Tag:Chad Ochocinco
Posted on: January 29, 2012 12:54 am
 

Super Bowl XLVI Preview: Patriots O vs. Giants D

Breaking news: Brady is key to the Pats winning. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

It’s this side of the matchup that makes Super Bowl XLVI so compelling. New England’s juggernaut offense against the league’s best four-man pass-rush. Here’s the breakdown.



1. Relevance of rematch factor
What happened in Super Bowl XLII has virtually no bearing on this game. Yes, that game was decided by New York’s front four getting pressure on Tom Brady. And yes, front-four pressure will play a huge role in this Sunday’s game. But the pressure in Super Bowl XLII was schematically generated by the Giants’ inside blitzes (both feigned and real).

This approach compelled the Patriots’ help-blockers to work inside, leaving one-on-one matchups for defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora outside. This was a brilliant strategy by Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo because it punished Brady for taking seven-step drops. Those seven-step drops were obligatory in an ’07 Patriots offense that was built around the vertical prowess of Randy Moss.

But as mentioned, that gameplan is now irrelevant, as the ’11 Patriots are built around the horizontal prowess of Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker. What IS relevant is the gameplan the Giants had in Week 9 when they went into Foxboro and forced four turnovers en route to a rare Patriots home loss.

New York’s Week 9 gameplan centered around physical coverage behind a four-man pass-rush. No surprise – that’s how the Giants are built to play. What’s important is to understand HOW the Giants executed this gameplan.

Considering New York’s personnel is basically the same now as it was in Week 9 (only better), there’s no reason to think they won’t go with the same approach again. Let’s dissect that approach.

2. The four-man rush
One thing that sets the Giant’s four-man rush apart – besides an insane collection of talent – is its mismatch-creating versatility. The Giants have used 27 different front four alignments this postseason.

Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul can both slide inside and work against overmatched guards (and every NFL guard, even Pro Bowlers like Logan Mankins and Brian Waters, is overmatched against athletes like JPP and Tuck). They can align linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka anywhere up front. They have a beastly all-around force in Chris Canty (and for what it’s worth, a solid duo of rotating run-stoppers next to him in Rocky Bernard and the underrated Linval Joseph).

Most quality four-man pass-rushes have guys who are either speedy or powerful; Pierre-Paul, Tuck, Kiwanuka and, by defensive tackle standards, Canty, are all speedy AND powerful. This is what creates their versatility, and it’s also what allows the Giants front four to tee-off rushing the passer without becoming vulnerable to the run.

Expect the Giants to jumble their front four looks as much as possible. They also might walk linebackers up to the line of scrimmage just to give Brady and his linemen something to think about. As we talked about last week, the key to beating Brady is to not just get pressure on him, but to make him consciously worry about his protection.

3. New England’s response to New York’s D-line
The Patriots, like 30 other NFL teams, will have their hands full with many of the individual front line matchups against New York. For an elite left guard, Logan Mankins can be surprisingly iffy in protection sometimes. Left tackle Matt Light often rises to the occasion against top-shelf speed-rushers, but it’s a lot to ask of the 33-year-old to block Osi Umenyiora on an island. On the right side, tackle Nate Solder struggled in pass protection last week against Baltimore.

In Week 9, the Patriots were obviously concerned about one-on-one situations in the trenches. They used six or seven offensive linemen on 20 snaps. In the first half, they often kept Gronkowski and, at times even de facto wide receiver Hernandez, in to pass-block. Don’t expect them to do that as much this time around.

New England’s offense has become even more spread-oriented, which means more pass-rush nullifying three-and five-step drop passes. Because of the skill players’ versatility, the hurry-up has become the Patriots’ main offensive attack. Expect them to use frequent hurry up in order to prevent the Giants from rotating defensive linemen.

The Patriots will likely go with their two-receivers, two-tight ends, one-back personnel, and they’ll have different groups of plays already packaged for whatever personnel the Giants defense responds with. A hurry-up will keep the same defensive personnel on the field for an entire series, forcing the 270-plus-pound D-linemen to play snap after snap after snap without rest. The hope is this wears the defense down late in the series and late in the game.

It’s vital that the Patriots win the battle on first and second down. Doing so makes the hurry-up offense more vibrant and, obviously, mitigates the substantial pass-rushing advantage that New York has on third-and-long. Winning on first and second down is hard to do consistently without running the ball at least a little. This is why New England will likely go with the 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) as opposed to their new 02 personnel package (zero backs, two tight ends, three wide receivers).

Then again, Hernandez has been a surprisingly adroit ballcarrier ... perhaps a no-running back grouping is indeed viable. Or given that they’ve had an extra week to prepare, perhaps the Patriots will debut an all new offensive wrinkle (like they did after their last bye, with the Hernandez backfield packages in the divisional round against Denver).

4. New York’s coverage
The advantage of getting pressure with four is having seven guys to crowd the field in coverage. Few back sevens are as well-equipped to defend the Patriots’ pass game as the Giants’. They have athletic pass-defending linebackers (Michael Boley and Jacquian Williams) who can play laterally. More importantly, those linebackers can exert brutish force against any receivers running shallow inside routes. Those shallow inside routes are the backbone of New England’s passing attack.

The Giants also have versatile safeties who can (maybe) hang with Gronkowski and Hernandez. Deon Grant did a fabulous job on Gronk in Week 9 (he had a great pick in underneath coverage, and overall, Gronkowski’s impact was not as pronounced as his 101 yards suggested).

Antrel Rolle doesn’t run extremely well, but he’s agile enough to compete with Hernandez. In Week 9 Hernandez had not yet blossomed into the über-versatile weapon that he is today. So, Rolle actually spent most of that contest defending Wes Welker in the slot. Rolle got beat late a few times but also made some physical plays in the first half.

Physicality is a key concept. The Giants have capable press corners in Corey Webster and Aaron Ross. Webster is an outside defender who normally shadows the opposing team’s top receiver. Because Welker so often aligns in the slot, and because Deion Branch is not worth putting your best cover guy on, expect Webster to draw a litany of different matchups out wide. Same goes for Ross, who is actually more likely than Webster to cover Welker in the slot.

The Giants played more press-man than usual against the Patriots, and with good success. In the four games in which New England’s offense struggled the most this season, Brady’s completion percentage barely topped 50 when facing safety-help man coverage.

5. New England’s response
The Patriots know that aggressive press coverage can really disrupt the timing of their routes – an especially dubious scenario given that many of their routes are synched with other routes. Expect the go-to receiver to line up off the line of scrimmage as a means of creating more initial spacing (which makes it hard for a defender to deliver a jam). This could mean Welker in the slot, Hernandez in the slot or backfield, Branch in motion, etc. Play action could also take away inside help early in the routes, which bodes well for Welker:

This is an illustration of great route combinations. “Route combinations” refers to how one receiver’s route works hand-in-hand with another receiver’s route to exploit a specific coverage. This play shows a somewhat unusual case of an offense creating throwing lanes against man coverage with space-oriented route combinations (as opposed to regular man-beaters like pick plays, bunches or double crossing patterns).

It’s second-and-five. The Patriots are in a 1 x 2 set out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). Judging by the cornerbacks, the Giants are in man coverage. This is confirmed when Rob Gronkowski goes in motion and Deon Grant follows him.

The matchup Tom Brady likes is Wes Welker against safety Antrel Rolle in the slot. Welker is going to run a deep cross. This is somewhat of a tendency-breaker, as most would expect Welker to run a shallow cross on second-and-five.

The primary intent of Gronkowski’s motion is NOT to verify the coverage, it’s to balance the formation and ensure that Grant will play close to the line of scrimmage. If he’s near the line, he’ll be unable to drop off Gronkowski and jump Welker’s route over the middle.

Don’t be surprised if the Patriots have their tight ends or running backs run patterns outside the numbers while the receivers run patterns inside. This would put pressure on the linebackers and safeties to play with more speed than power and make it more difficult for corners to count on a little help over the shallow middle (which most corners need). These inside-outside crossing elements are also natural man coverage beaters, which the Patriots must rely on.

Because Brady runs like he’s wearing ski boots, defenses facing New England don’t have to commit a linebacker to shadowing the quarterback. Thus, they essentially have one extra player at their disposal. The Patriots mitigate this defensive advantage by crafting creative route design concepts:

Upon the snap, there are two key elements:

1. Welker is coming out of the slot, not off the line of scrimmage. Thus, he has about two yards between him and Rolle, which is enough to prevent Rolle from exerting a physical jam.

2. Brady fakes a handoff to Danny Woodhead. This slows the pass-rush just enough to give Welker the time needed to execute his deep cross. More importantly, it distracts linebackers Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley. They might be in a man-read assignment, meaning if Woodhead goes right, the linebacker to that side (Boley) picks him up. If he goes left, then Kiwanuka picks him up. In that case, the design of the run action was outstanding because, by starting Woodhead on the left side and running him off the fake to the right flat, the attention of both linebackers is drawn. That’s what happened here, as Boley and Kiwanuka both responded to the fake by stepping forward and becoming non-factors in this play.

(Note: It’s also possible that Boley had Woodhead straight-up, with Kiwanuka serving as a free-roaming lurk defender. If that’s the case, then Kiwanuka played this exceptionally poorly.)

Being drawn forward, the linebackers are unable to sense Welker’s crossing route and unable to give Rolle any sort of help inside. Thus, Rolle is caught playing too far outside.

On the left side, Gronkowski ran a very shallow out-route while Chad Ochocinco ran his out towards the sideline. Both of these routes were designed to widen the defense and create a big open gap for Welker.

Overall, this play had a combination of four routes working together: Woodhead’s flat on the right, Gronkowski’s out and Ochocinco’s fly on the left and Welker’s deep cross down the middle. The result: an easy 25-yard completion to arguably the league’s best slot receiver.

Again, the crossing patterns are natural man-beaters. So are bunch and stack alignments, which are great for pushing a defense into off-coverage and creating space for quick-striking throws. These tactics will replace a lot of would-be run plays in New England’s up-tempo offense.

Check our NFL expert picks for all the Super Bowl

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 28, 2012 10:54 am
 

Ochocinco leans on T.O., Moss for support

Ochocinco on the 2011 season: 'I bought into the Patriot Way, and it paid off.' (AP)

By Ryan Wilson

Chad Ochocinco is the forgotten man in New England's offense. Acquired just before training camp, the former Bengals Pro Bowler was supposed to provide Tom Brady something he lacked since Randy Moss was shipped out of town a month into the 2010 season: a deep threat.

Ochocinco, in theory, would've been the final piece to a multi-dimensional passing offense that included two of the league's best tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and the precision route-running of Wes Welker. Instead, Ochocinco, who finished the regular season with 15 receptions and one touchdown, played just one snap in the Patriots' Divisional playoff win over the Broncos and was inactive last week against the Ravens.

On Friday, Ochocinco spoke with the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian. Despite the lack of production this season, he said that he'd love to return to New England in 2012. But first things first: how has he coped with one of the toughest years of his NFL life? Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.

“For me, those guys were my outlets. Not Twitter,” he said. “To have those two guys in my corner, I talk to them all the time. (Moss) keeps me sane for 16 weeks, every week. Every week we talked. T.O., too. We’re close-knit, us so-called diva receivers. Who is going to understand what I’m talking about, or going through, from my standpoint? Not Bill (Belichick), not Tom (Brady). It’s like having my own personal support group. I love those two, man. I didn’t want to burden anyone else in here with that bull. They don’t want to hear that.”

There are countless theories for why Ochocinco's productivity tok a nosedive this season. One is that he's struggled to learn the Patriots' offense after spending 10 years in Cincinnati.

“Anything is different, when you’ve come from something you’re used to for so long. It’s like being married,” he said. “If I’m married to Halle Berry for 10 years, and her and I break up, and I marry Scarlett Johansson, there are going to be some things I have to adjust to based off what I’m used to. That’s just the way life is in general. What I was able to do was come in here and keep on working.”

So is Carson Palmer Halle Berry in this analogy? (Personally, we had him pegged for someone like Jennifer Garner: relevant seven or eight years ago before disappearing to have kids only to resurface in a promising situation. And, yes, the movie title is intentional.) And while Johannson's no slouch, Ochocinco has to go with Gisele Bündchen as his new wife, as a metaphor for his relationship with Tom Brady, right?

Either way, he says there's nothing bittersweet about finally making it to the Super Bowl despite having little to do with helping the Patriots get there.

“There’s a competitive side to me that is angry, the competitive nature in me that it didn’t go the way it normally has," Ochocinco said. "I routinely produce a certain way every year. So when that routine goes astray like it did this year, it feels funny. It’s something I had to get used to. But I took it in stride. I did everything I was asked on and off the field. I didn’t become disgruntled, as I’ve done in the past. When I want the ball, I’ve let it be known I want the ball. I didn’t do any of those things (this season). I bought into the Patriot Way, and it paid off. Maybe not the way everybody thought it would. I don’t know.

“Sometimes you work at something, and you don’t always get the results," he added. "Some people quit, some people keep grinding. I’m one of those who keeps grinding. And that’s it.”

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Posted on: January 22, 2012 11:18 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 2:00 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Super Bowl storylines

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Championship Weekend Podcast Recap below and don't forget to
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Super Bowl Storylines

We have less than two weeks until Super Bowl XLVI is played in Indianapolis, and you need to be prepared for a slew of recurring storylines that will come forth over the next 14 days. Some are good, some are bad. Here are the biggest ones:

1. Playing in Peyton's House
No. 2 on this list will be the most talked about early on, but the biggest story of this Super Bowl is that this matchup takes place in the House of Peyton Manning. Peyton carved out a legacy as a sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback in Indianapolis, and now the Colts quarterback is sidelined, unsure of his future in Indy, as he watches his most hated rival (Brady) battle his little brother (Eli) for a Super Bowl victory in the Colts stadium.

There's no telling how much face time Peyton will have to put in for the Colts over the next two weeks, and it could very well be minimal, but he's the city's most famous athlete (by a WIDE margin) and it's hard to imagine that he can just go underground while two guys whose lives are so closely parallel to his own prepare to do battle on his field.

2. 2007, All Over Again
Not sure if you heard or not, but the Giants beat the previously undefeated Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl. It was a pretty good game. A lot of the people who will play in this year's game played in that game. (The Patriots are so bitter about 2007 that they were likely rooting for the Giants against the 49ers, just to get revenge.)

This will be the predominant storyline, whether you like it or not, over the next two weeks.

3. Tom Brady's Legacy
Brady is one of four quarterbacks with three Super Bowl wins. Another one moves him out of a tie with Troy Aikman (three each) and into a tie with Terry Bradshaw and his boyhood hero Joe Montana as quarterbacks with four Super Bowl wins.

There will be a discussion as to whether Brady warrants mentioning as the greatest quarterback of all-time if he wins a fourth Super Bowl. There will be plenty of chatter about how he matches up with Montana. And there will also be a discussion about what a second Super Bowl loss would mean to Brady: he could conceivably move to 3-2 in NFL championship games. That's not "bad" by any stretch of the imagination, but it's also not 4-1.

4. Is Eli Better Than Peyton?
We mentioned Peyton Manning already, but this is one that's going to get a lot of discussion: Manning's clearly established himself as a top-five NFL quarterback this season and he's putting together a ridiculous playoff résumé that is forging his overall legacy as an NFL quarterback.

In terms of raw statistical production, it's not even a contest right now, as Peyton's career numbers crush Eli's career numbers. Really, it's no contest. But Eli's also five years younger and has a shot at picking up his second Super Bowl, something Peyton doesn't have. Siblings can certainly be happy for one another when it comes to their respective success, but it's also going to be rough for both Peyton and Eli to find out how many times "Is Eli better than Peyton?" can be asked in a two-week span.

5. Brady and Eli in the Same Class
And our final quarterback comparison that will go down over the next fortnight: Brady and Eli. They'll go head-to-head for the second time in a Super Bowl over the past five years and this one has special meaning, and not just because Eli beat Brady the last time around. It's also because Eli said prior to the 2011 season that he belonged in the "same class" as Brady.

That's what any competitor should say, but Manning's spent all season long proving that he does belong on the same stage as Brady. A second Super Bowl win -- both over Tom Terrific -- would give Eli the last laugh if anyone asks him the same question before the 2012 season.

6. Bill Belichick's Best Coaching Job?
There's already a good argument that the 2011 Patriots are Bill Belichick's best coaching job in his career. That's a reasonable argument considering the Pats locked down the top seed in the AFC and made it to the Super Bowl despite continually starting Julian Edelman in their secondary.

Leading up to the Super Bowl, lots of people will point out that because of the defensive deficiencies and a number of other issues that a win cements this New England team as Belichick's finest work. They might very well be right.

7. Chad Ochocinco
The always-controversial wideout's been quiet this year and he was inactive for Sunday's AFC Championship Game after leaving the team to attend the funeral of his father. And though Chad fell in line with "The Patriot Way" this year, he's still an erstwhile celebrity, and he'll command some serious media attention over the next two weeks. Will he play? Will he make an impact? Can he play? Should he play? And so on and so forth.

8. Giants Defense
There's several different layers to New York's Big D. First of all, they're using the same formula as 2007, with a relentless pass rush. Secondly, you have to pressure Brady to stop him. Third, they run their mouths at an incredible (and awesome, if you're in the media) pace, and there's a decent chance we get a guarantee from someone (ahem, Jason Pierre-Paul and/or Antrel Rolle).

They'll be the difference-maker in this Super Bowl, because stopping Brady typically means stopping the Patriots, if you can provide enough offense to put some distance between the two.

Winners

Sterling Moore: With the Patriots already starting wideout Julian Edelman, Moore was signed off the street in September after being cut from the Raiders pratice squad. In the biggest moment of his life, he made the biggest plays, knocking the ball out of Lee Evans hands to spoil a Baltimore touchdown and then swatting a ball away from Dennis Pitta on third down to force a game-tying field goal attempt from Baltimore.

Eli Manning:
Manning became the first quarterback in NFL history to win five road playoff games on Sunday night. That's not just impressive, it's amazing: road wins aren't easy to pull off in the regular season but coming from behind and making clutch plays and winning in impossible/unlikely situations is just becoming Manning's modus operandi at this point.

Joe Flacco
: It never seemed realistic that Flacco could "win" if the Ravens lost, but he managed to silence his critics in the loss on Sunday night. There were things he could've done better, for sure, and he missed a pair of deep balls to Torrey Smith that might have given the Ravens a win. But he also put the Ravens in position to -- at worst -- send the game to overtime. Others screwed the pooch, not Flacco.

Giants Defense: Who do you want to give the award to on this side of the ball? Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka all registered at least half a sack against Alex Smith and that's precisely the reason why it's believable for the Giants to take down the Patriots in the Super Bowl one more time.

Alex Smith: Yeah, yeah, he lost. But it doesn't matter, because Smith played in horrible conditions against an insane pass rush on the biggest stage, and he played well. Sure, he didn't complete 32 passes like Eli. In fact, he only attempted 26. And only 12 of those were completions. But the dude made some plays with his legs (six rushes, 42 yards), and two of his passes were beautiful shots to Vernon Davis for scores, and Smith kept the 49ers in this game until the end.

Oh, Billy. Billy, Billy, Billy. (Getty Images)

Losers

Billy Cundiff: Can I just type "Ray Finkle" 50 times and call it a day? Cundiff's lack of range -- he was one of six from 50-plus yards in the 2011 regular season -- forced the Ravens hand on offense and then Cundiff shanked a potential game-tying field goal with mere seconds left.

Kyle Williams: It's not Williams fault that Ted Ginn missed a game that featured a ton of rain. But that doesn't mean he can go out there and muff a pair of punts to give the Giants the ball on the 49ers side of the field. Williams set the Giants up for a touchdown in regulation and a game-winning field goal in overtime.

Lee Evans: As noted above, Evans had a ball knocked out from his hands that would've been a touchdown. But it's pretty clear that he got lazy on the play -- hold onto the ball and the Ravens probably play in the Super Bowl. I'm sure his four passes caught in the regular season makes up for it though.

Ed Hochuli's Review Explanations: Four score and seven years ago, Hochuli faced the camera and began explaining why something happened in football. It took him -- literally -- a minute to explain the new playoff overtime rules, and he might've actually used 100 words to explain a false start at one point. Go back to being a gunshow.

Twitter: Aren't you guys rich enough to buy a server that doesn't crash during big NFL games?

GIF O' THE WEEK

Man, Vince Wilfork is steamed.


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Posted on: January 22, 2012 2:02 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 2:05 pm
 

WR Chad Ochocinco inactive for Patriots Sunday


After a win over the Texans last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will take on Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this game. Watch the game on CBS at 3 PM ET. 

By Ryan Wilson

Chad Ochocinco missed practice Friday and wasn't with the team Saturday because, according to various reports, he had flown home to Fort Lauderdale to attend his father's funeral. Ochocinco, who was traded to the Patriots just before training camp but managed just 15 receptions and one touchdown all season, rejoined his team in time for Sunday's AFC Championship matchup against the Raven but he will not be active.

The former Bengals wide receiver and Pro Bowler, considered a healthy scratch, struggled to learn the nuances of the Patriots' offense, which explained why Ochocinco was often on the sidelines when the team went no-huddle during the season. Missing valuable practice time this week likely played a part in coach Bill Belichick's decision to deactivate him.

This won't affect the Patriots' offensive game plan, however. Tom Brady's favorite targets -- Wes Welker (122 receptions, 9 TDs), Rob Gronkowski (90, 17), Aaron Hernandez (79, 7) and Deion Branch (51, 5) -- will all play.

Running back Stevan Ridley is also inactive, possibly due to fumbling twice in the previous two games.

Other Patriots inactives: OL Sebastian Vollmer, OL Donald Thomas, LB Gary Guyton, RB Shane Vereen and QB Ryan Mallett.

Ravens inactives: WR Tandon Doss, CB Chykie Brown, RB Anthony Allen, LBs Josh Bynes andSergio Kindle, OL Justin Boren, NT Brandon McKinney.

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Posted on: January 21, 2012 12:29 pm
 

Report: Ochocinco attending dad's funeral today

By Josh Katzowitz

Chad Ochocinco is not in New England today and missed practice Friday, and according to the Boston Herald, it’s because the Patriots wide receiver has flown home to Fort Lauderdale for his father’s funeral today.

He left at 6 p.m. ET Friday night to fly to Florida.

The paper writes that Ochocinco plans to return to New England by Sunday’s game, but that’s no sure bet considering the amount of weather problems on the Eastern Seaboard.

As Ian Rapoport writes, “The two had a complicated relationship, but Ochocinco decided the right thing to do was to attend the funeral. The two did talk regularly before his passing.”

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Posted on: January 18, 2012 2:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs. Ravens AFC CG preview

Brady and Lewis will match wits in the AFC Championship Game. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Tom Brady is right: the Ravens are the best team the Patriots have faced this season.

Cam Cameron’s offense poses problems for Bill Belichick’s defense, while Ray Lewis’ defense actually has a fighting chance against Brady’s offense. Here’s the breakdown.



1. Patriots formation versatility
Keep in mind, the Patriots, at least offensively, are also the best team the Ravens have faced all season. Their versatility is like nothing we’ve seen before.

Last Saturday they spent a bulk of the game in a no-huddle that featured tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and wideouts Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman. Remarkably, they were able to run effectively out of this personnel grouping, as Hernandez carried the ball five times out of the backfield for 61 yards.

Those runs are almost just gravy – something the defense must now respect. The real purpose of putting Hernandez in the backfield is the same purpose as all of New England’s other alignments: to get a potent pass catcher matched up on a linebacker. Even safeties have major trouble covering Hernandez and Gronkowski.

This game will be no exception, as Baltimore’s strong safety Bernard Pollard is simply not capable of doing it, and the Ravens are unlikely to remove Ed Reed from centerfield. Brady rarely throws in the direction of starting cornerbacks. Even when he goes to Wes Welker, it’s often when Welker has drawn a matchup against a backup slot corner or non-cornerback.

Because the Patriots don’t try to confuse defenses so much as force them into bad matchups, HOW the Patriots line up to play is almost more important than how they actually play. Most of the damage is done through crafty presnap alignment. (This is one reason so many of Brady’s throws come off three-and five-step drops; the decision of where to go with the ball is made prior to the snap.)

The Patriots frequently go up-tempo to prevent defenses from having enough time to regroup or alter matchups before the snap. The only sure way to take the chess match element out of the equations and force the Patriots to win with execution is to play press-man coverage across the board. Problem is, no defense, including Baltimore’s, has enough quality cover artists to do this.


After a win over the Texans last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will take on Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this game. Watch the game on CBS at 3 PM ET. 

2. Baltimore’s response
The Ravens may not have enough cover artists to play the Patriots man-to-man, but they might be the one team capable of matching wits with them. Ray Lewis is arguably the smartest front seven defender in the league, while Ed Reed is arguably the smartest back four defender. Those two are capable of recognizing New England’s subtle tendencies and getting their teammates into the proper defensive play-call.

Of course, Brady and Bill O’Brien know this and will likely inject a few tendency-breaking wrinkles into the gameplan. Of course, the Ravens know that the Patriots know that they know this, and the Patriots know that the Ravens know that they know and ... you get the idea – this has the potential to be one heck of a chess match.

Look for the Ravens to do plenty of presnap communicating and disguising at the line of scrimmage. It helps that they’re comfortable playing a plethora of different coverages. The outcome may be decided by which side can bully the other into a reactionary position. The Patriots can do that by going hurry-up; the Ravens can do it by blitzing fervidly up the middle.

3. Ravens pass-rush
To beat Tom Brady, you have to rob him of the trust he has in his pass protection. Brady – like any quarterback – does not like pressure directly in his face. And though he’s as tough in the pocket as anyone in the game, he has a tendency to get just a tad jumpy after taking a few hits from edge-rushers.

Recent playoff history shows that if a defense can create pressure and doubt, Brady will eventually start eating up the play clock worrying about protections. That makes him a significantly less dangerous player versus when he’s hurrying things up and concentrating on his receivers’ routes.

The question is, can the Ravens generate a pass-rush? If they blitz, they likely can. But one of the best kept secrets in football is that this is generally a four-man rushing defense. Because the Ravens use so many 3-4 or 2-5 fronts, their four pass-rushers come from a variety of different spots, thus creating the illusion of a blitz:

The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

Above (click image to enlarge): Upon first glance, this appears to be a blitz featuring five, possibly six pass-rushers.

Below: The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

The Ravens’ four-man rush has seemingly evaporated over the last month. It registered a quiet five sacks over the final three weeks of the regular season and then got zero pressure on T.J. Yates in the divisional round. With talents like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, it’s imprudent to assume the pressure can’t suddenly return.

But worth noting is that the Patriots’ pass protection in the last month has also been as sharp as the Ravens’ pass-rush has been dull.

4. Dialing in on Ray Rice
Bill Belichick always builds his defensive gameplan around eliminating the opponents’ greatest strength. This season, no man has done a better job at eliminating Ray Rice than Cam Cameron. (Rice averaged less than 10 carries a game in Baltimore’s four losses.)

To be fair, Cameron has featured Rice most of the season, and the results thus far speak for themselves: 13 wins and Rice leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage.

But if Belichick has inside linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo shadow Rice, or if he brings safety Patrick Chung down in the box every play or has his linebackers sellout against the run, will Cameron have enough patience to stay with his superstar?

The Patriots run defense is coming together, while their secondary can be tempting to attack.

5. Baltimore’s passing game
It was virtually nonexistent against Houston, mainly because deep threat Torrey Smith was nullified by Johnathan Joseph. The Patriots don’t have a corner on Joseph’s level (or even in Joseph’s stratosphere).

If the Ravens want to take their deep shots with Smith, all they’ll have to do is block a mundane Patriots pass-rush (last week’s performance at Foxboro notwithstanding). Devin McCourty was serviceable as a nickel free safety against Denver, but it remains to be seen whether the struggling corner can suddenly play a new position when facing a strong-armed quarterback and polished play-action passing game.

In other matchups, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson were quiet against Houston but should be able to work the seams against New England. Anquan Boldin will be extremely problematic for the Pats. The thought of him working outside against Kyle Arrington seems patently unfair; inside is even worse, as the Patriots don’t have a true slot corner.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Championship games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 14, 2012 4:07 pm
 

Chad Ochocinco flies Twitter fan to Pats game

Ocho and the Pats hooked a Twitter follower up. (Twitter.com)
By Will Brinson

Two weeks ago, we talked to Chad Ochocinco about a number of different things. One was how he stayed so popular on Twitter in an increasingly saturated social media market.

"Nah, no strategy," Ochocinco said at the time. "Just having no filter. No filter is what makes it what it is."

Ochocinco's latest unfiltered move is just bananas though: he flew one of his Twitter followers to Foxboro for the New England/Denver Divisional Round tilt on Sunday.

The fan, a college student named Victor Gonzalez,

"Been tweeting you for two years and have not ever gotten a response," Gonzalez tweeted at Ocho recently.

"Damn 2 years? My bad," Ocho replied. "Want to come to the game saturday?"

Victor couldn't, because he lives in Florida, so he joked with Chad about flying him to the game. Which, naturally Chad did. What resulted was easily the experience of Victor's young life, as he went out to dinner with Ochocinco, toured Gillette Stadium and picked up a ton of swag from the Patriots store (see: above).

Ocho's gotten ripped at times this year because of his low production, and plenty of people lament his off-field behavior at times, but, man, it's hard to stay too angry at a guy who's this in touch with his fans.

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Posted on: January 7, 2012 12:35 pm
 

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

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

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

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

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

Will Brinson: Chad, what's going on?

Chad Ochocinco: What's up Will?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ochocinco: Exactly, most definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ochocinco: Alright man take it easy.

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