Category:NFL
Posted on: January 15, 2012 4:01 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 5:36 pm
 

Ugly is OK for Ravens in this one

BALTIMORE -- They won't apologize -- even if you want them to do so or even if they should. 

The Baltimore Ravens are one step away from the Super Bowl, so there's no need for apologizing for their less-than-spectacular performance Sunday against the Houston Texans.

It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. But they used two turnovers to jump to a 17-3 first-quarter lead and then held on for a 20-13 victory to advance to the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against the Patriots.

Before a final, clock-eating drive, the Ravens had eight first downs, quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked five times and the Ravens seemed to be on the verge of an upset.

As usual, the defense bailed them out. They stopped the Texans early in the fourth quarter, and then the offense actually came to life when it needed to do so driving to a field goal. And then the defense did it again with a pick by Ed Reed to seal it with 1:51 left. If they play the same way against the Patriots, they will get beat. 

Ugly is fine for now. It won't be against New England. 


Category: NFL
Posted on: January 12, 2012 5:07 pm
 

Divisional Round Matchups: Suggs vs. Brown

Texans left tackle Duane Brown vs. Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs -- Brown has been one of the better left tackles in the league. He has really improved in pass protection. Suggs is a force off the corner. He tends to get sacks in bunches, so Brown can't allow him to get going. If he does, it could be trouble for T.J. Yates.

Ravens nose tackle Terrence Cody vs. Texans center Chris Myers -- If the Texans are gong to run the football, they have to move Cody off the line. That means Myers. He is good at taking the nose where he starts to go. But if Cody is playing him head up, it could be trouble for Myers to move him. He isn't that strong.

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Packers left tackle Chad Clifton -- The last time the Giants played the Packers, Pierre-Paul had a big day against Marshall Newhouse, who was playing for the injured Clifton. With Clifton back, the Packers have to feel better about the pass protection. He is good at it. But he isn't a great run blocker.

Packers corner Tramon Williams vs. Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks -- Williams usually takes the team's top receiver if the Packers play a lot of man. They used him some on Nicks in the last meeting, and Nicks beat him for a long play. Even though Victor Cruz had a better season, Nicks is still the Giants top receiving threat.

Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow vs. Patriots coach Bill Belichick -- Belichick has had two weeks to prepare for Tebow and the Broncos' gimmick offense. That will give him a big edge on Tebow. What does Belichick throw at him that will be different from the last meeting? I bet it's a lot. How well Tebow handles that will go a long way in determining if Denver can move the football.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham vs. 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and others -- Graham is a huge part of the Saints offense. His ability to stretch the field as a tight end almost mandates a safety covers him, but word is the 49ers will try and handle him with Willis, one of the league's best cover linebacker. But you can bet the 49ers will also put a safety on him in other situations.

49ers defensive end/tackle Justin Smith vs. Saints guard Carl Nicks -- Smith is a 3-4 defensive end, but when the 49ers go to a sub-package, they put Aldon Smith next to Justin Smith, and he moves inside. That could put Justin Smith him on Nicks, one of the best guards in the NFL in a lot of passing situations. That's force vs. force.

Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey vs. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski -- At times in his career, Bailey has played a lot of man coverage on tight ends. He is used to it with Antonio Gates in his division. I would imagine that the Broncos would put Bailey on Gronkowski some in this game in man coverage. I know I would.

Patriots corner Devin McCourty vs. Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas -- The Broncos have one real receiving threat, and that's Thomas. He is coming off a 204-yard receiving game last week against Pittsburgh. McCourty is a good player who had a bad year. He isn't a great man cover player, and was torched some early playing it, but he might be asked to come up big here. Kyle Arrington might also spend 

Texans receiver Andre Johnson vs. Ravens corner Lardarius Webb -- Johnson didn't play in the first meeting. This time, you can expect him to challenge the Baltimore corners down the field. Webb, who has had a good season, will likely spend a lot of the day on Johnson. That's a tough challenge for any corner.

Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:46 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2012 10:48 pm
 

Why Mularkey for Jaguars?

There was chatter going around the NFL the past couple of days that the Atlanta Falcons were considering firing offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Now he's the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I don’t get it.

What is the attraction? What's the selling point?

Was it his stint as a head coach of the Buffalo Bills, where his record was a sterling 14-18?

Or was it seeing six of the 10 offenses he's led in the past decade as coordinator or head coach finish 10th or lower in points, including four at 15 or lower?

Or was it the two points the Falcons scored in Sunday's NFC playoff loss to the New York Giants, those coming on a safety, meaning his offense was shut out?

I do know that Jaguars general manager Gene Smith was fond of Mularkey. And Mularkey must have wowed new owner Shahid Khan in the interview. One other selling point could be that Mularkey is willing to keep on defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who was the team's interim coach. Smith is also high on Tucker.

"I don’t get it," one league coach said. "He quit at Buffalo and he quit on the Dolphins because he didn't like Nick Saban. What's the attraction?"

Mularkey, a former college tight end at Florida, did have early success as a coordinator in Pittsburgh when the Steelers finished second in points scored in his first season running the offense in 2001. But the highest ranking since was fourth by the Falcons in 2010.

Khan has said the league is a passing league and that the Jaguars need to move to being one of those teams, especially with quarterback Blaine Gabbert. In Mularkey's 10 seasons running an offense, his teams have been in the top-10 in rushing attempts five times.

In Atlanta, he was considered too conservative for the talent he had on offense.  Several times players privately wished that the offense were more open. The Falcons were a more up-tempo offense when Matt Ryan called the plays at the line of scrimmage and they had more success.

The word "predictable" was one that was heard when the Atlanta offense was mentioned.

It's a risky move for the Jaguars for sure. One bit of advice for Gabbert: Practice those rollouts. You now will be running plenty of them.

Posted on: January 10, 2012 2:53 pm
 

Raiders make another mistake

Firing Hue Jackson is a mistake by the Oakland Raiders.

Do we expect anything other than that?

Jackson had one year to show what kind of head coach he could be, and then he's gone? I know he might not be the handpicked choice of new general manager Reggie McKenzie, and I know he can be volatile and outspoken, but did he really get a fair shake?

The Raiders missed the playoffs at 8-8, but they had a ton of injuries decimate the speed on offense in the final six weeks. That showed up. It's why Carson Palmer never looked like the player the Raiders expected he would look like when they traded premium draft picks to land him.

Yes, the Raiders led the NFL in penalties, but when have they not?

Jackson deserved at least another year. I don't know he would have turned into John Madden or Tom Flores or any of the other successful Raiders coach. But he needed at least another year to show if could have done so.

To borrow from Raiders-speak: Just stupid, baby.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 9, 2012 5:33 pm
 

Monday Musings: Carmichael Jr. deserves a look

Why isn't New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. getting any play on the head-coaching market? 

It has to be because the perception is that he's little more than an appendage for coach Sean Payton running the offense. But Carmichael Jr. has taken over as the play-caller in New Orleans. He did most of it -- with Payton's input -- in Saturday night's blowout of the Lions

 According to team sources, Payton has given Carmichael Jr. more and more of the offensive workload and more of the installation process. I wasn't sure how Carmichael Jr. would do leading a room, but the word according to team sources is that he would be good at it. I talked briefly with Carmichael Jr. after the Lions game and asked if he was getting any play for jobs, and he said he was not. I don't get it. 

The man is running the most explosive offense in the NFL. Yes, Payton has input. But shouldn't Carmichael Jr. be getting an interview somewhere? 

---You have to give Tim Tebow credit for making a handful of nice throws. But doesn't Demaryius Thomas deserve credit for turning a simple slant into an 80-yard touchdown to win the game? The guy made a great route adjustment on another throw for a big gain? Tebow did some good things. It was one of his better games. But let's not make him out to be John Elway.

---Marty Schottenheimer being interviewed by the Bucs is crazy. Look, he had some good year. But why not talk to some young coaches? There are good coaches out there. Let's get off the recycled coaches.

---I hear a lot of people coming down on Falcons coach Mike Smith. Some moron even suggested he be fired. What? The guy has gone to the playoffs three of his four seasons and he should be fired? Yes, the Falcons have had playoff disappointment under Smith, but only one of the three losses was at home. The Falcons need to be more aggressive on offense. That's the next step for this franchise.

---Lost in the all the Tebow-mania from Sunday's game was how well the Broncos tackles played. Rookie Orlando Franklin at right tackle and Ryan Clady at left tackle both had impressive days. Franklin's improvement from start to finish has been as good as any rookie in the league.

---So what happened to Brady Quinn playing? I guess not.

---When I watched the Texans beat the Bengals Saturday, I had to think about general manager Rick Smith and the great job he did in the off-season. He made some great moves and he doesn't get enough credit for the job he's done. If the Texans had quarterback Matt Schaub, they'd be a real threat to get to the Super Bowl. 

---Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul guaranteed that the Giants would beat the Packers. A lot will be made of that. It shouldn’t be. Nothing ever said during the week impacts a game. Ever.

---If the Lions don’t get a corner in free agency -- Carlos Rogers? -- it would be a big mistake. They also might want to draft one early in April. The secondary is horrible.

Posted on: January 7, 2012 11:02 pm
Edited on: January 7, 2012 11:04 pm
 

Saints roll behind offense -- again

NEW ORLEANS -- Some might even call it an off night. Really.

That's because the New Orleans Saints didn't have their usual precision ways on offense against the Detroit Lions in an NFC wild-card game Saturday night. Yeah, that mattered. They still rolled up over 600 yards of offense and moved on to the next round of the playoffs with a victory.

On a night when record-setting quarterback Drew Brees got hit more than usual, had several passes that should have been picked, and never really looked all that comfortable, he still threw for 466 yards.

Can anybody stop the Saints offense? 

Then again, the way their defense plays at times, including early against the Lions, the Saints better hope not.

In the year of the pass, the Saints showed again why they are the best passing team in the NFL and why the team that puts them out of this postseason tournament is likely going to have to outscore them.

Now they get the San Francisco 49ers on the road, the one team with a stiff defense that is left in the NFC playoffs.

Something has to give. It's hard to imagine it will be Brees and that passing game.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 5, 2012 5:07 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2012 5:07 pm
 

Playoff Matchups: Bailey vs. Steelers WRs

Broncos corner Champ Bailey vs. Steelers receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown -- Wallace and Brown can fly. Both have big-play ability. But Bailey is one of the best man-cover players in the NFL. Who does he take? I would imagine he would be on Wallace, but he might also spend some time on Brown. This is a battle between a smart veteran corner and two young speedy receivers.

Saints guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans vs. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh  -- Evans has already come out and said Suh does some dirty things on the field. That should stoke this fire a bit. Green Bay's Josh Sitton dominated Suh last week and these two guards are in that class. Suh didn't play in the first meeting when he served a suspension, so this should be fun. To get pressure on Drew Brees, it has to come up the middle since Brees he gets the ball out so fast. That means Suh.

Giants left tackle David Diehl vs. Falcons defensive end John Abraham -- Diehl has struggled at times this season, while Abraham has come on lately. He was bothered by a groin injury earlier this season, but he's healthy now. And it's showing up. The Falcons have moved Abraham around some, so he will line up opposite Kareem McKenzie some, but I imagine he will be over Diehl a bunch.

Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow vs. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- The Steelers coordinator is one of the best ever. He has a way of devising schemes to stop different offenses. I expect him to come up with a good one to force Tebow to throw the football. The Steelers will likely play a lot of man coverage and drop Troy Polamalu down in the box. That will force Tebow to throw it. Can he? 

Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo vs. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul -- Clabo is a classic self-made player, a mauler who pushes the envelope when it comes to dirty play. Pierre-Paul is an athletic freak who was my pick as the Defensive Player of the Year. Does the mauler win? Or does the special athlete win? This will be fun to watch.

Saints defensive end Will Smith vs. Lions left tackle Jeff Backus -- Smith is the Saints best pass rusher, while Backus is a veteran tackle who has to protect Matt Stafford's backside. Smith isn't as explosive as he once was, but he can still get after the passer. Backus has had trouble with good ends at times this season.

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson vs. Saints corners Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter  -- How do you stop Johnson? You don't. You just try and contain him. Green and Porter are good cover players, but I would think the Saints will give them help over the top. The Saints limited him to six catches and 69 yards in the first meeting. Earlier this season, Green Bay's Tramon Williams did a good job on Johnson but he got the better of the Packers last week. This is big challenge for the Saints corners. Johnson has been on fire.

Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison vs. Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady -- Clady is a good left tackle who has improved as the season moved along, looking more like the 2009 Clady. Harrison is back after missing time with the broken orbital bone and remains a top-level pass rusher. He seems to really excel in the playoffs. Look for Harrison to set the edge to keep Tebow from getting outside the pocket.

Broncos center J.D. Walton vs. Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton -- If the Broncos want to get their spread-option going, they have to handle Hampton. That means Walton has to get inside push to allow the guards to get out on the inside linebackers. Walton had a tough go of it last week against the Chiefs, which is why Denver didn't run it as well. He has to play better here.

Bengals receiver A.J. Green vs. Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph -- Joseph gets a chance to face his former team for the second time this season. The first time, the Texans held Green to five catches for 59 yards as Joseph did a nice job on him.  I would imagine the Texans would put Joseph on Green a lot again in man coverage. Green has a size advantage, so that could play out in the Red Zone.

Posted on: January 4, 2012 1:56 pm
 
Category: NFL
 
 
 
 
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