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Tag:Cameron Heyward
Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:07 pm
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Chiefs preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Let’s be honest: Chiefs-Steelers is not a great matchup. It’s the Sunday night game because this week’s great matchups all fall on Turkey Day. A straight-up breakdown of this game would yield predictable analysis, with a “take your pick” list of reasons why the Steelers can be expected to cruise to victory (the most obvious being, Tyler Palko’s tendency to pat the ball and re-hitch in the pocket; if the Patriots D generated sacks and interceptions off that weakness, what will the Steelers D do?).

But this matchup is certainly not worthless. Analyzing its contrasts and comparisons gives us a chance to examine some of the broader pictures of today’s NFL. Here are five of them.


1. Valuing an offensive line
As passing games have evolved rapidly in recent years, we’ve started to change our outlook on offensive lines. These days every lineman weighs north of 300, and a lot of them move pretty well. What separates good and bad lines is the mental approach. The aggressiveness and versatility of blitzing defenses has put a premium on blockers’ intelligence.

It doesn’t matter how well a lineman moves his feet if those feet are taking him to the wrong assignment. With the league-wide increase in Byzantine defenses and quick, timing-based passes, for an offensive lineman, recognizing an assignment is often more challenging and important than executing an assignment.

The Steelers offensive line, battling countless injuries and personnel changeability the past few seasons, has struggled mightily at times in recognizing pass-blocking assignments. This is a window into another revelation. The idea that you need a great offensive line to protect your quarterback is becoming less and less valid. The reality is you need a great quarterback to protect your offensive line.

Now, don’t take this too far. Of course you need to protect your quarterback. But in today’s pass-oriented league, one superstar quarterback can compensate for five “not-so-superstar” offensive linemen. Most superstar quarterbacks do it through presnap reads (see Brees, Drew or Manning, Peyton -- two guys who have played behind arguably the worst offensive tackle combinations of their respective conferences the past few years). Ben Roethlisberger does it through incredible postsnap improvisational abilities.

No one can argue that the Steelers have had anything more than an average offensive line the past five seasons. But no one can argue that the Steelers offense has not been still been successful. It’s when your quarterback is, say a 28-year-old left-handed fringe backup, that your offensive line woes become problematic.

2. 3-4 defensive ends
A leading ingredient to the Steelers’ defensive success has been the outstanding play of their ends. This ingredient was secret until just recently, when Brett Keisel finally went to the Pro Bowl and casual observers finally appreciated Aaron Smith after injuries took him out of the lineup. The value of great 3-4 ends is that they can attract forms of double teams.

(We say forms of double-teams because there’s a misguided belief that a double-team is one player needing to be blocked by two blockers for an entire play; in reality, for an end, attracting a double-team simply means forcing a guard or tight end to make some sort of contact with you in a manner that prevents them from being able to get out in front and block an inside linebacker. Making that contact last the first 1.5 to 2 seconds of a play is all it takes. For many intents and purposes, a 3-4 end is actually more of a blocker than a pulling guard.)

The Steelers scheme calls for the ends to disrupt through motion more than power. Lateral mobility is a key trait. If both ends are destructive along the line of scrimmage, Pittsburgh’s three defensive linemen will stalemate the opposing team’s five offensive linemen, leaving room for the four linebackers to make plays. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert recognizes the value of this; he invested his ‘09 first-round pick on Ziggy Hood and his ’11 first-rounder on Cameron Heyward.

Scott Pioli also recognized this value when he became the Chiefs general manager in 2009. He converted defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, the No. 5 overall pick in ’08, to end and spent his No. 3 overall pick in ’09 on LSU’s Tyson Jackson. The results, however, have been disappointing. Dorsey and Jackson are both movement-oriented players. Problem is, Kansas City’s scheme is more like New England’s old 3-4, where the ends cause disruption not through motion but through sheer power.

Consequently, neither Dorsey nor Jackson have been worthy of consistent double teams. That was painfully apparent watching the Broncos-Chiefs film from Week 10. The Broncos didn’t win that game because Tim Tebow mastered the read option -- they won because their tackles manhandled the Chiefs ends one-on-one, allowing the guards to easily get a body on inside linebackers Derrick Johnson and Javon Belcher.

3. Chiefs Injuries impact -- tight end versatility
You could argue that Kansas City’s season ended when tight end Tony Moeaki tore his ACL in August. Moeaki was not just a flexible receiver who could work off the line of scrimmage or out of the slot -- he was also a versatile run-blocker. His ability to operate out of shifts and motions brought potency to the play-action game and allowed the Chiefs to disguise a lot of their run concepts.

In this sense, Moeaki was very similar to Heath Miller, Pittsburgh’s steady, soft-handed, fundamentally fine-tuned X-factor. In today’s NFL, where every play is preceded by a chess match at the line of scrimmage, a tight end who is versatile in the run AND pass game is invaluable.

4. Chiefs injury impact -- safety versatility
Same concept as tight end, just different side of the ball. The loss of Eric Berry (ACL Week 1) not only took away Kansas City’s rangiest pass defender, it also took away Romeo Crennel’s third-level blitzes, which previously had given opponents fits. Berry’s speed and open-field hitting made him an easily disguisable weapon. With him out, the Chiefs don’t just lose his big plays, they also lose the indecisiveness that his presence naturally instills in opponents.

As far as a parallel to this in the Steelers defense ... you can probably figure it out on your own

5. Understanding the value of a playmaker
On a similar note, let’s take this opportunity to grasp the full value of a playmaker like Jamaal Charles (lost for the season with an ACL in Week 2). As with Berry, when a weapon like Charles goes out, you don’t just lose explosive plays, you lose the threat of explosive plays. Charles was Kansas City’s only true playmaker (that is, a guy who can regularly create his own opportunities with the ball in his hands; the Steelers have two players like this: Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace).

It would take 10,000 words to explain, but in short, in watching film, it’s apparent that the difference between the way defenses attack an offense that has a truly explosive weapon versus the way a defense attacks an offense that don’t have one is staggering.

That likely stems from the difference in preparation during the week. Think about it. How much practice time does a defense devote specifically to “not getting killed” by Charles? With him gone, that’s how much practice time the defense now has to devote towards creating unique ways to attack.

A business analogy: as a defense, prepping for Charles is like sitting around the boardroom talking about covering your bases so you don’t get sued; prepping for “no Charles” is like sitting around the boardroom brainstorming the next big idea. Which meeting will ultimately lead to more sales?

What’s more, for an offense, when it becomes apparent that your gameplan is not working, a true playmaker still offers the hope and possibility of success. (And all the players know this.) Without a true playmaker, a staggering offense often hopes to simply control the damage by waiting for a lucky break. When that’s reflected in the play-calling, the entire team becomes reactionary.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 10:51 am
Edited on: November 4, 2011 9:37 am
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Ravens preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



The greatest rivalry in today’s NFL is renewed Sunday night when Baltimore travels to Pittsburgh. Though both teams have drifted towards being pass-oriented offenses, these smashmouth defenses can still make this game the type of fistfight we’ve all come to love. Here’s a look at two of the league’s meanest, most successful defensive units.

1. Baltimore’s philosophy
The Ravens are not as geared towards Byzantine blitzes as they were during the Rex Ryan years. New coordinator Chuck Pagano is more inclined to use a four-man front in nickel and let pass-rushers Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger use their strength/speed combination on the edges.

This isn’t to say Pagano won’t blitz; he still brings some heat with inside linebackers and slot corners. But he uses stunts and the dominance of Haloti Ngata to generate individual matchups for guys outside. This creates similar end results to what Dick LeBeau does with his zone blitzes.


2. Pittsburgh’s philosophy
The zone blitz’s basic principle is getting pressure on the quarterback without sacrificing bodies in coverage. About half the time a zone blitz is actually a zone exchange, which means four pass-rushers who are coming from untraditional spots (say three rushers on one side and just one on the other, for example).

A lot of Pittsburgh’s blitzes are determined by the offense’s receiver distribution. This is a versatile approach that requires smart, experienced defenders, particularly in the defensive backfield where the coverage is usually a matchup-zone concept. Matchup zones require defenders to pass wide receivers off to one another. The Steelers and Ravens both do this extremely well.

As for Pittsburgh’s blitzes themselves, the goal is not to get pass-rushers in clean – though that’s certainly nice when it happens – but rather, to get LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison in one-on-one matchups against running backs or tight ends. The Steelers do this by overloading their attack to one side of the formation or, sometimes, aligning both Woodley and Harrison on the same side. Doing this can compel an offense to keep its running back in to pass protect, which can be a nice way to nullify a dangerous receiving threat (like, say Ray Rice).

Of course, Woodley and Harrison are likely both out this Sunday. That’s huge, especially if Jason Worilds (an unknown but gifted second-year pro who is potentially the next great Steeler outside linebacker) remains on the shelf with a quad injury. Deepening the damage is that inside linebacker James Farrior is also out. Farrior is great at timing his blitzes in a way that jars blockers and creates one-on-one matchups for others.

3. The safeties
A lot of defensive schemes look good when there’s a future first ballot Hall of Famer at safety. Ed Reed is a ridiculously smart, ridiculously rangy free safety who takes chances that no other players could take. He’s a centerfielder who’s capable of swooping into the box. Troy Polamalu is a ridiculously smart, ridiculously explosive strong safety who also takes chances that no other players could take. Polamalu is a box defender who’s capable of flying back into centerfield.

As a quarterback you obviously have to know where these safeties are at all times. Usually this kind of knowledge can tip you off as to what the defense is running. But Reed’s and Polamalu’s range allows them to disguise and redirect their intentions after the snap. Thus, the main reason a quarterback must focus on them is simply to avoid a turnover.

Something to keep in mind: Reed and Polamalu allow their respective defenses to be great in different ways. But their defenses also allow THEM be great. Neither could freelance as much as they do if not for playing with trustworthy teammates who consistently execute their own assignments.

4. Defensive Lines
On a similar note, great defenses always control the trenches. So much of defensive schemes are built around defending the pass. But effective blitzes or coverage designs are rendered moot if the offense can ram the ball down your throat. The Steelers have a stalwart nose tackle in Casey Hampton flanked by active defensive ends who can occupy two blockers by playing with strong east and west movement.

This is critical because the congestion these players create allows the linebackers to attack the run cleanly. In case there’s any doubt about how important the ends are to Pittsburgh’s scheme, recognize that GM Kevin Colbert spent his ’09 first-round pick on Ziggy Hood and his ’11 first-round pick on Cameron Heyward.

The Ravens linebackers also attack the run cleanly thanks to a potent defensive front. Baltimore’s defensive front goes about things slightly differently, though. While Pittsburgh’s ends are more athletic and aim to create congestion via movement, Baltimore’s ends are more powerful and aim to create congestion via penetration.

The emergence of nose tackle Terrence Cody has been critical this season. Cody is a load with some burst. He struggles to hold ground against double teams, but at least he’s drawing the double teams. His doing so gives Chuck Pagano more freedom in the way he uses Haloti Ngata, the most destructive defensive lineman in football.



5. Unheralded superstars
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed command a lot of headlines – and understandably so. And Ngata, deservedly, gets more recognition with each passing week. But the best player on Baltimore’s defense may just be Terrell Suggs. Because the ninth-year pro has never led the league in sacks, people assume he’s merely a good player.

But Suggs’ sack numbers don’t show that he’s the best run-defending outside ‘backer in the league, playside or backside. And they don’t show how he physically wears down an opponent over the course of a game. Suggs moves like a gazelle but, when engaged in a phone booth, has the power of a rhino.

The Steelers also have a first-class star flying under the radar: Ike Taylor. It’s mind-boggling that the 31-year-old cornerback did not draw more interest on the open market this past offseason. Taylor often defends the opposing team’s top receiver man-to-man while the rest of the defense play zone.

Last week he held Wes Welker to six catches for 39 yards, which is remarkable considering Taylor is not too accustom to lining up over the slot. The week before, he held Larry Fitzgerald to four catches for 78 yards. Taylor often shows up on TV for the wrong reasons – penalties and dropped interceptions – but he shows up on film as the key to Pittsburgh’s coverages.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 9 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: June 3, 2011 7:10 pm
Edited on: June 3, 2011 7:36 pm
 

Hot Routes 6.3.11: Cooley is a Jerky Boy?

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • I hate to keep talking about zany members of the Washington organization, but this story about Chris Cooley's prank-call love is just too good to pass up. Apparently, Cooley spent the offseason playing jokes and jokes and jokes on people via the phone. Via Andrew Sharp of SB Nation, Cooley went on Rich Eisen's podcast and told stories about pranks he likes to pull. He called Carson Palmer, he claims, and pretended to be John Elway and told him, "Listen, I hate Tim Tebow. I want you. I want you out here in Denver." And then he called Elway and pretended to be Carson and then he called John Fox ... and, well, it really doesn't sound like it can be true. But either way, it's enjoyable.


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

Posted on: May 14, 2011 6:24 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 2:21 pm
 

Skins, Steelers had draft deal, but guy was gone

Posted by Will Brinson

UPDATE (Monday, 11:00 AM): So, this is weird: the Redskins are saying now that Dan Snyder never appeared on Sirius. Which makes Wexell's tweet really odd. Read the anatomy of a rumor post right here.

The 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone, but here's an interesting little nugget about something that could have happened, involving a Redskins-Steelers trade for the No. 16 overall pick.

Per Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider, Dan Snyder, appearing on Sirius Radio this past week, said that Washington and Pittsburgh had a deal in place for the No. 16 overall pick, but "the player was gone."

As you probably recall, the Redskins traded down from 10th to 16th via a deal with Jacksonville where the Jaguars picked up Blaine Gabbert.

The logical guess is that the Steelers wanted Mike Pouncey, brother of their center, Maurkice Pouncey. Can we be sure though?

Well, not positive, but pretty close. Hopping in the not-so-way-back machine and taking a look at our Draft Tracker, we can pretty much reach that conclusion.

We have to make the assumption that the player in question was taken in between the 11th and 15th picks, as Washington had access to both the 10th and 16th picks and Pittsburgh didn't make a move.

Scratching the one quarterback taken in that range, Gabbert and Christian Ponder, off the list isn't a reach, considering that the Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger.

J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn were both strong picks, but it seems unlikely that Pittsburgh would trade valuable assets for a defensive end in a year when there was depth at the position. Additionally, Cameron Heyward -- the guy they got -- fits their scheme nicely.

Nick Fairley could have been under consideration, as he would have represented outstanding value, but, I'm not so sure that what he does best would necessarily equate to making him the long-term answer at DT for Pittsburgh, assuming they don't make a scheme shift once (if??) Dick LeBeau retires.

And then there's this: many people thought the Dolphins would take Alabama running back Mark Ingram, but went with Pouncey right before the 'Skins 16th pick instead. So it seemed like Pouncey might be there at 16; clearly the Steelers are fans of that family, and wouldn't need to play him at center, as many teams felt they might.

And with their second-round pick, the Steelers nabbed Pouncey's linemate at Florida, Marcus Gilbert. That's not to say they loved the other Pouncey just because he's related to one of their players, or because he's from the same school.

And it's tough to guarantee that's what they were hoping for, but it sure does seem like a strong possibility.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: February 28, 2011 11:58 am
 

Hot Routes 2.28.11: The Wonder(lic) years



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

  • How about some more NFL combine news? According to two sources for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Alabama QB Greg McElroy scored a 48 on the Wonderlic test. That’s out of 50, which, if my math is correct, means he scored a 96 out of 100.
  • The Jaguars feel like Luke McCown is one of the best backup QBs in the league, which is why, according to the Florida Times Union , Jacksonville is close to re-signing him to a one-year deal.
  • Last season, the Bears offered S Danieal Manning a contract extension worth $6 million over three years ($2 million of it was guaranteed), but he rejected it. Sounds like he thinks he can get more on the open market if he’s ruled an unrestricted free agent.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com