Tag:Eric Decker
Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:01 pm
 

James Harrison not fined for hit on Tim Tebow

Moral victory: His team loses but Harrison avoids fine in final game of the year. (AP/Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

It took a week, but the Steelers finally have some good news to report. First, safety Troy Polamalu won his appeal for the $10,000 fine he faced for using a cell phone during a game back in October. And now it looks like linebacker James Harrison won't be any lighter in the wallet for his roughing-the-passer penalty on Tim Tebow during Sunday's playoff game.

For folks even half-paying attention to the NFL, Harrison's name is synonymous with words like "dirty" and "suspension." He was fined $100,000 in 2010 for various illegal hits on unsuspecting opponents, and he the league finally suspended him in 2011 after he knocked Browns quarterback Colt McCoy silly.

But we'd like to think that even Harrison's harshest critics can agree that the flag he received for shoving a 250-pound Tebow in the back was taking things a bit far, even for NFL's Public Enemy No. 1.

Of course, no game involving Harrison would be complete if he didn't do something controversial. In the first quarter, the Steelers linebacker went low on Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker. A perfectly legal hit and probably an attempt by Harrison to live within the rules laid down by the league: stay away from the heads and shoulders of defenseless receivers. The only problem: Decker suffered a knee injury, had to be helped from the field, and he won't play this weekend, either.

Still, even Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway didn't have an issue with Harrison's play.

"Because of the fact that he's been fined so often, [Harrison] really had no other option. ... I don't think he intended to hurt Eric. But obviously because of the situations he's been in, he had to go low and stay away from the head. And it ended up costing an MCL sprain for Eric."

So while the officials may have wrongly penalized Harrison for his hit on Tebow, they also missed at least two facemask penalties committed against the Dever quarterback. Ultimately, it didn't matter. The Broncos' from-outta-nowhere high-powered aerial assault wasn't fazed by a couple no-calls or, for that matter, fancy new overtime rules. Next up: the New England Patriots who, if we're being honest, would've much rather faced the Steelers this weekend.
 
In other "hey, we aren't getting fined?!" news, the NFL confirmed to ProFootballTalk.com that Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson, Houston’s Antonio Smith, Detroit’s Amari Spievey and the New York GiantsJacquian Williams, all flagged for personal-foul penalties last weekend, won't be required to write the league a check for their actions.


After an impressive overtime win over the Steelers last week, Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos will face off against the New England Patriots on Saturday. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan have the preview. Watch the game on CBS at 8 PM ET. 

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 10, 2012 12:11 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2012 2:47 pm
 

Elway says Harrison's low hit on Decker not dirty

Some players might argue that the rules change led to Decker's knee injury. (US PRESSWIRE/AP)

By Ryan Wilson

On the first play of the second quarter of Sunday's Steelers-Broncos game, Tim Tebow completed a 21-yard pass to then-favorite target Eric Decker. It was a nice throw, and an easy catch for Decker right up to the moment when Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison tackled him low, collapsing Decker's knee in the process.

The Denver wide receiver ended up on the turf writhing in pain. He was helped off the field and didn't return. Literally adding insult to injury: the Steelers challenged the call, which was overturned to an incompletion. Of course, a play later, Tebow threw the first of many 30-plus-yard passes to Damaryius Thomas, and two plays after that, Denver led 7-6.

The hit by Harrison -- which is perfectly legal in the eyes of the league -- was the realization of fears many players voiced after NFL rules prohibited hitting players high. The players' thinking: it's a lot easier to come back from a high-impact collision when it doesn't involve torn knee ligaments or broken legs.

Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway knows this, and he doesn't think that Harrison's intentions were dirty. It's just the nature of today's NFL. (And we discussed it on Tuesday's Pick-6 Podcast embedded below for your listening pleasure)


"The (tackling) target is now lower," Elway said on his weekly Denver radio show on 102.3 FM Monday night according to The Huddle.

"Harrison yesterday, because of the fact that he's been fined so often, really had no other option. ... I don't think he intended to hurt Eric. But obviously because of the situations he's been in, he had to go low and stay away from the head. And it ended up costing an MCL sprain for Eric."

It's the unintended consequences of actions not thought through entirely. Yes, the NFL should thrive for making the game as safe as possible, but drastic changes don't come without ramifications. And the league can't argue that knee injuries were unforeseen because players lamented the possibly as soon as the new rules were announced.

The NFL could point out, however, that the prevalence of knee injuries haven't increased in light of the rules changes. (We write this anecdotally; Decker is the first time we remember a player suffering a below-the-waist injury on a play that, in previous seasons, might've resulted in a hit to the shoulders or head area.) The NFL could also show that even chronic offenders can change the way they play.

Harrison was suspended in Week 15 for taking off Colt McCoy's head in the previous game. At the time, Harrison said "I don't know. I guess try and be more aware about the placement of my face mask. I don't know how you tackle someone and not use any part of your head, especially if you're trying to see what you're hitting. I mean, your face mask is going to touch them."

And now the league has what it wants. It's just that, depending on player backlash, they might not want it very long.

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Posted on: December 28, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Chiefs preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Reputations will be on the line in Denver this Sunday. A Broncos win keeps the Tim Tebow mania alive, as it means the Mile High City will host a playoff games for the first time in six years. John Elway would almost certainly be compelled to keep his promise of bringing Tebow back in 2012, and the Broncos might start building around their unconventional quarterback.

A Broncos loss, however, jeopardizes the Tebow mania, as the unskilled passer who does nothing but win would have finished the season on a three-game losing streak. The fallout would be even worse for Elway given that the loss will have come at the hands of Kyle Orton, the veteran quarterback whom Denver allowed Kansas City to claim scot-free. Here’s the breakdown of Sunday’s matchup:

Last time
1. The Week 10 matchup
When these teams met back in Week 10, the Broncos completed just two passes (total!). One of those passes happened to be a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Decker, which, mixed with 244 yards on 55 rushing attempts, was enough for a Broncos victory.

Schematically, the Chiefs were prepared to stop the Broncos’ freshly unwrapped read-option run game; they had athletic inside linebacker Derrick Johnson spy Tebow, brought safeties into the box and had outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston stay home on the edge.

Physically, however, the Chiefs defensive line got manhandled. Their lack of penetration allowed the Broncos to continuously pick up three and four yards on banal inside carries. Tebow registered two big runs off the read-option, isolating end Glenn Dorsey on one run and Lawrence Jackson on the other. Because those two former first-round picks were neutralized by one-on-one blocking, Denver’s interior linemen consistently got bodies on Kansas City’s linebackers.

On the other side, Denver’s pass-rush got to Matt Cassel and their back seven defenders simply “out-athleted” Kansas City’s skill players.

This time
2. Chiefs D vs. Broncos run game
Some of the sizzle has naturally left the read-option, but that isn’t to say it’s not still an effective approach. The read-option forces a defense to play ultra-sharp, assignment-based football. As we saw early in the Week 15 Patriots game at Denver, when defenders fail to take on blocks at proper angles or keep the action from going outside, they get gouged.

Expect the Chiefs to be better against the read-option this time around. Hali and Houston have been excellent edge run-defenders in recent weeks.  Dorsey and Jackson are still hit or miss, but they’re more likely to “hit” when they can play finesse and attack gaps or work down the line of scrimmage. Their misses pile up when they’re forced to play with power in a phone booth.

The Chiefs know this and now know how to gameplan accordingly. They just watched the Bills defensive linemen last week attack gaps to eliminate some of the running lanes for Bronco ballcarriers. Those defensive linemen did not make the tackle or even always occupy multiple blockers, but by taking some of the “options” out of the read-option, they made the ballcarrier hesitant and, thus, predictable. That translated to minimal gains against an eight-man box.

3. Kansas City manning-up in pass defense
The Bills were able to be aggressive with their eighth box defender because they knew they could stop the Bronco passing game with man coverage. That’s a great defensive tactic against Denver’s offense, as possession type receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are best handled that way.

Man defense also takes away the surprise factor in the screen game and keeps a spy on Tebow, which limits his scrambling. The irony is that Tebow has shown he’s more inclined to scramble against man coverage. The reason for this is, not being strong-armed or a precision passer, Tebow is uncomfortable fitting the ball into tight areas. To a young quarterback, NFL man coverage makes all areas appear tight. If Tebow’s first read isn’t there, his first instinct is to tuck and run.

The defensive risks in a man coverage approach are linebackers missing their assignments when they bite on a good read-option fake (which Buffalo’s did on Dante Rosario’s 32-yard catch-and-run), or players allowing themselves to be taken out of run defense position by an easy release (which is when a tight end runs a pass route away from the point of attack on a run play, carrying his man-defender with him right out of the picture).

The Chiefs – with two superb press corners in Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers outside, a shifty slot corner in Javier Arenas and athletic linebackers – should eagerly bog down and play man this Sunday. They beat the Packers with this formula two weeks ago and would have beaten the Raiders last week if they had stayed with it the entire game (they went to Tampa 2 a small handful of times and saw their safeties get burned by speedy receivers on two long passes that decided the outcome).

Broncos vs. Chiefs: Orton's revenge? (Getty Images)

4. Kyle Orton
In some ways, the seven-year pro is the consummate system quarterback. Whatever the system calls for, Orton delivers. He can post big numbers in a wide open aerial attack like he did two years ago under Josh McDaniels, or he can move the chains in a ball control scheme like he did two weeks ago under Romeo Crennel. His issues are consistency and playmaking.

Orton managed the game brilliantly against Green Bay two weeks ago and then threw two costly interceptions by failing to read basic safety help last week against Oakland. In Denver, Orton’s limitations showed up when John Fox and Mike McCoy installed a more traditional system to run with only mediocre receivers. Orton was unable to extend plays and improvise, which is why the Broncos offense was lethargic until Tebow replaced him.

Overall, the Chiefs can feel good about who they have under center in this game. Orton is certainly familiar with the opponent. He has terrific ball-handling skills, which allow him to manipulate safeties and execute play-action effectively. And since taking over, he’s made good use of his tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

5. Chiefs base offense
Tight ends and running backs could be prominent in the Chiefs’ passing attack this week given that linebackers Joe Mays and Von Miller aren’t great in coverage out of base defense. The Broncos will spend more time in base defense than they have in recent weeks, as the Crennel-led Chiefs predominantly utilize run-first personnel.

The run formations will keep Miller at strongside linebacker, nullifying his punishing first-step off the edge. Miller doesn’t have to line up at defensive end in order to rush the passer; he’s a great blitzer from the second level. However, teams lately have used a lot of three-and five-step drops against Denver, which completely nullifies a second-level blitzer and significantly softens the impact of pass-rushing ends. That’s the best way to contain Miller and Elvis Dumervil (who has come alive after a slow start).

Against the quick drops, the Broncos should tighten their coverage and force the Chiefs receivers to beat them early in the down. Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin are strong but not savvy enough to outmaneuver veterans like Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman. Steve Breaston is quick and can get early spacing by lining up off the line, but most of his (limited) damage this season has come on deeper crossing patterns, not quick strikes.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 17 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 15, 2011 11:12 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Why Broncos will beat Pats

Tebow

By Josh Katzowitz

In one of the premier matchups of the week -- and if you don’t believe us, check out Peter King’s MMQB in which he details the fight between NBC and CBS for the right to broadcast the game -- the Patriots travel to Denver to face the Broncos in a battle of first-place teams.

It’s Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow. It’s the Chosen Son (Tebow) vs. God’s Gift to Quarterbacks (Brady). It’s Good vs. um, the Very Good. It’s the hottest team in the NFL vs. one of the best teams of the past decade.

It should be fun to watch, and considering the Patriots are about a touchdown favorite for their road game, New England should win the matchup. Of course, we’ve been saying that about most Broncos opponents for the past two months, and with the exception of the Lions, Denver has vanquished every team it’s played since Tebow took over the quarterback spot. If I had to bet my mortgage on the outcome of this game, I’d put my money on the Patriots.

But … it’s possible Denver somehow pulls off the win, especially given its amazing run during the past eight games. Thus, in this week’s Top Ten (with a Twist), I’ve come up with 10 reasons why the Broncos will win. Sure, Denver will probably need to play the perfect game while catching New England on one of its lesser days in order to pull off the upset, but as we’ve seen, you always should believe in the power of Tebow.

10. The running game: Willis McGahee has to be considered a contender for the comeback player of the year. He’s rushed for 920 yards this season, and considering he combined for 924 yards as a Ravens running back in 2009 and 2010 before he was deemed washed up, his contribution has been a bit of a surprise. But with the loss of Knowshon Moreno, McGahee has picked up the load. Except, of course, when Tebow is running the ball (his 517 yards rank him third among quarterbacks in rushing), because, as Brian Urlacher knows, he’s also a “good running back.” If the Broncos can keep the ball on the ground and keep Brady off the field, that obviously would be ideal for Denver.

9. The Broncos are best closers in the league: They came back in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, against the Jets, against the Chargers, against the Vikings and against the Bears. It’s Tebow Time, and it’s been the most fun storyline of this NFL season.

8. Broncos home field advantage: When Denver began its late-game comeback against the Bears, the stadium got loud. Real freakin’ loud. The Broncos fans will be loud Sunday -- at least to start the game. The trick for Denver is to keep those fans engaged throughout the game, to keep it raucous when the Patriots are on offense. Hey, there’s a reason Brady is 1-3 in Denver during his career (and 1-5 against the Broncos overall).

Brady, Tebow

Tebow7. Tebow has better hair than Brady: OK, in the above photo, they’d probably fight to a draw, although personally, I give Tebow an edge because his style is less Bieberish. No, I’m talking about the photo at the right. That was the handiwork of Wesley Woodyard last year when the Broncos hazed the man who would eventually become the Boy Wonder. Not that Tebow minded his friar’s haircut at the time. "I think all the rookies had a good time with it. It was something to give everybody a laugh, something also to build chemistry.". By the way, if you Google image “friar hair cut,” Tebow pictures are the first three results. But getting back to the point. Could Brady pull off this look? I’m guessing no.

6. Broncos opponents are dumb: Or, at very least, they do dumb things when they play Denver. You might recall the tiny issue of Cowboys running back Marion Barber stepping out of bounds late in the fourth quarter last Sunday allowing Tebow the chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. Suddenly, defensive coordinators, late in games, play prevent defense -- Tebow has proven that those kind of schemes are not tough for him to figure out. Suddenly, teams send all-out blitzes against him and fail to contain the edge. Suddenly, nobody knows exactly what the Broncos are going to do on a two-point conversion. Tebow’s power is so great apparently that he turns the minds of opponents to mush.

5. Much-improved defense: Before Tebow took over the starting role -- and this was unfortunate for Kyle Orton -- the Broncos defense allowed 23, 22, 17, 49 and 29 points through the first five games. Since Orton was booted to the curb, Denver’s defense has allowed 15 points or less on four different occasions. The Broncos defense still is less than mediocre -- Denver ranks 22nd in points allowed and 19th in yards allowed -- but man, what any improvement it’s made.

M. Prater has won four games since T. Tebow took over (US Presswire).4. The kicking game: Falling far down on the list of why the Broncos are successful (behind the defense, the running game and Tebow) is Matt Prater. He was our near-unanimous Eye on Football special teams player of the week selection after blasting a 59-yard game-tying field goal at the end of regulation Sunday and then nailing the 51-yarder in overtime to win it. Since Tebow took over eight games ago, Prater has kicked four game-winning field goals. That’s a decent percentage. It’s almost like Prater is the Tebow of place-kickers.

3. Fox has been the better coach this year: Look at what he’s done. He’s recreated the starting quarterback who probably shouldn’t be starting at quarterback at all and helped build an offense that has allowed the Broncos to win seven of eight and put themselves in position to win the AFC West. Meanwhile, Belichick’s defense, which doesn’t officially have a coordinator, has been terrible. Belichick is one of the best coaches in NFL history, but Fox has been more adaptable this season.

2. Patriots pass defense: Look, it will take a huge effort from the Broncos defense to keep New England’s offense from taking over the game immediately. But if that happens, Tebow -- not necessarily known as the most accurate of passers --could find success against the Patriots, who boast the worst defense in the league AND the worst past defense. His receivers need to play cleanly (they had WAY too many drops last week), but Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have shown big-play capabilities since Tebow took over the offense. With a rotating line up of journeyman defensive backs in New England, the Broncos could make life difficult.

1. God loves Tebow the mostest: So say these people, anyway.

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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: December 7, 2011 6:26 pm
 

Is Tim Tebow the Denver Broncos' MVP?

Tebow shouldn't be an NFL MVP candidate but he's certainly in the running for team MVP, right? (US PRESSWIRE/AP)

By Ryan Wilson

If Philip Rivers has been one of the league's most disappointing quarterbacks on one of the league's most disappointing teams, Tim Tebow has been just the opposite. What he's done has taken everybody by surprise, including head coach John Fox and Broncos executive VP John Elway.

Yes, Tebow has benefitted from an improved Denver defense, and more importantly, a revamped offensive game plan that predates the forward pass but spotlights Tebow's strengths: running the option (with an emphasis on "running").

Tebow's had so much success in such a short period of time that in two months the conversation has gone from "Might as well let him play, the Broncos are 1-4" to "Holy crap, Denver's 6-1 with Tebow under center!" to "Should Tebow get MVP consideration?"

The MVP talk might sound like the ramblings of a mad man, but it's gained traction in the media. We even brought it up on Monday's Pick-6 Podcast and discussed it again during Wednesday's expert live chat.

And while most folks (us included) don't think Tebow is MVP material, he's certainly worth of team MVP consideration, right? Along with our CBSSports.com colleague Will Brinson, we came up with a short list of Broncos players in the running for the award (in random order):

* Tim Tebow. The Broncos are 6-1 with him. His numbers are forgettable, although he does play better in the fourth quarter than he does in the first three, and his passing has improved marginally in recent weeks. Still, he ranks as one of the league's worst quarterbacks in terms of total value and value per play (as measured by Football Outsiders). But...

His intangibles make up for his physical shortcomings. Namely: the ability to inspire his teammates. Yes, this sounds like some hacky, new-age nonsense, and if we were talking about anyone other than Tebow that's exactly what it would be. But like a lot of things, Tebow's the exception.

* Willis McGahee. The Bills' 2003 first-round pick saw his career stall with the Ravens from 2007-10. In 11 games with the Broncos this season, McGahee is averaging 4.9 yards per attempt and is on pace for 1,200 yards (it would be the first time he eclipsed 1,000 yards in three years). An effective running game sets up everything else the Broncos want to do offensively and McGahee is a big part of that.

* Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller. Going by the raw numbers, the Broncos' defense is mediocre. They're also opportunistic (sorta like Tebow), which has been a big part of their success.

* Eric Decker. On paper, Demaryius Thomas should more valuable, but Decker is Tebow's favorite target as evidenced by his eight touchdown grabs. That's hard to overlook. Also worth noting: his 39 receptions are 21 more than the nearest receiver.

We could even add John Fox's name to the list. There aren't many coaches who would run a high school offense to fit their personnel. Of course, Fox didn't have much choice; the Broncos were dreadful the first five weeks of the season with Kyle Orton. And the Lions embarrassed Tebow when he tried to run a conventional offense. In evoluationary terms, Fox would have three choices: adapt, migrate or die. He adapted. And now the Broncos appear headed for the playoffs. Which explains why we're even entertaining thoughts of Tim Tebow, NFL MVP.

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Posted on: December 1, 2011 11:22 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Second-year players

Gronkowski

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted on: November 28, 2011 1:21 am
Edited on: November 28, 2011 1:38 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 12

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

 
(Ed. Note: Monday's podcast will be up around lunch due to some travel/family stuff.)

1. Run Like Hell -- Er, Heck

Every week, Tim Tebow takes the field as the Broncos quarterback, and every week everyone sits around and snarks at the Broncos running the ball an obscene number of times. Sunday's 16-13 overtime victory in San Diego featured Tebow toting the rock a ridiculous 22 times.

Just for some historical perspective, Tebow's now the only player in post-merger NFL history to attempt 20 rushes and 10 passes in a single game.

People rip the guy for ruining the quarterback position, or not playing it in a "real" way, but everyone very conveniently ignores three factors. One, he can make throws -- a pair of touchdown strikes to Eric Decker in the past two weeks were the difference between 2-0 and 0-2. Two, Tebow simply doesn't turn the ball over. Only 22 quarterbacks since 1970 have finished the year with 250-plus passing attempts, less than five picks and less than five fumbles. Tebow could be No. 23. (Aaron Rodgers could be No. 24.)

And most importantly, the Broncos have a strong running game with Willis McGahee, and an even stronger defense that no one wants to give credit to. If someone else, like a Brad Johnson-type, is quarterbacking this team, the defense gets all the credit. Because it's Tebow, that's the focus.

That's just how it is, and that's fine. After all, Tebow's now beaten every single AFC West rival this season on the road. He is a story. He is the story.

But maybe -- with all due acknowledgement of the silliness involved in "clutchability" -- it shouldn't be all that surprising that Tebow and the Broncos bested Norv Turner and the Chargers in the fourth quarter and overtime. Eking out victories from teams willing to hand over a win thanks to silly mistakes is the modus operandi of the 2011 Broncos, and giving away wins with silly mistakes is what Turner's Bolts teams do best.

San Diego's now last (!) in the AFC West and the only bright spot to this season, outside of Ryan Mathews emerging as a viable feature back if he can stay healthy, is the likelihood of Turner being shipped out of town following this season. You can like or dislike Turner all you want, and he's turned Philip Rivers into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but this Chargers team needs some fresh blood.

Denver's one game back of the playoffs thanks to holding a tiebreaker over the Jets, and they've got the tiebreaker over the Bengals too. A game-managing quarterback plus a running game plus a stout defense has had success in the NFL before.

So if you're still hating on Tebow, just quit and enjoy the ride.

2. Bear Down, Again

Ignore for a second the fact that Bears starting quarterback Caleb Hanie doesn't even know how to properly spike the ball at the end of the game. And ignore that he finished 18 of 36 with three interceptions on the day in Chicago's 25-20 loss to Oakland Sunday.

Because the Bears are still going to make the playoffs. Or, at least, they can.

As noted last week, Chicago's still got a very Chicago formula for making it to the postseason, with Devin Hester on special teams (kudos to Hue Jackson and Shane Lechler for avoiding him Sunday) and a defense that sacked Carson Palmer four times Sunday and limited the Raiders to just a single touchdown.

That type of play will go a long way against opponents like the Seahawks, Vikings, Chiefs and Broncos, all of whom are on Chicago's schedule the rest of the way in. And a quick look at our 2011 NFL Playoff Race Tracker reveals that only two worthy teams in the NFC will actually be shut out of the postseason (the Lions and the Giants are currently odd men out).

I'm not a huge fan of moral victories, especially when an actual loss reveals just how poorly your backup quarterback can play. And don't get me wrong -- Hanie has plenty of flaws and won't make things easy for Chicago the rest of the way. But if you're the Bears, you have to believe Sunday's showing means a playoff berth is still possible.

3. T.J. Yates: An All-Time Great

The case of T.J. Yates is a weird one. Thanks to a (likely) season-ending injury to Matt Leinart, Yates appears to be the de facto starter in Houston and, as Pete Prisco pointed out in his grades column, next in line to suffer a nasty injury as a result of the football gods really not wanting the Texans to smell success.

But you know what makes Yates' case even weirder? He's probably the most successful NFL quarterback in North Carolina Tar Heel history, despite being a rookie, having never started a game and despite having accumulated his career passing numbers -- 8/15 for 70 yards and no touchdowns -- on Sunday in backup duty.

That's because the only other option for "top NFL quarterback in UNC football history" is Scott Stankavage, who played in four games over two NFL seasons with the Broncos (three in 1984) and the Dolphins (one in 1987) and managed to complete 32 percent of his 25 attempted passes for 66 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. (In fairness, Yates is also one of only two UNC quarterbacks drafted since the merger, which is insane.)

His entire career wasn't as successful as Yates' Sunday afternoon in Week 12.

4. "Fire Who?"

The fans want it, as evidenced by the Eagles crowd raining "Fire Andy" chants on the field amid New England's 38-20 shellacking of Philly.

"The way we played, I can understand," Reid said afterward.

It's never easy to sympathize with any supporter of Philly sports, mainly because they're too vitriolic in their reaction. (There's a reason the battery-throwing, Santa Claus-booing stereotype exists.) And it's real easy to laugh at the Eagles plight, especially after they "won the offseason" with a ton of free-agent moves and name-brand signings.

But suggesting that the Eagles should dump Reid is silly, especially when there's a smarter path to success.

1) Fire Juan Castillo. This is coming anyway, you gotta think, and it's not that unreasonable. 2) Re-work the defensive scheme. Hire someone who can take the incredibly talented defensive group Philly has and actually utilize them properly. 3) Dump DeSean Jackson. He's ridiculously talented, but Jackson's got the look of a guy who's wrecking this locker room with contract and attitude problems. (Or maybe, as Clark Judge wrote Sunday, he's a symptom of a larger problem. Either way, he's not helping and he's not happy.) 4) Draft/trade/sign linebackers, safeties and offensive linemen in the offseason and actually address weaknesses.

This isn't an "easy" solution, of course. But this Eagles team has too much talent and Andy Reid's got too much success in Philly to simply blow everything up because the Dream Team experiment went awry in the first season.

He's also inherently tied to Philly's franchise quarterback, Michael Vick. One more bad year from both guys and it might be worth discussing a change, but just because Philly fans are naturally angry doesn't mean Eagles management should have a naturally knee-jerk reaction to 2011.

5. Why So Serious?

There's no reason to sit here and get in an uproar over Stevie Johnson's touchdown celebration against the Jets, in which he mocked Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes by pretending to shoot himself in the leg and then crash a plane. (Besides, Bob Costas' "get off my lawn" Sunday night halftime rant took care of that.)

I like the move, because it's a big-time slap in the face to the Jets, the Bills need some swagger, and as long as you back up your trash-talk, do what you want.

The problem with Johnson's TD is that as soon as he pulled off a celebration mocking a pair of wideouts on the other team, his game went in the toilet. (Stop me if this sounds familiar.)

Look, I think Johnson's an awesome talent and a great dude and if I'm in charge of meting out discipline, someone who landed a helmet-to-helmet hit on Sunday is washing Johnson's white t-shirt collection, just because his celebrations are hysterical.

But if you're going to publicly mock a colleague for literally shooting himself in the foot, you can't turn around and spend the rest of the game figuratively doing the same thing to yourself and your team, which is precisely what Johnson did when he egged on a would-be game-winning touchdown catch in the fourth quarter:



That's exactly why I refuse to get all amped up about whether what he did was right or wrong. Johnson will almost certainly be fined by the NFL. Johnson will -- as Mike Freeman's already noted -- be subject to league-wide and public scorn. And, most importantly, his team lost because after his premature celebration, the Jets wideouts were substantially better than Johnson was.

6. Shananigans

There's no chance that any other football journalist or fan or couch-bound pundit knows as much about managing a football team as Mike Shanahan. The man has two Super Bowl wins. Enough said.

But why on Earth did it take so long to get Roy Helu touches?

The Redskins rookie running back rumbled for 108 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and caught seven passes for 54 yards in Washington's surprise 23-17 comeback victory in Seattle Sunday.

This would be shocking, but Helu already set the franchise record for receptions in a game three weeks ago, and averaged five yards per carry more than Ryan Torain two weeks ago, so giving him the rock seemed obvious to everyone ... except Shanahan.

Seattle's rush defense is one of the best in the NFL (3.5 yards per carry allowed going in and coming out of the loss), so it's not like Helu was carving up the Panthers or Colts here.

The obvious reward for his impressive game on the ground and remaining Rex Grossman's most reliable target is a much-deserved, one-carry afternoon next week against the Jets. Don't say I didn't warn you, fantasy owners.

7. 0-Fer

The Colts became the first NFL team to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, just minutes before the Rams were booted as well, thanks to their 27-19 loss to Carolina in Indy Sunday.

Everyone knew they were already eliminated, of course, and everyone knows they'll land the top-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but the big question is, can the 2008 Detroit Lions keep their bottles of Andre on ice for the time being?

Probably not -- Indy looks like a pretty good lock to finish the season at 0-16, based on their remaining schedule.

First up in Week 13 is New England (in Foxboro) and there's no reason to spend time wondering if Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will get trapped against a one-time arch-rival in a free "kick 'em while they're down" game. They won't. At Baltimore in Week 14 should be a lock for a double-digit blowout too. The Ravens have stumbled against bad teams, but not at home, and no one's had a defense as bad as Indy.

Tennessee (Week 15) and Houston (Week 16) at home shouldn't present challenges for Indy when it comes to losing either, considering that both teams appear to have capable rushing attacks. Even if Chris Johnson still looks like he's wading through a giant jar of jelly when he hits the hole, he's been effective against bad rushing defenses this year.

That leaves at Jacksonville in Week 17, and which isn't even their best chance at being favored (read: getting more than a 50 percent chance of winning from Vegas). That will be Tennessee, but the Titans will still be favored by at least three points in Indy, like the Panthers were.

And none of the remaining teams on the schedule have a defense nearly as bad as the Panthers, which means there's a 60-plus percent chance Indy goes winless this year. At least.

8. Rookie of the Year Race

Fortunately, we get to honor a Defensive and Offensive Rookie of the Year in the NFL. Because otherwise, we might have a big old heated argument about who the most deserving rookie in 2011 is. Last week, I threw my [substantial only in the literal sense] weight behind Andy Dalton leaping past Cam Newton for the top rookie, but now I'm not so sure.

That's not because Cam went bananas in a win on Sunday so much as it was Dalton only beating the Browns because he's got another rookie -- wideout A.J. Green -- on his team, who might secretly be the best option for the award on the Bengals roster.

Cincy remained in playoff contention -- they're currently the No. 6 seed -- thanks to Green making big catches to set up scores all day.

On the defensive end of things, Von Miller continued to state his case for ROY honors with 10 total tackles and another sack. And what about Patrick Peterson, who returned a fourth punt return for a TD on the year? Dude's defensive improvement is underrated so far this year, especially in a tough situation, and it'll be interesting to see how his game-changing impact on special teams will rate for voters -- three of his teeters have, literally, been game-winning scores.

9. A Quarterback League

Watching the Chiefs stifle the Steelers for much of the Sunday night game -- eventually won by Pittsburgh 13-9 -- was picture proof of how important having a good quarterback really is. Matt Cassel might have struggled against the Steelers defense, but Tyler Palko was absolutely miserable, going 18/28 for 167 yards and three picks.

The same can be said for Jacksonville, who knocked Matt Leinart out against Houston, but couldn't muster any sort of offense because no one would respect Blaine Gabbert, much less McCown.

Teams that don't have a good quarterback can still win by playing smart and running the hell out of the ball, but the Jaguars and Chiefs are great proof as to just how quickly a team can fade out relevancy as a result of lacking substantial skill under center.

The Jacksonville and Kansas City defenses have put their respective offenses in decent position to win games over the past couple of weeks, but an inability to move the ball resulted in a pair of losses for each squad. (Romeo Crennel's defensive scheming against Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger was particularly impressive, and even more depressing when you think about how badly it was wasted.)

Which is precisely why it's impossible to be too bullish about the playoff chances for teams like the Texans and the 49ers.

10. And the Oscar Goes To ...

Jerome Simpson for the flop of the NFL season. And maybe NFL history? It's hard to even call this a "storyline," because it's not. There's no epidemic of flopping hitting the NFL and Christian Ronaldo isn't going to be defecting any time soon.

But Simpson's flop, which you can watch here, is just too amazing to ignore.

Oh yes, and the Bengals snuck one out against the Browns, holding onto their sixth seed in the playoffs. They've got the look of a team that isn't quite ready to quit trying out this possible pipe dream of a postseason run, but if they play like they did against the Browns when they get the Steelers, Texans and Ravens over the next three weeks, it's hard to imagine them sneaking in with three 6-5 teams (Titans, Jets, Broncos) hanging out on the fringe.

And that flop wouldn't be nearly as pretty as Simpson's.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... Percy Harvin's 104-yard kick return that didn't produce a touchdown on Sunday was the longest non-scoring play in NFL history.
... Peterson is also the only player in NFL history with four punt return touchdowns of 80-plus yards or more in a season.
... And the Rams-Cardinals game was the first in NFL history to feature an 80-plus yard punt-return TD from each team.
... Cam Newton is just the fourth post-merger quarterback to rush for 10 touchdowns in a season, joining Steve Grogan, Kordell Stewart and Daunte Culpepper on that list.
... Chris Long recorded his 10th sack of the season, meaning he and dad Howie are just the second father-son combo to record double-digit sacks in a season in their career, along with Clay Matthews and his dad, Clay Matthews.
... The Bengals overcame a 10-point halftime deficit for the third time this season, tied for the most in NFL history, along with the 2011 Lions.
...

Worth 1,000 Words



GIF O' THE WEEK

There might be a better option, but watching Tim Tebow hit his X button two seconds too early and then get laid out is pretty entrancing.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Norv Turner: Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune believes "no playoffs = no more Norv." So, probably no more Norv.
  • Jim Caldwell: If they go 0-16 and draft a new franchise quarterback, how can they carry over the same staff? They can't right?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: He just lost back-to-back games to Seattle and Arizona. Talk about a free-fall.
  • Jack Del Rio: It's a good rule of thumb that if you're flopping your first-round rookie for a McCown brother that your job is in trouble.
  • Tony Sparano: Even if he keeps winning, you gotta think Stephen Ross goes window shopping this offseason.

Chasing Andrew Luck

The Colts have all but locked up the Luck sweepstakes, and with the remaining schedules, we might as well take the numbers off the board. Congratulations for ruining a mini-feature in this column by Week 12, Curtis Painter. You jerk.

MVP Watch

Speaking of jerks, "tanks for nuthin'" Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has one more holiday game left -- a Christmas showdown with the Bears. And the Packers could still lose a game and maybe come back towards the Patriots (if Tom Brady stays hot?), but he's all but sewn up this award pretty early in the season.

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