Tag:Greg Jennings
Posted on: December 12, 2011 1:14 pm
 

Pick-Six Podcast: Week 14 review + MNF preview

By Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 14's just about taken care of and several things are abundantly clear. Well, OK, not that much is clear, but we know that Tim Tebow is a winner.

On Monday's podcast, we break down Tebow's success against the Bears, who's to blame for the Cowboys latest fiasco, whether T.J. Yates can help the Texans win in the playoffs, if Greg Jennings injury is an indication that the Packers will sit or start their players the rest of the way, if Detroit's righted the ship with a narrow win against the Vikings, whether Raheem Morris is on the hot seat, plus much, much more.

Also, we preview the Seahawks-Rams Monday night scorcher of a matchup.

Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?

If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.



For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 12, 2011 2:27 am
Edited on: December 12, 2011 2:35 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 14

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 14 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. They're Not Saying 'Boooooo' ...

True story: Just over two years ago, T.J. Yates came on the jumbotron at the Dean Dome during a North Carolina game as the lead-in to a UNC football video, said "I'm T.J. Yates and I'm a Tar Heel," and Yates, who was in the crowd, was booed mercilessly by Tar Heel fans in attendance.

One surprisingly strong senior season and a slew of injuries to Houston quarterbacks later, Yates is the starting quarterback for the first Texans team to ever make the playoffs. He's no figurehead, either, as his play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 20-19 victory in Cincinnati showed.

We think that logic and common football sense says a rookie quarterback can't take a team deep into the playoffs, but does it? This Texans team's success is predicated on running the ball and playing defense.

And that's not too far off what Mark Sanchez and Ben Roethlisberger leaned on as rookies. Both those guys went to the AFC Championship Game, as a rookie quarterback mind you.

Yates is different than those Sanchez or Roethlisberger because he's matured under tough circumstances, his expectations are lower, he didn't leave school early so he's more experienced and he's got good mentors surrounding him on the roster.

If Houston gets into a shootout with an opponent or finds themselves with a huge halftime deficit, they're probably in trouble. But if that happens, it's not on Yates anyway -- the defense and rushing attack probably already let them down.

Just remember that when it comes time to debate the viability of the Texans in the postseason that the rookie quarterback under center is about as viable as the stereotype that the Texans can't stop anyone on defense.

2. Where It's Due in Denver

It's about time, in this LOL-worthy Tim Tebow saga that hit another high with Denver's 13-10 overtime win over Chicago Sunday, to give credit where credit is due. No, not the defense. No, not the running game. No, not the super-human effort from kicker Matt Prater on Sunday. No, not John Fox or John Elway.

Let's give credit to ... Josh McDaniels.

Remember, McDaniels is the guy that drafted Tebow and blossoming receiver Demaryius Thomas. Both might have been reaches when they were taken (25th and 22nd overall, respectively) and both looked like absolutely horrid selections pretty recently. But McDaniels obviously knew something about these guys and his premonitions and talent evaluation is paying off for Denver now.

Look, there are guys that were taken after Tebow and Thomas that are better overall additions to a roster (Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty stand out), and the value McDaniels wasted at those spots is disappointing. Also, given the Rams struggles on offense this year, handing credit his way isn't exactly the chic thing to do.

But as we get further from his nightmare regime in Denver and more ensconced in Tebowmania, it at least warrants a tip of the cap to McD for his decision to select two guys who are starting to fulfill the expectations that come with their draft slot.

3. Cowboy Down

We spent the better part of the podcast (you can listen above, just by clicking play!) trying to figure out who to blame for Dallas' failings in their 37-34 loss to the Giants on Sunday night.

But since Rex Ryan egged on some defensive coverages, Tony Romo egged on a big third-down throw to Miles Austin and Jason Garrett egged on clock management, isn't it possible that it's a systematic issue across the team as a whole?

We assume that because there's a new coach running the show, with different coordinators in place and some new players, that things are different. But things just aren't.

Jerry Jones knows this -- with the Giants at the goal line and the clock ticking down, an NBC camera caught him screaming "Timeout, Jason!"

Give credit where credit is to due to Eli Manning and the Giants for clawing their way back into this game, because it was a pretty magnificent comeback, something Eli's becoming quite proficient at this season.

But these Cowboys just can't close. We've seen it over and over this season and at some point, the bossman's patience for a lack of execution is going to run out.

4. Start 'Em/Sit 'Em?

The Packers have, with their 46-16 obliteration of Oakland in Green Bay, now officially clinched a first-round bye. Thanks to the 49ers losing to the Cardinals on Sunday, Mike McCarthy's team is just one win or one San Francisco loss away from clinching homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

But Sunday's victory came at a price -- star wide receiver Greg Jennings is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers said that "hopefully" the Packers can get Jennings back in time for the team's first playoff game, following their bye, which is approximately five weeks from now.

This begs the question: will McCarthy and Green Bay chase 16-0 with the same fervor as the Patriots?

Losing someone like Jennings is debilitating to their run at repeating as Super Bowl champions, but it's not a dealbreaker because of all the talent they have at the various skill positions. Losing Aaron Rodgers? That's a whole different story.

And what if someone like Charles Woodson or Tramon Williams or Clay Matthews was lost for the rest of the season playing in a meaningless game? Yeah, that would be bad.

There's no right answer that doesn't involve "winning the title" so it's unfair to judge whatever McCarthy and Ted Thompson decide to do. We don't know how things would play out in an alternate universe. But Jennings injury might be a bad sign for the chances at Green Bay running the table.\

5. Familiar Feeling

New England is streaking towards a likely No. 1 seed right now. And they have a  kerfluffle on the sidelines between Tom Brady and his offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien that everyone can talk about. And there's the whole "Can I draft Rob Gronkowski in the second round of my fantasy league next year?" debate that might be worth discussing when going over interesting things about this team. 

But I can't shake the fact that the Redskins piled up well over 500 yards passing between Rex Grossman and Brandon Banks (!) plus 120 rushing yards from Roy Helu and narrowly lost to the Pats 34-27.

Again: the Redskins did this. Back in 2009, New England got throttled by the Ravens in Foxborough, because Baltimore had a stout defense and Ray Rice went HAM on a Pats defense that couldn't shut him down.

This year? The Patriots defense, a season-long problem for the team, reminds a lot of that squad, in that they can't stop anyone who's physical and can play ball control. Or, really, they can't stop anyone -- only four teams have scored less than 20 points against the Pats, and one of those was quarterbacked by Tyler Palko.

There are a lot of good defensive teams headed to the playoffs in the AFC, with a lot of good running backs, and some pretty talented quarterbacks.

Brady and Belichick are great about covering up flaws on a roster, but when they run into a physical team in the playoffs, we might see a similar result from years past.

6. So You're Telling Me There's a Chance?

The 2011 NFL season wouldn't feel right if we didn't get a Lloyd Christmas-inspired false-hope run from the Eagles and Chargers, would it?

The Eagles are still alive after a 26-10 beat down of Miami, although making the playoffs at this point involves jumping a whopping five other teams, and is about as likely as the Eagles retaining Juan Castillo next season.

San Diego's path to the postseason should have been a little bit easier, because the Raiders lost and the Broncos were supposed to lose (see: Tim Tebow doing what Tim Tebow does). Now things are much murkier, as San Diego needs either the Jets -- a team they should have beaten -- to go 1-2 down the stretch, or the Broncos -- another team they should have beaten -- to lose. And the Bolts have to win

8-8 and 9-7, respectively, are doable based for the two teams, based on their schedules. But even that kind of effort might not be enough to save the jobs of certain people in certain positions for these teams.

7. Call It a Comeback, Kid

For the second time this season, four teams in a single week overcame 12-point (or more) deficits to win.

Why? Well, as it turns out, offensive points aren't the only exciting thing that's happened as a result of the offense-friendly rules the NFL installed over the past few years. Comebacks occur more frequently too.

And big comebacks as well -- Atlanta, Jacksonville, Houston and Arizona were all down by 12-plus points and mounted a comeback in Week 14 -- in Week 2, another four teams did it as well.

Limitations on members of the secondary, limitations on defensive players hitting quarterbacks and the middle of the field opening up because of defenseless receiver rules mean teams are able to sling the ball around more frequently.

Defenses simply can't clamp down on teams when they have a lead and if someone takes their foot off the gas (see: the Panthers vs. the Falcons on Sunday), a comeback is absolutely in the cards.

8. Taking Flight

Note to anyone who ends up in a December-only fantasy league: draft Shonn Greene. Dude gets unholy hot when the weather gets cold and he's doing it again this year, with four touchdowns and well over 200 yards the last two weeks, including a career-high 129 rushing yards in a blowout win against Kansas City Sunday.

Not coincidentally, it might be smart to not write off the Jets ever again. Somehow, someway, they manage to win enough games to sneak into the playoffs.

Rex Ryan's crew is doing it again, and even though this rendition of the Jets is clearly inferior to the previous two seasons, it's hard to count them out.

Twice in his two years as head coach, Ryan's used a formula to get to the AFC Championship Game despite fighting uphill to even get into the playoffs. And now he's doing it again.

The Jets last three opponents -- Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City -- are about as cream-puffy as it comes, but you only have to play the people on your schedule. So I'm really not sure why this wasn't as obvious an outcome as Greene being largely irrelevant for fantasy teams until now.

9. Get Your Mojo Running

Lost in some of the fantastic Week 14 action was the fact that the incredibly underrated Maurice Jones-Drew, the only elite skill-position player that the Jaguars have, set the franchise record for career touchdowns, surpassing the also incredibly underrated Fred Taylor.

"Mojo" did it on a day in which he went absolutely b-a-n-a-n-a-s, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and catching six passes for 51 receiving yards and a pair of scores through the air as well.

“Words can’t really explain how excited I am,” Jones-Drew said.

Jones-Drew's one of the prototypes for the modern NFL back -- small but powerful, quick, great hands and a secret workhorse. (Not to mention he's a stalwart in the community, and a good guy to boot.) Amid an often ugly offensive performance by Jacksonville on a weekly basis, MJD's been insanely consistent in 2011.

Dude deserves some love.

10. Great Expectations

It's fascinating to see that Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo are two guys everyone agrees find themselves firmly on the hot seat. That's because last year, Morris and Spags were a combined one game away from both being in the playoffs last year.

Morris won 10 games with the surprising Buccaneers and even though Spagnuolo went 7-9, he had a shot at winning the putrid NFC West in the final week of the season.

The 17 total wins for the two teams has created a pretty terrible predicament for the coaches who nearly got them to the postseason though: both guys are looking like strong candidates to be fired after the 2011 season.

Tampa Bay lost its seventh-straight game in horrific fashion on Sunday when Blaine Gabbert and the Jags dropped a 41-14 bomb on the Bucs and the Rams are scheduled to start Tom Brandstater against the Seahawks. That will probably not end well.

The point of all this is that the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me lately business and Spags and Morris have lost lately. A lot.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... Packers have now scored 466 points on the season, the second-highest total in NFL history through 13 weeks, behind only the Pats 503 in 2007.
... Drew Brees and Johnny Unitas are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with 40-straight games with passing touchdowns.
... Rob Gronkowski has the all-time record for touchdown receptions in a single season by a tight end with 15.
... Eli Manning's 400-yard passing performance was the 14th over the season, an NFL record.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF(S) O' THE WEEK

You can see video of KC kicker Ryan Succop executing the worst onsides kick in the history of football right here, but this GIF of the three-yard putt/kick is just mesmerizingly depressing.



And I'm double dipping this week again, as Jabar Gaffney's dive into the seats without being caught is just too much fun to ignore.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Steve Spagnuolo -- Spags really, really needs a win on Monday night against the Seahawks.
  • Raheem Morris -- As noted above, this team won 10 games last year!
  • Todd Haley -- After righting the ship, the Chiefs are back to sinking. This may be related to "starting Tyler Palko" but still, Haley's the coach.
  • Jim Caldwell -- *stares blankly at Colts record*
  • Norv Turner -- Norv's fanning the hell out of his seat, but the Chargers might not have enough games left to make up for the bad start.

Award Worth Discussing of the Week

Aaron Rodgers has retired the MVP watch and the Colts are locked into Andrew Luck so I'm adjusting on the fly. Today's award worth discussing: Coach of the Year.

I find this race fascinating because you have four primary contenders, all with totally different situations.

There's Mike McCarthy of the Packers, who's threatening to run the table with a defending Super Bowl champ. Then there's Jim Harbaugh, who's made the a talented, underachieving 49ers team relevant again and quickly. They're the two favorites.

Then there's the underdogs: John Fox, who continues to win despite Tim Tebow flying under the radar in terms of media attention, and Gary Kubiak, who will not let a quarterback injury kill his season.

If McCarthy goes undefeated it's impossible not to give him the nod because, well, they didn't lose. But if the Packers falter at all, Harbaugh's sheen could fade enough down the stretch (a loss to Pittsburgh and struggles against Seattle and St. Louis maybe?) to let Fox and Kubes make a play for the award.

My vote, provided things play out the way they have so far, is for Fox, since he's winning with less in a way no one ever saw coming, well ahead of when people believed he'd win.
Posted on: December 11, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 9:27 pm
 

Packers hope to have Jennings back by postseason

By Will Brinson

UPDATE (9:23 p.m. ET): Greg Jennings' injury in Green Bay's 46-16 massacring of Oakland on Sunday turned out to be a knee sprain, and it looks like he could miss the rest of the regular season as a result.

At least -- Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has some quasi-optimistic quotes from Aaron Rodgers, who says that "hopefully we can get Jennings ready for" in time for the Packers first playoff game.

----
The Packers perfect season is hardly in jeopardy, with Green Bay currently throttle-jobbing Oakland at Lambeau. But there is reason for concern, as star wideout Greg Jennings was carted off to the locker room in the third quarter with a knee injury.

Jennings caught an eight-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers on second and 10 early in the third quarter Sunday and when he fell to the ground, two Raiders defenders landed on him and he began screaming loudly.

The wideout, officially listed as questionable to return with a knee injury, was taken to the sideline where he was evaluated by trainers.

After sitting on the bench for a few minutes with a towel over his head, Jennings was carted back to the locker room for further evaluation.

Although the injury initially looked like it might involve his ankle, the fact that Jennings couldn't walk back to the locker room on his own is disturbing for Green Bay.

The Packers have a pile of weapons on offense and there's no question that they can continue scoring without Jennings, but losing their top wideout would have a tremendously negative impact on the remainder of their season.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:17 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Thanksgiving preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Lions vs. Packers
The nice thing about having a defense built around your four-man front is that when facing a seemingly unstoppable passing attack, you don’t have to concoct a complicated gameplan and hope that your speed-oriented defenders can somehow give the performance of a lifetime. Because an erupting front four, by nature of alignment, can cut off the lifeline of any pass play by flooding a quarterback’s face, you can stick with your traditional zone concepts on the back end.

This is the standard, obvious approach for the Lions. And really, it’s their only prayer for upsetting the undefeated Packers. The Lions selected Nick Fairley in the first round because they knew that with Ndamukong Suh already inside, they would have at least one favorable one-on-one matchup on every passing down. Those visions have started to play out in recent weeks, as Fairley, in limited reps, has shown uncommon quick-twitch burst for a man of his size.



A way teams have lately combated (or tried to combat) Detroit’s interior quickness is with draws and misdirection runs and screens (think receivers running ghost reverses during a handoff or quarterbacks faking the action one way and going to a ballcarrier the other way). The idea is to let the defensive tackles take themselves out of position with their quick penetration and to get Detroit’s incredibly fast-flowing linebackers going in the wrong direction.

This approach, however, is not conducive to Green Bay’s personnel. The Packers are good at screen pass execution, but none of their running backs have the initial quickness or speed to execute delay-type plays. Thus, expect the Packers to combat Detroit’s inside pass-rush by spreading the field and putting Aaron Rodgers in three-step drops.

Normally, offenses spread the field to stretch the defense and make it easier for the quarterback to recognize blitzes and coverage concepts. That’s not necessary against a basic zone scheme like Detroit’s. But what spreading the field still does is create more space for the defensive backs to cover. Detroit’s defensive backs have improved this season, but they’re still not dynamic or deep enough to contain Green Bay’s receiving corps in large open areas.

Final note: much of Aaron Rodgers’ presnap brilliance derives from his use of dummy snap counts. However, those won’t be relevant if the Ford Field crowd is as loud as expected. The Packers may want to consider going hurry-up. They know they won’t be able to communicate vocally anyway, so they likely installed a bunch of hand signals in practice this week. They’re prepared.

What’s more, they know that a hurry-up can swing momentum and take the crowd out of it, plus it would prevent the Lions from rotating their defensive linemen -- a tactic they rely heavily on.

Cowboys vs. Dolphins
Both teams come in riding a three-game win-streak, thanks largely to the play of their quarterbacks. Tony Romo has posted passer ratings of 113, 148 and 112 his last three outings. Matt Moore has posted 133, 75 and 147.

Romo is having, by far, the best season of his career. He’s been accurate, poised in the pocket and sound in his decision making. These are the effects of his improvements. What analysts don’t focus on often enough are the improvements themselves.

Romo is doing a better job at diagnosing defenses in the presnap phase and adjusting his protections in response. Consequently, postsnap, he’s not surprised by blitzes, plus he’s recognizing coverage shifts and how they impact his receivers’ route combinations. These had been Romo’s areas of weakness.

As for Moore, he’s been steady, but the Dolphins would be foolish to think they don’t still need to look for a quarterback after this season. Lately Moore has often thrown out of base personnel, which means he’s been going against base defenses. That’s fine, but it won’t be as easy against the Cowboys, whose base personnel includes a versatile superstar in DeMarcus Ware and superb pass-defending linebacker in Sean Lee.

Dallas has the resources to take away Dolphins underrated receiving fullback Charles Clay, and Rob Ryan is willing to mix things up no matter what personnel he has on the field. Remember, Moore has only had half a week to study Ryan’s multitude of defensive looks.



Ravens vs. 49ers
Because Ray Rice is averaging less than nine carries per game in his team’s three losses this season, there’s the assumption that the Ravens must run the ball in order to win. But last week against Cincinnati, the Ravens won on the strength of their passing attack. They got 104 yards rushing on 20 carries from Rice, but 59 of those yards came on one run.

Overall, the sustaining element that a run game is supposed to provide simply wasn’t there. The Ravens struggled in short-yardage -- though not on the goal-line, where Marshal Yanda stood out and where Rice has been effective all season -- and could not pound on the ground when trying to protect their fourth quarter lead.

There’s still hope for the run game this season. Aside from overrated left tackle Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore’s front five is adequately suited for this zone-blocking scheme -- especially now that left guard Ben Grubbs is back. Rice and Ricky Williams are smart runners, and Vontae Leach is a top-three fullback.

That said, don’t expect a breakout this week. San Francisco has the best run defense in pro football (by a wide margin, in fact). The brilliant play of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman is the primary reason why.

Willis and Bowman pose additional issues for the Ravens. Against the Bengals, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron compensated for the lackluster run game by calling play-action rollouts for Joe Flacco. That forced the Bengals linebackers to be decision-makers and pass defenders – which they’re capable of, but not simultaneously. Willis and Bowman won’t be manipulated like this. Both hunt up coverage assignments extremely well and both have the athleticism to cover Baltimore’s underneath mismatch creators, Rice and Ed Dickson.

The Ravens’ best chance at offensive success Thanksgiving night is to go max protect and take downfield shots with Torrey Smith and Lee Evans. Their best chance at overall success is to protect field position and wait for their defense to make a big play in a low-scoring game.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 17, 2011 12:09 pm
 

Driver prefers 'patient' Rodgers to Favre

Posted by Will Brinson



The Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre debate, for some reason, is gaining steam right now. Perhaps it has to do with all the "undefeated season" and "unprecedented quarterback play" talk about Rodgers right now.

Or perhaps it has to do with Donald Driver's comments on Wednesday night, in which he compared the two quarterbacks.

"I've played with two quarterbacks," Driver said Wednesday on the NFL Network, via USA Today. "One just went out there and did what he did, and he wasn't patient at all. But Aaron takes what the defense gives him, and that's the type of guy you want."

It's worth noting that what Driver said isn't an "Aaron Rodgers is amazing and soooo much better than Brett Favre comment." But it is an astute observation about how the two handle their job -- Rodgers is more patient and less prone to throwing interceptions. (As was Greg Jennings comment that "we didn't go all the way with Brett.")

By the end of this season, should the Packers go undefeated and win a second straight Super Bowl, it may be pointless to debate between Favre and Rodgers anyway.

But maybe not -- Tom Silverstein has an excellent piece in Thursday's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel where he reminds the world that Favre wasn't exactly a bad quarterback when he played. That sounds silly, but it's worth noting, because oftentimes the greatness of Favre is lost on the world because of the way he left the sport.

It's easy and, really, part of human nature, to have later memories clot out earlier ones. When many folks think of Favre, they think of a helicopter trailing his SUV as he returned from Hattiesburg to play for the Vikings. Or they think of purple. Or Crocs.

They don't think, as Silverstein notes, of the 16-game stretch in 1995 and 1996 (two of his three consecutive MVP years) where he threw a ridiculous 49 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Favre was so good, he qualified for the rare "Do not bet against [athlete] on [primetime sports event]" category. Like Michael Jordan any time he stepped on the court, if you bet against Favre on Monday night, you were losing money. It's easy to forget that now, but Favre was amazing.

So maybe it's even more of a reason to throughly enjoy what Rodgers is doing right now.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 16, 2011 4:09 pm
 

Film Room: Packers vs. Buccaneers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Green Bay Packers are off to the best start of any Defending Champion since the ‘99 Broncos. With legitimate buzz about a perfect season getting louder, let’s look at some of subtle but important elements that make this team great.


1. Aaron Rodgers hidden traits
Through nine games, Rodgers is playing the quarterback position better than anyone has ever played it. No need to sit here and talk about his arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, mobility and “moxie” – all it takes are two eyes and a pulse for an observer to notice these things.

Besides, it’s the little things that set Rodgers apart. Things like….
  • Footwork: This past Monday night, Jon Gruden shrewdly pointed out that when taking a shotgun snap, the right-handed Rodgers keeps his right foot back. All other right-handed quarterbacks keep their left foot back. By keeping his right foot back, Rodgers is in position to throw the second he receives the ball. This is critical given how many quick slants and smoke screens the Packers throw. Rodgers’ footwork is not just unique in the shotgun. He’s incredibly crafty in how he angles his drop-backs ever so slightly to impact opposing pass-rushers’ path to him. It’s something you generally wouldn’t notice unless you have to play against him. Rodgers’ subtle footwork adjustments can be a tremendous help to Green Bay’s offensive line.
  • Presnap vocals: Rodgers recognizes defenses as well as any quarterback in the game and uses the snap count better than anyone. This Sunday, keep track not just of how many times Buccaneer defensive linemen jump offsides (Adrian Clayborn and Albert Haynesworth both had some issues with this last week) but how many times the linebackers and cornerbacks are baited into accidentally showing their hand. Rodgers is remarkable in the way he recognizes any flinch and mentally processes a defender’s initial move. Good dummy cadences allow him to do that.
  • Precision accuracy: Rodgers has the ability to succeed even on plays where the defense’s scheme defeats Green Bay’s offensive concept. His ball command is a big reason why. Most accurate passers simply hit the dart board; Rodgers routinely hits the bull’s-eye. He puts the ball not just on a receiver, but in the most favorable location for that receiver. This is why the Packers are the best in football when it comes to running after the catch. The last passer who threw with the quick release and velocity necessary for near-perfect precision was Kurt Warner. The difference between Rodgers and Warner is Rodgers exhibits this kind of accuracy in the pocket AND outside on the move (he’s the best movement passer in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman included).
2. Formation versatility
The Packers offense is a nightmare to prepare for. They have a bottomless trove of formations and personnel packages. They regularly use three different running backs, five different wide receivers and four different tight ends, with formations reflecting virtually every possible combination of those groupings.

And thanks to the versatility and potency of Jermichael Finley, defenses often can’t decipher whether it will be a run or pass formation until the Packers line up. Even then, it can be hard to decipher, as it’s not uncommon for Finley to shift before the snap. The Packers run a lot of the same plays but out of different formations.

This formation versatility allows Green Bay’s rushing attack to stay afloat. Talent-wise, it’s not a great ground game. James Starks and Ryan Grant are both methodical, gaping-hole runners who can’t redirect quickly or create their own space. It helps that they play with a strong, versatile lead-blocker in John Kuhn and behind stud right guard Josh Sitton and crafty center Scott Wells. H-back Tom Crabtree is also a positive factor in run packages.

But what really makes a difference is that the Packers are a threat to throw out of run formations. They have a viable screen game, they’re great in play-action and Rodgers is not afraid to go downfield even if there’s only one wideout in the formation (the first touchdown to Jordy Nelson in Super Bowl XLV is a great example).

The Bucs safeties struggled in run-pass recognition against the Texans last week. And their linebackers really struggled against the run (middle ‘backer Mason Foster is about as stiff as they come). Don’t be surprised if the Packers pound the Bucs on the ground and later throw the safeties a curveball with a downfield shot out of heavy personnel.

3. Receiver distribution

Receiver distribution can be explained with simple who-where-how questions: WHO are the receivers on the field, HOW do they line up and WHERE do they run? The “who” is always favorable to Green Bay. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley form the most formidable quintet in the NFL. All are fast, fundamentally sound and well-schooled in Mike McCarthy’s system.

It’s in the “where” and “how” that McCarthy doesn’t get enough credit. Along with Sean Payton, McCarthy is the best in the business at creating big passes through alignment and route combinations. The Packers create a lot of mismatches simply by lining certain players up in certain areas. They create even more mismatches by designing routes that work off one another.

The best example is their 3 x 1 receiver set (three receivers to one side, one receiver to the other). Greg Jennings is often the X-iso receiver (i.e. the receiver on the one-receiver side). From this formation, an outside route by Jennings all but guarantees one-on-one coverage (a safety over the top can’t cover enough ground quick enough to help outside; even if he could, the three receives being on the other side of the field usually demands that he be over there).

If Jennings runs an inside route, Rodgers has a one-on-one matchup to locate on the three-receiver side. He identifies these matchups almost instantaneously. And with the vast talent at receiver, the one-on-one matchup will almost always favor Green Bay. Defenses that try to nullify this by playing zone to the three-receiver side are punished by route combinations that work off one another by attacking the boundaries of the zones (i.e., that grey area where one defender’s zone ends and another’s begins).

McCarthy’s goal is to slow down a defender’s mental process just enough to give his quarterback time to strike. The second quarter touchdown pass to Jennings in Super Bowl XLV is a great example:


1. The play involved a formation shift, as Greg Jennings’ motion turned a 2 x 2 receiver set into a 3 x 1. This shifted the Steelers’ zone coverage from a Cover 2 to a man-zone scheme, with Ike Taylor playing man against the lone receiver (Andrew Quarless) outside and the rest of the defenders playing zone.

2. In this scenario, the backside safety (the safety furthest from the three receivers) is responsible for the 3 receiver (the receiver nearest the slot). That was Ryan Clark on the right side.

 

3. It was a great route combination by the Packers. The far outside receiver (Donald Driver) ran a hitch, which forced that cornerback to sit on the route. Because that corner had to sit, he could not help against the second receiver (Jordy Nelson), who was running a seam route downfield. Thus, the deep safety, Troy Polamalu, now had to worry about Nelson.


4. The problem was, Polamalu also had the receiver furthest inside (Jennings) screaming at him. Naturally, Polamalu froze for a split second, as he was mentally processing two different receivers racing into the edges of his zone. This created natural confusion with Ryan Clark, who was responsible for that inside receiver and had a lot of ground to cover. Clark had stayed in his original Cover 2 positioning a beat too long (an understandable mistake given Pittsburgh’s fondness for disguising coverage).

5. Rodgers recognized all this. It was exactly how the play was designed to work. The coverage was decent, but Rodgers’ arm was better. Touchdown.

4. The other side of the ball
Green Bay’s defense is as versatile as its offense. It’s a unit that has been inconsistent this season, but don’t think for a second that this group isn’t capable of winning a game on its own in any given week.

Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme can quickly morph into a 2-4-5 or 1-4-6 scheme, depending on the pass-happiness of the opponent (expect more 3-4 looks this Sunday, as the Bucs utilize a lot of base personnel on early downs). The flexibility of the defensive backs allows the Packers to disguise blitzes before the snap and alter coverages after the snap. These are two of the leading principles of Capers’ system.

Why other teams don’t simply mimic Capers’ effective, playmaking-oriented scheme is because of personnel limitations. Capers enjoys the rare fortune of having the four most critical weapons that a defense in today’s NFL can have: an interior clogger (B.J. Raji), an edge-rusher (Clay Matthews), a cover corner (Tramon Williams) and a versatile slot corner/safety (Charles Woodson). Star players make the role players around them better. The Packers D has stars at every level.

5. The Woodson factor
Matthews might be Green Bay’s most valuable defender simply because there isn’t another pass-rusher on the roster (or perhaps in the league) with his initial quickness and sheer speed. But Woodson has a far greater hand in what the Packers do schematically.

An elite cover corner early in his career, the 35-year-old veteran has morphed into more of a freelancing box safety, ala Troy Polamalu. This isn’t to say Woodson can’t still cover. His five interceptions this season – and outstanding performance playing bump-and-run outside in place of an injured Tramon Williams at Carolina in Week 2 – prove that he can. But he’s more dangerous in the box.

Woodson is an elite blitzer and run defender from the slot. He’s surprisingly physical. His greatest traits are his timing and the unique paths he takes in attack. Woodson recognizes offensive concepts quickly, not just in terms of where the play is going, but when it is designed to get there. He adjusts accordingly, which is why you almost never see him get blocked.

Woodson’s impact is not just felt through his own big plays, either. He is brilliant at getting to spots on the field that he knows will redirect the offense back into the teeth of the defense. A lot of times, the goal of Woodson’s blitz is not to get a sack, but rather, to simply force the quarterback to move into a vulnerable area that the rest of the defense is secretly attacking.

Guys like Woodson only come around every decade or so. They’re rare because it takes about 8-10 years for a player to master the game’s nuances. By that time, most players have declined athletically. The ones that don’t go to Canton.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 11 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 14, 2011 11:48 pm
 

Packers D joins offense in Monday night rout

Posted by Will Brinson



Not breaking news: Aaron Rodgers is pretty awesome. Also not breaking: the Green Bay Packers are really good. They showed as much on Monday night by breaking out the whupping stick against the Vikings and beating Minnesota 45-7 at Lambeau to improve to 9-0 on the season.

Rodgers was nearly perfect (again) Monday, completing 23 of 30 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns. The raw accumulation of his stats doesn't really tell the story, though, because Rodgers was out of the game with 10 minutes left, and backup Matt Flynn actually was perfect, going 2/2 for 38 yards a touchdown.

Week 10 Wrapup

The Packers defense is the bigger story though, because they were markedly improved from previous weeks -- defensive coordinator Dom Capers got aggressive after Christian Ponder, as Clay Matthews nearly matched his season total with a pair of sacks on the Vikings rookie quarterback.

Green Bay didn't allow a single point from Minnesota in the first half and Capers unit also limited Adrian Peterson to just 51 yards on 14 carries, although in fairness to Peterson's game, there wasn't really ever a chance for Minnesota to get their offense going, after Randall Cobb took a punt return 80 yards for a touchdown following Minnesota's three-and-out to start the game.

The only points the Packers did allow were a touchdown from Peterson that occurred only after Cobb muffed a punt in the third quarter, giving Minnesota the ball on Green Bay's 14-yard line.

Obviously the Vikings aren't the NFL's most elite offense, but as we've seen with other would-be teams around the league, it's possible to trip up against lesser opponents.

The Packers didn't flinch once, and judging by their decision to keep running passing plays out of the shotgun, inside Minnesota's red zone, while up 30-plus points, their only concern is winning every single game the rest of the season.

If the defense progresses like it did on Sunday over the next few games, that's a distinct possibility, because there's no reason to think the offense is going to slow down at any point.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 3, 2011 10:13 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 9's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Eagles vs. Bears
You could make a strong case that both of these offenses are built around their star running backs. The Eagles have football’s No. 1 offense and lead the league with 179 yards rushing per game (20 more than Oakland’s No. 2 ranked ground game). Running back LeSean McCoy is second in the NFL with 754 yards rushing. The Bears’ 16th-ranked offense would likely rank somewhere in the mid-twenties if not for Matt Forte’s 672 yards on the ground and 419 yards through the air.

These are the best two running backs in the NFC not named Adrian Peterson. (And both are significantly better receivers than Peterson.) Two years ago, neither was very good. McCoy was a callow, unpolished rookie who could not always read basic defenses. Forte was an inexplicably sluggish runner averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. So what’s changed since then?

One noticeable improvement is in both players’ lateral agility. Though not as emphasized as speed, quickness or power, lateral agility is the most important attribute for an NFL back. It’s often the difference between college runners and pro runners. In short, lateral agility is a running back’s quickness and explosiveness when going left and right. It plays a central role in how he sets up blocks and creates his own space.

Unless you’re an incredibly gifted downhill runner playing behind a decent run-blocking front (ala Darren McFadden), lateral agility is vital in the NFL, where holes close quicker than a hiccup and defenses feature 11 world class athletes, most of whom can immediately diagnose about 90 percent of the run plays they see.

McCoy has the best pure lateral agility in the league. He had it as a rookie but just recently learned to implement it with timing and purpose. He can explode left and right behind the line or at the second level. Most laterally agile running backs, including Forte, have to be on the move in order to cut sharply. McCoy can do it from a standstill (which is why Philly is so fond of draws and delayed handoffs). Forte can occasionally do it from a standstill, though with his smooth, patient running style, he’s much more effective off motion.

On Sunday, keep a count of how many of McCoy’s and Forte’s touches are impacted by their east-west prowess.



Patriots vs. Giants
The key to the Giants’ upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the pressure the Giants pass-rush put on Tom Brady. New York’s then-defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, brilliantly had his linebackers crowd and attack the A-gaps. That did a few things.

For one, it put extra defenders directly in Tom Brady’s line of vision, which would make any quarterback subtly feel a bit hurried. That hurriedness left New England without enough time to run Randy Moss on deep routes.

Another thing it did was force the Patriot running backs to stay in and pass protect. And because there were multiple defenders crowding the A-gaps, the Patriots focused their protection help inside, which left one-on-one mismatches outside for Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

Some things have changed in the four years since 18-1. Spagnuolo is now in St. Louis. Moss is retired. So is Strahan. The Patriots’ high-powered passing game has become horizontal instead of vertical. But despite the changes, don’t be surprised if the Giants once again crowd and/or attack New England’s A gaps this Sunday.

Teams like the Jets, Cowboys and Steelers have shown that the best way to pressure Brady is with bodies up the middle. The goal is not always to sack him – it can be to mentally preoccupy him with what’s going on inside. When Brady’s doing that, he seems to lose a little trust in stepping into throws and sensing his protection on the edges.

The Giants had great success with A-gap blitz concepts against the Dolphins last week. Mathias Kiwanuka is a potent defensive end who happens to play linebacker. He’s natural standing up over the center in nickel defense. Lately, end Dave Tollefson, himself a good athlete, has also been used as an A-gap blitzing joker. In these instances, the Giants don’t just rush the A-gaps, they also confuse offensive linemen and set up stunts and edge-rushes for Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.

New England’s answer to New York’s A-gap attacks will be quick passes in the flats. Wes Welker is not a bad guy to turn to for that.

Chargers vs. Packers
Green Bay can take the lipstick off the pig that is San Diego’s defense. The No. 1 ranked defense from 2010 has been decent but not necessarily impressive under new coordinator Greg Manusky in 2011. A soft schedule has made it difficult to pass full judgment. The Chargers rank sixth in yards allowed, but they’ve faced the Vikings, Dolphins, Broncos, Jets and Chiefs (twice) – all inexplosive offenses.

The Packers have the most lethal offensive attack in football. It’s not just that Aaron Rodgers has been nearly flawless, or that his top five receiving targets would all be No. 1 or 2 targets on a typical team. It’s that the Packers have perhaps the best formation variation in the league. This, with their array of weapons, strongly tests a defense’s depth, intelligence and confidence.

Currently, the Chargers are vulnerable at cornerback. Antoine Cason appeared on the verge of stardom late last year, but the ’08 first-round pick has reverted to the baffling inconsistencies that marred his first two seasons as a pro. Cason normally plays the right outside. The Packers love to create one-on-one matchups for Greg Jennings by lining him up as the X-iso receiver on the left side (across from the right cornerback) in 1x3 receiver sets. It’s a matchup Rodgers goes to virtually every time.

With four receivers on the field, Cason will have to play. Marcus Gilchrest and Quentin Jammer are the outside starters; Dante Hughes is the slot nickel. The Chargers like to blitz Hughes and will likely align him across from the receiver furthest inside on the three-receiver side. Jammer plays outside on the defensive left. That leaves either Cason or Gilchrest, a second-round rookie, to face Jennings outside on the right.

This isn’t a fantasy column, but here’s a tip: if your opponent has Greg Jennings on his or her team, remove yourself from the trash-talking email thread this week.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 9 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com