Tag:Mike Smith
Posted on: December 11, 2011 10:28 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 10:30 pm
  •  
 

Mike Smith taken to hospital with chest pains

By Will Brinson

Atlanta snuck by Carolina 31-23 on Sunday, but Mike Smith had a much scarier experience than anything relating to football, as the Falcons were concerned their coach might have had a heart attack following the game.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter, Smith was "rushed to the hospital with chest pains" while the rest of the team boarded their charter plane back to Atlanta.

"Following the Falcons verses Carolina game today head coach Mike Smith was transported to the hospital in Charlotte for a non-emergency matter," the Falcons told the AJC. "Coach Smith is resting comfortably. His tests have reaffirmed his health and he’s expected to be in Atlanta on Monday."

The wording from the Falcons is certainly good -- "non-emergency," "reaffirmed his health," and "resting comfortably" are all phrases you want associated with someone who went to the hospital with chest pains.

Smith is just 52, but the life of an NFL coach is obviously a stressful one, so it's certainly better to be safe than sorry in this sort of instance, and it's good to hear that, at least according to the team, he's not dealing with a major medical issue at the moment.


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 30, 2011 3:42 pm
 

Film Room: Texans vs. Falcons preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Two quality playoff opponents from the Southern divisions square off Sunday. Frankly, this game was a lot more intriguing before Matt Schaub’s injury. If he’s healthy, we’re talking about the Texans as Super Bowl contenders. Now, with T.J. Yates expected to start, we’re talking about them as mere playoff contenders.

Of course, the Texans might argue that their first-ranked defense and third-ranked rushing attack can still sail the ship. Their Week 13 matchup versus Atlanta will put that theory to its first major test.



1. State of Houston’s No. 1 defense
After four years of changing schemes and coordinators, the Texans finally got it right by hiring Wade Phillips. Phillips is running the same defense he did in Dallas: a 3-4 alignment with a lot of 4-3 gap-penetrating principles. As he did with DeMarcus Ware, Phillips keeps his best pass-rusher on the weak side of the formation to help command one-on-one edge matchups.

With Mario Williams hurt, that pass-rusher is third-year pro Connor Barwin. Barwin can get after the quarterback, but Houston’s best all-around outside linebacker is second-round rookie Brooks Reed. Reed is fantastic at setting the edge and taking on blocks in the run game, and every down he brings the insane energy that all of Houston’s front seven defenders bring.

The same can be said about Reed’s fellow rookie, J.J. Watt. The powerful, long-armed first-rounder from Wisconsin has become nearly impossible to block one-on-one, both against the run and pass. In recent weeks, so has veteran Antonio Smith, a tenacious, crafty veteran who knows how to steer the action in ways that create opportunities for teammates (Smith was crucial to Barwin’s four-sack effort at Jacksonville last week).

A wrinkle Phillips has frequently used in Houston that he used only occasionally in Dallas is blitzing his inside linebacker. The incredible speed, burst, timing and innate playmaking instincts of Brian Cushing has likely been the motivation for that.

Good as this Texans defense – and especially the deep, high-octane front seven – has been, you could argue that it’s fool’s gold (it wouldn’t be a super strong argument, but it also wouldn’t be completely ridiculous). The Texans have held their last five opponents to under 14 points, but those opponents have been the Browns, Bucs, Titans and Jaguars (twice).

Those teams all have a paucity of receiving talent, which Houston’s secondary – bolstered by the magnificence of free agent pickup Jonathan Joseph – has easily exploited. Virtually all of Houston’s seven sacks at Jacksonville were coverage sacks.

The Texans defense will face its first true test in a month and a half this Sunday.

2. Falcons passing game
The past two weeks, the Falcons have broken off from their usual heavy two backs/two tight end formations to operate out of three-receiver sets. That could just be how they prefer to attack vanilla, zone-based 4-3 defenses (which their last two opponents, Tennessee and Minnesota, both run). Or, it could be a response to losing fullback Ovie Mughelli (on injured reserve with a knee). We’ll know more after we see how the Falcons choose to go after the Texans Sunday.

The prediction here is Atlanta will stay in three-receiver sets. Harry Douglas is getting very comfortable in his slot role. Roddy White and Julio Jones are hard to double-team when they’re lined up on the same side of the field (which is easier for them to do in three-receiver sets). And no defense yet has found a way to defend Tony Gonzalez in the short seam areas out of these three-wide alignments.

What’s more, Matt Ryan is most comfortable when audibling at the line of scrimmage. He loves to get to the line early and move his targets around. Three-receiver formations spread the defense and paint a clearer picture for the fourth-year quarterback.

3. Atlanta’s run game
The Falcons are still built to run the ball. That will be the case as long as they continue to trot a large but unathletic offensive line out on the field. Michael Turner, who has a surplus of patience but deficit of speed and quickness, is best equipped to run behind lead-blocking fullbacks and tight ends.

However, he’s proven capable of consistently gaining 4-6 yards out of single-back sets. Those formations usually put a defense in its nickel package, which gives Turner more opportunities to use his power against a defensive back instead of a linebacker. The Falcons can also run draws and delays with emerging lightning bug Jacquizz Rodgers when lining up three-wide.

The Texans don’t mind playing in their nickel, in part because the linebacker who comes off the field, DeMeco Ryans, has not been dazzling this season, and in part because they have relatively firm-tackling defensive backs (Glover Quin, in particular).

4. Houston’s run game
If last week’s Jaguars game is any indication, it’s fallacious to think the Texans can survive their quarterback woes by simply riding their top-ranked ground game. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are both dynamic enough runners to move the chains against an eight-man box (Foster, in fact, is the best all-around runner in the AFC; his fluid but powerful hips and tempo-changing aptitude leave him not far from Adrian Peterson’s level).

The Texans zone-blocking offensive line is cohesive and moves well at all five positions (center Chris Myers is having the best season of the bunch). But as we saw last week, it will be a tough go if that eight-man box is not at least a little bit concerned about getting beat through the air.

So much of Gary Kubiak’s offense is predicated on play-action and rollouts. Houston’s fleet tight ends and Andre Johnson give this method its venom. Overall, the system is intricate but actually puts few heavy demands on the quarterback (arm strength and pocket toughness, two critical attributes, are less significant). But a respectable quarterback is still vital because those play-action and rollouts also set up a lot of Houston’s ground game (namely the stretch handoffs).


5. Atlanta’s defense
Mike Smith started sprinkling more blitz concepts and disguises on his defense last season, but lately, he’s drifted back to execution-based schemes (i.e. fairly vanilla zones that rely on defenders being fundamentally sound and physically outperforming their opponents).

The Falcons could be more traditional if free agent pickup Ray Edwards weren’t so disappointing at defensive end. Edwards was supposed to bring a bookend pass-rushing prowess across from John Abraham. Instead, he’s been less explosive than last season’s underrated starter, Kroy Biermann.

Biermann, like Abraham, is a sinewy, versatile athlete. That’s important because the Falcons do a lot of zone exchange pass-rushes (this is rushing a linebacker on one side and having the defensive end on the other side drop into coverage; the idea is to confuse the quarterback into throwing a hot read into traffic). Speedy but strong linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has been a standout presence in zone rushes (and, for that matter, in general run defense).

In the secondary, left cornerback Brent Grimes is assertive and trusted with most of the solo assignments. Big-money right corner Dunta Robinson plays too far off the receiver to be considered anything more than “solid”. The Falcons frequently interchange their strong and free safeties. No. 1 safety William Moore is a thumper when healthy. In the last three weeks that Moore’s been out, replacement James Sanders has been serviceable as a third-level run defender. No. 2 safety Thomas DeCoud has been a liability in coverage.

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 14, 2011 3:55 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 10:18 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 10

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 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. Houston We Don't Have a Problem

"Who's the best team in the AFC?" -- that's a question I got asked a couple of times on the radio this past week, and I pointed out each time that we shouldn't be sleeping on the Texans. Following their 37-9 pimp-slapping of the Bucs in Tampa, I doubt I'll be the only one saying that this week.

Yes, they play in one of the NFL's worst divisions and, yes, they have a ridiculously cake schedule this year. No, Matt Schaub is not "elite." Yes, the Ravens have beaten them this year.

I don't expect people to stop using those arguments to knock down the Texans. That's fine -- but people need to realize that Houston is as complete a team as there is in the NFL.

They can run: Arian Foster and Ben Tate are the most dangerous backfield combo in the NFL, Derrick Ward's a nice third option and their offensive line is criminally underrated. (All three guys scored Sunday against the Buccaneers.) They can pass: pan Matt Schaub all you want, but he's thrown just three picks in the six games since losing Andre Johnson, and when Johnson returns after the bye he'll only get better.  They play defense: after ranking 30th in total yards allowed in 2010, the Texans find themselves as the stingiest defensive team in football through 10 weeks of the 2011 season.

The Texans rank third in the NFL with 14 interceptions. That's one more than they had in all of 2010. And their point differential (107) currently tops the league.

Heading into Week 10 the Texans were the only team to rank in the top 10 of Football Outsiders efficiency metrics on offense, defense and special teams. The Steelers could join them in that distinction after this week, but thanks to an absolutely dominant game in Tampa Bay, there's zero chance the Texans will see their stock fall.

Look, it's perfectly OK to expect the Texans to figure out a way not to make the playoffs. It's what they do. But it's not like they're working on some fluky formula here. Their offense won't slow down, particularly with Johnson returning, and their defense, despite losing Mario Williams, really appears to be gelling.

And because the division's so terrible, there's a distinct chance the Texans clinch their first AFC South title before Christmas.


2. The Only Stat That Matters ...

If I told you that Tim Tebow would go two of eight passing on Sunday while Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno left the game early with an injury, you'd assume that a) the Chiefs rolled the Broncos and b) Tebow got benched. You would not assume what actually happened, which is that the Broncos beat Kansas City 17-9 to hand the Chiefs their second-straight inexplicable victory.

And what's weirder, that Tebow was 0-fer at halftime, missing on all five of his passing attempts? Or that he only attempted three more passes in the second half? Or that his second completion was a straight-up NFL throw that resulted in a 56-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker?

Or maybe that Broncos coach John Fox was clearly overjoyed to beat a division rival with an offensive gameplan that probably caused the NFL's marketing arm to set fire to the highlight reel within 15 minutes of the final whistle.

"It's just a mindset. It's a low-risk offense. It's not an indictment on Tim Tebow or whoever our quarterback is," Fox said. "It's just whatever is working for us. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. We tried to possess the ball and keep our defense fresh."

That sounds kind of ridiculous, and I guess it is. But we're talking about John Fox here -- he's not exactly an offensive innovator, much less someone who cares in the slightest how many passing attempts his quarterback has, particularly if the team wins.

But hey, there's a precedent for this kind of game -- it's the 27th quarterback time since the merger that a team's won a game despite having a quarterback who completed two or less passes on eight or more attempts. The parameters are weird, and the list is weirder, especially because several of the quarterbacks weren't the only guy to take snaps for their team. Most interesting (to me) are a pair of names on the list with Tebow: Kyle Orton ... and John Elway.

Tebow's not the same quarterback as the man in charge of his future, but he's now 3-1 since taking over as the Broncos starting quarterback. He's improving, Denver's figuring out how to design offensive schemes around his specific skillset, and they're turning what looked like a lost season into an interesting little run in a weak AFC West.

3. Texas Is Big Enough for Two Teams

It really is nuts how much the NFL playoff picture can change in a matter of weeks. Or days. Or hours -- the Cowboys entered Sunday morning two games back of the Giants for the NFC East lead with the potentially resurgent Eagles hot on their heels. Less than 12 hours later, after a 44-7 whipping of Buffalo? Dallas is one game back of the Giants, the Eagles look done, and it's like the Cowboys season was never in jeopardy.

"We needed a game like this," Jason Witten said. "This needs to be the foundation of what lies ahead for this team."

"A game like this" equates to what might be the best game of Tony Romo's career. The oft-maligned quarterback was 23 of 26 for 270 yards and three touchdowns, and the only reason his numbers were suppressed is Dallas 28-7 halftime lead. Romo attempted just seven passes in the second half and set the Cowboys franchise record for completion percentage, hitting 88.5 percent of his passes.

Could it be a coincidence that Romo got rid of his flak jacket for the first time since his broken ribs in Week 2? Maybe. But over the course of the next few weeks, it probably won't look like it, because the Cowboys go to Washington, play Miami and travel to Arizona before hosting the Giants on December 11.

Given that the Giants play the Eagles, the Saints and the Packers in that same time frame, don't be surprised if we're approaching that Week 14 matchup throwing out terms like "division-leading Cowboys" and "darkhorse MVP candidate Romo."

Things change, because this is the NFL. But watching the Cowboys bounce back over the past two weeks, and knowing that Romo's now 17-2 in November (his .895 winning percentage in the month is the highest of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era), it's hard not to think they're getting hot at the right time.

4. Bold But Bad

Mike Smith's decision to go for it on a fourth-and-inches on his own 29-yard line in overtime will be analyzed a lot over the next seven days, because it giftwrapped a 26-23 victory for New Orleans Sunday. And, most importantly, it put the Falcons way behind the eight ball for a shot at the NFC South title, as they're now two games back of the Saints.

Atlanta's still in decent position for a wild card berth, and I'm OK with the call Smith made, even if, like my man Pete Prisco, I probably wouldn't have made the call. (This is hindsight creeping in -- I hated it at the time.) The Saints are terrible against the run (a league-worst 5.2 yards per carry allowed), handing the ball to Drew Brees in overtime is the football equivalent of suicide, and Michael Turner is the perfect back for that situation.

My beef is with the playcall, which was precisely the same play that Atlanta used on fourth and one with six minutes left in the third quarter. Witness what the Saints defense looked like then:



Obviously New Orleans is playing to stop the run, but they're not selling out. They got no penetration, and they're certainly wary of the possibility that Matt Ryan could roll out, or that Turner could cut outside to try and pick up the first down.

The second time around, in overtime, that wasn't the case.



As you'll recall, Gregg Williams called a timeout right before Atlanta broke the huddle not in punt formation for this second try. Do you think he might have pointed several Saints defenders in the direction of where Michael Turner might be running with the ball?

Judging by the relative positions of said Saints defenders in the two pictures above, that seems like a pretty reasonable assumption.

And I understand that Turner's a bowling ball and that the Falcons have Smith's back on this and they appreciate his confidence in them picking up a half-yard or less in such a situation.

But knowing that you showed Williams this exact same play less than an hour ago, you have to be more creative with the playcall, especially when there's a division title on the line.

5. Deja Vu All Over Again

After the Patriots lost to the Giants in Week 9, there was a weird feeling of deja vu. You should have that same feeling right now, because after New England pummeled the Jets 37-16 in New York, every single "the Patriots are dead" column from the past week is totally pointless.

Making the premature eulogizing of the Patriots even more irritating is the similarity between 2010 and 2011.

Last year, the Patriots lost their second game of the season when the Browns shocked them 34-14 in Week 9 in Cleveland. The loss of Randy Moss meant that the Patriots couldn't get vertical and ergo/therefore/henceforth the Pats were dead men walking. Naturally, Tom Brady waltzed into Pittsburgh on November 14, went 30 for 43 for 350 yards and hit Rob Gronkowski for three touchdowns.

On Sunday (Week 10! November 13!) Brady waltzed into the New Meadowlands and carved up Rex Ryan's defense, going 26 of 39 for 329 yards and hitting Gronkowski for two touchdowns.

In case you forgot, Brady closed out last year in pretty good fashion -- he didn't throw an interception for the rest of the year, the Pats didn't lose another game and finished 14-2, and Brady became the first-ever unanimous MVP winner in NFL history.

My point is this: though the Patriots defense might stink, Tom Brady is still on the roster. It's not as if the defense in 2010 was all that good; they finished 25th overall in the NFL last year. But the Pats went 14-2 because Brady played at an unholy level with essentially the same offensive personnel he's got now.

In other words, Expecting the Patriots to lose three-straight games -- they haven't since 2002! -- was about as smart as writing off Belichick and Brady after what went down last season.


6. Run This Man!

I planned on taking screenshots of all the commenters who ripped me for picking Seattle to upset Baltimore and posting them here. But there were too many of them. And they were all too vulgar.

Plus, I'm sure everyone who called me names will be back to apologize later anyway.

But really, should we be surprised at this point when the Ravens fail to win after refusing to utilize Ray Rice, clearly the best offensive weapon on their team?

No, no we should not.

Week - Opponent
Rice Carries
Rice Rushing Yards
Points Scored
Result
1 - Steelers
19 107 35 W
2 - Titans
13 43 13 L
3 - Rams
9 81 37 W
4 - Jets
25 66 34 W
6 - Texans
23 101 29 W
7 - Jaguars
8 28 7 L
8 - Cardinals
18 63 30 W
9 - Steelers
18 43 23 W
10 - Seahawks
5 27 17 L

Rice's usage and subsequent success (or lack thereof) isn't a direct correlation with the win-loss record of the Ravens. He's had nine carries in a game (against the Rams) where the Ravens absolutely rolled.

But two games above really stand out in terms of similarity -- the loss to the Seahawks and Jaguars. Both were on the road, both were against teams that aren't even remotely considered on the Ravens level and both featured Rice inexplicably getting less than 10 rushing attempts.

The Ravens were behind for much of each game, but never were they in full-on blowout territory, and the downside of running the ball is really only losing a couple of seconds of game time and actually getting the defense to respect the natural balance that the Ravens offense should feature.

It's doesn't seem that hard to figure out that the Ravens are 1-3 when their best player on offense rushes the ball less than 15 times in a game. And yet somehow Cam Cameron can't do it.

7. Red Rocket

Alright, I give up: Andy Dalton, despite losing to Pittsburgh 24-17 on Sunday, deserves to be the leader for Rookie of the Year right now.

This might sound weird considering he's coming of a loss, he threw a game-ending interception (his second in the fourth quarter Sunday) and my blatant homerism deep respect for Cam Newton.

But it was ridiculously impressive that Cincy took the Steelers best shot early in the game and then rallied back to get within a touchdown, despite losing their other studly rookie A.J. Green after he hyperextended his knee.

Oh, it also doesn't help that Newton absolutely laid an egg on Sunday, failing to score a touchdown in a football game for what he said might be the first time in his life. I haven't seen any confirmation of this, but I also have no trouble believing it.

Back to Dalton and the Bengals though: if Green's injury is substantial, I don't think the Bengals make the playoffs (they currently project as the sixth seed) because not only are the Ravens and the Steelers better, but the Ravens might actually try against Cincy.

And if Newton bounces back over the next few weeks, and the Bengals lose their last three games against the Steelers and Ravens, it's going to be tough for voters to hit Dalton up.

But if he improves from the growing pains he suffered against the Steelers, he might end up stealing the award after all. And, you know, a playoff berth.

8. Andy Reid's Hot Pants

Before the season, we penciled in the Week 10 Cardinals-Eagles matchup with the idea that Kevin Kolb would lead a revived Arizona squad into Philly with a chance for redemption against the team that cast him off for Michael Vick. Instead, Kolb couldn't play Sunday, so John Skelton started and ... the Eagles still lost, 21-17.

With that L, let's just go ahead and bury the Eagles 2011 season. Instead of debating whether 9-7 is possible, let's discuss whether or not Andy Reid should be fired if the Eagles miss the playoffs.

I, unequivocally, say he should not be fired. He's got issues with his roster construction, his clock management and his balance on offense, but there's a reason why he's the longest-tenured coach in the NFL.

Additionally, this is a lockout year, and teams were supposed to struggle to adapt under circumstances. "Bringing in a bunch of new faces" is one such circumstance where there's a built-in excuse.

And perhaps the best reason to hold onto Reid: he's Michael Vick's guy, and Michael Vick just got paid $100 million. That's not to say Vick couldn't play for another coach and succeed, but Reid's mentored him on and -- perhaps more importantly -- off the field. He's turned Vick from an ex-con into a franchise quarterback.

Vick's taken a step back this season, but if Philly can beef up its offensive line and address some of the defensive issues, there's no reason why Reid can't just can Juan Castillo in sacrificial lamb fashion and come back next year, regardless of how this season plays out.

9. What the Helu?

Would the Redskins beat the Colts if they played today? Wilson and I talked about that on the podcast (I assume you hit play above and are listening now but just haven't gotten that far yet), and, um, I'm not sure?

Indy's terrible, but Washington is just depressing -- the latest feather in Mike Shanahan's cap is a 20-9 loss to Miami that not only gave Shanny his first-ever five-game losing streak, but also handed the Dolphins their first win at Sun Life Stadium in 364 days.

The saddest part of the Redskins failure on Sunday isn't even that Rex Grossman gives them a better chance to win than John Beck. That's just the truth, even if it's cringe-worthy. Although apparently Shanahan doesn't know that? Or he does? Or ... you tell me:

"We’re going to make decisions that we think gives us the best chance to win," Shanahan said about the decision to go with Grossman. "Then before the game we decided to go in another direction."

I know what he's saying (I think), but it's kind of awesome that this quote, taken out of context, sounds like "Beck gives us the best chance to win, that's why we started him. But on Sunday we changed our minds."

Anyway, the saddest part is that Roy Helu broke Art Monk's single-game receptions record last week and he was inexplicably benched Sunday in favor of Ryan Torain.

"Well, I wanted to give Ryan a chance, see what he can do," Shanahan said of the decision. "[The Dolphins] are a very good defensive team."

Again, I don't know what that means or how it's sound logic for benching Helu.

Whatever, an obviously motivated Torain carried the ball 10 times for 20 yards. Helu still managed to end the day as Washington's leading rusher, though, as he carried the ball six times for 41 yards in the second half.

This logical result would have stemmed from an illogical decision, but there's nothing justifiably rational about the Redskins right now.

10. Bear With Me Here

First of all, allow me to congratulate my colleague Matt Norlander, who not only got engaged Sunday, but got a win for his precious Bears (an awkward 37-13 slaughtering of Detroit) and a Devin Hester touchdown return.

And second of all, allow me to say I'm sorry for thinking the Bears stink. Because they don't. I can't justify saying that if I'm going to tout the Texans as the top team in the AFC; after all, the Bears play a complete brand of football. They're great on defense, they generate turnovers, they can run the ball on offense and, needless to say, their special teams are pretty good.

Now there's still room for an implosion here. Lord knows they were 2-3, couldn't protect Jay Cutler and looked like a lost team only a few weeks ago. But just like 2010, Mike Martz realized just how true the old equation of "seven-step drops + passing every down = quarterback injuries" really is and Chicago currently projects as the final NFC wild card.

The Bears getting ready to run the not-so-scary AFC West gauntlet, playing San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City and Denver over their next four games. No, that portion of the schedule could not come at a better time, and if you think that running a cover-2 against a read-option offense and having Brian Urlacher shadow Tebow depending on what side of the line he runs off won't be fun, well, you clearly don't enjoy pain.

With Seattle and Minnesota also on the sked -- only Green Bay is really scary -- and Detroit having to play the Packers twice over the rest of the schedule, Chicago could somehow easily weasel their way to 11-5. Again.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action...
... For the third time in his career, Reggie Bush scored multiple rushing touchdowns.
... The NFL West went undefeated on Sunday for the first time since division realignment. According to my buddy RJ Bell of PreGame.com, a $100 bet on that happening would've paid out $8,400. So, yeah, everyone saw it coming.
... Tebow's the only quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass and rush for 25 yards in each of his first seven starts.
... Drew Brees passed Brett Favre for the second-longest streak of consecutive games (37) with a touchdown pass.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

This is unfortunate for Ray Lewis:

Hot Seat Tracker

  • Todd Haley -- Welcome back, sir! We missed you. How can one manage to not prepare for the read-option after watching another division opponent look totally unprepared for it and lose?
  • Mike Shanahan -- He's the one who thought Grossman and Beck were a winning combination.
  • Juan Castillo -- It's either him or Andy Reid right?
  • Jim Caldwell -- If Caldwell doesn't get canned, I'm convinced no one does.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (1/4): Everyone else in the NFL has two wins, and the only game Indy might even reasonably come close to winning is their Week 16 matchup against the Jaguars. We can almost call this off.
Redskins (3/1): My darkhorse! I think they'll lose out, but I just don't buy the idea of Indy winning one game, much less three.
Vikings (4/1): They play the Packers Monday and get the Lions and Bears again.
Dolphins (5/1): That whole Stephen Ross in a leopard-skin bikini thing is working out well.
Panthers (6/1): Tough schedule coming down the pipe ... and they play the Colts!
Rams (7/1): NFC West schedule and they're starting to fight a little.

MVP Watch

Aaron Rodgers will most likely extend his season-long virtuoso performance on Monday night and further give us reason to pick him as MVP. But just in case he falters, I've got my eye on a few guys who could get hot and supplant him in the second half, via what we talked about above: Brady, Foster and Romo. Brady, well, duh, he's good. And he sure wasn't a unanimous MVP winner after Week 9 (or Week 10) in 2010. So it could happen. Foster's playing as well as any running back in the NFL right now; if the Texans win out and clinch the top spot in the AFC, people will talk about it. And if Romo can blow up over the next two months and get the Cowboys a division title, well, weirder things have happened.
Posted on: October 24, 2011 2:00 am
Edited on: October 24, 2011 2:31 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 7

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 7 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. He's Just a Winner
For the second time in three weeks, we lead the Pile with a story about Tim Tebow, thanks to Denver's 18-15 win in Miami on Sunday. And for the second time in three weeks, we lead the Pile with a story that was going to involve the phrase "Tim Tebow is a bad quarterback." And for the second time in three weeks I fully expect to be thrashed in the comments for not giving Tebow enough credit because he's a "winner."

This is fair, because Tebow did win. But it's unfair because Tebow looked unlike anything resembling an NFL quarterback for the majority of the game. Ask anyone who watched the game and they'll agree with you. My colleagues Pete Prisco ("looked lost," "isn't close to being a good quarterback") and Josh Katzowitz ("a mirage," "terrible," "horrendous," "no idea what he was doing") threw down lines on Tebow that belong on the back of the straight-to-DVD cover for the latest Adam Sandler movie.

To sum up everything about this game, let's watch the two-point conversion when Denver tied the game at 15. Before you click play, though, I want you to imagine you're a Dolphins defender and you know the Broncos only need two yards.


OK, presuming you played along, that video got McFly'd, because it never happened. Since, you know, anyone with a modicum of football sense saw the quarterback draw from Tebow coming on the play and snuffed it out. Somehow, the Dolphins failed to do this.

There's plenty of blame to go around, of course. Everyone on Miami's defensive coaching staff should be embarrassed for not knowing that was coming. And everyone on the Dolphins defense should be embarrassed for not recognizing what was happening, regardless of the playcall. Tony Sparano should be embarrassed after he went for a two-point conversion at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Dolphins up 12-0; an extra point would have rendered this entire discussion moot.

In case you don't believe me, just look at the rollercoaster that is the win probability for the Broncos over the course of Sunday's game, courtesy of AdvancedNFLStats.com:



I realize that knocking on Tebow after he led a comeback on the road (well, kind of) in the face of adversity makes me a jerk, especially when that adversity includes a) a coach who might not want him to succeed, b) no real help at the other offensive skill positions and c) lacking the appropriate skills to play quarterback in the NFL.

But you know what he does have? The best attitude in the NFL.

"It's a good stadium," a smiling Tebow said after the game. "I enjoy playing here. Sometimes you have to find a way and keep believing and keep fighting."

That's classic Tebow, even if he had no business winning the game. I like what I heard on Twitter Sunday -- that Tebow is everything his critics say he is and yet, at the same time, everything his fans say he is -- because it's true. Tebow's a mechanically flawed, imperfect quarterback for the NFL, but he's fantastic young man who works his ass off and has such an improbably high level of faith in a higher power that he's automatically a lightning rod for discussion and/or controversy.

Look, I like Tebow and I don't necessarily enjoy taking the side of the argument where I have to dog the guy. I don't, I swear. But so very much about the Broncos victory in Miami was about the Dolphins inability to operate as a successful football team, and so very much of the Broncos victory was not about Denver's ability to dominate offensively.

But pick a side -- you have to, of course! -- and call me a jerk in the comments either way. Just remember that if you're the one screaming about how he's a winner you're on the same side as Skip Bayless and and LeBron James.

2. A Hue, Tiny Mistake
On the bright side, Tebow only cost the Broncos one first-round draft pick. Carson Palmer might, depending on how Oakland finishes the season, cost the Raiders two of them. Although if Palmer plays like he did on Sunday afternoon, it's pretty unlikely, since throwing three picks in one half isn't a great formula for making it to the AFC Championship.

Palmer did just that on Sunday, helping Kansas City blowout the Raiders 28-0 in Oakland. Oh yeah, it's awkward, and we'll get to that. But real quick, let me say I'm sorry, personally, to my colleague Matt Moore (not the guy who stinks for the Dolphins; and no, that never gets old) for consistently ripping the Chiefs over the past few weeks. They've now won three-straight games and next week they're playing the Chargers to determine who'll be in first place in the AFC West. Yes, the NFL is as insane as you think.

Back to the Raiders: for the most part, Hue Jackson's done a nice job with this team so far in 2011 but he's shown an ability to botch a decision or two. And he botched a big one on Sunday, waiting until 10 minutes left in the third quarter to bring in Palmer for Kyle Boller, who was the first quarterback in Raiders history to throw three picks in the first half of a single outing.

It's not that Hue should have yanked Boller more quickly, or that Hue should have left Boller in. It's just that he went into the game with no idea of how to handle the Palmer situation and by bringing in Palmer -- who obviously wasn't ready, because otherwise he would have started, right? -- for part of the second half, he not only offered up a pile of doubt for Raiders fans to judge Palmer on, but he put his would-be franchise quarterback out there for injury.

"Uncertainty at quarterback is not what led to interceptions or anything like that," Jackson said on Sunday, instead chalking up the lack of a clear-cut decision and the uncertainty at quarterback to "some gamesmanship."

Jackson was in a bad situation, because Darren McFadden was injured and Boller looked miserable, but if you're coaching this team and you're the guy who pulled the trigger on the Palmer trade, you need to have a plan locked in and stick with it regardless of how poorly things are going.

3. Elsewhere in the AFC West ...
For such a seemingly shoddy division, the AFC West is slinging some Week 7 storylines -- we've got Tebow, the Raiders controversy and the Chiefs getting back into the race. Oh yes, and the Chargers losing a "shoulda won" game against the Jets on Sunday, falling 27-21 in New York on a day that, instead of establishing the Chargers as one of the elite teams in the AFC, exposed them as having the same flaws they've always had.

"We can sit here and think of a bunch of reasons why," Philip Rivers said after the game. "The bottom line is that we came out playing really well. We just didn't finish off the game."

The Bolts came out white-hot -- on the fourth play from scrimmage, Donald Butler stripped Dustin Keller and took a "fumble" to the house to give San Diego an early lead. The Chargers caught a break on a Nick Mangold holding call that led to a Mark Sanchez interception and turned it into an Antonio Gates touchdown.

Gates return was the early key for San Diego, who appeared to solve their red-zone woes with the future Hall of Famer in the starting lineup.

But Brian Schottenheimer and Sanchez figured out that the Chargers had a bigger problem -- they don't have anyone that can matchup man-to-man with Plaxico Burress who, just a few months removed from being in prison, caught three touchdowns in the Jets win.

There's another problem for Norv's team, too, and it's Rivers playing poorly. I'm not sure whether or not the two-minute drill they ran at the end of the game was Turner's doing or Rivers' work, but it was one of the most mangled series of plays I've seen in a long, long time.

After holding the Jets to a field goal and a six-point lead, the Chargers started their final drive with 1:29 on the clock. They then proceeded to run five plays, move the ball a whopping 25 yards and burn 1:18 off the clock, meaning that in the most dire of circumstances, one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL moved the ball a quarter of the field at a snail-like pace of 3.12 seconds per yard.

Can you imagine how hot Turner's seat would be if the Chargers had coughed up a couple of their September squeak-by victories?



4. Quite Unprobable
It's a shame that Emmitt Smith's no longer dropping knowledge bombs on television, because I'd love to hear what the Hall of Famer would say about rookie third-rounder DeMarco Murray breaking his single-game Cowboys record for rushing yards in a game after piling up 253 yards on 25 carries.

As I wrote in this space after Week 2, "the former Sooner is a highly-talented receiver out of the backfield, and has the potential to be a serious threat." That was based on what I'd seen from Murray in very limited action through the first two weeks and, clearly, it was an understatement.

The Cowboys still didn't fire on all cylinders, but it doesn't take a maximum effort to beat up on the Rams, even to the point of a 34-7 whipping. Murray won't run like that every week but, man, even if you take away his first-quarter, 91-yard touchdown run, Murray still averaged 6.75 yards per carry against St. Louis.

Having talent, though, is typical of the Cowboys. Using it to maximize their success on gameday's the bigger issue. But with Seattle, Buffalo, Washington, Miami and Arizona on the schedule over the next six weeks, it's hard not to want to double down on their chances of winning the NFC East.

5. Six Or One-Half Dozen
One of the reasons to love the Cowboys? The Redskins are in the middle of a freefall. And it's all on the Jekyll and Jekyll combo that Mike Shanahan is rolling out under center this year.

Honestly, what would it take for Shanahan to admit that he made a mistake coming into 2011 with Rex Grossman and John Beck as his starting quarterbacks? Because before the season started, it was an indefensibly ridiculous gamble, the kind that seemed just bat-poop crazy enough to work but obviously wouldn't anyway.

Yet after four weeks, the Redskins were 3-1, held sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Sure, the end of the world was nigh, but at least Shanny seemed smarter.

Now, after John Beck's performance -- 22/37 for 279 yards, a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and a pick -- on Sunday in a 33-20 loss in Charlotte, it's really impossible to imagine that they'll be a mathematical contender for much longer.

"I think overall John played very well first time out," Shanahan said Sunday.

Beck's numbers weren't that terrible, but he didn't look particularly adept at running Washington's offense and whether or not he's the answer for the Redskins shouldn't even be a question any more: he's not.

Adding to the problems for Washington is a report that running back Tim Hightower has a torn ACL (which would obviously put his season in jeopardy) and that receiver Santana Moss will miss 3-4 weeks with a broken hand. Oh yes, and Rex Grossman has pneumonia, so he's unlikely to be available any time soon.

Like I said on the podcast before Week 7, I'll pull a reverse Rex right now and guarantee that the Redskins finish in the basement of the NFC East. That's a better bet than them winning the division at this point.

6. Everyone Off This Bandwagon!
Those first five weeks were sweet for Lions fans, and as Mike Freeman wrote from Detroit on Sunday, it's not panic time yet, but it's getting close.

That's mainly because in Detroit's 23-16 loss to Atlanta on Sunday, their flaws as a team were really on display. With Jerome Harrison out for the season and Jahvid Best potentially sidelined for the year, this team has zero running game -- Maurice Morris led the way with nine carries for 50 yards.

They can't stop the run either; Detroit ranks 28th in the league in rushing yards allowed (129.4 yards per game) and Michael Turner carved them up on Sunday, ensuring that Matthew Stafford didn't get another shot at a comeback.

Getting a look Sunday might not be the biggest concern for Stafford either, because a bad result from the MRI he's reportedly undergoing Monday could spell for doom for what appeared to be a magical season. Stafford might be fine and then the passing game isn't a concern.

But if the Lions can't run the ball and they can't stop the run, they're going to struggle to win games against teams later in the year.

And all that swagger we've been talking about? Somehow it's backfiring. Last week it was Jim Schwartz' fiery tirade towards Jim Harbaugh; this week Lions defensive players were supposedly taunting Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan after he suffered an injury.

The Lions have enough talent to keep winning, and the future is bright in Detroit. And none of the things happening to them are, in an individual sense, devastating. But them all together and it's a quick recipe for the wheels coming off.

7. And Back on This One!
I was pretty sure the Texans would cover on Sunday. Win? Maybe. But it would be close. After all, Houston's been pretty putrid on offense since Andre Johnson injured his hamstring two weeks ago, managing just 39 points in losses to the Ravens and Raiders.

Needless to say, then, I wasn't prepared for the 41-7 smackdown that Arian Foster and company laid on the Titans. Foster piled up 234 total yards and three touchdowns, Matt Schaub missed on only five passes and the Texans defense stifled the Titans, holding them to 148 total yards on Sunday.

Chris Johnson, who said afterwards that his play is "not an issue," was, um, the biggest issue, rushing for just 18 yards on 10 carries.

"It's just a situation I got to continue to say I can't do nothing but keep working hard, running hard and doing what I can do for this team," Johnson said.

The problem is that Johnson's not running hard. Ask anyone who's watched him play this year and it's pretty apparent that he's not the same guy who deserved the big contract he held out for prior to this year. He's not showing any burst through the hole, he's got happy feet at the line and he looks like a running back who might be really fast but doesn't know how to run.

That's unfortunate for the Titans, obviously, but I'm not sure it would really matter in an AFC South race that's already wrapped up for all intents and purposes. The Texans showed on Sunday that despite their flaws, their still head and shoulders above the Jaguars, Titans and Colts. They might be second only to the 49ers when it comes to odds for making the playoffs, and with two matchups against the Jaguars, one against the Browns, one more against the Titans and a trip to Indy still on the docket, nine wins seems like a shoo-in.

Which means so is the division title; everyone else in the South is just that terrible this year.

8. Recent Super Bowl Rematches
I thought it was kind of interesting that we had a pair of matchups from the last three Super Bowls this year in Week 7, as the Colts and Saints squared off on Sunday night and the Steelers and Cardinals played during the day.

I also thought it was interesting that the teams who lost those Super Bowls are terrible -- the Colts remain winless and got absolutely whooped 62-7 by New Orleans Sunday night. I'm as guilty as anyone of discussing how important Peyton Manning is to Indy's chances, and I think they'd be a .500 team with him this year.

But they'd still be bad, because the dude doesn't play defense, and he certainly isn't responsible for Drew Brees throwing five touchdowns and only four incompletions in a single game.

As for Arizona/Pittsburgh, man does that Kevin Kolb trade look awesome or what? Kolb had a 73-yard touchdown, but it's poppycock to give him too much credit, since it was basically a five-yard drag route that LaRod Stephens-Howling turned into a long score.

I used this analogy in the podcast, but it's like the Cardinals are Netflix and Kolb is Qwikster, only the parent company doesn't have the option of hitting the reset button.


9. No Offense But ...
No offense. Like scoring and points and stuff -- there wasn't much of it during the early portion of the day games. Dolphins-Broncos, Redskins-Panthers, Browns-Seahawks; all were field-goal contests for at least the first half and, in some cases, longer.

There were plenty of scores (49, according to NFL Network's Red Zone, during the "day" games) but clearly offensive output was down from previous weeks. Brees blew up and Aaron Rodgers blew up and Ben Roethlisberger blew up, but those guys were the only quarterbacks to go over 300 yards on Sunday.

By contrast, four guys went over 400 yards in Week 1 (and 14 went over 300). Nine went over 300 yards in Week 2. 11 over 300 in Week 3. 10 in Week 4. Six quarterbacks crossed 300 yards in Week 5, and just six again in Week 6.

To me, this represents the point in the year where the defense finally caught up with the high-octane offenses in the NFL.

That doesn't mean the NFL's not a passing league any more, because it certainly is. Instead, a combination of the lockout, the reduced offseason workouts, the reduced in-season contact and rules designed to protect wide receivers and quarterbacks really set defenses back for the first few weeks of the 2011 season.

Lots of dudes could still break Dan Marino's record -- Aaron Rodgers is on pace 5,421 yards, Tom Brady's on pace for 5,768 yards -- but we've said that before only to see cold weather, injuries and improved defenses slow down incredible passing numbers.

It might just be happening again right now.

10. On Another Planet
When we see great athletes succeed, sometimes it's difficult to see just how dominant they are, because the game moves so slowly and looks so easy for them. This is often called "the zone."

Aaron Rodgers isn't just hanging out in this space -- at the beginning of the 2010 playoffs, he paid cash for about 30 acres of land in the zone and he's been living there ever since.

His level of play in his first three years running the Packers offense was incredibly impressive, but what he's doing in 2011 is absolutely phenomenal and, without being crass, watching him carve up defenses with precision is like football porn.

Rodgers has a combination of skills -- a lightning quick release, rapid movement through his reads, the ability to look off defenders, quick feet, to name a few -- that make him as deadly and precise a quarterback as we've seen in the NFL in a long time.

That's not a knock on Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, because Rodgers is different. And right now he's better -- it seems like every single drive he makes a throw that knocks your socks off and seems virtually impossible.

If Rodgers keeps up his current pace, he'll become the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards, complete more than 70 percent of his passes and throw less than 10 interceptions. (Drew Brees accomplished the first two in 2009 but threw 11 picks.)

There are things that could go wrong, of course, but if you look back at 2010, Rodgers didn't even really get hot until November and holy hell did he get hot.

Just remember that when you're deciding what to watch over these next few weeks.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Olindo Mare made three-straight field goals, each five yards longer than the last (35, 40, 45) because of two-straight Panthers offensive
... Brian Robison apologized for kicking T.J Lang in the groin and said it was an accident. The GIF below disagrees. Thankfully, Lang says his groin is fine. In case you care.
... Will Indy remember Sean Payton eating a hot dog the next time they play the Saints?
... The Broncos first third-down conversion on Sunday came with 4:22 remaining. In the third quarter.
... Calvin Johnson became the first wide receiver in Lions history with 10 or more touchdowns in three seasons on Sunday. That still doesn't mean Matt Millen should have drafted all those guys.
... Big ups to Tony Gonzalez for becoming the NFL's second all-time leader in receptions.
... Mike Wallace now has six-straight games with a reception of 40 yards or longer.
... The Packers are just the fourth team in NFL history to start the season 7-0 after winning a Super Bowl.
... Cam Newton extended his own streak -- only player in NFL history with seven or more rushing and passing touchdowns through seven games.
... Newton also tied Vince Young's record for rookie rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, with seven. Something tells me he breaks it.

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Insane of the Week
"There's a lot of things,that can kill a man..a lot of ways 2 die...and some already dead,that walk besides me"

Ray LaMontagne probably couldn't have imagined the grizzly death that went down on Sunday night.

GIF O' THE WEEK
That the referee -- who quite clearly saw Brian Robison kick T.J. Lang in the man-region -- didn't throw Robison out for this is absolutely impressive. Even Roman Harper thinks this is cheap.



Hot Seat Tracker
It's totally worth noting that Todd Haley isn't on this list. Impressive move by him.
  • Jack Del Rio -- Some kid asked Rashean Mathis when JDR was getting fired. I texted my aunt in Jacksonville asking if it was one of her sons. She said it wasn't but that she was wondering the same thing.
  • Jim Caldwell -- Just because Indy's going to ride him out doesn't mean his job is safe.
  • Tony Sparano -- Adios, amigo.
  • Steve Spagnuolo -- The Rams are crushed by injuries but the bad losses are piling up. They need a good close to the season.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- He's got the Cards practicing on their off day during their bye week. Might be feeling some pressure.
  • Norv Turner -- That two-minute drill against the Jets was a borderline fireable offense on its own.
  • Mike Shanahan -- What happens if the Redskins finish 4-12?
Chasing Andrew Luck
This is a heated race, folks. Certainly more interesting than the AFC South.

Colts (-500): Is point differential a tiebreaker? Because that would be good -- er, bad for the Colts.
Dolphins (-450): Their schedule is also quite bleak. At least their fans are happy?
Rams (-350): The NFC West schedule should keep them from landing the top pick, but it's not a guarantee.
Cardinals (-225): Wouldn't this be something after they traded for Kevin Kolb?
Jaguars/Vikings (-200): There sure are a lot of teams on this list who already invested heavily in quarterbacks.

MVP Watch
As I noted above, Rodgers is doing unholy things right now. There might be some sort of interesting, half-hearted argument at the end of the year, but if Rodgers keeps doing what he's done through seven weeks, he'll win in a landslide.
Posted on: September 15, 2011 11:49 am
Edited on: September 15, 2011 3:30 pm
 

Film Room: Eagles vs. Falcons preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



The uniquely compelling storylines surrounding this game pertain to off-field matters.

But those storylines wouldn’t exist if not for the action taking place on-field. (The reason you don’t know the names of the 17 people arrested in the dogfighting sting in Pass Christian, Mississippi on April 24, 2007 is because none of those 17 people had ever juked and jived 50-plus yards for a touchdown in an NFL game.)

Here’s an on-field breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ upcoming match up against their former quarterback.

1. Has he really changed?
As a leader and student of the game, Michael Vick has clearly grown since his days in Atlanta. But his recent growth as a pocket passer has been overstated. Vick is a sounder technician and smarter decision-maker than he was as a Falcon, but that’s not unlike saying Leonardo DiCaprio is a better actor now than he was on Growing Pains.

Of course he’s better now – he’s older and had nowhere to go but up.

Vick still doesn’t diagnose defenses with great acuity. He struggles to identify blitzes and relies too much on sandlot tactics. To be clear, those sandlot tactics are incomparably spectacular; few quarterbacks make as many plays as Vick. But few also leave as many plays on the field.


2. Speed Factor
The most significant resource Vick has in Philadelphia that he didn’t have in Atlanta is speed around him. Vick’s own speed can give defensive coordinators nightmares. Vick’s speed coupled with the speed of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy make for night terrors.

It’s the type of speed that can kill – not just quickly, but also slowly. Defensive backs on both sides of the field must play with a meaty cushion against Eagle wideouts, which makes it easier for Vick to identify coverages and throwing lanes. Teams also must keep their safeties over the top, which puts added responsibility on linebackers to cover crossing patterns inside, thus opening up the flats for McCoy out of the backfield (McCoy’s 79 receptions easily led all running backs last season).

Vick’s speed also makes life easier on his offensive tackles, as defensive ends are often instructed to keep him in the pocket by rushing with less vigorous containment tactics. Because opposing pass-rushes can be naturally tentative, the Eagles don’t need to bother with play-action.

3. Zoning
It’s foolish to play man coverage against the Eagles. For starters, few teams have two corners fast enough to consistently run with Jackson and Maclin. What’s more, in man coverage, the defenders turn their backs to the ball and run away from the action by following receivers, which creates enormous outside running lanes for a quarterback to exploit if he gets outside the pocket (this is how Vick killed the Giants in Week 15 last season).

Fortunately, the Falcons are a zone-oriented defense, so they won’t have to adjust their scheme much for this game. But they will have to adjust their execution. Last Sunday against Chicago, the Bears used downfield route combinations that stretched the Falcon safeties over the top and created gaping voids in the deep-intermediate sectors of the zone. It was problematic.
 
Philly’s outside speed will only exacerbate this problem Sunday night – especially given that Falcon corners Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson prefer to play off coverage at the line of scrimmage rather than delivering a jam.

4. The Solution
To prevent the Eagles from stretching the zone coverage, the Falcons must force Vick to get rid of the ball quickly. Doing this will also put the onus on Vick’s presnap reads and prevent him from extending the play and conjuring his sandlot magic. Mike Smith and Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder should tell their men again and again that the earlier Vick gets rid of the ball Sunday night, the better.

Atlanta is capable of bringing heat. As we talked about last week, Smith has adopted a more aggressive philosophy than he had as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. The zone blitz out of a 4-3 base or nickel package has become a staple in the Falcons’ scheme.

With pressuring Vick being so important, and with the Eagles having a makeshift, incohesive interior line, it’s as viable a tactic as ever.

5. Control Clock
For as much hoopla as there’s been about the addition of Julio Jones, the Falcons are still a power-run team (their unbalanced play-calling against Chicago was a function of the lopsided score). Michael Turner is a bruising high-volume runner and the offensive line is an unathletic but well-sized group.

The Falcons, working out of a Mike Mularkey playbook that’s rich with two-back and two-tight end formations, are already built to mount long drives. They’ll be wise to shorten the game and avoid a shootout with the Eagles.

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


Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 4:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Falcons preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



On paper, the top two seeds from last season’s NFC playoffs are both improved heading into 2011. Consequently, the Atlanta Falcons have become somewhat of a trendy Super Bowl pick. But the Chicago Bears? They’re the team most are picking to finish right behind Detroit in the NFC North. In analyzing five key threads these teams share, we might understand why.

1. Receiver Infusion
Thomas Dimitroff realized that Atlanta’s offense was a playmaker short of being nearly unstoppable. So, the fourth-year general manager traded five premium draft picks to move up and select Alabama wideout Julio Jones sixth overall.

Jones is a great fit because he’s not only a dynamic downfield threat who also has the thickness to go inside, but thanks to his days in the Crimson Tide’s black-and-blue offense, he’s also a savvy downfield blocker. That’s important, as Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has always had a predilection for power runs out of two tight-end/two back formations.

In Chicago, with a system built around downfield routes out of three-and four-receiver formations, offensive coordinator Mike Martz needed more firepower outside. Instead of reaching for an unproven wideout late in the first round, overpaying for free agents Santana Moss or Santonio Holmes or taking a risk on Braylon Edwards (attitude) or Plaxico Burress (rustiness), the Bears acquired  Roy Williams after his star fully plummeted in Dallas.

Williams, a straight-line runner with big hands and feet, was never a good fit for the Cowboys’ shifty catch-and-run oriented system. But in the 28 games he played for Martz in Detroit, Williams produced 2,148 yards receiving. However, whatever optimism the Detroit success instilled was likely blown away by Williams’ dropped passes and admission to being out of shape this past August (candor has always been his Achilles heel).

Because the Bears refuse to admit that Devin Hester is merely a return specialist with modest slot receiving ability (i.e. NOT a starter), it was rising third-year pro Johnny Knox whom Williams supplanted in the lineup. Knox, who has superb speed and quickness and excellent chemistry with Jay Cutler, particularly in deciphering zone coverages, is eager to recapture his starting job (and thus, his leverage for a new contract in the near future). He will, if Williams continues to struggle. And the Bears’ passing game will essentially be right back in the same place it was a year ago.

The Falcons figure to clearly have an improved pass attack. The Bears are TBD.

2. Big meaty offensive lines
To put it politely, Atlanta’s and Chicago’s offensive lines both feature more size than athleticism. The lunch pail approach has worked great for the Falcons. They have a straightforward power-run offense that’s conducive to forming good chemistry up front. In the passing game (where a line’s athletic limitations get exposed), the Falcons rarely use more than three wide receivers, which makes an extra tight end or running back available to stay in and block. In short, the Falcons can bend their system for their offensive line.
 
The Bears, on the other hand, are more inclined to bend (or break) their offensive line for their system. Martz frequently has Cutler take seven-step drops, which only gives heavy-footed offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb, laterally stiff guard Chris Williams and the rest of the front more time to get beat in pass protection. Also, with the running back often being an important receiving option in Martz’s system, Bears linemen must shoulder more responsibility in blitz identification and pickup – an area in which they’ve struggled.

Hence, the 52 times Cutler was sacked last season.

3. The traditional  4-3 defense: evolve vs. resolve
Mike Smith was a classic zone-based 4-3 defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. But over his three seasons in Atlanta, he’s drifted away from vanilla Cover 2 tactics and towards more diverse blitzes and zone exchanges. Impressive considering he employs these tactics out of traditional base and nickel sets.
 
Lovie Smith was a classic zone-based 4-3 defensive coordinator in St. Louis. Over his seven years in Chicago, he’s ... remained a proponent of classic 4-3 zone-based defense.

The Bears are the only team that virtually still runs a fulltime strict Cover 2. They’ve made it work largely because they have two perfect linebackers for this scheme in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But as we’ll explore more in-depth another week, there are significant vulnerabilities to a Cover 2. Those vulnerabilities are why Smith and the Falcons have chosen to evolve.

4. The No. 2 defensive end
Arguably the best two defensive ends in the NFC are Julius Peppers and John Abraham. Both have devastating explosiveness off the edge and both can play the run (Peppers is by far the NFL’s best all-around run-stopping 4-3 end; Abraham is more finesse-oriented but is still underrated as a backside chaser).

What the Falcons learned last season is a pass-rush is incomplete without a second outside presence. Kroy Biermann is a very active run-defender, but he registered just three sacks in his debut season as a starter. So, Thomas Dimitroff spent $11 million (guaranteed) on free agent Ray Edwards, who each of the past two years in Minnesota posted at least eight sacks against frequent one-on-one blocking opposite Jared Allen. Edwards is also an adept all-around run-defender.

The Bears have a stalwart No. 2 pass-rusher of their own in Israel Idonije. Versatile enough to line up inside or outside, the ninth-year veteran tied Peppers for the team lead in sacks last season (eight). Idonije does not quite have Edwards’ quickness around the corner, but he’s one of the best in the league at executing stunts.

5. Safeties
Over the years, watching the Bears try out different young safeties in the starting lineup has been like watching Gilbert Brown try on outfits that don’t make him look fat. The Bears drafted Danieal Manning in ’06; Kevin Payne in ’07; Craig Steltz in ’08; Al Afalava in ’09; Major Wright in ’10 and Chris Conte in ’11.

All, with the exception of Conte, were given a shot at starting. And, assuming that newly signed Brandon Meriweather soon supplants Wright as the current first-string free safety, all were ultimately deemed unqualified.

The Falcons have taken a flier with young safeties, as well. The difference is theirs have succeeded. Thomas DeCoud, a third-round pick in ’08, started all 16 games each of the past two seasons. His instincts in coverage have improved and he’s a fast, firm open-field tackler.

His running mate, William Moore, a second-round pick in ’09, stayed healthy for the first time last season and showed genuine game-changing potential over 15 starts. Moore’s a fierce hitter who is developing in pass defense quicker than expected.

So who will win? Check out the video below. And see who our experts pick for all the Week 1 games


Read Andy's Film Room breakdown of Jets-Cowboys.

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter and contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: August 13, 2011 8:48 am
Edited on: August 13, 2011 9:02 pm
 

Verdict in on Falcons Julio Jones: 'Outstanding'

Posted by Will Brinson

The Falcons made a bold move on draft day when they jumped 21 spots -- in a massive deal with Cleveland -- to land Julio Jones out of Alabama. At the time, we wrote that he "better be a home run" to justify the move, and we still stand by that.

Fortunately, the early results are in and Jones looks like a pretty solid draft pick for Atlanta. Granted, Friday night's loss against Miami was only one game of the preseason, but he drew some nice compliments from usually reserved Falcons coach Mike Smith.

"I think Julio got indoctrinated into what the NFL is about and in terms of the plays he made, I think they were outstanding," Smith said, per Jay Adams of the team's official website. "I think all three touches were for first downs. He showed some skills that we saw when he was playing at the University of Alabama, and we'll watch the tape I think we'll find some things that we've got to correct.

"We all made mistakes, starting with me in terms of the game management and all of that. I really thought that Julio did some good things."

He did indeed. Jones looked extremely explosive in the early going, catching two balls for 43 yards and taking a reverse around the right side for 12 yards.

Jones was targeted four times in total during the first three series that spanned about 12 minutes of the first quarter -- the Falcons first two offensive plays of the preseason targeted Jones but Matt Ryan missed the first throw and Vontae Davis was draped on Jones during the second one.

Yeah, it's safe to say that they wanted to not just establish Jones but their "new" identity as an explosive offensive team early on. It didn't work -- at first.

During the next two series, the Falcons marched down the field and punched it in the end zone, once with a Michael Turner score and then again when Harry Douglas made a fantastic catch on an even better throw from Ryan.

Those two possessions featured Jones being integrated much more seamlessly, particularly when Jones was able to take short passes from Ryan for big gains.

It's the explosive playmaking that Atlanta wanted to add this season and if Jones first few series are any indication of his ability, it certainly will be outstanding.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: May 23, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 6:58 pm
 

Falcons latest team to decline Hard Knocks

Posted by Andy Benoit

Over the weekend, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff indicated that his team might be ready for the HBO Hard Knocks spotlight. Dimitroff said the club turned down the opportunity two years ago but may respond differently if approached again.

That different response won’t come in 2011. Falcons coach Mike Smith told NFL Network’s Scott Hanson that the team had internal discussions about the possibility but came to the decision not to do it.

Lately, it seems like turning down Hard Knocks has become as popular as watching Hard Knocks. The Buccaneers and Lions have both said no, thanks. The Broncos are not interested. No one has mentioned the Patriots, Colts or Steelers, but we’ll assume that the old “when Hell freezes over” cliché applies to the likelihood of them participating. And, sadly for all fans, the Jets have indicated that they do not wish to give an encore performance.

Maybe these rejections won’t matter, anyway. After all, Hard Knocks is based on the assumption that training camps will be held.

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

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