Tag:Carl Nicks
Posted on: February 14, 2012 11:57 am
 

Pick-Six Podcast: Where will Randy Moss play?

Moss is coming back -- where could he end up? (Getty Images)

By Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Move over, Mr. Valentine: there's a new guy in our hearts, and his name is Randy Moss. Moss announced his return to football via USTREAM and in the latest installment of the Pick-Six Podcast we break down his performance on live Internet television, and wonder where he might end up playing in 2012 (if anywhere).

We also discuss whether or not DeSean Jackson is a worthwhile franchise-tag candidate, what other wide receivers are available on the free-agent market, who'd they rather have in a wrasslin' match between Jason Pierre-Paul and Brandon Jacobs, and whether Roger Goodell is overpaid at $20 million a year or not. All that plus much, much more below.

(Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes? And if you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.)


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Posted on: February 14, 2012 9:07 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 9:59 am
 

What players will get franchise tagged in 2012?

Brees reportedly won't be happy if he gets tagged. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Monday February 20, NFL teams can begin to apply the franchise tag to players. They can do so up until March 5 at 4 p.m. ET. For those that don't know, the franchise tag is a method of keeping players from hitting the open market. Previously, the franchise-tag number was generated by averaging the top-five salaries at a position to determine a number for that position.

This year, the franchise tag value will be a percentage of the overall salary cap figure for the previous five years. As such, NFL.com (the league's official website, making the figures trustworthy, one would hope) the following figures, plus figures from last year that we've included:

Position 2012 Franchise Tag Value*
2011 Franchise Tag Value
Quarterback
$14.4 million $16.1 million
Running Back
$7.7 million $9.6 million
Wide Receiver
$9.4 million $11.4 million
Tight End
$5.4 million $7.3 million
Offensive Line
$9.4 million $10.1 million
Defensive End
$10.6 million $13 million
Defensive Tackle
$7.9 million $12.5 million
Linebacker
$8.8 million $10.1 million
Cornerback
$10.6 million $13.5 million
Safety
$6.2 million $8.8 million

*The only instances this doesn't apply: when a player already made more than the franchise-tag value, or when a player receives the franchise tag for the second-straight year, in which case tagging said player would cost 120 percent of their previous base salary.

Aside from the asterisked exception above, it's clearly much more cost effective to utilize the franchise tag on a player in 2012 than it was in 2011. Wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston might not be tag candidates at $11.4 million. At $9.4 million, they certainly are.


With all of that in mind, let's look at some possible franchise-tag candidates, in order of likelihood to be tagged.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, Marques Colston or Carl Nicks

The Saints are all but guaranteed to use their franchise tag. Brees is a free agent and there is a zero percent chance that they let him walk into free agency. This is an absolute zero; losing Brees would not only be a disaster for the franchise in terms of winning, it would result in riots on Bourbon Street.

Various reports have emerged about where Brees and the Saints stand. (His agent, Tom Condon, is involved in a small contract situation surrounding Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.) As CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote last week, "the road could be rockier than initially thought" when getting Brees a new deal.

If the Saints can't get a deal done by the tag deadline, they will use the tag on Brees and sort out a deal later. If they can negotiate a deal with Brees before then, either Colston or Nicks will likely get tagged. My money's on Nicks, who could be a steal at less than $10 million given his age and his performance on the interior line the last two years.
DeSean might finally catch that money. (Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson

Reports are already rolling in that Jackson will be tagged and that the team will seek to trade him once they place the tag on Jackson. Philly better be comfortable rolling with D-Jax if they can't find a suitor, though, because the wide receiver is a good bet to swoop in and sign his tender quickly. The $9.4 million represents more than triple what Jackson's made in his entire career thus far, and you can bet he'd like to see some guaranteed money.

Worst case, of course, is that Philly ends up giving its top playmaker one more "contract year" at turning in a big performance before hitting free agency. $9.4 million is a lot to pay for a wideout, but it's better than a) doling out a big contract to someone new and/or a malcontent, or b) letting Jackson walk for nothing in return.

Chicago Bears: Matt Forte

The rumors of Forte getting tagged began long ago as the Bears said they simply won't let him get to free agency. And they can't: Mike Tice replaced Mike Martz, but that could mean Chicago becoming more dependent on Forte's skills as a rusher and pass-catcher.

Forte said he's OK with the franchise tag provided it leads to further contract negotiations. Those appear to be more successful this time around, without Jerry Angelo on the other side of the table. But if Forte struggles early in his return from injury (an MCL sprain) things could get dicey.

Regardless, he's a steal at $7.7 million in 2012.

Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice

Another no-brainer for the team here: Rice is one of the most dynamic backs in football and accounted for a large chunk of the Ravens offense. Rice's league-leading 2,068 yards from scrimmage accounted for 38.2 percent of the Ravens 5,419 yards, to be exact.

Rice lead the team in rushing ... and receptions. The Ravens need him and it's unfathomable that they'd let Rice walk. He probably won't be happy about playing for $7.7 million in 2012 and it seems obvious that Ozzie Newsome would like to lock down a guy who's averaged just shy of 2,000 yards from scrimmage in the three years he's been a starter for the team.
Will Welker's drop hurt his value? (Getty Images)

New England Patriots: Wes Welker

Welker's taken a lot of grief for his now-infamous drop in the Super Bowl. But just because the guy missed one catch doesn't mean we should forget what he's done for the past five years in New England: Welker averaged 111 catches and 1,221 yards per season since arriving from Miami.

Here's where it gets interesting though: Welker will be 31 when 2012 begins. He's considered a "slot" receiver. But he reportedly wants to be paid like an "elite" receiver. (It's, uh, kind of hard to blame him.) Lots of people think Welker wouldn't be as successful without the Patriots system, but how successful would the Patriots be without Welker?

In other words, we might be headed to an old-fashioned standoff, where the Pats use the franchise tag on Welker (it's all but certain they will, mainly to avoid him landing with an AFC East rival), and Welker refusing to play. Our Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard's speculated as much previously, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Welker sit out the first few weeks if the Pats aren't willing to give him a long-term deal.

Washington Redskins: Fred Davis

Davis had a big year in 2011, catching 59 passes for 796 yards in just 12 games (with Rex Grossman and John Beck throwing him the ball). He missed four games when he was suspended under the NFL's substance-abuse policy. But that actually works in Washington's favor here, since they can commit just $5.5 million to Davis without any fear of long-term blowback.

Buffalo Bills: Stevie Johnson

I spoke with Johnson at the Super Bowl and he said he'd be amenable to playing under the franchise tag in 2012. And it's hard to imagine Buffalo letting one of the more talented and underrated receivers in the game simply walk away. Johnson, depending on the market, could be one of the top wide receivers available.

Given the nature of Buffalo's weapons on offense, $9.4 million isn't all that steep for someone who's produced as steadily as Johnson has over the past two seasons. He took a small step back in receptions, yardage and touchdowns in 2011, but part of that can be attributed to the injuries to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the Bills late-season swoon.

And if he's willing to ditch the penalty-inflicting celebrations? He's worth it.

Bowe's a fan favorite in KC -- for good reason.(Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs: Dwayne Bowe or Brandon Carr

This is quite the conundrum for KC: does new coach Romeo Crennel, recently promoted from defensive coordinator, push to keep the 25-year-old defensive back, or does he sit back while the franchise lets Carr walk and hangs onto it's top wideout?

Bowe quietly put together another monster season in 2011, catching nine more balls than he did in 2010 and only three yards less. Granted, he found the end zone 10 times less this past season, but chalk that up to the Chiefs stupid-easy schedule against the pass in 2010. Oh yeah, and because he was catching balls from Tyler Palko for a quarter of the season.

Bowe's a better value at his franchise cost ($1 million less) I suppose, but Carr will be harder to retain in free agency, because of the nature of cornerbacks on the open market.

Atlanta Falcons: Brent Grimes or Curtis Lofton

The Falcons, not so quietly, have a ton of guys up for free agency this year. Grimes, Lofton, defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann and center Todd McLure lead the list. One of Grimes or Lofton surely will get the franchise tag.

For the same reason as listed with the Chiefs, Grimes makes the most sense -- he'll simply be harder to retain in free agency. Lofton would be $2 million cheaper but Grimes is more important to the Falcons defense. A logical move might be to feel out contract negotiations with both players (provided the Falcons want to keep both of them anyway), work out an extension with one as quickly as possible, franchise the other defender and look to cut a deal with them down the road.
It's hard to put a price on Avril's pass rush. (Getty Images)

Detroit Lions: Cliff Avril

Avril's made no bones about the possibility of being franchised, and isn't happy with the notion. But the franchise tag actually doesn't exist simply to keep a guy around for another year without paying him big money. It's to keep a guy around while you work out a long-term contract.

That's what Avril, who will turn 26 in April, wants, and it should be what the Lions want too, given their dependence on a strong pass rush on the defensive end of things. At $10.6 million he would provide nice value. Provided he played the whole season anyway.

Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis

Chuck Pagano's a defensive guy, and even though he's coming into a rebuilding project, it's hard to see he and general manager Ryan Grigson passing on a shot to keep a talented pass-rusher like Mathis around for one more year at a reasonable rate.

Mathis probably said it himself over the weekend on Twitter when he noted that "The #TAG is an honor but personally if i was tagged now id feel they didnt want me but just have not found my replacement yet." Prepare to be honored sir.

Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer

According to one report out of Texas, the Cowboys are at least considering franchising Spencer. The logic isn't that the outside linebacker, drafted 26th overall in 2007, is a monster and worth $8.8 million next year. He's not.

But Spencer might be worth holding onto if the Cowboys don't believe they can fill that spot with a reliable enough player through free agency and don't want to force themselves into selecting an outside linebacker early in the draft and forcing him to play.

Giving Spencer that sort of cash at least provides a safety net for Rob Ryan's defense.

Green Bay Packers: Jermichael Finley

Finley's case is a fascinating one. At $5.5 million, the tight end is a no-doubt-about-it franchise tag choice. But what about at $9.4 million? I ask because Finley's reportedly ready to argue that he's actually more of a wide receiver than a tight end, based on the number of snaps he takes from a wide receiver position. (He may want to remove the words "best tight ends in the league" from his website then.)

The Packers don't seem ready to give Finley a long-term deal yet, but they're also not willing to let him go. That tune could change if Finley's awarded the same price as a wide receiver in arbitration.
Wallace's RFA status is a concern. (Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Wallace

Wallace is actually on a restricted free agent, but as Wilson pointed out on Tuesday's podcast, there's been a lot of discussion in Steelers-land about the possibility of using the full-blown franchise tag on Wallace regardless of his status.

Here's some hypothetical logic: the Steelers use the non-exclusive tag on Wallace, the Patriots, with two first-round picks in the coming draft, negotiate a deal with Wallace and force the Steelers to match said deal or take one of the picks from the Pats. The pick isn't that high and Wallace is a stud, so Pittsburgh, who wants to lock down Wallace anyway, would be letting the Pats (or whomever) negotiate for them.

Lest you think this is silly, look no further than a guy we already talked about: Welker. The Patriots obtained him via trade, but only after the Dolphins used the restricted tag on Welker. After they did, the Pats negotiated with Welker to work in a provision in his contract that would include a monster bonus if he played X games in the state of Florida (AKA "a poison pill"). The Dolphins caved and simply dealt Welker to the Pats instead of trying to play chicken.

The downside is that the Steelers would be forced to paying $7 million extra in 2012 for their No. 1 wideout. The upside is not getting poison-pilled by an AFC rival who'll then hijack the Steelers for the deep threat they need. Hypothetically speaking of course.

Oakland Raiders: Michael Bush

The idea of paying Bush more than Darren McFadden's been bandied about, and it makes sense given Run-DMC's injury history. It doesn't make sense when you consider that new GM Reggie McKenzie would suddenly have a ton of money committed to two running backs. But here's an idea: tag Bush, trade McFadden and then give Bush a new contract. You keep him off the market, you recoup some of those Carson Palmer draft picks and you keep the back best suited for Greg Knapp's zone-rushing attack.

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

Film Room: 49ers vs. Saints divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 6:18 pm
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Saints preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



With a December Monday Night schedule that could make viewers implode from boredom, we at least get to say goodbye to November with a compelling, playoff-implicating NFC matchup. This warrants a classic five-part breakdown.


Saints offense vs. Giants defense
1. Giants pass-rush vs. Saints pass protection
This is a glaring mismatch. New Orleans has the worst pass-blocking offensive tackle tandem in football in Jermon Bushrod (left side) and Zach Strief (right side). Bushrod is slow and has awful technique. Strief is just slow. The sack numbers do not reflect this because Drew Brees is a magician when it comes to getting rid of the ball quickly and moving in and out of the pocket.

Brees, like most star quarterbacks, gets rid of the ball thanks to shrewd presnap reads. But where he’s really elite is in going through his reads. Brees can scan three or four different receivers on a simple five-step drop. He recognizes and anticipates receiver-defender relationships as fast as any passer in the game.

Because so much of what Brees does is based on quick timing and rhythm, it’s not necessarily wise to blitz him. Instead, the objective is to force him to exhaust his progressions. It’s 50-50 that the pass protection can hold up long enough for him to do this (if Brees were a typical quarterback, it’d be more like 25-75). The Rams did this in their Week 8 upset of the Saints.

The Giants’ defensive ends are several grades better than the Rams’. They’ll pressure Brees with four rushers.

2. Saints WR’s vs. Giants secondary
In Week 8, the Rams thrived with physical press coverage aided by safety help. The Giants secondary delivered terrific press coverage in their win at New England a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t be surprising to see more of that Monday night. The Saints have four quality wide receivers: Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore.

With a matchup nightmare like tight end like Jimmy Graham, most of the Saints’ formations involve only three of those wideouts. But whatever the pieces, they can -- and do -- align in all different spots on the field.

This is one reason it’s enticing to play press-man against them. Instead of trying to figure out the litany of formations and route possibilities, a defensive coordinator can put a safety or two over the top and tell his cornerbacks to just jam the hell out of whoever they line up against.

But when defenses can mix in zone coverages, they obviously give themselves more options. With rookie Prince Amukamara now healthy, the Giants might be one of the few secondaries in the league versatile enough to do this against the Saints.

With Corey Webster shadowing DeSean Jackson most of last Sunday night (Webster has shadowed the opposing No. 1 receiver regularly this season), Amukamara and Aaron Ross played inside and outside across from him. Both men played man and zone principles.

The Giants also have a multipronged tool in safety Antrel Rolle. He’s rangy in space and, as a former cornerback, adept at playing all coverages as the nickel slot defender.

3. Saints’ savvy run-pass tactic
Don’t be surprised if the Saints frequently throw out of running formations Monday night. Jimmy Graham is extremely effective running routes from a traditional tight end stance, and fullback Jed Collins is capable of catching passes in the flats. We think of the Saints as a spread offense, but Brees is averaging about 10 pass attempts per game out of two-back formations, and 10 of his 23 touchdown passes have come from such sets.

The run formation approach gains potency because the Giants starting linebackers struggle in coverage. Those struggles manifest drastically if Michael Boley (hamstring) is still out. Boley’s replacement, Mark Herzlich, was fantastic against the run last Sunday, but he was badly exposed when dropping back in coverage.

The linebacking issues are significant enough that the Giants may even be compelled to play their 4-2-5 nickel defense against the Saints base offense (they’d be treating Graham as a wide receiver). In that case, Sean Payton would have his array of running backs pound the rock behind monstrous All-World guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans.

The run formations could also aid New Orleans’ proficient play-action game (Brees was 17/19 for 212 yards and two touchdowns off play-action fakes against the Falcons in Week 10). It’s a myth that you need to establish the run in order to set up play-action.

In reality, defenders are trained to react to movement; play-action will work if the fake and the offensive linemen’s initial movements are executed well, regardless of how a team has been running the ball. That said, those fakes and movements are obviously more believable when the offense is lined up in a run formation.

Giants offense vs. Saints defense
4. Giants run game woes
The Giants will not advance deep in the playoffs if their run game does not get going. A typical Brandon Jacobs run these days involves the 265-pounder stumbling a yard behind the line of scrimmage, bumping into his own blocker, fighting for a yard-and-a-half and then pissing off every player around him by bumping into body after body as he tries to prove his manhood by ferociously picking himself up off the ground before other players can unpile, all the while barking emphatically about ... what, exactly?

How lucky are the defenders that this isn’t four years ago, when Jacobs was actually productive?

The Giants need a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw in the worst of ways. Of course, the rock-firm scatback’s presence would only present a greater opportunity for a rejuvenated run game -- not the assurance of one. Bradshaw was averaging just 4.0 yards per carry before his foot injury -- 0.7 yards below his career average.

New York’s problems start up front. And they may not be solved this week. Center David Baas has struggled with lateral run-blocking in tight spaces. Saints defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin is not an ideal opponent to face when trying to correct this. Thirty-one-year-old left guard David Diehl is showing signs of decline. This week could be tough, as the Saints defensive ends are excellent in run defense, particularly when crashing inside.

If the Giants offensive line can somehow break even in this matchup, New York’s fullbacks and tight ends will likely have opportunities to work against a Saints linebacking corps that’s without leader Jonathan Vilma (out since the start of the month with a knee). The Saints would almost need to commit eight to the box at that point. Roman Harper might be the best pure in-box safety in the NFL, but if the Giants can compel him to focus heavily on the run, they’ll impeded his blitzes, which are one of the Saints’ best weapons in pass defense (see item 5).

5. Saints blitzes
A big reason Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes so much is he knows his down four linemen cannot consistently collapse the pocket on their own. Don’t expect that to change much Sunday night (even though the Giants offensive tackles struggled mightily against the Eagles).

The difference between Williams’ D and other blitzing defenses is that Williams’ D blitzes hard. His blitzes often involve six pass-rushers instead of just five. And because one of those six rushers is usually a defensive back (Harper is phenomenal in this facet, as his 6.5 sacks on the season attest), and because nickel linebacker Jonathan Casillas has crazy speed and acceleration downhill, New Orleans’ blitzes are exceptionally fast.

Expect Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard to be big factors Monday night; as slot targets they’ll be Eli Manning’s hot reads against these blitzes.

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: October 20, 2010 12:16 am
 

Bucs run defense is awful

Posted by Andy Benoit

Just how bad is the Buccaneers run defense these days? Before Sunday’s game, Sean Payton told FOX Sports iC. Ivory (US Presswire)n the broadcast meeting that he’d be irritated if Saints running back Chris Ivory failed to top 100 yards on the ground. Payton surely presented his expectations as confidence in his player rather than disrespect for his opponent. But come on: how often does a coach place such high expectations on an undrafted rookie?

Ivory, of course, lived up to those expectations. Quite easily, in fact. He topped the 100-yard mark on his 10th carry, which came with just under 12 minutes left in the third quarter. Ivory finished the day with 15 carries for 158 yards. And it wasn’t a Barry Sanders-like 158, either. Ivory’s stats weren’t buttressed by one or two breakaway runs; his longest carry went for 33 yards.

Ivory shows some encouraging traits. He’s compact and runs with very good balance. He’s not a burner, but he accelerates well enough. That said, this was a classic case of a good running offense gashing a very poor run defense.

Ivory wasn’t the only Saint who had success on the ground. The box score shows Julius Jones gaining just 32 yards on nine carries. But a lot of those yards came late when New Orleans was running out the clock. When Jones got touches within the flow of regular offense (i.e. when the Bucs couldn’t load up the box and only think about defending the run), he consistently found daylight.

Tampa Bay currently ranks 31st against the run. Last season, it ranked dead last. The Bucs spent their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. McCoy was a complete non-factor against top-echelon guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. Price is still coming off the bench behind Roy Miller (who, by the way, was manhandled on more than one occasion Sunday).

As weak as the Bucs are inside, their real problems are outside. If anyone has footage of defensive end Michael Bennett NOT getting stood up and locked by a run-blocker, please send it this way. Playing behind ends that can’t set the edge, finesse-oriented outside linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black are easily exposed as liabilities in traffic.

The Bucs run defense will get better at some point. After all, it’s not uncommon for defensive tackles to struggle as rookies. And Hayes and Black are both capable players when operating in space (at least Hayes is, anyway). But from the looks of things, “some point” won’t come until at least 2011.


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Posted on: September 10, 2010 12:17 pm
Edited on: September 10, 2010 12:28 pm
 

Three thoughts about NO-MIN

B. Favre and the Minnesota passing offense had a rough game (AP). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

My take on Thursday’s Saints 14-9 win against the Vikings.

1. I loved the “We are one” salute at the beginning of the game, signifying the players’ solidarity with each other as they enter the final season of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Some people didn’t like it – they thought it was too showy or too much of a flick-our-noses-at-the-owners kind of moment (and I’ve seen a joke or two on Twitter about how the owners should show solidarity by turning off the lights for a minute)  – but I thought the move was pretty damn cool.

"Even though five minutes from then we were going to go out and bash each others' heads in," QB Drew Brees told reporters after the game, "we're all one voice."

2. Jeez, how much did the Vikings miss WR Sidney Rice last night? More importantly, how much will they miss him until he can return from hip surgery? Percy Harvin was mostly invisible (one catch, 12 yards), and Bernard Berrian was, somehow, worse (one catch, three yards), and aside from TE Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota’s passing game was terribly unimpressive. Greg Camarillo made a nice catch, and even Greg Lewis recorded a reception. But originally, I thought Harvin and Berrian would be OK until Rice returned. I might have been totally wrong. And if Shiancoe is the only receiving threat – he was Thursday, at least – and the Saints figured out a way to shut him down in the second half, it’s not far-fetched to think other teams will do the same.
P. Thomas had a big second half for New Orleans (AP).
You also have to wonder about Brett Favre. Not just that he might be too old (finally), but that his decision to miss most of training camp cost his team dearly. As Camarillo said after the game, the offense had no chemistry. A couple extra weeks of practicing together might have helped solve that.

3. The Saints ran the ball just three times in the first half, but the coaching staff switched gears in the second half and made a point of giving the ball to Pierre Thomas. He rushed 19 times for 71 yards, and he helped New Orleans eat up huge chunks of time in the fourth quarter to keep the Vikings at bay. The big run came with 1:59 to go when, on a second and six, Thomas broke a Ben Leber tackle (which would have stopped him behind the first-down marker) and made the first down to seal Minnesota’s fate.

Of course, much of the credit must go to New Orleans interior linemen. Guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks were outstanding against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.

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Posted on: August 18, 2010 2:47 pm
 

Carl Nicks demoted for the day

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Carl Nicks has been a fine OG for the Saints the past two years, but apparently that doesn’t mean he has the right to take first-team snaps in practice. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune points out, the Saints coaching staff was sending a message today when it demoted Nicks to the second team.

It didn’t sit well with Nicks.

"It has to be one of two reasons, (either) they feel I'm not good enough any more or they feel the guy behind me is better," Nicks said after practice. "You've got to ask coach about that.

"It doesn't light my fire ... I'm confident in my abilities. If they feel I'm not capable of running with the 1s, I've got to respect that."

Terrence Metcalf replaced Nicks on the first team, but coach Sean Payton also said not to read anything into the move.

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Posted on: July 14, 2010 12:36 pm
 

Position rankings: guards

Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit resume their debate, with today’s focus on guards.

Andy Benoit’s top five
J. Evans (US Presswire)
5. Leonard Davis, Cowboys

4. Steve Hutchinson, Vikings

3. Carl Nicks, Saints

2. Kris Dielman, Chargers

1. Jahri Evans, Saints

As you can see, an unsexy list from the unsexiest position in football. Leonard Davis makes it because he knows how to use his 365-pound size. Everyone thinks Steve Hutchinson is a God, but that’s only because most fans don’t know the names of any other guards. Hutchinson was once the best, but at 32, he’s lost half a step (which is half a step less than Alan Faneca). Of course, Hutchinson had plenty of steps to spare. He still offers good mobility, but his strength in a phone booth has declined.

You might read the name “Carl Nicks” and say Who?! The Saints left guard is a monster in the run game, getting to the second level with regularity. The only thing he struggles with is lateral movement as a pass-blocker. Dielman is rock-solid. Evans is an even better run-blocker than Nicks, plus he’s reliable in pass protection.

Josh Katzowitz's top five

5. Bobbie Williams, Bengals

4. Kris Dielman, Chargers

3. Chris Snee, Giants

2. Jahri Evans, Saints

1. Logan Mankins, Patriots

I agree that Evans is one of the best guards around, but I don’t think he’s earned the title of No. 1 quite yet. Yes, he had a heck of a season last year, and he was rewarded with a seven-year, $56-million contract. But he needs to mirror that performance for at least one more year before I can knight him as the top guy.

Mankins has been the most talked-about guard throughout the offseason because of his contract clashes with New England’s front office. The fact he might not play this year has to be worrisome to Patriots fans. Mankins is strong, and he has good quickness and agility. If he’s playing, he’s the best out there. Andy, I’m surprised you didn’t even put Mankins on your list.

Snee has a great initial punch at the line of scrimmage, and when he gets to the next level, he makes linebackers pay. Plus, he’s durable, starting the last 78 games the Giants have played.

Williams has been the rock of a Bengals offensive line that continues to turn over year after year. He’s underrated and has never made a Pro Bowl squad. He’s not going to wow you, but that doesn’t mean he’s not on the top five fringe. He’s just too consistent and solid for me not to put on this list.

Andy’s rebuttal

Top five fringe is different from top five, Josh. More on that in a second.

I like the Snee pick, and I can certainly live with Mankins (though, obviously, I think No. 1 is too high). Both those guys have the unique ability to land square, domineering blocks off of movement. I still think Hutchinson is elite (or borderline elite), and I’m disappointed you didn’t praise my prescience for going with Nicks now, and not after he gets his first Pro Bowl (either this season or next).

Okay, let’s talk about the fringe pick, Williams. You’re a (former) Bengals Rapid Reporter. I’m not suggesting you lack journalistic integrity – not at all – but I’m willing to bet you have a good working relationship with the 11th-year veteran. From afar, Williams seems like he’d be a good guy. He shows great on-field leadership. So, be honest, did Williams help you write your list?

The problem is, as a player, Williams is too close to the fat part of the bell curve. I’m going to break my rule of never publishing raw notes from film study to share some of what I took away from watching Williams these past two years:

Raw notes from ’09 Bengals film:

Williams shows good power and size when he’s able to be the aggressor. If he’s stepping into a block between first and second level, he’ll move guys. But if the action starts from standstill, he may not win.

Raw notes from ’08 Bengals film:

Williams is about the same as always....decent but not great. Moves okay, doesn’t have ideal power but gets in his spots, etc.
These are descriptions of a solid starter, not a top five player.

Josh’s final word

Ha! If Williams and I had written this list, we would have spent all day laughing about your exclusion of Mankins. True, I’ve covered the Bengals for various outlets for the past five seasons, but I’m an objective journalist and I don’t play favorites (hell I haven’t had a favorite NFL team since I was a kid, and it certainly wasn’t the Bengals). There are a few guys on the Bengals squad that are wonderful with whom to deal, but I haven’t put them on any of our lists. Considering this is the 11th top five list we’ve done and Williams is the first Bengals player I’ve put in the spotlight – and probably the only one I’ll include for the rest of our top five series – well, I think those facts speak for themselves.

Truth be told, I thought about Hutchinson, I thought about Nicks and I thought about Faneca (he’s just nowhere near his prime anymore). I knew you’d hate the Williams pick, but in all my extensive research – and the fact I’ve seen him play scores of games the past few years – I’m more than confident in defending the selection. He’s just too good and consistent.


Other positions: Safety | Cornerback | 3-4 Scheme Outside Linebacker | Punter  | Kicker | 4-3 Scheme Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker  | Defensive Tackle  | Defensive End | Offensive Tackle  | Center)


--Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit


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