Tag:Haloti Ngata
Posted on: October 5, 2011 8:57 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 4

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 4 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Blount  Texans Crosby Schwartz
Judge Rodgers   Osi  Hester Harbaugh
Prisco Rodgers Williams  Hester Harbaugh
Brinson Rodgers  Ngata  Hester Harbaugh
Katzowitz Johnson  Maybin Succop Schwartz
Wilson Rodgers  Ngata  Hester Harbaugh
For such an insane week of NFL action, there was a surprising amount of consensus from our experts on who deserves the hardware.

Aaron Rodgers, for example, was a pretty stone-cold lock for the Eye on Offense award after he scored six touchdowns against the Broncos. That's just what six touchdowns will do for you.

In terms of defensive selections, there was a little more variation, and Mario Williams could have walked away with the hardware, but Haloti Ngata ended up winning the Eye on Defense award for terrorizing Mark Sanchez.

There wasn't a whole lot to wonder about in terms of Eye on Special Teams -- Devin Hester was just the difference maker against the Panthers. And in coaching, it always helps to come from 20-plus points behind on the road if you want to win the Eye on Coaching award, which is what Jim Harbaugh did.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
LeGarrette Blount LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers
It was only the Colts. If the Colts' defense had any more holes it would be a script for "Lost." They're still an NFL team, though, and what Blount did at times in that Monday night game was ridiculous. He was a plow and the Colts were fertile soil. He's the size of a small apartment building, has some speed and thank God hasn't punched anybody this season.
Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
He throws for four touchdowns runs for two more and looks more and more like the next great quarterback. Thank you, San Francisco. The 49ers could've taken Rodgers with the first pick of the 2005 draft. Instead, they chose Alex Smith. Life is not fair ... unless, of course, you're Mike McCarthy. He was the 49ers' OC then; he's the Packers' head coach now.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Anytime a guy can throw for four touchdowns and run for two more, like Rodgers did in helping the Packers blow out the Broncos,f it's an easy choice. He can win this award every week.
Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
After 2010, we expect Rodgers to be good. Maybe even great. What he's doing this year is filthy, and the things he did to the Broncos were just dirty. I don't have many rules in life, but one of them is "if a guy accounts for six touchdowns in one game, he's my offensive player of the week."
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Calvin JohnsonCalvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Early in the Cowboys-Lions game, it looked like Rob Ryan was partially correct when he said that Dez Bryant and Austin Miles were better receivers than Johnson (though we all knew better, didn’t we?). But who remembers now what Bryant did? That’s because Johnson caught two more touchdown passes, including a jump-ball in triple coverage, and led Detroit to a huge comeback victory.
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Yes, the Packers were facing the Broncos, but unless something's changed, Denver's players still get paid and they are considered "professionals." But we suspect Rodgers would put up similar numbers against the 1985 Bears. He finished the day 29 of 38 for 408 yards, four touchdown passes, two touchdown runs, and the inevitably awesome championship belt end-zone routine.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Mario WilliamsHouston Texans, DST
Yeah, I'm picking the whole damn group. I've never seen the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Tomlin/Roethlisberger era get so physically outmatched. I mean, the Texans. Who would have believed this group could be so tough. Defense and the Texans rarely appear in the same sentence but after they battered Ben, shut down Pittsburgh's running game and intimidated their receivers, those two words might be associated a great deal this season.
Drayton Florence Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
In his first game since returning from knee surgery Umenyiora produces two sacks, forces a fumble and makes a case for why the Giants should keep him, pay him and make him happy. You can never have enough pass rushers, and Umenyiora is one of the best in the game. If the Giants were auditioning him for the next trading partner, color me interested.
Prisco Brinson
Mario WilliamsMario Williams, DE, Texans
He had two sacks and made a great tackle on a run for a loss. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Got both sacks with his hand on the ground.
Haloti NgataHaloti Ngata, DL, Ravens
The Ravens destroyed the Jets, their second-closest AFC rival, on Sunday night. Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense had nothing to do with, really. Ngata did though -- with Nick Mangold out, the Baltimore lineman was an absolute terror, limiting the Jets in every facet of their offense.
Katzowitz Wilson
Aaron Maybin Aaron Maybin, DE, Jets
There might be better candidates this week -- like, somebody who played for a team that won -- but give credit to Maybin. After his disastrous stint with the Bills ended before the season started, he was cut by the Jets, then re-signed with New York, and he responded with snappy play and his first NFL sack. Which means he’s already one-up on Vernon Gholston.
Haloti Ngata Haloti Ngata, DL, Ravens
This could go to the entire Ravens defense, but Ngata absolutely obliterated Mark Sanchez on a sack-and-fumble play that ended with Jaret Johnson doing a touchdown dance in the end zone. A lot of big-name defenders got new contracts in recent weeks but Ngata has probably done the most to earn his substantial pay bump.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Mason CrosbyMason Crosby, K, Packers
He may be the best at onside kicks in the league. The Packers detroyed the Broncos and while there is no key moment in such an obliteration Crosby's onside kick was the closet thing. The Packers were up 14-3 when Mike McCarthy called for it and Mason was perfect. The Broncos never saw it coming.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
He returns a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. He returns a kickoff 73 yards to set up another score. Basically, he beats the Carolina Panthers by himself, and where's the surprise? I mean, his punt return was his 11th for a touchdown, setting an NFL record. So why in the world would anyone kick to the guy? Carolina coaches must be asking the same question.
Prisco Brinson
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
Hester had a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown and also had another long return (a kickoff he took back 73 yards). Plus, the Bears won, which is why I give him the edge over Joe McKnight.
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
It was Hester's effort -- a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 73-yard kickoff return that nearly went to the house -- that changed the outcome of this game. Ron Rivera managed to forget that Bears coaches sit back and laugh at anyone who kicks his way.
Katzowitz Wilson
Ryan Succop Ryan Succop, K, Chiefs
The Chiefs scored their first win of the season, and their kicker was the one who did most of the scoring. Succop went 5-for-5 on field goals, including a career-high 54-yarder. Kansas City wasn’t great, but its field goal kicker was.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
We'll never understand why any team thinks kicking to Hester is a good idea. But the Panthers threw caution to the wind and were predictably  burned. Hester had a 69-yard punt return for six, and added a 73-yard kickoff return for good measure. The Panthers ended up losing by five.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Jim SchwartzJim Schwartz, Lions
Lions fell behind big but still won. Schwartz is one mentally tough dude and his Lions showed the same. Sure, Tony Romo threw his usual lazy pick sixes and kept the Lions in it but coming back from that type of margin is still impressive and says a lot about Schwartz. I would expect no less from a Mt. St. Joe grad.
Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
Not only does he have the 49ers on top of the NFC West, he just scored a huge victory in Philadelphia after overcoming a 20-point second-half deficit. What that win told me was that Harbaugh is changing the culture there; that the 49ers are learning to close games. A couple of years ago they would've given up and gotten drilled by 30. Instead, they fight back and win. Trust me, this will have a ripple effect for the rest of the season.
Prisco Brinson
Jim HarbaughJim Harbaugh, 49ers
Harbaugh kept his team over on the East Coast -- they stayed in Ohio after playing the Bengals -- for a week and it paid off. Their rally against the Eagles on the road was impressive. He also gets points for making Alex Smith look good.
Jim HarbaughJim Harbaugh, 49ers
Harbaugh's done amazing work with the 49ers, even if the comeback against the Eagles isn't something you can count on every week. His postgame speech and his willingness to give up a first-class plane ticket are indicative that this isn't a fluke -- he's somehow got an Alex Smith-quarterbacked team on a winning streak.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Jim Schwartz, Lions
It doesn’t matter how far behind Detroit falls to its opponent. 24 points vs. the Cowboys? 20 points to the Vikings? When Schwartz is your coach, none of that matters, because your team can do nothing but win. That zinger on Cowboys DC Rob Ryan in the postgame presser was nothing short of awesome.
Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
Not sure if we should be giving this award to Andy Reid and Juan Castillo, but the fact remains that the 49ers are 3-1, and did what so many west coast teams struggle to do: travel east and win a 1 p.m. start.

Posted on: September 29, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 11:58 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Most underrated

D. McFadden is one of the league's most underrated players (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

You know all the big-name players, even if they’re past their prime. Guys who once were great and impactful and who were rated exactly as their athleticism required. Now, though, some of those players have begun their descent into the final phases of their career, but fans, remembering their past exploits, still think of them as high-end performers on the field.

Now, they’re making way for players you’ve probably heard of but can’t place. Players who you’ve seen but can’t remember on which team they reside.Players who are overshadowed and under the radar. The players who won’t be considered underrated for much longer.

In this week’s Top Ten with a Twist, we feature the best players who are not as well known as they should be. You can call them underrated and call them under the radar, but their teams and their teammates know how important they are. They are, in fact, some of the best players in the league who aren’t necessarily considered the best players in the league.

10. Sean Lee: He won’t be a name only hardcore fans recognize for much longer. He was just named NFC defensive player of the month after a sensational start to the season (31 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries). Lee had knocked long-time starting linebacker Keith Brooking out of the lineup, and with the way he’s playing, you can certainly see why. He has been scary this year.

9. Hakeem Nicks: Considering wide receiver is one of the most glamorous positions in the sport, it’s tough to find a guy who you could call underrated -- conversely, there’s no shortage of players we could consider overrated at this position. But Nicks is one of those guys who doesn’t get the national attention (even though he plays in New York!) of a Calvin Johnson, an Andre Johnson or a DeSean Jackson. And while Nicks might not quite be on the same level as those receivers, he’s close. His 79 catches, 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 is a testament to that.

8. Ryan Kalil: You might have been shocked when the Panthers gave him a six-year, $49 million ($28 million guaranteed) deal before this season to make him the highest-paid center in the game, but those around the league know his value. He’s versatile in pass protection and run-blocking, and he doesn’t get called for holding penalties. Is he the best center in the league? Probably not as long as Nick Mangold is playing, but Kalil is still one of the top guys out there.

7. Vince Wilfork: He gets plenty of attention -- especially when he’s picking off passes and strolling his way back up the field -- but when compared to defensive tackles like Haloti Ngata, Ndamukong Suh or (gasp!) Albert Haynesworth, Wilfork doesn’t get the admiration he deserves. Despite his size -- he very well could be playing in the 400-pound range -- he’s one of the most athletic big men you’ll see. He’s one of the best run-stoppers around, and he’s the anchor of the Patriots defense. You know him, but he still hasn’t made his way to superstar status.



6. Darren Sproles: It was thought that the new kickoff rules would hinder Sproles, and that was probably one of the reasons the Chargers didn’t re-sign him in the offseason. But Sproles has continued to prove his wealth, settling into the Saints backfield, where he’s shown he can still rush (7.4 yards per carry), catch the ball (21 receptions, second-best among running backs) and score (he’s recorded a touchdown in all three games). He’s like a Reggie Bush who actually is effective for the Saints. Oh, and he can still return kicks (sixth in the league among those who have at least five chances) and return punts (second in the league).

5. Tramon Williams: Although he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl, Williams isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the Eagles cornerback trio (Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) or the Jets duo (Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie). Plus, he plays in the shadow of Charles Woodson, who is still one of the best cornerbacks in the league after 14 seasons. But Williams has shown why he’s a top-10 cornerback. He’s not avoided by other team’s quarterbacks quite as much as Asomugha and Revis -- that’s a byproduct of playing with Woodson -- but he’s shown that when his receiver is targeted, Williams is one of the better cover corners in the league.

4. Rob Gronkowski: Who are the best tight ends in the league? Antonio Gates? That’s true if he’s healthy. Tony Gonzalez? That’s true if this was five years ago. Jason Witten? Yes, he probably is the top tight end out there. But you know who’s really close to him? That’s Gronkowski -- who, in his second season in the league, is one big reason the Patriots offense has been so dominant this season. He was decent as a rookie last season, but he’s exploded for five touchdowns already this year, and with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the lineup in New England, that is a tough, tough matchup for the opposing teams’ linebackers.

3. Brandon Pettigrew: Last Sunday was the perfect example of why Pettigrew can make a Lions fan’s mouth water. He played through a shoulder injury, yet he managed to catch 11 passes for 112 yards in Detroit’s huge comeback victory against the Vikings. He’s probably not on the same level as Witten or Gronkowski, and yes, he drops the easy passes way too much (even if he also makes the spectacular catches). But in his third season in the league, he shows real potential to be a top-five tight end.

2. Trent Cole: He’s always good for between 55-80 tackles a year. He’s always good for between eight and 13 sacks. He’s almost always assured to be making life difficult for whichever offensive tackle who is charged with slowing his momentum. Cole might be the best player many NFL fans don’t know anything about. But this year, he’s off to a hot start in Philadelphia with three sacks. He’s a monster, and even if you haven’t heard his name very much, you can be sure the league’s offensive linemen have.

1. Darren McFadden: Along with Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, McFadden might be a top-three running back in this league. But since he plays in the black hole of Oakland, he wasn’t discussed as much as those who have lesser talent. That’s changing this year with the Raiders off to a 2-1 start and McFadden performing like the best back in the league. In 2010, McFadden gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage, and through three games this season, he’s rushed for 393 yards and three touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 84 yards and another score. If he keeps playing like that, he won’t belong on this list next year. Because everybody is going to know about him.

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Posted on: September 28, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 11:49 am
 

Film Room: Ravens vs. Jets preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Ever since Rex Ryan left Baltimore to become New York’s head coach, we’ve viewed these two teams as mirror images of one another – and understandably so. Both have young quarterbacks. Both have running backs entering their primes who are backed up by a sage veteran. Both feature an aggressive and deceptive 3-4 defensive scheme. And both talk abundant trash even though their respective rivals – the Patriots and Steelers – have all the rings.

Let’s take a closer look at these teams’ similarities.

1. Young quarterbacks
Something that stood out in Week 3 was how the Ravens and Jets heavily utilized play-action early on, but for different reasons.

The Ravens referred to it to allow time for downfield routes to unfold. They wanted to take advantage of a depleted Rams secondary that was starting undrafted second-year nobody Darian Stewart at safety and disintegrating Al Harris at nickel corner outside. (They succeeded, by the way).

The Jets referred to play action because they wanted to prolong the time that Raiders’ defensive backs had to hold up in man coverage. They also wanted to coax the Raider linebackers into running out of position. (They succeeded, but only in the first half.)

Same offensive tactic, but with vastly different inspirations. The Ravens were trying to showcase their young quarterback, while the Jets were trying to simply make life easier for theirs (nothing wrong with that). This makes sense. Flacco has been around a year longer than Sanchez and is clearly a year ahead of him development-wise. He has a stronger arm and, as of late, more refined tools. He has really improved his pocket movement, becoming more consistent in resetting his feet before he throws.

The Jets are working with Sanchez in this realm. Entering this season, the USC star had a habit of bringing the ball down while eluding rushers in the pocket. This compelled him to reset both his feet AND throwing mechanics, which is too slow of a motion for the NFL.

For what it’s worth, don’t expect such a heavy dose of play-action in this game. Both defenses have savvy linebackers and are too likely to blitz. Instead, the key will be which young quarterback does the best job at diagnosing coverages and pass-rushing attacks prior to the snap.


2. The running backs
Let’s get one thing clear: Ray Rice is a better football player than Shonn Greene. It’s not even close. If Rice were a Friday night, Greene would be, at best, a Wednesday afternoon. Rice runs with superb balance and strength, and his lateral agility is second to none (especially when he gets to the second level). What’s more, he’s a demon in the passing game, both as a receiver and blocker.

Greene, on the other hand, has been somewhat disappointing. He sits out most passing downs and has 1,440 yards rushing…in 32 career games. One issue is Greene’s more of a momentum runner than explosive runner. He excels on sweeps because those runs naturally allow him to hit the line of scrimmage going downhill. But sweeps don’t work against elite outside linebackers (like, say, Terrell Suggs).

Between the tackles, Greene’s vision and timing are very average. That’s why the Jets made LaDainian Tomlinson a prominent part of their offense last season. Tomlinson is off to a fantastic start as a receiving back this season (12 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown), but that’s in part because he knows how to outwit pass defending linebackers. On film, it’s clear L.T. has lost a lot of his speed and quickness. If the Jets are to go anywhere in 2011, they’ll have to ride Greene.

Same goes for the Ravens and Rice. Rice’s production is not a problem, though the Ravens were wise to bring in a supporting No. 2 back like Ricky Williams.

3. The receivers
Derrick Mason is the X-factor. He was Baltimore’s possession target last year and is now filling that role from the slot in New York. The crafty 15-year veteran is one of the few players in the league who does not need to get separation in order to be open.

Plaxico Burress is another one of those players. He’s been, for the most part, his same old self this season (which is remarkable when you really think about it). His matchup Sunday night against Carry Williams will be worth watching. If you asked God to make a cornerback specifically for defending Burress, you might get Williams. He’s only 6’1”, 185, but long and upright, he plays much bigger than that. He has an intriguing combination of physicality and change-of-direction ability, and if asked to play man coverage, he won’t be shy about using trail position technique (which will compel Burress to use his “speed” more than his strength).

It will be interesting to see what the Jets do with Darrelle Revis. The likely assignment will be Anquan Boldin, though last week, rookie Torrey Smith turned in a jaw-dropping three-touchdown first quarter that had the Rams redirecting their safety help concepts. Smith gets faster at the end of his routes, which is something all great deep threats do. Antonio Cromartie has the speed to run with him, so expect the Jets to trust that matchup. But expect the Ravens to readily go after it.

The weak link of both cornerbacking groups happens to be an ex-Boise State Bronco: Chris Carr for the Ravens and Kyle Wilson for the Jets. If it comes down to these ancillary matchups, the Jets have the overall advantage. Mason, their No. 3, is as reliable as they come. For the Ravens, newcomer Lee Evans (who now figures to be the No. 3 receiver) has not established any sort of a rhythm with Flacco.

4. The defensive lines
The Jets have a unique run-stopping approach with their three-man defensive line. Instead of asking their downlinemen to occupy blockers and fill two gaps, the Jets ask them to focus on physically manhandling the guy in front of them. The idea is this creates congestion through penetration and also defines the inside linebackers’ path to the ball (David Harris and Bart Scott are tasked with reading the defensive linemen’s action and attacking in the opposite direction that it’s drifting. More on that in the next section.)

The Jets are the only 3-4 team in the NFL that plays the run this way.

This unique approach is why general manager Mike Tannenbaum drafted a fist-fighter like Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round. Tannenbaum would probably give his right eye for a chance to have a guy like Haloti Ngata. The Ravens 335-pound defensive end/nose tackle is the most destructive front line force in the NFL today.

Ngata has the power of a tug boat and mobility of a clipper. Truly, he moves like a linebacker. Expect him to spend most of his time at defensive end this season, as last year’s second-round pick, Terrence Cody, has looked great at nose tackle.



5. The inside linebackers
These are the entertainers – the guys NBC cameras will fixate on Sunday night. The sagacious Ray Lewis and loquacious Bart Scott. Both back up their personas. Lewis no longer has elite sideline-to-sideline speed, but he compensates with instincts, ferocity and fundamentals.

He was a demon attacking Rams lead-blockers last week. The Ravens’ defensive style will always allow Lewis to be productive, as so much of their run approach is predicated on his teammates occupying blockers.

Scott, who is as aggressive downhill as any linebacker in the league, has both an easier and tougher job than Lewis. It’s easier in that he has a stellar running mate in David Harris. It’s tougher in that, as mentioned earlier, he must read the defensive linemen’s battles in front of him and pursue the ball accordingly.

The reason other 3-4 defenses don’t take this type of approach is it requires great intelligence and pursuit skills from both inside linebackers. Most defenses don’t have an inside combination like Scott and Harris.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 4 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 28, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 2:30 pm
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Lions preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

For the first time seemingly since their Portsmouth days, the Detroit Lions will enter a nationally-followed non-Thanksgiving game with high expectations to live up to. They’re taking their 3-0 record to Dallas to face Tony Romo’s Ribs and a Cowboy defense that is getting more potent by the week in Rob Ryan’s scheme.

You’ll hear plenty this week about how the Lions can bring some much needed joy to the struggling Motor City, and about how they have crawled out of a miserable past decade, and about the wonders of NFL parity and turnaround stories.

These human interest stories are nice, but they’re only relevant because of what the Lions do on the field. Here’s a look at that.



1. Open formations
The Lions have lined up in shotgun 67 percent of the time this season, mostly in a 2 x 1 single-back set (two receivers to one side, one to the other). Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has taken this approach because it plays to the strength of his two young backfield stars: Matthew Stafford and Jahvid Best.

The semi-spread formations clarify the reads for Stafford and propagate a lot of quick-strike throws (which he has the arm strength and compact release to execute). Because defenses are compelled to roll coverage to Calvin Johnson (by far the most athletically gifted wideout in the NFL), Stafford has opportunities to exploit the seams.

This is a big reason why Detroit drafted Titus Young in the second round. Young is an unrefined route runner at this point, but route running precision is not the end-all, be-all when you’re attacking zone coverages from the slot.

Also helping spread the field is the way Detroit crafts sideline routes for Johnson. When a receiver runs a downfield pattern outside the numbers, safety help over the top often becomes irrelevant due to the nature of the limited spacing. Thus, you get a one-on-one matchup by default. Johnson has never been great at beating double teams.

That’s partly why the Lions specifically send him on isolation patterns outside. They’ll do this at least five or six times Sunday because the Cowboys, like most teams, don’t have a corner who can handle Megatron alone.

Detroit’s running game also benefits from the three-receiver shotgun sets. The very nature of the formation creates extra spacing, which is what a finesse runner like Jahvid Best needs. It also aids Detroit’s blocking. Receiving tight end Tony Scheffler often aligns in the slot as the third receiver. Scheffler has never been a great run-blocker, but as a slot receiver he doesn’t have to rely on strength and technique as much.

When it’s a wideout in the slot, it means the Lions get to run against a nickel defense, something they’ve done with alacrity thus far. Best’s rushing numbers aren’t great, but the Lions’ run game overall is not the weakness it was a season ago.

2. Receiving X factors
Detroit’s second and third best receiving weapons are not wideouts. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught 11 balls for 116 yards against Minnesota. He’s a plodding runner with softer hands and more effective agility than you’d guess. Stafford loves when Pettigrew is matched up on a linebacker. It will be interesting if that’s still the case after he watches outstanding Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee on film this week.

Pettigrew ranks third on the team in receiving. Ranking second is Best, who has 15 catches for 182 yards. Best, who has great elusiveness and acceleration, hurts opponents as a true receiver out of the slot, and he kills them as a screen receiver out of the backfield. One of the unheralded reasons Best thrives on screens is Calvin Johnson is a superb downfield blocker.

3. The much-ballyhooed defensive line
The Lions front four is as good as advertised. And it may only get better this week if Nick Fairley debuts as a pass-rushing defensive tackle (the first-round rookie has been out since undergoing foot surgery in August). Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch plays with great leverage and tenacity. Opposite him, Cliff Avril is a vastly underrated athlete who has recently gotten faster and stronger. Inside, underrated Corey Williams can play both a one-and two-gap style.
 
Of course, Ndamukong Suh is the driving force of Detroit’s front four. Suh’s greatest asset is his ability to quickly exert power off of movement. Elite defensive tackles like Vince Wilfork, B.J. Raji or Haloti Ngata often overpower opponents with their sheer size and force.

But those guys all weigh 330-plus and are wide enough to play the nose. Suh, at 307 pounds, is a beast, but he doesn’t quite have that exceptional raw power to dominate every down in a phone booth. However, he compensates by having the initial quickness and agility of a Pro Bowl caliber defensive end (that’s end, not tackle).

Suh is off to an incredible start this season because he’s now learned to consistently use that quickness to create favorable positioning immediately off the snap. Moves that take most players two seconds to execute, he executes in less than one. Thus, he’s always facing blockers who are caught just a little bit off-guard. That’s all Suh needs to take their manhood.

For the most part this season, the Lions have relied on straight four-man pass-rushes. But last season, against upper-tier offensive lines, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham would have a few of his linemen roam around before the snap in order to create confusion. Given Dallas’ inexperience, it would not be surprising to see Cunningham move Suh around on Sunday.

But Cunningham won’t dig too far into that bag of tricks if he doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary. He knows there are also plenty of ways to create matchup problems with his traditional fronts. For one example, see the illustration below:


From this alignment, Suh creates a mismatch either for himself or the defensive end next to him – it depends on how the Cowboys choose to block it.

In this formation, the Cowboys have three players to block two. But personnel is still a problem. By splitting the defensive end out wide (in what’s called a nine-technique) and putting Suh in the B-gap (between the offensive guard and tackle) the Cowboys have three options here, all of which put them in an unfavorable position.

Option A: They double-team Suh with guard Kyle Kosier and tackle Tyron Smith, which leaves their tight end (either Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett) overmatched one-on-one against Cliff Avril.

Option B: They let OT Smith block Avril, which leaves a terrifying one-on-one matchup for G Kosier against Suh.

Option C: They send the tight end on a passing route, but it will have to be a short one because they’re still dealing with a one-on-one matchup between G Kosier and Suh.

Option D: The Cowboys slide protection to the right side, which is unlikely because it makes life too easy for Detroit’s other two defensive linemen and could also compromise the left side of the field for passing route options.

4. Lions pass defense
The secondary has been the Lions’ Achilles heel the past two years. But this season, the Lions are allowing only 188 yards per game through the air, fourth best in the NFL. That could just be a function of weak opponents, though. In Week 1, the Lions faced a Bucs receiving group that lacks speed. In Week 2, the Lions faced a Chiefs offense that was without dynamic tight end Tony Moeaki and thin behind the seemingly detached Dwayne Bowe.

In Week 3, the Lions faced a Vikings team that humorously believes Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian form an adequate one-two punch outside. A true test for the Lions secondary may have to wait another week, as the Cowboys without Miles Austin have a fairly feeble receiving corps.

Quality of opponent aside, give this secondary credit for its improvements. The Lions play a lot of Cover 2, but their corners have performed well in man coverage on third downs. Plus safety Louis Delmas has sharpened his ball-man prowess against tight ends.

5. What to expect
The Lions have not seen a defense as conceptually difficult as Dallas’. Against the Bucs and Vikings, Stafford had to only read zone coverages behind basic four-man pass-rushes. This Sunday, he and his offensive line will have to decipher more blitzes and sub-package personnel.

They have an ultimate resource in Calvin Johnson, though. The Cowboys simply can’t cover him.

If the Lions can exploit that mismatch early and play from ahead, they’ll make the Cowboys offense one-dimensional and vulnerable in long-yardage situations. That should be enough to get to 4-0.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 20, 2011 3:59 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2011 4:13 pm
 

Haloti Ngata, Ravens reach five-year deal

Posted by Will Brinson

We mentioned earlier that the deadline to extend players given the franchise tag was rapidly approaching -- we also mentioned a report that the Ravens and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were closing in on a "blockbuster" deal. That deal is done and the two sides have reached a five-year deal.

"It just feels awesome," Ngata in a statement released by the team.  "I won’t have to worry about my family, my kids, with money problems.  Hopefully, I can continue to do well for the Ravens now and it’s a good deal for them."

It's a better deal for Ngata -- Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times reports that the contract will pay Ngata $40 million in guaranteed money over the first two years of the deal, which is absolutely stunning, even for an impact defensive player of Ngataga's standards.

"Haloti’s re-signing is significant as we push to win consistently and battle for championships," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Tuesday.

The Ravens and Ngata had reportedly been working on a deal for some time now, but the talks cooled until Tuesday, when negotiations between the two sides picked up serious steam and eventually resulted in the deal.

"We've been talking, but didn’t want it to be real public and in the media," said Ngata. "We just wanted to make sure we don’t put too much emotion into it and make sure we got the right deal."

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Posted on: September 20, 2011 2:13 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2011 2:19 pm
 

No deals for Solai, V-Jax, but Ngata blockbuster?

Posted by Will Brinson

Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET is the deadline to extend players who received franchise tags in the offseason. According to CBS Sports Charley Casserly, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Solai and Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson won't be joining the number of players who were franchise tagged and also received a long-term extension from their respective clubs.

Reports are beginning to circulate that Ngata could receive a "blockbuster" contract, however.

Solai, Jackson, Ngata and Browns kicker Phil Dawson are the only remaining players who received a franchise tag and who were not given long-term deals.

Given the current timeframe for completing a deal -- roughly two hours -- it seems pretty unlikely that any of the players will actually see big money before the offseason.

Dawson, in his late 30's, wouldn't represent good value for the Browns anyway, and is highly unlikely to get a long-term deal.

Ngata is arguably the Ravens best defensive player, and you can be sure that Ravens want to get him signed to a lengthy contract. They're running short on time, but Aaron Wilson of the Cook County Times reports that the Ravens are "on the verge of striking a blockbuster deal" with Ngata before the 4 p.m. deadline Tuesday.

Jackson's lack of a deal is the least surprising news, given the discord between he and the Chargers during the past several years as A.J. Smith has steadfastly refused to give Jackson big-time money, and Jackson held out for 10 games in 2010.

Though the players would become unrestricted free agents after this year, they're all still eligible to be franchise-tagged for a second consecutive year.

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Posted on: September 10, 2011 10:38 am
 

7-Point Preview: Steelers vs. Ravens



Posted by Ryan Wilson


1. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
The Ravens will begin the 2011 season the same way they ended 2010: facing the Steelers. Not only are they AFC North rivals, but there's a good argument that this matchup is annually the NFL's fiercest. At least in terms of physicality; as for the results, Pittsburgh has the edge, especially when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is under center. In fact, Big Ben is undefeated against the Ravens in his last seven starts, something that leaves defensive end Terrell Suggs a little queasy.

"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years," Suggs said. "We have to switch that, you know? It's sickening. It ends our season every year we lose to our division rival. I'm sick of it. I'm disgusted. I'm tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year."

But the Ravens have their own franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, who has helped his team to the postseason his first three years in the league, and has yet to miss a start during that time. Still, the playoff wins on the road against the Patriots in '09, or the '08 AFC Championship Game appearance don't mean much unless the conversation ends with "and the Ravens won the Super Bowl." Exacerbating matters: Flacco is 2-6 against the Steelers in his career and he has yet to beat Roethlisberger. (The two wins came against a Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh team -- Dennis Dixon started late in the '09 season, and Charlie Batch was under center during Week 4 of the 2010 campaign.)

The Rivalry

2. What the Degenerate Gamblers and Eggheads Are Saying:
"You can throw the records out the window" is a cliche, yes, but in this case it's also fitting. While the Steelers hold the win-loss edge, these matchup are invariably close, usually coming down to a huge fourth-quarter play. That, their similarly bruising styles, and the game being in Baltimore means the Steelers are just one-point favorites, according to Bodog.com.

As for the pocket-protector set, our good friends at Football Outsiders have the Steelers atop their preseason rankings (2nd in defense, 5th in offense, 5th in special teams), and the Ravens are sixth (9th in defense, 8th in offense, 3rd in special teams).

The CBSSports.com experts are split: three like the Steelers, two favor the Ravens.

3. Key Matchup to Watch
For the first time in his career, Flacco finally has a legitimate deep threat. The Ravens traded for wide receiver Lee Evans after rookie Torrey Smith's unimpressive showing during the first week of the preseason. (To be fair, Smith didn't have a chance; the second-round pick out of Maryland missed OTAs and minicamp because of the lockout, and had just a few weeks to transition to NFL.)

Evans will play opposite Anquan Boldin, but Flacco's two go-to targets -- Derrick Mason and Todd Heap -- are no longer with the team. Mason signed with the Jets and Baltimore released Heap, who is now in Arizona. Second-year players Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will replace Heap although it may take time for Flacco to develop a rapport with them that he shared with Heap.

The Steelers will try to stop the Ravens' passing attack with what many experts consider its weakest link: the cornerbacks. Ike Taylor broke a finger during the preseason but will be on the field Sunday. And, frankly, the cast he'll be wearing won't have much bearing on his performance. He's a solid cover cornerback who's been known to drop an interception or 12. As long as his legs work, he'll be fine. The other corner, Bryant McFadden, is another story. He's battled a hamstring injury for all of training camp and if 2011 is anything like 2010, offenses will target him all day.

Safety Troy Polamalu, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, can mitigate many of the secondary's shortcomings, particularly when he's at full strength. And to hear him tell it, his Achilles injury, which bothered him late last season all the way through the Super Bowl, is healed and he feels as good as ever.

The Steelers' defensive backs might have more critics but the Ravens' secondary is young and inexperienced, the two things you absolutely don't want to be when facing the likes of Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, and with Roethlisberger throwing them the ball.

Rookie first-rounder, cornerback Jimmy Smith, will start, as will Cary Williams, who spent much of his NFL career on the practice squad. But future Hall of Famer Ed Reed will be on the field, too, which means that a turnover is always just a play away. Still, Reed understands what his guys are up against.

“We have to do our job, and that job is to slow those guys down, keep them out of the end zone, and cover them," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun. We’ve got fast guys around here, too. The only disadvantage for the defense is, for the secondary guys, we’re moving backwards at the start. But it’s part of the game. We knew that. We signed up for it. And we’re definitely ready for the mission.”

Whether Baltimore's offensive line, currently held together by duct tape, feels the same way is another story. Recent free-agent additions Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode join a group that has been reshuffled due to injuries and inconsistencies. It's one thing to make these changes months before the season; it's something else entirely to try to pull it off in just a few weeks after a lockout against a front seven that led the NFL in sacks a season ago.

And this is where the most important cog in Baltimore's offense comes in. Ray Rice is one of the most dangerous players in the league, a sure-handed running back who is both powerful and elusive and also serves as a genuine pass-catching threat. If he's running the ball effectively, Flacco's job is made markedly easier. The problem, of course, is that the Steelers stop the run better than any defense in the league.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube
Apparently, these two teams play a physical brand of football.


5. The Steelers win if…
The defensive front seven creates confusion for the Ravens offensive line and forces Flacco into mistakes. If Big Ben and his stable of big-play pass-catchers take advantage of a young Baltimore secondary, the game might not be close.

6. The Ravens win if…
The offensive line holds up and gives Flacco an opportunity to exploit McFadden (particularly if he's covering Evans), which should also allow Rice more room to make plays. Defensively, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Suggs will have to help their young secondary by getting consistent pressure on Roethlisberger.

7. Prediction: Steelers 24 Ravens 20

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Posted on: August 3, 2011 1:50 am
 

Report: Umenyiora's price drops to 2nd round pick

UmenyioraPosted by Josh Katzowitz

When we first heard that Giants DE Osi Umenyiora was on the trading block, the rumor made sense. Umenyiora wants more money and more years on a contract that New York didn’t want to give to him. So, the Giants would trade him, get something in return and everybody would walk away happy.

Until we read the report from CBSSports.com’s Clark Judge about what the Giants apparently wanted. A first-round pick in return for the rights to Umenyiora, which, honestly, seems overpriced at best and ridiculous at worse.

One day later, the Giants have apparently dropped their price. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Giants are now sending out feelers that Umenyiora could be had for the low, low price of a second-round pick.

As we wrote about Tuesday, five teams appear interested in Umenyiora (including the Ravens, Rams, Chargers, Seahawks, and Broncos, while another report also had the Patriots interested as well), though none were intrigued enough to take New York’s original first-round bait.

The Ravens, though, might be interested in dealing a future second-rounder. The Sun reports that some within the Baltimore organization are urging GM Ozzie Newsome to make the deal, though he remains unsure of Umenyiora’s injury history and whether the team could actually afford him (remember, this whole thing started with the Giants because Umenyiora wants to get paid big-time money, and that won’t change if and when he’s dealt).

Apparently, some of this depends on DT Haloti Ngata, who would be one of Umenyiora’s mates on the defensive line if this deal comes to fruition. The newspaper writes that if the Ravens can agree to a new multi-year deal with Ngata, that would free up some salary cap room for the team and mean they could fit in Umenyiora. If not, though, the Ravens probably won’t make a play for him.

So, what will happen? We don’t know. Especially if the Giants haven’t dropped their first-round demand. As the New York Daily News writes, “I can only tell you what I think I know, and at this point it's that the Giants are holding strong on their demand of a first for Umenyiora. Things, though, tend to change fast.”

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