Tag:Ray Rice
Posted on: January 4, 2012 11:21 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 11:46 am
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Film Room: Texans vs. Bengals wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Bengals managed to back-in to the playoffs despite going 1-6 against teams with a winning record. They may not seem like a dangerous playoff opponent, but if you’re the Texans – a team that’s 0-0 all-time in postseason play – every playoff opponent is dangerous. Here’s a breakdown of the Saturday afternoon wild card matchup.


1. Bengals run game vs. Texans front seven
Cincinnati’s methodical, power-based rushing attack (ranked 19th) struggles against fast defensive front sevens. Cedric Benson has more lateral agility than you’d guess, but he lacks the elite initial quickness to make dramatic cutbacks early in the run.

This lends a certain predictability to Cincinnati’s ground game. Less concerned about getting burned in their own over-pursuit, front seven defenders take a faster, more attack-oriented approach.

The Bengals counter this by overloading with six-man offensive lines and multiple lead-and motion-blockers. A speedy defense might trip them up early in the game, but the belief is Benson and his blockers can wear it down late.

That wasn’t the case when these teams met in Week 14. The Bengals tried to go to the ground to protect a late lead, but Benson totaled minus-five yards on five carries in the fourth quarter. Not only are the Texans’ linebackers collectively faster than any in the NFL, but defensive ends – J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and Tim Jamison are elite penetrating run-stoppers.

If the Bengals want to sustain offense against Wade Phillips’ crew, they’ll have to go to the air.

2. Dalton and the passing attack
The second-rounder from TCU has been one of the steadiest, most cerebral game-managers in all of football this season. What Dalton lacks in arm strength he makes up for in timing, poise and confidence.

First-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has built a system ideally suited for Dalton, featuring play-action and rollouts, moving pockets and quick-strike reads to the slot and flats (hence the expanded joker role for tight end Jermaine Gresham). Dalton has the pocket toughness and moxie to make it work.

But that speedy front seven from Houston can jeopardize all this. It’s not just that the Texans sack quarterbacks (they ranked sixth in that department this season), it’s that they make them play fast. Connor Barwin’s and Brooks Reed’s relentless off the edge rattles pockets; J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith are two of the few 3-4 ends who can beat a pass-blocker with a quick first step; and perhaps most significant, inside linebacker

Brian Cushing blitzes with impeccable speed and timing. Cushing’s effectiveness in this sense is a big reason why Houston has frequently had success blitzing with just five rushers. Able to keep defenders back, the Texans have racked up gobs of coverage sacks.

Dalton is willing to hang in there against the blitz (worth noting is that last time these teams met, Phillips was more aggressive than usual, occasionally playing Cover 0 and bringing the entire gauntlet of defenders). He’s been just a tad inconsistent in his precision accuracy the last few games, and he quietly struggled throughout the year on deep balls. These issues, however, have not derived from hasty or flawed mechanics and aren’t prominent enough for a defense to intentionally exploit.

Green and Joseph will square off again in the playoffs. (Getty Images)

3. Johnathan Joseph on A.J. Green
The Bengals passing attack centers around the downfield acrobatics of A.J. Green. They take several deep shots a game with the rookie Pro Bowler – often off play-action from run formations – and have him clear out coverage for the underneath receivers in the flats.

Interestingly, Green will be guarded by Johnathan Joseph, the sensational ex-Bengals corner who’s now the fulcrum of Houston’s coverage schemes. Joseph is arguably the premier deep ball defender in the NFL. That’s a big reason why he’s in the select group of corners who truly shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver week in and week out.

Joseph’s unique talent lends multiplicity and versatility to the rest of Houston’s secondary. That’s something Dalton and his ancillary targets must adjust to (one-on-one coverage for Jerome Simpson is not guaranteed this Saturday). The Joseph-Green matchup could very well decide the outcome. The last bout was a draw; Green finished with just 59 yards receiving but did have a tremendous 36-yard touchdown.

4. Bengals D vs. T.J. Yates
Even though it was Yates’ first start on the road, Gary Kubiak did not keep tight reigns on his fifth-round rookie quarterback at Cincinnati. He ran Houston’s regular passing attack, which is built around play-action off the stretch handoff (see: below), screens and downfield crossing patterns that attack man-to-man or Cover 3 (a zone the Bengals commonly play against base offensive personnel).

If you could characterize Gary Kubiak’s offense in one snapshot, this would be it. This is the stretch handoff, the most potent play in Houston’s zone run game. We froze the shot here because it’s indeterminable whether it’s a run or a play-action pass. Look at the Bengals back level defenders. The linebackers (53 Thomas Howard and 58 Rey Maualuga) have no choice but to flow right; the defensive backs are playing back and not attacking the run or their receiver.

The stretch handoff forces an entire defense to pause before committing to an attack. It presents a more dynamic play-action element because when it’s finally revealed whether the quarterback handed the ball off or kept it himself, the play has been unfolding for nearly two seconds (much longer than a traditional play-action). By this point, if it’s a handoff, the offensive linemen are further down their run-blocking paths; if it’s a pass, the receivers are further into their routes. Thus, any defenders who misdiagnoses the play is caught even further out of position than usual.

This is the case if the stretch play is executed well. As an offense, the risk is that when your stretch play is executed poorly, the drawn-out time elements work just as potently against you, as defenders that easily sniff out what you’re doing now have more time to react.

Kubiak trusted Yates to make plays; aside from a few short-armed throws, Yates responded extremely well. He exhibited his quick release, poise in the pocket and patience in progressions, completing 26 of 44 for 300 yards and engineering a brilliant 13-play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive.

Since then, Yates’ confidence has led to a few bad decisions. He had two atrocious interceptions in the loss to Carolina and did not push the ball downfield the next week when Indianapolis’ defense took away the crossing routes and rollout passes. There’s no telling how Yates might respond to unfamiliar looks in a playoff game.

A deep, lively defensive line has allowed Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to drift away from some of the high-risk pressure concepts that have long defined his system, but don’t be surprised if Zimmer throws a few safety/corner blitzes at the rookie on Saturday.

5. Texans zone run game
Even if they’re confident in Yates and finally have Andre Johnson at full force, the Texans will center their offensive attack around the ground game. Their front five is by far the best zone-blocking unit in the league – LT Duane Brown, C Chris Myers and RT Eric Winston have all had Pro Bowl caliber seasons – and they have the AFC’s best all-around runner in Arian Foster.

Compact 220-pound backup Ben Tate can also move the chains. The Bengals have a staunch run defense, thanks to meaty nose tackle Domata Peko and the great one-on-one play of his sidekick Geno Atkins. They also benefit from the athleticism at linebackers and the superb outside tackling of cornerback Nate Clements.

However, this defense did give up a big run to Ben Tate in Week 14 and got burned on huge runs by Ray Rice (who plays in a zone scheme similar to Houston’s) in both losses to Baltimore.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Wild Card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 21, 2011 9:46 am
Edited on: December 21, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Steelers loss 'changed the mood' of the Ravens

By Will Brinson

Week 15 was an up-and-down experience for the Ravens (and the Harbaugh family0: they rolled into San Diego and got whupped, handing the Steelers a chance at taking over the AFC North. Pittsburgh blew their shot, thanks to a big game out of the 49ers, and now the Ravens are back to controlling their own destiny.

The prospect has them, according to Ravens running back Ray Rice, in a totally different mood.

"It changed the mood of the team today," Rice said about the Steelers loss Monday per the Baltimore Sun. "Coming in here, guys are happy. I'm not saying we're never a happy bunch. We know how to take a loss on the chin [and] we want to get better from that film, but we don't have to look at it as critical as we would have had to, [or] put as much time into San Diego anymore. We know you got to get onto Cleveland, but at the same time, we still control it. We don't have to take our show on the road if we take care of business."

Now, it's pretty obvious that "the mood in Baltimore after a Steelers loss" >>>>> "the mood in Baltimore after a Steelers win." You don't have to be a math major and/or a genius to figure that out.

What concerns me here is the way Rice is framing the Ravens attitude as a team. One, it sounds like they knew they were dead men walking if they needed to go on the road during the playoffs and they were basically expecting the Steelers to win on Monday. It's one thing to be mad about a loss; it's an entirely different thing to dwell on it like that, particularly if you've got another game in just a few days.


And two, are we supposed to buy into the idea that the Ravens don't overlook certain games on their schedule? The obvious answer to the team's problems is that they don't travel well. But Rice's statements really make me think that Baltimore's struggles against inferior opponents (they lost to three 7-7 teams and one 4-10 team this year) might be because they're looking ahead and/or too busy celebrating a previous victory.

Maybe I'm reading too deep into what the running back's saying. Or maybe not -- but there's a good chance we find out Week 17 when they travel to Cincinnati.

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: December 6, 2011 5:09 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 2:25 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 13

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 13 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Cam Matthews Tolbert Coughlin
Judge  Tebow Harrison   Brown  Kubiak
Prisco Rodgers  Houston  Brown  Kubiak
Brinson  Cam Harrison  Brown  Kubiak
Katzowitz  Rice  Smith  Brown Munchak
Wilson  Cam Harrison  Brown  Carroll
Week 13 is a wrap and that means awards time!

Props to rookie quarterback Cam Newton for his first-ever division win, his first-ever NFL winning streak and now, his first-ever Eye on Offense Award!

On defense, we had a tie between Clay Matthews and James Harrison. Since Harrison's picture scares me more (my defacto tiebreaker these days), he got the nod for our Eye on Defense Award. Sorry, Clay.

Antonio Brown, who returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown as the Steelers whipped the Bengals, nearly swept the Eye on Special Teams Award.

And Gary Kubiak provided the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with its first start at quarterback by an alumni in the NFL ... and got the win with rookie T.J. Yates. That's worth something, right?

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Cam Newton Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Newton scored his 13th rushing touchdown this season. He ran for three alone against Tampa Bay on Sunday but did you see how he jumped over the Bucs defense on one of them? It was like a Michael Jordan dunk. It was crazy.

Tim TebowTim Tebow, QB, Broncos
People said he can't throw, so he puts up a passer rating of 149.3. They said the Broncos couldn't win with him, but they're 6-1. Maybe it's time to start looking for what's right with the guy instead of what's wrong ... and what's right is that he has Denver in first in the AFC West.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tony Romo Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
He completed 28 of 46 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns against the Giants. He also drove the Packers to the game-winning field goal in the final minute. Give him this award every week.
Cam NewtonCam Newton, QB, Panthers
Newton set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback on Sunday with his 13th on the season. Three of those came Sunday as Newton had arguably his best game as a pro, also throwing for another score. It was his first win in the division.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Ray RiceRay Rice, RB, Ravens
Remember how we criticized the Ravens for not giving Rice enough touches (and somehow John Harbaugh defending the strategy)? Yeah, this is what happens when Rice gets plenty of opportunities – 204 yards on 29 carries and a TD. Hopefully, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have learned their lessons.
Cam Newton Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Not only is Newton the rookie of the year, you could make a good case that he's a top-10 NFL quarterback. Against the Buccaneers, he was 12 of 21 for 201 yards and a touchdown, but he also scored three more times on the ground. Oh, and he hauled in a 27-yard pass, too. This ain't your Jimmy Clausen Carolina Panthers.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Clay MatthewsClay Matthews, LB, Packers
The Packers defense isn't great and it can be had but every week it seems Matthews makes some sort of huge play. He did it again against New York with a pick-six. No, the Packers defense has holes but Matthews continues to make offenses pay.
James Harrison James Harrison, LB, Steelers
He had a team-high three sacks in the Steelers' 35-7 shredding of Cincinnati, keeping Pittsburgh on track with Baltimore in the AFC North. The Steelers' defense was supposed to wear down as the season went on. Instead, it's getting better,  allowing 16 points in its last two starts.
Prisco Brinson
Justin HoustonJustin Houston, LB, Chiefs
This rookie from Georgia had three sacks and spent the day in the Bears backfield. Houston gives the Chiefs another option on the other side from Tamba Hali. Three, zero, zero and three sacks, respectively, in four games.
Clay MatthewsClay Matthews, LB, Packers
For as much as junk as the Packers defense takes for giving up a ton of points, it's important to remember they've got a pile of playmakers -- Matthews proved that with a pick six of Eli Manning that ended up being the difference in the Packers shootout win over the Giants.
Katzowitz Wilson
Aldon Smith Aldon Smith, LB, 49ers
Aside from the fact Smith recorded two sacks against the Rams, his celebration after his final sack was awesome. Instead of dancing like a maniac, he sprinted to the sideline, tried not to touch anybody and just sat on the bench. It was awesome, sort of like Smith’s performance.
James Harrison James Harrison, LB, Steelers
Harrison missed four games in the middle of the season with an eye injury but since returning to the lineup in Week 9 he has six sacks, three coming against a Bengals offensive line that had done a good job of protecting Andy Dalton all season.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Mike TolbertMike Tolbert, RB, Chargers
The play he made on kickoff coverage wasn't the kind of play you will see on highlights across the country but it was damn impressive. Tolbert completely annihilated a kick return by the Jaguars. I mean, it was a textbook, single-handed destruction. And remember: Tolbert is one of the key cogs on offense and he still sacrifices his body like that.
Antonio Brown Antonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
H His 60-yard punt return for a touchdown finished off Cincinnati in a game that was supposed to be closer than it was. One reason it wasn't: Antonio Brown. The guy's been a productive receiver all year, but he pushed the Steelers to their third straight win and seventh in eight games with a nifty punt return. Hey, the more you can do ...
Prisco Brinson
Antonio BrownAntonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
He has emerged as a big-time receiver this season, but he's still a good return man. He had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown to make it 28-7 at the half against the Bengals.
Antonio BrownAntonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
Brown's one of the more underrated all-around performers  in the NFL. A big sleeper coming into his second season, the Pittsburgh wideout's begun blowing up as of late and doing it all over the field -- Sunday he took a punt 60 yards to the house to finish off the Bengals by halftime.
Katzowitz Wilson
Antonio Brown Antonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
Aside from his 45-yard catch that helped set up the Steelers first score, Brown also finished off Cincinnati late in the first half. After the Bengals scored to get some momentum and cut the lead to two touchdowns, Brown took a Kevin Huber punt and returned it 60 yards for the score to give Pittsburgh a 28-7 lead. And that was basically ballgame.
Antonio Brown Antonio Brown, WR/KR, Steelers
Pittsburgh hasn't been known for their coverage or return teams for some time but young players are changing that. Brown is not only an emerging talent at wideout, he's a dangerous return man, too. His 60-yard punt return against the Bengals capped a 28-point second quarter for the Steelers.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Bill BelichickTom Coughlin, HC, Giants
I know, unusual choice, but seeing the Giants against the Packers after they were debacled the previous week, was interesting to see. Coughlin had his team ready and I don't think there's going to be a Giants collapse. For once.

Gary Kubiak Gary Kubiak, HC, Texans
He wins without his top defensive player. He wins without his top offensive player. He wins without his starting QB. Now he wins with a rookie third-string QB, beating Atlanta behind T.J. Yates. Kubiak was supposed to be fighting for his job. Instead, he's jockeying for playoff position.
Prisco Brinson
Gary KubiakGary Kubiak, HC, Texans
Kubiak, after losing both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to injury, beat the Falcons, who are a good team with rookie T.J. Yates making his first start. That's impressive. 
Gary KubiakGary Kubiak, HC, Texans
The meltdown is supposed to happen, because this is the Texans we're talking about. But no matter who goes down for Kubiak's team, he keeps the ship righted and Houston steered towards the franchise's first playoff berth. A win over would-be contender Atlanta was especially impressive.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Mike Munchak, HC, Titans
Tennessee went to Buffalo and beat the fading Bills, and if you wanted to know why, you could point to Chris Johnson’s 23-carry, 153-yard, two-touchdown performance. But considering Johnson has had about two strong games this year and yet, the Titans are 7-5 and in the AFC wild card race, Munchak deserves plenty of credit.
Hue Jackson Pete Carroll, HC, Seahawks
Beating the Eagles in Week 13 doesn't carry quite the cachet as doing it earlier in the season but the Seahawks are one of the league's most improved teams over the last month. They steamrolled Philly last Thursday and if the 49ers hadn't run away with NFC West, Seattle might be in the running for another 7-9 division title.



Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:17 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Thanksgiving preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 17, 2011 10:23 am
Edited on: November 17, 2011 1:06 pm
 

Ray Rice: '5 carries is not going to cut it'

Posted by Will Brinson



The situation involving the Ravens offense -- and Baltimore's inability to win games when running back Ray Rice doesn't get many carries -- is coming to a head, thanks to Ray Lewis complaining about Rice's touches.

But Rice himself has been quiet thus far, declining to speak after the loss to Seattle. Until now -- on Wednesday Rice pointed out, in a "diplomatic" fashion according to Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times, that he needs more carries.

"I'm never going to be the guy that talks about touches, but obviously we know five carries is not going to cut it," Rice said. "I know five carries is not going to do us any justice, but we found ourselves so deep in the situation that we had to climb our way out. We were looking for answers. Whether it was running or passing, we have to find our way out of a situation."

Quoth the Ravens

Rice also discussed why he didn't talk to the press following the Seahawks loss.

"As a professional, you have to sometimes gather your thoughts up," Rice said. "You have to look at a situation before you express yourself, bottled up with emotional thoughts. My reason for not speaking after the game was more frustration on how we lost the game, it had nothing to do with you guys."

Rice added that speaking after "an emotional loss" "leads to disaster," "trouble" and "people pointing fingers." This is 100 percent correct, just like Rice's point about needing more carries.

He's handling it the right way, which is the same way that Rice has handled his ongoing contract situation. (One has to wonder how those negotiations are progressing the week after Rice receives five or eight carries in a game, especially if it's a Ravens loss. "Contentious" sounds about right.)

Now it's just up to the coaching staff to handle things the right way, by giving Rice the ball more.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 16, 2011 4:34 pm
 

Ray Lewis: Ray Rice needs more touches for Ravens

Posted by Will Brinson



Over the past few days, we've pointed out that the Ravens would be wise to get the ball in the hands of their best player more often. That player is Ray Rice. When the Ravens win, he gets an average of 18-plus carries. When they lose, it's about eight carries.

On Tuesday, John Harbaugh refuted the claim that there's a connection between Rice's carries and the losses, but everyone's not in agreement with him on that. Specifically, Ray Lewis, who, according to our Ravens Rapid Reporter Jason Butt, believes that Rice needs more touches if the Ravens want to win.

"That's our bell cow," Lewis said. "If that talent right there isn't touching 25-30 times then you have to question yourself, what are we actually doing balance-wise?"

This isn't the first time a Ravens defender has spoken out about Rice's touches -- after the loss to Jacksonville in Week 7, Terrell Suggs basically told CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco the exact same thing.

"I don't really know what the game plan was," Suggs said at the time. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back, and he's not getting his touches, I'm going to feel some kind of way about it. He wants the ball. And I think we should feed him. Ray Rice is a phenomenal player. You have to use your phenomenal players."

Over the next few days, everyone started pointing fingers everywhere, even though the obvious solution was, in almost everyone's opinion, to give Rice more touches.

And yet, three weeks later, he got less touches in another game against another mediocre team in another non-blowout. The Ravens have the talent to win the Super Bowl this year, but if they're not utilizing it to properly beat the teams they should beat, they might not even make the playoffs.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 10:56 pm
 

Harbaugh on Seahawks game: 'We had to throw it'

Posted by Will Brinson



In Week 10, Baltimore inexplicably lost to Seattle 22-17. Even more inexplicable than the actual loss, though, was that Ravens running back Ray Rice only got five carries against the Seahawks.

As we noted in Sorting the Sunday Pile, there's a common thread to the Ravens three losses: Rice doesn't get carries. In the Ravens six wins, Rice averaged 18.67 carries (including just nine carries against the Rams in a blowout). In the three losses to the Titans, Jaguars and Seahawks? Rice totaled 26 carries. John Harbaugh does not see this as a common thread, however.

Recapping Week 10

"The comparisons that people want to draw between the three games, that's all hypothetical, theoretical stuff," Harbaugh said, per the Baltimore Sun. "When you know football, you understand the schemes that you see and the situations that you face are different in every single game.

"I'm not a psychologist. I think what you do is you look at football. We're moving forward. We took responsibility for the loss and we're moving forward."

This would be a perfectly fine explanation, except there is a common thread. When the Ravens lose, Ray Rice averages 10 carries less than when the Ravens win. This isn't cherry-picking statistics. It's just clear that Baltimore abandoned the run way too early.

"I don't know how you would do it any differently," Harbaugh said. "We were in a situation where we lost two possessions [on turnovers]. When you don't have very many plays, it's hard to build up your running game. The way the game went, we had to throw it.

"In that game, I didn't see a lot more opportunities to run the ball."

The turnover point is valid, because losing two possessions is crippling for an offensive attack. But it's not like the Ravens were getting blown out at any point in the game. Their biggest deficit was 15 points, after a Steven Hauschka field goal made it 22-7 with 12:26 left in the third quarter.

And Joe Flacco still attempted a whopping 53 passes on Sunday, which was probably 10 too many. He wasn't helped by the fact that his receivers didn't show up, but he's still averaging the third-most pass attempts per game in the NFL (40.1) behind only Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford.

The problem is Flacco's only converting 54.8 percent of them. Although he might be hitting a higher percentage of them if defenses even bothered to concern themselves with stopping the run.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 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.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com