Tag:Drew Brees
Posted on: December 28, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 1:34 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 16



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 16 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Brees  Byrd Janikowski Schwartz
Judge  Brees  Grant  Akers Coughlin
Prisco Rodgers  JPP Seymour Coughlin
Brinson  Brees  Bills  Akers Coughlin
Katzowitz  Cruz  Mayo Seymour Coughlin
Wilson  Brees  Bills Janikowski Coughlin
One. More. Week. It's terrifying, isn't it? Anyway, before we get to that, let's hit up the (slightly delayed) Week 16 Eye on Football Awards.

On offense, only one voter steered away from record-breaker Drew Brees and there's definitely an argument for Aaron Rodgers. But Brees breaking Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season gave him the nod for the Eye on Offense Award.

On defense, the Bills defense as a whole picked up the Eye on Defense Award thanks to their evisceration of Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

Another record-breaker, David Akers, gets the nod for the Eye on Special Teams Award based on a tiebreaker in a three-way race with a pair of Raiders.

And Tom Coughlin nearly got the clean sweep for the Eye on Coaching Award with the way he handled his business against the Jets.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Don't like how the Saints did it but Brees still deserves credit for reaching it. The record is more about perserverance than anything else. Brees was told he'd never make it this far. He wasn't good enough. He's too short. His arm is weak and he proved so many people wrong. That's the best part of this story.
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
It's not the four touchdowns or the lopsided defeat of Atlanta that puts him here. It's breaking Dan Marino's record for single-season yardage. It took someone 27 years to make it. The least we can do is acknowledge him with this award.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Rodgers throws five touchdown passes against the Bears to lock up home-field advantage in the playoffs and get the No. 1 NFC seed for the Packers. Can we give him this award every week?
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
Didn't particularly like the way the Saints gunned for or celebrated the record, but that's on Sean Payton and Brees, and if the Falcons wanted to stop them, they should have. So give Brees his due credit for walking down one of the hardest-to-break records in sports.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Victor CruzVictor Cruz, WR, Giants
Cruz talked trash before Saturday’s Jets game and then backed it up with a 99-yard touchdown reception that was a marvel? It’s hard to believe that last season, Cruz was not even supposed to make the team. Now, he's one of the most exciting receivers in the game.
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Brees broke Dan Marino's 27-year-old passing record and was even accused of running up the score in the process. The accomplishment along with the whining from the Falcons makes him worthy of the honor.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Jairus ByrdJairus Byrd, S, Bills
The Buffalo defender returned a Tim Tebow pick 37 yards for a score in a Bills blowout. I'll go ahead and resist the temptation to do a Tebow joke here. It's just really too easy at this point.
Larry Grant Larry Grant, LB, 49ers
He starts for the injured Patrick Willis and finishes with 11 tackles, second best on the team. None, however, was more important than the last -- with Grant forcing a Tarvaris Jackson fumble that sealed a San Francisco victory and, in all likelihood, a first-round playoff bye.
Prisco Brinson
Jason Pierre-PaulJason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
Pierre-Paul had two sacks, three quarterback hits and four tackles. He was all over the field in the Giants victory over the Jets, which was critical to Coughlin's team staying alive for the playoffs.
Jairus ByrdBills DST
The Bills handed Tim Tebow his first-ever four-interception game and returned two of the picks to the house in a surprise beatdown of the Broncos. That they did it a week after giving up 200 rushing yards to Reggie Bush is all the more impressive/shocking.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jerod Mayo Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots
As bad as the Pats defense has been this year, you have to give credit to Mayo for making a difference in New England’s comeback win against the Dolphins. Mayo recorded 13 tackles and his first two sacks of the season to keep the Patriots alive for a No. 1 AFC seed.
Chris Kelsay Chris Kelsey, LB, Bills
This goes to the Bills defense, which intercepted Tebow four times (including two pick-sixes), but Kelsay had two sacks and was in the Broncos backfield all day.

Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Sebastian JanikowskiSebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
Kicked the game-winner against the Kansas City Chiefs to keep their postseason hopes alive. I remember when Janikowski was nothing but the source of fat jokes. Now he might be the best kicker in football.
David Akers David Akers, K, 49ers
Here's another guy who sets a single-season record, kicking 42 field goals ... with one game still to play. Akers had four in the 49ers' defeat of Seattle, with his last the game winner. I can't imagine where the 49ers would be without him. I know where Philadelphia is.
Prisco Brinson
Richard SeymourRichard Seymour, DL, Raiders
He blocked two field goals, including the potential game-winner on the final play of regulation against the Chiefs. Oakland won the game in overtime to keep their playoff chances alive.
Dan BaileyDavid Akers, K, 49ers
Andy Reid was off on Akers career -- the Eagles didn't want to pay the man and all he did was kick the most field goals in a single season in NFL history (42). The 49ers don't have the season they're having without Akers being so steady on the special teams end of things.
Katzowitz Wilson
Richard Seymour Richard Seymour, DL, Raiders
He was the Chiefs worst nightmare, blocking two field goals -- including the potential game-winner -- to keep Oakland in the hunt for a playoff berth and to eliminate KC. Even if his on-field temper gets him into trouble occassionally, the 11-year vet still has the ability to make big-time plays.
Sebastian Janikowski Sebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
Janikowski's game-winner in overtime against the Chiefs kept the Raiders' playoff hopes alive and the kicker finally got his first Pro Bowl trip this week.

Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Jim SchwartzJim Schwartz, HC, Lions
He exercized the ghosts of the pathetic Matt Millen by getting the Lions in the playoffs. It's quite the achievement by Schwartz in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin, HC, Giants
After listening to Rex Ryan and the Jets talk all week, he and his club respond with a 29-14 defeat that puts them one win from the playoffs. Not only did Coughlin outlast the Jets, he survived a sideline collision that had him limping. The Giants take a cue from their coach: "No toughness, no championship."
Prisco Brinson
Tom CoughlinTom Coughlin, HC, Giants
With his team's season on the line, Coughlin led his team to a victory over the New York Jets. Coughlin has been good at getting his team ready for big games. He has another this week against the Cowboys.

Tom CoughlinTom Coughlin, HC, Giants
The only guy involved with New York football who refused to talk any trash this week? Coughlin. He let his team do the talking for him on the field, knocking around the Jets enough to create questions for Little Brother, and giving the Giants a shot at a division title and a playoff berth.
Katzowitz Wilson
Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin, HC, Giants
Whether he’s on the hot seat or not, Coughlin still managed to keep his team level-headed in the face of a torrent of trash-talk from the Jets in a city rivalry game. The Giants just have to beat the Cowboys in order to take the NFC East title. It seems like people forget how good a coach Coughlin is, but on Saturday, he taught Rex Ryan a lesson.
Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin, HC, Giants
He began the week by proclaiming that "talk is cheap" only to listen as various members of the Giants called out the Jets. The difference between them and Rex Ryan's squad? The Giants backed it up Saturday. And if they beat the Cowboys in Week 17 they'll win the division.
Posted on: December 26, 2011 11:38 pm
Edited on: December 26, 2011 11:46 pm
 

Brees breaks Marino's single-season passing mark

Brees needed just 16 games to surpass Marino's mark of 5,084 passing yards in a season. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

There was a time early in Drew Brees' NFL career when he was benched for Doug Flutie. It happened in 2003, his third year in the league, back in San Diego when he played for head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Two years later, Brees injured his throwing shoulder during a meaningless late-season game, a few months after that he was a free agent with an uncertain future, and by 2006 he was the Saints' starting quarterback.

And now Brees has broken Dan Marino's single-season passing record. He needed 305 yards to reach the 5,085-yard milestone, one more than Marino had for the entire 1984 season.

Brees became the official record holder in the fourth quarter of Monday night's Week 16 game against the Falcons. It came on a second-down play from the Falcons' 9-yard line. Fittingly, it was a touchdown pass, Brees' fourth of the game, and it gave New Orleans a 45-16 lead. The game was stopped temporarily to honor Brees' accomplishment. A New Orleans victory will clinch the NFC South. (They'll earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a victory next Sunday and a loss by the 49ers.)

This isn't the first time Brees has made a run at Marino. He finished 2008 with 5,069 yards, 15 yards shy of Marino's record.

"We talked about it after the '08 season," Brees said last week according to Nola.com. "And at the time it was kind of just like, OK, we made our run at it, and the chances of that happening again are probably really, really slim."

Saints head coach Sean Payton was asked if Marino's longstanding record was a surprise.

"I don't know that anything really surprises you," he said last Thursday. "Our game has evolved. I think you're seeing very good quarterback play, which is exciting. I think you're seeing over the last 20 years colleges who throw the ball much more effectively; all the way to the high school level, and that's carried over to our game in a number of ways. Typically, I think, these records in our league all get broken, and some of them just have a longer shelf life than others."

Coming into Monday night, Brees averaged 341 passing yards, 2.6 touchdowns and 0.8 interceptions per game this season. He's failed to throw for at least 300 yards just three times. Prior to his arrival, New Orleans was coming off a 3-13 season and the city and region were still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Since 2006, the Saints are 55-39 (.585 winning percentage), have made three playoff appearances (four if you include this season), and won the Super Bowl in 2009.

Marino was 23 years old when broke Dan Fouts' record (4,802 set in 1981). He threw 48 touchdowns and 17 interceptions that year, and led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl where they lost to the 49ers, 38-16.

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Posted on: December 24, 2011 12:54 pm
Edited on: December 24, 2011 1:27 pm
 

Casserly: Saints to tag Brees without new deal

By Will Brinson

Drew Brees and the Saints decided to put any long-term contract talks on hold until after the 2011 season, but that doesn't mean a new deal for Brees isn't still kicking it as the large, pink elephant in the corner of the room.

On Sunday, CBS Sports Charley Casserly reported that the two sides are still working on a deal, but if they can't reach one before free agency begins, the Saints will place the franchise tag on Brees, and that Brees will probably not report if/when that happens.

"He's a free agent at the end of this year and both sides would like to get a long-term deal done," Casserly reported on The NFL Today. "The Saints told me if one is not done by the start of free agency, they'll franchise him. I estimate that number will be between $14-15 million. The target for Brees? The Peyton Manning contract -- $18 million a year, but more importantly, $23.4 million over the first three years.

"If a long-term deal is not done, I would not be surprised if Brees does not show up for offseason and even training camp."


Brees, as we've previously noted, probably would've slotted somewhere between Manning/Tom Brady and Michael Vick when it comes to a long-term deal and the amount he'd make annually. That's if, of course, the Saints were negotiating with Brees before this season.

Instead New Orleans will now be trading numbers with Brees' agent Tom Condon as Brees comes off a season in which he broke Dan Marino's record for most passing yards in a single season (he's just 300-some yards shy).

That stands to make things expensive for the Saints, and if the team goes deep into the postseason this year, things won't get any cheaper. And it won't exactly the public relations nightmare they deal with if Brees holds out any easier either.

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Posted on: December 20, 2011 4:19 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 11:22 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 15

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 15 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Hernandez  Smith Succop Belichick
Prisco   Brees  Babin  Lee Crennel
Brinson   Brees  Smith  Lee Crennel
Katzowitz   Brees Abraham  Suh Crennel
Wilson  Stafford  Smith  Lee  Turner
Week 15's a wrap and that means the NFL's regular season is just about over. Sigh. Anyway, hardware time.

Drew Brees moved well within range of Dan Marino's passing yardage record on Sunday and the near-perfect performance earned him our Eye on Offense Award.

And Aldon Smith's beasty performance on Monday night locked him into our Eye on Defense Award pretty convincingly as well. His teammate Andy Lee's big-footed evening was enough to warrant an Eye on Special Teams nod.

And though Romeo Crennel made some mistakes on Sunday with his clock management and fourth-down decisions, taking down the previously undefeated Packers and getting his first Gatorade bath was enough for him to pull in the Eye on Coaching Award this week.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Ryan Wilson
Aaron Hernandez Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots
The other Gronkowski destroyed a solid Denver defense with nine catches for 129 yards. Actually, Tom Brady should win this award, but he wins the damn thing every week. When the Broncos shut down Gronk, Brady shifted to Hernandez, and Hernandez, like a growing number of players at his position, presents huge matchup problems for a defense.
Matthew StaffordMatthew Stafford, QB, Lions
Sure, the Raiders didn't play much defense on that final fateful drive, but Stafford threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns (with no picks), including the game-winner to -- you guessed it -- Calvin Johnson with 39 seconds to go.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
He threw for 412 yards and five touchdown passes and sat much of the second half against Minnesota. Brees did what he wanted to against an overmatched Minnesota defense.
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
Brees is probably going to win the award next week too when he breaks Dan Marino's passing record ... with a week to spare. Want real proof QB rating is dumb? 32 of 40 for 412 yards and five touchdowns somehow doesn't garner a perfect rating. Brees was just that on Sunday.
Josh Katzowitz
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
I don’t think I’ve voted for Brees once this season, but come on, the guy has been spectacular. Against the Vikings, he was 32 of 40 for 412 yards and five touchdowns. If not for guys named Rodgers and Tebow, Brees would be THE story as he hunts down Dan Marino’s passing yards record. Somebody should give that dude a raise.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Wilson
Aldon SmithAldon Smith, LB, 49ers
One play he drove Max Starks so far into the Pittsburgh backfield, Starks was in San Jose. Once the 49ers play better offenses with quarterbacks not on one leg, that defense will truly get tested. But for now, it's dominant, and Smith might be its most dominant player.
Aldon Smith Aldon Smith, LB, 49ers
Steelers LT Max Starks should get some credit for his turnstile-tastic effort. To paraphrase Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football, if the game had gone on much longer, Smith would've earned a trip to Canton on that singular performance. 
Prisco Brinson
Jason BabinJason Babin, DE, Eagles
He had three sacks against the Jets, whipping tackle Wayne Hunter all day long. Babin leads the NFL with 18 sacks and has been one of the best free-agent pickups this season.
Aldon SmithAldon Smith, LB, 49ers
The real culprit for the blown transformer prior to the Monday night game? Smith, who ate the damn thing and used it as a source of power to terrorize the Steelers offensive line all night, repeatedly pummeling Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh's backfield.
Katzowitz
John Abraham John Abraham, DE, Falcons
He took over the game in the third quarter when he sacked Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert 3 ½ times and forced fumbles on consecutive Jacksonville series. Abraham is 33 years old, but he’s now got 8.5 sacks on the season, showing that even though he keeps getting older, his level of outstanding play isn't decreasing.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Wilson
Ryan SuccopRyan Succop, K, Chiefs
Succop kicked four field goals in Arrowhead on Sunday afternoon and was one of the main catalysts for knocking off the previously unbeaten Packers.
Andy Lee Andy Lee, P, 49ers
He punted six times, always changing field position in the process. He had punts downed at the Steelers' 5, 10, 8 and 14. David Akers gets all the notoriety but Lee is just as important to the 49ers' success.
Prisco Brinson
Andy LeeAndy Lee, P, 49ers
He averaged 47.5-yard per punt and 49.2 net yards  -- the latter speaks volumes about hang time -- and he also had four punts inside the 20 against the Steelers Monday night.
Andy LeeAndy Lee, P, 49ers
Turns out the only way the Steelers were winning on Monday was by generating some turnovers and getting good field position. Lee made sure the latter didn't happen, sticking the Steelers inside their own 20 four different times and averaging 47.5 yards per punt on the night.
Katzowitz
Ndamukong Suh Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions
If there’s anybody in this world who can make a game-winning, NFL record 65-yard field goal, it’s Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski. Suh wouldn’t let that happen. After sitting out his two-game suspension, Suh helped save the Lions by getting a hand on Janikowski’s attempt.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Wilson
Bill BelichickBill Belichick, HC, New England Patriots
Solved the riddle that is Tim Tebow. Now, the Lions were able to shut down Tebow earlier in the season, but that wasn't this Tebow. The Patriots, after a disastrous first quarter, battered Tebow and made him throw the football. At this point, he can't do that consistently well.
Norv Turner Norv Turner, HC, Chargers
He won't get many more chances to win this award since he could be looking for work in a few weeks, so I thought I'd honor him after blowing the doors off the Ravens' defense Sunday night. Philip Rivers looked like, well, Philip Rivers. Looks to be too little, too late, though … or does it?
Prisco Brinson
Romeo CrennelRomeo Crennel, HC, Chiefs
He takes over for the fired Todd Haley and his team pulls off one of the biggest shockers of the season in beating the Packers, ending their chance for an undefeated season. Who else could win this award this week?
Romeo CrennelRomeo Crennel, HC, Chiefs
For some weird reason, I'm enthralled by the picture of a Gatorade-soaked Crennel getting love from his players after beating Green Bay Sunday. He took down an undefeated behemoth as an interim coach and did it with his speciality: defense. How could it be anyone else?
Katzowitz
Romeo Crennel Romeo Crennel, HC, Chiefs
The Chiefs were a different team with Crennel. They played hard, and we didn't have to see Tyler Palko go out there and fling the ball around. My favorite moment from the Chiefs win? With the victory in hand, Crennel is smiling and clapping. He gets a Gatorade bath. For a second, Crennel stops, startled by the cold. Then he smiles and begins clapping again.

Posted on: December 15, 2011 11:02 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 12:48 am
 

Brees: Contract talks 'tabled' until after season

By Will Brinson

A story that hasn't received much attention since the season began is the new contract that Saints need to get franchise quarterback Drew Brees. Figuring out how much Brees should get is a fairly easy exercise, as he figures to slot in between the $18 million a year that Tom Brady/Peyton Manning got and the $16 million that Michael Vick got this offseason.

However, things hit a snag, apparently, and Brees said that he and the Saints "tabled" any discussion of a new deal for now.

"You know, I didn't want it to become a distraction," Brees said, per Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "And from the discussions we had, going back and forth, there was no progress really being made. I really wanted to just focus on football.

"It's been tabled for now ... and just hopefully will resume when the time is right."

There doesn't appear to be any animosity between the two sides with respect to a new deal -- Saints GM Mickey Loomis indicated he's been in contact with Brees agent Tom Condon and said he was open to making a deal whenever it worked out.


More than likely, the season began and the negotiations never got wrapped up. Although that appears to be playing out in Brees favor, as his dominant, potentially record-breaking performance could end up netting him more cash.

The Saints still have the option of placing the franchise tag on Brees in the offseason, so they won't lose him, but it would be pretty surprising if New Orleans entered 2012 having not given Brees a new deal.

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Posted on: December 10, 2011 4:34 pm
 

For the gambler in you, Week 14

Tebow

By Josh Katzowitz


Each Saturday, we’ll take the best -- and most clever -- odds collected by bodog.com for the upcoming week and give our take. This is important stuff, perhaps the most important post you’ll read all week. Because if you can’t lose money while watching a game in which you have absolutely no effect, what’s the point of watching sports at all?

Will the Denver Broncos trail at any point in the fourth quarter and still beat the Chicago Bears?

Yes 7/2

No 1/5

I’m going no, because I don’t think the Broncos will be trailing the Bears in the second half at all. Ah, the power of Tim Tebow (and the deficiency of starting Caleb Hanie).

Who will finish second in NFL MVP voting?     

Tom Brady (NE) QB 2/3       

Drew Brees (NO) QB 3/2       

Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) QB 5/1       

Tim Tebow (DEN) QB 10/1     

As much as I want to say Tebow -- even if it’s just for some good old fashioned CBSSports.com unity with colleague Gregg Doyel -- I’ll go with Brady to finish behind Aaron Rodgers in the MVP race. Brady is too easy a selection after Rodgers not to pick him.

Will Tony Sparano be the head coach of the Dolphins for Game 1 of the 2012 regular season?   
    
   
Yes -150    

No +110 

Ha, no. But I think Sparano and his team have done the city proud with the way the Dolphins are playing. You have to think Sparano is impressing somebody, even if that somebody is not Miami owner Stephen Ross.

Will Donovan McNabb sign with an NFL team during the 2011 regular season?      
 
Yes 2/1       

No 1/3

If the Bears, who are in desperate, desperate need of a legit starting quarterback, passes on claiming McNabb, you have to think nobody else will be interested. The more interesting question: is McNabb’s career over? For that, I’d say yes.

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 7, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:09 pm
 

Film Room: Titans vs. Saints preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


While we weren’t looking, the Tennessee Titans got to 7-5 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race. This week they have a widely televised game against the New Orleans Saints. Perhaps it’s time we get to know Mike Munchak’s club.

Here are some tidbits on one of this week’s showcase games.


1. Saints O vs. Titans D: 31 flavors vs. vanilla
Sean Payton has been known to use 15 different formations on his first 15 plays. As offensive variety goes, the Saints are boundless and peerless. The Titans defense, under Jerry Gray, is the polar opposite. They’ve been the easiest unit to watch on film this season because they line up in base zones, they rarely move before the snap and it’s always clear what each player is trying to do. It’s an execution-based defense.

In this model, the Titans try to make opponents play conservatively and methodically. Instead of trying to beat the offense big once or twice and risk having the offense beat THEM big, the Titans would rather make the offense beat them small again and again, without making any bad mistakes. This formula works against middle-tier offenses – like the Broncos, Browns, Colts, Bucs and Bills, all of whom the Titans have held below 20 points. But unless an execution-based defense has a few top-level playmakers – like the Bears with Brian Urlacher or, in past years, the Colts with Dwight Freeney – it won’t hold up against upper-tier competition.

The Titans have a mobile, fairly athletic defensive line but one that’s devoid of premium pass-rushers. Their linebackers are reliable but not sideline-to-sideline players; it might even be considered a weak unit when outrageously overrated middle ‘backer Barrett Ruud is in the lineup (he’s been out most of the past month with a groin; rookie Colin McCarthy has been an upgrade in his stead). The secondary is sound but not ball-hawking.

The way to beat Drew Brees is to confuse him (which isn’t easy). He’s far too sharp as a progression-read passer for a defense to simply line up and play against. Unless luck intervenes or a few Titans defenders play the game of their lives, we’ll see Brees lead four or five ABC-123 type clock-eating scoring drives Sunday.

2. Chris Johnson
Pilloried for the destruction of fantasy teams nationwide the first 10 weeks of the season, the $30 million running back has rushed for over 100 yards in three of his last four outings. Not until these past two weeks did Johnson show his old acceleration and burst. We may never know what got him off track early in the year, but he appears to be on track now (he’ll have to stay on track a little longer before we fully trust him again).

One theory people floated was that his offensive line was struggling. That’s simply not true. It’s easy to blame the linemen because they’re big, faceless cogs in a unit. But ask yourself this commonsense question: What’s more likely? That one player (Johnson) suddenly stunk, or that FIVE players (the line) suddenly stunk? Johnson’s line wasn’t bad – Johnson was bad. He was stopping his feet to redirect, looking for holes rather than reading the movement of defenders and spinning mud when hitting the gas.

This isn’t to say that Johnson’s line has been sterling this season. Until they started consistently landing blocks on the move last week, guards Jake Scott and Leroy Harris looked very average (Scott maybe even a cut below that). Gritty veteran right tackle David Stewart has at times relied too much on grit and not enough on technique. Even steady Pro Bowl left tackle Michael Roos has struggled a bit (though more in pass-protection than run-blocking). But inconsistent means good AND bad. Until recently, the Titans line had been a tad inconsistent, while their running back had been just plain bad. We’ll see if Johnson can maintain his rhythm against a fast Saints run defense.

3. Titans O vs. Saints D: manufacturing big plays to compensate for a weakness
We’ve covered before how Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dials up so many risky, complex blitzes in part because he does not have a good enough pass-rushing front four to simply line up and play. On a similar note, Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has done a good job generating big pass plays this season through design.

With Kenny Britt injured, the Titans do not have any receivers who can consistently burn one-on-one coverage. Thus, instead of dictating the terms of engagement and just attacking through the air, the Titans have used route combinations in response to specific defensive looks. That’s good coaching.

Some examples that stand out: in Week 4, the Titans killed the Browns’ man coverages with a litany of natural pick plays (Nate Washington’s 57-yarder to set up a late first half touchdown being the highlight). In Week 13 they found ways to isolate Buffalo’s untested seventh-round rookie cornerback Justin Rogers with presnap motion.

In Week 3 they used a deep crossing route with unassuming tight end Craig Stevens:

The Titans knew that outside cornerback Cassius Vaughan was responsible for covering the defensive left third of field. So they sent wideout Marc Mariani on a fly route to carry Vaughan deep. That temporarily left an unoccupied void that Stevens’ crossing pattern was timed to hit. 

When Stevens caught the ball, Vaughan was out of position and facing the wrong direction. This well-timed, clever approach compensated for Stevens’ lack of speed.

This is quality stuff. It’s not necessarily sustainable – at some point, talent becomes a requirement in pro football – but it’s making the most of your resources.

4. Defending Graham
When facing the Saints, your defensive gameplan often centers around how you decide to defend Jimmy Graham. As the best receiving tight end in football, Graham, frankly, deserves a cornerback’s attention. But most teams can’t afford to sacrifice their run defense by playing a third corner on every down. So, they compromise by using a safety.

Then there are the brave teams that try to stop Graham with a linebacker (like the Giants two weeks ago, who put Jacquian Williams on Graham so that they could have one of their faster safeties defend Darren Sproles).

The Titans play a lot of zone coverage. Even a lot of their man coverages have sprinkles of zone concepts with cautious safety alignments over the top. Because of this, the Titans will likely be stuck in a few linebacker-on-Graham scenarios. Perhaps they’re comfortable with this.

In base defense, Will Witherspoon has been a savvy pass defender over the years. He’s not super savvy, though, as he comes out in nickel. Of course, that’s partly because rookie linebacker Akeem Ayers moves well in space, particularly near the inside flats. Ayers, however, is more inclined to make a tackle that merely prevents a run-after-catch, as opposed to actually breaking up a pass.

Expect Graham to get his usual touches, especially given that the zone defenders will constantly be peaking at Sproles coming out of the backfield.

5. Film Tidbits
Some miscellaneous trends for your viewing pleasure:
--when Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins creeps down into the box, it’s almost always to blitz.

--if the Titans do have one specific target they try to get the ball to, it’s tight end Jared Cook. He’s far from a go-to guy (inconsistent fundamentals, not as good a runner as his athleticism suggests), but he’s well-built and can create a mismatch once or twice a game. It usually comes when he detaches from the formation.

--The Titans like to use backup running back Javon Ringer in hurry-up offense. Ringer can catch and, more importantly, he’s a better pass-blocker than Chris Johnson. (We’ll see if Ringer’s hurry-up reps continue now that Johnson has gotten back to his normal self).

--The Saints almost always throw to the inside receiver in a given formation. It’s not often that the ball goes outside. (This tidbit came from film guru Greg Cosell, executive producer of the NFL Matchup Show.)

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 14 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 1, 2011 11:22 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Second-year players

Gronkowski

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

It’s too easy to talk about the best rookies of the season (Von Miller, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, blah, blah, blah) -- hell  you could find that list just about anywhere online. But the Top Ten with a Twist list strives to take you a little deeper than the surface. So, we talk about the best players who are in their SECOND year of playing in the NFL.

Like last year when we touted players like Clay Matthews, Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy, as well as players like (sigh) Johnny Knox, Knowshon Moreno and Mark Sanchez, we’re giving it another shot to discuss the best players from the 2010 draft. But this year, we guarantee the players on this top-10 list will be Hall of Fame bound one day.

Because if there’s one thing we know for certain, by the time NFLers are in their second year of playing pro football, they’ve got it all figured out. Or maybe not.

10. Earl Thomas: As a rookie safety last year, he recorded 76 tackles and five interceptions. While he’s only got one pick this season, he’s already at 71 tackles. Some observers before this season compared him to Troy Polamalu, and while Thomas clearly hasn’t reached that level yet, Thomas has plenty of talent to justify his first-round selection.

9. Jason Pierre-Paul: He didn’t get much notice last season, but the injuries to Osi Umenyiora and a slew of other Giants have gotten him more playing time. He’s taken advantage, recording 10.5 sacks and 50 tackles on the season. And he’s still only 22 years old. That’s scary.

8. Pat Angerer: If you don’t know much about Angerer, that makes sense. He plays in the black hole known as Indianapolis. But he’s quietly put together one of the best seasons by a linebacker this year. He leads the league with 112 tackles. He’s made at least seven tackles in every game this season, and four times, he’s entered into double digits (including 21 in Week 3 vs. the Steelers, the most for the Colts since Bob Sanders in 2005). Just think how much you would know about him if he played for a team that could win a game.

7. Dez Bryant: He’s shown immense talent the past two seasons, but he’s also shown erratic behavior on the field (ranting and raving on the sideline) and off the field (lawsuits for alleged unpaid jewelry services, charges of sagging his pants at a mall). He should be -- and could be -- one of the best receivers in the game at some point in the near future, but if you’re in the Cowboys organization, how much can you really trust the guy?

Tebow6. Joe Haden: He’s a little more invisible than many others because he’s playing for a franchise that struggles, and he doesn’t have the stats of a top-notch cornerback (he’s recorded exactly zero interceptions this season vs. six during his rookie year). But he certainly has big-time play-making ability (opposing offenses have tended to avoid throwing his way), and though he can be a little inconsistent, he’s got the talent to move into that elite level of defensive back.

5. Tim Tebow: He has to be on this list, right? And I’m not even kidding.

4. Eric Decker: Hmm, maybe Josh McDaniels’ 2010 draft wasn’t all that terrible after all. Decker has become the team’s best receiver, and when Tebow gets rolling in the last few minutes of every game, Decker is usually the one making amazing catches to help the cause. Just think what he could do if he had a quarterback who could actually make NFL throws.

3. Ndamukong Suh: As we’ve been saying since the beginning of forever ago, Suh needs to get a better handle on his intensity if he wants to keep the NFL out of his wallet, because it’s pretty clear that he’s one of the dirtiest players out there. And now that he’s been suspended two games, it’s hurting his team. He hasn’t been as good this year as he was last season -- facing more double-teams and all -- but still, he’s one of the most feared defenders in the league.

2. Jimmy Graham: If Rob Gronkowski is the best all-around tight end in the game (see below), Graham is close on his heels. Graham didn’t begin making an impact in New Orleans until midway through his rookie season, but he’s a hot commodity now, leading all tight ends with 67 catches for 957 yards. He has quickly become Drew Brees’ favorite target, and for any pass-catcher in the NFL, that’s a very good thing.

1.Rob Gronkowski: In his second season, he’s already become the most complete tight end in the game. He can block, he can catch, he can score touchdowns and he can spike the hell out of the ball when the play is finished. Plus, the guy hangs out with porn stars. He’s living the life right now. He’s got 60 catches for a 14.4 yards average and 11 scores (more than anybody not named Calvin Johnson), and simply put, he has been a pleasure to watch this season.

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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