Tag:Vince Wilfork
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.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
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 21, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 3:23 pm
 

Film Room: Bills vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



We’ll find out this Sunday just how "for real" the Bills are. It’s one thing to face unfamiliar foes from the iffy AFC West. It’s another to face the perennial bully of your own division. Before we forecast the matchup, let’s use the first four points to understand what these 2-0 teams are all about.

1. Patriots passing attack
The last time New England’s juggernaut offense was hitting on this many cylinders was 2007, when the rest of the NFL had no answer for Randy Moss over the top and Wes Welker underneath. New England runs a much different offense now than in those Josh McDaniels days.

Under McDaniels the Patriots in 2008 went 11-5 with Matt Cassel filling in for the injured Tom Brady. The system still worked because of the unique combination of Moss and Welker. If the Patriots were to lose Brady in their current system, they’d plummet to the middle of the AFC East. Virtually everything New England does is predicated on Brady’s unbelievable ability to diagnose a defense and set his feet before throwing.

Most NFL passing offenses are built on the quarterback anticipating where the receiver is going. The Patriots’ offense is essentially built on Brady seeing where the receiver is going before firing. The reason for this is New England’s heavy use of option routes.

The patterns that Patriot receivers, as well as their sensational young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (who will miss this game with a knee injury), run often hinge on what the defense does. It’s up to the receiver to correctly assess the coverage – both presnap and on the fly – and choose his route accordingly. This is the premise of an option route.

Because of this, the Patriots don’t look for size and speed at wide receiver; they look for intelligence and precise route running. That’s why Wes Welker and Deion Branch, two classic role players, are stars here. They’re perfect for this system.

Option routes are designed to specifically exploit the weakness of a coverage. The reason other teams don’t run option routes nearly exclusively is because they take a split second longer to unfold, and other teams don’t have a quarterback who can make accurate throws a split second later in the down. Brady happens to have an unmatched ability to square his body and throw soundly with defenders around him.

It’s incredible – the guy has a quick, picturesque release, and you almost never see him throw off-balance. Even other superstars like Rodgers and Brees can’t quickly square up and fire under duress the way Brady can.


2. Buffalo’s quarterback
Since last season, the Bills have been higher on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick than any other team in football. There are rumors that the front office is looking to quickly sign the 28-year-old Harvard alum to a long-term deal before his market value skyrockets.

But how good is Fitzpatrick, really? Most of his supporters tout his grit. Praising a quarterback’s grit is like praising a girl’s personality. Even if the praise is justified and honest, it still feels backhanded because it implies the absence of more obvious (important?) physical attributes.

While Fitzpatrick is no Chad Pennington, he doesn’t have the world’s strongest arm. He can scramble and buy time with his feet, but he’s no Aaron Rodgers. And he reads a defense OK (he was phenomenal recognizing Oakland’s blitzes last week), but he’s no Peyton Manning. Most concerning is his occasionally erratic accuracy. Every game, poor accuracy costs him a few quality completions. And because he’s such a risk-taker, there’s an increased possibility that his inaccuracy translates to interceptions.

Don’t take this as “Fitzpatrick hating”. We only harp on his negatives because, these days, so many are highlighting his positives.

3. Chan Gailey’s adjustment
Even in the shortened offseason, the Buffalo Bills managed to drastically alter their offensive playbook. Prior to the season, we heard that Chan Gailey (who runs the offense) and Curtis Modkins (who coordinates the offense) would implement more spread formations. A lot of teams talk abot spreading out and being more aggressive, but the Bills have actually done it.

This is somewhat surprising because the Bills, especially after dumping Lee Evans, don’t seem to have the receiving personnel for this. None of their wideouts other than Roscoe Parrish – who is out for the season with an ankle injury – have great speed. And all of them are young.

However, through two games, Buffalo’s spread approach has worked marvelously. Stevie Johnson’s improvement as a route runner (he gets open late in his patterns extremely well) has compensated for his middling speed and made him a veritable No. 1 target. David Nelson, who’s a lanky 6’5” and has a newfound comfort for hauling in passes, has been a matchup nightmare both inside and out.

Donald Jones offers decent quickness off the line of scrimmage, and Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller (who, by the way, are both running with outstanding fluidity, especially on the perimeter) are capable of flanking out, which gives the Bills formation flexibility in their personnel packages.

Tip your cap to the historically power-run oriented Gailey for recognizing the direction that the NFL is going in and, at age 59, adjusting his philosophy accordingly.

4. The defenses: 4-3 or 3-4?
Both teams have run hybrid 3-4-slash-4-3 defense in recent years, not because they have versatile players or schemes but because they’ve been without a quality pass-rusher and have looked for creative (i.e. desperate) ways to manufacture pressure on the quarterback.

As it stands, neither team still has a quality rusher. Knee injuries have robbed Shawne Merriman of his burst and direction-changing ability. Merriman still has decent power, but without the movement prowess, he’s a shell of his former self. Opposite him, Chris Kelsay, though playing faster than usual this season, is not consistently dynamic. In New England, Bill Belichick is hoping elder newcomers like Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter can skim the edges on third down.

Despite feeble pass-rushing resources, both teams’ 3-4/4-3 ambiguity appears to be gone this season. Both made personnel moves that suggest a commitment to one system. The Bills spent the No. 3 overall draft pick on Marcel Dareus, a classic 3-4 end. So far, Dareus has shown intriguing power in shedding blocks, both laterally and in penetration. The Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth, a classic one-gap tackle (just ask him) and have settled into a 4-3.

So far, Haynesworth has been a monster, but only in sub-packages. He must improve his endurance if he wants to be an everydown player like Vince Wilfork.

5. The Bills’ prayer
Do they have one this Sunday? They won’t be able to get pressure on Brady, so their best bet is to play coverage and hope for a timely turnover or two. That will be tough, though, as No. 1 corner Terrence McGee is out and his replacement, Leodis McKelvin, has struggled in man coverage.

Also, strong safety George Wilson, while stout in the box, is a slow runner with limited coverage skills. The Raiders took advantage of this with screen passes and underneath passing routes last week; the Patriots, with Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead, will have no trouble doing the same.

Thus, it’s on the Bills offense to control the tempo and shorten the game. Buffalo’s front five, coached by Joe D'Alessandris, has been phenomenal through two weeks. Center Eric Wood has the run-blocking movement skills of a Pro Bowler, while left tackle Demetrius Bell (whom yours truly has been very hard on the past few years) has shown good awareness and improved mechanics in pass protection.

A good front line is key to having a sustainable offense. But unless the Bills can work some magic on special teams, they won’t need a sustainable offense to have a chance Sunday…they’ll need a perfect one.

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 3:50 pm
Edited on: September 21, 2011 3:53 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 2

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 2 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Romo Wilfork Cromartie  Belichick
Judge  Brady Cromartie  Hanson  Munchak
Prisco  Romo Cromartie  Kasay  Munchak
Brinson Stafford Wilfork  Bailey  Munchak
Katzowitz Jackson Woodson  Akers  Gailey
Wilson  Britt Wilfork  Bailey  Gailey
Week 2's wrapped up now and we saw one of the most interesting two-week swings in NFL history. That's right -- the public perception of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. He was a choker after Week 1 and now he's suddenly become one of the toughest guys in the NFL. Whether those two are mutually exclusive or not doesn't matter -- Romo wins the Eye on Offense Award for Week 2. It's a well-deserved win considering his willingness to play with a punctured lung (!) may have saved the Cowboys season.

Dan Bailey, the Cowboys rookie kicker, deserves some love too, for punching in a pair of field goals that eventually gave the Cowboys the win over the 49ers. And he got it, as he's the Eye on Special Teams Award winner for Week 2.

Perhaps the flashiest move of Week 2, though, was Vince Wilfork's interception of Philip Rivers shortly before halftime in the Patriots win over the Chargers. Wilfork tipped the ball, made a fantastic grab and nearly found the end zone. It was enough for him to squeak by Antonio Cromartie as our Eye on Defense Award winner this week. (And it also makes for an amazing replay.)

Finally, big ups to the Titans Mike Munchak who won his first game by barnstorming the Ravens -- he also barnstormed his way to the Eye on Coaching award for Week 2. Even if it isn't as amazing as Chan Gailey nearly winning back-to-back weeks with the Bills, it's still quite impressive.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
He showed mental toughness and guts this week two things I didn't think were there in abundance. He played with a punctured lung and broken rib. (Punctured freaking lung?) And perhaps in one moment changed his image from pretty boy stat machine incapable of winning the big one into hardcore player. I don't know if Romo has changed permanently or not. I just know I'll never doubt him again.
Tony RomoTony Romo, QB, Romo
He suffers a cracked rib and a punctured lung, then returns to rally the Cowboys to victory? He shouldn't have been in a game; he should have been in Stanford hospital. This should silence his critics for, oh, maybe one week.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tom Brady Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Can I retire this award? Two weeks in a row I had to go with Brady. He threw for 423 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Chargers. I wanted to go somewhere else, but where? He might win this thing every week. We know he's the leader in the MVP race already.
Matthew StaffordMatthew Stafford, QB, Lions
Stafford started slow again on Sunday, throwing a pick against the Chiefs. And then he got his evisceration on, helping Detroit roll to a 48-3 redemption beatdown for Gunther Cunningham. Stafford threw for 294 yards and four touchdown passes ... and it might have been more if Detroit hadn't been up by so many points in the second half.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Vincent JacksonVincent Jackson, WR, Chargers
Last week, I selected Cam Newton after he threw for an obscene amount of yards in his NFL debut. This week, he threw for an even obscener amount of yards. But, once again, the Panthers lost so I turn in the direction of Jackson. Though maybe I should have picked Tom Brady last week, Jackson was fantastic against the Patriots, recording 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Maybe New England should have tried doubling him every once in a while.
Aaron Rodgers Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
It was easy to make fun of Britt during the lockout because he spent much of his time going from one legal entanglement to another. But when he's on the field and healthy, he's among the best wide receivers in the league. Against the Ravens Sunday, he caught nine passes for 135 yards and a touchdown as the Titans made easy work of the Ravens, 26-13. Also worth noting: Britt inflicted this damage without much help from Chris Johnson, who rushed for 53 yards on 24 carries.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Vince WilforkVince Wilfork, DL, Patriots
If he's under 400 pounds, I'd be stunned. On a light day, he's 3-fiddy. Minimum. Despite that girth, I've said for years that Wilfork, pound for gigantic pound, is the most underrated athlete in the NFL. His blubber hides the fact that he moves far quicker than you'd ever think. This was the case against San Diego when he lept that big ass into the air, picked off a pass and rumbled down the sideline. Easily the best play of the week.
Antonio Cromartie Antonio Cromartie, DB, Jets
So the Jets don't sign Nnamdi Asomugha and get Cromartie as the booby prize. Some booby prize. He has two interceptions, 149 all-purpose yards on five touches and a reason to make Jets' fans think they'll be OK without Nnamdi.
Prisco Brinson
Antonio CromartieAntonio Cromartie, CB, Jets
He had two picks, one almost for a touchdown, against the Jaguars. Not bad for the "other" corner. Cromartie will get a lot of opportunities to make plays playing opposite Darrelle Revis. He made the most of it against Luke McCown Sunday. Of course, it helped that McCown was horrible.
Vince WilforkVince Wilfork, DL, Patriots
Woodson and Cro had great games, but against inferior teams -- Wilfork was the absolutely difference maker on a day when Albert Haynesworth didn't show up. His interception, which (sadly) didn't end in a touchdown, was one of the most athletic moves I've ever seen from a defensive lineman.
Katzowitz Wilson
Charles Woodson Charles Woodson, CB, Packers
It was deemed Heisman on Heisman crime when Woodson intercepted Cam Newton twice (and also recovered a fumble). More importantly, Woodson helped settle Green Bay’s defense after the Panthers jumped out to a 13-0 lead. Playing without Tramon Williams by his side, Woodson continued to impress in the 14th year of his eventual Hall of Fame career. 
Vince Wilfork Vince Wilfork, DL, Patriots
He got the first interception of his NFL career when, just before halftime, he batted a Philip Rivers pass into the air before hauling it in and rumbling 36 yards. With seconds in the 2nd quarter, Tom Brady complete two quick throws to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that gave the Pats a 20-7 lead. The 10-point end-of-half swing sealed San Diego's fate.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Antonio CromartieAntonio Cromartie, CB, Jets
You can tell something great is about to happen with Cromartie. He just looks on the verge of becoming maybe the best return man in football. The Jags may not be the best test since the franchise is hurting right now but on the first play of the game he returned the kickoff 39 yards. That helped the Jets score a first quarter offensive touchdown, the first one in a 16 games.
Jason Hanson Jason Hanson, K, Lions
He played in his 297th game for the Lions, breaking Bruce Matthews' longevity record with one team. What's more, he played all those games with the Lions, a club that makes changes like McDonald's makes burgers.
Prisco Brinson
John KasayJohn Kasay, K, Saints
When the Saints lost Garrett Hartley with an injury, they turned to the 41-year-old Kasay. He is in his 21st season and appeared to have moved on with his life. So what does he do Sunday? He makes three field goals, including one from 53 yards. You have to love the old guys.
Dan BaileyDan Bailey, K, Cowboys
In a week with just one return (Michael Boley's fumble recovery to the house Monday), a kicker needs to win. Dan Bailey, for knocking down the game-tying and game-winning field goals in a crucial victory for Dallas, with the pressure of being a Cowboys kicker AND a rookie, deserves it.
Katzowitz Wilson
David Akers David Akers, K, 49ers
Akers hit three extra points and just one field goal this week. But the field goal was a record-breaker. In the always-tough Candlestick Park Akers nailed a 55-yarder, the longest kick in stadium history. Yeah, San Francisco didn’t win the game, but props to Akers for a record-breaker.
Dan Bailey Dan Bailey, K, Cowboys
The rookie honked a 21-yard field goal on the Cowboys' first drive, but he nailed a 48-yarder as time expired in regulation to tie the game. And he calmly converted a 19-yard chipshot to give Dallas its first win of the season Sunday.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Bill BelichickBill Belichick, Patriots
The best coach of all time again has his Patriots in the mix of the best teams in the NFL. Lots of work needed to fix that defense but he'll get it done. He always does. The best thing about Belichick this week? The show that aired chronicling his daily life. It gave a rare look at a coach few people know well.
Mike Munchak Mike Munchak, Titans
Not only does he score his first pro win; he does it at the expense of a Baltimore team that just obliterated Pittsburgh. I never saw this coming. I bet the Ravens didn't, either.
Prisco Brinson
Mike MunchakMike Munchak, Titans
His team lost the opener, and didn't look very good in doing so, but Munchak made his team bounce back and upset the Ravens in Week 2. The Titans have been a run-centric team, but Munchak let Matt Hasselbeck throw the football to beat the Ravens. It was Munchak's first victory as a head coach.
Mike MunchakMike Munchak, Titans
There's little reason to think the Titans could succeed in a year where change is especially detrimental. Even with RB Chris Johnson stalling out, Munchak got his team prepped enough to pick up his first regular-season win as an NFL head coach by beating down the previously high-flying Ravens.
Katzowitz Wilson
Chan Gailey Chan Gailey, Bills
Just like we all predicted, the Bills are 2-0 after dominating the Chiefs in Week 1 and completing a fantastic comeback victory against the Raiders in Week 2. Gailey, in his second season, continues to turn around a moribund franchise that hasn’t been relevant since Marv Levy. The Bills still probably won’t beat the Patriots and the Jets, but, with Gailey in charge, they’ll certainly have a better chance.
Chan Gailey Chan Gailey, Bills
I was on the Gailey bandwagon and after a come-from-behind win over the Raiders I see no reason to hop off now. Buffalo scored 21 fourth-quarter points to outlast the Raiders by three, and in two weeks, they've scored 79 points (they didn't score that many points until Week 5 of the 2010 season). If the Bills can beat the Patriots this week, I'm running for president of the Chan Gailey fan club.

Posted on: August 30, 2011 3:51 pm
Edited on: August 30, 2011 3:56 pm
 

72 former Miami Hurricanes to get subpoenaed

Posted by Will Brinson

Remember that whole story about the University of Miami and prostitutes and cash gifts to players? Yeah, that was really awkward for a while when NFL reporters had to ask former members of the Hurricanes football team that were named in Yahoo Sports' report about their involvement with Nevin Shapiro, the booster who made the claims while sitting in jail for running a Ponzi scheme.

It's about to get way worse, though, because the 72 named players in the report will be subpoenaed by the bankruptcy trustee in the Shapiro case, Joel Tabas, and requested to pay back the money that they reportedly received from Shapiro at Miami.

"They can't ignore it — it's a subpoena issued by a bankruptcy court," Tabas' attorney Gary Freedman said, per the Miami Herald. "If they ignore it, we will seek an order from the court to compel them to respond. If they don't respond, they will face a contempt order."

Now, things are absolutely going to get escalated for Miami's football program very quickly, as those players, if they answer the subpoena and pay back anything they received, will have admitted to a violation. (More or less anyway.) That's a potential death knell for Miami's football program.

It'll also be awkward for the players, many of whom are currently employed by NFL teams. For starters, they will either a) not answer the subpoena and face legal charges of contempt, b) answer the subpoena and provide information that they received no benefits, c) answer the subpoena and provide misinformation that they received no benefits and face perjury charges or d) answer the subpoena, provide information that they received benefits and admit to committing an NCAA violation.

"I am asking them to fill out an affidavit," Freedman said. "If an athlete gives misinformation, it would be considered perjury."

Does this mean that all the NFL players on the list that Yahoo published -- and there's a substantial number of them -- will be faced with potential discipline stemming from their actions as amateur athletes even though they lost that status a long time ago?

You wouldn't think so, but certain NFL punishments recently meted out hint at a sense of randomness.

And besides, the bigger issue may be any potential illicit activity that those players engaged in, and/or their willingness to return as much as $53,000 to a bankruptcy court for something that happened a long time ago.

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Posted on: January 29, 2011 3:33 pm
 

Hot Routes 1.29.11: Bill Murray's a big Bears fan

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • BlackBookMag has a superb and (potentially NSFW because of language) story about Bill Murray at the Chicago Bears NFC Championship game last Sunday. Basically, a Packers fan in Chicago was cheering for his team really loudly and got shoved in the back. He turned around to find Murray cackling at him and later saying some awkward stuff. It's par for the course for Murray, but thankfully there's picture proof.
Posted on: January 13, 2011 1:24 am
Edited on: January 13, 2011 12:29 pm
 

Patriots vs. Jets: 7-Point Divisional 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 an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. New York Jets (No. 6, AFC, 12-5) @ New England Patriots (No. 1, AFC, 14-2)

The regular season’s undisputed champion begins the final chapter for a fourth Lombardi Trophy by hosting the preseason’s self-proclaimed undisputed champion. The Jets are responsible for one of the Patriots’ two losses on the season (Week 2 at the New Meadowlands), though revenge was already administered by the Pats in that 45-3 November Monday night thumping.

Still, you can bet the Patriots will come out focused and hungry (or with something to prove or with a chip on their shoulder or whatever hollow cliché you prefer). These AFC East foes both know their opponent and, after the Jets stifled the Colt offense by refusing to blitz Peyton Manning, are capable of debuting a freshly-minted, never-before-seen gameplan for this decisive rubber match.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



On the field, the Patriots are the most interesting team in football once again. Off the field, the Jets are, so it's a near-miss Five Mora Face ranking.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Jets run offense vs. Patriots run defense

In that Monday night thrashing, Tom Brady carved up the Jets by exploiting their iffy nickel and dime backs (Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery). Confident and fond of his defense as he may be, Rex Ryan knows that the best way to slow Brady this time will be to keep him off the field (just like the Jets did during the second half against Manning).

You control the ball by running. The Jets stayed on the ground 38 times for 169 yards at Indianapolis. Of course, there is a considerable difference between running against the undersized Colts front seven and running against the oversized unit of the Patriots. Normally, the Patriots prefer to align Vince Wilfork in the opponent’s favorite run gap. Against the Jets, that would mean putting the “325-pounder” at left defensive end. Of course, the Jets may be less inclined to follow their usual “run to the right” formula now that tackle Damien Woody is on IR.

For matchup purposes, Bill Belichick may be tempted to put Wilfork outside so as to capitalize on the mismatch against Woody’s replacement, Wayne Hunter. Hunter is a superb athlete but he hasn’t always shown consistent raw power. However, Mike Wright and Ron Brace’s trips to injured reserve depleted New England’s depth up front. Veteran end Gerard Warren has been a decent starter alongside rotating rookies Brandon Deaderick (seventh-round pick), Kyle Love (undrafted) and Landon Cohen (undrafted), but with these men starting, the Patriots have been less variegated with their front-three looks.

If Wilfork remains at nose tackle, expect the Jets to run away from him – i.e. outside. Because tight end Dustin Keller is a glorified slot receiver (not unlike New England’s Aaron Hernandez), Brian Schottenheimer may be inclined to bring Robert Turner off the bench for more six-man offensive line formations. Even if the Jets can win in the trenches, their running backs still must make plays against the athletic Patriot linebackers. Usually Nick Mangold is at the second level to help pave a path, but Wilfork will give him more to deal with than most nose tackles.

Beating New England’s linebackers is a tall order for the Jets runners. LaDainian Tomlinson is coming off his best career playoff game, but neither he nor Shonn Greene has the quickness and elusiveness to make a beast like Jerod Mayo miss.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

For all the denigration of the Jets after the Sal Alosi episode, you might want to take a look at this seven-year old video of Bill Belichick’s crafty sideline ploy against Marvin Harrison.



5. The Jets will win if ...

Mark Sanchez (the franchise’s all-time winningest postseason quarterback, believe it or not) is more accurate than he was last week. That’s not all, of course (not even close). New York must bog down in the red zone (figure they won’t be able to prevent Brady and company from racking up yards between the 20s) and shift field position at least twice (via special teams or a forced turnover).

6. The Patriots will win if ...

Brady gets in his usual rhythm working out of the shotgun spread (a formation that naturally limits the presnap disguises that Ryan’s defense is built around).

7. Prediction: Patriots 31, Jets 20



Posted on: October 31, 2010 10:24 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2010 12:39 am
 

Randy Moss launches into post game tirade

Posted by Will Brinson

So, Randy Moss didn't do a whole lot of damage against the Patriots on Sunday -- one catch for eight yards against his old team in a 28-18 loss. As such, he probably didn't have much to talk about on the field. He had puh-lenty to say afterwards, though.

Moss showed up to the podium unexpectedly, while reporters waited for Brett Favre to speak and launched into a bizarre rant, starting with a discussion of the $25,000 he was fined for not speaking with Minnesota reporters. (Tom Pelissero of ESPN 1500 has the full transcript, and it's worth a read for sure.)

"Look, I got fined $25,000 for not talking to you all, and me personally, I really don't care," Moss said. "But at the same time, I do ... answer questions throughout the week, and for the league to fine me $25,000 -- I'm not going to answer any more questions for the rest of this year. If it's going to be an interview, I'm going to conduct it. So, I'll answer my own questions, ask myself the questions and then give you all the answers. So, from here on out, I'm not answering any more questions for the rest of this season."

And then it got really crazy, with Moss essentially stating that the Vikings coaching staff didn't listen to him when he tried to prep them on what the Patriots would do with their gameplan.

"I tried to prepare," Moss said. "Tried to talk to the players and coaches about how this game was going to be played and a couple tendencies here, couple tendencies here. The bad part about it -- you have six days to prepare for a team, and on the seventh day, that Sunday, meaning today, I guess they come over to me and say, 'Dag, Moss, you was right about a couple plays and a couple schemes they were going to run.' It hurts as a player that you put a lot of hard work in all week, and toward the end of the week, Sunday, when you get on the field, that's when they acknowledge about the hard work you put in throughout the week. That's actually a disappointment."

Moss didn't stop there either -- he also called out Brad Childress for electing to go for it on fourth down and goal before the end of the first half.

"Definitely down that we lost this game because I didn't expect us to lose this game knowing that we had a few things that we had to clean up," Moss said. "But like I said, they played a good game. I wish we could have had that three at the end of the half. Maybe it could have been different. Maybe not."

He also lavished a bunch of praise on his former Patriot teammates, even at one point calling Bill Belichick the "best coach in football history."

"I really haven't had a chance to really talk to the guys, so this was no disrespect to the Minnesota Vikings and their organization," Moss said. "The captains -- [Vince] Wilfork, Tommy Boy [Brady], [Jerod] Mayo. Am I forgetting somebody? Kevin Faulk. Man, I miss them guys, man. I miss the team. It was hard for me to come here and play. Been an up-and-down rollercoaster emotionally all week. And then to be able to come in here and see those guys running plays that I know what they're doing, and the success they had on the field, the running game -- so, I kind of know what kind of feeling they have in their locker room, man, and I just want to be able to tell the guys that I miss the hell out of them. Every last helmet in that locker room, man."

In fact, it at least seemed that Moss wanted to be a Patriot again and that he regrets whatever happened to get him back to Minnesota (or, if you're optimistic about his attitude, that he really, really, REALLY appreciates everything that New England did to revive his career). But regardless, it was, by all accounts, an incredibly bizarre scene that can best be summed up with an old cliche involving greener colored grass.

And given Brett Favre's injury and the team's inability to win any games and willingness to call out the head coach, things could be only getting browner.

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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