what entered our feed during the game.

@MillerLite40 (Von Miller): first series was great!!! it was an honor just to be on the field with all the guys!!!! #gigem #probowl

@ajgreen_18 (A.J. Green): first pro bowl TD!!! blessed!! #probowl

@GregJennings: Having a blast out here... bout to go out on O to catch some more passes!!

@ericweddle1: Truly blessed to be here! Such a amazing atmosphere #GREATFUL

To sum it all up, here’s “Late Show with David Letterman” (#onCBS!) head writer Eric Stangel, who penned the following, “Remember everyone, with the #ProBowl, this year- it counts! And by "counts" I mean is a complete waste of everyone's time."

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 12:50 pm
 

Casserly: NFL will look into Broncos-Pats fight

Brady's punt fired up the Broncos players on Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Saturday night, as the Patriots were wrapping up a 45-10 blowout win over the Broncos, Tom Brady took the ball on third down and ... punted. That didn't sit well with the Broncos players; Von Miller got a shot in on Dan Connolly's back, Matt Light took umbrage and the result was a skirmish on the Patriots sideline.

CBS Sports Charley Casserly reported on Sunday morning that the NFL will examine the tapes of the fight on Monday and determine whether or not folks will be fined.

"I talked to the league this morning and they told me that tomorrow they're going to look at the tapes of [the fight] and decide who, if any of the players, should be fined," Casserly reported on The NFL Today.

Miller, the Broncos rookie linebacker, is almost a sure bet to be fined: he hit Connolly in the back and instigated the entire thing. It'll take a further look at the sideline action to determine if anyone else is getting fined, but it's entirely possible that some Patriots players could be fined as well.

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Posted on: January 6, 2012 9:32 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Steelers wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It hardly seems fair that a 12-win team has to go on the road to face an eight-win team, but the NFL’s playoff seeding system is designed to reward division champions. That includes the rare division champion that enters the postseason on a three-game losing streak.

Here’s a breakdown of what many expect to be a massacre.


1. Broncos offense has no prayer
We covered everything there is to know about the Broncos’ offense last week in preparation for their Week 17 bout with the Chiefs. Nothing has changed. It’s clear that press-man coverage can overwhelm Denver’s passing attack, as the receivers don’t have the quickness to separate and Tim Tebow doesn’t have the mechanics, timing or confidence to fit balls into tight windows.

It’s rare to see the zone-based Steelers play press-man coverage, though they did so with great success against the Patriots in Week 8. Usually, shutdown corner Ike Taylor (yes, SHUTDOWN corner) plays press coverage against the opposing team’s top wideout (in this case, Demaryius Thomas), while William Gay, Keenan Lewis and/or Bryant McFadden play a variation of zone on the other side.

If Dick LeBeau wants to bait Tebow into interceptions, the Steelers may still stick with their traditional approach:

This shot from Super Bowl XLV illustrates the Steelers’ traditional approach to coverage: Ike Taylor playing press-man against the opposing team’s top receiver (Greg Jennings) on one side, with the rest of the secondary playing zone on the other (you can tell it’s zone by how cornerback Bryant McFadden is lined up off the line and with his body open slightly towards the inside).

The Broncos don’t have a threatening tight end, so Tebow would be throwing into heavy zones against athletic corners. If LeBeau wants to pressure Tebow with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and bait him into the usual slew of incompletions, he can play man-to-man. Whatever LeBeau chooses will work; we’re talking about the league’s top-ranked pass defense against the league’s most inept passing quarterback.

Lately, Denver’s read-option run game has still produced yardage, though only because of the high volume of carries. If the Broncos couldn’t muster more than three points by running against Kansas City’s 3-4, they can’t be expected to muster ANY points running against Pittsburgh’s.

A key to Denver’s run game is getting offensive linemen clean to inside linebackers. No three-man defensive line does a better job at protecting its inside linebackers than Pittsburgh’s. That’s why Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior are able to play with their ears pinned back.

2. A roll of the dice
Because it feels a little too simplistic to declare the Broncos’ chances at moving the ball to be zero (even if they are), we’ll use this section to present creative ideas for how the Broncos might – MIGHT – manage to muster a semblance of offense on Sunday.

The first idea is to just throw deep and hope luck tilts your way (a cornerback falls down, a ref calls pass interference, two Steelers collide while going after the same easy interception, etc.). Don’t count on Denver doing this, though. It goes against everything John Fox has stood for since turning to Tebow, and it also requires that, you know, Tebow actually throw downfield accurately.

Another idea is to draw up trick plays. Lots of trick plays. Problem is, a defense as experienced and disciplined as Pittsburgh’s is not going to bite. You might make chance-taker Troy Polamalu pay for a gamble once or twice, but more likely he’ll make YOU pay even more for YOUR gamble.

A third (and stronger) idea is to run the ball outside. In the past, outside running was guaranteed to fail against the Steelers. This season, however, Timmons and Farrior have not been as sharp in lateral run defense. That’s why Pittsburgh has struggled a bit against zone teams. The Broncos no longer have a zone run game (it left shortly after Shanahan departed), but it might not be crazy to hastily install one given that their usual approach will not work anyway.

Denver’s lack of running back speed is an issue here, but again: their usual approach will not work anyway!

3. Pittsburgh’s passing attack
As lopsided as this matchup seems, the final score could be tight given that Pittsburgh’s offense might have trouble against John Fox’s and Dennis Allen’s defense. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers come out throwing in an effort to build a quick lead that forces the Broncos to go to the air early.
 
Against the Browns last week, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians chose to spread the field with 3 x 2 empty backfield sets on passing downs. This may have been to get the ball out quickly so that Ben Roethlisberger would not have to make plays on his bum ankle. Though Roethlisberger has gotten much better in his presnap reads and sudden decision making, his natural inclination is still to extend the play. Thus, Big Ben still held the ball plenty long last week.

He won’t be able to do that this week, though – not under the same gameplan, anyway. Offensive tackles Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert may have been be able to handle Browns defensive ends Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard on an island (Sheard just barely, actually), but they won’t have a snowball’s chance against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

If Roethlisberger is to buy time for his receivers downfield, his offensive tackles will need running backs and tight ends to chip-block, if not stay in completely and double-team. Something else to keep in mind: Miller, D.J. Williams and Brian Dawkins all excel as inside blitzers. Blitz pickup is an area in which the Steelers interior line, particularly left guard Chris Kemoeatu, struggles.

Brown's emerged as one of Pittsburgh's best receiving options. (Getty Images)

4. The passing matchups
Even though protection could be a problem, it’s possible the Steelers will still spread the field and let Roethlisberger run around and make plays. We’ve seen them before give up piles of sacks this way but make up for it with big plays.

The Broncos have a good secondary now that undrafted rookie Chris Harris has blossomed at nickel corner, but they’re thin and inexperienced at safety and vulnerable with Jonathan Wilhite at dime corner.

If the Broncos decide to eliminate Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh’s new No. 1 receiver) with Champ Bailey, there will be big-play opportunities for Mike Wallace against the limited-ranged safeties. If Bailey defends Wallace, Andre Goodman can spar with Brown but probably not for as long as Roethlisberger can extend the play. Chris Harris will be tested by Emmanuel Sanders’ speed, and Wilhite will have fits trying to defend Jerricho Cotchery underneath.

As much as the Broncos might like their secondary, they can’t expect it to be the league’s first unit that sustains coverage against the Steelers’ prolonged improvisational plays. Thus, when the Broncos do blitz, don’t be surprised if they bring the kitchen sink to ensure that Roethlisberger goes down or throws hot.

5. Steelers run game
Rashard Mendenhall will be missed, but the Steelers can tread water with Isaac Redman. The third-year running back doesn’t have Mendenhall’s corner-turning speed and acceleration, but in confined areas he shows looser hips than you’d guess. Where Pittsburgh’s backfield woes will really show up is in the pass game. Mewelde Moore’s absence (foot injury) leaves them without a prominent openfield dumpoff receiver.

But this is a relatively minor issue. The primary job of the Steelers’ backfield is to pound the rock when called upon, which Redman and straight-line back John Clay are capable of doing. Also, Pittsburgh’s offensive line, especially with the superb pull-blocking skills of Kemoeatu, is capable of moving the pile down the stretch.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 4, 2012 4:04 pm
 

Ben Roethlisberger 'tweaked' ankle against Browns

Roethlisberger "tweaked" his ankle on Sunday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The Steelers took a gamble on Sunday against the Browns when they ran Ben Roethlisberger out to play on a high-ankle sprain, hoping the Ravens would lose and Pittsburgh would win the AFC North.

The Ravens did not lose. And in worse news, according to our Steelers Rapid Reporter Chuck Finder, Roethlisberger "tweaked" his ankle in the win over Cleveland and suffered a "setback" in advance of Pittsburgh's wild-card game in Denver on Sunday.

"I felt pretty good going in and moved around pretty good," Roethlisberger said. "[But] we got set back about a week. I don't know if I hit the ground wrong or got hit. We'll be all right."

Now, this is Ben Roethlisberger, so injuries don't mean as much as they would with any other player. I'm sorry, but the dude just plays hurt (and sometimes better when he's injured).

But this gets back to the point of risking him on the field: the Steelers, over the final three weeks, didn't play things conservatively enough at all. Putting him on the field against San Francisco was worth the risk, but not leaving him out there. Sitting him against the Rams was smart. And leaving him on the bench against the Browns would've been the wise move too, even if the Bengals had a shot at unseating the Ravens. Charlie Batch couldn't have gone 23 for 40 for 221 yards? He probably could have.

Whatever, his ankle's worse off now for playing. That means, without their top running back, the Steelers have to figure out how to protect Roethlisberger against a ferocious Broncos pass rush.

Denver recorded 41 sacks in 2011 (10th in the league; just nine behind the Vikings and Eagles) and the best example of what could happen against a good defense who can rush the passer is the loss to the 49ers.

In that game, Roethlisberger wasn't mobile, was constantly under attack and the Steelers struggled to move the ball. Granted, the 49ers are just a flat-out sick defense, but the Broncos are pretty good too.

For Pittsburgh to avoid a shocking upset at Mile High on Sunday, they'll need to make sure their gameplan doesn't involve Von Miller putting Ben on his back. Or worse, on his ankle.

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Posted on: January 4, 2012 10:23 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:47 pm
 

2012 NFL Postseason Awards

Brees and Rodgers could square off three times this year, if you count awards. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

We won't bore you by listing our preseason predictions (you can read those here), but suffice to say, all of mine were correct. Take a peak at the midseason hardware if you want too, but right now we're interested in dishing out the awards for the full season.


Speaking of which, I've already ranted on Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers for the MVP, but I find it fascinating that at midseason, no one even picked Brees for Offensive Player of the Year, much less MVP. I'm not here to knock Brees, I'm just saying the award's for an entire season's worth of work.

Anyway, below are our full season picks. (You can also read Pete's full season picks here and Clark's full season picks here.)

Most are obvious but "BFA" is "Best Free Agent Addition," "WFA" is "Worst Free Agent Addition," and "DOH!" is "Pick I'd Like to Have Back." (Haha, yes I did pick the guy who eventually iced his own kicker to win "Coach of the Year." At least I was driving the Camwagon though.)

Dive in below and leave your gripes and complaints in the comments.

Award Brinson
Wilson
Katzowitz
Prisco
Judge
MVP
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
OPOY
Drew Brees Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Drew Brees Drew Brees
DPOY
Jared Allen Terrell Suggs Jared Allen Jason Pierre-Paul Jared Allen
OROY
Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton
DROY
Von Miller Aldon Smith Aldon Smith Von Miller Von Miller
COY
Marvin Lewis Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh
ASST
Rob Chudzinski Rob Chudzinski Wade Phillips Wade Phillips Wade Phillips
BFA
Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles
WFA
Sidney Rice Braylon Edwards Santonio Holmes Ray Edwards Ray Edwards
Comeback
Steve Smith D'Qwell Jackson Aaron Maybin Matthew Stafford Matthew Stafford
Most Improved
Matthew Stafford Antonio Brown Victor Cruz Rob Gronkowski Rob Gronkowski
Surprise
Bengals Broncos Broncos Bengals 49ers
Disappoint
Eagles Jets Eagles Eagles Eagles
Executive
Rick Smith Rick Smith Rick Smith Martin Mayhew Mike Brown
DOH!
Garrett for COY Rivers for MVP Rivers for MVP Fins in/Lions out Rams in NFCW

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Posted on: December 28, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Chiefs preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Reputations will be on the line in Denver this Sunday. A Broncos win keeps the Tim Tebow mania alive, as it means the Mile High City will host a playoff games for the first time in six years. John Elway would almost certainly be compelled to keep his promise of bringing Tebow back in 2012, and the Broncos might start building around their unconventional quarterback.

A Broncos loss, however, jeopardizes the Tebow mania, as the unskilled passer who does nothing but win would have finished the season on a three-game losing streak. The fallout would be even worse for Elway given that the loss will have come at the hands of Kyle Orton, the veteran quarterback whom Denver allowed Kansas City to claim scot-free. Here’s the breakdown of Sunday’s matchup:

Last time
1. The Week 10 matchup
When these teams met back in Week 10, the Broncos completed just two passes (total!). One of those passes happened to be a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Decker, which, mixed with 244 yards on 55 rushing attempts, was enough for a Broncos victory.

Schematically, the Chiefs were prepared to stop the Broncos’ freshly unwrapped read-option run game; they had athletic inside linebacker Derrick Johnson spy Tebow, brought safeties into the box and had outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston stay home on the edge.

Physically, however, the Chiefs defensive line got manhandled. Their lack of penetration allowed the Broncos to continuously pick up three and four yards on banal inside carries. Tebow registered two big runs off the read-option, isolating end Glenn Dorsey on one run and Lawrence Jackson on the other. Because those two former first-round picks were neutralized by one-on-one blocking, Denver’s interior linemen consistently got bodies on Kansas City’s linebackers.

On the other side, Denver’s pass-rush got to Matt Cassel and their back seven defenders simply “out-athleted” Kansas City’s skill players.

This time
2. Chiefs D vs. Broncos run game
Some of the sizzle has naturally left the read-option, but that isn’t to say it’s not still an effective approach. The read-option forces a defense to play ultra-sharp, assignment-based football. As we saw early in the Week 15 Patriots game at Denver, when defenders fail to take on blocks at proper angles or keep the action from going outside, they get gouged.

Expect the Chiefs to be better against the read-option this time around. Hali and Houston have been excellent edge run-defenders in recent weeks.  Dorsey and Jackson are still hit or miss, but they’re more likely to “hit” when they can play finesse and attack gaps or work down the line of scrimmage. Their misses pile up when they’re forced to play with power in a phone booth.

The Chiefs know this and now know how to gameplan accordingly. They just watched the Bills defensive linemen last week attack gaps to eliminate some of the running lanes for Bronco ballcarriers. Those defensive linemen did not make the tackle or even always occupy multiple blockers, but by taking some of the “options” out of the read-option, they made the ballcarrier hesitant and, thus, predictable. That translated to minimal gains against an eight-man box.

3. Kansas City manning-up in pass defense
The Bills were able to be aggressive with their eighth box defender because they knew they could stop the Bronco passing game with man coverage. That’s a great defensive tactic against Denver’s offense, as possession type receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are best handled that way.

Man defense also takes away the surprise factor in the screen game and keeps a spy on Tebow, which limits his scrambling. The irony is that Tebow has shown he’s more inclined to scramble against man coverage. The reason for this is, not being strong-armed or a precision passer, Tebow is uncomfortable fitting the ball into tight areas. To a young quarterback, NFL man coverage makes all areas appear tight. If Tebow’s first read isn’t there, his first instinct is to tuck and run.

The defensive risks in a man coverage approach are linebackers missing their assignments when they bite on a good read-option fake (which Buffalo’s did on Dante Rosario’s 32-yard catch-and-run), or players allowing themselves to be taken out of run defense position by an easy release (which is when a tight end runs a pass route away from the point of attack on a run play, carrying his man-defender with him right out of the picture).

The Chiefs – with two superb press corners in Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers outside, a shifty slot corner in Javier Arenas and athletic linebackers – should eagerly bog down and play man this Sunday. They beat the Packers with this formula two weeks ago and would have beaten the Raiders last week if they had stayed with it the entire game (they went to Tampa 2 a small handful of times and saw their safeties get burned by speedy receivers on two long passes that decided the outcome).

Broncos vs. Chiefs: Orton's revenge? (Getty Images)

4. Kyle Orton
In some ways, the seven-year pro is the consummate system quarterback. Whatever the system calls for, Orton delivers. He can post big numbers in a wide open aerial attack like he did two years ago under Josh McDaniels, or he can move the chains in a ball control scheme like he did two weeks ago under Romeo Crennel. His issues are consistency and playmaking.

Orton managed the game brilliantly against Green Bay two weeks ago and then threw two costly interceptions by failing to read basic safety help last week against Oakland. In Denver, Orton’s limitations showed up when John Fox and Mike McCoy installed a more traditional system to run with only mediocre receivers. Orton was unable to extend plays and improvise, which is why the Broncos offense was lethargic until Tebow replaced him.

Overall, the Chiefs can feel good about who they have under center in this game. Orton is certainly familiar with the opponent. He has terrific ball-handling skills, which allow him to manipulate safeties and execute play-action effectively. And since taking over, he’s made good use of his tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

5. Chiefs base offense
Tight ends and running backs could be prominent in the Chiefs’ passing attack this week given that linebackers Joe Mays and Von Miller aren’t great in coverage out of base defense. The Broncos will spend more time in base defense than they have in recent weeks, as the Crennel-led Chiefs predominantly utilize run-first personnel.

The run formations will keep Miller at strongside linebacker, nullifying his punishing first-step off the edge. Miller doesn’t have to line up at defensive end in order to rush the passer; he’s a great blitzer from the second level. However, teams lately have used a lot of three-and five-step drops against Denver, which completely nullifies a second-level blitzer and significantly softens the impact of pass-rushing ends. That’s the best way to contain Miller and Elvis Dumervil (who has come alive after a slow start).

Against the quick drops, the Broncos should tighten their coverage and force the Chiefs receivers to beat them early in the down. Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin are strong but not savvy enough to outmaneuver veterans like Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman. Steve Breaston is quick and can get early spacing by lining up off the line, but most of his (limited) damage this season has come on deeper crossing patterns, not quick strikes.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 17 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 14, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: December 14, 2011 11:31 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It might just be the most anticipated matchup of the season: Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow. One quarterback inspires because he has it all and wins, the other inspires because he has none of it and wins. Let’s break it down.


1. Evaluating Tebow
If you want a rehashing of Tebow’s quarterbacking strengths and (many) weaknesses, or an opinion on whether the Broncos should invest long-term in their unconventional “star”, or a theory about motivation and inspiration and divine intervention, hit the message boards or talk radio. The focus of this post is on what Tebow has shown on film the past few weeks.

In short, he’s getting better as a passer but still has a long ways to go. He’s been very good against Cover 2 looks. He made the Vikings pay for their frequent (and, frankly, mind-boggling) mistakes two weeks ago, and he conjured up several critical late-game completions the week after, when the Bears moved from man coverage to a soft Tampa 2 (where a few goofs by the secondary and a lack of pass-rush killed them down the stretch).

Tebow remains slow in the pocket – in terms of progressions, decisiveness and ball release – and he falls back on sandlot tactics if his first read is not there. This isn’t the worst thing, though, as he’s clearly proven to be clutch in this style. He’s very effective on the move, both as a scrambler and passer. He can extend the play with a unique Roethlisberger-like sense for avoiding and shedding pass-rushers.

But unless the Broncos can continue to win while averaging less than 20 points per game offensively, they’ll need more aerial dimension, progression reads and overall consistency from their young quarterback.

2. Denver’s run game
When offenses put a bunch of bodies on the line of scrimmage, the natural assumption is that they’re relying on sheer human mass to bulldoze the defense and clear a path for the running back. In actuality, what they’re often doing is creating more running options for the back. The more players there are along the line of scrimmage, the more gaps there are for the defense to worry about.

This is why you frequently see the Broncos bring a receiver in motion down to the tight end spot just before the snap; it’s not the receiver’s blocking prowess that the Broncos like, it’s that his presence expands the run front surface. Generally, the defense responds to this by matching players to gaps (in other words, crowding the line of scrimmage).

The brilliance of Denver’s zone-option run is that it forces defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage when there’s still the threat of a pass. Granted, this passing threat is weak – usually only two or three receivers run routes, and defenses are happy to see Tebow throw – but it’s not weak enough for defenders to completely ignore. Thus, they’re distracted ever so slightly from their run-stopping assignments.

More than that, the zone-option presents a myriad of run possibilities on a given play. The ball could go to Willis McGahee, fullback Spencer Larsen, a sweeping receiver or stay with Tebow. And with so many options, the ball does not necessarily have to follow the direction of the blocking scheme.

These are all factors that defenders must mentally process after the snap. That’s not how defenders are accustomed to playing the run.
Also, keep in mind, defenses do not generally account for quarterbacks in the run game; Tebow’s threat as a runner has a wildcat effect that gives the offense a numbers advantage if the D does not bring an eighth man in the box.

3. How the Patriots will defend the run
A smart, fundamentally-sound run-defending front seven can still stymie the zone-option. Usually, it takes two stud linebackers and two stud defensive ends. The Bears and Jets both had these resources and, aside from a play or two, they both shutdown the Broncos’ ground game. The Bears did it out of a base 4-4 (safety Craig Steltz played in the box all game); the Jets did it out of a base 3-5.

Whatever the defensive alignment, the basic principles are the same: the linebackers must see the field well enough to track the ball and identify gaps. More importantly, they must run well enough to catch up to the ball (because, as we’ve examined, defending the zone-option is strict assignment football, where the reads are more details-oriented than in conventional run defense). The defensive ends must have the physical strength to penetrate against one-on-one blocking, as well as the discipline to stay within the strict confines of their edge duties.

It’s unknown whether the Patriots will follow Chicago’s 4-4 scheme or New York’s 3-5 scheme Sunday. They’ve alternated between various defensive fronts all season. More pressing is whether the Patriots even have the personnel. Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo is elite, but whoever’s next to him is most certainly not (Bill Belichick has tried a litany of different players here). At left end, Vince Wilfork is obviously a monster.

On the defensive right side, Andre Carter has been outstanding at times, but he may not have the necessary size to trade blows with a left tackle like Ryan Clady for four quarters. If the Patriots go with a 3-5 approach, they may want to rotate massive youngsters Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick at end and use Carter’s flexible movement skills in space (ala Calvin Pace of the Jets).

Keep in mind, the Broncos have a sound rushing attack even without the zone-option. McGahee has a league-leading six 100-yard games on the season, and his front five is capable of winning one-on-one battles across the board. The Patriots got abused last week by a Redskins rushing attack that entered the game ranked 31st.

4. Back to the air
It’s entirely possible that Tebow and the Broncos will be able to move the ball through the thin Mile High air this Sunday. The Patriots’ pass-rush has been more “miss” than “hit” in 2011. Their secondary currently features a journeyman special teamer at strong safety (James Ihedigbo), a wide receiver and career-long special teamer at free safety (Matthew Slater) and another wide receiver at nickelback (Julian Edelman).

That’s the type of lineup you only see when someone is screwing around playing Madden.

If the Patriots bring Ihedigbo into the box, they’ll have to play either Cover 3 (zone) or man-to-man downfield. Because defensive backs must face inside when playing Cover 3, the way to attack them is with outside routes. Broncos wideouts Eric Decker and Matt Willis are effective on these patterns.

In man, cornerbacks must obviously stay with their assigned wide receiver. This season, Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty have simply not done that. Arrington improved his ball skills but has still been exploited. McCourty has been just plain porous.

5. Patriots previous blueprint for Tebow?
We’ve looked at how the Patriots might defend the Broncos offense as a whole. What about defending Tebow specifically? One player who is somewhat similar in style is Vince Young.

The Patriots devised a shrewd gameplan when they faced the Eagles backup in Week 12. Using a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 looks, they focused on keeping Young in the pocket, forcing him to be a passer. They did this by jamming his tight ends and wing/flex receivers with defensive ends and blitzing linebackers.

That disrupted a lot of Young’s quick outlet throws and forced him to make reads downfield. When Patriot blitzers did actually go after Young, they always came from the front side. That way, Young would see the blitz and instinctively scramble to the backside. On that backside would be a defensive end in containment.

At the end of the day, this approach generated three sacks and 21 incompletions for the Patriots defense.

6. Other side of the ball
Even though Tebow has been at his most comfortable throwing against Cover 2, the Patriots would presumably love to play that defense often this Sunday, as that’s the tactic they tend to fall back on when protecting a big lead. The reason Tebow has not had to put together four good quarters of even semi-traditional quarterbacking during this six-game win streak is because no team has managed to jump way out in front against the Denver defense.

New England will certainly look to change that. Expect some form of hurry-up early in the game. Even if playing with a lead weren’t extra important this week, Tom Brady would still come out throwing, as it’s difficult to run against Denver’s base 4-3 (their tackles Broderick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas hold ground well, and their linebackers all cover ground well).

Most offenses would prefer facing Denver’s nickel D. It’s a much easier group to run inside against, and the revolving door at No. 3 slot cornerback has been a weak spot for the Broncos since Day One. The Broncos will likely use their nickel D against the Patriots’ base 12 offense (one back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). This will make John Fox’s group somewhat vulnerable to the run, but Fox would rather see Brady handing off than throwing.

Because so much of New England’s offense is horizontal, it’s important for a defense to have as much speed at linebacker as possible. In this sense, nickel linebacker Wesley Woodyard is better suited than starter Joe Mays. What’s more, in nickel, the Broncos can go with three downlinemen and create more space for their excellent inside blitzers, Von Miller and D.J. Williams.

Generating pressure inside is a must against Brady. The only way to disrupt him is to move him off his spot and make him play frenetic. The more Brady moves, the less likely he is to throw between the numbers. That’s critical, as these statistics show:

                            Tom Brady 2011 Passing Stats
          Between the Numbers         Outside the Numbers
   COMP %
                  73.4                     54.7
    YPA                   9.44                     7.31
  QB Rating
                 118.2                     86.8

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 15 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
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