Dolphins look for ground game to get back on track vs. Bills

The Miami Dolphins take on the Buffalo Bills on “Thursday Night Football” to attempt to snap their two-game slide. To do so, the Dolphins have to take advantage of the Bills’ league-worst rushing defense, which surrenders an average of 163.7 yards per game. Coming off a game in which rookie QB Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions, it becomes especially critical that the Dolphins get the ground game going and protect their young signal caller. The Bills’ linebackers have struggled playing in space all year, which works right into the Dolphins’ favor with their zone-running scheme spearheaded by talented RB Reggie Bush. The “Playbook” crew breaks down Miami’s use of the stretch play.

Each Miami offensive lineman steps left in concert. The right guard and right tackle (blocking assignments in red) are responsible for cutting off the backside defensive tackle and the weak-side linebacker. The key here on the play side are the blocks from the tight end and left tackle. They initially double the defensive end, then left tackle Jake Long will work up to the strong-side linebacker. This is commonly referred to as a combo block. The success of the center and left tackle getting to the second level and engaging the linebackers is paramount to the success of the play.

The linebackers are slow to react, which gives the Dolphins offensive line a huge advantage. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain makes the critical mistake here, taking a step back off the snap. By the time he recovers, the center can get to him and take him out of the play. The left tackle and tight end secure the double, and the left tackle is ready to get to the second level to secure the strong-side linebacker.

The initial double team between the tight end and left tackle allows the tight end to get to the outside shoulder of the defensive end without allowing penetration, which enables him to seal the hole. Left tackle Jake Long has taken the strong side backer out of the play. A good effort from the receiver on the outside provides a huge lane for Reggie Bush to run through, with his fullback still out in front of him. The only player left with a chance to make this play is the safety, but fullback Javorskie Lane gets enough of him to allow Bush to get to the outside and leave everyone else behind en route to a 65-yard TD.

To stop this stretch attack, the Bills’ linebackers have to be aggressive and attack downhill while the offensive line is still moving laterally. Buffalo’s linebackers have been slow to react and attack this year. That is a deadly combination against this type of running scheme, as you can see in the example illustrated above. If the Bills try to move laterally with the offensive line and don’t get momentum coming to the line of scrimmage, the Dolphins will eat them alive off of those combo blocks.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ intermediate passing game must build off of the success it had against the New England Patriots last week. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off of a 337-yard output in that game, and the Dolphins’ secondary has been vulnerable, especially in that intermediate range; ranking 28th in the league with 278 yards allowed per game through the air. It is easier said than done, but if the Bills follow this blueprint on both sides of the ball, they can pull off the victory and keep themselves alive for at least another week. If not, it might be a long, cold night in Buffalo and a big day for Reggie Bush and this Dolphins offense.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

Colts ride third-down success vs. Jaguars

The Indianapolis Colts are looking to make a playoff push as they begin the second half of the season in Jacksonville on “Thursday Night Football.” Andrew Luck will make his primetime debut, four days after his rookie-record 433 yards passing in a comeback win over the Miami Dolphins.

While the Colts’ passing proficiency has been remarkable, when you go inside the numbers the true key to their 5-3 start has been their ability to convert on third down. The Colts are a league-best 42.1 percent converting on third downs of six yards or more. Their talented group of receivers, led by veteran Reggie Wayne, has been able to shred zone coverages and Luck has made opposing defenses pay with his outstanding timing and anticipation. This spells bad news for a Jaguars defense that ranks 29th in the NFL on third down, allowing offenses to convert on 44 percent of their attempts. The “Playbook” crew breaks down Indy’s third-down offense to as it relates to Jacksonville’s zone schemes.

The Colts run a mesh concept with a dig coming behind it. The Jaguars are in Cover 2, which the mesh will influence to create a lane for Andrew Luck to hit Reggie Wayne on the dig.

Given the down and distance (third & 3), the Jaguars have to defend the drag routes underneath. The pursuit of the drags opens up a big window for the dig route behind them. Luck’s timing and anticipation are perfect, resulting in a completion to Wayne for a gain of 13 yards and a first down.

Jacksonville was able to sneak out of Indianapolis with a last-second 22-17 win in Week 3, but things will be much more difficult this time around for the banged-up Jaguars. Not only is Luck coming off of a spectacular performance against a good Dolphins defense, but the Jags are missing their best offensive weapon in RB Maurice Jones-Drew. In order to contend, the Jaguars have to have success on the ground with his backup Rashad Jennings — who faces a Colts defense that is one of the league’s worst against the run. Indianapolis surrenders an average of 130.8 yards per game on the ground and Jacksonville has a more than competent offensive line to exploit this as it did in its sole win of the 2012 season against these same Colts. In Week 3, the Jags had 185 yards rushing and kept the ball out of Luck’s hands for nearly 28 minutes. If Jennings can follow in Jones-Drew’s proverbial footsteps, the Jags will have a chance tonight to deliver a blow to the Colts’ playoff hopes.

Could be a long night in Baltimore for Weeden, Browns

Cleveland Browns QB Brandon Weeden and his struggling offensive line might be in for a world of hurt against the Baltimore Ravens on “Thursday Night Football.”

Even with the losses of edge rusher Jarrett Johnson to San Diego in the offseason and Terrell Suggs due to an Achilles injury, the Ravens are still finding ways to rush the passer because of their scheme. Their ability to confuse protections by providing different looks and disguising their blitzes makes up for their lack of premier pass rushers. They are proficient with twists and stunts while bringing pressure off the edge, which leaves offensive lines in disarray and often leaves a lineman on air while a free rusher clobbers the QB. The Browns’ offensive line has struggled with protections all year and this scheme has the ability to expose them tonight.

Attacking an empty formation, the Ravens occupy the LT with No. 90 DT Pernell McPhee and loop No. 91 LB Courtney Upshaw inside to tie up the LG and C. Despite bringing just 5, the twist and McPhee’s ability to shorten the edge leaves No. 59 LB Dannell Ellerbe for a free rush on the QB.

The Ravens have the personnel to play man on the outsides with no help while bracketing the offense’s most dangerous threat (in this case TE Rob Gronkowski). The Ravens disguise this blitz well and the offensive line is unable to account for Ellerbe.

Cleveland’s only chance offensively will be to frequently utilize screens and draws to try to keep the Baltimore pass rush hesitant and off balance. The Browns will need to find ways to get the ball to Trent Richardson in space, where he can build a head of steam and be as difficult to bring down as any back in this league. They will need to get the ball out of Weeden’s hands quickly and take advantage of openings in the middle of the field against the Ravens’ rushes with tight ends Benjamin Watson and Jordan Cameron. If Cleveland can do all of these things, they will have a chance tonight in Baltimore.

‘Sloppy’ Saints need a little rest, a little work

 

A first sampling of the 2010 New Orleans Saints revealed that even a defending Super Bowl champion has plenty of work to do.

Before Thursday night’s game against the Patriots, the Saints spent the previous two days in the New England area in practice sessions with Bill Belichick‘s well-coached squad. Saints coach Sean Peyton said he wanted to get lots of work against a 3-4 defense because his team will play at least five opponents this season that employ a 3-4 scheme.

Against the Patriots’ 3-4 defensive front, the Drew Brees-led offense failed to gain one first down until its third possession of the game. Brees then needed a 20-play drive to score the Saints’ first offensive touchdown.

The Patriots defense harassed Brees enough to cause the Super Bowl MVP to throw four consecutive incompletions on the scoring drive (with a penalty and a couple of running plays mixed in). Clearly more work needs to be done.

Sloppy was the word used by Payton to describe the play of his team in its first preseason game. Several missed tackles led to miles of yards after the catch for several Patriots wide receivers. With Darren Sharper resting and rehabbing an injured knee, the Saints defense failed to force a single turnover. Receiver Julian Edelman repeatedly eluded tacklers for extra yards.

In all, the Saints appeared to be road weary after Monday’s visit to the White House and two more days of physical practices with the Patriots. Running back Lynell Hamilton suffered a season-ending knee injury during Wednesday’s practice. Look for Payton to continue to refine the timing between QBs and WRs in the passing game and have even more up-tempo drills to improve the defense’s ability to tackle in the open field.

Look for Eagles to stumble out of the block

Here are some of the Week 1 matchups to watch:

Steelers at Titans

The Titans have one of the best combinations of offensive and defensive lines in the NFL. The Steelers will struggle to run the ball on the Titans defense. The Steelers defense will keep it close, but they will find the Titans’ new speed on offense too much to handle.

Bears at Packers

Aaron Rodgers’ 6 TD passes were the most of any QB in the preseason. Armed with the deepest WR corps in the NFL, the Packers will exploit the Bears’ weakness in the secondary. Meanwhile, the Bears’ inexperience at receiver will be exposed against the likes of Charles Woodson and Al Harris.

Lions at Saints

This will be an early runaway for Drew Brees and the Saints offense, which needs to get off to a fast start. The real question is how much Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford. The Answer: early and often.

Vikings at Browns

No matter who Eric Mangini runs out as his starting quarterback, the Vikings defense will feast on the Browns’ struggling offense. Minnesota’s passing game should have a spectacular debut against a weak Cleveland secondary, which lacks the coverage skills to defend against Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin.

Eagles at Panthers

Don’t be surprised if the Eagles’ wings are clipped before take-off. Distractions could hinder the Eagles early on as they adjust to a new defensive coordinator in Sean McDermott. Look for both Panthers RBs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, to control the ball and play keep-away from Donovan McNabb, who will be forced to play from behind on the scoreboard.

Favre makes the right move

When mere mortals are in the presence of greatness, they will tell the Great One whatever is necessary to remain in his good graces. The Great One, Brett Favre, has finally listened to the most important voice of all, his own conscience.

Having quieted those in his circle who have urged him to continue playing despite physical fatigue and an aging arm, Favre came to the realization that a half-tired arm does not grow stronger by season’s end. Favre knows what his entourage does not. The grind of a full NFL season will age a warrior by dog years and leave even the proudest trophy-seekers humbled in defeat.

Favre’s decision to remain retired cements his legacy as one of the NFL’s greatest warrior-quarterbacks. He leaves unbroken and unashamed. His final decision has also spared Vikings coach Brad Childress of possibly suffering the same fate as Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman and Eric Mangini, coaches who could not win with Favre. He knows all too well that his failure to take the Vikings to the Super Bowl could lead to more coaches packing up at season’s end. He spared himself and many others the pain of disappointment and regret.

The cry for glory, revenge and adulation of friends and fans was not enough to lure Favre back to the stage. However great the temptation, hubris has given way to common sense. Instead of reaching for glory, Favre cooled his ambition and kept himself among the pinnacle of his profession, along with Bradshaw, Montana, Marino and Elway.

Well done, Brett.

Quotable NFL GameDay Morning: ‘Forget about Rudy,’ Warner story is awesome

(G.Newman Lowrance/NFL.com)

(G.Newman Lowrance/NFL.com)

NFL GameDay Morning, the longest and most comprehensive NFL pregame show on television, aired at 11 a.m. ET on Super Bowl XLIII Sunday. NFL Network featured six and a half hours of NFL GameDay Morning pregame show coverage with 18 analysts, reporters and hosts. The roster included Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Warren Sapp, Rod Woodson, Steve Mariucci, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Sterling Sharpe, Brian Baldinger, Jamie Dukes, Solomon Wilcots, Kara Henderson, Scott Hanson, Bob Papa, Randy Moss, Fran Charles and Rich Eisen. Adam Schefter reported on news from around the league.

The NFL GameDay Morning crew brought fans the latest news, injury reports, pregame analysis and game previews on NFL Network.

John Lynch 1-on-1 with Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin

NFL Network guest analyst John Lynch sat down with his friend and former coach, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, for a candid discussion about what it feels like to be at Super Bowl XLIII:

“I’m doing what I was sent here to do.” — Tomlin on being a coach.

“I think there are two reasons why you coach. From an ability standpoint, you can’t play anymore, or from an age standpoint, you’re incapable of playing anymore. I wasn’t good enough.” — Tomlin on why he got into coaching.

“Every single guy in this league is trying to win, and they’ll do anything you tell them to do if they think it’ll help. That’s what makes it pure.” — Tomlin on coaching NFL players.

“I made a conscious effort not to tell them what I thought they wanted to hear. I just told them what was important to me. How I feel I can help them do what they wanted to do, win championships and how I was going to lead the football team.” — Tomlin on what he said to get the job.

“If I don’t do my job, I’m going to be out on my ear. Those guys retained those jobs because they won.” — Tomlin on the perception that because of the Steelers’ record for keeping coaches that he has job security.

“We have a ridiculous legacy here. The ridiculous fan following, they inspire me. I want to honor those that came before us by doing what we do. If we can do something to contribute to that legacy, it’s humbling. It’s awesome.” — Tomlin on the Steelers’ legacy.

“I knew this guy could make me better.” — Lynch on Tomlin as a coach.

“It’s his attitude, his passion and his ability to lead. He walks to his own beat.” — Rod Woodson on what makes Tomlin’s coaching style successful.

“Mike Tomlin considers himself just as accountable as his players.” — Derrick Brooks on what makes Tomlin special as a coach.

Quotes from NFL GameDay Morning

“You think about the one you lost more than you think about the one that you won. We never rebounded as a team.” — Marshall Faulk on playing in two Super Bowls with the Rams. St. Louis went 1-1 in those games.

“Forget about Rudy. This is an awesome story.” — Steve Mariucci on Cardinals QB Kurt Warner‘s story.

“It’s like winning the Lombardi Trophy, but it’s all yours.” — Woodson on becoming a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.

“A head coach I talked to called them ‘unpredictable yet disciplined.'” — Lynch on Arizona’s defense.

“I’ve always looked up to you and wanted to achieve what you’ve achieved.” — Deion Sanders to Rod Woodson.

“They have created takeaways and prevented the explosive plays.” — Derrick Brooks on the Cardinals’ defensive success in the playoffs.

“There isn’t a wide receiver on the Steelers that would start for the Arizona Cardinals.” — Faulk giving the offensive edge to the Cardinals.

Willie Parker‘s worst game in the last two years was not against the Baltimore Ravens but against the Arizona Cardinals.” — Brian Baldinger on the Cardinals’ defense holding Steelers RB Willie Parker to 37 yards on 19 carries in a 21-14 victory against Pittsburgh in 2007.

“This is a team whose personality comes from a receiver. If a receiver is the toughest guy on the team, everything else falls into place.” — Warren Sapp on Steelers WR Hines Ward.

“They started blitzing more, and that’s when their defense started to play better.” — Jamie Dukes on Arizona’s improved defense in the playoffs.

“A light bulb went on between the players and the coach in the playoffs for the Arizona Cardinals.” — Dukes.

“We know who has the ‘Edge’ on offense. It’s Arizona.” — Rich Eisen on Cardinals RB Edgerrin James.

“He (Roethlisberger) whispered to me during an interview, ‘I will not turn the ball over.'” — Sanders on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.

“If you say you’re not going to turn the ball over, you are going to turn it over or you’re going to hold onto the ball and mistakes will be made.” — Faulk on Roethlisberger.

“He’s fresh, Pittsburgh can rely on him.” — Faulk on Parker.

Troy Polamalu plays the game completely recklessly. He has no regard for his body at all. No one plays the game as aggressively as he does.” — Baldinger on the Steelers’ SS.

“First, you go to the prayer closet.” — Woodson on guarding Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

“A couple of years ago, we were saying Anquan Boldin was the best receiver in this league.” — Woodson.

“We’re out there to make the fireworks look good.” — Bruce Springsteen to Rich Eisen in discussing his upcoming halftime performance.

“He’s going to know what’s coming before they do. He’ll take a lick to get a completion.” — Sterling Sharpe on Warner.

“There’s nothing more that he can do. He will get into the Hall of Fame.” — Sharpe on his brother, Shannon, not being named a Hall of Fame inductee.

“At the time I am in my life and the point I am in my career, it really gets more precious to you as you get closer to what you know is the end. Each season is more precious. Each game is more precious. The young coaches out there will understand some day.” — Miami Dolphins executive Bill Parcells in his interview with Adam Schefter.

“I don’t know where I’d go. I hope they don’t throw me out.” — Parcells on his plans to stay in Miami.

“Your team has a whole lot to do, but if you have your team here, naturally you’re pretty confident.” — Joe Namath on the psyche of a QB going into Super Bowl.

Todd Haley told me that he has grown to like Kurt Warner as a quarterback as much as he likes Vinny Testaverde.” — Adam Schefter on a conversation he had with Cardinals offensive coordinator Haley prior to kickoff.

“This is the greatest day for us.” — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to Kara Henderson on his way into the stadium.

“How important this game is for everyone and what it means to the country. You can just take a breath, get away from everything and come together.” — Goodell with Kara Henderson on what he thinks about while walking into the Super Bowl.

Who will win Super Bowl XLIII MVP?

Sapp — Steelers WR Santonio Holmes

Faulk — Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin

Sanders — Steelers CB Ike Taylor or CB Bryant McFadden

Mariucci — Steelers LB James Harrison

Eisen — Cardinals QB Kurt Warner

Wilcots — Steelers LB James Harrison or SS Troy Polamalu

Dukes — Cardinals QB Kurt Warner or Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Hanson — Steelers WR Hines Ward

Steve Sabol’s most memorable forgotten plays in Super Bowl history

Super Bowl XIII: Franco Harris’ lone touchdown run was aided by an unintentional block by the umpire on safety Charlie Waters to propel the Steelers to their third Lombardi Trophy.

Super Bowl XXXVIII: The Panthers tied it up late in the game, but kicker John Kasay shanked the ensuing kickoff, giving the Patriots the ball at the 40-yard line, leading to Adam Vinateri’s game-winning field goal.

Super Bowl XLII: Eli Manning shakes off two tackles, then he throws a pass to David Tyree, who catches the ball on his helmet for a first down in the final two minutes of the game. Without that play, the Patriots win and make history with a perfect season.

Steve Sabol’s best performances in defeat in Super Bowl history

Bills RB Thurman Thomas — 135 rushing yards on 15 carries in Super Bowl XXV; moved team into position for game-winning field-goal attempt.

Dallas LB Chuck Howley — only MVP from losing team in Super Bowl history had two interceptions in Super Bowl V.

Cincinnati TE Dan Ross — Super Bowl-record 11 catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns in Super Bowl XVI.

Carolina QB Jake Delhomme — passed for 323 yards and three touchdowns, including the longest offensive play in Super Bowl history (85-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad)

The following video clips from NFL GameDay Morning are available for viewing on NFL.com:

NFL GameDay Morning began the NFL Network schedule this final weekend of the NFL season. Following NFL GameDay Morning is NFL GameDay Scoreboard at 6:30 p.m. ET and NFL GameDay Final at 10 p.m. ET.

NFL Network airs seven days a week, 24 hours a day on a year-round basis and is the only television network fully dedicated to the NFL and the sport of football. For more information, log on to www.nfl.com/nflnetwork. NFL.com is the exclusive Internet home of NFL videos and NFL Network.

Stay tuned

NFL.com/Live brings you bonus coverage tonight, with the exclusive web cast of the Texas Stadium farewell ceremony following the game. Stay tuned for live coverage from Dallas.

A clinching run

The 82-yard run by McClain was the longest by a visiting RB in Texas Stadium history … a run that likely knocks the Cowboys out of the playoffs, in what is likely the last game in Texas Stadium.

Nail in the coffin

You can’t make that up. That was all LaRon McClain. What a tremendous block by Lorenzo Neal and 82-yard run by McClain.

Gritty gutty

Jason Witten paid a price for that touchdown. He couldn’t even walk off the field. Looks like he’s in a tremendous amount of pain on the sideline.

NFC playoff picture

Fans in Carolina should be all over this game. If the Cowboys do lose, the Panthers clinch a playoff spot. The winner of this game controls their playoff destiny.

Ravens answer

Willis McGahee should thank right guard Chris Chester for two perfect blocks to spring him for the longest run of his career.

In the spotlight

We have a ballgame. Now the Ravens will put the ball in the hands of their rookie QB.  The spotlight is on Flacco now.

Cowboy up

One thing that’s for sure is the fact Tony Romo is earning his paycheck tonight. Yeah, he’s not sharp. His passes don’t have zip. But it’s painful just watching him try to run out on to the field. He has to be hurting.

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