NFC South: Miles Austin
October, 31, 2009
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
|AP Photo/Lynne Sladky|
|Drew Brees and the Saints will look to exploit Atlanta’s struggling secondary.|
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
On paper, it might be the biggest mismatch of the NFL season.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and his army of receivers, which just might be the deepest stable in the league, vs. Atlanta’s much-maligned secondary.
You could say this one is Goliath going against David again. But that one doesn’t quite fit because David also had a bit of a pass rush to compensate for his lack of size.
The Falcons simply don’t have a lot going for them in the secondary right now, and that could end up costing them any shot at the NFC South title. At 4-2, they’re already on the verge of playing only for a wild-card spot as they head into the Superdome to play the undefeated Saints on "Monday Night Football."
The Saints have Brees, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey and a whole bunch of other guys who can catch the ball all over the field. They’ve also got the tape of last week’s Atlanta loss to Dallas -- a game in which the shortcomings of the Falcons’ secondary were exposed repeatedly.
“They got hit in a couple of pressures when they weren’t able to get to the quarterback so they had receivers with a lot of time to work downfield and the Cowboys did a good job of taking advantage of some of those,’’ Brees said.
That’s just Brees being politically correct, as he always is. But, you have to figure that Brees and coach Sean Payton have spent the week watching the Atlanta-Dallas film and getting more than a little excited about the possibilities. If Tony Romo and Miles Austin can batter the Atlanta secondary, Brees, Colston and company could absolutely shred it.
The Falcons don’t have anything close to a shutdown corner, and two of their top three cornerbacks wouldn’t be among top three cornerbacks on any other team. Although Atlanta coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have done a great job since taking over a franchise in total disarray, cornerback might be the one spot they’re not better off than they were when they took charge in 2008.
|Tim Heitman/US Presswire|
|Dallas’ Miles Austin torched the Falcons for 171 yards and two touchdowns.|
Part of it is bad luck. The Falcons lost veteran cornerback Brian Williams to a season-ending injury. But part of it is that the Falcons largely have ignored this position. That’s been showing up recently and it could be completely exploited by the Saints. If that happens, Dimitroff and Smith have no one to blame but themselves.
They didn’t have a strong stable of cornerbacks last year, but they were able to hide that. They had an entire offseason to get better and they didn’t. They let Domonique Foxworth go in free agency and decided to stick with Chris Houston, Chevis Jackson and Brent Grimes -- and that’s a little scary.
Houston’s the best of the bunch, but he’s a decent No. 2 cornerback being asked to be a shutdown guy. Grimes is athletic, but woefully undersized. Jackson showed some big promise as a rookie, but hasn’t been able to cover anyone this year.
The problems became apparent in the preseason and training camp and that’s why the Falcons went out and signed Williams and traded for Tye Hill at the last minute. Williams was decent before his injury, but Hill hasn’t shown anything to convince the coaching staff to let him on the field.
The Falcons also have rookie Christopher Owens and there are hopes that he could be an impact player down the road. Don’t be surprised if Owens gets some playing time against the Saints because his size might allow him to match up better than Grimes against the New Orleans receivers, but Owens isn’t going to fix all of the problems in one game.
If there is any hope for the Atlanta cornerbacks to at least slow down Brees and the passing game, they’ll have to have help -- lots of it -- and there haven’t been many signs that anyone is ready to come to the rescue.
The Falcons were able to hide their deficiencies in coverage last year mainly by putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That came almost entirely from veteran pass-rush specialist John Abraham, but he’s been relatively quiet this season.
At times in the Dallas game, Abraham was seen dropping into pass coverage, which makes about as much sense as putting Brees in the Wildcat formation. You have to let your best players do what they do best and the Falcons need to let Abraham focus solely on getting to Brees. They also need some help from their other starting defensive end, Kroy Biermann, who started the season fast, but has cooled off recently.
Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder tried to give the pass rush some help against Dallas by blitzing frequently, but that didn’t really work out. The blitzers seldom got close to Romo and he was able to find the weak spots in the secondary.
“You live by the pressure and you die by the pressure,’’ Brees said. “You might make a few plays when you pressure, but you’re leaving yourself open to giving up some big plays. That’s the pros and cons on a pressure defense.’’
Those are the pros and cons facing Smith and VanGorder. They have to generate a pass rush to keep their cornerbacks from being stuck in coverage too long. But Brees and the Saints are pretty good at handling pressure. Brees gets rid of the ball quickly and doesn’t take many sacks.
“I figure, with these guys, they’ve shown to pressure a lot at times and do some things that they haven’t done in the past,’’ Brees said.
Maybe that’s the key for the Falcons. Maybe they need to do something they haven’t done in the past -- like have their cornerbacks actually cover some receivers.
September, 13, 2009
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
|Kim Klement/US Presswire|
|Miles Austin and the Dallas receivers had their way with the Tampa Bay secondary.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Hmmm, let's test our memories here. Who's the last person to be stopped by a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary?
Oh, got it.
It was that cab driver who pulled over to call police back in August and allege cornerback Aqib Talib had punched him from the backseat. It sure as heck wasn't Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton or Miles Austin. They just kept catching and running ... and running.
"We just gave up too many plays on the defensive side of the ball," Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said.
It would be nice to cut Morris some slack in his first game as an NFL head coach. But that's not going to happen because what took place Sunday was about much more than Tampa Bay's defense surrendering (and we mean surrendering) 462 yards of offense in a 34-21 loss to Dallas.
What happened Sunday goes way beyond Morris being new to his role. You could give him some slack for the offense, but that unit actually played better than just about anyone expected. The defense was what let Morris down -- specifically, the defensive backs.
"We've got to stand up and take responsibility," safety-turned-linebacker-turned safety again Jermaine Phillips said. "It's nothing for us to be alarmed about or worried about."
I'll agree with the thing about taking responsibility, but I think there is plenty to worry about for Tampa Bay's secondary. These are supposed to be Morris' "guys." These are the guys he knows best and, so far, all they've done is fail him.
It goes even deeper than Tony Romo throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns. It goes back to Talib's incident, for which he hasn't drawn any disciplinary action yet. It goes back to Tanard Jackson getting suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
It goes back to Morris' offseason decision that Sabby Piscitelli could be a starting safety in the NFL and Phillips should switch to linebacker. Maybe, if all those things hadn't happened, the Bucs might have had a smoother transition from the Cover 2 defense to the Cover Nobody defense.
"There's no secret about it," Morris said of one of the touchdown passes allowed by Piscitelli. "I looked right at Sabby. I grabbed him right next to me. He looked at me and said "plaster."
Yep, a Tampa Bay defense got plastered.
Where have you gone Monte Kiffin?
He's not here anymore. This is Morris' team and Derrick Brooks isn't coming to rescue him.
When you go from being an assistant to being a head coach and start making major changes, you've got to take all that comes with it and it would help to bring along the best part of your past. Tampa Bay's secondary was, by far, its weakest link against a Dallas passing game that -- for a day anyway -- looked better without Terrell Owens.
Everywhere you looked, the Cowboys were making big plays. Crayton's touchdown went for 80 yards, Williams' for 66 and Austin's for 42. Everywhere you looked, Tampa Bay's secondary was out of place. Piscitelli seemed to be at the center of it all, which begs you to ask if he's the one who should have made the offseason move to linebacker?
Phillips, who moved back to safety to take Jackson's place, also was a culprit. So was cornerback Elbert Mack. Even though they didn't make any noticeably horrible plays, you still have to consider Talib and Ronde Barber guilty by association.
They all used to hang out in Morris' room when he was coaching defensive backs.
"We have to watch the film and everyone has to stand up to their responsibility, including myself on a couple of plays," Piscitelli said. "We can't give up plays like that and we know that as a secondary. We will bounce back hard and learn from our mistakes."
Those mistakes will be pointed out in film sessions Monday at One Buccaneer Place and they won't be any prettier then. But shouldn't the secondary be one area where the Bucs don't have to play catch-up in the second week of the regular season?
The secondary, after all, supposedly was Morris' specialty. All the preseason questions about whether he's ready to be a head coach remain valid -- so far.
"Romo did exactly what we thought he would do," Morris said.
Oh, so the Bucs fully expected Romo to stand in the pocket all day and carve their secondary to shreds? No, that's obviously not what they wanted. But they had to know it could happen, unless Morris got totally fooled into thinking his defense was good after watching it spend months practicing against Jeff Jagodzinski's offense.
Let's be fair to the secondary and point out the Bucs didn't put any pressure on Romo. All that offseason talk about Gaines Adams developing moves and Jimmy Wilkerson being a double-digit sack guy appears to be just talk. And let's not let the linebackers off too easy. Geno Hayes, the guy who was supposed to be the first person besides Brooks to start at weakside linebacker since the early 1990s, couldn't even show up at the stadium on time Sunday morning.
Morris yanked him from the starting lineup and inserted Matt McCoy. Maybe Morris should have yanked the whole secondary. Then again, there's not much behind Piscitelli, Phillips, Barber, Talib and Mack -- and Jackson, when he comes back.
For better or worse, these are Morris' guys.