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Tag:Ahmad Bradshaw
Posted on: December 29, 2011 11:06 am
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Cowboys preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


An NFC East championship game in primetime – no further introduction needed. Here’s the breakdown.

1. Reviewing Week 14
These teams gave us a classic Sunday night showdown just a few weeks ago. That contest was defined by mistakes more than anything. Tony Romo posted good numbers but missed a few throws that would have changed the outcome. His only completion to Dez Bryant was a 50-yard touchdown against a blown coverage.

The Cowboys defense blew several coverages of its own, leading to a 400-yard night for Eli Manning and prompting Rob Ryan later to scale back the complexity of his scheme in 2:00 type situations. Big-time throws against poor pass defense was why a game that was 34-22 Cowboys with under 6:00 to play wound up being 37-34 Giants.

2. The star quarterbacks in big games
The common perception is that Eli Manning is a big game riser and Tony Romo is a big game faller. The Week 14 battle only reaffirmed this; Manning was absolutely magnificent on the final two touchdown drives, fitting balls into tight windows and, as he’d been doing all night, quickly diagnosing and dissecting the Cowboys’ Byzantine blitzes. Romo, on the other hand, missed a third-and-five throw to Miles Austin with 2:25 remaining that would have sealed the win.

That throw came against an all-out, Cover 0 blitz. In the past, Romo’s inability to recognize blitzes before and after the snap often led to his blunders. Those issues, however, have been largely corrected this season. And yet, because of what happened against the Jets in Week 1, and because of the interception-riddled second half meltdown against the Lions in Week 4, Romo’s reputation remains that of a choker.

That’s mostly an unfair and overly simplistic characterization of a quality veteran. If not for the botched field goal hold at Seattle in the ’06 wild card loss – a play that had nothing to do with quarterbacking skills – Romo almost certainly wouldn’t be thought of as a late-game anything.
 
That said, Romo has indeed made some mistakes in critical moments. Most of those have been due to defenses confounding him with false looks. The broadcast viewers might tie this to Romo feeling stressed in crunch time; the film viewers tie it back to Romo’s mediocrity at reading defenses before the snap. When you’re a sandlot player, you’re reactionary. A reactionary player is much easier to trick – especially late in games after he’s gotten comfortable reacting to certain looks the same way.

This same concept applies in the other direction with Manning. He’s a splendid field general, audibling at the line of scrimmage, running the no-huddle offense and trusting his eyes and underrated arm strength in the face of pressure. While reactive quarterbacking is prone to defensive manipulation late in games, proactive quarterbacking is apt for defensive manipulation. You change your defensive looks and play aggressively to bait a reactionary quarterback into a mistake. Against a proactive quarterback, you change your looks and play aggressively so that he doesn’t bait you into a mistake.

The relevance of this sexy “big moment quarterbacking” storyline is debatable. As stated before, Romo has improved his mental approach to the game. And just because Manning has been great in crunch time doesn’t mean he’s unstoppable (especially given how up-and-down his receivers have been).

Dez needs to work on his disappearing act. (Getty Images)

3. Pass games
It’s been far too easy for defenses to take away Dez Bryant this season. The Giants had no trouble doing this with Corey Webster a few weeks ago. They also took away Jason Witten by smacking him with a defensive end or linebacker as he came off the line. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys split Witten to the slot to prevent this from happening again.

Also, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys line up in three receiver sets to force the Giants into their nickel D. That nickel D has been poor in coverage the past few weeks, mainly because of Prince Amukamara. The first-round rookie has since been benched, with safety Antrel Rolle moving back to slot corner. The Cowboys should eagerly test Rolle with either Miles Austin or Laurent Robinson, both excellent route runners.

4. Run games
The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray for the season in their last meeting with the Giants. Felix Jones showed his uncanny burst and acceleration in the lone game of consequence since then (Week 15 at Tampa Bay), but that was against the worst run defense in football.

It remains to be seen whether the Cowboys can sustain on the ground against a quality opponent. Expect them to try to establish the run, especially if the Giants play their three-safety nickel defense against base offensive personnel (something they did a bit against the Jets). Jones’ might also run out of three-receiver sets against that nickel D, as that’s a good way to take advantage of his proficiency on draws.

New York’s run game remains unimpressive, though there were a few signs of life last week. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw both ran with power after averaging barely one yard per carry after contact against the Redskins in Week 15. David Baas is back at center after missing several weeks with migraines. Baas has been below average overall this season but at least offers a tad more short-area mobility than backup Kevin Boothe.

5. Up tempo?
The Meadowlands crowd will be in full throat – especially early. The Cowboys may want to go no-huddle to quell the crowd and dictate the flow.

A quick tempo can also be a good way to calm a pass-rush, which is critical when facing Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and, perhaps, Osi Umenyiora. And the less time the Giants defense has between snaps, the harder it will be for them to change their coverages, which coordinator Perry Fewell likes to do.

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 7, 2011 10:43 am
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:05 pm
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


A hallmark rivalry renews Sunday night with the first of a two-game series between the Cowboys and Giants that will likely decide the NFC East. We’ve recently grown familiar with the Giants as they’ve spent the past few weeks on football’s center stage (Patriots-Eagles-Saints-Packers!).

In examining whether they can break their slump and get back above .500, we take an in-depth look at how they match up with this week’s familiar foe.


1. Stopping DeMarco Murray
New York’s most valuable contributor Sunday night might just be Jason Garrett. The Cowboys’ play-caller unwisely drifted away from Murray in the second half against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving, and he all but abandoned Murray against the Cardinals last week (12 carries, just seven after the first quarter).

Garrett’s pass-first decision at Arizona was likely in response to the aggression of the Cardinals linebackers. They recklessly attacked downhill much of the game, often as part of designed blitzes. Garrett may have felt that passing against an iffy and over-leveraged Cardinals secondary was the best response.

That said, Garrett can’t simply let Murray become an afterthought. The rookie running back has been the stabilizing force of the Cowboys’ offense. In recent weeks, the Cowboys’ front line has played with enough power in the ground game that, with the help of fluid H-back John Phillips, it’s realistic to think they could push the pile against aggressive linebacking. Even if they couldn’t, Garrett could still feature his young back in the passing game. Murray has soft hands and is smart in protection. Screen passes are a great way to punish fast downhill linebackers.
 
Expect the Giants to attack with their second level defenders much in the same way the Cardinals did. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell knows that this might make Garrett one-dimensional in his play-calling. What’s more, the way to contain Murray is to make him go east and west early in the run. He has decent lateral agility and change-of-direction but only if he’s already built momentum.

By shooting the gaps, the Giants will push Murray to the perimeter, where he’s less dangerous. If the Giants continue to operate out of their big nickel package (two linebackers, three safeties), they’ll have enough speed on the field to chase the outside runs.

2. Cowboys passing game
Shooting the gaps against Murray will leave New York more susceptible to play-action passing and one-on-one matchups downfield. That’s a risk the Giants should be willing to take. They have a quasi-shutdown corner in Corey Webster.

They likely believe they can cover Jason Witten with one of their three safeties, or even with athletic linebacker Jacquian Williams. Williams was matched one-on-one against Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley the past two weeks. He was defeated in both matchups, but the Giants may be inclined to trust him again this week. Witten is elite, but he’s a prototypical tight end, not an insanely athletic hybrid wideout like Graham or Finley.

The Cowboys’ passing attack is interesting. Early in the season, it flowed through Witten. A few weeks ago, most noticeably on Thanksgiving, it was flowing through Laurent Robinson (a graceful, long-striding, deceptively fast street free agent who has blossomed now that he’s finally stayed healthy). Last week, it flowed through Dez Bryant, even though Bryant was defended by rising star Patrick Peterson. And keep in mind, last season, the passing attack flowed through Miles Austin, who may return this week from his hamstring injury.

In Dallas’ system, the go-to target is often determined by whom Tony Romo feels most comfortable with. Romo’s comfort may be influenced by the rhythm of the game. When things are grinding, Witten’s the guy. When everything flows, it’s Robinson. When it’s a sporadic, sandlot type game, he likes Bryant. The Giants will have studied the Cowboys’ offense all week. Whom they decide to put No. 1 corner Webster on will tell you who THEY think Romo likes most.

3. Tyron Smith
The first-round rookie right tackle from USC has been better than advertised, showing improvement with every start. Smith, the youngest player in the NFL, has uncommonly light feet for 310-pounder. He’s dripping with athleticism, which is evident when he lands blocks off short-area movement in the run game. His technique continues to be a work in progress – he was exploited by wily defenders early in the season and had a tough time against Cameron Wake two games ago – but it’s much better at this point than most expected.

That said, there may not be a worse player to face in a war of fundamentals than Justin Tuck. The seventh-year veteran has had a down season, but he’s still one of the craftiest – if not THE craftiest – ends in football.

If the Giants cared about our viewing entertainment, they’d move Tuck to the defensive right side and let Jason Pierre-Paul, the most dynamic young athlete playing defensive end today, go mano-a-mano against Smith.

4. Rob Ryan’s pass-rush tactics
Rob Ryan’s primary focus is on creating one-on-one situations for DeMarcus Ware. The league’s most prolific sack artist over the last five years almost always aligns on the open side of the offensive formation (i.e. away from the tight end).

To help ensure more one-on-ones for Ware – and to simply generate as much pressure as possible – Ryan walks safeties down into the box (Abe Elam’s physical strength is a plus for this), uses fire-X blitzes with his inside linebackers (where the left linebacker attacks the right A-gap and the right linebacker attacks the left A-gap) and often brings cornerback Orlando Scandrick off the edge from the slot (Scandrick is an excellent blitzer).

Ryan may want to be a bit cautious this week. Eli Manning is superb at identifying blitzes and audibling. Plus, it was on a double A-gap blitz that Ryan got outsmarted by Ken Whisenhunt with a screen pass for LaRod Stephens-Howling on the overtime touchdown last week. Ahmad Bradshaw is very good in the screen game.



5. Defending Cruz
Over the years, the Giants have had a field day going after Orlando Scandrick with slot receiver Steve Smith. Scandrick has drastically improved all-around in his third season. But the Giants also have a more dynamic slot weapon in surprising 1,000-yard receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz has big, ball-plucking hands and sinewy body control that allow him to make late adjustments to the ball. His powerful elusiveness after the catch makes him a threat to score on any play.

If Scandrick is blitzing or outside, the Cowboys are more likely to play a zone or some sort of off-coverage in the slot. The Cardinals had their outside and slot receivers align tight to one another last week, which the Cowboys defended by playing off-coverage inside. That left easy eight-yard completions on the table. Manning will gladly take those if given the opportunity.

The Cowboys may defend the seam with safety help – which could keep Cruz, as well as surprising downfield producer Jake Ballard, in-check. In that case, Scandrick would be an underneath defender, where he’s most comfortable. The cost here is that this safety help would either water down some of the blitz designs or leave one-on-one coverage against Hakeem Nicks outside.

Rob Ryan’s best bet might be to mix and match with disguise, in hopes of setting up a Manning turnover.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 14 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 30, 2011 2:54 pm
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Packers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



What you’re about to read is not a prediction for the Giants to knockoff the undefeated Packers. The Giants are banged up, have lost back-to-back primetime games and are coming off a trouncing by the Saints offense.

Come Sunday, they’ll have had only six days to prepare for the even-more-prolific Packers – a team coming off a mini bye after playing last Thursday. But there are myriad opportunities to read about why Green Bay can further push New York into one of its patented late-season declines.

We already know which is the better team here. So instead of just joining the masses, let’s challenge ourselves by examining how/why the Giants might be able to pull off an upset.


1. Throwing from base personnel
The Giants offense is most comfortable operating out of base personnel (two backs, one tight end, two receivers). Base personnel gives the Giants more opportunities for a balanced run-pass gameplan and aids their play-action.

More importantly, if last year’s Week 16 matchup between these two clubs is any indication, the Packers will match the Giants’ base personnel with their own 3-4 base personnel. Green Bay is considerably less dangerous lining up in a standard 3-4. Most of Dom Capers’ blitzes and subterfuge come from the nickel 2-4-5 package (with Charles Woodson sliding into the slot).

Against the Pack’s basic 3-4, the Giants pass-blockers can worry less about identifying blitzes and more about traditional execution. The front five can focus on sliding protection towards Clay Matthews and the running backs will have a cleaner look at their help-blocking assignments (such as chipping on the edges or covering for a lineman who gets confounded by a stunt).

What’s more, out of base personnel, the Giants running backs would be bigger factors in the pass game, and Eli Manning would also have a chance to attack A.J. Hawk in coverage. Hawk has recently improved as a space player, but offenses still prefer throwing at him inside and down the seams versus throwing at Charles Woodson or the safeties against the nickel look.

Tight end Jake Ballard (30 receptions, 490 yards this season) gives the Giants an auspicious target in this matchup.

2. The Bradshaw factor
If Ahmad Bradshaw does not return from his foot injury this week, you might as well watch Rams-Niners or Cardinals-Cowboys or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills during the late afternoon window. Without Bradshaw in the backfield, it will be very difficult for New York to throw out of base personnel, as Brandon Jacobs plays with oven mitts over his hands and D.J. Ware has not shown impressive start/stop quickness in the flats.

Bradshaw is a quick, versatile receiver and an underrated pass-blocker. More importantly, he’s far and away New York’s best runner (Jacobs can still plow over defenders when he has a head full of steam, but his lack of initial burst is a real hindrance to the ground game).

Running the ball is critical for the Giants because it helps keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.

3. The Eli factor
If Eli Manning is not in the tail end of that Tom Brady elite class, he’s comfortably at the very head of the class right after it. It sounds implausible, but Little Brother these days is underrated. Manning is having a career-year despite injuries to his receivers, top running back and offensive line (most recently, left tackle Will Beatty, who missed Monday’s game with a detached retina and will sit out again Sunday).

The Giants offense, even with the injuries and disappearance of its rushing attack (82.3 yards per game, 32nd in the NFL) has managed to post 22.9 points per contest (16th in NFL).

Manning, with his audible powers at the line, almost never lets the Giants attempt an ill-fated play. What’s not talked about enough is his arm strength. He has the gun to get the ball outside the numbers or through tight windows – and he can do it while throwing off-balance or falling back with defenders in his face. He’s as tough in the pocket as any quarterback in the game and, in the last year or two, he’s become routinely accurate.

4. How to attack downfield
The Giants may not prefer to spread the field and make this a shootout – they don’t have the wide receiver depth for that, especially if Mario Manningham’s knee remains an issue. But given the brilliance of the Packers offense, it’s possible – if not probable – that Big Blue will have to score 30-plus in order to win.

If that’s the case, the Giants may want to copy the Chargers’ approach from Week 9, when Philip Rivers & Co. hung 38 points and 460 yards on the Pack. In that game, San Diego lined up in condensed formations, with their receivers in minus splits (inside the numbers). With receivers starting their routes closer to the middle of the field, the Packer defensive backs were forced to defend more space, as they could not rely on the sideline for help:

The Chargers have good receivers and they got great protection up front that day, so they were able to capitalize on the condensed formations. The Giants receivers might be a grade below the Chargers’ (it’s debatable), but regardless, they’re capable of winning one-on-one matchups in space. The Giants’ O-line struggled two weeks ago against the Eagles, but it’s been stellar in protection most of this season.

Condensed formations don’t just create more space for receivers’ routes, they also create opportunities for picks and rubs with crossing routes, which present problems for any defense in man coverage.

5. Giants defense
As we covered in last week’s Film Room post, the Giants like to use their big nickel defense (two linebackers, three safeties) against an offense’s base personnel – especially when the offense has a versatile tight end (like Jimmy Graham last week or Jermichael Finley this week). Expect to see Deon Grant, Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips all on the field for most of this game.

It’s impossible to devise a gameplan that can stop Rodgers and this Green Bay passing attack. Your best bet is to bank on what you do best. For the Giants, that means rushing the passer with four. They got absolutely nothing from their pass-rush Monday night, which was disappointing given the glaring mismatch they had with their ends against the Saints’ iffy tackles. A four-man rush gives coordinator Perry Fewell seven defenders to play with in coverage, which allows for tighter zones and plenty of freelance defenders in man schemes.

The Giants stymied the Patriots with tight man coverage across the board a few weeks ago. That may not work in this matchup. The Packer receivers are the best in the league at beating man-to-man (in part because Rodgers is a genius when it comes to back-shoulder throws). Plus, the Patriots have a horizontal passing game; the Packers are more capable at beating you vertically. One slip by a man defender can equal six points for the offense.

In all likelihood, there won’t be just one simple solution for Fewell and his men on Sunday. They’ll have to mix coverages and try different things, all the while hoping that their star-studded pass-rush can show up.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 13 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 6:18 pm
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Saints preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



With a December Monday Night schedule that could make viewers implode from boredom, we at least get to say goodbye to November with a compelling, playoff-implicating NFC matchup. This warrants a classic five-part breakdown.


Saints offense vs. Giants defense
1. Giants pass-rush vs. Saints pass protection
This is a glaring mismatch. New Orleans has the worst pass-blocking offensive tackle tandem in football in Jermon Bushrod (left side) and Zach Strief (right side). Bushrod is slow and has awful technique. Strief is just slow. The sack numbers do not reflect this because Drew Brees is a magician when it comes to getting rid of the ball quickly and moving in and out of the pocket.

Brees, like most star quarterbacks, gets rid of the ball thanks to shrewd presnap reads. But where he’s really elite is in going through his reads. Brees can scan three or four different receivers on a simple five-step drop. He recognizes and anticipates receiver-defender relationships as fast as any passer in the game.

Because so much of what Brees does is based on quick timing and rhythm, it’s not necessarily wise to blitz him. Instead, the objective is to force him to exhaust his progressions. It’s 50-50 that the pass protection can hold up long enough for him to do this (if Brees were a typical quarterback, it’d be more like 25-75). The Rams did this in their Week 8 upset of the Saints.

The Giants’ defensive ends are several grades better than the Rams’. They’ll pressure Brees with four rushers.

2. Saints WR’s vs. Giants secondary
In Week 8, the Rams thrived with physical press coverage aided by safety help. The Giants secondary delivered terrific press coverage in their win at New England a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t be surprising to see more of that Monday night. The Saints have four quality wide receivers: Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore.

With a matchup nightmare like tight end like Jimmy Graham, most of the Saints’ formations involve only three of those wideouts. But whatever the pieces, they can -- and do -- align in all different spots on the field.

This is one reason it’s enticing to play press-man against them. Instead of trying to figure out the litany of formations and route possibilities, a defensive coordinator can put a safety or two over the top and tell his cornerbacks to just jam the hell out of whoever they line up against.

But when defenses can mix in zone coverages, they obviously give themselves more options. With rookie Prince Amukamara now healthy, the Giants might be one of the few secondaries in the league versatile enough to do this against the Saints.

With Corey Webster shadowing DeSean Jackson most of last Sunday night (Webster has shadowed the opposing No. 1 receiver regularly this season), Amukamara and Aaron Ross played inside and outside across from him. Both men played man and zone principles.

The Giants also have a multipronged tool in safety Antrel Rolle. He’s rangy in space and, as a former cornerback, adept at playing all coverages as the nickel slot defender.

3. Saints’ savvy run-pass tactic
Don’t be surprised if the Saints frequently throw out of running formations Monday night. Jimmy Graham is extremely effective running routes from a traditional tight end stance, and fullback Jed Collins is capable of catching passes in the flats. We think of the Saints as a spread offense, but Brees is averaging about 10 pass attempts per game out of two-back formations, and 10 of his 23 touchdown passes have come from such sets.

The run formation approach gains potency because the Giants starting linebackers struggle in coverage. Those struggles manifest drastically if Michael Boley (hamstring) is still out. Boley’s replacement, Mark Herzlich, was fantastic against the run last Sunday, but he was badly exposed when dropping back in coverage.

The linebacking issues are significant enough that the Giants may even be compelled to play their 4-2-5 nickel defense against the Saints base offense (they’d be treating Graham as a wide receiver). In that case, Sean Payton would have his array of running backs pound the rock behind monstrous All-World guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans.

The run formations could also aid New Orleans’ proficient play-action game (Brees was 17/19 for 212 yards and two touchdowns off play-action fakes against the Falcons in Week 10). It’s a myth that you need to establish the run in order to set up play-action.

In reality, defenders are trained to react to movement; play-action will work if the fake and the offensive linemen’s initial movements are executed well, regardless of how a team has been running the ball. That said, those fakes and movements are obviously more believable when the offense is lined up in a run formation.

Giants offense vs. Saints defense
4. Giants run game woes
The Giants will not advance deep in the playoffs if their run game does not get going. A typical Brandon Jacobs run these days involves the 265-pounder stumbling a yard behind the line of scrimmage, bumping into his own blocker, fighting for a yard-and-a-half and then pissing off every player around him by bumping into body after body as he tries to prove his manhood by ferociously picking himself up off the ground before other players can unpile, all the while barking emphatically about ... what, exactly?

How lucky are the defenders that this isn’t four years ago, when Jacobs was actually productive?

The Giants need a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw in the worst of ways. Of course, the rock-firm scatback’s presence would only present a greater opportunity for a rejuvenated run game -- not the assurance of one. Bradshaw was averaging just 4.0 yards per carry before his foot injury -- 0.7 yards below his career average.

New York’s problems start up front. And they may not be solved this week. Center David Baas has struggled with lateral run-blocking in tight spaces. Saints defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin is not an ideal opponent to face when trying to correct this. Thirty-one-year-old left guard David Diehl is showing signs of decline. This week could be tough, as the Saints defensive ends are excellent in run defense, particularly when crashing inside.

If the Giants offensive line can somehow break even in this matchup, New York’s fullbacks and tight ends will likely have opportunities to work against a Saints linebacking corps that’s without leader Jonathan Vilma (out since the start of the month with a knee). The Saints would almost need to commit eight to the box at that point. Roman Harper might be the best pure in-box safety in the NFL, but if the Giants can compel him to focus heavily on the run, they’ll impeded his blitzes, which are one of the Saints’ best weapons in pass defense (see item 5).

5. Saints blitzes
A big reason Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes so much is he knows his down four linemen cannot consistently collapse the pocket on their own. Don’t expect that to change much Sunday night (even though the Giants offensive tackles struggled mightily against the Eagles).

The difference between Williams’ D and other blitzing defenses is that Williams’ D blitzes hard. His blitzes often involve six pass-rushers instead of just five. And because one of those six rushers is usually a defensive back (Harper is phenomenal in this facet, as his 6.5 sacks on the season attest), and because nickel linebacker Jonathan Casillas has crazy speed and acceleration downhill, New Orleans’ blitzes are exceptionally fast.

Expect Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard to be big factors Monday night; as slot targets they’ll be Eli Manning’s hot reads against these blitzes.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 12 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:22 pm
 

Bradshaw out for Giants; Nicks questionable

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Since leading the Giants ever so impressively to a big win last week vs. the Patriots, many of us have wondered if quarterback Eli Manning finally has moved into elite quarterback status.

When the Giants face San Francisco on the road this Sunday, Manning will need to be just that kind of top-notch player, because, once again, running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been ruled out by the team.

Bradshaw missed last week’s win after one of the screws embedded in his foot began to aggravate him in Week 8, and though Brandon Jacobs has been less than stellar this season, he was serviceable (18 carries, 74 yards, one touchdown) against New England.

Meanwhile, Manning could get some help this week as receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has missed the past two weeks with a bum hamstring, is questionable along with rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara, who could make his pro debut this week.

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

Posted on: November 9, 2011 10:54 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The NFC’s top team from the East will travel some 3,000 miles to face the top team from the West in a game that could ultimately decide the No. 2 playoff seed. Here’s a five-point look at this matchup between two overachieving clubs.



1. Old School offenses
If not for HD quality picture and the first-down line, you could fool yourself into thinking the year is 1990 when watching these two offenses line up on Sunday. Both are built around traditional rushing attacks, operating predominantly out of classic 12, 21 or 22 personnel (12 personnel = 1 back, two tight ends; 21 personnel = two backs, one tight end; you can guess what 22 personnel equals).

The difference is that the Niners this season have successfully run the ball, while the Giants have not (San Francisco ranks sixth in the NFL with 137.6 yards rushing per game; New York ranks 29th with 88.8).

Jim Harbaugh has good horses in Frank Gore and the more dynamic but less experienced Kendall Hunter, but it’s not a glistening backfield like those found in Philadelphia, Houston or Oakland. To compensate, Harbaugh has done a masterful job manufacturing rushing yards through formation variations, motion and subtle subterfuge. The Niners show opponents a lot of different looks with their running back and tight end alignments. And with mobile guards like Mike Iupati and, to an extent, Adam Snyder, they can frequently change up their movement-oriented run-blocking techniques. They have the most variegated ground game in the NFL.
 
The Giants would like to mimic this, but Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t been healthy and Brandon Jacobs hasn’t been impactful. More encumbering has been the shakiness of the offensive line. The center position has been particularly problematic. David Baas has battled injuries and struggled with gap-shooting defensive tackles against Miami two weeks ago; when Baas has been out, Kevin Boothe has looked how you’d expect a career backup tackle to look at center. Most telling is that recently, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been almost exclusively aerial in his late-game play-calls.

2. The Quarterbacks
The Giants have managed six wins despite a sputtering ground game. The reason? Eli Manning has played the best football of his career. Herein lays the difference between New York and San Francisco. Both teams have former No. 1 overall drafted quarterbacks, but only one can put the game on its quarterback’s shoulders.

Manning is seeing the field clearer than ever (fortunately for him, New York’s front line struggles have not been in pass protection). His command of the offense and sound decision-making have propagated the eruptions of tight end Jake Ballard and slot receiver Victor Cruz. Ballard is an enhanced version of Kevin Boss; Cruz, with his unique body control and sticky hands, is a more explosive – though less stable – version of Steve Smith.

Something that’s not talked about often enough is Manning’s arm strength. He’s among the small handful of quarterbacks who truly can make all the throws; and he doesn’t need to be on balance or in perfect pocket conditions to do it.

Alex Smith, on the other hand, does need perfect pocket conditions. Smith is not functional with bodies around him. When he does have room, the throw usually has to target his first or second read, as he’s never had the poise to work deep in his progressions. This is one reason the Niners have spent so much time in 12 or 21 or 22 formations. When there are only three receivers running routes, defenses are more inclined to bring an eighth defender in the box, thus allowing for more one-on-one coverage concepts outside. This makes things simpler for the quarterback.

The Giants, on the other hand, are able to split into three, and sometimes four, receiver formations for long stretches and let Manning run the show.

3. Pass-rushes
These are two of the best pure pass-rushing defenses in the NFL. Pure meaning both are willing but not compelled to blitz. When they do blitz, it’s often primarily in an effort to command isolated matchups for rushers on the edge. For these defenses, those matchups will almost always be favorable.
 
For the Giants, Osi Umenyiora augments his incredible speed by being the league’s best snap-count anticipators in obvious passing situations. Opposite him, a healthy Justin Tuck is a versatile, fundamentally sharp force, and a rising Jason Pierre-Paul has willowy power and speed that make him a potentially more explosive version of Tuck. And don’t forget that linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka is a former first-round defensive end who can turn the corner.

You already know all this, though. What you may not know is that San Francisco’s pass-rushers are not too many rungs behind New York’s. Sixth-year pro Ahmad Brooks has finally learned how to apply his startling speed and fluidity on an everydown basis (even against the run, which close observers two years ago would not have predicted).

Rookie Aldon Smith plays with Manny Pacquiao-like hand-quickness to go with natural leverage that punctuates his first-round athleticism. What’s more, most 3-4 defenses don’t bank on getting pressure from their ends. But they don’t have a weapon like Justin Smith. He wears opponents out and makes three or four splash plays a week. Opposite Smith, Ray McDonald, when healthy (he injured his hamstring in Week 8) has been equally dynamic this season.

Both defenses have the versatility to create pass-rushing mismatches through position relocation and group concepts. All of the men mentioned above are outside players who can align inside, stand up as de facto blitzing linebackers or properly set up and execute crashes and stunts with teammates.

4. The Coverage Effect
These difficult-to-block four-man pass-rushes force quarterbacks to throw under duress into seven-man coverages. As they showed at New England last week, the Giants linebackers and safeties are getting more comfortable recognizing and attacking passing lanes. It helps that their cornerbacks, though inconsistent early in the season, can play press-man coverage outside.

Corey Webster has been particularly impressive in recent weeks, often shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver. He’s well equipped to defend the lithe but inexplosive Michael Crabtree.

The Niners love to play two-man out of their nickel defense. This puts cornerbacks Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver man-to-man on the wideouts and allows the two safeties, Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, to roam free over the top. Rogers, who starts outside but plays the slot in nickel, is having a career-year. Brown blends into the scheme in a good way. Culliver, a precocious third-round rookie, always plays with a great sense for his surroundings.

Even if Hakeem Nicks, discreetly a top-10 NFL receiver, returns from his hamstring injury this week, the Giants are going to have a tough time consistently getting wideouts open against this Niners secondary.

5. The inside linebackers
We saved the best for last: San Francisco’s inside linebackers (and just San Francisco’s – New York’s entire linebacking corps is very mediocre).

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the best inside linebacking duo in football. The past few years, Willis has rightfully been regarded as the best in the business. This season, he may be the second best on his own team, as Bowman, a 2010 third-round pick, leads San Fran in tackles.

Setting these two apart is the fact that they both play all three downs. That’s incredible in this day and age of spread offenses. In nickel and dime defense, Willis and Bowman perform coverage assignments normally reserved for defensive backs. They have the speed, change-of-direction prowess and awareness to do it. Both are quick-closing tacklers, instinctive run-defenders and innate playmakers.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 5, 2011 7:15 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2011 9:15 am
 

Bradshaw, Nicks ruled out for Patriots game

The last time the Giants and Pats met in a meaningful game this happened. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

On Sunday, the Giants and Patriots will meet for the first time since Super Bowl XLII which, at the time, was known as New England's coronation to perfection. Instead, thanks in part to David Tyree's head and Plaxico Burress' hands, the upstart Giants upended the Pats.

In the 46 months since, neither team has won a postseason game. When they take the field Sunday, however, both will be atop (or tied atop) their respective divisions.

After watching the Steelers summarily dismantle the Patriots' secondary last week, the Giants might have similar plans. Except now they'll have to do it without two of their best offensive players. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks have been ruled out.

That still leaves Eli Manning with plenty of weapons, perhaps the most inviting being New England's secondary. The Giants have the NFL's fifth-best offense, according to Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics and the Pats are the 27th-ranked defense.

The biggest matchup might come on the other side of the ball: New York's D vs. Tom Brady. Former Pats defensive coordinator and Jets head coach Eric Mangini, now an NFL analyst, spoke this week about whether New York can replicate what Pittsburgh did to slow Brady and New England's passing game.

"On defense [The Steelers] did a real good job in passing situations in getting Tom off his spot, and not letting him be comfortable right behind center where he likes to stand," Mangini told the New York Daily News Thursday.

"The Giants have a unique situation where they can generate a pass rush with their down guys and do it really well, and that's going to help. But that pressure has to come up the middle. And the other thing is: If you don't have tight coverage on the receivers, he'll just hit those guys short."

Not quite a ringing endorsement but New York has beaten New England under tougher conditions and facing longer odds (see, for example, 62 Y Sail Union).

UPDATE - 11/6/11:
In other Giants personnel news, center David Bass has also been ruled out, while defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will play, according to CBS' Charley Casserly, who also reports that 2010 first-round pick CB Prince Amukamara will be out. Wideout Ramses Barden has been activated to the 53-man roster and could be used in three-wide receiver sets.


After a disappointing loss last week over the Steelers, the New England Patriots hope to rebound as they prepare to host the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Join Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan as they break down this game.

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: November 3, 2011 12:23 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 3:41 pm
 

Bradshaw has cracked bone, Amukamara could debut

AmukamaraPosted by Josh Katzowitz

UPDATED 2:00 p.m. ET: ESPN's Adam Schefter is claiming Bradshaw's injury might not be as serious as previously thought. Schefter tweeted the following:

"Person familar with Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw's injury texted this: 'Not serious injury -- should play Sunday. No surgery (needed).'"

So, make of that what you will.

----------

In a spot of very bad news, the Giants, who have been ravaged by injuries to their defense all season, now have an injury problem on offense. As in running back Ahmad Bradshaw has a cracked bone in his foot and is out indefinitely, according to the Newark Star Ledger.

Bradshaw apparently is deciding whether to have surgery. He's already had problems with his feet - in fact, he's had surgery on both of them - and he had to leave last week's game after one of the embedded screws began aggravating him.

That leaves Brandon Jacobs as the team's No. 1 running back heading into the weekend.

The Giants defense, though, has been the unit that's been hit hard by injuries this season. It might get a little healthier this week. And if Prince Amukamara can make his pro debut Sunday, we’ll get a chance to begin to see if he was worth a No. 19 overall pick in the 2011 draft. 

He was the last first-round pick to sign after a holdout, and he was the first to get injured as well, breaking his foot and requiring surgery in just his second practice with the team.

But now that Justin Tryon is out, the Giants are missing a cornerback when they face New England on Sunday. Even if Antrel Rolle knows he can handle Patriots receiver Wes Welker, New York would probably like to hedge its bets a bit and get as much secondary help as possible.

“The sense of urgency definitely is there, but I definitely don’t feel pressured by anyone,” Amukamara said, according to the Newark Star Ledger. “They’re just supporting me and telling me to get well soon and that they can use me. I’m just doing everything I can.”

Even without actually participating on the field, Amukamara has made a good early impression on his teammates, who cite his humor and his willingness to ask questions in team meetings as positive attributes.

“He is a good player,” safety Kenny Phillips said, via Rapid Reporter Alex Raskin. “You watch him in practice, he’s definitely coming along.”

Now, the Giants hope he’s far enough along to actually take the field for the first time.

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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