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Tag:Ahmad Brooks
Posted on: February 29, 2012 12:33 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 2:28 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Fletcher, at 37, might not have many options other than returning to Washington. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the linebackers.

While there are a ton of free agent linebackers about to come on the market -- I’ve counted approximately 80 -- there doesn’t seem to be many surefire game-changers in the bunch. London Fletcher, vastly underrated in Washington, is one such player, but other than him, you’ve mostly got solid guys who can be contributors to whichever team signs them.

Some of the better free agent linebackers have been taken off the board already, as D’Qwell Jackson has re-signed with Cleveland while Ahmad Brooks agreed to return to San Francisco. Here are the rest of those who probably will try out their fortunes on the market.

1a. Mario Williams


Breakdown: Though we have Williams as the No. 1 defensive end available, we have to give him some love on the linebacker list, as well. Simply because in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, Williams was an outside linebacker. He only played five games for the Texans last year before tearing his pectoral muscle, but with five sacks, he also proved he can be successful in a 3-4 defense, meaning every team in the league should be thinking about Williams' worth. We thought he might struggle to find his balance in the first year of Phillips' scheme, but, as a linebacker, Williams is pretty damn good also.

Possible Landing Spots: Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans

1b. London Fletcher


Breakdown: Fletcher is one of those players who, unless you’re paying close attention, somehow seems to rack up the tackle numbers -- and you’re not really sure how. And before you know it, he’s leading the league with 166 takedowns, like last year.  In fact, Fletcher has recorded at least 116 tackles every year since 2001, and he’s started 224-straight games. The problem with Fletcher is that he’s 37, and you have to wonder how long his durability will hold up -- as well as his penchant for making scores of tackles every season. That shouldn’t matter, however, because it sounds like he wants to return to Washington and that the Redskins feel the same way. “We want our captain back,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said earlier this month. The feeling apparently is mutual.

Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

Tulloch might be a good fit in Philadelphia because he knows how to play in the wide nine. (US Presswire)

2. Stephen Tulloch


Breakdown: After a solid 2008-10 with the Titans (the dude had 160 tackles in 2010), Tennessee let the Lions take away Stephen Tulloch for 2011. After recording 111 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended last year, Detroit would like to keep him. It’ll likely cost the Lions much more than the one-year, $3.25 million deal they paid Tulloch last year. More importantly for the Lions, though, is locking up defensive end Cliff Avril, and you have to wonder if the Lions will want to shell out that much money to two defensive players. One good option for Tulloch might be the Eagles. Considering Tulloch played for years with Jim Washburn, who installed the wide nine scheme in Philadelphia last year, Tulloch would be comfortable in that system. Besides, the Eagles linebackers last year were pretty horrible, and Tulloch would be a big upgrade. Wherever he lands, one can only hope that Tulloch gets another chance to Tebow in front of Tebow.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions, Buccaneers, Eagles

3. Anthony Spencer


Breakdown: He’s pretty much the definition of one of those solid linebackers I wrote about before, and the Cowboys don’t fancy losing him to free agency. There has been speculation that the team could place the franchise tag on him, but if not, at least one Dallas reporter has speculated that Spencer could land a Chris Canty-like deal (a six-year, $42 million contract signed in 2009). The Cowboys might be averse to giving him such a long deal, because he hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations. Spencer’s representatives and the Cowboys were scheduled to meet at the scouting combine, and if they can’t come to a long-term agreement, Dallas might just have to grit its teeth and tag him.

Possible Landing Spots:Cowboys, Dolphins

4. Curtis Lofton


Breakdown: For the past three years, Lofton has been a tackling machine, accumulating at least 118 (including 147 in 2011), and it’s clear the Falcons want to re-sign him. But when Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff says that negotiations between the team and Lofton are “amicable,” it strikes kind of a weird tone (or is that just me?). And maybe the Falcons won’t be terrified if Lofton leaves. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote last week, “There’s growing sentiment that he’s a liability against the pass. The question thus becomes: Would you pay $8 million a year for a two-down linebacker?” Lofton might want more than that. Reportedly, Lofton is asking or a four-year deal worth $36 million.

Possible Landing Spots: Falcons, Eagles, Browns

5. David Hawthorne

Breakdown: With Hawthorne, you pretty much know what you’re getting. He’s good for about 110 tackles a season, five passes defended or so, and an interception or three. But it sounds like the Seahawks have a higher priority to sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant than inking Hawthorne to a new deal. Hawthorne is only 26 years old, and he’s solid across the board. But maybe more than most of the other linebackers on the list, there’s not a great chance for him to return to his old team. The one caveat to that: now that Leroy Hill is facing another drug charge, that might open up Seattle’s interest in Hawthorne again.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks

6. Jarret Johnson


Breakdown: The Ravens, at some point soon, might have to make a choice between whether they want Johnson or Jameel McClain (see below) to return to Baltimore for 2012. General manager Ozzie Newsome had said he wants to keep both, but that will be tough for the club to accomplish. So, if you’re Newsome, who is the priority between Johnson and McClain? Well, McClain had more tackles (84-56) last season  but less sacks (Johnson had 2.5 to McClain’s 1), and the Baltimore Sun predicts the Ravens have a better chance of retaining Johnson. He is, though, four years older, which might mean Baltimore will actually go harder after McClain. “I’d like to fit in again here,” Johnson said last month, via the team’s official website. “But unfortunately this is a business and sometimes business decisions [have] got to be made. I hope to be back. I’d love to retire a Raven, but we’ll see.”

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts

7. Jameel McClain


Breakdown: At 26, McClain is a young talent who likely will command a large salary (moreso than Jarret Johnson (see above)). It doesn’t sound like there’s a great chance for the Ravens to keep him.

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts, Eagles

8. Honorable Mentions

Unrestricted: Barrett Ruud, Chase Blackburn, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Andra Davis, Manny Lawson, Geno Hayes, Wesley Woodyard, Dan Connor

Restricted: Dannell Ellerbe, Aaron Maybin

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: February 28, 2012 4:59 pm
 

Ahmad Brooks gets 6 years, reported $44.5M

Brooks will keep making tackles in a Niners jersey for some time. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The 49ers sported one of the top defenses in 2011. They'd like to repeat that success next year, and they took one step towards doing so by signing outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks to a six-year deal the team announced on Tuesday.

It's believed, according to a report from Matt Barrows, that Brooks deal is worth $44.5 million with $17.5 million guaranteed.

Brooks will be in his sixth year in the NFL in 2012, and his fourth with the Niners. He was claimed as a third-round pick in the 2006 Supplemental Draft by the Bengals and then off of waivers by the 49ers in 2008. Prior to 2011, Brooks was given a starter's role under the new coaching staff.

He blew up for a career-high seven sacks and 59 tackles and, according to general manager Trent Baalke, will continue to start opposite Aldon Smith in the Niners lineup going forward.

Brooks also posted three sacks of Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the 49ers somewhat-shocking playoff upset of New Orleans.

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: January 11, 2012 3:15 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 11:49 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Saints divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The league’s No. 2 scoring offense meets the No. 2 scoring defense at Candlestick on Saturday.

Neither side has faced this tall of an order this season. Here’s the breakdown.


1. Niners inside ‘backers on Saints stars
NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are the reason San Francisco had the league’s best all-around defense in 2011. Both are smart, supremely athletic and adept in traffic and space. Thus, both can play run or pass at the highest of levels, which is why neither comes off the field much.

All season long, defenses have tried to figure out not just how to stop Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, but how to simply line up against them. Do you use safeties on Graham and linebackers on Sproles? Vice Versa? Do you go with cornerbacks for both and risk getting run on?

The Niners might be the first team that doesn’t have to worry about personnel packages against these two, as they may put one First Team All-Pro linebacker on Graham and the other First Team All-Pro linebacker on Sproles. Whether the Niners can win those matchups is another discussion, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is extremely fortunate to be able to even consider it.

Instead of having his players focus on new strategies, he can have them focus on execution.

2. Handling the rest of New Orleans’ passing attack
The 49ers generally play zone out of their base defense and man when they go nickel or dime. Because Graham is like a third wide receiver, the Saints can stay predominantly in their base personnel if they’re more comfortable facing zone coverage. That should be the case Saturday, as San Fran’s cornerbacking trio of Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver outside and Carlos Rogers inside has been tremendous in man-to-man.

Those three are capable of matching up with Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Marques Colston – especially if safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are providing help as free roamers over the top.

Whitner is somewhat limited in coverage (his success tends to come when linebackers are blitzing, which defines the routes quickly and makes them easier to jump). Goldson, on the other hand, is very rangy.

Both players must be careful not to overreact to the subtle fakes and body language of Drew Brees. No quarterback manipulates deep safeties better than the new single season passing yards record holder.

Pressuring Brees is critical to stopping New Orleans. (Getty Images)

3. Pressuring Brees
San Francisco is willing to blitz but often doesn’t have to, thanks to the speed of edge-rushers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Smith works extremely well with All-Pro defensive end/tackle Justin Smith on the left side when it comes to twists and stunts. That’s something the Saints left offensive line has struggled with over the years.

This season, however, athletic left tackle Jermon Bushrod has finally polished his pass-blocking mechanics and perennial Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks has ironed out the kinks he had in lateral pass-blocking movement. Nicks is also great at picking up Bushrod’s slack as a help-blocker.

The real key will be whether the right side of the Saints’ line can keep Brees clean. This Saints started clicking after their loss to the Rams, when Sean Payton tweaked the protections to give his tackles help with chip blocks from backs and tight ends. That’s the only way the Saints could survive the slow feet of right tackle Zach Strief.

If Ahmad Brooks draws even one true solo matchup against Strief on third-and-long, it means something has gone terribly wrong. (Or, it means the Niners will have gambled with an overload pass-rush on that side, which is plausible given that Bowman and Willis are both excellent blitzers.)

4. Niners run game against Saints D
The Niners make no bones about it: they’re going to win with Frank Gore, not Alex Smith. They’re a power-run offense – literally. Most of their offense derives from power plays, with left guard Mike Iupati pulling and fullback Bruce Miller or H-back Delanie Walker lead-blocking. The Saints have the personnel to stop this.

Former Niners tackle Aubrayo Franklin is a clogger inside and, when he shows up, veteran Shaun Rogers is a destroyer off the bench behind the generally incognito Sedrick Ellis. Also, defensive ends Will Smith and Cameron Jordan might not have dazzling sack numbers (Jordan, this year’s first round pick, recorded all of one), but both are superb at crashing inside or sliding down the line of scrimmage.

At the second level, Jonathan Vilma is regarded as the star (and rightfully so – he calls the signals and patrols sideline-to-sideline), but strong safety Roman Harper might be the deciding character on Saturday. Harper’s presence is what makes the Saints’ front seven so fast.

That will be especially important when backup running back Kendall Hunter, an underrated tempo-changer with better quickness and burst than Frank Gore, is in the game.

5. Niners big pass plays vs. Saints secondary
Jim Harbaugh is masterful at installing simple wrinkles in his offense each week that take advantage of the opponent’s greatest weakness. This week that means building a few downfield shot-plays into the passing game.

The Saints led the league in 40-plus-yard pass plays allowed during the regular season. The Niners know that if they keep extra blockers in for pass protection help (which their O-line needs, especially at tackle, where Joe Staley is very average on the left side and Anthony Davis, despite getting an embarrassingly nonsensical All-Pro vote, is very inconsistent on the right side), the Saints, with their green-dog heavy blitz packages, will bring the house:

In case you missed it, in last Saturday night’s broadcast, Cris Collinsworth did a great job explaining a green dog blitz. A green-dog blitz is when a defender in man coverage rushes the quarterback after he sees that his man has stayed in to block. Thanks to the speed and aggression of their linebackers, the Saints green-dog blitz as effectively as any team in football.

Thus, there are one-on-one matchups to be had downfield. Though San Francisco’s offense has been Gingrich-level conservative this season, downfield shots off play-action, particularly when the ball’s just inside midfield, have actually been a consistent element in their gameplans.

The Niners have to intentionally design their big plays because, other than maybe tight end Vernon Davis, they don’t have anyone who can conjure them naturally.

Michael Crabtree has great body control but “inexplosive” speed. Kyle Williams is quick out of the slot but not over the top. Ted Ginn has playmaking POTENTIAL but isn’t consistent enough to be considered an actual PLAYMAKER.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:06 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


At 10-3, the San Francisco 49ers are fighting for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With two losses in their last three outings, questions are starting to lurk. Are the Niners indeed a top-tier club with a powerhouse defense and limited-but-fundamentally sound offense? Or are they, like the ’08 Dolphins or 08 Titans, just another middle-tier team that happened to rack up a lot of wins thanks to the good fortunes of turnover differential? (The Niners are currently first in the league at +21).

San Fran’s recent two losses have been to quality 3-4 defenses (Baltimore and Arizona). The Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh could provide the “moment of truth” for Jim Harbaugh’s club.


1. Niners’ protection woes
The Cardinals defense, led by former Steelers assistant Ray Horton, came after Alex Smith & Co. with fervidity and dimension. Horton’s panoply of blitzes brought rushers from all four linebacking spots and, on a few occasions, the secondary. San Francisco’s offensive line, particularly inside with LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin and RG Adam Snyder, floundered in their identification and reaction speed. Two weeks before, those three linemen, along with backup guard Chilo Rachal, were physically manhandled by Haloti Ngata and the tough Ravens front three.

The Niners spend most of their time in base offensive personnel, which has them line up against base defensive personnel. The Steelers are less aggressive than the Cardinals when it comes to blitzing out of base personnel (most of Dick LeBeau’s blitzes come from nickel and dime packages). And, physically, the Steelers defensive front three is not as powerful as the Ravens’.

That said, the trenches mismatch will still be glaring and hard for the Niners to avoid (see items 2 and 3).

2. Niners run game
Jim Harbaugh’s is a run-oriented offense in the purist form. On first and second downs, the 49ers align almost exclusively in 21 or 22 personnel (i.e. two backs and one or two tight ends). The Steelers, at times, even in their base defense with vociferous nose tackle Casey Hampton, have uncharacteristically struggled in run defense this season. But those struggles have come against zone-blocking teams like the Texans, Ravens or Bengals.

The 49ers are a power-blocking team. Their ground game is predicated on size and force, double-teams and interior pulls (Iupati is very mobile; Snyder is often ineffective off movement but can at least physically execute the plays). Power-blocking is not a good formula when facing the Steelers. Their defensive line cannot be consistently driven, and inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior play too fast for slow developing pull blocks to work.

3. Niners pass game
If the Niners do try to stick with their power ground game, they’ll inevitably face a handful of third-and-long situations. That will compel Harbaugh to spread into three-receiver sets. That’s when LeBeau will take advantage of San Francisco’s interior pass protection issues.

One of the hallmark blitzes in LeBeau’s portfolio is the Fire-X, which is when both inside linebackers crisscross and attack the A-gaps. The Steelers execute Fire-X’s better than any team in football. James Farrior is brilliant in timing his blitzes and setting up pass-rushing lanes for teammates. Lawrence Timmons is more explosive than Acetone Peroxide when firing downhill.

What’s more, Troy Polamalu’s versatility becomes more pronounced in passing situations. That’s problematic given how much trouble Adrian Wilson (a poor man’s Polamalu) gave the Niners last week.

Because rushing yards could be tough to come by, it’s very likely that the Niners will throw on early downs out of base personnel (they had success with this formula against the Giants a few weeks ago). To help Alex Smith thrive in these scenarios, Harbaugh has implemented several changes this season – such as using play-action and specific route designs that allow for one-read throws, eliminating sight adjustment routes to ensure that the receivers and quarterback are always on the same page and being very judicious in calling “shot plays” downfield.

But in most games, there are points when a quarterback and his receivers simply have to make things happen. Smith doesn’t have the dynamic tools to consistently do that against a D like Pittsburgh’s. His primary wide receivers don’t have the speed and quickness to regularly separate outside (especially against a star cornerback like Ike Taylor). And, most concerning, his offensive tackles, particularly lackluster second-year pro Anthony Davis, are not formidable enough in pass protection to stave off LaMarr Woodley or even Jason Worilds.

4. Niners defensive line vs. Steelers O-line
The good news for Harbaugh is his defense is capable of posing nearly just as many problems for the Steelers offense. Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger’s health will have a significant impact on this game. You already know the advantages Big Ben gives the Steelers.

Almost as important is the health of center Maurkice Pouncey. Like Roethlisberger, he’s battling a Grade 1 high ankle sprain. Pouncey could not finish the game against Cleveland but says he’ll play Monday night. That’s huge. Without Pouncey, the Steelers would have to slide Doug Legursky from left guard to center, which poses a substantial drop-off in mobility and strength (even if Legursky has been somewhat of an overachiever the last year).

What’s more, Chris Kemoeatu would be forced back into the lineup at left guard. Kemoeatu has been a top ten player at his position the past few years. But for whatever reason, he’s fallen flat on his face this season – mainly in pass protection, where he’s shown poor lateral agility and a proclivity for holding.

Even at full strength, the Steelers offensive line is average and, thus, incapable of completely neutralizing the 49ers front line over four quarters. Left end Justin Smith is as good as they get. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has blossomed into a plugger who’s mobile enough to make plays anywhere in the box.

Right end Ray McDonald is healthy again and flashing uncommon initial quickness. And on passing downs, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are lightning fast, supple edge-rushers with versatile short-area explosiveness. It’s highly doubtful the Steeler tackles can contain them one-on-one.

5. San Francisco’s defensive back seven
Even if Patrick Willis’ hamstring keeps him out a third-straight game, the Niners have enough speed and burst with NaVorro Bowman and strong safety Donte Whitner to answer Pittsburgh’s methodical rushing attack. The key will be whether San Francisco can hold up in pass defense. The Niners like to play zone in base D and man in nickel or dime.

Without Willis, San Francisco’s zones become somewhat vulnerable inside (we saw this on Early Doucet’s 60-yard touchdown last week). In man, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver are all capable of hanging with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, but not if Roethlisberger is able to extend the play (Brown is simply too good at making late adjustments to his route, Sanders is similar and Wallace obviously has lethal speed if he can get downfield).

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 15 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
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: August 20, 2011 9:19 pm
 

Jason Campbell knocked out of Raiders game

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Starting Raiders QB Jason Campbell has been knocked out of the team’s preseason game against the 49ers.

As the pocket collapsed around him in the second quarter, Campbell ran to his left, fumbled the ball (without anyone touching him), and took the sack from 49ers DE Justin Smith (LB Ahmad Brooks then smacked him across the left shoulder or the head when Campbell was on his way to the turf).

Campbell walked off the field with the Raiders trainers by his side, and he’s been replaced by Trent Edwards. No word yet on Campbell’s condition.

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

Posted on: November 5, 2010 3:41 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2010 4:07 pm
 

An abundance of fines in NFL Friday

Posted by Andy Benoit

There were no major injuries from illegal hits last week, but that doesn’t make said hits any less illegal. Thus, James Harrison was not the only player who drew a fine after Week 8. Sorting through the various tweets that have been rolling out this Friday afternoon, here are other players who received a letter from the NFL, requesting (demanding) a charitable donation:

Jason Babin, DE, Titans $20,000 (hit on Philip Rivers; repeat offender)

Manny Lawson, LB, 49ers $12,500 (hit on Kyle Orton; repeat offender)

Ahmad Brooks, LB, 49ers $10,000 (hit on Kyle Orton; repeat offender)

Chris Clemons, DE, Seahawks $7,500 (unnecessary late hit on Jason Campbell; repeat offender)

Gary Guyton, LB, Patriots $7,500 (hit on Favre)

Myron Pryor, DL, Patriots $7,500 (hit on Favre – the chin shot)

Some of these hits were flagged, some weren’t. Obviously, the NFL didn’t feel any were as egregious as the one Ernie Sims ($50,000 fine) laid on Lavelle Hawkins in Week 7. But the point is becoming clearer and clearer: the NFL is serious about cleaning up the illegal hits.

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

Posted on: August 8, 2010 10:21 am
 

Ahmad Brooks has an unusual injury

Posted by Andy Benoit

Players on NFL injury reports usually have words like “shoulder”, “knee” or “ankle” next to their name. Very rarely does the word “kidney” show up. But such is the case with 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

Matt Barrow of the Sacramento Bee writes:

What was initially diagnosed as bruised ribs has turned out to be more serious for outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. The team announced today that Brooks has a lacerated kidney. He missed today's practice and will sit out at least two more weeks when his kidney will be reevaluated.

The length of time a player misses with a kidney laceration depends on the severity of the injury and on how quickly an individual heals, which is why the 49ers have not put a time line on Brooks' recovery. Last year, for example, Chicago running back Garrett Wolfe injured his kidney on Nov. 8 and missed the rest of the season. Wolfe spent three days in the hospital recovering from the hit that damaged his kidney. Brooks, on the other hand, was walking around at practice today.


Brooks is not a household name, but the fifth-year pro is a crucial piece to San Francisco’s ascending defense. Uncanny speed and quickness (particularly in his first step) make Brooks the most dominant edge-rushing force the Niners have. He would start ahead of Manny Lawson if not for his lack of awareness in run defense.

Brooks had a career-high six sacks in somewhat limited action in 2009. He also forced four fumbles. The Niners re-signed him to a two-year contract this past offseason, knowing that if he’s healthy, he’s likely a double-digit sack artist.

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