Tag:New England Patriots
Posted on: January 12, 2012 2:24 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 2:27 pm
 

Harvard analysis examines Pats speaking patterns

T. Brady isn't an interesting speaker at the podium (US Presswire).

By Josh Katzowitz

While Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a well-earned reputation for being a press conference bore, quarterback Tom Brady seems to get a pass when it comes to how (un)interesting his answers from reporters can be.

Well, a new study from the student-run Harvard Sports Analyst Collective reports that Belichick and Brady actually aren’t much different when they’re addressing the media.

As in, both of them kind of stink.

The HSAC analyzed the speaking patterns of Belichick and Brady from the transcripts of postgame pressers, and the collective found that Belichick’s answers average 72 words while Brady is slightly less than that with 60 words. After a loss, though, Brady’s average response is 59 while Belichick’s answers drop to an amazingly low 25 words (to give you an indication of how long that kind of answer would look on a piece of paper, this parenthetical aside is 25 words). Considering Belichik’s post-win answers average 82 words, you could make the case that Belichick is an awfully sore loser.

The HSAC also analyzed the most-used words by the two (click this link to see the top-10), and as the authors pen, “Unsurprisingly, the results for Belichick include a list of profoundly uninteresting words, matching his style at the podium. And Brady, though his list includes a few more syllables, isn’t conveying much more meaning; 'We gave them another chance’ tells me just as much (or little) as' We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.'"

So, what do we draw from all this analysis? Ah, not much really. But by working with a quarterback and a coach who don’t seem to enjoy dealing with the media, you have to give props to those Boston-area reporters who have effectively learned to adjust their coverage around the lack of verbiage that emerges from the tongues of these two.

And while you might think dealing with Brady would be better than having to question Belichick (as I would have guessed), the HSAC has this to say: “Personally, we appreciate Belichick’s approach. The Hoodie has no intention of giving comprehensive answers to anyone’s questions, but at least he doesn’t pretend to by dragging out the same timeworn clichés heard all over the sporting world. His concern is winning football games, and the less other people know about how he does it, the better.”



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Posted on: January 11, 2012 2:40 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 9:40 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

Will Gronk get his Gronk on this time around? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

It was assumed the Patriots would draw a rematch in their divisional round playoff opener. However, most figured that rematch would be of their Week 8 bout with Pittsburgh, not their Week 15 bout with Denver.

Here’s the breakdown of what could turn out to be the highest-rated divisional round Saturday night game of all-time.


1. New England’s plan for Tebow
Something to keep in mind is the Steelers had a sound gameplan last week, playing man coverage and using a tepid pass-rush to ensure that Tim Tebow stayed in the pocket. What the Steelers didn’t count on was Demaryius Thomas being able to get by Ike Taylor and Tebow being able to pull the trigger on downfield throws. Those two young ’10 first-rounders both had career days.

The Patriots might bet that the two youngsters can’t do it again.

On the one hand, that’s a smart bet given that Thomas and Tebow were inconsistent all season (Tebow especially). On the other hand, it’s foolish given that cornerback Kyle Arrington – who would draw the Thomas matchup, as Thomas almost always lines up on the favorable side of the left-handed Tebow – is not half the cover artist Ike Taylor is, and given that logic says if Tebow can win against the man coverage of the league’s best pass defense, he can surely win against the man coverage of the league’s worst pass defense.

In the last meeting, the Patriots played predominant Cover 3 in the first half:

The Broncos had success throwing skinny posts to Tebow’s left against the Patriots Cover 3 defense in the last meeting. Cover 3 is what you’d guess it is: three defensive backs each responsible for a third of the field. Because there is so much field to cover, the outside defensive backs often play man-to-man concepts (as Devin McCourty is doing on the right side). Cover 3 is something defenses play when they blitz or when they want to force a quarterback to throw (it’s the default zone coverage behind an eight-defender box).

In this example, the Patriots were clearly baiting Tebow to throw. Notice there are only five rushers (which is hardly a blitz considering Denver has seven guys in pass protection – the idea was to keep Tebow from scrambling). Also notice how linebacker Dane Fletcher has his back to the quarterback and is running towards the left passing window. (Fletcher was late getting there; Tebow did a good job recognizing the coverage and getting the ball out quickly. The result was a 22-yard completion to Eric Decker.)

The Broncos used great routes for beating this anticipated coverage, but Tebow was unable to connect on some of the throws.

Still, throws against Cover 3 are easier than throws against quality press-man, as long as the pass protection holds up. Denver’s protection was tremendous last week.

If tackles Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin (who may need some help on the right side) can keep speed-rusher Mark Anderson at bay, the Broncos will be golden. (Keeping a backup like Anderson at bay may not sound difficult, but the former Bear was actually very disruptive in the last meeting.)

2. Stop the run!
The Patriots gave up 167 yards rushing in the first quarter of the Week 15 contest. They wound up winning the game handily, but they were on the fortuitous side of a few fumbles.

Common sense says you can’t bank on having success with such porous run defense. The issue last game was outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich’s inability to set the edge and the defensive line’s inability to prevent the Bronco linemen from contacting inside linebackers. This was a problem both with New England’s 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork must stand out more this time around. The Broncos will be willing at times to block him one-on-one with J.D. Walton. The second-year center has been up-and-down (in a good way) handling tough solo assignments against nose tackles down the stretch this season. He was phenomenal against Antonio Garay of the Chargers in Week 12 but had been just so-so the previous week against Sione Pouha of the Jets. In Week 15 he held his own against Wilfork, but in Week 16 he got schooled by Marcell Dareus.
 
If Walton has a strong game, the Broncos can pound the rock inside. If he struggles, Denver’s at least capable of getting to the perimeter, though they’ll miss the fervid blocking of wideout Eric Decker.

3. Defending the Patriots tight ends
Greg Cosell, executive producer of the NFL Matchup Show, did an excellent job breaking down the Week 15 film back in December. Cosell wrote that the Broncos focused their coverages on Rob Gronkowski, successfully disrupting his timing by hitting him at the line of scrimmage.

However, that left fourth-round rookie safety Quinton Carter on Aaron Hernandez. Carter, like the rest of Denver’s safeties, is not great in man coverage, which Hernandez proved by posting what were at the time his career highs in catches (nine) and yards (129).

Though still a little green as a route runner (particularly against zone), Hernandez has the movement skills of a wide receiver. The Broncos may choose to defend him with rising rookie nickel back Chris Harris. That would leave safeties and linebackers to cover Gronkowski.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen may figure he can get away with that as long as coverage linebackers Wesley Woodyard and D.J. Williams are once again physical with the second-year superstar.

The Patriots’ counter to this would be splitting Gronkowski into a slot receiver position (likely in a spread 2 x 2 or 3 x 2 set), where he could line up a few yards off the line and operate against an overwhelmed defender in space. Even if the Broncos decided to sacrifice their run defense by going with dime personnel against the two tight ends, they still would be overmatched.

After all, just because Jonathan Wilhite is a corner doesn’t mean he can cover Gronkowski. This is the problem New England’s offense poses, this is why the Patriots are the No. 1 seed.

4. If lightning strikes twice ...
As the tight end analysis just suggested, the Broncos are faced with a very serious matchup problem that can only be solved by their players rising up and doing things no one thought they could do. It’s improbable, but as Denver’s offense showed last week, not impossible.

So let’s say for the sake of extra analysis that the Broncos can stop Gronkowski and Hernandez with their inside pass defenders. That leaves outside corners Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman on Wes Welker and Deion Branch (who did not play in the last matchup).

If the Broncos want to avoid the matchup problems that New England’s flexible formations create (such as Welker working against a linebacker in the slot), they’ll have to play man-to-man, with Bailey assigned on Welker and Goodman on Branch. Those aren’t bad matchups for either side – it would come down to who executes better (general rule of thumb, over the course of 60 minutes, put your money on the offense).

What we’re not considering is New England’s ability to run the ball. They’re not known for that, but against nickel or dime defense, they’re capable of controlling the game the old fashioned way.

Danny Woodhead has great lateral agility. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a steady, highly professional runner. Of course, he may lose snaps to the more dynamic Stevan Ridley, a third-round rookie who has come on as of late. The Patriots have an excellent run-blocking front five with LG Logan Mankins being a premier puller, RG Brian Waters a shrewd playside anchor, LT Matt Light a crafty angles-creator (including at the second level) and RT Nate Solder a ridiculous athlete out in front.

5. Broncos pass-rush slowing down?
Pass-rush pressure is always a prerequisite for beating Tom Brady. Lately, the Patriots have nullified it with an increased emphasis on three-and five-step drops. Brady is especially sharp at this when working out of an empty backfield.

The Broncos have not had the most fervid pass-rush the last month anyway. They sacked Brady just twice in Week 15. They got Ryan Fitzpatrick just once the next week and Kyle Orton once in the season finale. They got to Ben Roethlisberger in the wild card round but that’s a product of Roethlisberger’s style of play. Denver’s pass-rush did not control the flow of last Saturday’s game. Von Miller has had just one sack since his first game back from a thumb injury (December 11 at Minnesota) and has been less explosive playing with a cast.

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: January 11, 2012 12:56 am
Edited on: January 11, 2012 1:32 am
 

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

Eli and Aaron meet again this weekend. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Every year, the NFL schedule makers help create myriad storylines during the regular season. But even the most carefully-planned crafter of matchups couldn't have worked up what we're seeing in the 2011 playoffs.

Not only are all four playoff matchups rematches of contests from earlier in the season (the Saints and 49ers went head-to-head in the preseason), but there's a smaller -- albeit more intriguing storyline -- that goes along with each. Let's examine.

The Matchup: Patriots (-13.5) vs. Broncos
The Grudge
: Josh McDaniels vs. Tim Tebow
Actually, there's no "grudge" between McDaniels and Tebow, per se. In fact, McDaniels is probably happier to see Tebow's success than anyone in the Broncos organization.

Their stupefying march to New England is borderline miraculous and made even more surprising by the fact that McDaniels tenure in Denver -- which lasted a scant 28 games -- was supposed to bottom out the franchise for years to come.

Tebow was the answer for Denver because things were too be too bad to bother with convention. Instead, he provided the spark that gave the Broncos their first division title and first playoff berth since 2005.

McDaniels, who also drafted Demaryius Thomas in the first round of the 2009 draft, can't (and won't) be totally redeemed yet, because Denver's still picking up some pieces from his time spent in the Mile High.

And forget forgiveness, even if the Broncos win, especially since he retreated back to the dark side in an official capacity just moments after the Broncos toppled Pittsburgh in Denver on Sunday.

Broncos fans, members of the Denver media, Broncos players and even Patriots players believe that McDaniels has some magic elixer up his sleeve to stop the Broncos. He might know the personnel on the roster, but they're operating under John Fox.

That still won't change the motivation for both sides, though.

Leach could be the key against his old team. (Getty Images)

The Matchup: Ravens (-7.5) vs. Texans
The Grudge: Vonta Leach vs. Texans
Leach isn't the only ex-Texan looking to get back at his old team -- Pete Prisco correctly nailed the motivation that will fuel safety Bernard Pollard when he faces his old team, especially with the strides they've made on defense. Leach's deal with Houston goes deeper than just changing teams, and he'd tell you that himself:

"Bottom line #texans did not offer me a fair deal or my worth and I found a home in bmore and I'm happy #Ravens!" Leach tweeted on January 7th.

In case you missed it, Arian Foster (who joked with Leach on Twitter about grabbing a meal while he was in town on "business") led the league in rushing with Leach as his fullback last year. Leach was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro last year, and with the Texans deciding that they could handle their business on the ground sans his presence can't sit well with the ECU grad.

While many believe this game will come down to whether T.J. Yates or Joe Flacco can make more plays, I wholeheartedly disagree. The winner of this game will have more rushing yards and longer touchdown runs, and Leach will be the guy motivated to make sure that Ray Rice ends up with a bigger game than his old teammate Foster.

The Matchup: 49ers vs. Saints (-3.5)
The Grudge: Jim Harbaugh vs. Sean Payton
When the Lions and Saints squared off last week, the idea was that an upset by Detroit might create Handshake Gate 2.0.

But the reality is there might have been a bigger rivalry stewing between Payton and Harbaugh all season long, thanks to Payton releasing his entire pound of hounds at Alex Smith before the season began in a game that ultimately didn't count.

Both coaches downplayed the preseason kerfuffle this week, but what else would you expect?

Harbaugh's talk leading up to Wild-Card Weekend as if the Saints were his only focus, and it's a) hard to blame him (they're the better team/likely opponent) and b) have you seen this guy with revenge on his brain? It's terrifying.

Payton ain't exactly the last guy who'd stick it to someone, but we could see some epic-level celebration if San Francisco wins. Like, Harbaugh could end up doing the Truffle Shuffle at midfield.

At the very least, we could see some Schwartz-level fist-pumps.

The Matchup: Packers (-7.5) vs. Giants
The Grudge: 2007 vs. 2011
Everyone automatically assumes the easy reference for this game is the Giants 2007 season, when they beat the Packers in Lambeau (after losing to an undefeated team 38-35 during the season) en route to winning a Super Bowl.

But these teams (the exact same ones!) already played this year, when the Packers won in New York.

In that game, Eli was working his way to elite status by leading the Giants back. Only Aaron Rodgers got the ball last and when that happens the Packers typically win. In this case, they did, and it's something that's sitting on the minds of both teams.

The Giants want revenge for an earlier loss in the season, obviously. But the Packers are motivated for a different reason: no one is talking about them. We mentioned earlier this year that the Packers are the most dominant team in NFL history to fly under the radar. It remains that way for a number of different storylines.

The Giants might not have forgotten the previous game from 2011, and maybe they haven't forgotten 2007. But don't think for a second that the Packers have either. Both those games are still fresh on their mind. And, we're willing to bet, serving as more than enough motivation to take care of business against New York in Lambeau.

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 1:33 pm
 

Brady says McDaniels has 'inside information'

Will McDaniels be the difference in Saturday's Denver-New England game? (Of course not.) (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

Oh boy. Tom Brady has gone and done it. During his weekly appearance on Boston's WEEI, the Patriots quarterback said that new (old) offensive assistant Josh McDaniels, who was hired over the weekend and began work immediately, "obviously has some inside information" on New England's opponent Saturday, the Denver Broncos.

On the surface, they're hardly inflammatory comments … except that some segments of the media have already questioned the hire for the very reasons Brady mentioned. The Denver Post's Mike Klis writes Tuesday that "Once again, Belichick has found a loophole in the rulebook by hiring McDaniels as an offensive assistant coach the week before the Patriots play McDaniels' former team. And the NFL has plugged its ears and covered its eyes to a move that would seem to at least violate the spirit of fair competition."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello explained the move thusly: "Teams in the playoffs can sign players."

Klis' response: "Yes, but playoff teams can't sign players from other teams. And a case can be made that in regard to the 2011 season, McDaniels' job should be finished."

And that leads us back to Brady's remarks:

“He obviously has some inside information on that team and those players, as he coached them. I haven’t seen Josh yet, so I really don’t know,” Brady said. “I think coach [Bill] Belichick has a pretty good idea of what he’s going to want Josh to do. I talked to Josh briefly but I really haven’t had a chance to sit down with him. He’s a great coach and we’re lucky to have him. I’m excited to get back to work with him. How that plays into this week, we’ll see. We’ll try to figure that out here in the next five or six days.”

But here's the thing: McDaniels got fired midway through the 2010 season for being pretty bad at his job. In '09, the Broncos started 6-0 before finishing 8-8. The next season, they went 4-12. And while Tebow was drafted on McDaniels' watch, the Broncos were still a season away from running the read option under John Fox.

Not only that, but the Patriots have already played -- and soundly beaten -- the Broncos this season without McDaniels' assistance. So whatever knowledge, inside or otherwise, McDaniels might possess, we can't imagine it will much affect the Pats' game plan.

The Post's Woody Paige feels differently.

"Belichick brought in Kid McCoach as an 'offensive assistant' just in time to interrogate him before the Patriots' rematch with the Broncos and 32 of McDaniels' players and nine assistant coaches from last season's team. The Broncos fired McDaniels on Dec. 6, 2010, because of failure as a coach (17 losses in McD's last 22 games), his poor player-people-press skills and, ultimately, the videotaping scandal that undid the franchise. …

"[McDaniels] can provide inside information and tendencies of players and coaches, especially the offensive coordinator he worked closely with, Mike McCoy. Some aspects of his old playbook passing offense were retained."

Yes, because the Patriots looked lost against the Pats in the Week 15 matchup they won 41-23. Tom Brady threw for 320 yards, tossed two touchdowns and ran for another. Tebow, meanwhile, was 11 of 22 for 194 yards with two rushing touchdowns and a lost fumble. We're quite certain that whatever insights McDaniels might have, occurred to Belichick and his coaching staff when they were preparing for the Broncos the first time.

Put differently: if McDaniels is so smart, he'd still be a head coach. Or at the very least, something more than the offensive coordinator for the league's worst unit.

Either way, Brady isn't so much concerned with what McDaniels may or may not know as he is with Denver's defense.

"Look, I’m thinking about Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil and Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey," he said. "They’ve got plenty of good players on defense for me to worry about. Just like last time, coach talks about doing your job. And there’s no better coaching point this week than for everyone to do their job, not only on the field but off the field, taking care of what you need to take care of so we can be at our best for the most important game of our season."

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 9:42 am
 

Wild-Card Weekend podcast review

By Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Well then. Wild-card weekend looked like it would lack the requisite drama of an NFL playoff weekend and then Tim Tebow happened. Oh no.

We break down the Broncos stunning win over the Steelers, wonder whether John Elway is screwed for 2012, debate whether the Steelers should be disappointed and discuss Tebow's chances against the Patriots (and the guy who drafted him, Josh McDaniels!).

Then we take a look at the other wild-card games, wondering if the Falcons need to make some changes and whether or not they lost the Julio Jones trade. We discuss if the Giants are capable of beating the Packers and then move to onto the Saints, who have to go outside. Can they win in San Francisco? Should they be favored? Did the Lions get hosed by the refs? Should they be excited about the future?

And finally we take a look at the Texans-Bengals game (it seems so long ago) and debate whether Houston's got a shot at upending the Ravens.

(Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes? And if you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.)


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:51 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Wild Card: Ranking Tebow

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Wild-Card Weekend recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Ranking the Remaining QBs

Are you ----ing kidding me? Did that just happen? That, of course, is Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown in the first-ever game featuring the new NFL overtime rules to push Denver past Pittsburgh and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The lesson, as always? You're gonna want to have someone who can sling the rock when the playoffs roll around and Tebow somehow morphed into that in the first round of the playoffs against one of the all-time great defenses. But where does he rank with the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs?

8. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
With all due respect to the only former UNC quarterback to win a playoff game, he just doesn't stack up with the rest of the folks in the playoffs. That being said, he's a perfect fit for the zone-stretch offense that the Texans run, and as long as he doesn't have to do too much, he's fine. He's probably gonna have to do too much against the Ravens this week.

7. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith's been incredibly improved in 2011 so it's not like this is taking a potshot at him. Smith had his best season -- by far -- of his career, throwing just five picks and completing 61.3 percent of his passes. But you're telling me you're taking Smith if you need to win a game? No, no you're not.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco's had great moments this year, but his inconsistency is absolutely terrifying. Seven times (seven!) he's gone under 200 yards passing on the season, and many times this year the Ravens have been forced to overcome his poor play. Some of those times, they just don't lean on Flacco because they have a beasty run game and a really good defense. But that's not exactly helping his cause, you know?

5. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
COME ON DOWN THE OLD KOOL-AID FILLED RABBIT HOLE! But, no, seriously. Tebow made throws on Sunday night that he's not supposed to make. And he did it against a defense that doesn't let most quarterbacks make throws like that, much less a would-be remedial QB like Tebow. But he brings a running game, he brings an improved passing game, he brings along the worst wide receiver corps (by far) of anyone in the playoffs and he brings along the dreaded intangibles.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli's a top-five quarterback in the NFL this season, and he's got a legitimate case to be right there in Tom Brady's class (just like he said before the season!). When it comes down to it, though, you're not taking him for a playoff stretch run over any of the rest of the guys on the list. At least not yet anyway ... (But yes, there's a HUGE gap between 1-4 and 5-8.)

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
People keep saying that Brady does the most with the least but that argument's kind of ridiculous when Rob Gronkowski just wrapped up the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Three here, by the way, is like "1c."

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in a playoff game.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last I checked he's still the defending champion. Plus, he's got the mobility that no one else on this list (even Tebow) has, he's the most accurate quarterback on the run and he's working on a week's rest in addition to two weeks of hearing everyone talk about how he's not the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

Winners

Josh McDaniels: Not only is the former Broncos head coach and Patriots offensive coordinator now back with the Patriots but he's going to play against Tim Tebow next week. This is a good thing because McDaniels basically got fired for drafting Tebow. I mean, not entirely but it didn't help things. Doesn't everyone look kind of silly for not trusting him now.

T.J. Yates:
Yates was the rookie who was going to screw things up for his team, but instead he played the perfect foil to Andy Dalton's inconsistency, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't mind-blowing numbers, and 40 of the yards came on one touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but Yates did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is "don't screw things up."

Overtime Rules: It -- literally -- took Ron Winter longer to explain the new overtime rules than it took the Broncos to end the overtime. One play to DeMaryius Thomas and that's it. Which is good for the NFL because a longer, more prolonged overtime opened up the possibility for mistakes by refs and scrutiny by media and fans. Instead now we think it works perfectly!

Pierre Thomas: Dude was kiliing it on Saturday and might be the biggest reason New Orleans won. He "only" scored once and but he put up 121 total yards and he fought for every freaking one of them; there's a reasonable chance 115 of them were after contact. Thomas' refusal to go down to the turf resulted in a lot of Saints drives getting extended a lot further than they should have, and he deserves props for his effort.

Cleveland Browns: When the Falcons were eliminated, the Browns locked up better draft picks in 2012, thanks to the Julio Jones trade. (They'll now pick a lot earlier, no worse than 23rd, in the first and fourth rounds.) Tom Heckhart also looks a little bit smarter today -- even if Julio Jones is special (he is) and even if the Falcons will eventually be more explosive (they should), that deal didn't work out the way the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff thought it would. Yeah, they made the playoffs, but it was as a wild card and they didn't score a single point on Sunday.

Smith would like you to re-spot that ball, sir. (AP)

Losers

Mike Smith: Twice on Sunday, Smith had a controversial fourth-down decision to make. OK, the decisions weren't really that controversial, but the playcalls -- and the result -- were. Each time, once with Michael Turner on the freaking sideline, the Falcons snuck Ryan against a stout Giants defensive line, and each time, he was stuffed. Those decisions don't change the outcome of the game, per se, because the Giants still outscored Atlanta by more than six points, but Smith's going to answer a lot of questions about his decision-making.

Chris Crocker
: Crocker's a friend of the blog, so we don't want to rip him too hard, but that was a pretty terrible game from the Bengals safety. He dropped a crucial would-be pick-six at the start of the second half, he missed a sack of Yates, and his incredibly poor "tackling" on Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run is going to be replayed all week long. Not a good day for Crocker.

Lions Defense: It's not rare for a defense to get surgically dissected by Drew Brees. But the Lions have to be shaking their heads at missing a good chance at up-ending the Saints on Saturday because their defense couldn't get any penetration on Brees, couldn't make any stops on fourth downs, didn't make the Saints punt a single time and generally looked lost in coverage. They also dropped a pair of easy interceptions, one of which Eric Wright should've taken to the house.

Mike Mularkey: After a great season from the Falcons and a strong finish to the year, Mularkey's been a hot name as a coaching candidate and has a slew of interviews lined up. But the people looking to hire him for a full-time job are going to wonder about the incredibly conservative gameplan Mularkey dragged into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and how he managed to get outscored by Eli Manning 2-0. And then there's the short-yardage stuff (see: Mike Smith above). Smith's saying "go" but Mularkey's the guy dialing up the plays, and it might behoove teams to put him through a "Fourth-and-Short Playcalling Quiz" before giving him the gig.

John Elway: At halftime against Pittsburgh, Tim Tebow had thrown for 185 yards (all in the second quarter) and tied two of Elway's playoff records with the Broncos: he and Elway are the only Broncos quarterbacks with a) two 50-yard passes in the same game and b) a rushing and passing score in the same game. Oh and then he walked off the Steelers in overtime with an 80-yards pass. Please tell me how he's not going to bring Tebow back in 2012.

The Big Questions

 
Marvin needs to challenge his challenges. (AP)

1. What was Marvin Lewis thinking on those challenges?
He wasn't. The Bengals didn't lose because Lewis bungled a pair of first-half challenges, but that shouldn't excuse him for the actual bungling. Lewis gave away two timeouts and any chance of challenging in the second half by deciding that the Bengals (4/4 on short-yardage conversions against the Texans in Week 13) needed to challenge a bad spot on a second down and two that only went for one yard. Then he compounded it by challenging a catch in the second quarter, which allowed him to enter halftime with a deficit and no challenges.

2. Can the Saints win on the road?
Of course they can. But will they? The Saints are 0-4 in franchise history away from the Superdome when it comes to the playoffs and that's an applicable lesson for this year's team, who only played five games outside of a dome the entire year.

That's right: just five games. Now, the Saints know this. They talked about it with our own Pete Prisco after their win over Detroit on Saturday. The Saints are guaranteed nine games inside a year, because of eight home matchups and a game at division rival Atlanta. Here's what happened when they did venture away from the comfort of turf:

Week/Location Result Points Scored Passing Yards TD/INT Total Yards
Week 1 @ Green Bay L 34 419 3/0 477
Week 4 @ Jacksonville W 23 351 1/2 503
Week 5 @ Carolina W 30 359 2/1 444
Week 6 @ Tampa Bay L 20 383 1/3 453
Week 14 @ Tennessee W 22 337 2/0 437
Weekly Average N/A 34.2 334.2 2.9/0.9 467.1

Two of the Saints three losses this season came outside on the road, and they only went above 30 points twice on the road, despite averaging 34.2 points per game this season.

To paraphrase our Vice President, that's a big freaking deal.

3. Do Matt Ryan's playoff losses make him a bad quarterback?
No. But Ryan's the guy who'll be heavily judged over the next year with respect to his postseason performance, since he's now 0-3 in the playoffs. In those three games, Ryan's 70 of 110 for 584 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's definitely the victim of a) conservative gameplans and b) playing against good teams (the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Super Bowl Champion Packers and this year's Giants), but that isn't going to stop people from discussing the fact that his stats stink in the playoffs and he can't win. It's the same thing people said about Aaron Rodgers before last year.

4. Can the Giants really win the Super Bowl?
Damn right they can. The "shades of 2007" storyline is a bit played out at this point ... but it's just kind of true. They're a wild card that everyone counted out, Eli Manning's hitting his stride at the absolutely perfect time, they've got a running game that's shaping back up and their pass rush is absolutely deadly. This is the kind of the same team, just with different players. (San Fran up-ending the Saints and keeping the Giants away from the Superdome would help a lot, too.)

5. Did you really rank Tim Tebow FIFTH on the remaining quarterbacks list?
Yes. Let's just move on before I emerge from my overtime-induced blackout.

6. How bright is the future for the Lions?
Very bright. They'll obviously want to lock down Calvin Johnson at some point, and they need to get some secondary help this coming offseason, and getting Mikel Leshoure back to provide a power running game is critical. But Matthew Stafford's primed to be the next quarterback who warrants a debate for "elite" status, in case the 5,000+ yards he tossed in 2011 didn't clue you into that. 

7. Why did the Saints draft Mark Ingram?
Not sure. But it at least seemed like a good idea the time, right? Ingram was supposed to be the power runner for the Saints, but in his first season he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored only five touchdowns. He's not playing now and Chris Ivory's performance on Saturday night really leads me to believe New Orleans could've gotten better value at a different position in April's draft.

8. Could Kevin Kolb land another big contract?

Possibly! Doing so would mean that Kolb would lose his first big contract though: Charley Casserly reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are a sleeper candidate for Peyton Manning if the Colts let him go. To make that happen, they'd obviously have to bail on Kolb's contract, which they can reportedly do at a fairly cheap cost. The timing is the issue though, since Kolb's roster bonus is due in March as well. But if it happens, Kolb could instantly become the third- or fourth-best quarterback available on the market, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Flynn. It's a longshot, but an interesting situation to watch nonetheless.

9. Does Tebow deserve all the credit for the Broncos win?

As usual, no. Tebow gets a ton of credit because he does some amazing things late in games, but let's be clear: the Steelers played pretty freaking badly on Sunday night. Their pass defense was AWFUL and they ran Ben Roethlisberger out on a bad ankle and looked anemic early on on offense. The Broncos defense deserves some credit too, of course, because they played a nice game. And so do Tebow's wide receivers. Just figure out a way to spread it around.

GIF O' THE WEEK

OH NO Hakeem Nicks DID NOT JUST DO THE DIRTY BIRD. OH YES HE DID Jamaal Anderson.

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: January 7, 2012 12:35 pm
 

Ocho on Motorola's OCNN, 'scripted' ESPN and Pats

Ochocinco is embracing the "Patriot Way." (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

In 2009, at the Super Bowl in Miami, the OchoCinco News Network (OCNN) "launched." Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, then with the Bengals, partnered with Motorola to create his own news network, with various NFL players (Ray Rice, Darnell Dockett, Chris Cooley) serving as correspondents.

This year, Chad and Motorola are bringing OCNN to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, but it will be fans who are the correspondents -- winning a shot to take a trip to the Super Bowl and enjoy media day are one of the many reasons to check out Motorola's Facebook page.

We talked to Chad about OCNN, Wes Welker on Twitter, ESPN (it's "scripted"), the Patriots (they, um, don't care about statistics apparently) and much more below.

Will Brinson: Chad, what's going on?

Chad Ochocinco: What's up Will?

WB: Not much, man. Hey, talk about the contest you've got going on with Motorola and OCNN because I think it's something that'll interest our readers, especially with the idea of working with a media mogul like yourself.

Ochocinco: Basically what I'm doing is instead of what I did last year is have fellow colleagues of mine in the NFL that were in the OCNN. This year I'm flipping it around and the folks who send in videos -- who will probably be journalism majors and other people who love journalism and sports and football itself. And so it'll help springboard whatever else they have going on. And I think it's a great idea to give the fans and those people the opportunity to experience media day at the Super Bowl -- that's the chance of a lifetime, especially for a fan.

WB: Yeah, for sure. Kind of break down what someone has to do to win, and what the responsibilities are for the winner -- do they get to spend media day with Ochocinco?

Ocho: Oh no. He won't be with me. I'm not planning to be doing media day because I plan on playing.

WB: [Laughing] Oh right, sorry man. You'll be getting interviewED.

Ochocinco: Yes, that's correct. The whole point is you put in your 30 second video on why you think you should be chosen and whatever comes to your mind that's creative and then the winner's chosen and after that there will be an itinerary for the winner. When I started doing it, it was new to me -- so this person will go through credentials and the whole nine yards and actually be a part of the media.

WB: Well, that's kind of awesome. I talked to Darrelle Revis and Chris Cooley who were correspondents. Will you have players back again this year?

Ochocinco: You know what? I think I want to use the fans this year. I think the players are good but there are so many people out there that love the media, that want to do broadcast journalism, I think it's really cool that they're into it like that. So to give them a chance to interact not just with the real media but in an atmosphere like the media day at the Super Bowl will be awesome.

WB: Yeah, I agree. And I think the NFL's a tough sport to cover because the sport's so saturated -- there are so many organizations that cover it. And I know when OCNN started people thought of it as "one of Chad's crazy ideas" or whatever. But you guys have done a nice job of keeping it relatively serious. Do you think it can be something that other media companies will respect?

Ochocinco: Yeah it takes a long to get to that point. It takes a long way to get to that point. With the right backing and the right steps and wanting to take it to that serious and take it to the next level, we can get that respect we deserve. But stuff like that takes time. And breaking the stories takes time and getting the trust of the athletes around the NFL to allow them to tell us things before anybody else … but it's possible and we can legitimately compete against ESPN and it's affiliates.

WB: Lemme ask you this -- you're preparing for the playoffs and the Patriots have a bye. How different is the approach in New England versus when you were in Cincinnati?

Ochocinco: I don't want to compare, I can't compare. And I care not really to talk about Cincinnati at all. I'm a Patriot and the Patriots, they win for a reason. So obviously the preparation is what it is and it's been the same way for a reason. Whatever way we do prepare, which I really don't want to get into, is the reason why we win all the time.

WB: Ha, OK. I think that's called "The Patriot Way." People always use the phrase "new season" to describe the playoffs. I know 2011 wasn't your greatest season, statistically speaking, but you seemed to show promise at the end of the year. Do you look at the playoffs as a new season for you as well?

Ochocinco: I have no idea. I do what I'm asked to do. One thing outsiders don't realize: they don't give two sh*ts about stats. They care about one thing winning: that's it. And I've embraced what they've asked me to do and that's it.

WB: Do you think Tom Brady's season has gone under the radar? I know that's weird and I know no one cares about statistics but Brady broke Dan Marino's record too and went over 5,000 yards and no one's talking about it -- is that something you find odd?

Ochocinco: I have no idea, man. I have no idea.

WB: OK … I was just curious because I find it odd. Um, back to the media aspect of stuff, is there something where you're working with OCNN is there something that the mainstream media does -- not wrong -- but that you'd like to see done differently?

Ochocinco: I don't really pay the mainstream media any mind on what they do or don't do. I think OCNN is just refreshing because it's different. For one, it's from players that are still active which makes it a lot more fun especially for those who get their news. Sometimes the mainstream media can be overhyped -- it's about filling the stories, it's like the TMZ of sports if that makes sports. And I think OCNN would be a lot better, hearing it from different views and different personalities.

And it won't be scripted you know? ESPN is so scripted.

WB: Yeah, I don't disagree. It gets old even when it's on in the background -- I'd be interested in something like that, that's more towards the fans and less towards entertainment. Is that what you're going for?

Ochocinco: Exactly, most definitely.

WB: As it turns out, you're Mrs. Brinson's favorite athlete of all-time. She's a big fan of "Ultimate Catch" and wanted me to ask if you've got any more reality shows coming down the pipeline?

Ochocinco: I'm not sure. I'm supposed to be filming with my fiancee in a few weeks. But I'm not sure what's going on with that. Just let her know my fiancee and I are supposed to be filming and right now that's about it.

WB: Ha, will do. Fiancee stuff is totally worthy of reality television. I want to talk to you about Twitter real quick -- your Twitter account is one of the most popular among athletes. How do you stay ahead of the curve in being an athlete on Twitter and engaging fans? Is there a strategy towards it?

Ochocinco: Nah, no strategy. Just having no filter. No filter is what makes it what it is.

WB: And did you play any part in getting Wes Welker on Twitter? He's pretty funny there too.

Ochocinco: Yeah, yeah, of course. He wasn't into it and I got him on two weeks ago and now he can't stop tweeting.

WB: Ha, good stuff man, alright. Well thanks again for taking the time to talk with us and hopefully you'll be interviewed by your own media network, pretty sure that would be a first.

Ochocinco: Alright man take it easy.

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Posted on: January 7, 2012 11:37 am
Edited on: January 8, 2012 1:18 pm
 

Josh McDaniels to Patriots, starts immediately

Josh McDaniels will join New England immediately (US Presswire).

By Josh Katzowitz

With the news that Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has taken the Penn State head coaching job, we told you Josh McDaniels was scheduled to interview for his old job in New England. The Associated Press has confirmed that not only will McDaniels get that job, beginning in 2012, but he’ll join the team immediately in time for this year’s playoffs.

The story was originally reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

McDaniels had a terrible year in his only season as the Rams offensive coordinator -- St. Louis ranked 31st in yards gained and dead last in points scored -- but he had so much success previously in New England that the move makes perfect sense from  a Patriots perspective. O'Brien, meanwhile, will return to New England until the season is finished.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News
Ever since leaving New England, though, McDaniels hasn't had a real good run of success. When he took over the Broncos head coaching job, the team started the year 6-0, but during the rest of the 2009 season and into 2010, Denver lost 17 of 22 games. He was fired 13 games into last season. Then, he took the Rams offensive coordinator job under head coach Steve Spagnuolo, but that offense, through injuries and a unit that had a tough time adjusting to the new scheme, was a disaster.

Now, McDaniels returns to the position he held from 2006-08, when the Patriots never finished lower than 11th in total offense and were the top NFL offense in 2007.

The Patriots are the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and they won't have to play until next Saturday in Foxboro, so McDaniels would have at least a week to reingratiate himself to the team. As CSNNE's Tom E. Curran retweets, McDaniels' offense already has faced the Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Packers and Saints this year, and that would help New England's prep if it has to face those squads in the postseason (out of those teams, the Patriots have played only Pittsburgh this year).

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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