Tag:Brandon Pettigrew
Posted on: September 28, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 2:30 pm
  •  
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Lions preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

For the first time seemingly since their Portsmouth days, the Detroit Lions will enter a nationally-followed non-Thanksgiving game with high expectations to live up to. They’re taking their 3-0 record to Dallas to face Tony Romo’s Ribs and a Cowboy defense that is getting more potent by the week in Rob Ryan’s scheme.

You’ll hear plenty this week about how the Lions can bring some much needed joy to the struggling Motor City, and about how they have crawled out of a miserable past decade, and about the wonders of NFL parity and turnaround stories.

These human interest stories are nice, but they’re only relevant because of what the Lions do on the field. Here’s a look at that.



1. Open formations
The Lions have lined up in shotgun 67 percent of the time this season, mostly in a 2 x 1 single-back set (two receivers to one side, one to the other). Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has taken this approach because it plays to the strength of his two young backfield stars: Matthew Stafford and Jahvid Best.

The semi-spread formations clarify the reads for Stafford and propagate a lot of quick-strike throws (which he has the arm strength and compact release to execute). Because defenses are compelled to roll coverage to Calvin Johnson (by far the most athletically gifted wideout in the NFL), Stafford has opportunities to exploit the seams.

This is a big reason why Detroit drafted Titus Young in the second round. Young is an unrefined route runner at this point, but route running precision is not the end-all, be-all when you’re attacking zone coverages from the slot.

Also helping spread the field is the way Detroit crafts sideline routes for Johnson. When a receiver runs a downfield pattern outside the numbers, safety help over the top often becomes irrelevant due to the nature of the limited spacing. Thus, you get a one-on-one matchup by default. Johnson has never been great at beating double teams.

That’s partly why the Lions specifically send him on isolation patterns outside. They’ll do this at least five or six times Sunday because the Cowboys, like most teams, don’t have a corner who can handle Megatron alone.

Detroit’s running game also benefits from the three-receiver shotgun sets. The very nature of the formation creates extra spacing, which is what a finesse runner like Jahvid Best needs. It also aids Detroit’s blocking. Receiving tight end Tony Scheffler often aligns in the slot as the third receiver. Scheffler has never been a great run-blocker, but as a slot receiver he doesn’t have to rely on strength and technique as much.

When it’s a wideout in the slot, it means the Lions get to run against a nickel defense, something they’ve done with alacrity thus far. Best’s rushing numbers aren’t great, but the Lions’ run game overall is not the weakness it was a season ago.

2. Receiving X factors
Detroit’s second and third best receiving weapons are not wideouts. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught 11 balls for 116 yards against Minnesota. He’s a plodding runner with softer hands and more effective agility than you’d guess. Stafford loves when Pettigrew is matched up on a linebacker. It will be interesting if that’s still the case after he watches outstanding Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee on film this week.

Pettigrew ranks third on the team in receiving. Ranking second is Best, who has 15 catches for 182 yards. Best, who has great elusiveness and acceleration, hurts opponents as a true receiver out of the slot, and he kills them as a screen receiver out of the backfield. One of the unheralded reasons Best thrives on screens is Calvin Johnson is a superb downfield blocker.

3. The much-ballyhooed defensive line
The Lions front four is as good as advertised. And it may only get better this week if Nick Fairley debuts as a pass-rushing defensive tackle (the first-round rookie has been out since undergoing foot surgery in August). Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch plays with great leverage and tenacity. Opposite him, Cliff Avril is a vastly underrated athlete who has recently gotten faster and stronger. Inside, underrated Corey Williams can play both a one-and two-gap style.
 
Of course, Ndamukong Suh is the driving force of Detroit’s front four. Suh’s greatest asset is his ability to quickly exert power off of movement. Elite defensive tackles like Vince Wilfork, B.J. Raji or Haloti Ngata often overpower opponents with their sheer size and force.

But those guys all weigh 330-plus and are wide enough to play the nose. Suh, at 307 pounds, is a beast, but he doesn’t quite have that exceptional raw power to dominate every down in a phone booth. However, he compensates by having the initial quickness and agility of a Pro Bowl caliber defensive end (that’s end, not tackle).

Suh is off to an incredible start this season because he’s now learned to consistently use that quickness to create favorable positioning immediately off the snap. Moves that take most players two seconds to execute, he executes in less than one. Thus, he’s always facing blockers who are caught just a little bit off-guard. That’s all Suh needs to take their manhood.

For the most part this season, the Lions have relied on straight four-man pass-rushes. But last season, against upper-tier offensive lines, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham would have a few of his linemen roam around before the snap in order to create confusion. Given Dallas’ inexperience, it would not be surprising to see Cunningham move Suh around on Sunday.

But Cunningham won’t dig too far into that bag of tricks if he doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary. He knows there are also plenty of ways to create matchup problems with his traditional fronts. For one example, see the illustration below:


From this alignment, Suh creates a mismatch either for himself or the defensive end next to him – it depends on how the Cowboys choose to block it.

In this formation, the Cowboys have three players to block two. But personnel is still a problem. By splitting the defensive end out wide (in what’s called a nine-technique) and putting Suh in the B-gap (between the offensive guard and tackle) the Cowboys have three options here, all of which put them in an unfavorable position.

Option A: They double-team Suh with guard Kyle Kosier and tackle Tyron Smith, which leaves their tight end (either Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett) overmatched one-on-one against Cliff Avril.

Option B: They let OT Smith block Avril, which leaves a terrifying one-on-one matchup for G Kosier against Suh.

Option C: They send the tight end on a passing route, but it will have to be a short one because they’re still dealing with a one-on-one matchup between G Kosier and Suh.

Option D: The Cowboys slide protection to the right side, which is unlikely because it makes life too easy for Detroit’s other two defensive linemen and could also compromise the left side of the field for passing route options.

4. Lions pass defense
The secondary has been the Lions’ Achilles heel the past two years. But this season, the Lions are allowing only 188 yards per game through the air, fourth best in the NFL. That could just be a function of weak opponents, though. In Week 1, the Lions faced a Bucs receiving group that lacks speed. In Week 2, the Lions faced a Chiefs offense that was without dynamic tight end Tony Moeaki and thin behind the seemingly detached Dwayne Bowe.

In Week 3, the Lions faced a Vikings team that humorously believes Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian form an adequate one-two punch outside. A true test for the Lions secondary may have to wait another week, as the Cowboys without Miles Austin have a fairly feeble receiving corps.

Quality of opponent aside, give this secondary credit for its improvements. The Lions play a lot of Cover 2, but their corners have performed well in man coverage on third downs. Plus safety Louis Delmas has sharpened his ball-man prowess against tight ends.

5. What to expect
The Lions have not seen a defense as conceptually difficult as Dallas’. Against the Bucs and Vikings, Stafford had to only read zone coverages behind basic four-man pass-rushes. This Sunday, he and his offensive line will have to decipher more blitzes and sub-package personnel.

They have an ultimate resource in Calvin Johnson, though. The Cowboys simply can’t cover him.

If the Lions can exploit that mismatch early and play from ahead, they’ll make the Cowboys offense one-dimensional and vulnerable in long-yardage situations. That should be enough to get to 4-0.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 1 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 25, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Vikings blow a big halftime lead -- again

Minnesota blew a second-half lead for the third-straight game (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz


The Vikings had a 20-point lead at halftime -- they had completely shut down the Lions defense while Adrian Peterson had a big impact on offense -- and this time (THIS TIME, dammit!), they weren’t going to blow a big lead.

Already, Minnesota had coughed up a 10-point halftime lead to the Chargers, allowing San Diego 17 unanswered points in the final two quarters in Week 1. And the next week vs. the Buccaneers, they blew a 17-point advantage going into intermission and then let Tampa Bay score 24 points in the second to walk off with a three-point win.

But this time Minnesota was not going to squander its biggest halftime lead of the season. Until, of course, the Vikings did exactly that.

Once again, Minnesota could barely do anything right in the second half, and behind Matthew Stafford (32 of 46, 378 yards, two touchdowns), the combination of Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson (a combined 18 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns), and kicker Jason Hanson (4 of 4 on field goals, including a 50-yarder and a game-winning 32-yarder in overtime), the Lions stunned the Vikings 26-23 in overtime.

It wasn’t only a heartbreaking result for the Vikings, whose season is completely unraveling not even a 1/5 of the way through the year. It was a punch to the gut, a slap in the face and a poke in the eye. That’s what happens when your combined second-half score is 64-6.

“I don’t think there was any variation from the first half to the second, other than they scored points and we just couldn’t get off the field,” said LB Chad Greenway, who failed to acknowledge that what he said is, actually, a pretty big variation from one half to the next.

One of the biggest plays of the game that might get lost in the maelstrom of seasickness that surrounds the team was coach Leslie Frazier’s decision to forgo the field goal on fourth and 1 on the Lions 17-yard line and his team leading 20-17 with less than 12 minutes to go. Originally, kicker Ryan Longwell started to run on the field to attempt the field goal, but Peterson waved him away and the offense stayed on the field.

But instead of giving the ball to Peterson (the Vikings $100 million man), McNabb handed the ball to the upback Toby Gerhart, who was stuffed for no gain. Six minutes later, Hanson kicked his 50-yarder to tie the game.

“We made up our minds that we had a good play we could get the first down with,” Frazier said, via Rapid Reporter Joe Oberle. "Based upon what they were doing on defense, we thought we had the play that would be effective for us. It didn’t work out.”

No, it sure didn’t.

Though the Vikings showed some toughness, tying the game at 23-23 later in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime, Detroit’s offense made sure Minnesota never got the ball in the extra period.

It was brutal for Minnesota, yet completely expected. So, what now?

“I didn’t think we’d be 0-3 at this point, but I do believe we have the guys on our team that can turn it around,” Frazier said. “I am not ready to throw in the towel.”

Because even if he tried that maneuver, there’s a pretty good chance that the towel would flitter pathetically to the ground once it reached its hallway point.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: April 8, 2011 5:44 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Detroit Lions

Posted by Andy Benoit

C. Johnson (US Presswire)


Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups .



If we’re to stick strictly to the metaphor here, a team that always finishes in ICU was at least hobbling around one of the more respectable rehabilitation wards when the 2010 season ended.

The Lions went 6-10, ranking 15th in points scored and 19th in points allowed (the 15th scoring offense ranking was partly due to a penchant for fun but unfulfilling garbage time comebacks). It’d be interesting to find out if the Lions brass would have been willing to trade the 6-10 finish for a 4-12 finish if had meant Matthew Stafford getting a chance to develop. This team likely would have been better than 6-10 had Stafford not missed 13 games with shoulder problems. But the point is, his development is crucial to the franchise’s long-term growth, and he didn’t develop while on the sidelines.

At least rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh developed. He went from “monster” early in the year to “mega monster” late. Suh headlined a revamped defensive line, which headlined a defense that still sorely needed revamping at the linebacker and secondary levels.

 

An unsung hero

How did this story slip through the cracks in 2010? Pettigrew, a first-round draft choice out of Oklahoma State in ’09, was operating at full strength on the field just nine months after tearing his ACL. In his return, the 265-pounder was an even quicker, more fluid runner than before.

Pettigrew’s newfound receiving prowess gave the offense an underneath dimension that was crucial in capitalizing on defenses rolling coverage over the top against Calvin Johnson. Augmenting this was Pettigrew’s ability to snag balls on the move.

Pettigrew’s newfound receiving prowess gave the offense an underneath dimension that was crucial in capitalizing on defenses rolling coverage over the top against Calvin Johnson. Augmenting this was Pettigrew’s ability to snag balls on the move.



1.Cornerback
Having a zone-based playmaker like an Asante Samuel would do wonders for Gunther Cunningham’s secondary. Last year’s corners were too focused on fundamentals to even listen to whatever instincts they may have had. It’s questionable whether Chris Houston is wanted back, and it should be questionable whether Alphonso Smith deserves to be welcomed back (at least to the starting lineup). Nate Vasher has experience in a Cover 2 scheme, but a few decent games down the stretch in Detroit don’t override his last few disastrous years in Chicago.

2. Outside Linebacker
You actually have to have a strong side to your game in order to be a starting strongside linebacker in the NFL. Which is why finesse-based journeyman Bobbie Carpenter is not the answer. Last year’s strongside ‘backer, Zack Follett, is penciled in as the replacement for gargantuan disappointment Julian Peterson on the weak side. Follett, however, doesn’t begin to have the necessary athleticism to play this position.

3. Interior Offensive Linemen
Center Dominic Raiola’s lack of power has become too much of an issue. An upgrade there could help keep thoroughly average guards Rob Sims and Stephen Peterman afloat.



The Lions could very well become the trendy pick of 2010. A lot of the hype will depend on how people feel about Stafford.

If he’s sharp, the Lions might be able to mask their middling offensive line. In that case, it would come down to how much the young secondary improves. If it’s lofty goals you like, 9-7 wouldn’t be an unfairly high bar for this club.

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

Posted on: October 4, 2010 5:38 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2010 6:03 pm
 

Hot Routes 10.4.10: box score tidbits



Posted by Andy Benoit


The Cardinals managed a paltry 124 yards of total offense against the Chargers. And 124 is also only three times the number of points Arizona gave up.

Antonio Gates was targeted seven times. He finished with seven catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers a player puts up when going up against thin air.

The Chargers defense had nine sacks.

Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday started their NFL-record 158th game together. (The previous record of 157 was held by Jim Kelly and Kent Hull.)

Donovan McNabb completed just 8/19 passes in his return to Philly. That’s his lowest completion total in a win since his NFL starting debut (which, coincidentally, came against the Redskins).

Santana Moss had zero catches and was targeted just one time.

Quintin Mikell led the Eagles with seven tackles, though none were dynamic enough to make us forget the one he missed (you know, when Ryan Torain plowed over him for a touchdown run).

Arian Foster sat out the first quarter against the Raiders for disciplinary reasons. That allowed Derrick Ward to rise from the dead and finish the day with 12 carries for 80 yards. (Interesting that Steve Slaton wouldn’t get more carries in this instance.) Foster still got his, too. He gained 131 yards on 16 carries, including a sensational 74-yard touchdown.

T. Mays celebrates his TD after he blocked an Atlanta punt (AP). Raiders tight end Zach Miller caught 11 passes for 122 yards and a score. On the other side, Texans backup tight end Joel Dreessen led the team with five catches for 73 yards and a score. (Perhaps the bigger news is that Owen Daniels, in a contract year and coming off a serious knee injury, seems to be assuming a backseat role).

Haloti Ngata had 11 tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits against the Steelers. And yes, in just watching the down-to-down action, Ngata was indeed THAT dominant.

The Saints ran 79 plays Sunday. The Panthers ran 47. The Saints had 27 first downs. The Panthers had 10. (The game was close because the Saints were just 1/5 in the red zone and lost two fumbles.)

Panthers linebacker James Anderson had 16 tackles and a sack.

Saints safety Usama Young played well filling in for an injured Roman Harper. Young led the team with six tackles and recorded a sack and a tackle for a loss.

Seahawks running back Justin Forsett looked much better against the Rams than his 19-carry, 65-yards stat line suggests. Forsett showed great initial quickness and lateral agility between the tackles. Credit the Rams linebackers and defensive backs for keeping him in check.

Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons had two sacks for the second straight week.

Kyle Orton threw for 341 yards against the Titans. He also attempted 50 passes for the third time this season (the Broncos are 1-2 when he does).

Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal both went over 100 receiving yards. It was Lloyd’s third 100-yard game of the season. Denver also had two 100-yard receivers against the Colts (Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney).

Chris Johnson’s longest run against the Broncos went for just eight yards. His backup, Javon Ringer, ripped off a 54-yarder. (To be fair, Ringer was ultimately chased down on that run; Johnson would have taken it to the house.)

Dave Ball had 2.5 of Tennessee’s six sacks of Kyle Orton.

The Lions ran 78 total plays; the Packers ran 40. A week after setting a franchise record with penalties 18 penalties for 152 yards, Green Bay benefitted from 13 Detroit penalties totaling 102 yards.

Charles Woodson recorded his 10th interception return for a touchdown, third most in NFL history. (Rod Woodson holds the record with 12; Sharper is next with 11. Deion Sanders had 9.)

Jordy Nelson lost two fumbles for the Packers. (And the lost fumbles never turned up…we think someone from the Lions may have found them.)

Brandon Pettigrew had a career day, catching eight passes for 91 yards. He’s another guy who has successfully bounced back from a late ’09 ACL injury.

Taylor Mays did not just have a spectacular blocked punt touchdown for the 49ers, he also led the team with 11 tackles. Looks like Michael Lewis won’t be getting his starting job back any time soon.

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



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com