Tag:Nick Fairley
Posted on: September 28, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 2:30 pm

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Lions preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 5:29 pm

Fairley out for Sunday but practices finally

FairleyPosted by Josh Katzowitz

Remember, after the Lions took Nick Fairley in the first round, how we all talked about how awesome the Lions defensive line was going to be with Fairley and Ndamukong Suh? In fact, with Fairley and Suh, in his second year, the Lions were going to be a dominant force for years to come.

Even Suh was excited about the possibilities.

“It’s going to be exciting to be able to have a guy like that come out and be really a truly impact guy from the first couple days of him getting on the field,” Suh said in May. “I think on paper we have one of the strongest defensive lines across the board. It’s going to be exciting with that, but we’ve got to go out there and prove it. It may look good on paper, but you definitely want to get out there and make some noise.”

It looked great on paper, and so far, that’s where it’s stayed because Fairley hasn’t played yet.

Fairley and Suh Possibilities
That theme will continue this Sunday. As Rapid Reporter John Kreger points out, the Lions injury report from Friday lists Fairley as out, meaning he definitely won’t suit up Sunday. That means it’s the third-straight week we won’t get to see how Fairley and Suh play together (not that it’s totally bothered the Lions; they are 2-0 without Fairley after all).

That said, there was good Fairley news Friday.

As the Detroit Free Press writes, Fairley returned to practice today for the first time since Aug. 1 after spending the last couple of weeks conditioning and getting ready to return.

“It’s (his) first day,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “Still got a long way to go, but there’s steps along the way, and this was one of them.”

So, when can he return? Next week perhaps?

“You can’t tell,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “I’m not a trainer or a doctor or anything like that, but my hope as a football coach is to get him out there and let’s get him ready to roll, 'cause I think he’s pretty good.”

The injury issue first came up in training camp when, after a practice, Fairley mysteriously was spotted in a walking boot. Fairley said his ankle injury wasn’t a big deal. And it wasn’t. Until it was determined that the injury was worse than Lions trainers originally thought and that he had to have surgery. Fairley was supposed to miss a significant portion of training camp, but obviously, he’s been gone much longer than that.

But he got a little bit closer today to jumping off the paper and back on the field.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: August 8, 2011 10:52 am
Edited on: August 8, 2011 12:09 pm

Mikel Leshoure tears Achilles, done for season

Posted by Will Brinson

UPDATE (11:40 a.m.): The Leshoure injury, per our Lions Rapid Reporter John Kreger, is a torn Achilles and, according to Jim Schwartz, the running back will have surgery as early as Tuesday.

He'll likely miss the entire season as a result. Terrible news for the Lions and a tremendous blow for the youngster. It's also going to add fuel to the fire for the question our own Mike Freeman asked this morning in the "Daily Shoutout" -- are injuries up in training camps this year?

Lions running back Mikel Leshoure was supposed to come in and complement Jahvid Best, giving the Lions a devastating one-two punch out of the backfield. But things got off to a rocky start for the rook on Monday when he was carted off the field with what is being described by our Lions Rapid Reporter John Kreger (who's on the scene, obviously) as a "serious left-leg injury."

"RB Mikel Leshoure is being carted off the practice field after sustaining what appears to be a serious left leg injury," Kreger wrote. "Leshoure could not put weight on the leg as trainers helped him to the cart."

Leshoure's not exactly the first rookie to deal with injury in Lions camp either -- as we've previously noted, Nick Fairley is dealing with a serious foot injury that required surgery and could end up costing him a couple of weeks of practice.

And, second-round wideout Titus Young, per Kreger, left the practice field with "muscle tightness" and is currently padless and hanging out on the sideline with his legs wrapped.

Not exactly a great start for a team that many believed could "make the jump" this season.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: August 3, 2011 5:39 pm
Edited on: August 3, 2011 6:21 pm

Fairley will miss 'significant' portion of camp

FairleyPosted by Josh Katzowitz

When we told you Tuesday that Lions rookie DT Nick Fairley wasn’t practicing -- and was, in fact, in a walking boot -- it might have caught you off guard.

Fairley said the ankle injury wasn’t a big deal and that he was doing whatever it took to get back as soon as possible (though he also let on he didn’t know exactly when that would be).

Well, we have a better idea today. As Lions Rapid Reporter John Kreger writes, Fairley underwent surgery today in Charlotte. Although an exact diagnosis of Fairley’s injury was not released, he’s expected to miss a “significant portion” of training camp while he rehabs.

The Lions decided to send Fairley to Charlotte after observing him Tuesday. Apparently, the team was concerned because the injury was more serious than previously believed.

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Posted on: August 2, 2011 3:07 pm

Nick Fairley in walking boot at Lions practice

Posted by Will Brinson

There were many concerns surrounding Auburn DT Nick Fairley leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft. In fact, such concerns are precisely why he fell to the Lions at No. 13 overall. (For the record, we loved the pick.)

One of those concerns wasn't "injury" necessarily, but it's already become a problem for the Lions just a few days into the 2011 season, as Fairley's at Lions practice with a walking boot on his left foot after injuring it in drills Monday.

"It's not [a big setback] at all," Fairley said, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free-Press. "I'm doing whatever I can do to get ready to get back as soon as I can."

Yes, it would be safe to wonder when exactly "as soon" as he can will be. Well, all Fairley could offer was, "really don't know yet."

Lions coach Jim Schwartz was a little less vague.

"Still doing some tests on him and having a lot of different people look at his stuff, but he’s down for now, and we’ll see what happens," Schwartz said, also per Birkett.

The walking boot isn't the end of the world, of course, and it's probably better to be safe than sorry when it comes to a first-round investment like Fairley especially just 24 hours after his injury.

But concern will certainly arise with respect to Fairley's conditioning if the injury lingers and/or he's not available soon after the injury. That isn't necessarily a reflection on him, but it's how things work with NFL and the expectations that come along with being a first-round pick who slips because of work-ethic concerns.

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Posted on: July 13, 2011 8:34 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2011 10:32 am

Stafford, Arian Foster join CBS Football Podcast

Posted by Will Brinson

We've got a star-studded podcast on this heavy-with-news Wednesday, as Matthew Stafford of the Lions and Arian Foster of the Texans -- along with Gatorade Player of the Year nominee and Tennessee-commit Justin Worley -- join me to talk some football.

I chat with Stafford about Pete Prisco naming him a breakout player ("he's a smart guy"), the hype that the Lions are getting, wanting cornerbacks in free agency and whether he liked the pick of Nick Fairley (versus an offensive lineman).

Foster talks about his success last season, what his expectations are for next year, whether he's worried about his number of carries in 2010 (he calls the 300-theory "a myth"), and how often people come up to him and tell him about their fantasy football leagues and how he saved them ("every single day").

He also discusses the Subway charity work he's doing right now -- for a limited time, anyone who can donate $10 to the West Alabama Food Bank by texting "FOOD" to 27722, and Subway will match each donation between now and the end of July. So go do that, please.

Just hit the play button and don't forget to Subscribe via iTunes.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download.

Posted on: June 30, 2011 4:36 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2011 6:02 pm

Podcast: Suh talks Lions, labor, Fairley and more

Posted by Will Brinson

Ndamukong Suh had a pretty good year last year, and it stands to reason that 2011 could be even better.

Not only do the Lions look much-improved, but he'll have a wrecking ball partner-in-crime in Nick Fairley to team up with and go after quarterbacks.

We talked to Suh about the Lions, the lockout, Fairley, delivering avocados and much, much more on the podcast today.

Just hit the play button and don't forget to Subscribe via iTunes.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download.

Posted on: June 12, 2011 11:09 am

McGinest jokes about ending NFL retirement

Willie McGinest was joking when he said he'd like to make a comeback (Getty).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Willie McGinest, who’s spent the years since he retired as an NFL LB in 2008 working for the NFL Network, was in Detroit on Friday, filming a segment for his employer.

He participated in the conditioning circuit with the approximately 30 Lions in the player-led workout, and afterward, he took part in position drills with Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Andre Fluellen and Willie Young.

McGinest felt so good, in fact, that he told the Detroit Free Press that he’s thinking about making a comeback.

"We're going to see if I get offered a contract now," McGinest said. "After I send this tape out to a few teams, we're going to see."

He was, ahem, not being serious, as he explained in a statement to Pro Football Talk, “Even though I looked as good as I did, this number 55 has been retired for three years and plans to stay retired. The only thing that will bring me back is a one-day contract with New England to retire as a Patriot.”

Though I can see why the Lions might want to give him a shot – our Lions offseason checkup pointed out LB Bobby Carpenter isn’t exactly irreplaceable and they’ll have to fill the void left by Julian Peterson – there’s just no way the skills of McGinest, who turns 40 in December, would be NFL-worthy at this point.

But, if McGinest WERE serious, he could do worse than Detroit. After all, with the Lions, he’d get to play behind the best young DL in the league with Suh and Nick Fairley, and he’d be on a team that could be a trendy poll to make the playoffs.

Instead, McGinest will get to keep watching them on TV and then commenting on it for your pleasure.

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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