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  1. http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/2017-super-bowl-falcons-pose-the-ultimate-test-for-mastermind-belichick/ Falcons pose the ultimate test for mastermind Belichick How will Belichick try to solve Atlanta's high-powered attack? History provides clues By halftime of the NFC Championship Game -- the Falcons led the Packers 24-0 on their way to a 44-21 victory -- we wondered to a friend what the line for Super Bowl LI would look like should the Patriots be the opponent. Based on the Falcons' playoff dominance, first over the Seahawks and then the Packers, we guessed they would be four-point favorites in Houston. Part of that is Vegas isn't so much interested in getting the line right in the predictive sense, but in getting the most wagers on both sides. But beyond that, there are reasons to be apprehensive about the Falcons' chances -- it starts with Tom Brady, who remains one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, despite that four-game suspension to start the 2016 season or his advanced age (39). Then there's the truism about giving Bill Belichick an extra week's preparation, which complicates things terribly for every opponent not named the Giants.Our friend, who knows a lot more about gambling than us, laughed. No way -- the Patriots (who stomped the Steelersin the AFC Championship Game) would be favored, probably by three or four points. Turns out, he was right; the line opened at New England -3 and that's where it has remained for 13 straight days. Both are legitimate concerns. And perhaps the image of Belichick, clad in a black lab coat (yes, it comes with a hoodie) retiring to an undisclosed location to devise a scheme to stop the NFL's most potent offense should trouble the Falcons. Of course, Atlanta has the league's most efficient passer by both conventional and advanced metrics, the league's hottest offensive coordinator and a bevy of playmakers who, together, appear capable of overcoming the most masterful of game plans. The good news: There will be an actual game to decide all this! For now, however, we're left to speculate about what might happen and why. And while we feel pretty good about the Falcons' chances, we are also well aware of what the Belichick-Brady Patriots can do on the NFL's biggest stage. With that in mind, here's what New England's defense could try to do to slow Atlanta's offense. Pull it off and the Pats are looking at Lombardi Trophy No. 5. Fail, and the Falcons will have their first title in team history. First, a history lesson In 2001, the Patriots were considered upstarts. Brady was in his first season as the starter and Belichick was in his second as New England's coach. So when the 11-5 Pats were facing the 14-2 Rams -- known as "The Greatest Show on Turf" thanks to Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce -- no one gave them a chance. Vegas had the Patriots as 14-point underdogs, and the only question was how bad the beating would be. "The one thing [Belichick] stressed was to try to keep them guessing," then-Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi toldESPN.com some six months after the upset. "If you get predictable against an offense that's as explosive as that one, they're going to make plays, because they'll pick up on your tendencies as the game goes on. So part of our plan was to have no set tendencies at all. And it worked out pretty well, didn't it?"But with two weeks to prepare, Belichick and the Patriots were ready, and when the dust settled, they eked out a 20-17 victory. So how did it happen? The Patriots defense featured at least five defensive backs on 80 percent of the snaps, an absurd number in an age when base defenses were the norm. Blitzing was minimal, but the Rams' receivers were manhandled at the line of scrimmage, which upset the timing and precision of the routes. Could we see that again Sunday? "I think [Belichick] will try and have everyone just try and tattoo Julio Jones, because I think he's kind of beat up," NFL Network analyst and former Patriots fullback Heath Evans told the Boston Herald recently. NBC Sports analyst and former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison had similar notions on how to slow Jones. "Obviously, Julio's a big guy," Harrison said. "He's been going across the middle the entire year, but there's only been a couple of receivers I've come across, where the more you hit 'em, the tougher they become," Harrison said Thursday. "That was [former Steeler] Hines Ward and [former Panther and Raven] Steve Smith. No matter how hard you hit 'em, those were the only guys you could not truly intimidate. A lot of receivers, the great ones, Marvin Harrison, you could intimidate them, if you hit 'em." Eleven years before Belichick matched wits with Mike Martz -- and won -- he was the Giants' defensive coordinator, tasked with slowing the Bills' K-Gun offense that featured Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and James Lofton. The Giants played a lot of nickel and dime schemes to slow the Bills' passing game, daring Buffalo to give the ball to Thomas, their Hall of Fame running back. "We're going to let him run for 100 yards," then-Giants linebacker Carl Banks said of Belichick's game plan. The Giants won 20-19 thanks, in part, to disrupting Buffalo's offense, but also because of some good fortune; this was the "wide right" game -- if Scott Norwood hadn't pushed his 47-yard field goal attempt with seconds left, we're not talking about Belichick's genius plan. So what does this mean for Sunday? It's a cliché at this point, but it's also instructive: Expect Belichick to take away the Falcons' two biggest threats. That means scheming to stop Jones and the two-headed backfield monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen looks to the Steelers-Patriots playoff matchup for some insight into what Belichick might do against Jones. The Falcons have other pass-catching weapons, too. There's Mohamed Sanu (59 receptions, 653 yards, four touchdowns) and Taylor Gabriel (35 receptions, 579 yards, six touchdowns), not to mention the havoc Freeman and Coleman can wreak in the passing game (85 catches, 883 yards, five touchdowns between them). Complicating matters for the Patriots: The Falcons' offensive line has been tremendous this season and Ryan has rarely faced pressure. New England ranked near the bottom of the league in pass-rush efficiency and there's no reason to think the Patriots will suddenly morph into an outfit that can get after the quarterback. But if recent history is any indication, the Patriots will continue to do what they do. Which is to say: They'll get their hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage, make it difficult for them to get into their routes quickly and disrupt the timing of an offense that has displayed otherworldly precision for much of the season. "If the Patriots aren't flagged four or five times for various illegal uses of hands -- be it holding, illegal contact, hands to the face, maybe even pass interference -- they're playing too soft," TheMMQB.com's Andy Benoit wrote last week. More from Benoit: Simply put, this means a lot of man-to-man coverage, which the Patriots are familiar with, and having a hybrid-type player cover the running backs. This is exactly what Belichick did in Super Bowl XXXVI -- outside linebacker Willie McGinest shadowed Faulk, roughing him up even when the ball went elsewhere. Belichick could give McGinest's role to linebacker Dont'a Hightower, or perhaps safety Patrick Chung. Whoever draws the assignment, it's important to remember ... Atlanta is more than just a passing offense The Falcons ranked seventh in the league in rushing, according to Football Outsiders, and an effective ground attack sets up a deadly play-action passing offense. It gets worse if you're tasked with trying to slow this group: This reality is not lost on the Patriots. "With this offense, what they've been able to do, with as much attention that goes into the passing game, rightfully so, it's allowed them to run the ball extremely well," Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said recently. "They do a great job up front blocking. Alex Mack is in the middle there and he kind of controls everything. They do a great job of kind of identifying the fronts and getting the ball run through, I'll call it the space of the defense, and both of these backs have an explosive ability to see the scene, get downhill quickly, get into the defense quickly. It's a one-two punch. "They practice the particular running style, the stretch game that they run. They do a good job of creating separation of the defense both horizontally and vertically, so as those backs take those angles and really get the defense to run kind of in a sideways manner, they open up those holes where these guys, they stick that foot in the ground and they just come downhill and they hit that thing at 100 miles per hour. That's very difficult to defend, especially if the front may be a little bit light, depending on what you've got to put on the coverage aspect of it to handle the passing game." Therein lies the problem if you're the Patriots. Against the Rams in the Super Bowl 15 years ago, it was clear that St. Louis' Martz was going to stick with the passing game regardless. But the Falcons are as balanced an offense as you'll see. They ran the ball on 42 percent of their regular-season snaps and averaged 4.2 yards a carry. The number was 43 percent in two postseason games, though the average YPC dropped to 3.4. In simpler terms: "We can do whatever we want," Freeman told PFT last week. "Pick your poison. ... We've had the game plan. The game plan doesn't change." And you know what? The Patriots might choose that poison; death by 1,000 4-yard carries sounds eminently more palatable than an evening full of Ryan-to-Jones chunk plays. About taking away Julio Jones ... Sometimes, Ryan can fall in love with Jones. This makes perfect sense, and you only need to listen to Patricia to understand why. "... [Jones] is probably just one of the most dynamic players in the league," he said. "I usually don't wind up comparing him to other people; I wind up comparing other people to him just because of his skill set and his ability. The things that he does for them and what he can do is he does a great job of moving around into different positions." But trouble arises for opponents when Ryan is on his game and targeting other receivers. And, frankly, Ryan has been on his game for virtually all of the 2016 season. In fact, in the four games in which Jones was held to fewer than 50 yards, the Falcons went -- wait for it -- 4-0. In Week 3 against the Saints, Jones had one reception for 16 yards. Freeman led the team in both rushing (152 yards) and receiving (55 yards, one touchdown) and the Falcons won 45-32. In Week 5 against the Broncos, Jones had two receptions for 29 yards. Freeman rushed for 88 yards and a score and Coleman led all receivers with 132 yards on four catches, including a touchdown. The Falcons won 23-16. In Week 8 against the Packers, Jones had three receptions for 29 yards. Sanu, Gabriel and tight end Austin Hooper combined for 193 yards and two scores. The Falcons won 33-32. In Week 12 against the Cardinals, Jones had four catches for 35 yards. Freeman rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns. Sanu, Gabriel and Justin Hardy combined for 187 yards and two scores. The Falcons won 38-19. After that Week 8 game, Jones was asked about his role being minimized. "We need to just keep taking advantage of it," he said at the time. "Defenses are going to try and do that and take me away. The offense is going to be explosive. We just got to find those guys. I don't cry about not getting the ball or are they doubling me. I'm doing my job and taking two guys away." If nothing else, these numbers reinforce the fact that taking away Jones is only the first step in thwarting this Falcons offense. Still, Belichick has every intention of minimizing Jones' impact. The Patriots used two players to play the role of Jones during practice this week -- Michael Floyd and Matthew Slater. "That's such a key guy for us, the routes and all that," Belichick told pool reporter Peter King of TheMMQB.com. "We have two guys doing it so we won't wear one guy out. You've got to know where he is on every play." What do NFL players suggest to stop the Falcons? NFL.com's Conor Orr asked several Pro Bowl players how they would game plan against Atlanta and the responses were ... interesting. "You gotta stop the run and make them one-dimensional," said Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who faces the Falcons twice a season. "Matty Ice is Matty Ice, but if you make it to where he's one-dimensional, where Matt Ryan has to beat you by himself, that's your only shot. But if you give them a run-pass option, you're going to have a long day. You can really open up your playbook on defense when all they can do is pass." Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward's advice sounded more like something we might see from the Pats on Sunday. "You don't have to double [Jones] on every play but you do have to roll your coverage there some," he said. "I think you have to play some man because their backs are so explosive as receivers, they're good out of the backfield." Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. added: "When we played Atlanta, we played a lot of man, Cover 1, Cover 2," he said. "Still, you have to lean that safety over to Julio because you never know what he's going to do. But it's not smart to double Sanu at all. No. But a lot of teams don't have the defensive back depth that we do. So it's hard to game plan for Atlanta. But I wouldn't double-team Sanu." So who ya got? Pete Prisco on why he thinks the Falcons will take down the Patriots: And five of eight CBSSports.com experts are picking the Falcons to beat the Patriots (we're one of those five) in the Super Bowl. Ultimately, this game could come down to experience. Not so much with the Patriots' experience facing top-flight quarterbacks in 2016 -- because there is only one example of that, and it was a home loss to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks ... ... but the experience that Belichick -- and perhaps more importantly, Brady -- brings to Houston.
  2. 2017 Super Bowl: Falcons hit big on draft picks to construct a winner quickly By Rob Rang The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com 7h ago • 4 min read http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/news/2017-super-bowl-falcons-hit-big-on-draft-picks-to-construct-a-winner-quickly/ How the Atlanta Falcons catapulted from a .500 non-playoff club to NFC South champions and a berth in Super Bowl LI is really quite simple: They've hit it big with first-round picks. Since taking over as general manager in 2008, Thomas Dimitroff has drafted franchise cornerstones in quarterback Matt Ryan (2008), wide receiver Julio Jones (2011) and edge rusher Vic Beasley (2015). While other recent first-round picks like left tackle Jake Matthews(2014) and free safety Keanu Neal (2016) were not among the six Falcons named to this season's Pro Bowl, their stellar play so early in their careers suggests it won't be long before they too are recognized among the best at their positions. Quarterback, wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher and safety -- a checklist of the most important positions in today's NFL. Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports and Ryan, the Pro Football Writers Association MVP, certainly deserves all of the credit he has received. in the regular season, Ryan threw for a franchise-record 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His career-high 69.9 percent completion rate is all the more impressive given that he averaged a league-high 9.26 yards per attempt. Perhaps the greatest argument against Ryan's candidacy for MVP is the wonderfully gifted Jones, who many scouts believe is the best receiver in the NFL, if not the best overall player. Beasley, who led the NFL in sacks with 15.5 (after recording just four as a rookie) would be a candidate for Breakout Player of the Year if such an award existed. The combination of Ryan, Jones and Beasley is as dynamic as any trio in the league but exceptional individual talent does not necessarily equate to victories. Historically speaking, toughness has proven every bit as critical to success in the often cold, always hard-hitting games of the playoff chase. Atlanta had developed an unflattering reputation throughout the league as lacking grit, at least since the "Dirty Birds" squad that took the team to its first Super Bowl in 1998. That is why the addition of intense, defensive-minded coach Dan Quinn, as well as highly physical free agents Alex Mack (center) and Mohamed Sanu (wide receiver) have also proven to be perfect fits. Mack, a first-round pick by Cleveland in 2009, was voted to his second straight Pro Bowl (and fourth overall). He has been the center of Atlanta's success on offense, the only one in the NFL to finish among the top five in passing (second, averaging 295.3) and rushing (fifth, averaging 120.5) yards. Sanu has not received as much fanfare, but the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder quietly posted a career-high 59 catches this season, serving as an ideal complement to the flashy Jones, just as he did to A.J. Green in Cincinnati. The Falcons found success in the middle rounds with RBs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. USATSI With Ryan and his receivers starring on the outside, the Falcons' two-headed monster of middle-round running backs Devonta Freeman(fourth round, 2014) and Tevin Coleman (third round, 2015) have been able to feast on the empty boxes, combining for 1,599 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, as well as 85 receptions for 883 yards and five scores via the air. Proponents of the idea that teams need not invest early picks (or big contracts) in running backs can point to the success Atlanta has enjoyed. Of course, Atlanta's offense has been stellar for the past several years. The key difference in this Atlanta squad is the intensity, speed and explosive hitting on defense -- which mirrors in many ways what Quinn helped build while serving as the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. Though each player obviously comes with his own unique strengths and weaknesses, it was almost as if Quinn carried a Seahawks blueprint on how to build a defense when joining the Falcons. A closer look at how Atlanta's defense was built shows that maybe, in fact, he did, finding difference-makers with similar styles at nearly the same points in the draft. Consider that the first pick of the Dimitroff-Quinn era in Atlanta landed Beasley, who at 6-3 and 246 pounds is just five pounds lighter than edge rusher Bruce Irvin, who often played a similar role on the edge for Quinn as Seattle's first-round pick in 2012. Taking Neal in the first round a year later mirrored Seattle's strategy (and success) with Earl Thomas, the 14th overall pick in 2010. Adding an instinctive middle linebacker in the second round in Deion Jones and a raw but athletic outside linebacker in De'Vondre Campbell in the fourth is reminiscent of Seattle's selections of Bobby Wagner (second round, 2012) and K.J. Wright (fourth round, 2011). Projecting Jones and Campbell to enjoy the same success as Wagner (an All-Pro in 2016) and Wright (a Pro Bowl alternate) is admittedly premature, but Atlanta's youngsters offer similar frames and playing styles as Seattle's standout linebackers. No one should confuse Seattle's hard-hitting 6-3, 225-pound strong safety Kam Chancellor with Atlanta's 6-foot, 305-pound defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, but both former ACC stars have since outplayed their fifth-round selections after falling down the board due to questions as to their fit in a "modern" NFL defense. These birds, it seems, do flock together. Beasley's gaudy sack totals and the speed of Atlanta's young defenders have earned each plenty of hype. Defensive linemen Tyson Jackson (the No. 3 overall pick by Kansas City in 2009) and Jonathan Babineaux also deserve attention. Babineaux is the longest-tenured Falcon as a second-round pick in 2005. Veteran rushers Dwight Freeney (three), Brooks Reed (two) and Courtney Upshaw (one) have "only" contributed a combined six sacks on the season but could prove important against Tom Brady and the Patriots' quick-hitting passing attack. Unlike with the Seahawks, Quinn inherited a strong group of cover corners in former first-round pick Desmond Trufant and second-rounder Robert Alford. Flashy second-year pro Jalen Collins (second round, 2015) has lived up to his selection and possesses similar size (6-1, 203) as what Quinn and Seattle head coach Pete Carroll preached in Seattle. Alford (5-10, 186), Collins and rookie undrafted free agent Brian Poole (5-9, 213) have played well since Trufant went down with a pectoral injury in November. They and starting strong safety Robert Allen (a 5-9, 186-pounder selected in the fifth round in 2014), however, certainly are a major contrast to the Legion of Boom. That said, given the reliance in New England on the quickness of its primary pass-catchers now with Rob Gronkowski sidelined, Atlanta's secondary might match up better, proving even more the brilliance behind the roster management of Dimitroff, Quinn and the rest of the Falcons' staff.
  3. Great to hear. Hope he does well. http://www.myajc.com/news/sports/football/levitre-working-to-eliminate-his-penalties/nsCmg/?icmp=ajc_internallink_referralbox_free-to-premium-referral
  4. Sorry its long, but well worth the read. It also has a great ending!
  5. http://www.atlantafalcons.com/news/article-1/Behind-the-Jersey-Number-Desmond-Trufant/699626c5-604c-4425-99e5-097cf8cb8a44
  6. http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/blog/rob-rang/22385745/finding-the-fits-toilolo-could-provide-big-impact-in-small-role-for-falcons This article is one of a series called Finding the Fits in which NFLDraftScout.com will review some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2013 NFL Draft. The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career. Atlanta Falcons' best fit: TE Levine Toilolo, Stanford, fourth round, No. 107 overall With all due respect to running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora, the key free agent the Atlanta Falcons convinced to sign in 2013 was their own -- future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. While Gonzalez certainly isn't the deep threat down the seam he was when coming out of Cal in 1997, his savvy route-running and soft hands continue to make him one of the league's toughest matchups, especially in the red zone. With Gonzalez almost surely retiring after the 2013 season, however, the Falcons were wise to look to this position in the draft. The player they selected -- Stanford's Levine Toilolo -- won't be confused with Gonzalez anytime soon, but that doesn't mean that general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn't have big plans for the 6-8, 265-pound junior. Currently the tallest tight end on an NFL roster, Toilolo's great size gives the Falcons a second matchup nightmare for defenses to contend with in the red zone. In this way, the Stanford rookie won't be asked to replace Gonzalez as much as complement the 16-year veteran. It isn't just Toilolo's physical traits that intrigue, however. He also appears to have the mindset needed to handle what is likely to be a limited role. After playing next to Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz at Stanford, Toilolo is used to playing second fiddle. He's also used to blocking in a power-based running scheme with limited opportunities to catch the ball (50 career receptions). Most important (considering Atlanta's "other" pass-catching stars Julio Jones and Roddy White), Toilolo's value lies in the physicality and size he offers as a blocker. Even with Matt Ryan alternately picking apart defenses through Jones, White and Gonzalez, coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter fancy their club as one that can run with power. A season ago, the Falcons featured undrafted free-agent rookie Tommy Gallarda (Boise State) as their primary blocking tight end. Gallarda played well in nine games before a shoulder injury ended his season early. Gallarda is back healthy and the Falcons signed former Cincinnati Bengals' second-rounder Chase Coffman, but the primary backup job behind Gonzalez appears to be Toilolo's for the taking. It will tough for any rookie to earn a starting role on a team as talented as the Falcons (though cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have a shot), but if Toilolo can match Gallarda's grit and consistency, the fourth-round pick could play a critical role in Atlanta this year as a blocking specialist ... with perhaps a much larger role in 2014 and beyond. Athleticism, attitude key with Atlanta's rookies (other thoughts on the Falcons' 2013 draft class): While Toilolo could play an important niche for the Falcons as a rookie, the team is banking on either Trufant or Alford to emerge as a quality starter opposite big play veteran Asante Samuel. Each boasts spectacular overall athleticism, and concerns about Alford's level of competition were largely put to rest after a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. Trufant was even better in Mobile, however, and took most of the first-team snaps at right cornerback during the team's rookie mini-camp. Neither he nor Toilolo were able to participate in Atlanta's recent OTAs per NFL rules, however, as their classes at the University of Washington and Stanford, respectively, hadn't yet graduated. Smith didn't sound too worried that the absence would impact his rookies, especially Trufant, who is communicating via Skype with Falcons' secondary coach Tim Lewis. "Obviously, you'd like for them to be here, but [Trufant is] going to be graduating and walking with his class, which is an important milestone in his life," Smith said. "I think it's a good rule. He's going to miss some opportunities on the field, but we've got a plan in place that we've been executing. There are a lot of ways that you can communicate with technology now in terms of having meetings." Trufant played well in his first action with the club, but so did Alford, who was operating as Samuel's top backup at left cornerback. Each possesses the straight-line speed, fluidity and confidence to handle playing early -- which is good, considering the Falcons elected to allow three of their top five cornerbacks from a year ago to leave. The Falcons are confident that Umenyiora is going to give them the pass-rushing presence that John Abraham had provided since 2006, but the club drafted two very intriguing defenders to help, as well. Malliciah Goodman, 6-3, 276, boasts many of the physical traits scouts are looking for and may finally live up to his potential now that his livelihood is depending on it. Stansly Maponga, 6-2, 256, likely would have been selected at least a round earlier had he enjoyed the same success during an injury-plagued junior season that he enjoyed earlier in his career.
  7. While discussion has been made regarding how much 'Young' Ryan should be paid in his next contract extension, the fact of the matter is, Ryan needs to either see a dramatic decline in the number of zeros or he needs to be shown the door. The primary reason for this is the concept of ‘parity’ in the NFL. The NFL, due to a salary cap, franchise tag, compensation picks, and a draft order that is dependent on one’s regular season outcome, is one of the most competitive professional leagues in the world. Teams cannot sign top talent to top contracts like in baseball and effectively keep less lucrative teams from becoming competitive. As a result, in the NFL, teams are able to rebuild and become highly competitive in a very short amount of time. Undoubtedly, the QB is one of the most important positions on the team. Thus, a QB will naturally be paid relatively more than other positions. However, that does not mean that teams should pay top dollar regardless of who their QB is. QBs have strengths and weaknesses and frankly, some QBs are just better than other QBs. Assuming the Falcons do decide to sign Ryan to another contract, the Falcons must be extremely cautious in the size of the contract they offer. While Ryan has led the team to winning seasons, it has been well documented that Ryan’s limitations (arm-strength, deep ball accuracy, mobility, and lack of confidence/leadership) make him a product of his environment and HIGHLY dependent on it. Unlike a QB like Rodgers, Vick, Brees, who can avoid pressure and extend the play, Matt Ryan is dependent on his blockers to give him time to pass the ball. Unlike QBs like Manning or Brady, who can make any WR or TE look like an all-star, Ryan has not shown the ability to make players around him better. Unlike all the elite QBs in the league, Ryan has not shown the ability to take over games even if the defense is not performing. These first two points have already been verified through the front offices’ moves and future moves. The Falcons spent 5 picks to give Matt Ryan another top tiered WR. The Falcons also spent a 2nd round pick and $6+ million a year on a future HOF TE. The Falcons also plan on strongly addressing the offensive line this off-season. The question is, where is all the money coming from? Because of a salary cap, there has to be a give and a take. You spend resources on the offense, and you end up neglecting your defense. You spend resources on the defense, and you end up neglecting the offense. You spend resources in skilled positions, and you end up neglecting your lines. You can’t have all-stars in every position unless you have an uncanny ability to find talent and/or develop talent. And frankly, Dimitroff has been less than stellar at bringing in talent and our coaches have been very substandard in developing talent. To further make my point, look at the teams around the league. The Ravens and 49ers neglect their offenses but end up having stellar defenses. Flacco and Smith are both being paid bare minimums when it comes to playing the QB position. With the money they save there, they can afford to spend it on the defense and lines. The Saints and Patriots both spend a lot of money on their offenses. As a result, their defense has been there greatest weakness. It is extremely rare that a team is both top 10 at running and passing the ball and top 10 at stopping the run and the pass. But the thing is, teams that neglect their defenses, such as the Saints and Patriots, have QBs that can overcome deficiencies on the other side of the ball. If their defenses give up 30+ points, they know their offense can score 40+ points. Teams that neglect their QB position like the Ravens or 49ers know that if their offense can’t score more than 20 points, their defense can keep the opposing offense from scoring more than 20 points. These teams are able to strike a balance and efficiently allocate their resources based on their player’s strengths and weaknesses. To look at it in a more microscopic level, teams that have QBs that have mobility such as Vick, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, can afford to spend less on their offensives lines. Teams that have less mobile QBs such as Brady, P. Manning, and Ryan, must spend more on their offensive lines. Teams that have QBs such as Brady, the Mannings, Rodgers, Brees, that can improve the play around them, can afford to spend less on top talent WRs and skilled positions. Teams that do not have to spend more resources on skilled positions and generally that is the running back. With Matt Ryan, in order for him to succeed, we need top talent in every position on offense. We need two top WRs. We need a HOF TE. We need a 1000+ yard running back who can average 4+ yards per carry in the playoffs. We need a top offensive line to make up for Ryan’s lack of mobility. On top of all of this, we also need a top 10 defense. The question is: Where is the money coming from? Discuss.
  8. http://footballoutsi...g-projections-2 03 Jan 2012 Under the Cap: 2012 Defense Tag Projections by Brian McIntyre With the end of the NFL regular season, the focus in 20 NFL cities is on 2012 free agency and which players might receive a franchise (or transition) tag this offseason. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the formula for determining the amount of the franchise and transition tags has changed. Instead of taking the average of the top-5 salary cap numbers from the previous season at each position -- top-10 for the transition tag -- the franchise and transition tag numbers will now be a percentage of the salary cap. To determine the percentage, the amounts of the franchise and transition tags at each position from the previous five seasons will be added up and divided by the sum of the salary caps from the previous five seasons (for the uncapped 2010 season, the league will take the average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps). The resulting percentage will be multiplied by the salary cap from the upcoming season to determine the non-exclusive franchise tag and transition tag amounts. (The exclusive franchise tag will be the greater of the franchise tag under the new calculation or the average of the largest five salaries at that position at the end of the restricted free agent period.) Several weeks back, former NFL general manager Charley Casserly reported during his "NFL Insider" segment on the CBS pregame show that the 2012 salary cap will be "roughly the same" as it was in 2011, allowing us to offer up some projections on what the 2012 franchise and transition tenders will look like, and make some guesses on which players are likely to receive a tender. Since the exact 2012 salary cap number is not yet known, we've listed a projected range for each tender amount. The lower tender amount is based on the 2011 salary cap figure of $120.375 million per club, with the higher amount based on an estimated 2012 salary cap number of $125 million per club. This article has been posted in two parts. Click here for analysis of offense and special teams. Defensive Tackles Projected Franchise Tender: $7.89M - $8.193M Projected Transition Tender: $6.613M - $6.867M The Washington Redskins' leveraging of the uncapped 2010 season with Albert Haynesworth's contract contributed to a 44-percent increase in the franchise tender amount for defensive tackles over the 2010 ($7.077M) and 2011 ($12.476M) seasons. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata parlayed his franchise tag into a five-year, $61 million contract that included $37.1 million in guarantees. The Dolphins and franchised nose tackle Paul Soliai were not able to reach an agreement on a long-term extension before the September 20 deadline. If Miami were to franchise Soliai for a second time, it would cost $14.971 million, or 120 percent of his 2011 tender, in guaranteed base salary in 2012. The Dolphins ranked 12th in the NFL against the run in DVOA this season, and while Soliai won't light up the stat sheet, inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett both posted over 100 tackles and ten tackles for loss this year. Some of that has to be attributed to Soliai's presence in the middle. Other notable FA defensive tackles: Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers, Sione Pouha, Amobi Okoye, Andre Fluellen,Antonio Garay, Brodrick Bunkley, Pat Sims, Jason Jones, Howard Green, Trevor Laws, Tommie Harris, Derek Landri Defensive Ends Projected Franchise Tender: $10.595M - $11.002M Projected Transition Tender: $8.914M - $9.257M Since being chosen in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril has 30 quarterback sacks and 14 forced fumbles, including 11 sacks and six forced fumbles playing under a one-year restricted free agent tender worth $2.611 million in base salary this season. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Avril, who turns 26 in April, has 19.5 quarterback sacks in his last 29 games and is unlikely to be allowed to test the free agent market in March. Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell had a career- and team-high eight quarterback sacks this season, and has 21 sacks during his three seasons as a full-time starter. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell has also blocked seven kicks over the last three seasons. Other notable FA defensive ends: John Abraham, Robert Mathis, Juqua Parker, Israel Idonije, Andre Carter, Wallace Gilberry, Red Bryant, Jeremy Mincey, Adam Carriker, Kendall Langford, Kroy Biermann Linebackers Projected Franchise Tender: $8.843M - $9.183M Projected Transition Tender: $7.869M - $8.171M Five linebackers received the franchise tag in 2011, and all five signed long-term deals that contained nearly $150 million in contractual guarantees. This year's crop of potential linebacker free agents include Texans outside linebacker Mario Williams, who was off to a blistering start in his adjustment to Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, posting five quarterback sacks in five games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury. Williams earned $13.8 million in base salary in 2011, but had a cap number north of $18 million. That high cap number gives Williams' agent (Ben Dogra of CAA Football) considerable leverage, as it would not be financially prudent for the Texans to hold $22 million in cap space to place the franchise tag on Williams this offseason. Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton may be another franchise tag candidate. The 2008 second-round pick out of Oklahoma has led the Falcons in tackles in each of the last three seasons and was a key part of general manager Thomas Dimitroff's inaugural draft class. Other notable FA linebackers: London Fletcher, E.J Henderson, Jarret Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, D'Qwell Jackson,Ahmad Brooks, Anthony Spencer, Jameel McClain, Wesley Woodyard, David Hawthorne, Leroy Hill, Dan Connor Cornerbacks Projected Franchise Tender: $10.431M - $10.832M Projected Transition Tender: $8.705M - $9.04M The Falcons thought highly enough of Brent Grimes to place a first-round tender ($2.611 million base salary) on the restricted free agent following his Pro Bowl season in 2010. Will Dimitroff use the franchise tag on Grimes, who turns 29 in July, missed four games in December/January following knee surgery and has one interception after picking off 11 passes over the 2009-10 seasons? Atlanta has $7.62 million in cash committed to the cornerback position in 2012, including $6 million toDunta Robinson that will become fully guaranteed on the second day of the league year. (Payment of Robinson's $3 million roster bonus in 2012 is deferred until 2013). In a division with Drew Brees and Cam Newton, and conference with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, a team can never have enough good cornerbacks. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, Dimitroff's friend and mentor, has a similar decision to make with Brandon Carr, who has a career-high four interceptions while playing on the same first-round tender as Grimes. In September, Pioli signed cornerback Brandon Flowers to a five-year extension that included $48.75 million in "new money" with $22 million in guarantees, half of which was fully guaranteed at the time of signing. As with Robinson's salary in Atlanta, Flowers' base salary ($5.75 million) will become fully guaranteed on the second day of the 2012 league year. Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan expressed his displeasure with his expiring $5.133 million per year contract, which was signed after his first full season as a starter, by staging a brief walkout during the 2011 training camp. The big plays have largely dried up for Finnegan, who has three interceptions, two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble over the last 32 games. Still, Finnegan is the best cornerback on the team and the club could use the franchise tag to continue talks towards a multi-year contract. Other notable FA cornerbacks: Rashean Mathis, Dimitri Patterson, Richard Marshall, Eric Wright, Aaron Ross, Jason Allen, Tracy Porter, Terrell Thomas, Carlos Rogers Safeties Projected Franchise Tender: $6.22M - $6.459M Projected Transition Tender: $5.391M - $5.599M Titans safety Michael Griffin is a former first-round pick who has gone to a pair of Pro Bowls during his five seasons in Nashville. Griffin has never missed a game and turns 27 this week. The only safety the Titans have signed for next season is Robert Johnson, a 2010 fifth-round pick out of Utah who was signed off the practice squad in Week 15. 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson was a steal for general manager Trent Baalke, intercepting a career-high six passes and earning Pro Bowl honors for the first time while playing on a one-year, $2 million contract that contained no incentives. One free-agent safety who will not be franchised is Brandon Meriweather, whose one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Bears contained a provision that prohibits the club from using the franchise or transition tags on Meriweather in 2012. Redskins safety LaRon Landry was playing at a Pro Bowl level prior to his Achilles injury midway through the 2010 season. The same injury limited Landry to just eight games in his contract year, but he's a key cog in the Redskins defense and could receive the franchise tag if a multi-year extension cannot be reached. Other notable FA safeties: Sean Jones, Abram Elam, Reggie Nelson, Jarrett Bush, Chris Harris, Thomas DeCoud, Tyvon Branch, Tom Zbikowski, Steve Gregory
  9. http://www.footballo...tag-projections Under the Cap: 2012 Offense Tag Projections by Brian McIntyre With the end of the NFL regular season, the focus in 20 NFL cities is on 2012 free agency and which players might receive a franchise (or transition) tag this offseason. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the formula for determining the amount of the franchise and transition tags has changed. Instead of taking the average of the top-5 salary cap numbers from the previous season at each position -- top-10 for the transition tag -- the franchise and transition tag numbers will now be a percentage of the salary cap. To determine the percentage, the amounts of the franchise and transition tags at each position from the previous five seasons will be added up and divided by the sum of the salary caps from the previous five seasons (for the uncapped 2010 season, the league will take the average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps). The resulting percentage will be multiplied by the salary cap from the upcoming season to determine the non-exclusive franchise tag and transition tag amounts. (The exclusive franchise tag will be the greater of the franchise tag under the new calculation or the average of the largest five salaries at that position at the end of the restricted free agent period.) Several weeks back, former NFL general manager Charley Casserly reported during his "NFL Insider" segment on the CBS pregame show that the 2012 salary cap will be "roughly the same" as it was in 2011, allowing us to offer up some projections on what the 2012 franchise and transition tenders will look like, and make some guesses on which players are likely to receive a tender. Since the exact 2012 salary cap number is not yet known, we've listed a projected range for each tender amount. The lower tender amount is based on the 2011 salary cap figure of $120.375 million per club, with the higher amount based on an estimated 2012 salary cap number of $125 million per club. This article has been posted in two parts. Click here for analysis of defense. Quarterbacks Projected Franchise Tender: $14.374M - $14.926M Projected Transition Tender: $12.409M - $12.886M Drew Brees is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but there is no chance the Saints let him leave New Orleans. If a long-term extension is not reached by end of February, Casserly reported that they will use the franchise tag to continue negotiations on a long-term contract. Brees is coming off one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history, passing for an NFL-record 5,476 yards and leading the league with 46 touchdown passes. Brees has not missed a game due to injury during his six seasons in New Orleans and turns 33 on January 15, the same age Tom Brady was when he signed his four-year, $72 million contract extension in 2010 that included nearly $50 million in guarantees. Brees' agent is Tom Condon of CAA Football, who negotiated Peyton Manning's contract in July and who secured a record $50 million guaranteed from the St. Louis Rams for 2010 first overall pick Sam Bradford. Manning and Brady's guarantees were $48 million apiece. It would not be a surprise if Brees tops $50 million in his next deal. After playing 2011 under a one-year, $4 million contract (with $3 million in available incentives), 49ers quarterback Alex Smith largely did what was asked of him by first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, passing for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions. The 49ers invested a 2011 second-round pick in quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but could look to keep Smith, who turns 28 in the offseason, around for the next few seasons. Other notable FA quarterbacks: Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman, Drew Stanton, Chad Henne, Brady Quinn, Dan Orlovsky, Josh Johnson, Matt Flynn, David Carr, Kellen Clemens, Derek Anderson,Josh McCown, Jake Delhomme Running Backs Projected Franchise Tender: $7.778M - $8.088M Projected Transition Tender: $6.691M - $6.949M Ravens running back Ray Rice finished second to Maurice Jones-Drew in rushing yards (with a career-high 1,364) and, combined with his 76 receptions for 704 yards, led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,068). Rice is a two-time Pro Bowler who has missed three games in his career and won't turn 25 until January 22, the day of the AFC and NFC Championship Games, which the Ravens may very well be involved in. At nearly $8 million, Rice would be a steal. In his first three seasons in the NFL, Bears running back Matt Forte did not miss a game, ran for over 3,200 yards, caught 170 passes and scored 25 touchdowns. Forte sought a new contract after the lockout ended, but was looking to receiveDeAngelo Williams money -– five-years, $40 million, $20 million guaranteed –- and reportedly turned down an offer that included between $13 and $15 million in guaranteed money. Prior to spraining the MCL in his left knee on December 4, Forte had accounted for 38 percent of the Bears' offensive yardage. The Bears are likely to use the tag on Forte in February. The Seattle Seahawks could use the franchise tag on Marshawn Lynch, who became the team's first 1,000-yard rusher sinceShaun Alexander in 2005. Acquiring Lynch from the Buffalo Bills was a six-month process for Seahawks general manager John Schneider, and given Lynch's role in the running game's improvement, it's unlikely he walks after just 29 regular and post-season games. Other notable FA running backs: Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Michael Bush, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Tim Hightower,LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Snelling, Jackie Battle, Peyton Hillis Wide Receivers Projected Franchise Tender: $9.443M - $9.806M Projected Transition Tender: $8.477M - $8.802M Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson played 2011 under the one-year franchise tag and caught 60 passes for 1,106 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. For the Chargers to franchise Jackson again in 2012, they would have to fork over $13.709 million, or 120 percent of his 2011 tender. Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker led the NFL in receptions (122) and was second behind Detroit's Calvin Johnson in receiving yards (1,569). Welker is the only key cog of the Patriots unsigned for 2012, and while he's on the wrong side of 30, it would be surprising if New England let Welker test the free agent market. You may have learned last season that Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson wants a new contract. After making it through the season in one piece, he appears to understand that he didn't go about it the right way. There is no denying Jackson's big-play ability -– he owns 17.8-yard average on 230 career receptions -– but it would be understandable for the Eagles to have reservations about making a large financial commitment to Jackson. The Eagles could gain considerable leverage in contract talks with the franchise tag, as Jackson would not start seeing checks from the franchise salary until September. Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and is one season removed from a 15-touchdown performance. The Chiefs invested a 2011 first-round pick in Jonathan Baldwin and signed Steve Breaston in free agency after the lockout, but Bowe is easily their best receiver and is an inherited player Scott Pioli should want to keep for the long-term. If the Saints are able to secure a long-term deal with Brees, they could use the tag on Marques Colston, who, with five 1,000-yard seasons to go along with his 48 touchdowns over the last six seasons, may be the most consistently productive wide receiver to not make the Pro Bowl. Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and has 17 touchdowns over his last 32 games. While his propensity for Ochocinco-esque behavior may give the front office pause, he has No. 1 receiver talent and should be brought back. Other notable FA wide receivers: Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Plaxico Burress, Robert Meachem, Roy Williams,Patrick Crayton, Steve Smith (PHI), Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn, Harry Douglas, Eddie Royal, Early Doucet, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Chaz Schilens Tight Ends Projected Franchise Tender: $5.416M - $5.624M Projected Transition Tender: $4.673M - $4.852M Packers tight end Jermichael Finley bounced back from a season-ending knee injury in 2010 to catch 55 passes for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. Finley is an exceptional athlete, has already produced two 50-catch seasons, and won't turn 25 until late March. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez would have been a candidate for the franchise tag, but Jay Glazer of FOXSports.comreported on Sunday that Gonzalez signed a one-year, $6.9 million extension. Gonzalez earned $5.75 million in base salary in 2011. Had the Falcons been forced to franchise Gonzalez, it would have cost 120 percent of his 2011 cap number ($7.75 million), or $9.3 million in guaranteed base salary. It will be interesting to see if Gonzalez's one-year extension contains any bonuses or incentives to bring his available compensation up to the $9.3 million figure. Other notable FA tight ends: Visanthe Shiancoe, Jeremy Shockey, John Carlson, Scott Chandler, Joel Dreessen,Martellus Bennett, Fred Davis, Craig Stevens, Jacob Tamme Offensive Linemen Projected Franchise Tender: $9.447M - $9.81M Projected Transition Tender: $8.437M - $8.762M Another player who could be impacted by the Drew Brees contract situation is Saints Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks. The 6-foot-5, 343-pound former fifth-rounder out of Nebraska has started 64 of 67 regular and post-season games over the last four seasons. He could easily command a contract similar to the seven-year, $56.7 million deal that teammate and fellow Pro Bowler Jahri Evans signed on May 11, 2010. Packers center Scott Wells turns 31 in January, but has started 97 of the team's last 105 regular season games and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. Wells is the only Packers offensive lineman without a contract for the 2012 season. Other notable FA offensive linemen: Ben Grubbs, Mike Brisiel, Dan Connolly, Jeff Saturday, Matt Birk, Nick Hardwick,Dan Koppen, Chris Myers, Jeremy Zuttah, Jeff Backus, Max Starks, Vernon Carey, Jake Scott, Sean Locklear, Stephon Heyer, Demetrius Bell, Jared Gaither Punters/Kickers Projected Franchise Tender: $2.665M - $2.768M Projected Transition Tender: $2.452M - $2.546M Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee earned $2 million in base salary in 2011, the final year of his contract. He was 23-of-25 on field goal attempts and had 39 touchbacks. Matt Prater had seven field goals in either the fourth quarter or overtime in four of the Broncos' eight wins this season. The 27-year-old is 10-of-13 in his career on field goals of 50 yards or longer, including 3-of-4 in 2011. Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth was 26-of-28 and carries a streak of 16 successful field goal attempts into the 2011 season. Over his last two seasons, Barth is 49-of-56 (87.5 percent) and the Buccaneers spent $19.5 million on punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen last July. Less than $3 million for a dependably accurate field goal kicker should be nothing for a Buccaneers team that could have around $50 million in cap space in 2012. Other notable FA punters/kickers: Jay Feely, Neil Rackers, Mike Nugent, Mat McBriar
  10. This was written by Gregg Easterbrook, who writes TMQ for ESPN every Tuesday. A good read: Atlanta at Jersey/A Analysis: On the surface this game seemed to be about fourth-and-1. Atlanta failed twice on fourth-and-1, Jersey/A succeeded once on fourth-and-1, and the Giants won. Spoiler alert: Obviously, I am going to say the game was really about something else. But let's take short yardage first. Game scoreless, Atlanta faced fourth-and-1 on the Jersey/A 24 in the first quarter. Going for it here makes eminent sense: As Jimmy Johnson (the coach, not Jimmie the driver) once said, if you can't gain one single yard then you don't deserve to win. Tuesday Morning Quarterback maintains that the essence of the short-yardage play is misdirection. Boy, did Atlanta offer misdirection. First the Falcons shifted to an unbalanced line; then a back shifted; then a player simulated man-in-motion; then another back shifted; then Matt Ryan barked a hard count; then a man went in motion. TMQ has no idea why this play did not draw an illegal procedure penalty. TMQ preaches, Do a Little Dance If You Want to Gain That Yard. The Falcons did the .At the conclusion of the waltz, Ryan tried a sneak and was stuffed. Atlanta got a safety a couple of snaps later. Any coach would rather have two points and the ball than three points and kick away. So the first fourth-and-1 was not the problem. Now it's the third quarter, Jersey/A leads 10-2 and Atlanta faces fourth-and-1 on the Giants 21. This time Ryan just sneaks, no theatrics, and again is stuffed. Combined with Atlanta's failed fourth-and-1 in overtime versus New Orleans, the Falcons seem to have become Exhibit A for sending in the kicking unit. Yet the tactics were correct; it was the play designs that were bad. Here, Bill Pennington reports that Jersey/A coaches broke down tape of Atlanta fourth-and-1 attempts and found that Ryan simply sneaking was the usual outcome; Giants defenders were coached to ignore everything except Ryan, which they did. On the second fourth-and-1 try, Jersey/A lined up with eight defenders inside the Atlanta tackles, five of them in the submarine stance. No five-man offensive line can push eight defenders backward. Yet Ryan just plowed ahead. Why didn't he audible to a pass? With eight defenders in the box and Atlanta having three men split wide, the home run pass should have been open -- a touchdown for Atlanta here would have changed the game. But Ryan just plowed ahead, doing exactly what the Giants expected. Arguably, Atlanta did not go for it enough! On the possession after the first fourth-and-1 failure, the Falcons punted on fourth-and-1 from the Jersey/A 42. Sure the last fourth-and-1 failed, but just because a coin came up heads on the last 10 flips tells nothing about what will happen on the next flip. Punting on fourth-and-1 in opposition territory is a punk move. It took the Giants just four snaps to pass the point where the ball would have been, had the Falcons gone for it and missed; Jersey/A scored a touchdown on this possession. Then, trailing 24-2 in the fourth quarter, Atlanta punted on fourth-and-10. Punk, punk, punk. It's a playoff game, why are you punting? That move came after Atlanta also punted on fourth-and-2 when trailing 17-2. A punt on fourth-and-short when trailing big in the second half of a postseason contest meant Mike Smith and the rest of the Falcons coaching staff had quit on the game -- exactly as they quit on the game in the third quarter of last season's playoff collapse. Seeing their coaches quit, Falcons players quit. In the third quarter, Jersey/A faced third-and-7. Megabucks corner Dunta Robinson, one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL -- paid much more than Atlanta corner Brent Grimes, a better player -- simply ignored Hakeem Nicks, letting Nicks run past as Robinson covered no one. When Nicks caught the ball and started upfield, Robinson only jogged in his general direction, not starting to sprint until Nicks had broken into the clear. (Later Robinson would be way out of position, showing no effort, on the icing Mario Manningham touchdown catch.) As Nicks went the final 20 yards, only defensive end Kory Biermann was chasing him -- Atlanta's speed players were just standing around watching. It's one thing to lose, quite another to quit. For the second consecutive season, Atlanta quit on a playoff game. Now the real story of the contest; Jersey/A defense. Not only did the G-Persons shut out Atlanta's offense, they did it with a conventional four-man-rush Cover 2. In a year of gimmick defenses -- two linemen, zone rushes, safety blitzes -- the Giants just sent their front four, had their corners in press position and their outside linebackers dropping wide, the traditional Tampa Two version of the Cover 2. Occasionally the Giants showed their TCU-inspired 4-2-2-3 look with three safeties, but blitzed only twice. Jersey/A's defensive tactics were Football 101. And this season, traditional defense seemed to take Atlanta by surprise. On offense the Giants went traditional, too, rediscovering the power run -- they finished the regular season last in rushing -- for 172 rushing yards. Twice Jersey/A got big runs using double-pulling guards, the Lombardi sweep action of the 1960s. When Atlanta became nervous and started big-blitzing, Jersey/A threw down the field. On both sides of the ball, the Giants looked like they looked late in 2007, when they made an unexpected Super Bowl push. Can they do so again? Kansas City showed that the formula for beating Green Bay is to frustrate Aaron Rodgers' receivers with bump-and-run and then, once holding even a slight lead, control the clock with power rushing against the Packers' (relatively) lightweight front seven, which is built to stop the pass after Green Bay jumps ahead. No one wants to play the 15-1 Packers at Lambeau Field. But remember what happened the last time Jersey/A went to Lambeau in the postseason.
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