Tag:Vonta Leach
Posted on: January 15, 2012 4:51 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 5:34 pm
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Texans defense will lead them back to postseason

Houston's defense could be one of the NFL's best in the years to come (AP).

By Josh Katzowitz

No matter what happens with T.J. Yates -- and he most likely will return to backing up Matt Schaub next season -- the Texans have to be pleased (no, they have to be ecstatic) with the way the season ended.

Not with the final result today obviously, falling to Baltimore 20-13 in the AFC divisional playoffs. But with the successful introduction of Yates in the final seven games of the season, with the showing by Arian Foster that proved he wasn’t a one-year wonder, and, perhaps most impressively, with the young defense that dominated the Ravens offense for most of the afternoon.

On a third-and-inches late in the game, with Baltimore trying to seal the outcome, the defense stuffed Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach to give Yates one more chance to tie the game. Earlier in the half, with the Ravens trying to increase their lead on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Brooks Reed and Tim Dobbins met Ray Rice at the goal line for no gain. The Texans sacked Joe Flacco five times. They pressured him numerous other times.

They were nasty, they hit hard (as Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck made sure to point out on his Twitter feed after Houston stopped Rice), and they gave a preview of the future. As in, Houston could be the toughest defense in the league for the next several years.

Already, Houston received great news when defensive coordinator – and, in my mind, the assistant coach of the year -- Wade Phillips withdrew his name from consideration for the Buccaneers head coaching job. “My first priority is to be here,” Phillips said when he was still being considered for the Tampa Bay job. “I like it here. I love it here. You know we’ve had such a magical year and we’re going to keep it going so that’s my first choice.”

But on Saturday, look at who was making an impact. Reed had 2 ½ sacks. As did J.J. Watt. Connor Barwin was a beast, and Brian Cushing was all over the place. That’s a rookie, a rookie, a third-year player and a third-year player, respectively, in the Texans front-seven. Plus, with the vast improvement of the secondary with Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, Houston’s defense will continue to be a special unit.

You know who wasn’t there, wasn’t around the last 13 games, in fact? That’d be former No. 1 pick Mario Williams, who tore his pectoral muscle in October. While Williams has been a standout defensive end during his career, he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

Is it worth it to bring back a 4-3 defensive end into Phillips’ 3-4 scheme? Williams seemed to adjust pretty well in Phillips’ new defense (he had five sacks in five games, after all), but the Texans played damn well after he was lost for the season. The Texans will have to ask themselves if signing Williams to a big-money deal is absolutely necessary to continue their defensive domination.

On Sunday, the real problem was the Texans’ first-quarter jitters, Yates’ interceptions and Jacoby Jones’ disastrous punt-returning. But with Schaub, Foster and that nasty defense returning next season, Houston will be a scary team to face. And a definite Super Bowl contender.



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Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:42 am
Edited on: January 13, 2012 9:44 am
 

Film Room: Ravens vs. Texans divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The Texans are hoping they can do what the Ravens did three years ago: reach the AFC Championship with a rookie quarterback. Like the ‘08 Ravens, Houston’s rookie quarterback is a complimentary piece, not the focal point.

Gary Kubiak might be offensive-minded, but his current squad is built around the run and defense. Come to think of it, so are the current Ravens ... if they play their cards right. Here’s the breakdown.


1. Baltimore’s offensive approach
With Joe Flacco turning 27 next week and entering his eighth playoff contest, the manual says this is the time for the quarterback’s coming out party. But it’d be unwise of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to buy into that.

Cameron has been Flacco’s most boisterous supporter – and rightfully so. He and John Harbaugh have gradually loosened the quarterback’s reigns over the past three years and all but removed them this year. That approach has had its ups and downs, but through it all the Ravens have continued to win.

Flacco had a poor season statistically – his completion percentage dropped below 60 for the first time, which is why he averaged a career-low 6.7 yards per attempt – but he was also playing with more freedom/responsibility than ever. You can tell a lot about what a coaching staff thinks of its quarterback by the plays it calls.

Most fans just assume the black-and-blue Ravens have a safe, methodical passing game. In reality, much of what the Ravens do centers more around Flacco’s big arm. Instead of using Anquan Boldin primarily underneath, the Ravens often push the ball to him downfield outside the numbers. They use their tight ends down the seams and it’s not uncommon for Flacco to launch multiple bombs in a half, usually targeting rookie burner Torrey Smith.

It’s encouraging that the Ravens have opened things up, but in this case the numbers don’t lie: Baltimore’s offense is inconsistent through the air and survives primarily because of Ray Rice. The fourth-year superstar led the league with 2,068 yards from scrimmage. In Baltimore’s 12 wins, Rice rushed for an average of 100 yards on 21 carries. In their four losses, he averaged 39 yards on nine carries (and in those losses, the score was never lopsided, making Rice’s decreased touches hard to explain).

Rice is one of the league’s few runners who can consistently move the chains with power or go the distance with speed. His low center of gravity lends him superb lateral explosiveness. That’s deadly behind an effective zone-blocking line that features guards as mobile as Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda.

Will Joseph try to neutralize Boldin this time? (Getty Images)

2. Facing Houston’s D
If Cameron wants to win, he’ll work the offense through Rice. The Texans’ swarming front seven can be difficult to run against, but the Ravens have the game’s most effective lead-blocking fullback in Vontae Leach. He takes great angles to blocks and hits moving targets adroitly, which can help neutralize the downhill speed of linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. The objective of the Ravens run game is to get the defense flowing laterally and allow Rice to cut it up inside.

Flacco won’t be irrelevant, of course. In fact, it’s not unforeseeable for Houston to bottle up the run early and for Baltimore to take to the air. Getting Anquan Boldin back from a knee injury is huge, as he’s a much tougher inside matchup than agility-based tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens have the speed to beat teams downfield, but Torrey Smith is still raw and can be taken out of a game by an elite corner like Johnathan Joseph. It will be interesting to see who the Texans have their No. 1 corner defend. If it’s Smith, they theoretically eliminate Baltimore’s field-stretching prowess. But last time these teams met, Boldin was the one who caught eight balls for 133 yards. Wade Phillips may not be willing to surrender that again.

Regardless of how the secondary matches up, Flacco will have to play with poise. Even when they’re not sacking quarterbacks, the Texans pass-rushers are disruptive. Flacco was impressive keeping his eyes downfield and sliding in the pocket in the last meeting, but he’s still somewhat of a week-to-week player in this sense.

3. Test for Yates
All in all, T.J. Yates has done a commendable job keeping the ship afloat.

 Gary Kubiak did not ask a lot of the rookie in the wild card round. In response, Yates was somewhat reactive reading the field, but he capitalized when a big-play opportunity came about (Andre Johnson’s double move on Pacman Jones). He also did not turn the ball over (though it was lucky that Chris Crocker dropped a surefire pick-six in the second half).

This performance, however, came against Cincinnati’s 4-3, zone-based scheme, which was similar to what Yates saw from the Jaguars, Falcons and Titans in previous starts. Yates is yet to face a 3-4, or even a blitz-oriented defense. He’ll face both Sunday, when the Ravens show him things he’s never seen before.

4. Ravens secondary
One thing Yates has never seen before is a safety like Ed Reed. The future Hall of Famer is not just rangier than all of Yates’ previous foes, he’s much savvier. Most safeties force turnovers by baiting quarterbacks into throws on a given play. Reed will bait a quarterback throughout the game.

He’ll bite on the first route of a play in the second quarter; then in the fourth quarter, against a similar play, Reed will assume the quarterback knows not to try to fool him twice. Thus, while every other safety would play conservative and make sure not to give up that first route again, Reed will abandon that first assignment and jump the second route.

This is how he gets a lot of his interceptions. He’s a master at recognizing how offenses use certain plays to set up other plays. This is no different than a great chess player thinking four or five moves ahead.

It’s unreasonable to expect a third-string rookie quarterback to win the mental battle against Reed. Thus, the Texans might be hesitant to have Andre Johnson stretch the field too many times.

Reed isn’t the only noteworthy defensive back in purple. Lardarius Webb has had a terrific season playing outside and in the slot. Webb defends the deep ball as well as any corner, and he’s great at jumping passing lanes from over-man coverage. His versatility expands what the Ravens can do with their disguises.

5. Houston’s run game
It will be difficult for Arian Foster to get outside against the Ravens the way he did against the Bengals. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is too good as a downhill run defender and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson are the best in the business when it comes to setting the edge:

You’ve probably heard the term “setting the edge”. Setting the edge is when an outside run defender (in a 3-4 it’s usually an outside linebacker) entrenches himself along the line of scrimmage or in the backfield near the offensive tackle or tight end. In doing so, he forces the running back to either cut back into the teeth of the defense or run parallel to the line of scrimmage (which allows time for other defenders to chase him down).

No outside linebacking duo sets the edge better than Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson. This snapshot offers an extreme example of fantastic edge-setting. Suggs didn’t just stalemate Duane Brown – he drove him back four yards.
(AP)

These days, the key to running on Baltimore is, believe it or not, attacking Ray Lewis. The 36-year-old Pro Bowler is still terrific at diagnosing plays, shedding blocks and wrapping up anywhere near the hash marks, but since returning from his toe injury (perhaps too soon), Lewis’s lateral limitations have been exacerbated.

When he’s going east and west, ballcarriers have little trouble bursting by him (especially when the ballcarrier hits the hole with as much authority as Arian Foster).

To get Lewis going sideways, the Texans linemen will have to have fully beat Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody and Cory Redding off the ball. Houston’s front line doesn’t have the strength to block any of those guys – especially Ngata, even though the 345-pound monster has looked less than 100 percent down the stretch – but as a cohesive zone unit, they can nullify them by quickly establishing favorable angles.

That’s exactly what they did against the Bengals, who can be considered a good “pretest” for a bout with the Ravens.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 21, 2011 4:52 pm
 

Rodgers tops Pro Bowl voting; Tebow third AFC QB

Aaron Rodgers led the way in all Pro Bowl voting.(Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

We've wondered whether or not Tim Tebow is a Pro-Bowl candidate before this year and the answer is probably "no." But that doesn't matter when it comes to Pro-Bowl voting, where Tebow was the third-highest vote getter among AFC quarterbacks.

Aaron Rodgers, named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year on Wednesday, was the top vote-getter among all NFL players, pulling in 1,581,982 votes from fans. Tom Brady was second among all NFL players with 1,454,311 votes. Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski joined Brady in the top 10, via NFL.com:

Top-10 Pro Bowl Vote Getters
Player Position Team Votes
Aaron Rodgers
QB Packers 1,581,982
Tom Brady
QB Patriots 1,454,311
Drew Brees
QB Saints 1,188,893
Calvin Johnson
WR Lions 1,180,777
Wes Welker
WR Patriots 1,133,787
LeSean McCoy
RB Eagles 962,824
Rob Gronkowski
TE Patriots 936,886
Ben Roethlisberger
QB Steelers 935,535
Adrian Peterson
RB Vikings 925,554
Mike Wallace
WR Steelers 923,073

So, yeah, breaking: the Patriots and Steelers are popular! Also popular? Tebow.

AFC Pro Bowl Leaders by Position
Offense Defense
Player Pos Team Votes Player Pos Team Votes
Tom Brady
QB Patriots 1,454,311 Andre Carter
DE Patriots 511,693
Arian Foster
RB Texans 896,804 Haloti Ngata
DT Ravens 592,603
Vonta Leach
FB Ravens 149,801 Terrell Suggs
OLB Ravens 546,851
Wes Welker
WR Patriots 1,133,787 Ray Lewis
MLB Ravens 413,222
Rob Gronkowski
TE Patriots 936,886 Darrelle Revis
CB Jets 561,986
Michael Oher
OT Ravens 327,644 Troy Polamalu
SS Steelers 230,649
Logan Mankins
G Patriots 337,844 Ed Reed
FS Ravens 198,075
Maurkice Pouncey
C Steelers 376,457 Shane Lechler
P Raiders 228,782
Sebastian Janikowski
K Raiders 244,512 Joe McKnight
KR Jets 140,926

Once again, I'll point out that the Ravens and Patriots are popular (and also good at what they do), along with the Steelers. Brendon Ayanbadejo was the leading "special teams" vote-getter, with 106,515. On the NFC side, well, I hope you like the Packers:

NFC Pro Bowl Leaders by Position
Offense Defense
Player Pos Team Votes Player Pos Team Votes
Aaron Rodgers
QB Packers 1,581,982 Jared Allen
DE Vikings 784,527
LeSean McCoy
RB Eagles 962,824 Justin Smith
DT 49ers 525,578
John Kuhn
FB Packers 322,260 DeMarcus Ware
OLB Cowboys 581,554
Calvin Johnson
WR Lions 1,180,777 Patrick Willis
MLB 49ers 581,554
Jimmy Graham
TE Saints 725,612 Charles Woodson
CB Packers 763,198
Chad Clifton
OT Packers 392,106 Roman Harper
SS Saints 147,542
T.J. Lang
G Packers 327,740 Morgan Burnett
FS Packers 223,292
Scott Wells
C Packers 436,693 Andy Lee
P 49ers 161,812
Mason Crosby
K Packers 184,665 Devin Hester
KR Bears 268,293

For the NFC, Jarrett Bush of the Packers received the most special teams votes with 134,696. (And yes, I suppose I could have kick returners on the offense side, but I'm not trying to have my tables be all uneven. Oh no I'm not.)

Naturally, none of this means any of these guys are guaranteed to make the Pro Bowl -- the fan vote only counts as one-third of the total. The players vote is worth two-thirds. But there's a good chance that many of these guys will end up in the Pro Bowl.

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Posted on: October 16, 2011 9:58 am
 

Leach: I wasn't appreciated in Houston

V. Leach is happy in Baltimore (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

When Vonta Leach signed his three-year, $11 million deal with the Ravens, leaving Houston behind for good, Ray Rice happily texted him, "Let the fun begin."

For the most part, the two have had fun, with Leach opening holes for Rice and helping the Ravens to a 3-1 record and the top spot in the AFC North.

But when asked about his departure from the Texans, where he had played the past five years of his career, it turns out Leach wasn’t so pleased with the way he felt he was treated. In effect, he felt he was taken for granted.

"It worked out for them and it's worked out for me. It's a win-win situation,” Leach said, via the Houston Chronicle, referring to the Texans use of James Casey in his old spot. “I had five good years in Houston, and I did leave on a bad note. When I was there, I laid it all on the line for Houston, whether I was hurt or not. During my time there, they paid a lot of players I felt didn't necessarily deserve to get paid. What disappointed me was when it was time for me, maybe my last contract, to get a good deal ... I didn't have to be the highest-paid fullback.

"I just wanted to feel appreciated. I didn't. I was not appreciated."

Leach said the problem began last year when he made his first Pro Bowl -- one of his long-term career goals -- and Leach said the Texans knew his price tag was going to rise. That could be why Houston declined to re-sign him and instead is now using Casey,  who’s making $480,000 compared to Leach’s $6 million guarantee from Baltimore.

Leach said he just wanted a fair deal. He didn’t get it.

"The deal that was offered to me was disrespectful to me and my family," he said. "It was a lesser deal than I just got finished playing for them for. … All I wanted was to be wanted," he said. "I wanted to stay with the Texans. When I heard the offer, I picked up the phone and called (Texans general manager) Rick Smith myself. I said, 'Rick, what's going on?' He said, 'Vonta, we had to give away all of our money. We don't have any more.' I said thanks, and that was it."

Now, Leach is having fun with Rice and his new team. And he’s getting paid what he feels he deserves.

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Posted on: August 8, 2011 1:34 pm
Edited on: August 8, 2011 1:56 pm
 

Ravens sign RB Ricky Williams to two-year deal

Posted by Will Brinson

The Ravens went out and made one of the more underrated signings of the offseason, picking up fullback Vonta Leach before he could re-sign with the Texans. One problem: they'd already cut Willis McGahee and lost Le'Ron McClain to the Chiefs, leaving Ray Rice as the only running back worth using on their roster.

Enter Ricky Williams, who agreed to terms with Baltimore on Monday, according to Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun.

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the deal is a two-year contract "worth up to $4 million."

It's a pretty tremendous signing for the Ravens, who get to reunite Williams with his former head coach in Miami Cam Cameron (the OC with Baltimore, natch).

2011 NFL Free Agency

But, more importantly, Baltimore has upgraded their running game at this point, because adding Williams gives them a perfect power complement to the elusive (but also strong) Rice out of the backfield.

With Leach blocking and Williams giving Baltimore a different speed out of the backfield, don't be shocked if the Ravens running game is once again impressive in 2011.

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Posted on: July 31, 2011 1:32 pm
 

Vonta Leach signs deal; Rice tweets happily

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

FB Vonta Leach, regarded by many as the best lead blocker in the game, has signed a three-year deal worth $11 million with the Ravens, eschewing the Texans in the process, and making Baltimore RB Ray Rice a happy man.

That’s according to the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain, who reports that the Texans wanted to keep Leach but weren’t willing to put out as much money as the Ravens.

Combined with the re-signing of OL Marshal Yanda, the addition of Leach should help a Ravens running game that slipped to 14th last season (it was No. 5 in 2009 and No. 4 in 2008).

Almost immediately after the news, Rice sent a tweet to Leach that read, “Let the fun begin.”

The rest of the AFC North might beg to differ.

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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