NFC South: Antonio Cromartie

Julio Jones has drawn double coverage more often than not this season. Now the Atlanta Falcons receiver will face a player bold enough to play him straight up.

New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie might not have sidekick Darrelle Revis to work alongside anymore, but Cromartie is capable of being a top shutdown corner himself.

Jones realizes it.

"He’s a very athletic, long, rangy corner," Jones said of Cromartie. "And he’s got great speed."
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jones could be shadowed by the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Cromartie during Monday night’s Falcons-Jets matchup on ESPN. At least that’s what Jones saw Cromartie do during a preseason matchup with Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

"He matched Johnson the whole time, so it’s a possibility," Jones said. "But when you’ve got two great receivers on one team, it’s not telling who they’re going to match: me or Roddy (White)."

But White continues to recover from a high-ankle sprain, which has limited his effectiveness. Jones has dealt with a lingering knee issue that has caused him to miss some practice time. Regardless, Jones entered Week 5 with a NFL-leading 481 receiving yards on 33 receptions.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cromartie, who has 10 interceptions since joining the Jets in 2010, hasn’t missed a single game while with New York, and has been off the field for a total of 37 opponent dropbacks during the past three seasons. During that time, the Jets have the lowest opponent QBR (42.1) on throws outside the painted numbers, and are one of 2 teams who have allowed a completion percentage less than 50 percent on those throws (Jets, 48.0 percent, and Houston, 49.3 percent).

Cromartie has a team-high 14 combined interceptions and pass breakups on those throws during the past three seasons, tied for 18th most in the league. He talked about the key to slowing down a big receiver such as Jones, who does much of his work outside the numbers.

"It’s trying to be as physical as possible," Cromartie said. "I think the bigger receivers, you want to take them out (the game) so you want to be as physical as possible. You try to take them out [of] the game early. You have to understand that there will be catches that will be made here and there. If you’re not letting up big plays, you’re doing your job."

Jones had an 81-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the St. Louis Rams in Week 2. He also made a leaping, 49-yard yard catch in double coverage during a loss to the New England Patriots. Yet the vertical game between quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones has been missing for most of the season.

Ryan has gotten the ball out quickly to compensate for protection issues. He might have to continue the trend against a potent Jets front seven.

Whatever the case, Ryan can rely on Jones to have some sort of impact, even if matched against Cromartie. Jones has three consecutive 100-yard receiving outings despite drawing added attention. And if the Jets do commit two guys to him, it will give the other Falcons receivers a chance to win their one-on-one matchups.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Unsolicited during Thursday’s conference call with the Atlanta media, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan gushed over Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

"He’s on fire, there’s no question," the coach said of Ryan. "He’s so accurate with the football; [a] student of the game. You see his preparation obviously is tremendous. I don’t know if he’s quite there yet with [Tom] Brady and Peyton Manning, but he’s certainly close."

Matt Ryan would settle for being a lot better in the red zone.

As they continue preparation for the Jets on Monday night, questions abound about why the 1-3 Falcons can’t punch it into the end zone. They are ranked 29th in the league in red-zone efficiency, scoring just seven touchdowns in 18 trips (38.9 percent).

Irate fans are pointing the finger at Ryan, who admitted throwing a few bad red-zone passes in last Sunday’s loss to New England. Ryan understands the concerns from the outside world. At the same time, he’s been around long enough to realize how to react to negativity.

"You have to be able to eliminate kind of the noise from the outside, when things are good or bad," Ryan said. "We’ve kind of have both of those in this locker room. We’ve had it where people are on the bandwagon, then people are off the bandwagon. And it’s about trying to eliminate that and staying focused on us, and how we prepare and how we get ourselves ready to play.

"And I think regardless of good or bad, you have to have that camaraderie. And I think we do. I think we have a really good locker room. I think guys are continuing to battle, do all the things that we need to do in order to give ourselves a chance to win."

Attacking the Jets won’t be easy. Coach Ryan already has a blueprint on how to defend the Falcons based on the success his brother, New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, had during a Week 1 win over the Falcons. The Jets have a big, physical corner in Antonio Cromartie (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) capable of matching up with Julio Jones and Roddy White. Not to mention the Jets -- with seven new starters on defense -- are tied for third in the league in sacks (14) and are second in tackles for a loss (18), which is why they boast the second-best total defense and fifth-best rushing defense.

"Their front seven is extremely physical,’’ the quarterback Ryan said. "They’re in a 3-4 scheme but they play some four-down and three-down fronts. And they’re really good against the run. They’re stout. But they’re really good pass-rushers, too, which, from a 3-4 team, sometimes their two-gapping guys and their pass-rush isn’t quite as fast as some others. But the Jets' pass rush is really good."

The Jets have done their homework. Coach Ryan timed quarterback Ryan delivering the ball out of his hands in an average of two seconds. A veteran corner such as Cromartie might be inclined to jump a route knowing how quickly the quarterback is likely to deliver the ball.

Quarterback Ryan was asked about Coach Ryan’s timing claim.

"I didn’t put a stop-clock on it," Ryan said with a laugh. "That’s the way it’s been up until this point. We’ve done some things getting the ball out fairly quickly. We’ve been pretty effective.

"We haven’t score as much as we would like to, but we’ve gone against some good front sevens, too. And when you do that, you need to get the ball out."

Praising the Atlanta Falcons

September, 7, 2011
I’ve heard from a lot of Atlanta fans recently who feel the Falcons aren’t getting the respect they deserve from the national media.

Well, let’s open things up to the international media. Brad Gagnon, who I like to call the best NFL writer in Canada, has the Falcons winning the Super Bowl in his preseason predictions.

He’s got the Falcons going 12-4, winning the NFC South and defeating the Steelers in the Super Bowl. By the way, Gagnon also has the Saints and Buccaneers making the playoffs. Looks like the NFC South has a friend in Canada.

As long as we’re heaping praise on the Falcons, let’s turn to this Insider piece from KC Joyner. He ranks the best cornerback tandems in the NFL. Guess what? He’s got Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes at No. 1, ahead of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie of the Jets.

Joyner’s got all sorts of metrics to support his theory. I’m not a big metrics guy, but I respect them and will take KC’s word for it. By my instincts say he may not be wrong. Grimes and Robinson are an excellent tandem.

I know people like to point to Robinson’s one interception (and big contract) from last season and say he had a bad year. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think his presence was felt. I think teams threw away from him and toward Grimes. That’s why Grimes had big numbers and made the Pro Bowl. Now that teams know who Grimes is, things might be a little more balanced and Robinson might have better statistics.

Of course, a lot is going to depend on if the Falcons find a solid nickelback.
We already have talked quite a bit about players from the NFC South who are expected to become unrestricted free agents. We’re going on the assumption that players not under contract who have at least four accrued seasons can become unrestricted free agents.

With that in mind, and with some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at some of the more prominent potential free agents from the rest of the league.

QUARTERBACKS: Marc Bulger, Kerry Collins, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, Patrick Ramsey, Alex Smith, Billy Volek, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, Bruce Gradkowski, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith and Tyler Thigpen.

RUNNING BACKS: Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Kevin Faulk, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, Clinton Portis, Dominic Rhodes, Tony Richardson, Kevin Smith, Darren Sproles, Fred Taylor, Brian Westbrook, Ricky Williams, Joseph Addai, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerome Harrison, Brandon Jackson, Laurence Maroney and LeRon McClain.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Mark Clayton, Braylon Edwards, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, Terrell Owens, Donte’ Stallworth, Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd, Santonio Holmes, James Jones, Sidney Rice, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith and Steve Smith (of the New York Giants, not the Steve Smith of Carolina).

TIGHT ENDS: Desmond Clark, Donald Lee, Randy McMichael, Bo Scaife, Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels, Daniel Fells, Zach Miller, Ben Patrick and Matt Spaeth.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: David Baas, Jammal Brown, Robert Gallery, Adam Goldberg, Kyle Kosier, Olin Kreutz, Matt Light, Sean Locklear, Casey Rabach, Chris Spencer, Langston Walker, Casey Wiegmann, Floyd Womack, Damien Woody, Chris Chester, Jeromey Clary, Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, Doug Free, Jared Gaither, Charlie Johnson, Deuce Lutui, Samson Satele, Lyle Sendlein and Marshal Yanda.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Aubrayo Franklin, Tommie Harris, Chris Hoke, Chris Hovan, Kris Jenkins, Bryan Robinson, Gerard Warren, Jamal Williams, Pat Williams, Alan Branch, Barry Cofield, John McCargo and Brandon Mebane.

DEFENSIVE ENDS: Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Raheem Brock, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Cullen Jenkins, Travis LaBoy, Trevor Pryce, Marcus Spears, Ray Edwards and Mathias Kiwanuka.

LINEBACKERS: Akin Ayodele, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Burnett, Dhani Jones, Kirk Morrison, Julian Peterson, Matt Roth, Takeo Spikes, Jason Taylor, Mike Vrabel, Stewart Bradley, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Paul Posluszny, Ernie Sims and Stephen Tulloch.

CORNERBACKS: Nnamdi Asomugha, Phillip Buchanon, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Ellis Hobbs, Carlos Rogers, Lito Sheppard, Ike Taylor, Fabian Washington, Drew Coleman, Antonio Cromartie, Chris Houston, Johnathan Joseph, Dimitri Patterson, Josh Wilson and Eric Wright.

SAFETIES: Aaron Francisco, Ken Hamlin, Michael Lewis, Brandon McGowan, Quintin Mikell, Lawyer Milloy, Brodney Pool, Gerald Sensabaugh, Roy Williams, Gibril Wilson, Atari Bigby, Melvin Bullitt, Abram Elam, Dashon Goldson, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Danieal Manning, Bernard Pollard, Eric Weddle and Donte Whitner.

NFC South, Ricky Williams, Gibril Wilson, Gerald Sensabaugh, T.J.Houshmandzadeh, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Lawyer Milloy, Ronnie Brown, Phillip Buchanon, Jammal Brown, Billy Volek, Jason Taylor, unrestricted free agents, Mark Clayton, Chris Hovan, Rex Grossman, Tyler Thigpen, Randy Moss, Kris Jenkins, ESPN Stats & Information, Chris Houston, Alex Smith, Brandon McGowan, Danieal Manning, Bruce Gradkowski, Michael Lewis, Fred Taylor, Steve Breaston, Roy Williams, Nnamdi Asomugha, Trevor Pryce, Santana Moss, Tavaris Jackson, Pat Williams, Kellen Clemens, Julian Peterson, Donte Stallworth, Kerry Collins, Brodie Croyle, Cedric Benson, Clinton Portis, Zach Miller, Brian Westbrook, Damien Woody, Troy Smith, Marc Bulger, Kevin Faulk, Ray Edwards, Sidney Rice, Antonio Cromartie, Jamal Williams, Mathias Kiwanuka, Patrick Ramsey, Aaron Francisco, Joseph Addai, Darren Sproles, Matt Leinart, Tony Richardson, Ike Taylor, Josh Wilson, Matt Hasselbeck, Atari Bigby, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Marcus Spears, Jonathan Joseph, Paul Posluszny, Matt Light, Trent Edwards, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, Dominic Rhodes, Kevin Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerom Harrison, Brandon Jackson, Laurence Maroney, LeRon McClain, Malcolm Floyd, James Jones, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith, Desmond Clark, Donald Lee, Randy McMichael, Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels, Daniel Fells, Ben Patrick, Matt Spaeth, David Baas, Robert Gallery, Adam Goldberg, Kyle Kosier, Olin Kreutz, Sean Locklear, Casey Rabach, Chris Spencer, Langston Walker, Casey Wiegmann, Floyd Womack, Chris Chester, Jeromey Clary, Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, Jared Gaither, Charlie Johnson, Deuce Lutui, Samson Satele, Lyle Sendlein, Marshal Yanda, Aubrayo Franklin, Tommis Harris, Chris Hoke, Bryan Robinson, Gerard Warren, Alan Branch, Barry Cofield, John McCargo, Brandon Mebane, Raheem Brock, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Travis LaBoy, Akin Ayodele, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Burnett, Dhani Jones, Kirk Morrison, Takeo Spikes, Mike Vrabel, Stewart Bradley, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Ernie Sims, Stephen Tulloch, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Ellis Hobbs, Carlos Rogers, Lito Sheppard, Fabian Washington, Drew Coleman, Demitri Patterson, Eric Wright, Ken Hamlin, Quintin Mikell, Brodney Pool, Melvin Bullitt, Abram Elam, Dashon Goldson, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Bernard Pollard, Eric Weedle, Donte Whitner

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 31, 2010
NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

They’re sitting at No. 3 and recent history indicates they’ll get a big name, but not necessarily a guaranteed star. The jury is still very much out on defensive end Tyson Jackson, who went to Kansas City in this spot last year. Jackson didn’t record a sack in his rookie year. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan went No. 3 overall in 2008 and is off to a very good start, and the same can be said for 2007 No. 3 pick Joe Thomas. The Cleveland offensive tackle already has been picked for three Pro Bowls. But 2006 third pick Vince Young and 2005 No. 3 Braylon Edwards have both had very uneven careers thus far.

Atlanta Falcons

They hold the No. 19 pick and the recent history in that spot has been solid. Philadelphia receiver Jeremy Maclin and Carolina offensive tackle Jeff Otah are off to strong starts. Tennessee safety Michael Griffin, who went in this spot in 2007, has been a very solid player and 2005 pick Alex Barron has been a regular starter at offensive tackle for the Rams. The biggest question mark at this spot in recent history is Antonio Cromartie. He had a few very productive years in San Diego, but slumped last season, prompting his move to the New York Jets.

New Orleans Saints

They hold the No. 32 pick, the final one in the first round because they won the Super Bowl. There are no guarantees of instant success when you’re picking this late. Ziggy Hood went in this spot to Pittsburgh last year and the Steelers are bringing him along very slowly. Safety Kenny Phillips went No. 32 to the Giants in 2008. He was primarily a backup as a rookie and got hurt early last year. It’s a similar story for 2007 pick Anthony Gonzalez of the Colts. He showed promise in his first two seasons as a backup, but an injury derailed him last year. The Giants have had mixed results with defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, whom they took in this spot in 2006. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he has been somewhat productive. The real gem in this spot has been 2005 pick Logan Mankins. The New England guard has been to two Pro Bowls.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers traded this year’s first-round pick to San Francisco last year. As a result, their top pick is in the second round and it’s No. 48 overall. History has shown you still can get a productive player at this spot. Cornerback Darcel McBath got off to a good start with Denver last year before being sidelined with an injury late in the season. Tight end Fred Davis had a quiet rookie season with the Redskins in 2008, but started to emerge last year. Jacksonville linebacker Justin Durant was a part-time-starter as a rookie in 2007, but has been a full-time starter the past two seasons. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has developed into a solid starter in Minnesota after being selected by the Vikings in 2006. Then, there’s the sad story of linebacker Odell Thurman, whom the Bengals took at No. 48 in 2005. He played only two seasons before suspensions and off-field problems derailed his career.

Weekend mailbag

February, 20, 2010
I’m going to put up an extensive mailbag today and hope that helps keep you occupied for the next few days as the NFC South Blog takes its first true time off since July. I’ll be back Tuesday, so have the mailbag stocked with more and we’ll do another mailbag next week.

Cody in New Orleans writes: I just read your recent post on Julius Peppers. I remember a while back you mentioning New Orleans as a possible landing place for Peppers. Well, from reading your article, if Peppers is really the way you describe him, there is not a chance he's coming anywhere close to New Orleans. Do you think Sean Payton would have that type of player in the locker room? I know he's a great player (when he wants to be) but the Saints are much about team chemistry and I just don't see Peppers fitting in.

Pat Yasinskas: To clarify, my first item about Peppers with speculation of the Saints being an impossible scenario was written before I had time to bring myself up to speed on the new rules in free agency this year. As one of the final four teams, the Saints can not sign an unrestricted free agent without losing one at a similar price tag. The Saints don’t have anyone to fit the profile. They can’t sign Peppers as a free agent. The only way they could get him would be if the Panthers placed the franchise tag on him and then traded him to the Saints. That’s a long shot. But I will say New Orleans is the one place in the NFC South that I think Peppers could fit. They’ve got strong locker-room leadership and a demanding coordinator in Gregg Williams. They also have plenty of other stars now, so Peppers wouldn’t have to feel like he’s the whole show. Besides, Peppers isn't a bad locker-room guy, he's just not a vocal leader.

Brett in Toronto writes: Why are the Buc's not mentioned as potential suitors for Cromartie? Don't they need a corner to play opposite Talib? There is no question regarding cap room and the Bucs who have a crowded back field are in a good position to send a running back to the Chargers.

Pat Yasinskas: Hey, I’m with you on this one. If the Bucs could get the Chargers to trade Cromartie for Derrick Ward, I think it would be a great move for Tampa Bay. Flip side is I don’t know that Ward is enough to excite San Diego.

Steve in Indio, CA writes: Just wanted to ask if there is any chance the Falcons try to dangle Jerious Norwood to the Chargers for Antonio Cromartie? Norwood would be missed of course but the addition of Cromartie would make the Falcons a better team immediately.

Pat Yasinskas: While I have no knowledge that situation has even been discussed, I certainly think it’s something the Falcons should consider. Cromartie could solve a lot of problems at cornerback. Norwood has had his moments in Atlanta, but hasn’t produced consistently. The Falcons also have Michael Turner and Jason Snelling at running back. I think they can spare Norwood if it means getting a quality cornerback.

Zach in Gainesville, GA writes: Why in the world would the Panthers just let Peppers walk? This makes no sense to me. We NEED to get something from losing him. The only thing I could think of as being a reason for letting him go is that they want to be active in free agency and if we tag Pep we won't have the cap room to do so until we trade him, which may be too late to snag a top FA or two...Help make sense of it Pat!

Pat Yasinskas: Zach, I wish I could make sense of this, but it’s not making any sense to me either. I firmly believe the Panthers should franchise Peppers and turn around and trade him. That way, they at least get something out of him. They get nothing if he simply walks. But I think this is more about a dysfunctional relationship than simply money. Peppers never has been comfortable in Carolina and the Panthers haven’t always handled him right. That’s brought a lot of frustration. I don’t think there’s anyone more frustrated than owner Jerry Richardson and I think letting Peppers walk might be his way of showing the rest of his players who is running the team.

Donnie in parts unknown writes: Are there any chances that Carolina will put the franchise tag on Julius Peppers?

Pat Yasinskas: As I said above, I personally would use the tag on Peppers. But all indications I’ve seen and heard are that they’re fully prepared to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent.

Steven in Los Angeles, Ca writes: Why does nobody think Steve Smith can handle having another great receiver on the field with him? He's not TO...Moose might be the only guy thats gotten along with him... but was there ever another number 2 other than Moose? Even when Moose wasn't there.. there wasn't really anyone other than Smith.

Pat Yasinskas: Dwayne Jarrett and Keary Colbert were drafted in the second round to take that role. Keyshawn Johnson got a big-time contract to take that role. All of those guys had some talent. None of them worked out and part of it was chemistry. Smith isn’t T.O., but he’s a volatile guy who views everyone as a potential threat. He wasn’t out there helping mentor Colbert or Jarrett and he and Keyshawn were never buddies. I’m not saying wide receivers have to be best friends. But there is some chemistry involved and for someone to succeed alongside Smith, they have to get the right kind of personality.