Monday, February 24, 2014

Bengals: A Pre Draft Look

It's been a while. PFF's look at every teams lineup has me ready to take a look at the squad heading into the draft/free agency. Previews, very well done previews at that, for all 32 teams can be found here. Of course, I'll be focusing on the Bengals. I've pasted the lineup picture below for easier reference and will go category by category with my thoughts. I'll be looking at the team as far as the 2014 season is concerned and nothing beyond. There are too many variables going multiple years forward and the thought of an Andy Dalton contract extension has me wondering how bad heroin can really be.

QB: My thoughts on Dalton are no secret. But for 2014 alone, he makes $1.6 million and that's a bargain. PFF has him as an adequate starter and I agree. I'd look for an upgrade in the draft, and would consider trading up if a Bridgewater or Manziel started to slip. What I wouldn't do, is take another high intangibles/limited skills QB to sit behind Dalton like Aaron Murray/AJ McCarron as I've seen suggested. My hope for him is that Hue Jackson commits to running the ball and getting more out of Dalton by asking him to do less. If you don't commit to trading up and replacing Dalton in the first round, you have to go the other way and continue to surround him with great pieces and hope he doesn't blow it.

RB: Love Gio. Think he has a great year with his former RB coach as the OC. BJGE can be effective in a limited role, and there are rumors that we may bring in Hue Jackson's old friend Darren McFadden. I'd have zero issue with this. As bad as McFadden was last season, his YPC was only .1 of a yard lower than BJGE and he has much better hands. I wouldn't mind drafting a guy in the middle rounds here as well and cutting BJGE loose and getting his $3 million off the books. Either way, Gio will be the top dog here.

WR: We're in great shape here. AJ is great. Marvin Jones had a dynamite year. Andrew Hawkins should be healthy next year and Mo Sanu showed flashes of solid play. Brandon Tate was solid returning kicks and Dane Sanzenbacher is a fine #6 WR. I guess. Whatever.

TE: Oh boy. As you see, Gresham is our only starter listed as "poor" by PFF. And that's being generous as they had him ranked 64th out of 64 TEs from his play last season. He's in the last year of his deal and scheduled to make over $3 million dollars. The two TE look was Jay Gruden's project so I wouldn't be surprised to see the run oriented Jackson make Eifert the starter and go to a FB more. I'd trade Gresham for what I could unless you want to bank on him putting it together in a contract year. I would not.

OL: As you can see above, our line is also in good shape. The chart does not account for free agent LT Anthony Collins, who hasn't allowed a sack since week 4 of 2009. If he re-signs, and I certainly hope he does, that moves Whitworth to his natural position of LG and pushes Clint Boling into supersub status. Cap space is not an issue, so I'm really hoping we can bring Collins back. He won't be cheap, but protecting Dalton's blindside is a worthy investment. If we can't re-sign Collins, I'd love to go after Browns center Alex Mack. He'd replace Kyle Cook and improve the weak link on our line.

DL: Another big FA here with DE Michael Johnson. I'd love to have him back, but I just don't see it. The team drafted Margus Hunt in the second round last year, and Johnson is coming off a 3.5 sack season after a 11.5 sack campaign in 2012. Wallace Gilberry led the team in sacks last year with 7.5 and would certainly take some of those snaps, as well. Geno Atkins is on pace to be with the team in training camp and that's great news because the middle of the line fell apart without him. Domata Peko had a subpar year, Brandon Thompson showed signs of good play and Devon Still couldn't stay on the field. I imagine an early pick will go towards the defensive line. As the article mentions, cutting Peko could save $4.2 million and allow us to upgrade the position. I wouldn't mind having Peko back, but on a restructured deal for sure. There's also the option of cutting aging DE Robert Geathers who struggled in 2012 and missed most of 2013 with injury. That move would save $2.7 million.

LB: I actually think we're fine at LB. Burfict is a stud, Vinny Rey was great in limited stretches and Maualuga was improved (for him). James Harrison was solid when he was on the field, plus we should get last years fourth rounder Sean Porter and projected starter from last year Emmanuel Lamur back from injury. In this passing league, you see less of three LBs on the field in a 4-3, and more nickel packages. I feel more than confident with Burfict/Rey in there with someone from the Maualuga/Harrison/Porter/Lamur quartet backing them up.

DB: Leon Hall is great, but coming off his second achilles tear (different legs) in three years. Jones and Newman are solid, but 30+. Kirkpatrick is young, but unproven. Our first round pick will probably be a CB, and I'm fine with that. Newman will be 36 this year, who knows if Hall can get back to where he was and Jones is best in slot role. If Kirkpatrick turns out, hopefully you've got your starting DBs of the future. As far as safeties, Reggie Nelson will be 31 but had another fine year. George Illoka is the wild card. He played much better in 2013 and if he can continue his improvement, we're in pretty good shape here. Taylor Mays is a free agent and played well enough before his injury that I wouldn't mind him back. Shawn Williams will also be in his second year after a solid rookie campaign mostly on ST. I think we're good at safety.

ST: Not listed here, but I think we're set here too. Mike Nugent hit 82% of his FGs last year and Kevin Huber

Overview: I don't follow the draft nearly enough to know specific names, but I do know what positions I feel like we need. In order:

1. DE
2. CB
3. QB
4. DT
5. RB

Obviously, you go best player available in the first round and I'm hoping that Teddy Bridgewater goes on an Aaron Rodgers type of slide. If not, I'd have no problem going DE in the first and letting Michael Johnson walk. I'd then use his money to re-sign Anthony Collins at LT. A CB in round two would give him an opportunity to learn and not be thrown into the fire. I also wouldn't be opposed to trading up for a QB. I feel this team has did very well at acquiring depth at many positions and could withstand a few less draft picks.

As a whole, we're in very good shape. Per the chart, we have only three below average starters (Gresham, Peko, Maualuga) and an unknown (Hunt). I would figure that each of those guys play a lesser role in the upcoming year due to younger, better backups (Eifert, Thompson/Still, Rey) and Hunt will probably be competing with a free agent or first round draft pick. I feel very good about the prospects of this team and look forward to our annual first round playoff defeat.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Seahawks vs. Broncos: Super Bowl XLVIII

Denver offense vs. Seattle defense.

What a battle this should be. A Broncos offense that scored more points than any team in history against a Seattle team that allowed 30 points once all season and hasn't allowed more than 20 since before Thanksgiving. I think the Seahawks secondary goes into this game looking to mug the Denver receivers at every snap until the refs show they'll call it consistently (Hint: I don't think the refs will). I think they'll be even more physical than usual. This will lead to a lot of checkdowns by Manning, who has barely hit the ground this postseason because the ball has been out of his hand in a flash. I'd count on Moreno to have a big day, and could see him winning game MVP if Denver wins. He'll get his chance to run against a Seahawks front that has given up 100+ YPG on 4+ YPC in each of their two playoff games. He'll also catch plenty of short passes as the Seahawks secondary will disrupt the timing of the Broncos routes. Julius Thomas will also be key, but I can't imagine a better safety tandem to keep him from going crazy than Earl Thomas/Kam Chancellor. The Broncos function on a ton of short routes to pick up a little YAC and keep the chains moving. The Seahawks are a sure tackling team that doesn't give up much YAC. I think the Broncos will struggle a little with the physical nature and the speed of the Seahawks defense...of course "struggle" for the highest scoring offense in league history is relative. Welker and Decker should have plenty opportunity to move the chains in the even that Sherman puts the clamps on Thomas when they are matched up together. I still think Moreno is the guy to watch here.

Seahawks offense vs. Denver defense.

The Seahawks offense struggled in the past two weeks against the Saints and 49ers. That sounds about right as those two teams were fourth and fifth in the league in yards surrendered per game during the regular season. The Broncos were 19th. Lynch had great days in both victories, but it seemed Russell Wilson never could really get in much of a rhythm. I think that changes here. Von Miller would make life a living hell for Wilson, but alas, he's not here. The Denver defense has eight combined QB hits in the past two weeks against statues Philip Rivers and Tom Brady. I think Wilson will have more than enough time to scramble around to extend plays and frustrate the Broncos defense. The Denver defense has given up 129 yards on the ground total to the Chargers and Patriots, but that number is a bit misleading. Neither team really had success against Denver, but both also fell in the hole relatively early and had to throw after finding themselves down three scores. I don't think the Seahawks will find themselves in that predicament and will be able to stick with the run game. You also have to figure in Percy Harvin. The Broncos have just about zero tape for how the Seahawks want to use him and Seattle has had two weeks to work him into some packages. I don't think he goes crazy here, but he'll show the versatility that made him a very rich man this offseason. More importantly, he'll bump the limited Seahawks receivers down a notch. I don't love Doug Baldwin or Golden Tate, but I like them a lot more when they're matched against Denver's second and third cornerbacks, as opposed to their top two. Then you remember that Chris Harris is out of the game and Champ Bailey will be matched up with one of those guys. I don't like that one bit for Denver. I think whatever guy is matched up across Champ Bailey will find himself getting quite a bit of targets.

Seattle special teams vs. Denver special teams.

I figure that the alleged bad weather will play a factor here more than on offense or defense. Cold air will lead to more short kicks and more kickoffs, and I think that favors the Seahawks. Percy Harvin will be back returning kicks and the Broncos special teams is amongst the worst at covering kicks. I don't know if Harvin will necessarily take one to the house for the two quarters that he's healthy, but I do think that he'll be able to consistently give the Seahawks above average starting field position. Hauschka and Prater are two of the better kickers in the league this season so that one's probably a draw.


I've liked the Seahawks since the beginning of the season and I'm going to stick with them. I think their defense will be able to (reasonably) limit the Broncos damage on offense, and I think they have the advantage when they have the ball and a slight upper hand at special teams. More importantly, we get to see a terrified commissioner hand the trophy, and hopefully, the microphone to Richard Sherman.

Seahawks 27, Broncos 23

Super Bowl Preview

It's the Super Bowl, jack.  Sadly, neither of our teams are in it.  In addition to that, I don't really care for either of the teams that made it.  Well, I wasn't a fan of either of the teams in it.  Allow me to explain.

As you know, I have had a long-standing hatred of Peyton Manning.  When people ask me why, I used to roll with the same things: he shoves his teammates around, he has a history of throwing his teammates under the bus, etc.  Basically, he has cultivated a friendly, good-ol'-boy personality, so he's almost universally loved.  When I break out those stories, I'm always met with things like, "He's a good Christian man," or something to that effect.  It falls on deaf ears.
These days, my go-to argument goes back to the 2004 playoffs.  As you may recall, the Patriots beat the Colts 20-3 in the divisional round.  The Patriots' defensive backs were a bit rough with the Colts receivers, although no more than any defensive backs were with receivers.  However, Peyton and Dungy complained about the treatment of their receivers ad nauseam after the game.  The next season, the defensive contact/holding rule became a point of emphasis, which opened up the offensive explosion we see today.
I like offense as much as the next guy, but it was the aftermath of that game that gave the offense an unfair advantage.  (This rule emphasis may have hit Packers fans harder than others, as we had to suffer through the Ahmad Carroll years in this new period of offense.)

Needless to say, I still don't like him.  I can respect what he's done this year, but this year was made possible due to his excessive complaining after the 2004 playoffs.  Defensive backs can't make any contact past 5 yards, meanwhile this Broncos team runs an offense based on pick-plays and offensive pass interference on screen passes.

On the other side of the ball is the Seahawks defense.  They're fast.  They're nasty.  They hit hard.  They jam receivers.  In other words, they're a better version of that Patriots defense that caused all of this in the first place.
I hated these Seahawks.  I don't like Pete Carroll.  I don't like the constant yapping on defense.  I hate Golden Tate.  I feel like Russell Wilson is vastly overrated.

I was ready to cheer, not for the Seahawks, but against Peyton Manning.

But then I started to watch film on the Seahawks defense, and I fell in love.  Yes, they talk, and it gets on my nerves.  But they're really, really good.  They rarely have defensive breakdowns.  They rally to the ball.  They hit hard.  They're sound tacklers.  They don't really disguise what they're doing on defense, but it's still extremely hard to put together a scoring drive on them.

The Seahawks mainly play two defensive schemes: Cover 3 and Cover 1.  They change up whether they're in man or zone underneath, but those are the main schemes they play.

This is your basic Cover 3 Zone Under.  The Seattle corners will usually line up closer to the line than they are here, but the concept is the same.  They could also go Cover 3 Man Under, with the corners playing man and the linebackers (or additional DBs) dropping back in a deep zone.  Against the 49ers, they played a lot of Cover 3 Zone Under to account for Kaepernick's running ability (against a mobile QB, you want to limit the man coverage, as you don't want to turn your back on a running threat).  Against Manning, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Seahawks play predominantly Cover 3 Man Under, and mix some zone concepts in the middle of the field to disrupt the Broncos' short passing game.
The size and speed of the Seahawks' corners should help to limit a lot of the WR screens the Broncos love so well.

The two main weaknesses of the Cover 3 are underneath routes (specifically in the middle of the field) and seam routes (between the deep safeties), both of which the Broncos excel at.  But the Seahawks don't give up many deep passes, which means the Broncos will have to settle on the underneath routes.  Again, the Broncos are great at those routes, but they rely on yards after catch, which the Seahawks are terrific at limiting.  To beat the Seahawks in this defense, the Broncos are going to have to move the ball down the field via a series of short passes.  The more plays it takes to move down the field, the more chances there are for a stop or a turnover.  The Seahawks will happily allow a ton of underneath routes, forcing the Broncos to move methodically down the field.  The Broncos will struggle to move the ball at times because of this.

Here is your basic Cover 1 Man Under.  The Seahawks will also run this a lot.  They only have one deep safety, but, with Earl Thomas manning that spot, it's all they need.  Taking a deep shot with this kind of defense is tempting, but the Seahawks are very good at stopping those.  They rarely get beat deep, even with this kind of defense.  The weaknesses here are sideline routes and pick-plays, both of which the Broncos do very well.  But, again, the Seahawks defense is very good.  The corners should be able to stick with the receivers on the sideline routes, and they will likely mix in some zone in the middle of the field to make the pick-plays in the middle easier to deal with.

Here's an image from the 49ers game showing the Seahawks in this defense:

It will likely be in this defense that you will see the Broncos take a deep shot.  It looks tempting.  If the receiver at the bottom of this formation gets free of the tight coverage, the safety won't be able to get there in time to stop a completion.  But the Seahawks wouldn't play this defense if they didn't think they could handle the receivers.  Even a big receiver like Demaryius Thomas will have a hard time shaking a corner.

It's also worth noting that, according to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks had the best pass rush in the league this year.  Manning usually doesn't take much time to throw, but, against this secondary, he may have to wait longer than usual to get rid of the ball.  By that time, the rush may be in his face.  He'll be sacked at least once, and get hit a few times.  If it happens early (and I believe it will), it could disrupt his rhythm for the entire game.

I mainly focused on the Seahawks defense vs. the Broncos offense because that's the most intriguing match-up here.  Still, there are some words to be said on the Seahawks offense vs. the Broncos defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Broncos had the 6th ranked defense this year.  They were ranked 3rd against the run, which is significant against an offense that is built on the run.  I believe Lynch will have a good game, but I doubt he'll get to 100 yards on the ground (although he's also great in the passing game, so he'll end up with 100+ total yards).  They're ranked 13th in pass coverage, and they're particularly vulnerable against deep passes, which is where Wilson excels.
Whether or not it works early, the Seahawks won't abandon the run.  They'll attack by pounding the ball with Lynch (who led the league with 75 missed tackles and came in second to Adrian Peterson with 752 yards after contact), wide receiver screens, and the occasional deep shot.  They'll hit on a few deep shots, and the running game will work well enough to keep the defense honest.

I think Manning is good for at least 1 interception (he's had a few in recent weeks that should have been picked off), and that could be the difference.  This should be a hard-hitting game, with quite a few huge plays.  I went from being nonchalant about this Super Bowl to being pretty excited about it.

My pick: Seahawks 27, Broncos 24.

One last word on Peyton Manning.  I've heard a lot of "legacy" talk the past couple of weeks.  "What happens to his legacy if he wins/loses this game?"
Let me answer that: nothing should happen.  Nothing should change.  I've never been a big fan of the guy, but it's hard not to be impressed with what he has accomplished in his career.  Rings are not the end-all, be-all.  Football is the ultimate team sport.  Look at what happened last year.  Yes, Manning threw a backbreaking interception in overtime (which I obviously loved).  But, if Rahim Moore had been in position to knock Flacco's pass to Jacoby Jones away, he wouldn't have been in that position in the first place.

I'm not going to say that Manning is the best QB of all time, mainly because it's impossible to judge QBs between eras.  The offensive environment is much different now than it was just a couple decades ago.  But it's hard to look at what he has done and not think he's at least in the top 10 all time, regardless of what happens today.
And, for those people who talk about another Super Bowl ring clinching his spot as the best QB of all time: Joe Montana went 4-0 in the Super Bowl.

Enjoy the game, everyone.  It should be a great one.