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Tag:Jermichael Finley
Posted on: November 30, 2011 2:54 pm
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Packers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 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 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: October 13, 2011 11:37 am
 

Keep an Eye On: Week 6's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Raiders vs. Browns
Keep an eye on: Raiders passing game
The Raiders are a run-first team, no doubt. That shouldn’t change against the Browns.

Cleveland can stop the run well enough, especially if middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson stays clean from blockers. But at some point, Jason Campbell will have to make a play or two through the air. Expect Darren McFadden to be the primary receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Throws to McFadden have easy, defined reads for Campbell (who often flounders late in his progressions and when his pocket gets too crowded for him to take a full step into his throw) and they should be available given the way Cleveland’s linebackers have struggled in underneath coverage. Most of those struggles have come against athletic tight ends.

The Raiders, however, are more inclined to run tight end Kevin Boss down the seam and swing McFadden underneath. The Browns will likely commit a safety (perhaps T.J. Ward) to tight end coverage and allow Scott Fujita to cover McFadden (expect zone principles since Fujita doesn’t have a prayer at running with McFadden in man coverage).

This isn’t to say Campbell won’t go to his wide receivers. He’s been attacking deep more in October than he did in September. That’s a response to the new speedy duo of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both are raw but potentially lethal. (No. 3 receiver Jacoby Ford is also a burner.) They’re not a potent one-two punch yet, though. Moore’s only big game came against the Bills, when Heyward-Bey was out of the lineup.

We may find out which receiver the Raiders like better this Sunday. Campbell has avoided throwing at top-flight corners this season (he hardly looked to Darrelle Revis’ side in Week 3 and rarely challenged Houston’s Johnathan Joseph in Week 5). Browns second-year sensation Joe Haden is most definitely a top-flight corner (he may have the most natural change-of-direction ability of any defensive player in football).

If Haden returns from his sprained knee, he’ll likely line up on the defensive left side. Whoever Oakland puts on the offensive left side (i.e. away from Haden) figures to be the go-to target. That could tell you what wide receiver pecking order the Raiders prefer.



Ravens vs. Texans
Keep an eye on: Brian Cushing
The third-year pro has been arguably the best inside linebacker in the AFC this season. That’s significant considering how mightily Cushing struggled as the middle linebacker in Houston’s 4-3 scheme last season.

But the inside duties are different in Wade Phillips’ new 3-4. With less field to cover, Cushing has been able to be more of an attacker than a reader-and-reactor. That’s a style best suited for his speed and ferocity.
 
Cushing hunts down outside runs extremely well and shows vigor when tasked with clearing out a lead-blocker. Both are critical traits for containing a Ravens ground game featuring a dynamic B-and C-gap runner like Ray Rice and a fullback like Vontae Leach.

Cushing is also noteworthy because of what he means to Houston’s pass-rush. Against the Raiders last week, Phillips resorted to frequent inside blitzes in an effort to instill panic in Oakland’s pass protectors and command one-on-one matchups for the rushers outside. Cushing continuously stood out for timing his blitzes well and executing them with reckless abandon.

With Mario Williams out, Phillips may feel compelled to be even more aggressive with linebacker blitzes. And he’s certainly seen the Week 4 film of Joe Flacco and the Ravens struggling to sort out many of the Jets’ inside blitzes.

Lions vs. 49ers
Keep an eye on: the tight ends
The 49ers and Lions are very different offenses. The Lions run a modern, semi-spread, aerial attacking offense. The 49ers run a 1980s, compact, ground-pounding offense.

That’s primarily a function of the quarterbacks. Though both are former No. 1 overall picks, Matthew Stafford is gun-slinger while Alex Smith is, comparatively, a spitball shooter. (To be fair, Smith did have a terrific game against the Bucs. He diagnosed coverages well and made a few stick throws.)

Though vastly different, both offenses are built around the same base personnel package: two tight ends. The Lions frequently line up with Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew while the Niners often feature Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The conundrum that two tight end personnel presents for a defense is in deciding what personnel to respond with.

Go with nickel and you risk getting run on (especially when facing the Niners, given that Davis and Walker are both solid run-blockers). Go with a base defense and you risk getting thrown on (especially with the Lions since Scheffler often splits out as a third receiver in the slot).
 
All four tight ends are weapons. For the Lions, Brandon Pettigrew is surprisingly mobile given his 265-pound frame and ’09 knee injury (from which he’s seemingly gained mobility through rehabbing). Scheffler is a swift downfield target.

For the Niners, Vernon Davis is as athletic as they come. No one save for maybe Jermichael Finley is as dangerous down the seams. Delanie Walker is not as good as Bay Area fans think, but he’s versatile in patterns and can block from a standstill position, off of motion or in a lead out of the backfield.

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: October 3, 2011 9:36 am
Edited on: October 3, 2011 9:42 am
 

Report: Jordy Nelson, Packers reach 3-year deal

Posted by Will Brinson

On Sunday we discussed how Ted Thompson was not talking about a new contract with Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Perhaps that's because he was too busy working out a deal with wideout Jordy Nelson?

The Packers wide receiver, in the final year of his current contract, signed a three-year, $13.5 million extension, according to ESPN.

Nelson, who caught five balls for 91 yards and a touchdown on Sunday in Green Bay's blowout win over Denver, has become an integral part of the Packers passing attack over the last year and change.

In 2010, he posted a career high 582 yards and 45 catches in 16 games, four of which were starts. He's on pace to shatter those numbers in 2011, having accumulated 201 catches and two touchdowns (tied for his career high) in 2011 already.

Nelson's the second free agent to receive a deal since the season began -- guard Josh Sitton also received a contract from the Packers that extended him through 2016.

All that's left now for Thompson in terms of locking up the core is lineman Scott Wells and Finley. Depending on how the season goes, we might not have seen the last of Green Bay contracts.


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: October 2, 2011 3:06 pm
 

Casserly: No talks on new Jermichael Finley deal

Posted by Will Brinson

Jermichael Finley is the guy everyone's expected to become the "next great tight end" but injuries have derailed a potential breakout for a while now. Last Sunday, Finley caught three touchdowns (or, as James Brown says in the clip below, "the hat trick") and appears to be on his way to the first big season of his career.

However, despite that, CBS Sports Charley Casserly reports that Finley and the Packers have not discussed a new contract, even though Finley's in the final year of his career.

"The reason is they want to see more of a body of work from him," Casserly said Sunday on The NFL Today. "He's only played in eight of the last 23 Packers games. They've gotta see more consistency and continuity from him over a long period of time."

The Packers may change their tune if Finley can stay healthy over the course of 2011 and put up his early season numbers over the course of a full season. But until that happens, expect Green Bay to let Ted Thompson do what he does best: successfully build rosters.



For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 11:44 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:47 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 3

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. Podcast is coming tomorrow -- this week's edition of SSP is brought to you in tardy fashion by the Ford Fusion that hauled your writer home at 3:00 a.m. ET Sunday.

Group exercises are, for the most part, ridiculous. I trust you! You trust me! How groundbreaking.  

But play along for 30 seconds and repeat after me: "the Bills and Lions are undefeated."

Haha, but no seriously. This is happening. The idea that bad NFL teams become good and the idea that good NFL teams become bad isn't shocking. It shouldn't be. It won't ever be absolutely mind-blowing, because this is what happens in today's NFL -- some teams get good, some teams get bad and some teams just happen to become the first team in NFL history to mount consecutive comebacks of 18 or more points.

Parity is what drives this league. No one doubts that, no one thinks that's weird, and no one should. There'll be some regression to the mean, and it'll probably happen to the really good teams who are only really good through a few weeks. When it does, please don't act like it's any weirder than what went down in a b-a-n-a-n-a-s Week 3 of NFL action.

1. Young guns
Two of the top three passers from Sunday's action -- Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford -- are excellent examples of the young crop of quarterbacks that are blossoming early in 2011.

Questions surrounded both Flacco (Can he beat the Steelers?) and Stafford (Can he stay healthy?) and, three weeks into the year, they're answering their critics. Flacco struggled against the Titans in Week 2, but the Ravens did a fantastic job of bouncing back from a subpar Week 2 to point out to everyone that they're elite.

I watched the games Sunday with my NBA counterpart, Matt Moore (yes, the link's ironic, thanks, I know), and at halftime of the Vikings early beatdown of Detroit, he pointed out that the Lions bandwagon was derailing.

He was correct at the time, but the Lions stormed back on the strength of Stafford's arm, winning in overtime to move to a surprising 3-0.

If Stafford stays healthy and Flacco keeps developing like he has thus far this year, we're going to be re-ordering the list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and both these guys will be joining the upper echelon sooner, rather than later.

Look, the list of truly "elite" quarterbacks will continue to feature the names you know: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning.

Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are also there, but we're seeing a new "generation" of quarterbacks starting to come into their own, as guys like Flacco, Stafford and other recently-drafted quarterbacks really start to generate some press.

And it's happening in a year when passing attacks are at an all-time high, which is only going to make the game better.

2. What do you know about pressure, Tom?

There's an ample number of awesome young quarterbacks in the NFL right now, but two very familiar names -- Brady and Brees -- are tops in the league when it comes to passing. Brady in particular is lobbing up some pretty ridiculous numbers right now; he leads the league in passing yards with 1,327, the most by a quarterback through three weeks in NFL history.

Only 22 people in the history of football have thrown for more than 4,500 yards in a single NFL season. 14 of those have happened in the past 10 years. (As we've noted, it's a passing league.)

So can Brady break Marino's record? Well, yes, he most certainly can. Remember that Marino, during his record-setting season, didn't surpass 400 passing yards in a single game until Week 5.

He's on pace for a stupid 7,077 yards for the season, although we have to assume he'll regress off that pace a little bit.

Just for fun, though, let's imagine Brady completes his schedule by passing for the exact same number of yards that his remaining opponents have allowed per game through three weeks. (Yes, there are several problems with this calculation, but just play along.)

Based on the remaining 13 games and the teams' respective yards per game allowed via the pass, Brady would pile up another 3,072 yards, which would give him a total of 4,399 yards for the season.

Conversely, Brady "only" needs to average another 289 yards per game to match Marino's record from 1984. That's not easy, per se, but it's certainly possible. And given how badly New England's own pass defense has been this season -- they're dead last in yards allowed -- it may be required too.

3. Hit the Snooze Button

Look, this is a world where Eli Manning is criminally undervalued -- the man referred to himself as "elite," tried to prop up his game, and everyone wanted to trot him out to the guillotine. No big deal though, you guys, because Eli doesn't need to show up and throw beautiful passes to Brandon Jacobs for 40-yard touchdowns. (Pardon the interruption, but FTC rules require that I write "OH GOD" in big letters again at this juncture so you'll be aware that the Apocalypse is coming soon to a city near you, by the way.)

The Giants are, somehow, not terrible. And while I might be [metaphorically] drunk on Tom Coughlin's team having watched them play in a Giants bar, it's pretty damn hard not to be impressed with what they've done this year. Last week's win over St. Louis was the single-worst blowout victory I've ever witnessed and, no, that is not a compliment.

This Sunday was an entirely different ballgame. Despite the face that actually fielding a defensive roster should be an impossibility, the Giants showed up to Philadelphia, generated a ton of pressure on Michael Vick, and barnstormed their hated division rival en route to a win that gives the NFC East more of a jostle than a trip to Sterling Archer's tumbler.

Let's move past the Giants, though, because they're the same thing that we knew they were, we just undervalued the properties they own. The Eagles are in much worse trouble than New York, simply because everyone assumed that if you have a really talented but sometimes injured quarterback and combine him with a marquee-worthy defense that secretly sucks up the middle, you don't have to worry about the rest of your problems.

Then the season happened, and the Eagles, as it turns out, have a terrible offensive line and a pretty bad combination of linebackers and safeties. Vince Young's belief that this is the "Dream Team" was fun to mock in the offseason, but it's downright comical at this stage.

Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha drew the headlines in the offseason, and DeSean Jackson plus LeSean McCoy make any team a viable threat to win any week just based on offensive explosiveness. But just like the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia Eagles offseason signings might have masked some serious positional-skill issues that will only become more exacerbated when depth starts creeping in.



4. A Hue-gh Win
The only way that the weird scene of a rookie Raiders coach dominating a third-year, Super Bowl-guaranteeing guy is if, well, the Raiders won. And they did. And people predicted it -- this actually happened. The absolutely weirdest thing is that it somehow managed to go Hue Jackson's way, as opposed to Rex Ryan's.

With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez threw a touchdown pass and in classic New York-style, Derek Jeter-fashion and the Jets shortened the lead to seven points. It had all the stink of a Ryan win, which is, frankly, a compliment. You can't lose well in the NFL -- just ask Cam Newton! -- and people will question your every move. But if you win and you're not that good at it, it's OK.

Jackson's got Oakland doing some fun, funky things on offense right now, as if Darren McFadden's pump-faking a throw nine yards in front of the line of scrimmage while running an option end-around of sorts doesn't make that obvious.

He's an aggressive attacker, and can do creative things with all the speed that the Raiders have drafted in recent years, but Jackson also knows that using Oakland's physicality and letting McFadden do what McFadden does best -- pile up yardage by the ton -- is how Oakland can remain a viable playoff contender all season long.

5. Ponder This
Are the Vikings that bad or are the Lions that good? The answer is likely the second one, but the Vikings aren't that bad, and it's not fair to say that just because they choked away a trio of halftime leads.

Here's the thing that people will miss -- the Vikings are a not good team in the middle of a rebuilding project they don't know about.

There are problems with the Vikings. Adrian Peterson is an epic talent somehow surrounded by an aging cast parading as a group of guys that are, in the NFL environment, "making a last run." The truth of the matter is that Peterson is the definition of sublime when it comes to running backs, and the rest of the Vikings just aren't that good.

On the bright side, at least they didn't do the double disservice of trading up for a quarterback AND trading further picks for a veteran who is, despite his reputation, quite clearly a one-year rental.

Which is where things get problematic -- I asked Rich Gannon last week if he thought the success of Newton and Dalton cranked up the pressure on teams like the Vikings, who drafted Christian Ponder this past year, to play their rookie.

"I don't think so," Gannon said. "I don't think the plan in Minnesota will change unless they continue to lose and all of a sudden that whole process will be expedited. I think there's more pressure now, certainly moreso now than there was 10 years ago to develop that position and have a guy play right away and be successful. Days of what they did even with Aaron Rodgers, I don't know if we're going to see as much as that. I think they're paying these guys so much money that it's like, let's get these guys on the field.

"The problem is they're not always ready to play."

And that might be the case with Ponder in Minnesota, especially if he looks as overwhelmed as he did during the preseason. On the other hand, if Ponder steps in and looks even remotely good after/if this season's lost for Minnesota, it'll do wonders for the scrutiny on Leslie Frazier.

6. What about the Packers?
Detroit won, so we shouldn't discount them for the sake of chatting about the Vikings. But the real NFC North story is the Packers, who dominated the Bears on Sunday, winning by double digits against their biggest rival for the first time in three years.

Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, all to Jermichael Finley, and this is precisely why everyone should be very scared of Green Bay again in 2011.

Finley is an absolute terror who is nearly impossible to defend near the goal line and, really, anywhere else on the field. The Packers won the Super Bowl without him, of course, and if he's healthy this year, Green Bay's offense is only going to be more difficult to defend than it was in 2010.

What's interesting is how Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have done a fantastic job of making sure that Greg Jennings and the other wide receivers stay incorporated, though Finley's obviously a much bigger part of the passing game than he was last year.

Jenning really struggled early on in 2010 and only blew up after Finley went down (and after he'd made mention he wasn't thrilled with how many targets he was getting). The transition to the 2011 version of the offense featuring Finley's been much more seamless, and that's reason to fear the Packers again this season.

They're the defending Super Bowl champion and arguably the best team in the NFL right now, and yet, why aren't we talking about them much?

7. Not running away from anyone now
There's very little sympathy for Kenny Britt around the NFL. Dude racked up more tickets this summer than "my friend" at college piled up.

Aside from that clown's reputation, it's important to note that when stupid people do stupid things a stupid amount of time, we take notice. Britt drew tons of attention this summer for his off-field antics, and he should have. Somehow he skated out of a suspension, but karma appears to rolled his way, as he'll likely miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and MCL.

Britt shredded his knee on a screen pass, fumbled the ball, and carted off the field in a Week 3 win against the Broncos.

The worst part about this saga is that Britt somehow had the "Dwayne Bowe circa 2010" look about him, making plays, looking like a top NFL wide receiver, and generally wrecking the same havoc on the NFL that he wrecked on the legal system this summer.

Without him, the Titans offensive gameplan is an entirely different ballgame, especially considering that the corpse of Chris Johnson can't do a whole lot without providing more than three yards a carry. Look, Matt Hasslebeck deserves tons of praise for doing what he's done with what he's had to do while, um, doing what he do.

That being said, this is a Titans team that's begging to lose it's offensive identity in 2011. The biggest curiosity they face isn't so much "how the hell are the 2-1?" so much as it's "how they hell are they scoring points at a pace to make them less terrible than the Chiefs?"

Between the two questions, one is substantially better, and one question -- hint: it's about Kansas City -- is one you don't want everyone asking about your team. Yet Tennessee continues to survive. Maybe that's the way Mike Munchak's regime will win, and that's fine.

But expecting an exact repeat of Jeff Fisher's reign just because Munchak worked for Fisher but didn't necessarily retain all the offensive firepower seems like a stretch.

8. The Camwagon
As you probably know by now, when the word "Cam" gets dropped, it's time for some bragging. Well kudos first go to me for predicting that Cam Newton wouldn't have the monster game everyone expected when he beat -- yes, Cam won! -- the Jaguars on Sunday.

Before you strain your elbow giving some much-deserved pats, though, you should know that I have a weather app on my iPhone.

Speaking of weather, if someone tells you that Newton won a game, make sure you point out that he did it in the most terrible fashion ever. The Panthers might have come out victorious, sure, but did he throw for 400 yards? And was there a double rainbow? No sir there was not.

Ergo, the only answer is that Cam is absolutely terrible at controlling the weather and therefore not a winner. This is actually a thing that someone at your office will probably try and say.

Here's the truth though: Newton was really bad on Sunday, horribly inaccurate with his passes and very much looking like a rookie. The Panthers won 16-10, but they should have won 60-10, even with the weather. Blaine Gabbert, in his first career start, gifted Carolina a safety in his first career drive, and the Panthers somehow never managed to capitalize the opportunity.

Then all of a sudden there was a monsoon in Charlotte, the exhibition matchup became a legitimate great game and Newton was in danger of "not being able to step up." Or something. Everyone will find an excuse. Know this, though -- the Jaguars are a sneakily decent-sounding 1-2 and they're a terrible team. This is despite the career-high 185 yards (through the first two weeks anyway) that Maurice Jones-Drew has compiled.

Another nice day from MJD and a start from Gabbert masked what should have been one really team blowing out another much worse team. Jack Del Rio, this last sentence is for you, sir.

9. Just Wing It
Enjoy saying this now, because there's a strong chance you'll never say it again: "The Bills nearly left too much time on the clock when they scored." Fred Jackson streaked for the end zone to put Buffalo up a touchdown (Again! Against the Patriots!) and give Tom Brady a shot at what Tom Brady does.
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Instead, instant replay ruled Jackson down, the Bills got the ball just shy of the Patriots end zone, and were able to melt the clock down before kicking a game-winning field goal. The really wonked out thing here is that the scoring replay change was perfect for Buffalo.

We've watched enough football to know what happens if you hand this Brady character the pigskin with two minutes remaining and down a few points, right? Watching Brady eviscerate a pass defense en route to a comeback win is still exciting and thrilling and something everyone should do before they die, but it's borderline cliche.

Instead, the Bills flipped the narrative on us, won the damn game and are the leaders at the two-thirds of one-quarter mile-marker for the 2011 NFL season in an AFC East division that didn't have a single bit of prediction promiscuity at the top.

Yes it is early and yes we've seen the Bills storm out of the gates hot before, but there's something afloat in Buffalo's water these days and it's not Spalding's Baby Ruth bar.

10. Houston, We Have … No I'm Sorry I Can't Make That Joke
While we're taking a magical ride on the jump to conclusions mat, let's go ahead and assume that the Texans are terrible at defense and that they are much closer to the 2010 abomination we know, understand, love and play fantasy people against than they are the 2011 would-be division winners.

Except that's silly.

It's not silly to point out that there are a lot of teams who cannot "stop the pass" -- quotations are necessary here because in case you're not reading this regularly, the NFL woke up and decided to chunk the ball down the field with collective regularity.

Arian Foster missing is not the problem, of course. It's still defense for Houston, who appeared on the verge of justifying the Wade Phillips 3-4 hype before coughing up 40 points to New Orleans. But before we freak out and judge this team let's again remember that it's Week 3, again remember that this is Drew Brees commanding a very efficient and very dangerous offense, and let's, most importantly, remind ourselves that it's a baby-stepping process.

Houston wasn't becoming an elite defense overnight, and much less so in a lockout-shortened season. Losing to the Saints is tough, but they're still taking this division, and once they're playing against rookie quarterbacks, it will probably be on the strength of their offseason signings on defense.

While we're here, and because it's too important for muffed punts, Darren Sproles is the most important offensive signing of 2011's free agency. Yeah, I'm doing the knee-jerk thing, but this guy is making a difference in the Reggie Bush role for Sean Payton's offense.

The awkward thing is that he's just flat-out better than Bush at every facet of the game. That's not to rip Reggie, who probably needed to move on anyway, but it's an important reminder that sometimes it's not signings with the big, bold lights that really make the difference once people start playing football.

Pop-culture referencing Jim Irsay tweet that's sure to drive Colts fans insane of the week
"After 9 days,I let the horse run free..cause the desert had turned 2 sea"

Irsay's referencing "Horse With No Name" by the band America. Except he decided to do so a day after refuting his own statement that Peyton Manning wasn't playing this season.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
- A Fox Sports bar in the Charlotte airport made the decision Sunday night to shut off their televisions because a bunch of airport patrons were crowded around the outskirts of the restaurant, watching the Colts-Steelers game. It was the most obstinate, pig-headed display of customer service I've ever seen.
- If you go to New York City and need a good spot to watch some football, the Cornerstone Tavern in Manhattan is pretty freaking fantastic. Good food, nice beer selection and tons of televisions. Also, it's like the unofficial place for Florida Gators to go, so there's that.
- Alex Henery has been a bright spot for the Eagles, by the way. Kid comes in as a rookie, replacing a legend like David Akers, and is producing on some crucial kicks.

Worth 1,000 Words


Hot Seat Tracker
So here's something fun -- Sportsbook.com has odds for the first NFL coach to be fired. We'll include them in parentheticals.
  • Tony Sparano (-120): Sparano's 0-3, the Dolphins can't seem to score and Chad Henne isn't progressing as we thought he might after the first week. Losses at the Chargers and the Jets over the next three weeks make him the favorite to get canned first.
  • Todd Haley (+180): A decent effort against the Chargers on Sunday at least should give Haley a bit of comfort that he can hold onto his job. Plus injuries are a nice excuse.
  • Jack Del Rio (+350): Speaking of nice excuses, the weather in Charlotte on Sunday really helped out Del Rio, because it gave the Jaguars a chance to win against the Panthers. Jacksonville recovered five (!) fumbles and still couldn't pull out a win.
  • Leslie Frazier (+400): Yeah, I was as surprised as you to see him here and I'm only including him because Sportsbook did. Oh, right, and because the Vikings have been outscored like 6,456 to six in the second half so far this season.
  • Jim Caldwell (+1000): It's hard to imagine the Colts canning Caldwell if he continues to keep games close, having lost Peyton Manning. There's  no reason for a midseason firing unless there's a particularly viable candidate out there.
  • Random note: It's just crazy that Tom Coughlin was in this spot less than seven days ago. Oh NFL, you're so nuts.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
Dolphins (1/2): They're almost assuredly going to be 0-5 through six weeks. That should be good for morale.
Chiefs (3/1): Somehow they've already played the easy portion of their schedule!
Colts (2/5): What to watch here is whether or not Indy thinks Peyton Manning can play more than two or three years.

MVP Watch
I'm sticking with my boy Matthew Stafford for now -- hard to argue with him considering the Lions are undefeated, he's second in the league in passing touchdowns (nine), fifth in passing yards and has only thrown two picks. Obviously Tom Brady's a good choice but if the season ended today, he'd get the Offensive Player of the Year award and Stafford would get my nod for MVP. Aaron Rodgers is certainly in the conversation as well.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 12:34 am
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:09 pm
 

7-Point Preview: Packers vs. Saints

Posted by Will Brinson



Eye on Football's patented 7-Point Preview will get you prepped for some of the biggest games of the 2011 NFL season. Don't forget to check out our podcast preview below and Subscribe to the Pick-Six Podcast on iTunes.


1. Green Bay Packers (0-0) vs. New Orleans Saints (0-0)
The NFL is back. (!) And what a way to kick things off, huh? The last two Super Bowl winners square off at one of the sport's greatest venues, Lambeau Field, in primetime on a Thursday following a turmoil-filled lockout that eventually led to one of the craziest offseasons and most anticipated regular seasons in recent NFL history.

It's also the first time that two Super Bowl MVPs -- Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers -- will face off against each other on the NFL's opening weekend since 1993 -- when Troy Aikman and Mark Rypien, of the Cowboys and Redskins, respectively -- went head-to-head.

And presumably the first time that Kid Rock has been within 100 yards of whoever the people are that form Maroon 5. Of course, these bands apparently impressed Packers wideout Greg Jennings, who referred to this game as a "mini-Super Bowl." Mr. Rodgers would like to disagree, sir.

"It's a similar feel to a big game, a playoff game," Rodgers said. "I don't want to say the Super Bowl. There's a big atmosphere outside the stadium. But the only thing that matters is taking care of business on the field."

Winners of Super Bowl XLV last season, the Packers have pretty good historical odds on their side in terms of this opening game. The previous 45 Super Bowl winners are 37-7-1 in their season opener the following year, and 10-0 in the last decade when it comes to showing up early and often the next year.

But then again, the last ten Super Bowl winners probably weren't chugging beer cheese in the offseason, and everyone knows how nasty a hangover that creates.

Of course, that's all the past. We're talking about the future now, and both these teams should be wearing shades. Thanks to the roster-building skils of Ted Thompson, the Packers are arguably the biggest favorite to win the Super Bowl again in 2011 and, honestly, look like team with dynasty stamped all over it.

The Saints had a "down" year in 2010, but are clearly motivated by their embarrassing wild-card loss to Seattle last year and certainly have the personnel and the talent to get back to February.

2. What the Nerds and Degenerate Gamblers Say:
Well, Vegas unsurprisingly has this game as a high-scoring affair, as the over/under is set at 47.5. That's the highest point total of the entire first weekend, which is interesting because it just occurred to me that the lockout will probably cause suppressed over/unders to start the season. And 47.5 is unsurprising because the lockout has people so jacked for football that their willing to throw piles of money on touchdowns.

The Packers are a (relatively) heavy favorite at -4.5. None of our NFL experts picks went towards New Orleans straight-up, and only Clark Judge and I selected the Saints against the spread. I don't want to say that Clark and I came out firing last year and you should bet on the Saints, but Clark and I came out firing last year. You should bet on the Saints.

Unfortunately, there are no stats on-hand to say "hey, the Packers and Saints can really throw the ball well" just quite yet. At least not for this season anyway. But, it's quite interesting that the Saints and Packers are very close in Football Outsiders' projections for the 2011 season. Green Bay's defensive DVOA is nearly elite (like, almost top-six) and a very stout good offense (like, almost top-10).

New Orleans doesn't project to having a particularly impressive defense, but their offensive DVOA is elite, ranking in the top-five.

3. Key Matchup to Watch
With that nerdiness in mind, perhaps the best matchup to pick is Aaron Rodgers vs. Greg Williams. Look, Rodgers may not like fancy GQ photospreads, but he's a very talented quarterback who, as Ryan and I mentioned above, has gotten very good at moving quickly through his progressions. Add in his athleticism and unbelievable arm and, yeah, he's very good at football and very difficult to contain.

That's where Williams -- a fiery fella in his own right -- comes in. If you want to beat Rodgers, you have to put him on the ground. And if you want to put Rodgers on the ground, you have to blitz him, unless you can generate enough pass rush from your defensive line to get through Green Bay's offensive front. (Good luck with that.)

"The one thing about Aaron Rodgers that’s most impressive is that he was the best quarterback last year against the blitz and the pressure," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "He gets the ball out of his hand quick, so we've got to find ways to create some things."

Given that defensive end Will Smith is suspended for this game, there's an even bigger onus on Williams to generate pressure on Rodgers from somewhere other than straight-up defensive fronts.

If he can put Rodgers on his butt early, the Saints will be able to scale this thing back from a full-on shoot-out. If not, we could see a lot of Packers players doing their best Michael Jackson impersonations into the end zone.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube
This is the first time in Thursday night Kickoff Weekend history that the past two defending Super Bowl winners are playing to open up the season and, frankly, I love it. Of course it doesn't really hurt that it's the Saints and Packers, which should provide fireworks on both sides of the ball. To honor their recent success, as well as Freddie Mercury's recent would-have-been birthday, why don't we bring back some Queen to our previews?



5. The Packers will win if ...
Rodgers can stay on his feet. The lasting reminder of Rodgers, for anyone who watched the 2010 playoffs, is that he's untouchable. And his mobility does make it hard to bring him down. But if you'll recall, Rodgers and the Packers looked like they were going to miss the playoffs when the quarterback had to sit out against New England -- a game Green Bay nearly won with Matt Flynn under center -- last year, so it's not unheard of for Rodgers to get knocked around a bit.

If he can stay on his feet and remain untouched during most of Thursday night's game, though, he'll end up finding Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver and James Jones and Jordy Nelson plenty of times, and probably end up giving Williams a new highlight reel to show his defense.

6. The Saints will win if ...
They can establish the run and keep Green Bay's talented linebackers from attacking too much. It's something that's doable -- the Packers ranked just 24th in the NFL in rush defense in 2010. But despite the stereotype that the Saints are a passing team, they truly found success (and a Super Bowl victory) in 2009 by running the ball extremely well, as they finished sixth in the NFL with 131.6 yards per game on the ground.

That dipped off tremendously last year, which is precisely why they jumped up in the draft to grab Mark Ingram. If he, starter Pierre Thomas and the speedy Darren Sproles can generate a substantial ground attack, the Saints have a very good shot at prevailing.

"There’ll be plenty of touches not only for Pierre, but for Mark and Darren," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "And it’s our job to mix those up and also to let the running back get comfortable and get in a rhythm when he's in the game."

That (those?) comfort zone(s) will be key for a potential Saints win.

7. Prediction: Packers 24, Saints 21

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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