Tag:Julius Peppers
Posted on: October 12, 2011 11:30 am
Edited on: October 14, 2011 9:43 am
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Vikings preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Few people are excited about this week’s Sunday Night game. The 1-4 Vikings and 2-3 Bears look like non-contenders in an NFC North division housing a pair of 5-0 clubs. This Film Room post is not about the Bears-Vikings game. We’ll touch on the matchup towards the end simply because it’d be weird not to. But the main point here is to examine why the Tampa 2 defense – which both these teams run – is on its death bed.



1. Tampa 2: What it is
The Tampa 2 (aka Cover 2) is a classic zone scheme. Four pass-rushers up front; three linebackers underneath; a left and right cornerback outside; and, as the "2" refers to, two safeties over the top.

Against the pass, as the illustration to the right (click to enlarge) shows, the safeties each cover half the field deep. The linebackers and cornerbacks each cover 1/5th of the field underneath. The middle linebacker is responsible for any vertical routes inside. Up front, the linemen shoot the gaps. There’s no blitzing.

The advantages are that all pass defenders have straightforward responsibilities and the action (for the most part) always takes place in front of them. As for the disadvantage ...

2. Run Defense
In football there are two traditional ways to stop the run: have a defensive line that wins battles in the trenches or have a strong-tackling safety drop down as an eighth man in the box. A Cover 2 naturally misses on both of these. The defensive linemen are instructed to rush the passer first and play the run if it’s convenient along the way.

Defensive line penetration is great for stopping the run, but it can be hit or miss (especially if the offense knows that the defensive linemen are trying to penetrate on every play). The safeties must stay back and cover deep. If they step forward, they run the risk of biting on play-action (which is a great way to get beat deep).

Because of this, Tampa 2 defenses rely on their linebackers and cornerbacks (yes, cornerbacks) to stop the run. More on this in item 4.
Worth noting is that not all Tampa 2 defenses are bad against the run. In fact, the Vikings and Bears have been spectacular in run defense over the years. That’s a product of phenomenal personnel.

The Vikings have had the Williams Wall at tackle (and Pat Williams actually played a nose tackle role, which is a twist on a traditional Cover 2 front) and the Bears have had star linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But Tampa 2 teams without top-echelon run-stuffers (like the Colts) are very susceptible to the run.

3. Tampa 2 vulnerabilities
Cover 2 defenses are vanilla by nature. That was fine in the late 90s and early 2000s when the scheme was still new and offenses weren’t spreading the field every down. But complex, motion-oriented offenses have an easy time creating mismatches against a Cover 2.

Heck, even basic offensive formations can create mismatches. For example, something the Eagles do against a Cover 2 is line up their speedy receivers in minus splits (close to the formation).

Because Cover 2 cornerbacks always line up outside, this formation dictates that DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin run their routes against linebackers and safeties. Talk about a mismatch.

There are other avenues for mismatches. For a long time, Cover 2 defenses did not have No. 1 and No. 2 corners, but instead, left and right corners. If the left corner stunk, offenses would simply align their best receiver over there. Mercifully, most Cover 2 defenses (the Bears and Vikings included) have recently shown a willingness to at least move their corners from one side to the other based on where they expect certain receivers to be.

That still doesn’t mean a defense will get the corner-on-receiver matchup it desires. This past Monday, Calvin Johnson ran what amounted to a slant-and-go against the Bears’ Cover 2. Charles Tillman stayed with Johnson for about 15 yards. He should have jammed Johnson in an effort to reroute him. Instead, he played the basic Cover 2 technique, which meant he let Johnson go once Johnson went inside towards safety Chris Harris’ deep zone. That left the most athletic wideout in the world matched up on a strong safety. The result was a 73-yard touchdown.

Besides matchup issues, there are natural voids in the Cover 2 that everyone knows about. The gaps 15-20 yards downfield outside the numbers are the main ones, though the voids behind the linebackers in the seams can be enticing too. Really, Cover 2 is the new Prevent Defense. And because the Cover 2 became such a popular defense in the early 2000s, every offense in the NFL has a special chapter in its playbook specifically designed for beating it.

4. Stringent personnel needs
Obviously, a Cover 2 is not a completely hapless defense. If it were, nobody would run it. With the right personnel, the scheme can be quite viable. A great defensive line can sometimes be enough; look at the 2011 Lions or previous years’ Colts, for example (But keep in mind, great defensive lines are going to make any scheme look good.)

Because of the Cover 2’s simplicity and NFL offense’s familiarity with it, the “right personnel” has gone from being “strongly recommended” to “absolutely required”. And the bar for the “right personnel” has risen considerably.

In a Cover 2, you must generate a pass-rush with only four defensive linemen. Thus, you need top-notch speed rushers and defensive tackles with outstanding initial quickness. Those types of players are usually found only in the first rounds.
 
Because the cornerbacks only defend the first 10-15 yards outside, and because the safeties are aligned so deep, Cover 2 cornerbacks are counted on as part of the run defense. Thus, they need to be good tacklers. This is why Antoine Winfield is so potent in Minnesota’s D. Or why, in part, Ronde Barber has stuck around for so long in Tampa Bay. Or why Indianapolis always brings in firm-tackling corners.

It’s also why you’re always hearing about Tampa 2 teams needing fast linebackers. Yes, the linebackers need speed in order to play the pass (especially the middle linebacker, who must run with any targets running vertically between the numbers). But really, Tampa 2 linebacker speed is needed for stopping the run. With the cornerbacks lined up along the front, the defensive linemen are told to shoot the gaps and force runners to that help outside. It’s up to the linebackers to chase them down along the way.

Finding quality Cover 2 type players is certainly not impossible. Problem is, if you don’t have the right guy in every spot, offenses can easily punish you. If a team like the Packers has a weak spot on D, they can use disguises and zone blitz concepts to cover it. If a team like the Bears or Vikings have a weak spot, they can only hope that their defensive ends reach the quarterback before the quarterback exploits it.  

5. Studs and Duds
The star defensive players for both teams have lived up to their end of the deal. For the Bears, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has moved with more quickness and fluidity than in any of the past three seasons. Monday night’s game aside, Lance Briggs has been the fierce hitter he always is. Julius Peppers has only two sacks, but he’s been a force in bits, if not chunks. Opposite him, Israel Idonije, who has great movement skills and a real feel for executing moves based on the situation, remains one of the most underrated ends in the game.

For the Vikings, Jared Allen has recaptured his 2008/2009 form. End Brian Robison has been fast and tenacious. In fact, he’s having a much better season than Ray Edwards is having in Atlanta. As usual, defensive tackle Kevin Williams has shown his uncommon mobility/power combination. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has been stout in coverage, and E.J. Henderson, while not always great versus the pass, remains a smart, assertive downhill force against the run.
 
The problem is both teams have had a propensity to give up big plays, in part due to iffy play at safety. It’s worse with the Bear than the Vikings. But, on the flip side, the Vikings’ offense has been worse than the Bears’. We could write a thousand posts explaining what’s wrong with both offenses. In short, neither has a good line nor the receivers necessary for their respective systems.

Perhaps this is the week that these offenses find their rhythms through the air. After all, both will be facing plenty of Cover 2 looks.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 6 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 12, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 6:30 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 1

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 1 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.



It's rather unfair to the rest of the NFL to expect a legitimate follow-up to the Thursday night spectacular that was New Orleans and Green Bay. To the extent that folks wanted drama, the most spine-tingling moments came before the action on Sunday, as the NFL and the nation honored the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

Fantastic job all around by the NFL and the various broadcast partners and the players and Reebok and everyone involved for really making Sunday a touching tribute to one of America's greatest tragedies. Can you really imagine what would have happened if there hadn't been football on the anniversary because of the lockout?

Obviously the nation would have moved on -- it's just sports. But the public relations hit would have been 100-percent inverse of the boost the league received on Sunday.

Not that it matters. There was football. And it was good and there were lots of stories. Many of whom we'll break down below. In the words of Jay-Z, "let's rock."

1. Yes We Cam
What did you expect from Cam Newton in his first start as an NFL player?

Because, no offense, but it doesn't really matter -- Newton set the world on fire en route to throwing for 422 yards and two touchdowns, plus rushing for another score.

Carolina still lost to Arizona in a close game, but that's not really important, as they're not a Super Bowl contender right now. What's important is that they appear to have finally gotten their franchise quarterback. And that makes one guy -- Steve Smith -- pretty happy.

"He was everything everybody didn't expect him to be," Smith said after the game. "He was on point, he made some great runs, he made some great reads, made some fantastic throws. He made some throws out there that honestly as a receiver it made it easy to catch them."

In case you missed it, Smith wanted out of Carolina all of last year while catching (or, if you prefer not catching) passes from Jimmy Clausen but after the Panthers drafted Newton, Smith eventually got back on board with staying in Carolina over the long(ish) haul.

It worked out pretty well for him on Sunday, because he caught eight passes for a 178 yards, numbers which should have the same effect on Smith as Newton's totals have on fans: obscuring the win-loss column.

As we noted on Sunday, Newton's 422 yards was the highest passing yardage total by a rookie, in their season opener, in NFL history. It's tied for the highest total for a rookie in any game, with Matthew Stafford's 422 in 2009 against the Browns.

And perhaps most crazy of all, it's the fifth-highest season opener total in NFL history. Not rookie history -- NFL history. Damn impressive stuff is what it was -- maybe Bo Jackson was right after all.

Newton, by the way, is already 11th on the Panthers all-time passing yards list.

2. Most Valuable Peyton

In a brutal twist of irony, while Kerry Collins was starting his first game as a Colt, stinking up the joint and causing Colts fans to start researching Stanford's schedule in 2011, he somehow managed to pass Joe Montana for the 10th-most passing yards in NFL history. That Collins did so was the lone bright spot for a Colts team that got absolutely drubbed by the Texans in the first game without Peyton Manning at the helm since 1998.

Sunday was just the second time since Indy drafted Manning that they trailed 17-0 after the first quarter, and the 34-0 halftime deficit for Indy was the largest in franchise history.

Look, everyone knows that Peyton is really good. And everyone knows that Peyton meant more to this team over the past few years than anyone could possibly imagine, and that the Colts wouldn't have won as many games as they have without him.

But is it possible to give someone an MVP award when they don't even play for an entire season simply based on how poorly their team plays without him? Of course not. If it was, though, Manning would warrant consideration in 2011 just based off what we saw in Week 1.

As for the long-term issue of Manning's health, it's really hard to imagine that the Colts would even consider trying to bring him back in 2011. There's a very good chance that by the time we get halfway through his aggressive rehab schedule the Colts are 0-4.

At that point, the season's over for all reasonable intents and purposes. By Week 8, when Peyton might be ready? Yeah, there's a good chance Indy's done then. And if they are, there's little-to-no sense in bringing him back at the risk of busting up his career to try and ruin a good shot at landing Andrew Luck.

3. The Steelers are terrible
Just kidding. But I really wanted to make sure we make at least one absolutely incorrect knee-jerk decision in this column. The Ravens might have been favored by a field goal against the Steelers on Sunday, but the consensus amongst all the experts was that the Steelers are a significantly better team, though because of the rivalry factor things would come down to a field goal in a close, bloody game.

Whoops on all counts.

Well, except the blood -- Pittsburgh strolled into M&T Bank Stadium and got absolutely stuck in the face by their rival and then spent all afternoon trying to figure out how to make the gushing stop, only it never did.

Ben Roethlisberger threw three picks and fumbled twice and the Steelers committed a whopping eight turnovers as they generally looked like a boxer against the ropes getting continually pummeled.

"That playoff taste, now it's over," Rice said. "Now we’ve got that burden off our shoulders, boom! We’re one up on them right now.”

The two biggest concerns for the Ravens coming into this season were the offensive line and the secondary.

The Ravens were mocked for their desperation in signing Bryant McKinnie shortly before the season began, mostly because McKinnie was reportedly clocking in around 400 pounds. (As reported Sunday, he's now making more money for weighing less. So that's nice.)

But he was a tremendous difference for Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, as he provided stability at the left tackle position and made some key blocks. He wasn't perfect, of course, but that's OK.

Especially because the most important benefit he provides Ravens is the ability to slot their offensive lineman in correct positions. If he's motivated, he could be a difference maker.

4. Falcons get mauled
Mea culpa time I guess: the Bears probably won't finish in last place in the NFC North. Ha. Yeah, I predicted that. They still could, and as long as that offensive line is as porous as it was against the Falcons, I'll stick by that prediction.

After all, New Orleans and Green Bay -- Chicago's next two opponents -- are not only good but they're not shy about blitzing heavily. That could mean plenty of Cutler getting tattooed six-and-a-half steps into his drops. If that.

And if Caleb Hanie has to play, the Bears will struggle mightily. But they'll have their defense which, well, yeah, per usual it's the reason the Bears are dominating.

"We still have to play up to the defense's level," Cutler said. "They're still carrying us."

Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, in particular, were beasts on Sunday. Peppers picked up two sacks, recovered a fumble and forced another fumble that Urlacher scooped and took the house. And Urlacher himself looked particularly spry, picking up an impressively athletic interception.

I'd still argue that the Bears have the makings of the third-best team in their division, but they are the defending champs and for some reason they will just not go away. Which should mean one or two angry comments from Bears fans every week. Sigh.

5. Living the dream
Many a writer ruthlessly mocked the Eagles this offseason for hogging the headlines, particularly when backup quarterback Vince Young decided to refer to Philly's squad as "The Dream Team."

It's still a stretch and I remain adamant that the metaphor is largely irrelevant for the game of football. (Case: in point, Philly's linebacking corps wouldn't exactly be starting for most other NFL teams.)

But my goodness -- the Eagles are just as explosive as last season, aren't they? LeSean McCoy is so sneakily fast for an every-down back that you don't realize it until re-watching him take the ball around the corner, past a defender and into the end zone.

The defensive line will swarm opposing quarterbacks and obviously the combo of Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles the ability to score from anywhere. Seeing how Andy Reid operates in a close game going forward will be interesting though -- I saw some chatter about the Eagles running the ball immediately after Vick would get touched.

That pretty clearly, um, is a tell. And even if it's not something the Eagles are going to do every single series, it's something they have think about doing, because exposing Vick to multiple shots in back-to-back instances during games simply won't work if the Eagles want to dominate the way Vince Young expects them to.



6. These are your brother's Cowboys
They are not your father's Cowboys. And they're not even your uncle's Cowboys. These Cowboys like to score frequently and play quite well for about three and a half quarters.

And then things get tight and they choke.

The most disturbing thing about the way that Tony Romo handed the game to the Jets -- a pass intended for a gimpy Dez Bryant that Jessica Simpson could have intercepted, much less Darrelle Revis -- in typical, um, Tony Romo fashion.

As my man Mike Freeman wrote, it's precisely the kind of late-game debacling that causes people to think that Romo can't win big games or even close little games for the Cowboys.

"We win that football game if I don't do what I did," Romo said afterwards.

You simply can't fumble on the one-yard line (when a score would all but guarantee you victory) and then proceed to gift wrap a turnover for the other team when there's less than a minute remaining on the clock and the score is tied.

Going into what eventually turned out to be the final drive, Jason Garrett and Romo need to be on the same page regarding a few things. One, nothing stupid. Two, if you're going to force a pass, then you need to force the pass deep so the Jets don't get a free field goal. And three, nothing stupid.

Look, I get that the Jets used a defense designed to confuse Romo into thinking Dez was in single coverage and therefore force a ball his way. But he has lots of weapons. In fact, I was in the middle of writing how good I felt about my pick of Dallas to the Super Bowl because of their creative defense (Rob Ryan did outstanding work last night with limited manpower) and a high-octane offense so stocked with weapons that Kim Jong-Il is jealous.

All they need is Romo to put it together and stop being the stereotype that people put on him. He was doing all that until the Cowboys got in a position to put a tough road game against another Super Bowl contender on ice and he absolutely melted down.

7. Detroit hope city
Matthew Stafford's been getting pumped up all offseason long -- that he exploded in the preseason didn't help matters much, and that he was overdrafted by most fantasy football players helps even less.

So there were some funny moments in his eventual breakout on Sunday. First there was the early interception -- a pick-six by Aqib Talib -- against Tampa that made everyone realize that there were a lot of eggs in a basket. And no one really knew what the basket was built out of, except that it was probably the most fragile type of straw a man can find.

Then Stafford started going off ... except after his first touchdown pass he began cramping up. (Lots of cramping Sunday in case you didn't notice.) The world collectively held its breath as Stafford was examined on the sideline because, my goodness, it's early to be injured even if you're Stafford.

Instead, the former Georgia standout and No. 1-overall draft pick returned to the game and kept slinging teeters to Calvin Johnson, eventually finishing with 305 yards and three touchdown passes in Detroits 27-20 win over Tampa Bay.

Let's not get out of hand and start giving the Lions a playoff berth quite yet -- they certainly have problems, most notably in the secondary -- but there's reason to be excited for football in Detroit.

As long as Stafford can stay healthy anyway.

8. Rex Grossman is ... not bad?

I know, it's weird, but it might be true. Grossman appeared to be pretty darn competent most of Sunday. He threw for 305 yards on two touchdowns and backed up Mike Shanahan's seemingly inexplicable to name him the starter during the preseason.

It's not that John Beck is such a logical choice, it's just that, well, he's Rex Grossman. It seems to make no sense.

"Any typical kickoff weekend, your emotions are high," Grossman said after the game. "Being it's Sept. 11, 10th anniversary, Colin Powell's in the locker room giving you the pregame speech, and then coming out and the fans are chanting 'U-S-A.' I was overwhelmed. It was a fun day. It's a day I'll never forget."

Let's not get too high on Grossman just quite yet, because the Giants were basically trotting out a practice squad of players on defense after their starting lineup was ravaged by a ridiculous run of injuries during the preseason.

Maybe he is the answer at quarterback and maybe the Redskins could win the NFC East and maybe the Shanahans really are able to turn contaminated water into a Colt 45.

But we've seen Grossman light teams up -- like he did while tossing four touchdowns and 322 yards against Dallas in Week 14 of last year -- and immediately follow it up by laying an absolutely egg. Let's reserve judgment until we see his body of work over the span of a few weeks.

9. Go West, Young Man
We already covered Newton and his impressive rookie performance, but he wasn't the only rookie to have a big impact in Week 1.

Ryan Kerrigan returned an interception for a touchdown to help push the Redskins over the Giants, J.J. Watt terrorized the Colts defensive line, Patrick Peterson returned a punt for a touchdown that proved to be the difference maker against Carolina, A.J. Green caught the go-ahead touchdown pass for the Bengals, Randall Cobb trended on Twitter Thursday night thanks to his holy return, Tyron Smith was big on the line for the Cowboys, and Andy Dalton started out white hot … until Phil Taylor knocked him out of the game.

So yeah, very impressive week -- thus far anyway -- from an impressive group of young NFL players, especially given the shortened time frame they're working on.

10. Injured Rams
Not a great day for Steve Spagnuolo, huh? The Rams were seen by many, including yours truly, as a team on the rise in 2011. They play in a terrible division, they have anchors on both sides of the line, they have a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford and they easily could have been a playoff team in 2010.

But a number of injuries during Week 1 are a quick reminder of how fragile success is in the NFL.

Steven Jackson pulled his quad which has "lingering" stamped all over it, Danny Amendola dislocated his elbow and could likely be done for the year and most terrifyingly, Bradford hurt his finger.

We don't know precisely what will happen to Bradford, but there was discussion of "nerve damage," which is scary as hell. Bradford downplayed the injury after the game.

"I don't see any way I'm not going to be on the field, to be honest with you," Bradford said.

Well, here's one way: if you're at risk for a bigger injury, the franchise won't let you near the Big Apple, even it's for a matchup against the would-be hapless New York Giants.

Put an APB out for:
Charlie Weis. Because from what I saw of the Chiefs offense on Sunday, they might be missing the guy who turned Matt Cassel into a Pro Bowler, Jamaal Charles into the best running back in the NFL last year, and Dwayne Bowe into a touchdown monster. We've touched on the fact that the Chiefs had a REALLY easy schedule in 2010. That's fine. But the offense has too many weapons to be scoring seven points against the Bills and not consider "If we did X last year and we're doing Z this year and Y isn't there anymore, gee what could be the difference?"

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday ...
... Anyone ever notice that Rex and Rob Ryan really look like George and Oscar Bluth?
... 49ers punter Andy Lee posted the third-highest average for punts in one game, smoking his 59.6 yards per punt.
... How does Joe Torre -- the Yankees coach during 9/11 -- not let baseball players wear NYPD and NYFD hats?
********

Worth 1,000 Words




Hot Seat Tracker

I'm hoping to have my fancy mathematical formula to track who's most likely to get canned up and running by next week, but in the meantime, we can break down coaches in trouble pretty simply. (That's mainly because of all the first-year head coaches -- it's pretty unlikely we see a lot firings between now and next season.)
  • Tom Coughlin -- Coughlin's got a plethora of injuries to fall back on, so maybe he can buy some more time. But the way the Giants lost to the Redskins Sunday, it's hard to imagine New Yorkers won't continue the annual tradition of calling for Coughlin's head.
  • Todd Haley -- What's worse: showing up for work without wearing pants or getting beat by the Bills 41-7 at home? Gotta be the latter.
  • Jack Del Rio -- Yeah, he won, but we need people to add to this list. Plus, he beat the Titans.
  • Jim Caldwell -- The "Manning Factor" for his job will be fascinating to watch this season.
MVP Watch
Peyton! No, but seriously, in the way-too-early glance at the MVP race, I'll go ahead and throw Philip Rivers out there, since he's fourth in passing yardage right now and the Chargers are 1-0. Also: Michael Vick.

And Ryan Fitzpatrick.

What? It's Week 1.

Posted on: July 26, 2011 5:57 pm
Edited on: July 26, 2011 6:59 pm
 

Panthers, DE Johnson agree to $76M deal

Posted by Will Brinson

The Panthers are the surprising first big movers of the 2011 offseason, as they have dropped an absolute bombshell of a $76-million contract on free-agent defensive end Charles Johnson.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk first reported the news that Johnson's contract with the Panthers (which, again, is for $76 million) includes a $30 million signing bonus and $32 million in guaranteed money.

According to Steve Reed of the Gaston Gazette, multiple members of the Panthers coaching staff and front office, including GM Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera, traveled to Miami to convince Johnson to sign with Carolina.

"I'm so excited," Johnson said. "I'm ready to get back to football."

Johnson, who broke out in a big way last season with 11.5 sacks, was listed as CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco's No. 2-overall free agent in this year's class and considered the Panthers' top priority this offseason. He was also considered a prime target for the division-rival Falcons, and his family wanted him to sign with Atlanta but, per Reed, he was "blown away" by Carolina's offer.

"Could you have turned it down?" Johnson said.

The initial reaction to that question is clearly "no" and the response to the deal is probably "WHAT?" -- but it's actually not that insane. No, seriously, hear me out.

See, the Panthers defensive line is flat-out terrible. They also play six of their 16 annual games against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. None of those guys are going anywhere anytime soon and if the Panthers wanted a chance in the division, re-upping the one guy on the roster who can pressure the quarterback was essential.

Additionally, the money is a big old chunk of change but consider that last year, the Bears paid a 31-year-old Julius Peppers more than $90 million over the life of a six-year deal.

Johnson, by the time he finishes up his deal, will be that same age. And though he might not equate to "Peppers in his prime," the money spent on Johnson will be well worth it if he can come close to his production in 2010 over the course of the deal.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 31, 2011 8:21 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2011 8:44 pm
 

Polamalu - not Matthews - wins DPOY

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

DALLAS – The buzz in the media room the last few minutes has been about the report that Clay Matthews had won the defensive player of the year award and that how … well … that report might be a tad premature.

Turns out the initial reports were incorrect.

As reported on the NFL Network, Steelers S Troy Polamalu actually edged out Matthews 17 votes to 15 (LB James Harrison was third and Bears DE Julius Peppers was fourth) to win the award.

While Matthews was fantastic early this season – there was plenty of talk that he had a chance at breaking Michael Strahan’s sack record (remember that?) – he made less of an impact as the season wore on. With only three sacks in the last seven games of the season, he finished with 13.5, two behind Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, the league leader.

Meanwhile, Polamalu was his usual brilliant self for Pittsburgh, collecting 63 tackles in 14 games while intercepting seven passes (tied for his career-high) with 11 defended passes.

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



Posted on: January 28, 2011 11:27 pm
 

Eric Smith fined $10K for hit on Emmanuel Sanders

Posted by Will Brinson

Jets safety Eric Smith did a pretty good job filling in for Jim Leonhard after Leonhard's season-ending injury. But it also ending him costing him, financially, as the safety was reportedly hit with a $10,000 fine for his hit on Emmanuel Sanders in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game.

That's according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, and it's not the first time Smith's been fined this season -- he got nailed $7,500 for crushing Wes Welker earlier in the year.

Smith also got nailed for a $50,000 fine against Anquan Boldin back in 2008 to the tune of $50,000, so this isn't his first run-in with the law, needless to say.

Given the warning the NFL handed out before the divisional playoff games, it's no surprise to see them hand out fines now, even if the amounts (like the $10,000 Julius Peppers was fined for his hit in the NFC Championship game) might seem a little low.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 27, 2011 10:59 am
 

Peppers fined 10K for helmet-to-helmet on Rodgers

Posted by Andy Benoit
J. Peppers
The helmet to helmet hit on Aaron Rodgers that earned Julius Peppers a 15-yard personal foul in the NFC Championship game also earned the Bears defensive end a $10,000 fine. This according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

It seemed like a "controversial" call at the time but only because the Soldier Field crowd, naturally, booed it. The reality is Peppers drilled the crown of his helmet into Rodgers’ jaw. He’s lucky the fine wasn’t steeper. And the Packers are lucky that Rodgers did not suffer his third concussion of the season on that play.

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




Posted on: January 20, 2011 1:21 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Bears vs. Packers: 7-Point Championship Preview

Posted by Andy Benoit



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As a bonus, enjoy our playoff podcast preview:



1. Green Bay Packers (No. 6, NFC, 12-6) @ Chicago Bears (No. 2, AFC, 12-5)

The oldest rivalry in football takes center stage in the playoffs for only the second time ever. Their last postseason meeting occurred in 1941, a week after Pearl Harbor. We’ll assume that the Bears’ momentum from that 33-14 victory has worn off.

Vegas agrees, as these Bears are actually three-and-a-half-point underdogs at home. These teams played twice in the regular season. Chicago claimed victory in Week 3 (that was the Monday night game where Mike McCarthy should have saved clock by letting the Bears score a touchdown in the final minute but instead banked on the idea that Robbie Gould would miss a 19-yard field goal – which, of course, he did not.) In the Week 17 rematch, the Bears technically had nothing to play for, but they still went all-out in an effort to stay sharp and eliminate a white-hot Packers team from playoff contention. They held Aaron Rodgers and company to just 10 points, but as it turned out, they needed to hold them to two.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



If a conference championship game -- featuring two division rivals squaring off in the playoffs for the second time EVER -- doesn't garner five Mora Faces, what does?

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Bears secondary vs. Packers receivers

Rodgers is playing so well right now that even getting pressure on him might not pay off. After all, the Falcons got plenty of clean rushers to him last Saturday. The Bears’ best chance at slowing Green Bay’s passing attack is to out-physical Rodgers’ targets. Charles Tillman especially will have to be aggressive. He’s far and away Chicago’s best cover corner but, like most players, he lacks the quickness to shadow Greg Jennings.

Style wise, No. 2 corner Tim Jennings has a skill set that is conducive for handling Donald Driver. But all things equal, Tim Jennings on Driver is a mismatch favoring Green Bay. So it will be up to Jennings and his assisting safeties to make things unequal. The way to do that is to disrupt route timing; Driver shows hints of frustration when defensive backs get their hands on him.

Expect the Packer to use frequent three-and four-receiver formations. Chicago’s top backup defensive backs, Corey Graham, has stiff hips and struggles with receivers who change direction; Jordy Nelson or James Jones could both pose problems for him. What’s more, Chicago’s safeties are hard-hitting but only average in help coverage.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

Why not?



5. The Bears will win if ...

They protect the ball offensively (obviously) and, defensively, if they can get pressure on Aaron Rodger with only four rushers (very doable given the way Julius Peppers, Matt Toeaina, Israel Idonije, Tommie Harris and even backup Henry Melton have been playing lately). Also, Chicago must force the Packers to rely most frequently on their running backs and tight ends. That would allow the Bears athletic linebacking trio to be the focal point defensively.

6. The Packers will win if ...

Rodgers stays hot, Dom Capers’ complex defense befuddles the Bears’ pass blockers (a group that has had trouble identifying blitzes at times) and both teams break even on special teams.

7. Prediction: Packers 24, Bears 17
Posted on: December 23, 2010 1:12 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2010 1:20 pm
 

Key Matchup Wk16: Jets offense vs. Bears defense

Posted by Andy Benoit

The discussion about the Jets has shifted after last week’s game in Pittsburgh. No longer are we talking about Mark Sanchez crumbling before our eyes. Brian Schottenheimer’s simplified Week 15 gameplan – more bubble screens, quick slants and throws with defined reads – helped the young quarterback regain his confidence and rhythm.M. Sanchez (US Presswire)
B. Urlacher (US Presswire)
But just because Sanchez was solid against the Steelers – and solid was all he was – doesn’t mean we can simply dismiss his struggles the previous two weeks. This Sunday still presents a “prove it” game for the second-year pro. The Jets come in with the league’s sixth-ranked run offense. The Bears have the league’s third-ranked run defense. The Jets won’t be able to run at will this Sunday; on more than one occasion, they’ll have to rely on Sanchez’s arm.

The difference between this week and last week for Sanchez will be in his throwing lanes. Quick strikes against a 3-4 blitzing D like Pittsburgh’s are very different than quick strikes against a 4-3 zone D like Chicago’s. The Bears have the most athletic pass defending linebackers in football. Brian Urlacher’s range down the middle of the field is arguably the most crucial staple in Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme. Lance Briggs’ speed in the flats gives Chicago’s front seven a unique playmaking dimension. When Sanchez needs to regain his comfort, he tends to look for tight end Dustin Keller. But the very nature of Chicago’s coverage scheme, highlighted by the star linebackers, takes away the simple passes over the middle and in the flats. Thus, there’s no guarantee that Keller, Jerricho Cotchery and LaDainian Tomlinson will be a surefire safety valve for Sanchez on Sunday.

The way to beat the Bears is to expose their limited safeties by seeking big plays through the air. Chris Harris is essentially a fourth linebacker; rookie Major Wright is at his best playing downhill and attacking the box; Danieal Manning has range but lacks awareness.

For the Jets, it’s key to force these guys to run away from the line of scrimmage and into space (where they’ll have to read route combinations). The Bear cornerbacks are stiff, plodding athletes (by cornerback standards). Those corners shouldn’t have much trouble with Braylon Edwards, but shifty, speedy Santonio Holmes is a whole other story.

The Jets will need multiple big plays downfield from Holmes in order to win this game. Such plays tend to be slow-developing, which puts added pressure on the offensive line. With occasional help from a tight end or fullback, D’Brickashaw Ferguson can hang with Julius Peppers. But on the other side, New York must overcome the glaring mismatch of backup right tackle Wayne Hunter against underrated defensive end Israel Idonije.

The Jet and Bear defenses, more than most defenses, thrive off turnovers. Last week’s Jets-Steelers game was free of all turnovers. If this week’s Jets-Bears game follows a similar pattern, the outcome will hinge on whether the Jet passing game can generate big plays.

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