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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Coverage? What Coverage?

Football is back and every team has now given us a bench mark of what to expect this season, from Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady shredding defenses to The Colts and Chiefs looking in real trouble. But one thing that has been ubiquitous throughout week 1 has been a terrible lack of defensive coverage.

11 guys completed two thirds of their passes this week, including surprise names like Luke McCown, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Andy Dalton. 14 QBs threw for more than 300 yards. This is not a good start for a lot of defenses that we expected good things from.

Roy Williams with acres of space
In points per game last season there were 10 teams that gave up less than 20. Of those teams New Orleans and Green Bay couldn’t come close to hauling each other’s offence on Thursday night, Pittsburgh got destroyed across the field by the Ravens while Atlanta were letting Roy Williams… ROY WILLIAMS run free all day. This is a guy who was washed up 3 years ago!

The Giants and Cowboys, who had trouble staying close to receivers all game, can be semi-excused. The Giants have enough of their defense sitting in the treatment room they could start an Arcade Fire tribute act while Dallas played big chunks of the 2nd half without their top 3 cornerbacks. But even then they were letting Jabar Gaffney and Plaxico Burress get wide open. These are not good receivers!
A top QB leads Gaffney here and he scores,
Rex Just drops it in and the safety is able to get there
One theory being bandied around is that the lack of OTA’s and mini-camps have damaged the defenses, but that doesn’t hold water with me. A lot of defense is reading and reacting.  Sure repetition can hone those skills but it’s the offenses that require timing and a clear understanding of who will be where when. That sort of rhythm is what you’d expect to be hampered by a shortened pre-season. After all the worst offensive performances came from new QB-Team combos such as Donovan McNabb in Minnesota and Kerry Collins who has only been with Indianapolis for about 2 weeks. While the best were from the established units on New England, Green Bay, New Orleans and San Diego.

While several analysts are hopping on the bandwagons and getting as giddy as schoolgirls over the performances of Cam Newton, Rex Grossman and Kevin Kolb let’s not forget just how many wide open receivers there were.

Steve Smith flies passed a fooled Kerry Rhodes
Steve Smith made a mockery out of rookie Patrick Peterson and the rest of Arizona’s secondary while Kolb too was throwing to lonely receivers. Tight End Jeff King was so open he could have sat down and had a picnic before anyone came over to tackle him, but instead he took it in for a 47 yard score.

Week 1 provided us with an average of 492 passing yards a game. That is up from 433 yards a week in 2010 and is a huge leap from the 410 yards a week the 2006 season provided us. And this was without the great Peyton Manning.

The NFL is becoming more and more pass happy, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by receivers running free and QB’s being able to find them. With the spread now having taken over NCAA, except for a few bastions of power running like Wisconsin, it should be expected that the NFL will follow suit as that’s where the talent pool is. But if the coverages don’t tighten up it could be a long, and somewhat boring, season. After all, what is the NFL without bruising and brilliant defense?

Patriots @ Dolphins notes:

Since Phil and Gur put have written about their own teams I thought I’d throw out some musings from the Patriots performance on Monday night:
Gronkowski (#87) and Hernandez (middle) celebrate another
Touchdown vs. Miami

Let’s start with the obvious: Tom Brady is awesome. Now that we’ve got that out of the way I can move on. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gradkowski are also awesome. They provided a huge dilemma for Miami all game. Do you bring on the nickel defense to cover them and leave yourself open against the run or stay in your base and have a line-backer try to cover them? Aaron Gronknadez, as they have come to be known, combined for 13 catches, 189 yards and 2 TD’s. And it would have been more had Chad Ochocinco not lined up incorrectly and had a long gain for Gronkowski taken off the board.

Outside of the expected offensive production (Woodhead played peak-a-boo behind the O-Line all day and Welker was impossible to cover) was the stellar performance from rookie Nate Solder. Normally a left tackle Solder started on the right due to an injury to Sebastian Vollmer and he played outstandingly well.

Outside linebacker Cameron Wake was a monster last year, getting himself 14 sacks last season and a whole bunch of pressure but Solder kept him in check all night. He gave up 1 holding flag and Wake did manage to get a sack but only after Brady had been forced to hold the ball for a long time and moved out of the pocket.

Solder used his 6 foot 9 frame, long reach and huge hands to overpower Wake a lot of the time, taking him to ground on several occasions as well as keeping up with the Pats no-huddle. Any doubts about taking him 17th overall in April are quickly going out of the window. However…

That pick could have been used on the likes of Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan or even Prince Amukamara to help bolster what was yet again a disappointing pass defense. There was very little pressure created on Chad Henne and as a result he had the time to allow his receivers to uncover and the confidence to step up and find them.

Brandon Marshall caught 7 of his 13 targets in a fierce battle against, mostly, 2nd year corner Devin McCourty who held his own against him, especially down in the red zone.

Albert Haynesworth did well, provided a big goal line stop by jumping (that’s right) at the snap and collapsing the O-Line beneath him.
Chung (#25) and Barrett (#30) make the tackle
The safeties were again an issue. After cutting James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather in the pre-season it was Patrick Chung and Josh Barrett to roam the defensive backfield. They did an ok job but it wasn’t great coverage and is something that needs to be addressed soon.

Next week against the big play Chargers will be a real test for them and I expect them to fail if I’m honest. A fit Gates gives defenses fits and while McCourty is good he won’t be able to handle Vincent Jackson by himself.

Early prediction for that game: New England 27- 24 San Diego.

You can watch it live on Sky Sports at 9.15pm.

-          Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
-          The Pulling Linemen

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