AFC East: Charles Woodson

Does Charles Woodson fit in AFC East?

February, 15, 2013
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One of the first big names has entered the open market this offseason. The Green Bay Packers released eight-time, Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Woodson on Friday.

Woodson surely will get plenty of interest in free agency. Will any of that interest come from a team in the AFC East?

Let's examine.

New England Patriots

Analysis: The Patriots desperately need help at safety. They allowed an NFL-high 74 passing plays of 20 yards or more last season. New England has been mostly linked to Baltimore Ravens' pending free-agent safety Ed Reed. However, Reed will be expensive for the Patriots or any team willing to sign the future Hall of Famer. Woodson could be an interesting second option, especially if he's more affordable than Reed. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is not afraid to sign aging players if they're still smart enough to play. Woodson, 36, certainly fits that description. But money is a big question, as usual. The Patriots need to save cap room to keep in-house free agents like Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead.

Chances: Average

Miami Dolphins

Analysis: The Dolphins have plenty of cap room and an opening at safety opposite Reshad Jones. Woodson could provide leadership and play-making ability to Miami's back end. But safety isn't nearly as big a need in Miami as wide receiver or cornerback. The Dolphins reportedly are looking to re-sign safety Chris Clemons, who played all 16 games last season. Clemons is an affordable option that allows Miami to spend its cap room elsewhere.

Chances: Low

Buffalo Bills

Analysis: The Bills are focused on re-signing Jairus Byrd, who is a great safety and much younger than Woodson. Byrd will get a sizable extension or the franchise tag. Either way, that will eat up a lot of Buffalo's cap room for 2013. The Bills released veteran safety George Wilson, but there are cheaper alternatives in the draft and free agency. It also sounds like Woodson is interested in joining a contender. The Bills are a team in transition with a rookie head coach and scheme changes on offense and defense.

Chances: Low

New York Jets

Analysis: The Jets potentially need to sign two safeties. Starters LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell are both unrestricted free agents, and New York is approximately $19 million over the cap. But just as the Jets can’t re-sign Landry, a Pro Bowler, they most likely cannot sign Woodson, who also won’t come cheap.

Chances: None

Revis, McCourty and then Davis at corner

June, 21, 2011
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NFL.com senior analyst Pat Kirwan continues to roll out his positional evaluations.

Next up are cornerbacks.

Only three AFC East players made Kirwan's rundown of the league's 30 best cornerbacks. Kirwan breaks down each position into sets of five (along with a corresponding trend arrow), and you can guess who's in the "A" quintet.

New York Jets star Darrelle Revis is there and still trending upward. Also in the group are Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey, Asante Samuel and Charles Woodson.

New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty is in the "B" group, ranking him somewhere between sixth and 10th along with Cortland Finnegan, Dunta Robinson, Tramon Williams and Antoine Winfield. McCourty's arrow is pointing up, too.

Vontae Davis of the Miami Dolphins fell into the "D" group and is tending upward in Kirwan's book.

Polamalu secondary to Revis on DB list

June, 7, 2011
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General consensus says Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is the NFL's best defensive player.

He was voted The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. ESPN.com's Power Rankings panel made him the unanimous choice when voting on the best defenders last month.

But in a segment for the NFL Network, a pair of opinionated and decorated veterans didn't rate Polamalu even the best defensive back in the game.

New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber assembled their top-10 list of the greatest defensive backs. With one safety and one corner compiling the order, there was no positional bias.

This is what Sharper and Barber came up with:
  1. Darrelle Revis, Jets cornerback
  2. Troy Polamalu, Steelers safety
  3. Ed Reed, Ravens safety
  4. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders cornerback
  5. Charles Woodson, Packers cornerback
  6. Champ Bailey, Broncos cornerback
  7. Nick Collins, Packers safety
  8. Adrian Wilson, Rams safety
  9. Devin McCourty, Patriots cornerback
  10. Aqib Talib, Buccaneers cornerback

I believe Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL, but it's a little strange to see him rated higher than Polamalu, who's coming off such a great season.

That's also an impressive showing for McCourty after one NFL season. Sharper and Barber ranked him the fifth-best cornerback ahead of guys like Asante Samuel, Antoine Winfield and Tramon Williams.

McCourty can't tip Power Rankings scales

April, 19, 2011
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Power Rankings should not be a career-achievement award. They are a snapshot of a given moment, the here and now.

Since we're in the offseason -- or purgatory, if you will -- I've been forced to alter the perception of the moment when compiling my positional Power Rankings ballots for ESPN.com's weekly series.

I've taken into account not only last year's production, but also how I perceive players entering the 2011 season.

With that in mind, I can't fathom how New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty didn't get more respect from our panel when rating the NFL's best at his position. He came in eighth on the overall list, one point behind Tramon Williams.

I rated him fifth on my ballot. Nobody else had him higher than NFC West blogger Mike Sando at eighth. Three bloggers ranked McCourty ninth, two had him 10th. NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas didn't list him at all.

Yasinskas reasoned it was because McCourty was a rookie who needs to put together another brilliant season to be considered among the best.

"One great season does not make a great career," Yasinskas said in the story written by AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky. "Let's see him do it again. I'm not saying he's got to do it for 10 or 15 years. ... But you have to be consistently at the top for at least a few years before you get on a top 10 list."

That's where Yasinskas and I have philosophical differences.

It didn't matter that McCourty was a rookie when the Associated Press voted him second-team All-Pro, when the Sporting News named him first-team All-Pro, when the fans, coaches and players voted McCourty a Pro Bowl starter.

McCourty tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions. He ranked fourth in team tackles with 83 and led with 17 passes defensed (by the Patriots' count; the NFL had him down for 24). He also recorded a sack and two forced fumbles.

The NFL community clearly considered McCourty elite. That's good enough for me.

Furthermore, he was New England's left cornerback, forced into the critical role of defending the opposition's top receiver when Leigh Bodden was placed on injured reserve right before the season began. McCourty performed under pressure.

For the record, this was my ballot:
  1. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
  2. Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders
  3. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
  4. Asante Samuel, Philadelphia Eagles
  5. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
  6. Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings
  7. Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos
  8. DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins
  9. Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons
  10. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs

Most of the list is self-explanatory. Where I was most out of line with the other voters -- aside from McCourty -- was Bailey. I ranked him lower than any other panelist.

Then again, McCourty took one of my lofty spots they were reluctant to give. I also had Winfield sixth, exactly the same as four other panelists.

So Bailey makes sense at No. 7 when McCourty gets a little more respect.

Howard Green goes from yo-yo to hero

February, 8, 2011
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An important Super Bowl moment has been lost somewhat amid Aaron Rodgers' performance, Jordy Nelson's numbers, Charles Woodson's injury and even speculation about what Brett Favre was thinking.

In the first quarter, Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Howard Green plowed forth -- and almost through -- Pittsburgh Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu on his way to Ben Roethlisberger.

Green's pressure and hit forced an awful throw. Defensive back Nick Collins intercepted and returned it for a touchdown in a 31-25 Packers victory.

ESPNNewYork.com writer Rich Cimini caught up with Green after the game.

Green spoke about how redemptive the play was in light of the New York Jets releasing him twice this past season.

"One simple word: perseverance," Green said. "I had to deal with some tough things, some ups and downs. The Jets cut me for whatever reason. That's not an issue anymore.

"I appreciate them for giving me the opportunity, but I'm a Packer now and we just won the Super Bowl. That's all I need to say about that."

Green's time with the Jets in 2010 was tumultuous.

The Jets placed nose tackle Kris Jenkins on injured reserve and signed Green on Sept. 15 -- a day after they released running back Danny Woodhead.

Green was inactive for Week 2 and played in Week 3. Then the Jets released him for defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, who the Baltimore Ravens surprisingly cut in a roster-juggling maneuver.

The Jets re-signed Green and reinstated suspended receiver Santonio Holmes on Oct. 4. The Jets waived receivers Patrick Turner and David Clowney, the player the Jets needed to cut Woodhead to make room for.

Green played in Week 5, was inactive for Week 6 and was waived after the Jets' bye. He was so bewildered, he chose to drive home to Mississippi from New Jersey. Before he got home, the Packers claimed him.

He soon was on his way back to New Jersey because the Packers' next opponent was the Jets at the Meadowlands.

AFC East observations on the Super Bowl

February, 6, 2011
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Some AFC East-oriented thoughts after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the Super Bowl:

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskySteelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a mediocre game in Super Bowl XLV.
Ben Roethlisberger is not in Tom Brady's league yet. There had been some talk over the past two weeks that if Roethlisberger won the Super Bowl he would stand next to Brady and Peyton Manning in the pantheon of uber-elite NFL quarterbacks.

Roethlisberger has been sensational in the postseason, but not this postseason. Aside from a couple clutch throws, he was below average in beating the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game. He had another pedestrian outing Sunday.

He threw two interceptions, one that Nick Collins returned for a touchdown. Roethlisberger overthrew Mike Wallace twice in key situations in the third quarter: a would-be touchdown after Wallace got behind the Packers secondary and a third-and-2 play right before the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger also failed to take advantage of a defensive backfield missing its best player, Charles Woodson, the entire second half.

Roethlisberger is 10-3 in the postseason and has been to three Super Bowls in his seven NFL seasons. Brady won his first three Super Bowls and his first 10 postseason games before a defeat. Plus, Brady has appeared in a fourth Super Bowl.

I understand Brady has lost three straight postseason games, but he still has more championship rings and conference titles.

The New England Patriots were the Packers' springboard. The Packers have won every game since losing 31-27 at Gillette Stadium in Week 15. Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers was hurt and couldn't play, but the Packers still gave the scalding-hot Patriots a scare with backup quarterback Matt Flynn.

"The New England game was a big game for us," Rodgers said on ESPN's Super Bowl set Sunday night. "We lost that game, a game we were double-digit underdogs. I was out. Matt played great, and our defense played pretty well also.

"That was the game where, I think, [we said] 'We got a good team. Let's not lose this opportunity.'"

Howard Green quietly made one of the game's biggest plays. The former Jets defensive lineman didn't register a tackle. But he bull rushed Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu and, in a great individual effort, harassed Roethlisberger into a bad throw that turned into Collins' pick six. Green started only six games in the regular season and playoffs.

It wasn't quite Thurman Thomas losing his helmet at the start of Super Bowl XXVI, but Steelers left tackle Jonathan Scott -- not good enough to remain with the Buffalo Bills despite starting eight games in 2009 -- had to come off the field with the game on the line because his shoe came off.

Scott missed the Steelers' third-and-5 play with 62 seconds remaining and their fateful fourth-and-5 with 56 seconds left. Trai Essex replaced him as Roethlisberger's blindside protector and did OK while on his heels, but the switch was one more thing for Roethlisberger to worry about.

Roethlisberger threw incompletions on both plays.

A Lombardi Trophy would've completed a tremendous turnaround tale for Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler. He was dismissed from Buffalo's staff at the end of last season. The native of nearby Lockport, N.Y., was living a dream by coaching his hometown team. He was on Dick Jauron's staff and served under interim coach Perry Fewell through an ugly campaign. But new Bills general manager Buddy Nix cleared out the coaches' offices when he took over, and Kugler was snatched up by the Steelers.

Woodson still has Tuck Rule nightmares

December, 16, 2010
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After nearly nine years, Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson can't expunge the tuck rule from his brain.

He still has nightmares about the time he played for the Oakland Raiders and jarred the ball away from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, only to have the apparent fumble ruled an incomplete pass in snowy Gillette Stadium.

"Well, first, yeah, [Brady] did steal my ring," Woodson said on a conference call Wednesday. "I'm still waiting around to get mine."

On Sunday, Woodson and the Packers will return to the scene of the, er, ruling (NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2) to play Brady and the Patriots.

The forecast calls for snow showers.

Boston Herald reporter Ian R. Rapoport asked Woodson if the infamous "Tuck Rule Game" will be on his mind if the snow falls in Foxborough, Mass.

"I've had that flashback more times than I would like," Woodson said. "I'll catch that game on [ESPN] Classic or some football channel sometimes. Just that's a bad memory for me. But it is what it is.

"This week, we're just going to concentrate on trying to get this win, whether it snows or not."

AFC East High Energy Player of the Week

October, 5, 2010
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NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 4.

Never in a bazillion years did Dolfans think they ever would gaze onto the Sun Life Stadium field and wonder "Man, why did we cut Rob Ninkovich?"

The Miami Dolphins, in fact, waived Ninkovich twice in 2008. He landed with the New England Patriots last year as a role player at outside linebacker.

He played a huge role Monday night, enjoying the greatest game of his career against a former team. Relatively speaking, his game almost was bigger than his entire career to date.

Rob Ninkovich
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesRob Ninkovich produced a pair of interceptions and a sack against his former team Monday night.
Ninkovich, a fifth-year pro who'd never started a game until this year, recorded his first two NFL interceptions and added a sack in New England's 41-14 blowout at Miami.

Ninkovich caught more balls than Randy Moss did.

"Yeah, if we ever have injuries at receiver or tight end or need guys there I guess we can call on Rob," Patriots receiver Wes Welker said. "He has great hands. He had a great game, and everything that was in the air he pounced on."

How rare is it for any player to have a pair of interceptions and a sack in a game? Ninkovich was the first to do it this year.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson was the only one to do it last year, and he was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year while Ninkovich was compiling a grand total of 10 tackles for the season.

A two-interception, one-sack game has been recorded once before in Patriots history: by Otis Smith in 2002.

And here's another reason the Dolphins could've used Ninkovich on Monday night. He's a solid special-teams performer. In case you hadn't heard, the Dolphins had problems on kickoffs, punts and field goals Monday night.

"You know, I was here as a practice-squad guy," Ninkovich said. "Now that I'm here playing against them, it feels pretty good."

Is Revis really best defender of any sport?

July, 2, 2010
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Darrelle Revis saying "I'm the best defender in all of sports" generated an onslaught of comments on the AFC East blog and my Facebook page.

With that in mind, let's stop to consider the other top defenders out there.

Revis
There's no way to compare the New York Jets' all-world cornerback to somebody who plays on skates or wears a catcher's mitt, but to actually examine the other candidates might help put Revis' statement in perspective.

Baseball

Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners outfielder and Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels outfielder: Each has won nine Gold Gloves in a row. The only outfielders with more are Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones and Al Kaline. Ichiro also won seven straight Gold Gloves in Japan before he joined the Mariners.

Basketball

Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic center: He won his second straight NBA defensive player of the year award after becoming the first player to top the league in rebounds and blocks twice. And he's only 24. Howard's 64 double-doubles also led the league.

Hockey

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman: He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman for the past season. Keith recorded 69 points and had a plus-21 rating for the Stanley Cup champs. In a playoff game against the San Jose Sharks, he took a puck in the face and lost seven teeth. He missed about 6:30 of action.

Football

Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers cornerback: Let's not forget Revis didn't even win NFL's defensive player of the year award. While Revis is considered a better lockdown cornerback, Woodson won the award because he was a bigger playmaker and received twice as many votes. Woodson returned three of his league-leading nine interceptions for touchdowns and added two sacks and four forced fumbles.

Revis a finalist for top NFL player ESPY

June, 25, 2010
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New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is the league's top coverage man in my book.

What about the best player at any position?

ESPN puts Revis in the mix, naming him one of five ESPY Award finalists for best NFL player.

Also nominated (in alphabetical order) were New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who won The Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year Award last season.

Fans will decide the winner for this honor and most of the other ESPYS with an online ballot at ESPN.com. The ceremony takes place July 14.

AFC East mailbag on your doorstep

January, 16, 2010
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John in La Jolla, Calif., writes in with a complaint: "Tim, why do you have so little respect for the Chargers? I can't wait for your response. Hardly anyone at ESPN ever mentions them."

Tim Graham: The fact the San Diego Chargers play in the AFC West and this is an AFC East blog might have a little something to do with it. That would explain my lack of Chargers coverage over the past two years.

As for a lack of respect, I've gone on record as predicting the Chargers will beat the New York Jets on Sunday. So have all eight ESPN experts who pick the games, AccuScore and the SportsNation poll. Notice those 10 yellow lightning bolts all in a row? That means they're predicting a Chargers victory.

Ethan in Austin, Texas, thinks the Buffalo Bills' inability to land a coach has been "overplayed" because of his belief that Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is the only one to have turned down an interview, that Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera eventually will interview and that there have been no confirmed reports Bill Cowher is out of the mix.

TG: That's an awful lot of blind hope. In all fairness, Ethan submitted his question before Saturday's report in the Buffalo News that Arizona Cardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm likely won't accept the Bills' invitation to interview either. Even so, these men also spurned overtures from the Bills: Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren and Charlie Weis. Mike Shanahan interviewed and went elsewhere. That's a lot of rejection.

Interim coach Perry Fewell would rather have the New York Giants' defensive coordinator job than the possibility of the Bills' head-coaching position. That leaves one candidate we know they've interviewed and still is available, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

As for still waiting on Cowher, what are you basing that hope on? Other reports that state the Bills have been pursuing him? You can't listen only to the stories that tell you what you want to hear. ESPN's Adam Schefter and John Clayton and Sports Illustrated's Peter King all have reported Cowher isn't coming to Buffalo.

Tony in Madison, Wisc., wants to know what the Miami Dolphins should do in the draft. He mentions the defensive line, receiver and safety.

TG: Let's not forget inside linebacker. The Dolphins need to upgrade there, too. They were ready to walk away from Channing Crowder last year and let him become a free agent. Crowder gave them a discount rate to remain with the team. Otherwise, the Dolphins would have gone a different direction a while ago. Akin Ayodele hasn't been a difference-maker, either.

The Dolphins own the No. 12 selection. A receiver there would be the sexiest pick. Chad Henne could use a formidable and reliable downfield target. But if the Dolphins identify a nose tackle they like, and who projects worthy of the draft slot, then that could be the way to go. Nose tackle is critical to a 3-4 defense. Jason Ferguson is a free agent, would turn 36 next season and is coming off a leg injury that limited him to nine games. Paul Soliai was adequate in Ferguson's place, but the Dolphins probably wouldn't mind improving there.

Carlos posted a question on my Facebook wall about how the Patriots might change on the offensive line to make room for Sebastian Vollmer. (If anybody else wants to friend me on Facebook, you can get alerts on my blogs the second they're posted.)

TG: Although receiver Julian Edelman was the biggest name at the end of the year, Vollmer was the prize of New England's 2009 rookie class. Vollmer showed he was capable of being a franchise left tackle, but the Patriots would be better off if they kept the aging-but-still-capable Matt Light through the final year of his contract and insert Vollmer on the right side for Nick Kaczur. If the Patriots wanted to cut payroll, however, then they could start Vollmer at left tackle next year with no problem.

In response to the debate about whether Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis deserved to win the AP's Defensive Player of the Year Award instead of Green Bay Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, Kevin in Menlo Park, Calif., wants to know how each player compared from a penalty standpoint.

TG: Revis was penalized four times for 20 yards. Three flags were for illegal contact. The other was for defensive holding. No pass interference calls.

Woodson was penalized eight times for 68 yards. He was called for pass interference three times, defensive holding three times and facemask twice.

Steve in Middlesex, N.J., writes in with a correction. He points out that twice I erroneously cited the Dallas Cowboys finished with a better scoring defense while, in fact, the Jets gave up fewer points.

TG: Guilty as charged. I have no explanation other than I must've looked up the stat incorrectly the first time and then committed those false numbers to memory. For the record, the Jets allowed a league-low 236 points for an average of 14.8 points per game. The Cowboys allowed 250 points for an average of 15.6 points per game.

Gene in Rochester, N.Y., writes: "Do you ever get tired putting down the Bills all the time? Its getting old."

TG: After a full decade without making the playoffs, the only way I can avoid writing anything negative about the Bills would be not to cover them at all.

Did Revis get robbed of DPOY honor?

January, 12, 2010
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The debate already has started over whether New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was snubbed when the Associated Press passed him over for defensive player of the year.

Revis
Revis
Revis established himself as perhaps the best lockdown defender in the NFL, but Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson won the award with a more complete statistical season.

I agree with AP's selection, although I'm a tad surprised the competition wasn't closer. Woodson received 28 votes, while Revis had half that. They accounted for 84 percent of the vote.

NFC North raconteur Kevin Seifert conceded in his commentary that Revis had superior pass-coverage skills, but Woodson showed throughout 2009 he deserved the award more.

"If you game plan well, it's possible to limit the impact of a shutdown corner like Revis," Seifert writes. "But when your skills cross so many platforms, as Woodson's do, it's impossible to diminish his presence."

Readers have gotten passionate in their arguments.

In the comment section of my initial post about Revis coming in a distant second to Woodson, a couple of readers who saw my recent posts about "burn percentage" wanted to know how Revis and Woodson compared.

Stats Inc. records what it calls "burns," the number of times a defender allows a reception to the man he's covering. Stats Inc. then divides that by the number of times the defender is targeted to compute a "burn percentage," a stat in which Revis led the NFL.

Revis: 40 receptions on 108 targets (37.0 percent) for 439 yards and two touchdowns.

Woodson: 40 receptions on 84 targets (47.6 percent) for 560 yards and six touchdowns.

Revis loses top D honor to Woodson

January, 12, 2010
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New York Jets star Darrelle Revis might be the NFL's best coverage cornerback.

He was the top player on the league's No. 1 defense, but that doesn’t mean he was the greatest defender around.

The Associated Press selected Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson its 2009 defensive player of the year.

AP's panel cast 28 first-place votes for Woodson, 14 for Revis.

Jets fans likely will perceive the award as a snub, but Woodson had a more well-rounded season.

Woodson's nine interceptions were tied for the NFL lead. So were his three interception returns for touchdowns. He forced four fumbles and recorded two sacks.

Revis had six interceptions (one for a touchdown) and a league-leading 37 passes defensed. The Jets don't order Revis to blitz, so he didn't have any sacks.

Byrd keeps piece of interception title

January, 4, 2010
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Buffalo Bills rookie safety Jairus Byrd can exhale.

Nobody overtook him as the NFL's interceptions leader.

With two weeks left in the regular season, Byrd went on injured reserve because he opted to have groin surgery. He had a league-leading nine interceptions at the time, but was tied by New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel in Week 16.

Byrd held onto a piece of the title Sunday. Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted his ninth pass, but nobody snatched a 10th, leaving Byrd in a four-way tie for the honor.

Byrd's nine interceptions set Buffalo's rookie record. He had at least one interception in five straight games, also a club record.

On the topic of Bills milestones, here are some records they broke in 2009:

  • Fewest first downs in a season, 233 (234 in 2006).
  • Fewest fumbles recovered, five (seven in 1997).
  • Highest punting average, Brian Moorman at 46.58 yards (Moorman at 45.66 yards in 2005).
  • Most career punt returns, Roscoe Parrish with 118 (Jeff Burris had 100).

Dolphins among clubs supersizing cornerbacks

June, 23, 2009
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Andy Lyons, Paul Jasienski and Marc Serota/Getty Images
With the prevalence of wideouts over 6 feet tall, teams are seeking similar-size cornerbacks such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Darrelle Revis and Sean Smith to match up.

DAVIE, Fla. -- In a land of munchkins, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens -- already giants in their field -- stand even taller.

Towering receivers make it seem so easy when they leap into the air and come down with the ball for a touchdown. They're tall. They can sky. They're often unchallenged.

The NFL has enough short cornerbacks to fill a forest of Keebler trees. That's the way it has been for years. By football standards, the cornerbacks are uncommonly good for men standing 5 foot 8 or 5 foot 9. You won't see quarterbacks or linebackers that size. Or punters, for that matter.

Cornerbacks are wiry bundles of fast-twitch muscles. What they give up in physicality they compensate with zippiness and vertical leaps.

But cornerback size has become an issue in some front offices.

Teams, including the Miami Dolphins, have made an effort to grow. There's a greater emphasis being placed on matching up physically, whether it be on jump balls in the end zone or press coverage at the line of scrimmage.

"When you have 6-5 against 5-8, you have some discrepancies there," Dolphins secondary coach Todd Bowles said.

Cornerbacks have experienced an acute growth spurt in recent years.

The Elias Sports Bureau found that 31 percent of cornerbacks who started at least eight games in 2004 were listed at 6 feet or taller.
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was one of four 6-foot-2 starting cornerbacks last season.

Last year, the number was 41 percent.

No regular starter was taller than 6 foot 2 last year, but the four listed at that height were Nnamdi Asomugha, Antonio Cromartie, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ike Taylor. So that's the best in the business (Asomugha), the 2007 interception leader (Cromartie), a top rookie last year (Rodgers-Cromartie) and two Super Bowl starters (Rodgers-Cromartie, Taylor).

In previewing the 2006 draft, ESPN's John Clayton noted there also were four 6-foot-2 starting cornerbacks the year before. That quartet was considerably less impressive: Julian Battle, Gary Baxter, Mike Rumph and Andre Woolfolk.

Apparently, finer tall athletes are playing the position now.

"The receivers are getting a lot bigger, the Calvin Johnsons, Randy Mosses and Terrell Owenses of the world," said Bowles, who played eight seasons at safety for the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers. "You can get a 5-8, 180-pound corner with all the quickness and skill in the world, but you get third-and-2, third-and-3, the [receivers are] running slants and pushing them out of the way and bodying them out in the red zone."

In Clayton's story from 2006, he quoted then-Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese as saying the "optimum height [for a cornerback] is about 5-11." Reese cited a 10-year study that suggested taller cornerbacks don't last as long because they tend to be more physical.

Reese, now a senior football adviser with the New England Patriots, has watched his new club grow at cornerback. This offseason, the Patriots traded 5-foot-9 starter Ellis Hobbs and picked up 6-foot Shawn Springs and 6-foot-1 Leigh Bodden.

Elsewhere in the AFC East, the New York Jets have 6-foot Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis and 5-foot-10 Lito Sheppard. The Buffalo Bills have the shortest projected starters. Terrence McGee is listed at 5 foot 9, and Leodis McKelvin at 5 foot 10. But free-agent acquisition Drayton Florence is 6 feet tall.

The Dolphins were concerned with their size at cornerback even before the Bills welcomed Owens to the AFC East.

The Dolphins sometimes felt overmatched last year against a series of big receivers: Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Bowe.

Miami kept Marshall and Bowe in check, but surrendered 153 yards to Fitzgerald, 178 yards to Johnson and 125 yards and three touchdowns to Moss.

"You better have some big, strong people that can compete against these guys," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said, "because they're big, strong, physical receivers that can take over a game in those situations. I think that you need to be prepared when you're playing against them."

Miami's starting cornerbacks last year were
Will Allen and Andre' Goodman. Both are listed at 5 foot 10, an inch below the league average for an NFL starter.
Gene Lower/Getty Images
The Dolphins got bigger at CB this offseason through the draft and by signing 5-foot-11 Eric Green.

Goodman departed via free agency. The Dolphins signed Eric Green, a 5-foot-11 former Arizona Cardinal, and selected two more corners early in the draft. They chose Vontae Davis (5 foot 11) of Illinois in the first round and Sean Smith (6 foot 3) of Utah in the second round.

"We like big corners," Sparano said. "In fact, we'll take smaller corners in some situations off the [draft] board, and they might just be good players for other people, just maybe not for us."

Smith received first-team reps at right corner during organized team activities.

"It definitely makes it more difficult for receivers to catch the ball and ball placement for quarterbacks," Smith said. "With my reach and size, you definitely have to keep the ball away from me. With that in my mind, my size helps me out a lot."

Sparano's former team, the Dallas Cowboys, is among those not motivated to get taller at cornerback.

The Cowboys, in fact, have gotten shorter. They traded Anthony Henry and moved Alan Ball to safety. Each is listed at 6-foot-1.

"Our top three corners right now are 5-10 or less, and we're pretty satisfied with that because they all can run," Cowboys assistant secondary coach Brett Maxie said. "They all can play the ball down the field, and they're physical."

Maxie noted the NFC East doesn't have the same physical receivers to worry about as other divisions, especially now that the New York Giants have ejected Plaxico Burress.

"We face faster, smaller guys," said Maxie, who played safety for 13 years in the NFL. "You've got to be able to match up with those guys. You can't sit there and press all day. You've got to be able to play off, react quickly, change it up.

"Some teams would rather go after a tougher 5-foot-9 corner that can play Cover 2 and jam and tackle and be physical at the point of attack rather than go out and get a 6-foot corner who's a cover guy and not real physical."

Maxie also explained the taller a cornerback is, the more difficulty he will have recovering when beat at the line. Once the receiver gets a step, it's tougher for a defender with size to quickly change direction and cover him.

"If you go out and get that bigger corner, he better be able to press at the line of scrimmage," Maxie said. "Secondly, he's got to be able to run."

Those players are difficult to find, but they're out there. One team has two of them. Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson are 6 foot 1 each and made the Pro Bowl last year.

The Dolphins are confident bigger will be better for them.

"You probably lose a little bit of niftiness, but speed and physicalness makes up for that," Bowles said. "With the receivers as big as they are nowadays, you don't see the niftiness in them anymore anyways. That's why we thought it was important."

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