3 Questions about: Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins

image via NFL.com

The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a tremendous win over the New York Jets and are colliding with a Miami Dolphins team which has appeared on the ropes for four straight weeks now.

The Miami Dolphins need to win to stay a viable contender in the AFC East.

The Bengals would like to put more distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC North, perhaps proving they belong in the upper echelon of NFL teams this season.

It’s a critical AFC matchup with two teams going in opposite directions. Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s game.

image via CBSSports.com

  • Can the Dolphins protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill? The offensive line allowed Tannehill to be sacked six times last week—in one half. Add the two they allowed to the Buffalo Bills and that’s eight sacks in two games. This team has allowed Tannehill to be hit 48 times, 32 of which resulted in sacks (most sacks in the league according to NFL.com). Now they lose Jonathan Martin due to an emotional breakdown and while he hasn’t played all that well, can you afford to lose anyone on a line this shallow and bad? Tannehill also needs to get rid of the ball but the offensive line has to start playing better.

image via USAToday.com

  • Andy Dalton had a tremendous week against the New York Jets, throwing for 325-yards and five touchdowns against one of the better defenses in the league, though clearly one with some issues in the secondary. The Dolphins have a tough front seven and some OK defensive backs—can Dalton continue to build on his success from the last three weeks? In that span he has thrown for 1,034-yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Has he finally proved his doubters wrong?

image via CBSSports.com

  • Can Mike Wallace start living up to his contract? He’s only costing the Dolphins $3.25 against the cap this year but jumps to $17.25 next year. So far it appears as if even the cap hit this year is way too much money. Wallace is catching only 46.9% of his targets right now, has dropped several passes and is tied for 70th with just four plays of 20 yards or more according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. He needs to step it up as much as Tannehill and the offense need to get him involved.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Packers Jordy Nelson’s 76-yard Touchdown Highlights Chemistry with Aaron Rodgers

Bromance! Rodgers and Nelson are a match made in NFL production heaven. (image via SI.com)

It’s taken place quietly, but this season has shown the NFL that there are few—if any—better quarterback/wide receiver combinations in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson.

That was on constant display Sunday night when the Packers—minus three key pieces in Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb and James Jones—took the field and appeared to have not even missed a beat.

Yes, props need to go to Jarrett Boykin and Myles White, two players who were an afterthought going into the season and Eddie Lacy, who has given this team a legitimate ground game.

Still, it was Nelson who Rodgers looked too most in the game and Nelson who caught all but one pass thrown his way.

Rodgers knows where Nelson is, where he will be and that if he puts the ball anywhere near Nelson, the receiver will catch it. We saw it all day Sunday, just as we have all season.

Nelson’s 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter was a great example of all of the above, but also featured an interesting defensive shift which Rodgers saw and was able to take advantage of.

NelsonTD1

The play takes pace on a 3rd-and-6 in the second quarter with the game tied 10-10.

The Packers set up with four wide receivers and just fullback John Kuhn in the backfield. White is in the slot (or “Y”) position, while Boykin is lined up at flanker (or the “Z”). Both are off the line of scrimmage.

On the far side (top of the picture), tight end Andrew Quarless is lined up at split end (or “X”). Jordy Nelson is lined up on the line in the spot where the tight end would normally be, which might be part of the reason why the pass works so well.

The Vikings are lining up in their 4-3, despite defensive end Everson Griffin up and walking around. He eventually settles inside, though he remains upright without his hand in the dirt.

NelsonTDGBroutesAs Rodgers snaps the ball, all four receivers head out on routes, as well as Kuhn. The Packers keep nobody back to help protect Rodgers so the line has to hold up and Rodgers needs to get the ball out as soon as possible.

Kuhn runs a screen while Quarless clears out the cornerback with a short slant in. Boykin runs a post route while White goes underneath with a short slant.

Nelson also appears to run a post, though his cut is very shallow, so he might have been running a go and just adjusted to Rodgers as he ran.

NelsonTDMINstuntMeanwhile, when the ball is snapped the Vikings run what I call a “ripple stunt.” A regular old stunt is when two players on the defense (usually defensive linemen but sometimes they involve linebackers or defensive backs) trade roles in the hopes that the offense will be confused, making it easier for the defenders to beat them and get after the quarterback.

This particular stunt is what’s sometimes referred to as cross-rushing—when a defensive lineman drops back and a linebacker charges forward hoping to take the offensive line by surprise.

I call this a ripple stunt because it involves three players in a sort of waterfall effect.

Griffin drops back to the linebacker position while strongside linebacker Chad Greenway shifts to the right and middle linebacker Erin Henderson blitzes. If you’re wondering where the other outside linebacker is, it looks as though he was replaced on this play with an extra defensive back. No. 35, Marcus Sherels is lined up across from White and blitzes.

Which is a gamble anyway because it leaves White completely uncovered. If Sherels doesn’t get to Rodgers in time—and he doesn’t—Rodgers has an outlet for the first down anyway.

It’s not a bad stunt as far as gambles go, but it has one (other) fatal flaw.

NelsonTD3Looking at the left side of the above screen-capture, you can see how far Greenway has to go to get in position to cover Nelson.

All things being equal, Greenway does a good job getting over to Nelson, though his momentum is moving in the wrong direction and his back is to Rodgers.

Still, he’s where he is supposed to be.

Here’s where that remarkable chemistry between Rodgers and Nelson comes in.

Nelson knows he essentially has Greenway beat. He knows the ball will be coming quickly and he has to be ready.

Meanwhile, Rodgers likely read the coverage shift as soon as the snap went off (assuming this isn’t something he saw in film study last week) and loved the mismatch of a linebacker on Nelson. He also knows that the sooner he gets the ball into Nelson’s hand, the better.

So Rodgers gets the ball out quickly and Nelson is ready for it when it rips past Greenway’s ear.

Because Greenway’s momentum is going the wrong direction, he loses precious moments as he tries to adjust.

Meanwhile, Nelson accelerates and few bad angles and missed tackles later, he’s in the end zone.

This was just one example of the synergy that Nelson and Rodgers have. The first touchdown Nelson caught was much the same sort of throw—pinpoint accurate and on a rope.

Rodgers knows he can throw it that way to Nelson because he knows Nelson will make that catch happen 99 times out of 100.

As for the Vikings, this is the sort of gamble which can pay off big but when it goes wrong, it really stings. While the real kill-shot was probably the 93-yard punt return touchdown by Mycah Hyde two minutes later, this was the play which really seemed to open up things for the Packers’ offense.

In a close game a gamble like that can turn things in your favor. In this case, it started an avalanche of momentum that spelled doom for the Vikings.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

ANNOUNCEMENT

Hey folks. This blog has been pretty underused since I started it.

That’s going to change.

Starting next week I will be posting regular sports takes (mostly NFL but not only) and analysis that isn’t posted elsewhere.

We’ll also start draft analysis fairly soon, as I already have been watching players for the “draft season”.

Follow me on Twitter and I’ll keep you up to date but I’m looking forward to a lot of great content here.

 

Thanks for reading.

From the Press Box: Week 8 aka The Greg Schiano Story: When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong

All new From The Press Box at Cheesehead TV – check out the full article here after you read a little sample below.

 

File this under “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong.”

Schiano has some attachments to Bill Belichick and the Belichick “coaching tree” which shouldn’t surprise anyone once you find out. How many coaches who know, worked with or have otherwise been mentored by Belichick have gone on to success?

If you answer “none” you’d be right.

Out of date, but not by much….. image via firethewalrus.com

And what’s the thread between most of these guys? Napoleon complex. Bullying, really.

Now, you need discipline. But there’s discipline and there’s discipline. Eric Mangini imploded in New York because he threw his weight around with dumb things like forcing rookies on a long bus ride to go to his camp. Josh McDaniels famously blew up the Broncos and ran off players with his “in your face” attitude. Jim Schwartz doesn’t bully his players, but we’ve seen him try it with other coaches.

Fantasy Football Week 8: Early Advice for Your Roster (B/R)

Hey, we’re going to be gearing this thing back up again (we meaning me) and I’ll have a few announcements later but for now, just know that I’ll keep posting my stuff here as well as new material directly for this site.

This morning I posted one of my weekly columns for Bleacher Report, a fantasy football piece on matchups to take advantage of as well as playersa you want to dump or grab while you can.

 

Here’s a sample – as always you can read the whole thing here.

 

We’re about to hit a very difficult two-week stretch for fantasy owners, as we lose six teams worth of players in both Week 8 and Week 9.

Here is a list of the players you could be losing this week. Each position has at least one stud in it, and all of them also have multiple fantasy relevant players who could have been anything from a No. 2 receiver to a flex-spot tight end.

QB: Andrew Luck, Jake Locker, Luke McCown, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum

RB: Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Trent Richardson, Donald Brown, Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Arian Foster, Ben Tate

WR: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Keenan Allen, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, Torrey Smith, Marion Brown, Tandon Doss, Jacoby Jones, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins

TE: Martellus Bennett, Delanie Walker, Coby Fleener, Antonio Gates, Ed Dickson, Garrett Graham

 

Week 4

Green Bay , Carolina

Week 5

Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington

Week 6

Atlanta, Miami

Week 7

Oakland, New Orleans

Week 8

Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, Houston

Week 9

Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, Arizona, San Francisco, Jacksonville

Week 10

Cleveland, Kansas City, New England, New York Jets

Week 11

Dallas, St. Louis

Week 12

Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle