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Tag:Aldon Smith
Posted on: December 20, 2011 10:58 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

Max Starks - Steelers

To be fair to Max, the Steelers cut him during the summer, something about him being out of shape. And then, a month into the season, after it was abundantly clear that Jonathan Scott wasn't a capable NFL starting left tackle, Pittsburgh re-signed Starks, promptly inserted him into the lineup, and the offensive line immediately improved.

And given how well the Steelers had been playing in the two and a half months since Starks returned to the team, it's hard to quibble with one performance. But hey, that's what we do here.

Rookie Aldon Smith, a situational pass rusher at this stage of his career, treated Starks like a 350-pound rag doll Monday night. Any shortcomings along the offensive line are usually mitigated by Ben Roethlisberger's mobility in the pocket, but the Steelers quarterback was playing on bum ankle that so hobble him that we're pretty sure Tommy Maddox could've beat him in a foot race.


Aldon Smith puts on a clinic as he takes down Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on 2.5 sacks Monday night, setting the 49ers' rookie record at 13 with two games left in the season.

Starks held his own in the first half, primarily because the close score meant that Pittsburgh's rushing attack was still part of the game plan. But after the 49ers went up 13-3 in the second half it was, as they say, on like Donkey Kong. To paraphrase Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football, if the game had gone on much longer, Smith would've earned a trip to Canton on that singular performance. (The only thing missing: the wind spring sack dance.)

A healthy Big Ben and a soft schedule over the final two weeks (Rams, at Browns) should mean more consistent play throughout the offense. Also not hurting: getting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back. He missed the 49ers game with a high-ankle sprain of his own.

Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith - Ravens

Heading into the season, the Ravens secondary -- particularly cornerback -- was thought to be a liability. Former practice-squad player Cary Williams has started 14 games this season and for the most part he's been solid. Against the Chargers, he spent the evening chasing after whichever target Philip Rivers just found wide open streaking across the field.

And you could argue Jimmy Smith's night was worse. Chargers head coach Norv Turner identified the rookie first-round pick as a target and Norv was true to his word. Rivers ended the night completing 74 percent of his throws for 270 yards and a touchdown. More than that: he wasn't touched all game. That's right, the team with more offensive line issues than the Steelers, and who were working on their third left tackle of the season, kept Rivers clean against one of the NFL's most ferocious pass rushes.

Put differently: Baltimore's shortcomings don't all fall to Williams and Smith. The front seven didn't do their job and if we really want to point fingers, Joe Flacco played like, well, crap. The lesson: don't take Tim Tebow's name in vain. Nothing good will come of it.

Stanford Routt, Rolando McClain, Raiders

Obviously, this honor should go to head coach Hue Jackson for his inexplicable decision to not triple and quadruple-team Calvin Johnson during the last drive of Sunday's game, one that proved to be the difference. (But this is 'Coach Killers.' Presumably, Jackson's into self-preservation even if his coaching decisions scream otherwise.) Instead, Jackson blamed execution not play-calling for Johnson getting open, even though one play call had linebacker Rolando McClain responsible for covering Johnson 40 yards down the field.

“Yeah, that’s called the Tampa-2," Jackson said. "That’s what the middle linebacker does — he runs right down the middle of the field. They made the play and we didn’t.”

We don't know much about football strategizing, but that seems like a recipe for losing.

Oakland likes to play a lot of man-to-man and cornerback Stanford Routt was burdened with covering Johnson for most of the game. He had a costly pass interference penalty that gave Detroit the ball at the Raiders six-yard line with 48 seconds to go. Wondering how that ended? Yep, a Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. The goal post was the closet object in coverage on the play.


See how Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson led the Lions on a seven-play, 98-yard drive to defeat the Raiders in Oakland.

“It isn’t a scheme issue. The ball’s laying up in the air. You gotta go make that play. Their guy made it and we didn’t. So they won the game." Jackson said, according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore.

Well, it is a scheme issue when the scheme doesn't have anyone in Johnson's vicinity.

Santonio Holmes - Jets

You have to wonder what goes through a player's mind when he makes the conscious decision to do something stupid. The Bills' Stevie Johnson had to know that as soon as he went to the ground during his "I shot myself in the leg" homage to Plaxico Burress touchdown dance in Week 12 that he was going to get a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.

On Sunday, with the Jets trailing 28-9, Holmes finally held onto the ball long enough to get into the end zone (he already had a fumble and caused an interception by misplaying a Mark Sanchez pass).

Hand the ball to the official, head to the sidelines and try to figure out how get back in this game.

That should've been the thought that ran through Holmes' mind. Nope. Instead, he put the ball on the ground, stepped on it, and pretended to fly. Like an eagle. Um, yeah, using the ball as a prop? That's a 15-yard penalty.


Good news: Holmes scores. Bad news: he gets a stupid celebration penalty.

In the scheme of things it didn't matter; the Eagles blew the doors off the Jets and 15 yards here or there wasn't going to be the difference. But the penalty is symptomatic of something larger: Rex Ryan's inability to control his locker room. Holmes is a six-year veteran and a team captain. He's also one of New York's best players. But there's a chance he will be one of New York's best players sitting on the couch in January.

Ryan, for his part, nailed the role of the enabling parent.

“He apologized for that to me but I’ll say this about Santonio and every other player on this team: They have my 100 percent support and we’re in this thing together. … Are we perfect? No. None of us are perfect, but I'm just saying that you wish that thing never happened," Ryan said. "I don't think it will happen again, but again, I have his back, he has mine and this whole team is that way. We just have to come out and fight for each other, we know it was a mistake and we'll learn from it."

In two weeks, the Jets might have plenty of time to replay all the mistakes from the past season.

Marc Mariani - Titans

We were all set to blame Chris Johnson for the Titans' loss to the Colts, but pointing the finger at one of the league's worst running backs has become unoriginal 15 weeks into the season. And while Mariani had very little to do with Tennessee getting steamrolled by an 0-13 team, this play perfectly embodies the Titans' Sunday afternoon experience at Lucas Oil Stadium.

With the Colts leading 17-6, Mariani, Tennessee's return man, misplayed a kickoff in the end zone. No big deal -- it happens all the time … except that Mariani accidentally drop-kicked the ball out of bounds at about the six-inch line.

“I botched my responsibility,” Mariani said. “Their kicker (Pat McAfee) line-drived that one and I was trying to make a play, but it was all over the place and took an unbelievable bounce.”

The miscue proved to be harmless; the Titans gained a few first downs before eventually punting.

As for the real culprits Sunday, take your pick: Johnson (15 rushes, 55 yards); Matt Hasselbeck (a pick-six -- including the first interception by a Colts cornerback all season -- and another pick in the Colts end zone); Jared Cook (huge fumble in Indy territory); and the entire Titans defense for getting Donald Brown'd in the fourth quarter with Indy leading just 20-13. And perhaps more embarrassingly, giving Dan Orlovsky his first career victory. (Orolovsky had been 0-7 with the 2008 Lions and 0-2 with the Colts in 2011.)


Tennessee goes tackling-optional on Brown's 80-yard TD run.

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Posted on: December 20, 2011 1:00 am
 

Aldon Smith makes Defensive ROY case Monday

Aldon Smith picks up one of his record-breaking sacks of Ben Roethlisberger. (AP)
By Will Brinson

A blown transformer caused a power outage on Monday night in San Francisco. Or maybe 49ers rookie linebacker Aldon Smith just snuck out back of the stadium and swallowed that bad boy whole before the 49ers handed Pittsburgh a 20-3 loss in Candlestick Park.

Because, my goodness, Smith was off the charts, dominating the Steelers offensive line en route to recording 2.5 sacks and a pile of hurries and hits on a hobble Ben Roethlisberger. Smith's sacks were notable for more than just his performance Monday, though, as he broke Charles Haley's record for sacks in a season (12.5) by a 49ers rookie.

"The biggest thing with him is when there's a guy there ready to block he can just turn his hips, get skinny and get through there and still pressure on the quarterback," defensive tackle Justin Smith said afterward when asked about Aldon. "He's done it all year, he did it a bunch tonight and he's one of the reason we're where we're at."

Where they're at is the No. 2 seed in the NFC, a spot they'll lock down if they can beat the Seahawks and the Rams on the road over the next few weeks.

And where Smith should be is near the top of Defensive Rookie of the Year ballots. His 13 sacks are the best by any rookie in 2011, and even the other guy who might win the award, Von Miller, knows how good Smith is -- he told me before the season Smith would win the award.

If Smith plays the last two games like he did on Monday night, Miller might be right, at his own expense.

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Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:06 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


At 10-3, the San Francisco 49ers are fighting for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With two losses in their last three outings, questions are starting to lurk. Are the Niners indeed a top-tier club with a powerhouse defense and limited-but-fundamentally sound offense? Or are they, like the ’08 Dolphins or 08 Titans, just another middle-tier team that happened to rack up a lot of wins thanks to the good fortunes of turnover differential? (The Niners are currently first in the league at +21).

San Fran’s recent two losses have been to quality 3-4 defenses (Baltimore and Arizona). The Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh could provide the “moment of truth” for Jim Harbaugh’s club.


1. Niners’ protection woes
The Cardinals defense, led by former Steelers assistant Ray Horton, came after Alex Smith & Co. with fervidity and dimension. Horton’s panoply of blitzes brought rushers from all four linebacking spots and, on a few occasions, the secondary. San Francisco’s offensive line, particularly inside with LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin and RG Adam Snyder, floundered in their identification and reaction speed. Two weeks before, those three linemen, along with backup guard Chilo Rachal, were physically manhandled by Haloti Ngata and the tough Ravens front three.

The Niners spend most of their time in base offensive personnel, which has them line up against base defensive personnel. The Steelers are less aggressive than the Cardinals when it comes to blitzing out of base personnel (most of Dick LeBeau’s blitzes come from nickel and dime packages). And, physically, the Steelers defensive front three is not as powerful as the Ravens’.

That said, the trenches mismatch will still be glaring and hard for the Niners to avoid (see items 2 and 3).

2. Niners run game
Jim Harbaugh’s is a run-oriented offense in the purist form. On first and second downs, the 49ers align almost exclusively in 21 or 22 personnel (i.e. two backs and one or two tight ends). The Steelers, at times, even in their base defense with vociferous nose tackle Casey Hampton, have uncharacteristically struggled in run defense this season. But those struggles have come against zone-blocking teams like the Texans, Ravens or Bengals.

The 49ers are a power-blocking team. Their ground game is predicated on size and force, double-teams and interior pulls (Iupati is very mobile; Snyder is often ineffective off movement but can at least physically execute the plays). Power-blocking is not a good formula when facing the Steelers. Their defensive line cannot be consistently driven, and inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior play too fast for slow developing pull blocks to work.

3. Niners pass game
If the Niners do try to stick with their power ground game, they’ll inevitably face a handful of third-and-long situations. That will compel Harbaugh to spread into three-receiver sets. That’s when LeBeau will take advantage of San Francisco’s interior pass protection issues.

One of the hallmark blitzes in LeBeau’s portfolio is the Fire-X, which is when both inside linebackers crisscross and attack the A-gaps. The Steelers execute Fire-X’s better than any team in football. James Farrior is brilliant in timing his blitzes and setting up pass-rushing lanes for teammates. Lawrence Timmons is more explosive than Acetone Peroxide when firing downhill.

What’s more, Troy Polamalu’s versatility becomes more pronounced in passing situations. That’s problematic given how much trouble Adrian Wilson (a poor man’s Polamalu) gave the Niners last week.

Because rushing yards could be tough to come by, it’s very likely that the Niners will throw on early downs out of base personnel (they had success with this formula against the Giants a few weeks ago). To help Alex Smith thrive in these scenarios, Harbaugh has implemented several changes this season – such as using play-action and specific route designs that allow for one-read throws, eliminating sight adjustment routes to ensure that the receivers and quarterback are always on the same page and being very judicious in calling “shot plays” downfield.

But in most games, there are points when a quarterback and his receivers simply have to make things happen. Smith doesn’t have the dynamic tools to consistently do that against a D like Pittsburgh’s. His primary wide receivers don’t have the speed and quickness to regularly separate outside (especially against a star cornerback like Ike Taylor). And, most concerning, his offensive tackles, particularly lackluster second-year pro Anthony Davis, are not formidable enough in pass protection to stave off LaMarr Woodley or even Jason Worilds.

4. Niners defensive line vs. Steelers O-line
The good news for Harbaugh is his defense is capable of posing nearly just as many problems for the Steelers offense. Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger’s health will have a significant impact on this game. You already know the advantages Big Ben gives the Steelers.

Almost as important is the health of center Maurkice Pouncey. Like Roethlisberger, he’s battling a Grade 1 high ankle sprain. Pouncey could not finish the game against Cleveland but says he’ll play Monday night. That’s huge. Without Pouncey, the Steelers would have to slide Doug Legursky from left guard to center, which poses a substantial drop-off in mobility and strength (even if Legursky has been somewhat of an overachiever the last year).

What’s more, Chris Kemoeatu would be forced back into the lineup at left guard. Kemoeatu has been a top ten player at his position the past few years. But for whatever reason, he’s fallen flat on his face this season – mainly in pass protection, where he’s shown poor lateral agility and a proclivity for holding.

Even at full strength, the Steelers offensive line is average and, thus, incapable of completely neutralizing the 49ers front line over four quarters. Left end Justin Smith is as good as they get. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has blossomed into a plugger who’s mobile enough to make plays anywhere in the box.

Right end Ray McDonald is healthy again and flashing uncommon initial quickness. And on passing downs, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are lightning fast, supple edge-rushers with versatile short-area explosiveness. It’s highly doubtful the Steeler tackles can contain them one-on-one.

5. San Francisco’s defensive back seven
Even if Patrick Willis’ hamstring keeps him out a third-straight game, the Niners have enough speed and burst with NaVorro Bowman and strong safety Donte Whitner to answer Pittsburgh’s methodical rushing attack. The key will be whether San Francisco can hold up in pass defense. The Niners like to play zone in base D and man in nickel or dime.

Without Willis, San Francisco’s zones become somewhat vulnerable inside (we saw this on Early Doucet’s 60-yard touchdown last week). In man, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver are all capable of hanging with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, but not if Roethlisberger is able to extend the play (Brown is simply too good at making late adjustments to his route, Sanders is similar and Wallace obviously has lethal speed if he can get downfield).

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 6, 2011 5:09 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 2:25 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 13

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 13 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Cam Matthews Tolbert Coughlin
Judge  Tebow Harrison   Brown  Kubiak
Prisco Rodgers  Houston  Brown  Kubiak
Brinson  Cam Harrison  Brown  Kubiak
Katzowitz  Rice  Smith  Brown Munchak
Wilson  Cam Harrison  Brown  Carroll
Week 13 is a wrap and that means awards time!

Props to rookie quarterback Cam Newton for his first-ever division win, his first-ever NFL winning streak and now, his first-ever Eye on Offense Award!

On defense, we had a tie between Clay Matthews and James Harrison. Since Harrison's picture scares me more (my defacto tiebreaker these days), he got the nod for our Eye on Defense Award. Sorry, Clay.

Antonio Brown, who returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown as the Steelers whipped the Bengals, nearly swept the Eye on Special Teams Award.

And Gary Kubiak provided the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with its first start at quarterback by an alumni in the NFL ... and got the win with rookie T.J. Yates. That's worth something, right?

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Cam Newton Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Newton scored his 13th rushing touchdown this season. He ran for three alone against Tampa Bay on Sunday but did you see how he jumped over the Bucs defense on one of them? It was like a Michael Jordan dunk. It was crazy.

Tim TebowTim Tebow, QB, Broncos
People said he can't throw, so he puts up a passer rating of 149.3. They said the Broncos couldn't win with him, but they're 6-1. Maybe it's time to start looking for what's right with the guy instead of what's wrong ... and what's right is that he has Denver in first in the AFC West.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tony Romo Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
He completed 28 of 46 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns against the Giants. He also drove the Packers to the game-winning field goal in the final minute. Give him this award every week.
Cam NewtonCam Newton, QB, Panthers
Newton set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback on Sunday with his 13th on the season. Three of those came Sunday as Newton had arguably his best game as a pro, also throwing for another score. It was his first win in the division.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Ray RiceRay Rice, RB, Ravens
Remember how we criticized the Ravens for not giving Rice enough touches (and somehow John Harbaugh defending the strategy)? Yeah, this is what happens when Rice gets plenty of opportunities – 204 yards on 29 carries and a TD. Hopefully, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have learned their lessons.
Cam Newton Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Not only is Newton the rookie of the year, you could make a good case that he's a top-10 NFL quarterback. Against the Buccaneers, he was 12 of 21 for 201 yards and a touchdown, but he also scored three more times on the ground. Oh, and he hauled in a 27-yard pass, too. This ain't your Jimmy Clausen Carolina Panthers.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Clay MatthewsClay Matthews, LB, Packers
The Packers defense isn't great and it can be had but every week it seems Matthews makes some sort of huge play. He did it again against New York with a pick-six. No, the Packers defense has holes but Matthews continues to make offenses pay.
James Harrison James Harrison, LB, Steelers
He had a team-high three sacks in the Steelers' 35-7 shredding of Cincinnati, keeping Pittsburgh on track with Baltimore in the AFC North. The Steelers' defense was supposed to wear down as the season went on. Instead, it's getting better,  allowing 16 points in its last two starts.
Prisco Brinson
Justin HoustonJustin Houston, LB, Chiefs
This rookie from Georgia had three sacks and spent the day in the Bears backfield. Houston gives the Chiefs another option on the other side from Tamba Hali. Three, zero, zero and three sacks, respectively, in four games.
Clay MatthewsClay Matthews, LB, Packers
For as much as junk as the Packers defense takes for giving up a ton of points, it's important to remember they've got a pile of playmakers -- Matthews proved that with a pick six of Eli Manning that ended up being the difference in the Packers shootout win over the Giants.
Katzowitz Wilson
Aldon Smith Aldon Smith, LB, 49ers
Aside from the fact Smith recorded two sacks against the Rams, his celebration after his final sack was awesome. Instead of dancing like a maniac, he sprinted to the sideline, tried not to touch anybody and just sat on the bench. It was awesome, sort of like Smith’s performance.
James Harrison James Harrison, LB, Steelers
Harrison missed four games in the middle of the season with an eye injury but since returning to the lineup in Week 9 he has six sacks, three coming against a Bengals offensive line that had done a good job of protecting Andy Dalton all season.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Mike TolbertMike Tolbert, RB, Chargers
The play he made on kickoff coverage wasn't the kind of play you will see on highlights across the country but it was damn impressive. Tolbert completely annihilated a kick return by the Jaguars. I mean, it was a textbook, single-handed destruction. And remember: Tolbert is one of the key cogs on offense and he still sacrifices his body like that.
Antonio Brown Antonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
H His 60-yard punt return for a touchdown finished off Cincinnati in a game that was supposed to be closer than it was. One reason it wasn't: Antonio Brown. The guy's been a productive receiver all year, but he pushed the Steelers to their third straight win and seventh in eight games with a nifty punt return. Hey, the more you can do ...
Prisco Brinson
Antonio BrownAntonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
He has emerged as a big-time receiver this season, but he's still a good return man. He had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown to make it 28-7 at the half against the Bengals.
Antonio BrownAntonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
Brown's one of the more underrated all-around performers  in the NFL. A big sleeper coming into his second season, the Pittsburgh wideout's begun blowing up as of late and doing it all over the field -- Sunday he took a punt 60 yards to the house to finish off the Bengals by halftime.
Katzowitz Wilson
Antonio Brown Antonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
Aside from his 45-yard catch that helped set up the Steelers first score, Brown also finished off Cincinnati late in the first half. After the Bengals scored to get some momentum and cut the lead to two touchdowns, Brown took a Kevin Huber punt and returned it 60 yards for the score to give Pittsburgh a 28-7 lead. And that was basically ballgame.
Antonio Brown Antonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
Pittsburgh hasn't been known for their coverage or return teams for some time but young players are changing that. Brown is not only an emerging talent at wideout, he's a dangerous return man, too. His 60-yard punt return against the Bengals capped a 28-point second quarter for the Steelers.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Bill BelichickTom Coughlin, HC, Giants
I know, unusual choice, but seeing the Giants against the Packers after they were debacled the previous week, was interesting to see. Coughlin had his team ready and I don't think there's going to be a Giants collapse. For once.

Gary Kubiak Gary Kubiak, HC, Texans
He wins without his top defensive player. He wins without his top offensive player. He wins without his starting QB. Now he wins with a rookie third-string QB, beating Atlanta behind T.J. Yates. Kubiak was supposed to be fighting for his job. Instead, he's jockeying for playoff position.
Prisco Brinson
Gary KubiakGary Kubiak, HC, Texans
Kubiak, after losing both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to injury, beat the Falcons, who are a good team with rookie T.J. Yates making his first start. That's impressive. 
Gary KubiakGary Kubiak, HC, Texans
The meltdown is supposed to happen, because this is the Texans we're talking about. But no matter who goes down for Kubiak's team, he keeps the ship righted and Houston steered towards the franchise's first playoff berth. A win over would-be contender Atlanta was especially impressive.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Mike Munchak, HC, Titans
Tennessee went to Buffalo and beat the fading Bills, and if you wanted to know why, you could point to Chris Johnson’s 23-carry, 153-yard, two-touchdown performance. But considering Johnson has had about two strong games this year and yet, the Titans are 7-5 and in the AFC wild card race, Munchak deserves plenty of credit.
Hue Jackson Pete Carroll, HC, Seahawks
Beating the Eagles in Week 13 doesn't carry quite the cachet as doing it earlier in the season but the Seahawks are one of the league's most improved teams over the last month. They steamrolled Philly last Thursday and if the 49ers hadn't run away with NFC West, Seattle might be in the running for another 7-9 division title.



Posted on: December 5, 2011 10:00 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2011 10:56 pm
 

Aldon Smith's new sack dance is a wind sprint

Smith is as efficient after the whiste as he is between it. (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Last Sunday night, hours after Stevie Johnson regaled us with a self-inflicted-gunshot-wound-inspir
ed touchdown celebration
, Bob Costas, clad in a sports jacket and mock turtleneck, lectured the nation on the perils of impetuously shaking one's hips.

Apparently Costas' message got through to some people. Forty-Niners rookie Aldon Smith recorded two sacks Sunday against the Rams. And while his first post-sack celebration was reserved by today's standards, it still probably brought a frown to Costas' face. Smith's second sack was a different story.

The great irony was that by exaggerating the act of doing nothing Smith … drew attention to himself. Either way, it's hilarious: 


Aldon Smith's new sack dance: make the play, hop to his feet, sprint to the sidelines, promptly take a seat on the bench.

Smith, the seventh-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, has 9.5 sacks, four passes defended, and a safety this season.

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Posted on: November 30, 2011 9:26 pm
 

Von Miller has surgery; questionable for Sunday

V. Miller hurt his thumb last Sunday (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

One major reason Tim Tebow has gotten to be TIM FREAKIN’ TEBOW during his 5-1 stretch as the Broncos starter is because of Denver’s defense.

Statistically, the Broncos are a little worse than middle of the pack on defensive effectiveness -- they rank 22nd in points allowed and 18th in yards given up -- but since Tebow took over the quarterback role, Denver has held its opponents to 15 points or less four times.

A big part of that defense, rookie linebacker Von Miller, might not play this Sunday, though. As the Denver Post writes, Miller underwent thumb surgery Tuesday to repair torn ligaments that he suffered late in the fourth quarter of the Broncos overtime win against the Chargers last Sunday.

The newspaper writes that normally an injury like this would keep a player out for a week, but Miller is adamant about trying to play this weekend vs. the Vikings. He already proved his toughness last Sunday when, after hurting himself, trainers taped his thumb and he went out and stuffed Chargers running back Ryan Mathews for a key four-yard loss in overtime.

About a month ago, you could have made the case that 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith* and Miller were candidates for the defensive player rookie of the year. Not anymore. Not with the way Miller has played for the past month, collecting 4.5 sacks in the past four games (and 10.5 through his first 11 games).

*In fact, some of us did that right here.

Not having him in the lineup would be a big blow for Denver.

In other Broncos injury news, No. 2 receiver Eddie Royal also will be questionable to play this weekend after suffering an ankle injury vs. San Diego.

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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 9, 2011 8:37 am
Edited on: November 9, 2011 12:41 pm
 

NFL Midseason Awards + Expert Chat Wed 1 pm ET

Posted by Will Brinson

It's a scary thought, but we've moved to the middle (and past!) of the NFL season for every single team, nine weeks into the 2011 year. That means it's time for awards. (You can go back and check out our preseason predictions here.)

We'll also be chatting about said awards -- swing on by at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday to talk with Pete Prisco, Clark Judge, Ryan Wilson and Josh Katzowitz and myself about where your team stands and why certain people actually picked the Dolphins to make the playoffs.

Below you'll find our midseason awards -- Pete has his full breakdown here and Clark's full breakdown is here -- where there shouldn't be much explanation needed. "BFA" is "Best Free Agent" and "WFA" is "Worst Free Agent" addition (though Wilson decided he was going with "offseason acquisition" instead, sigh), ASST is Assistant Coach of the Year, and "DOH" is a pick we'd each like to have back.

Enjoy and join us at 1.

Award Brinson
Wilson
Katzowitz
Prisco
Judge
MVP
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
OPOY
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Matt Forte Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
DPOY
Jared Allen Darrelle Revis DeMarcus Ware Darrelle Revis Darrelle Revis
OROY
Cam Newton Andy Dalton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton
DROY
Von Miller Aldon Smith Aldon Smith Von Miller Von Miller
COY
Marvin Lewis Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh
ASST
Rod Chudzinski Carnell Lake Wade Phillips Wade Phillips Wade Phillips
BFA
Johnathan Joseph Johnathan Joseph Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles
WFA
Rex Grossman Haynesworth Kerry Collins Ray Edwards Tarvaris Jackson
Surprise
Bengals 49ers 49ers Bengals 49ers
Disappoint
Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles
DOH
Garrett for COY Rivers for MVP Rams in NFCW Fins in playoffs Rams in NFCW




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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