Tag:Jim Harbaugh
Posted on: November 22, 2011 5:32 pm
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Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 11

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 11 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Gronk  Wright Clemons H-baugh
Judge  Smith  Willis  Cards  Reid
Prisco  Smith  Kelly  Pilares  Reid
Brinson  Smith  Miller  Bailey  Reid
Katzowitz  Smith  Miller  Bailey  Reid
Wilson  Smith  Miller  Pilares  Fox
Week 12's in the books and that means it's time to hand out some hardware -- this week provided some pretty unexpected returns for various players.

Kevin Smith is the big winner, as his 200-plus yards from scrimmage netted him a nearly unanimous Eye on Offense Award victory. Of course, he's probably just happy to be back in the NFL.

Von Miller picked up the Eye on Defense Award, which is a surprise, because most of America believes the Broncos are only winning thanks to Tim Tebow.

And Dan Bailey edged out Kealoah Pilares of the Panthers for the Eye on Special Teams Awards, because tie goes to your team winning. (Yes, I'm as surprised that I broke the tie away from a Panther as everyone else.)

And Andy Reid, the much-maligned coach of the Eagles, picked up the Eye on Coaching Award. Winning a game with Vince Young at quarterback will do that for you.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Rob Gronkowski Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
It's Gronk's world; we're all just squirrels, trying to get a nut. His stats are borderline insane and he's on an historic scoring pace. More importantly, his athletic skill remains the most impressive thing about his story. He gets open despite teams knowing the football is going his way and it's because of his route running and speed. It's a remarkable thing to see.
Kevin SmithKevin Smith, RB, Lions
He's out of football. He's out of work. He does nothing until Detroit calls. Then he suits up, runs for 140 yards and two touchdowns, scores again on a catch and the Lions overcome another 17-point deficit. OK, so it was against a leaky defense. I don't care. Smith was the right guy at the right time for the Lions and should be recognized. Now he is.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Kevin Smith Kevin Smith, RB, Lions
Smith ran for 140 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns and another receiving touchdown. Not bad for a guy who was signed off the street the week before.

 

Kevin SmithKevin Smith, RB, Lions
Maybe we should just make this the "RB facing the Panthers" award, because whoever plays Carolina goes off. Still, that shouldn't discount Smith coming off the street to pile up more than 200 total yards and three touchdowns in an emotional return to the NFL that sparked a Lions win.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Kevin SmithKevin Smith, RB, Lions
For a guy who was out of the league three weeks ago because of ACL problems, this was a welcome showing for the Lions who were in desperate of a boost against the Panthers. His 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries was nice, but his 61 yards on four catches were the icing. He was as surprising as he was awesome.
Kevin Smith Kevin Smith, RB, Lions
Three weeks ago, Smith was out of work. But his 140 rushing yards, 61 receiving yards and three touchdowns give the Lions something they desperately need: a threat in the running game. (Disclaimer: Chris Johnson ran for 140 on the Panthers last week and you saw him Sunday. So maybe we should hold off on Smith-Sanders comparisons just yet.)
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Major WrightMajor Wright, SS, Bears
Wright picked off a pass for the third straight game on Sunday, this time against Phillip Rivers in the end zone. Wright's pick ended a drive that could have gotten the Chargers right back in the game.
Patrick Willis Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers
He's an All Pro, and he proved why against Arizona: An INT, a FF, a team-high seven tackles and a team-high three pass deflections. Willis is one reason the 49ers are running away with the NFC West. Their defense isn't just good; it's scary good, leading the NFL in points allowed.
Prisco Brinson
Tommy KellyTommy Kelly, DT, Raiders
Kelly had two sacks and was a force in the middle of an Oakland defense that knocked Adrian Peterson out of the game and proceeded to dominate Minnesota in all aspects of Sunday's game.
Von MillerVon Miller, LB, Broncos
The bespectacled Miller doesn't get the hype of his offensive counterpart Tim Tebow, but he should, because he's the real reason the Broncos are suddenly rolling. He forced a fumble against the Jets, recorded a team-high 10 tackles (nine solo) and registered (another) 1.5 sacks.
Katzowitz Wilson
Von Miller Von Miller, LB, Broncos
Remember when Miller was benched from Denver’s 4-3 base defense for lacking discipline? Yeah, neither do we. Miller is one of the leading candidates for defensive rookie of the year, and against the Jets, he showed why, recording 10 tackles (three for a loss), three QB hits, 1 ½ sacks and a tipped pass. He is as scary as we thought he might be.
Von Miller Von Miller, LB, Broncos
The storyline coming out of last Thursday's game was Tim Tebow's 95-yard drive. The MVP of that game, however, was rookie linebacker Von Miller. He had 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and was hitting Mark Sanchez all night. He also sports Urkel glasses, which we wish he'd wear during the game.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Chris Clemons, DB, DolphinsChris Clemons
Not a household name for sure and there may be better candidates but his blocked punt led to a Miami touchdown. It was the first Dolphins score on a blocked punt since 1990. The play was symbolic of this mini-Dolphins resurgence. Everything is going right for them now.
Calais Campbell Cardinals FG Unit
The Cardinals blocked two David Akers' attempts in two quarters, and that's not easy. Calais Campbell had one, and it's the second time in two weeks he got his hand on a kick. So Arizona lost. Don't blame these guys.
Prisco Brinson
Kealoah PilaresKealoah Pilares, WR/KR, Panthers
Pilares returned a kickoff 102 yards against the Lions, the Panthers first return touchdown of the year, and first in a long time. It gave them a good lead, but, of course, it didn't hold up.
Dan BaileyDan Bailey, K, Cowboys
What ... do ... you ... know ... about ... pressure, DAN? Sorry, I couldn't help myself. But Bailey does know a thing or two about pressure, because he drilled a game-winning field goal in overtime to help the Cowboys win their third straight game, in a tough environment in DC.
Katzowitz Wilson
Kealoah Pilares Kealoah Pilares, WR/KR, Panthers
Who’s that you ask? Oh, well, that’s just the rookie from Carolina who returned a Lions kickoff 102 yards for the touchdown. Considering the Panthers special teams haven’t exactly been a team strength, this was a nice exception. (Ed. Note: First CAR kick return since 2003!)
Dan Bailey Dan Bailey, K, Cowboys
Bailey doesn't provide Hester-like excitement but he did something Redskins kicker Graham Gano couldn't Sunday: converted both his attempts, including a 39-yarder to beat Washington in overtime. He got that opportunity because Gano missed a 52-yarder on the previous series.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Bill BelichickJim Harbaugh, HC, 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are a shocking 9-1 and can actually clinch the division this week. Even if the NFC West is the worst in football that's an impressive feat. Harbaugh is doing some remarkable things with the 49ers.
Andy Reid Andy Reid, HC, Eagles
The Eagles' playoff hopes were supposed to go off life support with another loss, this one with Vince Young at quarterback vs. the first-place New York Giants. But they found a way to win, and credit Reid. He's won with backups before. He's trying to do it again. And he just did. 
Prisco Brinson
Andy ReidAndy Reid, HC, Eagles
Reid got his team to beat the Giants on the road with Vince Young. If you can beat a good team on the road with Young, you have to take this honor this week.
Andy ReidAndy Reid, HC, Eagles
The Eagles season might still be shot (it likely is), but kudos to Andy Reid for figuring out a way to beat the Giants while playing Vince Young at quarterback. This team had every right to give up (especially after Young's third pick) but still managed to find a way to win.
Katzowitz Wilson
Andy Reid Andy Reid, HC, Eagles
He’s taking his fair share of crap this year -- and for good reason -- but the way he used backup Vince Young in place of Michael Vick was impressive. Mostly, because he trusted Young to make the plays the Eagles needed. I’m not sure that’s a winning strategy every week, but Reid didn’t try to hide Young. Instead, Reid played to Young’s strengths and won.
Hue Jackson John Fox, HC, Broncos
Maybe Fox would still be Carolina's head coach if he had Jimmy Clausen run the read-option instead of a conventional pro-style offense. After committing to building the Broncos' offense around Tebow, Denver is 3-0, including Thursday's "mind-numbing for 55 minutes and Tebow-tastic for the final five" win over the Jets. 
Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

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. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.


3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).


It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:


If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.

MUFFED PUNTS

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.

WORTH 1,000 WORDS


GIF O' THE WEEK

No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 10:54 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The NFC’s top team from the East will travel some 3,000 miles to face the top team from the West in a game that could ultimately decide the No. 2 playoff seed. Here’s a five-point look at this matchup between two overachieving clubs.



1. Old School offenses
If not for HD quality picture and the first-down line, you could fool yourself into thinking the year is 1990 when watching these two offenses line up on Sunday. Both are built around traditional rushing attacks, operating predominantly out of classic 12, 21 or 22 personnel (12 personnel = 1 back, two tight ends; 21 personnel = two backs, one tight end; you can guess what 22 personnel equals).

The difference is that the Niners this season have successfully run the ball, while the Giants have not (San Francisco ranks sixth in the NFL with 137.6 yards rushing per game; New York ranks 29th with 88.8).

Jim Harbaugh has good horses in Frank Gore and the more dynamic but less experienced Kendall Hunter, but it’s not a glistening backfield like those found in Philadelphia, Houston or Oakland. To compensate, Harbaugh has done a masterful job manufacturing rushing yards through formation variations, motion and subtle subterfuge. The Niners show opponents a lot of different looks with their running back and tight end alignments. And with mobile guards like Mike Iupati and, to an extent, Adam Snyder, they can frequently change up their movement-oriented run-blocking techniques. They have the most variegated ground game in the NFL.
 
The Giants would like to mimic this, but Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t been healthy and Brandon Jacobs hasn’t been impactful. More encumbering has been the shakiness of the offensive line. The center position has been particularly problematic. David Baas has battled injuries and struggled with gap-shooting defensive tackles against Miami two weeks ago; when Baas has been out, Kevin Boothe has looked how you’d expect a career backup tackle to look at center. Most telling is that recently, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been almost exclusively aerial in his late-game play-calls.

2. The Quarterbacks
The Giants have managed six wins despite a sputtering ground game. The reason? Eli Manning has played the best football of his career. Herein lays the difference between New York and San Francisco. Both teams have former No. 1 overall drafted quarterbacks, but only one can put the game on its quarterback’s shoulders.

Manning is seeing the field clearer than ever (fortunately for him, New York’s front line struggles have not been in pass protection). His command of the offense and sound decision-making have propagated the eruptions of tight end Jake Ballard and slot receiver Victor Cruz. Ballard is an enhanced version of Kevin Boss; Cruz, with his unique body control and sticky hands, is a more explosive – though less stable – version of Steve Smith.

Something that’s not talked about often enough is Manning’s arm strength. He’s among the small handful of quarterbacks who truly can make all the throws; and he doesn’t need to be on balance or in perfect pocket conditions to do it.

Alex Smith, on the other hand, does need perfect pocket conditions. Smith is not functional with bodies around him. When he does have room, the throw usually has to target his first or second read, as he’s never had the poise to work deep in his progressions. This is one reason the Niners have spent so much time in 12 or 21 or 22 formations. When there are only three receivers running routes, defenses are more inclined to bring an eighth defender in the box, thus allowing for more one-on-one coverage concepts outside. This makes things simpler for the quarterback.

The Giants, on the other hand, are able to split into three, and sometimes four, receiver formations for long stretches and let Manning run the show.

3. Pass-rushes
These are two of the best pure pass-rushing defenses in the NFL. Pure meaning both are willing but not compelled to blitz. When they do blitz, it’s often primarily in an effort to command isolated matchups for rushers on the edge. For these defenses, those matchups will almost always be favorable.
 
For the Giants, Osi Umenyiora augments his incredible speed by being the league’s best snap-count anticipators in obvious passing situations. Opposite him, a healthy Justin Tuck is a versatile, fundamentally sharp force, and a rising Jason Pierre-Paul has willowy power and speed that make him a potentially more explosive version of Tuck. And don’t forget that linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka is a former first-round defensive end who can turn the corner.

You already know all this, though. What you may not know is that San Francisco’s pass-rushers are not too many rungs behind New York’s. Sixth-year pro Ahmad Brooks has finally learned how to apply his startling speed and fluidity on an everydown basis (even against the run, which close observers two years ago would not have predicted).

Rookie Aldon Smith plays with Manny Pacquiao-like hand-quickness to go with natural leverage that punctuates his first-round athleticism. What’s more, most 3-4 defenses don’t bank on getting pressure from their ends. But they don’t have a weapon like Justin Smith. He wears opponents out and makes three or four splash plays a week. Opposite Smith, Ray McDonald, when healthy (he injured his hamstring in Week 8) has been equally dynamic this season.

Both defenses have the versatility to create pass-rushing mismatches through position relocation and group concepts. All of the men mentioned above are outside players who can align inside, stand up as de facto blitzing linebackers or properly set up and execute crashes and stunts with teammates.

4. The Coverage Effect
These difficult-to-block four-man pass-rushes force quarterbacks to throw under duress into seven-man coverages. As they showed at New England last week, the Giants linebackers and safeties are getting more comfortable recognizing and attacking passing lanes. It helps that their cornerbacks, though inconsistent early in the season, can play press-man coverage outside.

Corey Webster has been particularly impressive in recent weeks, often shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver. He’s well equipped to defend the lithe but inexplosive Michael Crabtree.

The Niners love to play two-man out of their nickel defense. This puts cornerbacks Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver man-to-man on the wideouts and allows the two safeties, Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, to roam free over the top. Rogers, who starts outside but plays the slot in nickel, is having a career-year. Brown blends into the scheme in a good way. Culliver, a precocious third-round rookie, always plays with a great sense for his surroundings.

Even if Hakeem Nicks, discreetly a top-10 NFL receiver, returns from his hamstring injury this week, the Giants are going to have a tough time consistently getting wideouts open against this Niners secondary.

5. The inside linebackers
We saved the best for last: San Francisco’s inside linebackers (and just San Francisco’s – New York’s entire linebacking corps is very mediocre).

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the best inside linebacking duo in football. The past few years, Willis has rightfully been regarded as the best in the business. This season, he may be the second best on his own team, as Bowman, a 2010 third-round pick, leads San Fran in tackles.

Setting these two apart is the fact that they both play all three downs. That’s incredible in this day and age of spread offenses. In nickel and dime defense, Willis and Bowman perform coverage assignments normally reserved for defensive backs. They have the speed, change-of-direction prowess and awareness to do it. Both are quick-closing tacklers, instinctive run-defenders and innate playmakers.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 8:37 am
Edited on: November 9, 2011 12:41 pm
 

NFL Midseason Awards + Expert Chat Wed 1 pm ET

Posted by Will Brinson

It's a scary thought, but we've moved to the middle (and past!) of the NFL season for every single team, nine weeks into the 2011 year. That means it's time for awards. (You can go back and check out our preseason predictions here.)

We'll also be chatting about said awards -- swing on by at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday to talk with Pete Prisco, Clark Judge, Ryan Wilson and Josh Katzowitz and myself about where your team stands and why certain people actually picked the Dolphins to make the playoffs.

Below you'll find our midseason awards -- Pete has his full breakdown here and Clark's full breakdown is here -- where there shouldn't be much explanation needed. "BFA" is "Best Free Agent" and "WFA" is "Worst Free Agent" addition (though Wilson decided he was going with "offseason acquisition" instead, sigh), ASST is Assistant Coach of the Year, and "DOH" is a pick we'd each like to have back.

Enjoy and join us at 1.

Award Brinson
Wilson
Katzowitz
Prisco
Judge
MVP
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
OPOY
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Matt Forte Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
DPOY
Jared Allen Darrelle Revis DeMarcus Ware Darrelle Revis Darrelle Revis
OROY
Cam Newton Andy Dalton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton
DROY
Von Miller Aldon Smith Aldon Smith Von Miller Von Miller
COY
Marvin Lewis Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh
ASST
Rod Chudzinski Carnell Lake Wade Phillips Wade Phillips Wade Phillips
BFA
Johnathan Joseph Johnathan Joseph Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles
WFA
Rex Grossman Haynesworth Kerry Collins Ray Edwards Tarvaris Jackson
Surprise
Bengals 49ers 49ers Bengals 49ers
Disappoint
Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles
DOH
Garrett for COY Rivers for MVP Rams in NFCW Fins in playoffs Rams in NFCW




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Posted on: October 29, 2011 12:21 pm
 

Stephen Ross says he hasn't gone after Cowher

Sparano

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has shown a willingness in the past to trample over his current coach’s feelings by flying across the country to try to woo a new coach to his team.

Ross did it last offseason when he hopped a flight to California to try to convince then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to take Sparano’s place (even though, ahem, Sparano was still the coach of Ross’ organization).

It was embarrassing and a complete emasculation for Sparano, and it undermined his ability to be an effective leader in the organization. So, when, CBSSports.com’s Mike Freeman reported this week that the Dolphins have approached Bill Cowher about their coaching position (even though, once again, Sparano is still, ahem, the coach of Ross’ organization), it makes perfect sense.

But Ross, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, has denied going after the former Steelers coach.

"Not true,'' Ross said. "I'm not going to reach out to anyone while Tony (Sparano) is the coach. I hope he wins and stays the coach. Neither I nor anyone involved with me has contacted (Cowher), his agent or anyone around him."

Ross’ statement is laughable because of what occurred last year around the attempted hiring of Harbaugh. I believe Freeman's sources, but if Ross speaks the truth, his indignation that he never would go after another coach in that matter is ridiculous.

And when the Harbaugh wooing didn’t work, Ross then had some advice for Sparano. As Andy Benoit wrote in January:
There are a handful of NFL organizations that have been marred by meddling owners who inject their Joe Fan perspective into the team’s actual makeup. (Redskins fans know all about this.) But Dan Snyder, at least, has never been overtly public about his football opinions. And he’s never gone on radio to share the specifics of any advice he’s given to his head coach. Ross, whose background is in tax law and real estate, elaborated on the sage advice he gave to Sparano (who has over 25 years of coaching experience, including six years working with Bill Parcells).

“One great advantage in Florida as the Miami Dolphins, that other teams don’t have, and that’s we have the weather in August, September and October,” Ross said. “Our players are training in that weather, let’s take advantage of it. Let’s go with a hurry-up offense, let’s wear them down. We’ve never done that. This isn’t the north, where you want to just take it 4 yards and a cloud of dust. I think I look for a different brand. Seeing the Dolphins, how fans want to see them, how we win, we’re going downfield, the days of Dan Marino, the days we all want to go back to.”

Which was an awesome thing to say, considering Miami’s quarterback at the time, Chad Henne, isn’t exactly a Dan Marino clone.

OK, so we see that Ross is willing to fly cross-country to get what he wants, and when that doesn’t work, he’s willing to dole out advice to a long-time football man in Sparano. Why wouldn’t he go after Cowher after the way this disaster of a season has opened? Of course, he would.

For now, Cowher supposedly told his agent that he won’t agree to coach a team unless that team has a vacancy, and since it’s highly unlikely he would leave his TV gig in the middle of a season to take over the directionless Dolphins, a deal, if one is forthcoming, wouldn’t happen until after the season is complete.

When Sparano almost surely will be fired, and Ross can hire whomever he wants without having to humiliate Sparano to do so.

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Posted on: October 28, 2011 8:35 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 8:36 pm
 

Report: Cowher will only consider vacant NFL jobs

Whether it's Cowher or T.D., things can't get any worse in Miami. (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Things that should surprise no one: the Dolphins would very much like to be in the Bill Cowher business in the near future.

"According to a source with knowledge of the situation," CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote Tuesday, "intermediaries for the Miami Dolphins have contacted people close to Cowher about coaching the team."

This is what happens when you start the season 0-6. Never mind that owner Stephen Ross tried to get Jim Harbaugh to take the Miami job in the offseason only to have Harbaugh him end up with the 49ers (and worse: San Francisco is 5-1). And instead of firing Tony Sparano, Ross gave him a contract extension and brought him back.

But one way or the other, Sparano's tenure ends this season. The only question is when.

On Friday, sources told NFL Network's Albert Breer that Ross had been in contact with Cowher's agent about the Dolphins gig, but noted that "Cowher … told his agent and others concerned that he absolutely will not speak with any team that does not have a head coaching vacancy."

(This is basically what Freeman said earlier this week: "Now, everyone will deny this because no one wants to admit they are looking to fill a job that's already filled. In this case, the job of Tony Sparano. The Dolphins issued a statement to CBSSports.com declining comment.")

One solution: fire Sparano now and get down to the business of luring Cowher away from his NFL analyst job at CBS. One problem: Cowher has no plans to take a job during the season, though getting rid of Sparano now could give the Dolphins a head start on the recruitment process. (And let's be honest: Ross could name T.D. the interim coach and he couldn't do any worse than going winless.)

Last year, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cowher said "I am not going to go back into coaching, just to go back into coaching. It has to be the right situation. And I don't know what the right situation consists of."

No idea if the Dolphins are the right situation. Part of that will likely depend on other job openings around the league and, of course, how much Ross is willing to shell out to get Cowher to South Beach.


The Miami Dolphins are still searching for their first win as they prepare to take on the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz preview this matchup. Watch the game on CBS at 1 PM ET.

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Posted on: October 26, 2011 10:03 am
 

Everyone on Ravens pointing fingers at offense

Posted by Will Brinson

The Ravens looked downright dreadful on the offensive end of things on Monday in their 12-7 loss in Jacksonville. As such, the critics came calling, with many a pundit ripping Joe Flacco and even Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs questioning the playcalling after the game.

Suggs was baffled about the number of touches that Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice received. That number -- eight! -- apparently didn't sit well with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who said he's on the "same page" with Suggs re: touches.

"I listen to all of our guys and definitely I listen to Terrell Suggs, especially with the way he’s playing," Harbaugh said. "And then, the things he says are right. But, that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s not like we’re not trying to do the things he’s talking about doing. So, I think we’re all on the same page with that."

So that's not good news for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Although our own Mike Freeman reported Wednesday morning that Harbaugh isn't happy about the way Suggs criticized Cameron publicly, so perhaps it's Suggs that should be worried.

Indeed, BaltimoreRavens.com reported late Tuesday that Harbaugh and Cameron huddled up and discussed the offensive problems and determined that everyone's at fault.

"It’s warranted for all of us,” Harbaugh said. "I think we all deserve to have fingers pointed at us when the offense plays like that. That’s tough."

Oh, right, and add Flacco to the list of people that deseve blame, according to Cameron.

"That’s part of our deal," Cameron said. "Heat on me, heat on Joe. The coordinators, quarterbacks, we can all do better. It goes with the territory."

Flacco deserves criticism for making bad throws, of course. But it's not Flacco's fault that the offense is plodding through a late-game situation, or that Rice only got eight carries.

Now, there's an argument that the Ravens weren't moving the ball well on the ground -- Rice averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and Ricky Williams picked up just five yards on three carries.

But the problem with that argument is that 12 total carries for your running backs in a game that doesn't feature more than 19 points is simply illogical. 19 total points means that a game's either a defensive bloodbath or a sloppy offensive game. Either way, mistakes and the other team's opportunities can be mitigated by running the ball and looking to run it more effectively.

Cameron could have worn down the Jaguars defense and limited Flacco's mistakes if he'd simply given Rice the ball more, but for some reason, he didn't feel interested in doing so; when the score of a football game is 6-0 at halftime and still takes two hours to play, something has gone amiss in the respective offensive gameplans.

"Eight carries is never going to be a winning formula for Ray Rice," Harbaugh said. "There is no doubt about it."

Indeed it isn't, and Cameron should probably heed Harbaugh's words and perhaps take a look that the coach had on his face during Baltimore's next-to-last drive of the game. Cameron didn't go with a no-huddle offense initially, and melted nearly 1:30 off the clock with three plays that picked up a whopping 23 yards.

After finally letting Flacco put his foot on the peddle, the offense moved the final 60-plus yards in less than two minutes, scoring their first points of the game.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 24, 2011 10:03 am
 

Dolphins not looking to fire Sparano yet

SparanoPosted by Josh Katzowitz

At some point, you have to feel sorry for Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. His team is 0-6, and though some of that is his fault, Miami has lost in some mind-boggling ways.

Then, on Sunday, after Tim Tebow led the Broncos to 18 unanswered points in an overtime win -- even if it was a mirage -- owner Stephen Ross was spotted chatting up former University of Florida coach Urban Meyer (currently unemployed as a football coach) on the sideline. Considering Ross completely emasculated Sparano in the offseason by publicly going after Jim Harbaugh, I joked that obviously Ross was offering Sparano’s job to Meyer, effective immediately.

And really, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Ross had fired Sparano after Sunday’s effort. Alas, according to the Miami Herald, Sparano will continue coaching the Dolphins for now. Ross boarded a flight to Seattle, so the newspaper speculates he could change his mind after reflection, but that appears unlikely at this moment, especially since he probably wouldn’t fire anybody from thousands of miles away.

But going after Meyer? Was that really a joke, or could Ross actually be considering that?

From the Herald:
Never mind that the time Ross and Meyer spent on the sideline was completely coincidental. The owner intended to go into the Dolphins locker room to celebrate with his team when he left his suite. But by the time he got to the field level, the Broncos had made the score 15-7 and were lining up for an onside kick.

So the owner went to the sideline where Meyer “happened” to be standing. And the two got to talking. And Meyer, an impressive guy, seemingly impressed Ross.

That’s where it stops for the moment. It really can go no further. Meyer isn’t anyone’s midseason or interim hire. The Dolphins still believe if, and when, Meyer returns to coaching it will be on the college level.

None of that, though, should comfort Sparano. He is not long for this job, and it’s not all his fault. But that doesn’t change the near-certainty that a change is coming and Sparano will be the one left behind.

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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