Tag:Andre Carter
Posted on: February 27, 2012 1:08 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Defensive End Rankings

It sounds like Houston isn't remotely interested in letting Williams test free agency. (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 defensive ends.

Most of the categories in our 2012 free agent rankings are fairly straightforward. Running backs are running backs. Tight ends are tight ends. Quarterbacks are quarterbacks. But when it comes to the defensive line, the category gets a little blurry.

Some defensive ends also play defensive tackle. Defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme oftentimes line up as an outside linebacker. That makes ranking them in a single list a bit more complicated. Though some of the following players won’t always line up as a defensive end, the idea that each of these players will be asked to rush the passer remains the same. So, we list them as defensive ends.

1. Mario Williams

Breakdown: Williams quickly caught on to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme where he played as more of an end/linebacker hybrid and recorded five sacks in the only five games in which he participated last year. Williams likely will return to terrorizing tackles and quarterbacks on nearly every snap if he leaves Houston and signs with a team that uses the 4-3. True, Williams is coming off a pectoral muscle injury that sent him to the IR list, but he says he’s healthy and the former No. 1 overall pick is going to be expensive. That said, Texans general manager Rick Smith continues to say that re-signing Williams is one of the teams’ top offseason priorities, though there’s a real question whether Houston has the cap room to do so. Even though Williams has failed to reach double-digits in sacks for the past three years, he still could win the richest defensive player contract of all time if he leaves Houston.

Possible Landing Spots:Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans
Avril made a name for himself in 2011. (Getty Images)

2. Cliff Avril


Breakdown: Although he’s not as well-known as teammates Ndamukong Suh or (probably) Nick Fairley, Avril emerged as one of the nastiest ends in the league this year. His 11 sacks were a career high, and he even managed his first career interception. The problem on Avril’s end is that there’s almost no chance Detroit will let him get anywhere near free agency. The Lions and Avril are working on a long-term deal. General manager Martin Mayhew said that while he doesn’t want to franchise-tag Avril, he’s also not willing to lose him. If that occurs, Avril -- who has hinted at holding out -- will have to decide if he wants to be on time for training camp.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions

3. Calais Campbell


Breakdowns: The past three seasons, Campbell has been consistent, and he has consistently improved, increasing his tackle totals every season and notching a career-high eight sacks in 2011 for the Cardinals. But like Avril, he’s got very little chance to test himself on the free agent market, because it sounds like if Arizona can’t come to terms on a long-term contract, the Cardinals will tag him. But unlike Avril, Campbell said he’s OK with that scenario. Besides, if he is tagged and makes close to $11 million for 2012 and puts forth another career-best performance, he’ll have the chance to set himself up with a huge contract.
 
Possible Landing Spots: Cardinals

4. Robert Mathis


Breakdown: Since he’s spent his entire nine-year career in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine Mathis in a non-Colts uniform -- almost as tough, I suppose, as imagining Peyton Manning in something other than blue and white. The potential problem, though, is new coach Chuck Pagano seems intent on installing the 3-4 scheme, and that will be a transition for somebody who’s always been a 4-3 end (it’s worth noting that CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco doesn’t seem concerned with the Colts turning Mathis into a pass-rushing linebacker). The Colts have said they want to keep Mathis in Indianapolis, but Dwight Freeney will cost $19 million against the salary cap. Another possibility for Mathis is the Colts placing the franchise tag on him, but considering Mathis is 31, the delaying of a long-term contract isn’t necessarily a great option for him.

Possible Landing Spots: Titans, Falcons, Colts

5. John Abraham

Abraham believes he's worth $12 million a year, even though he'll turn 34 before next season. (US Presswire)

Breakdown: Although Abraham will turn 34 before the start of the 2012 season, he still should draw plenty of interest throughout the league, simply because he continues to be one of the elite ends around. He’s durable, playing at least 15 games per season in the last five years, and he continues to churn out double-digit sack totals on a near-annual basis (his 9.5 sacks in 2011 just missed the cutoff). Can he command a long-term contract? Probably not, because of his age. Is he still a top-10 defensive end? Probably, yes. But is he worth $12 million? According to Abraham, the answer is: absolutely. “Check out the five top ends,” Abraham told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Everybody is getting 12-plus. I made $8 million last year. Everybody is saying, ‘Oh, he’s so greedy.’ How am I greedy when I’m just trying to get paid the same thing they are getting paid?” The chances of Abraham getting $12 million? Slim to none.

Possible Landing Spots: Giants, Buccaneers, Patriots

6. Cory Redding

Breakdown: He had a rough year in 2009 in his only season with the Lions, but since moving to Baltimore and playing with the Ravens for the past two seasons, Redding has returned to being a solid end who can stop the run and who occasionally can muster a sack (he’s got 7.5  combined in the past two seasons). But Redding will turn 32 next season, and he had injuries at the end of last year that slowed him a bit (even though it was one of the best seasons of his career). He’s probably not a great long-term value for most teams in the league, but the Ravens are a fan of him, particularly since he took on a leadership role when linebacker Ray Lewis missed four games. Redding just seems to fit in well with Baltimore’s defense. But remember, Pagano lurks to the west in Indianapolis.

Possible Landing Spots:Colts, Ravens

7. Jeremy Mincey


Breakdown: Mincey certainly picked the best time to have a career year. In his contract year, he recorded 57 tackles, eight sacks and an interception. Considering he didn’t combine for those numbers during the first five seasons of his career, that should tell you about Mincey’s mindset entering 2011. Or, it should tell you that last season was simply an anomaly (or, I suppose, you could say that it just took Mincey a long time to develop). Either way, Mincey is looking to get paid -- he’s on record saying he won’t give Jacksonville a hometown discount -- and though it appears the Jaguars would like to keep him, they’ll have to figure out where he fits in with the team’s finances (it should be noted that Jacksonville has plenty of room under the salary cap).

Possible Landing Spots: Jaguars, Bills

8. Israel Idonije


Breakdown: He obviously doesn’t get the love that’s reserved for teammate Julius Peppers, but Idonije notched a career-high 52 tackles last season (along with five sacks). Even better for Chicago, Idonije seems intent on returning to the Bears. “I want to be here,” Idonije said earlier this month. “I have an incredible relationship with the coaching staff, and I understand the system. So my No. 1 focus is to stay.” He even intimated he would give Chicago a hometown discount. He probably won’t command an expensive long-term deal, and he’ll probably be worth it for the Bears.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears

9.  Mark Anderson


Breakdown: Anderson is a strange case, because as ESPN Boston pointed out, he only played 47.6 percent of the Patriots snaps last year. Yet, he still managed 10 sacks. Also, he played all but one snap in the team’s final two games after Andre Carter suffered a quad injury.  Carter also is an unrestricted free agent, but reportedly, Anderson is a better bet to be re-signed by New England.

Possible Landing Spot: Patriots, Dolphins

10. Honorable Mentions


Unrestricted: Kendall Langford, Raheem Brock, Red Bryant, Andre Carter

Restricted: Phillip Merling, Michael Bennett

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 21, 2011 4:52 pm
 

Rodgers tops Pro Bowl voting; Tebow third AFC QB

Aaron Rodgers led the way in all Pro Bowl voting.(Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

We've wondered whether or not Tim Tebow is a Pro-Bowl candidate before this year and the answer is probably "no." But that doesn't matter when it comes to Pro-Bowl voting, where Tebow was the third-highest vote getter among AFC quarterbacks.

Aaron Rodgers, named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year on Wednesday, was the top vote-getter among all NFL players, pulling in 1,581,982 votes from fans. Tom Brady was second among all NFL players with 1,454,311 votes. Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski joined Brady in the top 10, via NFL.com:

Top-10 Pro Bowl Vote Getters
Player Position Team Votes
Aaron Rodgers
QB Packers 1,581,982
Tom Brady
QB Patriots 1,454,311
Drew Brees
QB Saints 1,188,893
Calvin Johnson
WR Lions 1,180,777
Wes Welker
WR Patriots 1,133,787
LeSean McCoy
RB Eagles 962,824
Rob Gronkowski
TE Patriots 936,886
Ben Roethlisberger
QB Steelers 935,535
Adrian Peterson
RB Vikings 925,554
Mike Wallace
WR Steelers 923,073

So, yeah, breaking: the Patriots and Steelers are popular! Also popular? Tebow.

AFC Pro Bowl Leaders by Position
Offense Defense
Player Pos Team Votes Player Pos Team Votes
Tom Brady
QB Patriots 1,454,311 Andre Carter
DE Patriots 511,693
Arian Foster
RB Texans 896,804 Haloti Ngata
DT Ravens 592,603
Vonta Leach
FB Ravens 149,801 Terrell Suggs
OLB Ravens 546,851
Wes Welker
WR Patriots 1,133,787 Ray Lewis
MLB Ravens 413,222
Rob Gronkowski
TE Patriots 936,886 Darrelle Revis
CB Jets 561,986
Michael Oher
OT Ravens 327,644 Troy Polamalu
SS Steelers 230,649
Logan Mankins
G Patriots 337,844 Ed Reed
FS Ravens 198,075
Maurkice Pouncey
C Steelers 376,457 Shane Lechler
P Raiders 228,782
Sebastian Janikowski
K Raiders 244,512 Joe McKnight
KR Jets 140,926

Once again, I'll point out that the Ravens and Patriots are popular (and also good at what they do), along with the Steelers. Brendon Ayanbadejo was the leading "special teams" vote-getter, with 106,515. On the NFC side, well, I hope you like the Packers:

NFC Pro Bowl Leaders by Position
Offense Defense
Player Pos Team Votes Player Pos Team Votes
Aaron Rodgers
QB Packers 1,581,982 Jared Allen
DE Vikings 784,527
LeSean McCoy
RB Eagles 962,824 Justin Smith
DT 49ers 525,578
John Kuhn
FB Packers 322,260 DeMarcus Ware
OLB Cowboys 581,554
Calvin Johnson
WR Lions 1,180,777 Patrick Willis
MLB 49ers 581,554
Jimmy Graham
TE Saints 725,612 Charles Woodson
CB Packers 763,198
Chad Clifton
OT Packers 392,106 Roman Harper
SS Saints 147,542
T.J. Lang
G Packers 327,740 Morgan Burnett
FS Packers 223,292
Scott Wells
C Packers 436,693 Andy Lee
P 49ers 161,812
Mason Crosby
K Packers 184,665 Devin Hester
KR Bears 268,293

For the NFC, Jarrett Bush of the Packers received the most special teams votes with 134,696. (And yes, I suppose I could have kick returners on the offense side, but I'm not trying to have my tables be all uneven. Oh no I'm not.)

Naturally, none of this means any of these guys are guaranteed to make the Pro Bowl -- the fan vote only counts as one-third of the total. The players vote is worth two-thirds. But there's a good chance that many of these guys will end up in the Pro Bowl.

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Posted on: December 14, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: December 14, 2011 11:31 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It might just be the most anticipated matchup of the season: Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow. One quarterback inspires because he has it all and wins, the other inspires because he has none of it and wins. Let’s break it down.


1. Evaluating Tebow
If you want a rehashing of Tebow’s quarterbacking strengths and (many) weaknesses, or an opinion on whether the Broncos should invest long-term in their unconventional “star”, or a theory about motivation and inspiration and divine intervention, hit the message boards or talk radio. The focus of this post is on what Tebow has shown on film the past few weeks.

In short, he’s getting better as a passer but still has a long ways to go. He’s been very good against Cover 2 looks. He made the Vikings pay for their frequent (and, frankly, mind-boggling) mistakes two weeks ago, and he conjured up several critical late-game completions the week after, when the Bears moved from man coverage to a soft Tampa 2 (where a few goofs by the secondary and a lack of pass-rush killed them down the stretch).

Tebow remains slow in the pocket – in terms of progressions, decisiveness and ball release – and he falls back on sandlot tactics if his first read is not there. This isn’t the worst thing, though, as he’s clearly proven to be clutch in this style. He’s very effective on the move, both as a scrambler and passer. He can extend the play with a unique Roethlisberger-like sense for avoiding and shedding pass-rushers.

But unless the Broncos can continue to win while averaging less than 20 points per game offensively, they’ll need more aerial dimension, progression reads and overall consistency from their young quarterback.

2. Denver’s run game
When offenses put a bunch of bodies on the line of scrimmage, the natural assumption is that they’re relying on sheer human mass to bulldoze the defense and clear a path for the running back. In actuality, what they’re often doing is creating more running options for the back. The more players there are along the line of scrimmage, the more gaps there are for the defense to worry about.

This is why you frequently see the Broncos bring a receiver in motion down to the tight end spot just before the snap; it’s not the receiver’s blocking prowess that the Broncos like, it’s that his presence expands the run front surface. Generally, the defense responds to this by matching players to gaps (in other words, crowding the line of scrimmage).

The brilliance of Denver’s zone-option run is that it forces defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage when there’s still the threat of a pass. Granted, this passing threat is weak – usually only two or three receivers run routes, and defenses are happy to see Tebow throw – but it’s not weak enough for defenders to completely ignore. Thus, they’re distracted ever so slightly from their run-stopping assignments.

More than that, the zone-option presents a myriad of run possibilities on a given play. The ball could go to Willis McGahee, fullback Spencer Larsen, a sweeping receiver or stay with Tebow. And with so many options, the ball does not necessarily have to follow the direction of the blocking scheme.

These are all factors that defenders must mentally process after the snap. That’s not how defenders are accustomed to playing the run.
Also, keep in mind, defenses do not generally account for quarterbacks in the run game; Tebow’s threat as a runner has a wildcat effect that gives the offense a numbers advantage if the D does not bring an eighth man in the box.

3. How the Patriots will defend the run
A smart, fundamentally-sound run-defending front seven can still stymie the zone-option. Usually, it takes two stud linebackers and two stud defensive ends. The Bears and Jets both had these resources and, aside from a play or two, they both shutdown the Broncos’ ground game. The Bears did it out of a base 4-4 (safety Craig Steltz played in the box all game); the Jets did it out of a base 3-5.

Whatever the defensive alignment, the basic principles are the same: the linebackers must see the field well enough to track the ball and identify gaps. More importantly, they must run well enough to catch up to the ball (because, as we’ve examined, defending the zone-option is strict assignment football, where the reads are more details-oriented than in conventional run defense). The defensive ends must have the physical strength to penetrate against one-on-one blocking, as well as the discipline to stay within the strict confines of their edge duties.

It’s unknown whether the Patriots will follow Chicago’s 4-4 scheme or New York’s 3-5 scheme Sunday. They’ve alternated between various defensive fronts all season. More pressing is whether the Patriots even have the personnel. Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo is elite, but whoever’s next to him is most certainly not (Bill Belichick has tried a litany of different players here). At left end, Vince Wilfork is obviously a monster.

On the defensive right side, Andre Carter has been outstanding at times, but he may not have the necessary size to trade blows with a left tackle like Ryan Clady for four quarters. If the Patriots go with a 3-5 approach, they may want to rotate massive youngsters Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick at end and use Carter’s flexible movement skills in space (ala Calvin Pace of the Jets).

Keep in mind, the Broncos have a sound rushing attack even without the zone-option. McGahee has a league-leading six 100-yard games on the season, and his front five is capable of winning one-on-one battles across the board. The Patriots got abused last week by a Redskins rushing attack that entered the game ranked 31st.

4. Back to the air
It’s entirely possible that Tebow and the Broncos will be able to move the ball through the thin Mile High air this Sunday. The Patriots’ pass-rush has been more “miss” than “hit” in 2011. Their secondary currently features a journeyman special teamer at strong safety (James Ihedigbo), a wide receiver and career-long special teamer at free safety (Matthew Slater) and another wide receiver at nickelback (Julian Edelman).

That’s the type of lineup you only see when someone is screwing around playing Madden.

If the Patriots bring Ihedigbo into the box, they’ll have to play either Cover 3 (zone) or man-to-man downfield. Because defensive backs must face inside when playing Cover 3, the way to attack them is with outside routes. Broncos wideouts Eric Decker and Matt Willis are effective on these patterns.

In man, cornerbacks must obviously stay with their assigned wide receiver. This season, Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty have simply not done that. Arrington improved his ball skills but has still been exploited. McCourty has been just plain porous.

5. Patriots previous blueprint for Tebow?
We’ve looked at how the Patriots might defend the Broncos offense as a whole. What about defending Tebow specifically? One player who is somewhat similar in style is Vince Young.

The Patriots devised a shrewd gameplan when they faced the Eagles backup in Week 12. Using a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 looks, they focused on keeping Young in the pocket, forcing him to be a passer. They did this by jamming his tight ends and wing/flex receivers with defensive ends and blitzing linebackers.

That disrupted a lot of Young’s quick outlet throws and forced him to make reads downfield. When Patriot blitzers did actually go after Young, they always came from the front side. That way, Young would see the blitz and instinctively scramble to the backside. On that backside would be a defensive end in containment.

At the end of the day, this approach generated three sacks and 21 incompletions for the Patriots defense.

6. Other side of the ball
Even though Tebow has been at his most comfortable throwing against Cover 2, the Patriots would presumably love to play that defense often this Sunday, as that’s the tactic they tend to fall back on when protecting a big lead. The reason Tebow has not had to put together four good quarters of even semi-traditional quarterbacking during this six-game win streak is because no team has managed to jump way out in front against the Denver defense.

New England will certainly look to change that. Expect some form of hurry-up early in the game. Even if playing with a lead weren’t extra important this week, Tom Brady would still come out throwing, as it’s difficult to run against Denver’s base 4-3 (their tackles Broderick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas hold ground well, and their linebackers all cover ground well).

Most offenses would prefer facing Denver’s nickel D. It’s a much easier group to run inside against, and the revolving door at No. 3 slot cornerback has been a weak spot for the Broncos since Day One. The Broncos will likely use their nickel D against the Patriots’ base 12 offense (one back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). This will make John Fox’s group somewhat vulnerable to the run, but Fox would rather see Brady handing off than throwing.

Because so much of New England’s offense is horizontal, it’s important for a defense to have as much speed at linebacker as possible. In this sense, nickel linebacker Wesley Woodyard is better suited than starter Joe Mays. What’s more, in nickel, the Broncos can go with three downlinemen and create more space for their excellent inside blitzers, Von Miller and D.J. Williams.

Generating pressure inside is a must against Brady. The only way to disrupt him is to move him off his spot and make him play frenetic. The more Brady moves, the less likely he is to throw between the numbers. That’s critical, as these statistics show:

                            Tom Brady 2011 Passing Stats
          Between the Numbers         Outside the Numbers
   COMP %
                  73.4                     54.7
    YPA                   9.44                     7.31
  QB Rating
                 118.2                     86.8

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 15, 2011 4:47 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 5:21 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 10

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 10 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman   Fitz  Carter  Hester McCarthy
Judge   Fitz  Carter  Hester   Fox
Prisco  Romo  Carter  Hester  Whiz
Brinson  Romo  Carter Hauschka   Fox
Katzowitz  Romo Wimbley Hauschka   Fox
Wilson  Romo  Carter Hauschka Carroll
Another NFL week's in the books, and that means it's time to hand out the hardware.

Our Eye on Offense Award goes to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, whose matchup against Larry Fitzgerald for the trophy was much closer than his beatdown of the Buffalo Bills.

Andre Carter was the near-unanimous selection for our Eye on Defense Award. That's what happens when you produce the best pass rush New England's seen since the Bush administration.

Steven Hauschka -- a fellow Wolfpacker! -- stole Devin Hester's award away from Devin Hester thanks to five field goals that propelled the Seahawks to a (somewhat?) shocking win over the Ravens, and is our Eye on Special Teams recipient.

And John Fox, who continues to befuddle AFC West opponents by properly utilizing Tim Tebow, ran away with our Eye on Coaching Award for Week 10.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Larry Fitzgerald Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
On a crap team, with a crap quarterback, in a crap game, on a crappy throw, he makes one of the top catches of the week. Then again, week in and week out, that's what Fitzgerald does. He sometimes gets lost amid the talk of the best receivers in the NFL but he was the biggest reason the Cardinals beat Philly and I'd take Fitzgerald over any other WR.
Larry FitzgeraldLarry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
He has 146 yards in catches, two touchdowns and sets up the winning score with a diving reception near the goal line ... and all from John Skelton. The Cards weren't supposed to win on the road. They weren't supposed to win with Skelton. And they certainly weren't supposed to beat the Eagles. They did, and Fitzgerald is why.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
Romo completed 23-of-26 passes setting a Cowboys record for completion percentage, and threw three touchdowns in the Cowboys blowout of the Bills. Romo was poised in the pocket all day and never seemed to get unsettled.
Tony RomoTony Romo, QB, Cowboys
Romo had arguably the best game of his career against the Bills, throwing just three incompletions with three teeters, and the only reason his production wasn't better is that Dallas blew Buffalo out. Prediction: we'll be calling Romo a darkhorse MVP candidate by Week 14.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Tony RomoTony Romo, QB, Cowboys
He started the game 11/11 and finished by completing 88.5 percent of his passes (23/26) and throwing for 270 yards and three TDs. Forget about the loss of Miles Austin. With Dez Bryant beginning to show his talent and with the emergence of Laurent Robinson, Romo, at times, shows why he could be a top-five quarterback. That’s what he accomplished in destroying the Bills. 
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
According to Football Outsiders, Romo is a top-5 NFL quarterback. You wouldn't know it after watching him against the Jets and the Lions but you certainly would after his performance versus the Bills Sunday. He threw just three incompletions all day (that's three fewer than Tim Tebow ... while attempting 18 more passes) and had three TDs.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Andre CarterAndre Carter, DE, Patriots
The easiest choice to make for these awards. I watched Carter against a moderately talented offenisve line and he destroyed it with 4 1/2 sacks. I didn't think Carter had it in him. I didn't think the New England defense was capable of anything remotely like that. 
Andre Carter Andre Carter, DE, Patriots
The biggest problem with the league's last-ranked defense, people tell me, is that the Patriots can't rush the quarterback. Well, this just in: They just did, with Carter producing a career-high 4 1/2 sacks by himself. Rex Ryan wasn't outcoached. His players were outplayed, with Carter simply too much for the Jets' offensive line.
Prisco Brinson
Andre CarterJared Allen, DE, Vikings
Carter had 4 1/2 sacks against the Jets and could not be blocked. For a team that lacked a pass rusher for much of the season, they may have found one.
Andre CarterAndre Carter, DE, Patriots
The Patriots dynasty was dead (again). Until Andre Carter did to the Jets on offense what Tom Brady did to them on defense, exploding for 4 1/2 sacks and generating the first pass rush we've seen in New England in a while. If he keeps his motor running like this, watch out.
Katzowitz Wilson
Kamerion Wimbley Kamerion Wimbley, OLB, Raiders
On the day when Carson Palmer was celebrated for leading the Raiders to their first win under his stewardship, Oakland’s outside linebacker accumulated four sacks, three additional hits and seven pressures on Rivers. Not bad for a guy who had just two sacks on the season coming before.
Andre Carter Andre Carter, DE, Patriots
The Patriots' defense has alternated between punching bag and laughing stock all season. Against the Jets they were neither, harassing Mark Sanchez into mistakes all evening. Carter had 4.5 sacks, a personal and team best. 

Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
Thanks to Hester producing yet another return touchdown (this time an 82-yard run to the house), he was the second easiest choice this week. How about this? Stop kicking to him. STOP KICKING TO HIM. And put him in the Hall of Fame.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
One of these days someone will figure out that no one in NFL history has more punt returns for touchdowns than this guy, so maybe it's not a good idea to kick to him. Hester sets up one score with a 29-yard return, then produces a touchdown on an 82-yard runback. The numbers don't lie, people. This guy is the best there ever was.
Prisco Brinson
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
He had a punt return for a touchdown, his 18th return for a score in his career. Why do people kick to him?

 

Steven HauschkaSteven  Hauschka, K, Seahawks
Doesn't Hauschka kind of look like he should be named "Steve" instead? Whatever, the N.C. State product kicked like his name was Morten on Sunday, banging home five field goals and generating the majority of the scoring for the Seahwaks in an upset only one person saw coming.
Katzowitz Wilson
Steven Hauschka Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks
In Seattle’s upset of the Ravens, Hauschka matched the franchise record by kicking five field goals (22, 38, 39, 35 and 30 yards). They weren’t long attempts, and they weren’t game-winners. But without his capability, Seattle doesn’t provide the week’s most surprising result.
Steven Hauschka Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks
The former Raven was an integral part of the Seahawks' "death by 1,000 field goals" gameplan. He was 5 for 5 and accounted for all but seven of Seattle's points in their win over Baltimore, the league's most inconsistent team.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Mike McCarthyMike McCarthy, HC, Packers
Monday night against Minnesota was the perfect time for a letdown game and the Packers respond by wrecking the Vikings. I know. Division rival. But it isn't easy playing those type of games when their lead in the division is so large and the opponent is no good.

John Fox John Fox, HC, Broncos
Not only did he beat Kansas City in Kansas City, he won by completing two passes all afternoon. Of course, it always helps when you run for 244 yards, but Fox's Broncos did it with their top two backs missing most of the afternoon. Fox is smart to tailor is offense to his quarterback's talents, and that tinkering has the Broncos a game out of first in the AFC West.
Prisco Brinson
Ken WhisenhuntKen Whisenhunt, HC, Cardinals
Playing with backup quarterback John Skelton on the road against a supposed good team in the Eagles, Whisenhunt got his team to pull off an upset as a 14-point underdog. That's impressive.
John FoxJohn Fox, HC, Broncos
Fox is a run-first/play-defense type of guy, so you have to think he rather enjoyed beating the Chiefs when his offense only completed two passes all day. Mock the read-option at your own risk: what Fox and his staff are doing with Tim Tebow is the very definition of great coaching.
Katzowitz Wilson
John Fox John Fox, HC, Broncos
You can call the offense he’s helped install a college-style offense. You can call it outrageous to current NFL sensibilities. But you also have to call it a winning formula so far. Fox isn’t known for his offensive capabilities – he came up on the defensive side of the ball – but with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, this read-option style of play has Denver at 3-1 when Tim Tebow starts at quarterback.
Pete Carroll Pete Carroll, HC, Seahawks
Jim Harbaugh deserves some credit too, because Carroll hoped the Ravens would get away from Ray Rice and the run game and that's exactly what happened. It's not every day you're out-schemed by Carroll. We can only hope that during this post-game handshake Caroll reminded John to say hello to his brother Jim for him.

Posted on: September 21, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 3:23 pm
 

Film Room: Bills vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



We’ll find out this Sunday just how "for real" the Bills are. It’s one thing to face unfamiliar foes from the iffy AFC West. It’s another to face the perennial bully of your own division. Before we forecast the matchup, let’s use the first four points to understand what these 2-0 teams are all about.

1. Patriots passing attack
The last time New England’s juggernaut offense was hitting on this many cylinders was 2007, when the rest of the NFL had no answer for Randy Moss over the top and Wes Welker underneath. New England runs a much different offense now than in those Josh McDaniels days.

Under McDaniels the Patriots in 2008 went 11-5 with Matt Cassel filling in for the injured Tom Brady. The system still worked because of the unique combination of Moss and Welker. If the Patriots were to lose Brady in their current system, they’d plummet to the middle of the AFC East. Virtually everything New England does is predicated on Brady’s unbelievable ability to diagnose a defense and set his feet before throwing.

Most NFL passing offenses are built on the quarterback anticipating where the receiver is going. The Patriots’ offense is essentially built on Brady seeing where the receiver is going before firing. The reason for this is New England’s heavy use of option routes.

The patterns that Patriot receivers, as well as their sensational young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (who will miss this game with a knee injury), run often hinge on what the defense does. It’s up to the receiver to correctly assess the coverage – both presnap and on the fly – and choose his route accordingly. This is the premise of an option route.

Because of this, the Patriots don’t look for size and speed at wide receiver; they look for intelligence and precise route running. That’s why Wes Welker and Deion Branch, two classic role players, are stars here. They’re perfect for this system.

Option routes are designed to specifically exploit the weakness of a coverage. The reason other teams don’t run option routes nearly exclusively is because they take a split second longer to unfold, and other teams don’t have a quarterback who can make accurate throws a split second later in the down. Brady happens to have an unmatched ability to square his body and throw soundly with defenders around him.

It’s incredible – the guy has a quick, picturesque release, and you almost never see him throw off-balance. Even other superstars like Rodgers and Brees can’t quickly square up and fire under duress the way Brady can.


2. Buffalo’s quarterback
Since last season, the Bills have been higher on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick than any other team in football. There are rumors that the front office is looking to quickly sign the 28-year-old Harvard alum to a long-term deal before his market value skyrockets.

But how good is Fitzpatrick, really? Most of his supporters tout his grit. Praising a quarterback’s grit is like praising a girl’s personality. Even if the praise is justified and honest, it still feels backhanded because it implies the absence of more obvious (important?) physical attributes.

While Fitzpatrick is no Chad Pennington, he doesn’t have the world’s strongest arm. He can scramble and buy time with his feet, but he’s no Aaron Rodgers. And he reads a defense OK (he was phenomenal recognizing Oakland’s blitzes last week), but he’s no Peyton Manning. Most concerning is his occasionally erratic accuracy. Every game, poor accuracy costs him a few quality completions. And because he’s such a risk-taker, there’s an increased possibility that his inaccuracy translates to interceptions.

Don’t take this as “Fitzpatrick hating”. We only harp on his negatives because, these days, so many are highlighting his positives.

3. Chan Gailey’s adjustment
Even in the shortened offseason, the Buffalo Bills managed to drastically alter their offensive playbook. Prior to the season, we heard that Chan Gailey (who runs the offense) and Curtis Modkins (who coordinates the offense) would implement more spread formations. A lot of teams talk abot spreading out and being more aggressive, but the Bills have actually done it.

This is somewhat surprising because the Bills, especially after dumping Lee Evans, don’t seem to have the receiving personnel for this. None of their wideouts other than Roscoe Parrish – who is out for the season with an ankle injury – have great speed. And all of them are young.

However, through two games, Buffalo’s spread approach has worked marvelously. Stevie Johnson’s improvement as a route runner (he gets open late in his patterns extremely well) has compensated for his middling speed and made him a veritable No. 1 target. David Nelson, who’s a lanky 6’5” and has a newfound comfort for hauling in passes, has been a matchup nightmare both inside and out.

Donald Jones offers decent quickness off the line of scrimmage, and Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller (who, by the way, are both running with outstanding fluidity, especially on the perimeter) are capable of flanking out, which gives the Bills formation flexibility in their personnel packages.

Tip your cap to the historically power-run oriented Gailey for recognizing the direction that the NFL is going in and, at age 59, adjusting his philosophy accordingly.

4. The defenses: 4-3 or 3-4?
Both teams have run hybrid 3-4-slash-4-3 defense in recent years, not because they have versatile players or schemes but because they’ve been without a quality pass-rusher and have looked for creative (i.e. desperate) ways to manufacture pressure on the quarterback.

As it stands, neither team still has a quality rusher. Knee injuries have robbed Shawne Merriman of his burst and direction-changing ability. Merriman still has decent power, but without the movement prowess, he’s a shell of his former self. Opposite him, Chris Kelsay, though playing faster than usual this season, is not consistently dynamic. In New England, Bill Belichick is hoping elder newcomers like Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter can skim the edges on third down.

Despite feeble pass-rushing resources, both teams’ 3-4/4-3 ambiguity appears to be gone this season. Both made personnel moves that suggest a commitment to one system. The Bills spent the No. 3 overall draft pick on Marcel Dareus, a classic 3-4 end. So far, Dareus has shown intriguing power in shedding blocks, both laterally and in penetration. The Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth, a classic one-gap tackle (just ask him) and have settled into a 4-3.

So far, Haynesworth has been a monster, but only in sub-packages. He must improve his endurance if he wants to be an everydown player like Vince Wilfork.

5. The Bills’ prayer
Do they have one this Sunday? They won’t be able to get pressure on Brady, so their best bet is to play coverage and hope for a timely turnover or two. That will be tough, though, as No. 1 corner Terrence McGee is out and his replacement, Leodis McKelvin, has struggled in man coverage.

Also, strong safety George Wilson, while stout in the box, is a slow runner with limited coverage skills. The Raiders took advantage of this with screen passes and underneath passing routes last week; the Patriots, with Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead, will have no trouble doing the same.

Thus, it’s on the Bills offense to control the tempo and shorten the game. Buffalo’s front five, coached by Joe D'Alessandris, has been phenomenal through two weeks. Center Eric Wood has the run-blocking movement skills of a Pro Bowler, while left tackle Demetrius Bell (whom yours truly has been very hard on the past few years) has shown good awareness and improved mechanics in pass protection.

A good front line is key to having a sustainable offense. But unless the Bills can work some magic on special teams, they won’t need a sustainable offense to have a chance Sunday…they’ll need a perfect one.

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


Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: August 7, 2011 12:44 pm
Edited on: August 7, 2011 9:42 pm
 

Former Jets DE Shaun Ellis signs with Patriots

Posted by Ryan Wilson

UPDATE, 9:30 p.m. ET: Andre Carter, 32, announced on Twitter Sunday night that he too has signed with the Patriots. As Rotoworld notes, it's the latest indication that New England could be featuring  the 4-3 defense more in 2011 than they have in recent years.  Carter played the previous five seasons with the Redskins where he had just 2.5 sacks in 2010, but registered 11 sacks in 2009, and 10.5 in 2007.

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Defensive end Shaun Ellis spent his entire 11-year career with the Jets. An unrestricted free agent once the lockout ended in late July, Ellis has found a home, signing with the New England Patriots, sources tell the Boston Globe. The deal is for one year and contingent on Ellis passing a physical.

The Patriots have been busy reshuffling their defensive line in recent weeks. They cut Ty Warren, traded for Albert Haynesworth, and signed Mark Anderson on Friday.

Ellis' position flexibility could make it easier for the Patriots to move between 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. (Worth noting: as Bill Belichick pointed out last week, New England has played both a 4-3 and 3-4 during his tenure, although personnel usually dictates formations.) 

The Globe's Greg Bedard breaks down what the acquisition could mean for New England's defensive line:
Ellis has line versatility but expect him to make his biggest impact in subpackages at defensive tackle in a rotation with Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth. Ellis killed the Patriots in the first and third matchups last year, and they often doubled him in the second game. He is an outstanding guy in the locker room. Ellis give the Patriots another player who can beat the guy in front of them one-on-one, and without the benefit of scheme. The Patriots did not have enough of those players last year. Good signing.
If Ellis, who registered 36 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2010, is so valuable why did the Jets let him walk? For starters, he's 34. New York also drafted Muhammad Wilkerson and Kentrick Ellis, both defensive linemen, with their first two picks. And Wilkerson is expected to be the starter in Week 1.

The Jets offered Ellis a one-year, veteran minimum contract last week but he said he wanted to weigh his option. And apparently he has because now Ellis is a member of the Patriots.

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Posted on: May 2, 2011 11:15 pm
 

NFC East draft truths revealed

Posted by Andy Benoit

One of the best things about the draft is that from it we can find out what teams really think about their current players. Excluding examples of teams filling obvious needs, here are some of the more revealing draft picks from 2011, with a quick blurb of what the team was really saying by making this pick.

Dallas Cowboys

1st round, Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Many believe this pick means that our left tackle Doug Free will move to the right side. That could be. But we can cross that bridge later. Right now, we’re just glad to have an upgrade over slow-footed right tackle Marc Colombo.
 
3rd round, DeMarco Murray, RB, OklahomaP. Amukamara (US Presswire)
The rumors about Marion Barber being on the way out are true.
 
New York Giants

1st round, Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
We are tired of waiting on Aaron Ross to polish up and stay healthy.
 
2nd round, Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Does RFA Barry Cofield want to play hardball for a long-term contract now?
 
3rd round, Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
OK! OK! Sinorice Moss was a bust.
 
6th round, Tyler Sash, SS, Iowa
We haven’t been pleased with the play of Michael Johnson the past few years. Now, thanks to one of the highest rated safeties in the draft falling clear down to Round 6, we can do something about it.
 
Philadelphia Eagles

2nd round, Jaiquawn Jarrett, FS, Temple
Free agent Quintin Mikell might not be back after all. We historically get rid of defensive players a little too early rather than risk holding them a little too late. Mikell will be 31 in September.
 
3rd round, Curtis Marsh, CB, Utah State
We need some competition for starting corner Dmitri Patterson.
 
4th round, Alex Henery, K, Nebraska
We gave David Akers a transition player tag because we don’t want him here past 2011 (if that).
 
Washington Redskins

1st round, Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Purdue
We don’t like Andre Carter (he’s a free agent anyway). And we acknowledge that Lorenzo Alexander is a versatile role player, not a starter.
 
Check back throughout the week for other division’s Draft Truths Revealed. To see all Draft Truths Revealed, click the “Draft Truths” tag.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com