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Hot topics around the NFL

A member of NFL Films talked about hot topics around the NFL.

Sports Illustrated’s Ross Tucker interviewed  NFL Films’ Greg Cosell.  Based on his film study, Cosell gives his unbiased opinion on players and trends.   Two of his takes piqued my interest.


1.  What major schematic trend do you see teams doing offensively?

“The game has evolved into a chess match between spread concepts on offense and pressure concepts on defense, which is why it is so important to come up with pressure concepts that rely on fewer defenders rushing, not more defenders rushing. The poster-child for that is Rex Ryan and the New York Jets. The whole idea is to rush as few as possible while still getting someone free to the quarterback.

“I think because of the emphasis on pressure with fewer people and a lot of times smaller people, the trend will be on lighter and quicker offensive linemen who can adjust to the movement.”

Last year,  former Giants’ defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan did not have any answers.  Offenses were able to run and pass on the 2009 pathetic Giants defense. Whether the Giants rushed four and dropped back seven in coverage or if they blitzed, teams were able to pick apart this hapless unit.  According to Cosell,  pressuring a passer with fewer and smaller defenders will be tantamount to sacking a quarterback.   Perhaps, this is why teams are switching to a 3-4 base defense?  Last year, the Packers switched from a 4-3 to 3-4.  This year, Denver and Washington will employ a 3-4 defense. Even the Philadelphia Eagles and  New Orleans Saints   will use variations of a 3-4 defense.     With more NFL teams using multiple wide receiver formations especially on first down,  defenses must have  faster players on the field.  By having speedy linebackers and defensive backs, a defensive coordinator can close the gap on the sophisticated passing game.

 Indeed, offenses continue to evolve at the professional level. Therefore, defenses have to come up with creative ways to counter newer trends. Three years ago, it looked like former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo figured out how to stop potent offensive attacks.  In 2007,  his Giants defense lead the league with 53 sacks.  And when his defense held the almost perfect Patriots to 14 points in  Super Bowl XLII,  this set off a chain reaction. Spagnuolo’s pressure defense was the talk of the league.  Immediately, during the 2008 offseason,  NFL clubs began to sign and draft pass rushers   At that moment in time, the recipe for keeping  prolific offenses in check was a good old fashioned pass rush.  However, in subsequent seasons, as more teams copied the Giants defense approach,  offensive coordinators have made necessary adjustments .  Because of this paradigm shift,  offenses had to change their approach on attacking defenses.  In 2009, Saints head coach Sean Payton was steps ahead of the Giants.  In their regular season game, Saints head coach Sean Payton was able to slow down the Giants fearsome defensive line. Quarterback Drew Brees took short drops and threw short passes. Having an extra blocker, tackle Zach Strief helped provide excellent pass protection,  and running draw plays kept the Giants defensive line honest.  By using these tactics, the Giants defensive line was stifled.  More importantly, last season,  the Giants did not have speedy linebackers or safeties which could get to a quarterback.  Undeniably, this was their undoing.  In the offseason, the Giants have added speed and talent to the safety position.  But the linebacker position has remained unchanged.  Although the Giants have a healthy Michael Boley going into camp this year, I was unimpressed with his effort in 2009.  His blown coverage assignment on Chargers running back Darren  Sproles, unfortunately, stands out.  This botched coverage on his part allowed the Chargers to continue their game winning touchdown drive.

In the video of the Chargers game winning drive, the Giants did not put any pressure on Rivers.  With no pressure on him, Rivers threw quick short passes to his  receivers in middle of the field.  Nontheless, Rivers exposed the weakness of this defense which is the linebacker unit.  Easily, the Chargers were able to march down the field.  

Besides Boley, other linebackers on the Giants must step up their play. This includes second year player Clint Sintim and the oft injured Gerris Wilkinson.  It is my opinion, Sintim and Wilkinson have to become pass rushing threats in 2010.  More importantly, they will have to be able to guard receivers in space and limit  pass catchers yards after the catch (YAC).   If the Giants cannot get improved play from their linebackers,  once again offenses will be able to exploit the soft belly of this defense- the linebacker unit.

While the Giants organization has not considered the linebacker position a priority, other teams view the linebacker position through a much different lens.  In this year’s draft, shrewd GM’s selected linebackers in the first or second rounds. 

Colts GM Bill Polian selected  linebacker Jerry Hughes (first round).  According to Wonder,  Hughes can cover and get to the passer from outside.

Falcons GM Tom Dimtiroff  chose linebacker Sean Weatherspoon  (first round).  According to Wonder, smooth and athletic. He can play MLB. Remember, when Dimitroff left the Patriots organization and became the GM in Atlanta, he let Boley walk.  I think this speaks volumes about Boley. 

Cardinals GM Rod Graves picked linebacker Daryl Washington. (second round)  From Wonder’s analysis, Washington is his guy. Absolutely great!

Patriots guru Bill Belichick drafted two second round linebackers  Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes.

These aforementioned  organizations are making choices which align with Cosell’s thinking.  Smaller players who can rush the passer.  And these players can cover in space.  Going forward, the better defensive teams will have linebackers and safeties who can rush the passer and cover well.

 In addition, Cosell makes a point about quicker offensive linemen who can adjust to movement of rushers.  I believe Giants second year tackle Will Beatty has to win the starting left tackle position.  Although starter David Diehl has been a solid left tackle, his weakness is blocking an edge rusher.

On the other hand, Beatty is big and nimble.  Because of his impressive skill set, he can help make the Giants offensive line better in 2010.

2. Given the NFL is a passing league, would you rather have an elite cover guy like Darrelle Revis or a stud pass rusher who demands double teams like Jared Allen?

“If the players are equivalent in terms of skill set and impact, I think you always have to go with the pass rusher. The goal is to speed up the quarterback. The quarterback is the most important part of the passing game, not the receiver. Everything you do defensively is predicated on hurrying the thought process and physical reactions of the quarterback because that tends to create problems for them.”

The Giants first round selection was Jason Pierre-Paul.  Pierre-Paul is a raw athlete. It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Perry Fewell uses him.  Will Fewell use Pierre-Paul as an edge rusher?  I think this will be the case.   Despite having a formidable defensive line,  the Giants added Pierre-Paul.  Much to the chagrin of  veteran Giants defensive linemen, Piere-Paul’s selection was stunning.   If JPP can wreck havoc on passing downs, this will give offensive coordinators something else to think about.  I am rooting for Pierre-Paul to contribute right away.  Let us hope he can make us all forget about the miserable 2009 Giants defense.