Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Man coverage biggest reason for big plays


Steve Smith burned the Cardinals for a 77-yard touchdown in Carolina's Week 1 victory. (AP)  
Steve Smith burned the Cardinals for a 77-yard touchdown in Carolina's Week 1 victory. (AP)  

We had more passing yards (7,842) last week in the NFL than any other weekend ever, with 14 quarterbacks throwing for more than 300 yards.

But here's an even more interesting stat: There were 122 passing plays of 20 yards or more.

That's explosive, baby.

The NFL has become a league of big plays in the passing game. Some of the reasons are the rules favor it and the quarterbacks might be better than ever as a group. There's one other big reason that I saw when re-watching the games for this column:

More man coverage than ever.

Many of the big plays came against man coverage, with the ball not even traveling down the field that much. When Tom Brady hit Wes Welker for the 99-yard touchdown on Monday night against Miami, Welker beat Benny Sapp in man coverage. The ball traveled 20 yards in the air.

That looks to be the trend now for offenses. Find the man-to-man battles, throw quickly to beat the pressure, and watch the receivers run.

Teams might change up in the second week, but the first week was loaded with plenty of man coverage, which is why we had so many big passing plays.

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Film Study (Ten things I saw from the tape that you didn't)

1. Ravens NT Terrence Cody was a beast in the first half. Most of you probably know Haloti Ngata played a great game at defensive tackle -- and he did -- but in watching that game, I noticed Cody several times collapsing the inside of the Steelers line, including pushing Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey into the backfield. The trimmer Cody -- down to 333 pounds -- will really help the Ravens run defense. He didn't play much in the second half when the Steelers were in scramble mode and throwing it, but he's big against the run.

2. The Chicago Bears got after Matt Ryan. Some blamed it on center Joe Hawley, who started for the injured Todd McClure. That would be a mistake. Hawley did a decent job inside. Right guard Garrett Reynolds had some problems. He took over as the starter for Harvey Dahl, who left via free agency. Reynolds was whipped for a sack where he didn't even touch Amobi Okoye. Reynolds has to be better if the Falcons are to be good up front. Hawley will start this week against Philadelphia.

3. 49ers DT Ray McDonald isn't a household name, but he might be after this season. McDonald was a force against the Seahawks. He had a sack and three quarterback hits. He pushed the pocket all day and was a force against the run. On passing downs, the 49ers moved him to the nose and even stood him up in that spot on several occasions. Justin Smith is a top player at the other end, but McDonald isn't far behind.

4. The Chiefs' Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson didn't do much against Buffalo. Kansas City used top-five draft picks on defensive linemen in successive years. Dorsey made one really nice play in the backfield for a loss and finished with four tackles, but Jackson did almost nothing. He got credit for an assist. Considering where those two were picked, the Chiefs should be getting more bang for their buck. It's not like the Buffalo offensive line is one of the NFL's best. It will be interesting to see how they do this week against a Lions line that played well against the Bucs.

5. I really liked what I saw from Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. He was active and he tackled well. Thomas isn't a big safety, but he is more than willing to throw his body around. He can also cover, which is a must now.

6. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was a force against the Redskins. He had two sacks, but he also played the run well. When Pierre-Paul came out in 2010, I thought he had star ability. Everyone talked about how raw he was. For the first half of 2010, he was raw but came on late. Now he's commanding doubles and chips by the tight ends and backs. Why do the Giants always seem to have all the pass rushers?

7. This summer, Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan raved about right tackle Wayne Hunter, who was taking over for Damien Woody. He lied. Hunter really struggled against the Cowboys, and it wasn't just against DeMarcus Ware. Kenyon Coleman whipped him on one play. Hunter, who Callahan praised for being so athletic, didn't look it against the Cowboys. The Jets have to get better play from him if they are going to be improved on offense.

8. One of the mystifying things about Brady's 517-yard performance Monday night was how much damage the New England tight ends did. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski combined to catch 13 passes for 189 and two touchdowns. The Dolphins always seem to have trouble with tight ends, but with Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby brought in the past two years as inside linebackers, that was supposed to change. It didn't. Both Dansby and Burnett had their moments against the Patriots where they didn't cover the tight end. They have to be better.

9. Bears running back Matt Forte wants a new contract. He might want to thank the Falcons if he gets one. Forte made the Falcons defenders look silly. Atlanta missed 17 tackles Sunday. On Forte's 56-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass, he made four Falcons miss. One miss was by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who tried to bump Forte out of bounds. For one, he wasn't close enough to the sideline. And Weatherspoon just bumped him and Forte kept on running.

10. Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe came in to camp at 285 pounds. He raved about the way he felt. His play said otherwise. Monroe struggled in the preseason. The Jaguars told him to get heavier. And he looked to do so last week. He was thicker than he was in the preseason, and he played much better. Monroe caved in the right side of the Tennessee line on Maurice Jones-Drew's 21-yard touchdown run. He also did a good job in pass protection. The Jaguars want Monroe back in the 300-pound range.

Spotlight on ... Lions corners

Chris Houston said he doesn't pay attention to those critics of the Detroit Lions cornerbacks.

Lions CB Chris Houston snares an interception against the Bucs in Week 1. (Getty Images)  
Lions CB Chris Houston snares an interception against the Bucs in Week 1. (Getty Images)  
"They have no idea what we do," Houston said. "They don't know if we're in man or zone or whatever. They just blame us."

The Lions are the trendy pick to be a playoff team. If that's to become a reality, Houston and fellow corners Eric Wright and Aaron Berry have to play big. They were good last week in the team's victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Even team insiders are concerned about whether the corners can hold up.

If they do, the Lions will be a good defense. If they don't, it won't matter how good they are up front.

"We'll be fine," Houston said. "We don't listen to what people say. We know we can play."

Hot Tub (Five guys playing well)

 Tom Brady. No one else should be allowed. But we will this time.

 Raiders running back Darren McFadden. Is he the new Chris Johnson? The speed makes him a threat every time he touches the ball.

 Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick scored 48 on the Wonderlic test. Those smarts showed up against Kansas City when he threw four touchdown passes. He knows where to go with the ball.

 Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour was a force vs. the Broncos, getting two sacks and being an all-out menace all night.

 Bills defensive back Bryan Scott had eight tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and was all over the field against the Chiefs.

Cold Tub

 Matt Cassel was horrible against the Bills. The stats showed that, but in watching his performance it was even worse. He struggled to get the ball down the field and took two quarters to get into something that resembled a groove.

 The Tampa Bay defensive front. They used four premium picks on four linemen the past two years. None of them sniffed the quarterback against the Lions. They combined for five tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage.

 Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. He was beaten for a touchdown and did little as a blitzer and in the run game. He was credited with three tackles. None was impactful.

 Titans running back Chris Johnson. He just couldn't get it going against the Jaguars. He didn't look like he had the same pop. The line didn't help him.

 Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb. Thirty-nine yards passing? Really?

Assistant coach who won't sleep this week

Chargers secondary coach Steve Wilks got a promotion this offseason to assistant head coach. This week, he might have to show he deserves it. Wilks has to get his secondary ready to play Brady and that passing game. San Diego's secondary is top tier, and it helps to have good cover safeties in Eric Weddle and Bob Sanders. Even so, watching Brady throw for 517 yards against Miami will make for a long week for Wilks.

Three and outs

Things that are annoying me

1. Talk of leadership qualities for players. Don't coaches make $5 million a year to lead, with some assistants over $1 million? Why the heck do you need players to lead?

2. People who call it "sissy football" and "basketball on grass" because we have so much passing now. Isn't the idea to put that leather ball across that white line? Passing is the best way to do it. The NFL finally has wised up to that.

3. PR men who try and clean up what players say. If they say it, they own it. You can't take it back. See Tom Brady about drinking before Sunday's game with the Chargers.

Tweets of the week (at me)

1. @PriscoCBS Hey Pete, Bronco fans going in for "Bench Orton, Play Tebow" billboards--would you like to contribute to the cause? HaHa... --- @DonOlmstead

2. @PriscoCBS I don't know a smart person I disagree with more often -- @daringantt

3. @PriscoCBS Jon Gruden also said tonight, "Accuracy is one of the most overlooked stats for a QB"...REALLY JG? -- @shaner021

Three college guys who have already caught my eye

1. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: He was like a blanket in coverage last week against Penn State.

2. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: He looks like a Terrell Owens clone.

3. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: He has trimmed down and it shows. He's quicker out of his breaks.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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