Stats & Info: Asante Samuel

Eric Hartline/US Presswire
Michael Vick was the No. 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft.

Michael Vick returns to Atlanta as a starting quarterback for the first time after spending six seasons with the Falcons from 2001-06 (Vick was the No. 1 overall pick by Atlanta in the 2001 NFL Draft).

Vick started 67 regular season and four playoff games with the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) and was selected to three Pro Bowls. It should be noted, when Vick played in Atlanta with the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) in 2009, he was a backup QB but did record a rush and pass TD in the Eagles win.

Our Next Level research tells us that Vick lined up at QB seven times in that 2009 game against Atlanta, passing twice (2-2, 48 yards, TD), rushing four times (three by design, one scramble) and handing off once. The Eagles averaged 8.9 yards per play with Vick under center.

Since signing with Philadelphia in 2009, Vick has been a more effective passer with the Eagles than he was in his six seasons with the Falcons.

The other quarterback in this game is Matt Ryan. Ryan struggled against nickel and dime sets in Week 1 and could see plenty of defensive backs on the field Sunday when he faces an Eagles secondary that includes Pro Bowlers Nmandi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel.

Ryan is 20-2 in his career at the Georgia Dome, but since finishing the 2010 regular season with the NFC’s best record at 13-3, the Falcons have lost two straight games (including last season’s Divisional Playoffs loss to the Green Bay Packers) by a combined score of 78-33. Over that span, the Falcons 23 offensive possessions have resulted in eight punts, seven turnovers, three touchdowns, two field goals, one turnover on downs and the end of the half/game twice.

The Falcons are 1-6 against the Eagles since 2000 with their only win coming in the 2005 season opener in Atlanta. Among teams the Falcons have played at least four times since 2000, their 1-6 record against Philadelphia is their worst against any team.

Since the postseason expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 112 of 175 teams (64.0 percent) that started a season 2-0 have reached the playoffs. Only 22 of the 177 teams (12.4 percent) to start 0-2 have made the postseason.

Rich Kane/Icon SMI
Terrell Thomas is 1 of only 4 NFL players with 5-or-more interceptions each of the last 2 seasons.

The New York Giants lost CB Terrell Thomas to a torn ACL in Monday night’s win over the Chicago Bears, possibly for the season (pending an MRI). Thomas joins rookie Prince Amukamara (broken foot, out till mid-October) on the sidelines, leaving the Giants thin at the cornerback slot. Aaron Ross is likely to be named the starter in place of Thomas. Ross has started 26 games in his NFL career, but only two of those starts have come in the last two seasons combined.

Giants fans are going to be upset to lose Thomas, but as Chris Berman might say ... “We’ve seen this before.” Over the years, the Giants have lost some notable players for the season due to a preseason injury, including Osi Umenyiora (2008, torn lateral meniscus); Jason Sehorn (1998, torn ACL) and Phil Simms (1982, torn knee ligament).

How big of a loss is Thomas to the Giants? He was one of the key reasons the Giants third-down pass defense was one of the best in the NFL in 2010. As a team, the Giants allowed just 45 passing first downs on third down, fewest in the league.

Thomas defended or intercepted nine passes on third down, tied for the most in the league and by far the most on the Giants. His overall total of 18 defended or intercepted passes tied him for second-most in the league as well.

He was equally adept at defending both short and long passes, as he also led the team in both categories. Eight of his 18 defended or intercepted passes came 15 or more yards downfield, tied for fifth-most in the league.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Thomas is one of only four NFL players who had five-or-more interceptions in each of the last two seasons, joining Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Aqib Talib.

Thomas is the first Giants player with consecutive seasons of five-or-more interceptions since Percy Ellsworth did it in 1998 and 1999.
Nnamdi Asomugha
The Philadelphia Eagles signed the crown jewel of the free-agent class, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, to a five-year, $60 million contract Friday. He’ll help shore up an Eagles defense that allowed 31 touchdown passes last season, the most they’ve allowed since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. In fact, two of their three worst seasons during that span have come in the past two seasons.

The 31 touchdown passes allowed was tied for third-most in the league last season with the Seattle Seahawks. Only the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, with 33 apiece, allowed more.

Asomugha should help the Philadelphia pass defense in a boom-or-bust area.

The Eagles were near the league lead in interceptions on throws of 21 or more yards downfield, but were near league average in many other areas, and were in the bottom third on opponents' yards per pass attempt.

Asomugha joins Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- who was just acquired in the Kevin Kolb trade -- in the Eagles secondary, giving them three cornerbacks who have played in the Pro Bowl.

We've Seen This Before
The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that it’s not uncommon to assemble this kind of talent in the same defensive backfield. Since 2002, five teams have had two cornerbacks make it to the Pro Bowl in the same season, including last year’s Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and the Eagles themselves in 2002.

Green Bay sent Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson to the Pro Bowl last year and sent Woodson and former Eagle Al Harris in 2008. Philadelphia was represented by Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent in 2002.

What he brought to the Raiders
The Oakland Raiders defense ranked in the top five in passing yards per game in each of the past five seasons, thanks in large part to Asomugha.

In 2006 he had a career-high eight interceptions, which tied for third in the NFL.

Since then, Asomugha has just three interceptions, but that's because teams largely avoid throwing at him.

He has started 75 of a possible 80 games since 2006, when he had his breakout season, and the Raiders have had one of the league’s best pass defenses in that span.

Last season, the Raiders were the best defense in the league against three-WR sets, ranking first in completions, completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and passing first downs.
For the second time in the last three seasons, a Pittsburgh Steeler has been named the AP Defensive Player of the Year.

Safety Troy Polamalu is the 2010 winner, two years after teammate James Harrison took home the award. It's the seventh time a Steeler has won the award, that's by far the most by one franchise. (The Giants are second with four.)

Despite missing two games this season, Polamalu finished tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions. Since 2008, the only players who have more interceptions than Polamalu’s 17 are Ed Reed, Asante Samuel (20 each) and Charles Woodson (18).

In addition to seven interceptions, Polamalu also had five tackles for loss. According to ESPN video analysis, the Washington Redskins' DeAngelo Hall was the only other player with five interceptions and five tackles for loss this season.

Just how important is the eight-year safety to the Steelers' success? Since 2009 (including playoffs):

• The Steelers are 15-4 when he plays, 6-7 when he does not;

• Pittsburgh averages 2.3 takeaways per game with Polamalu in the lineup (1.0 when he’s out);

• Opponents average 14.5 points when he plays, 21.5 when he does not;

• 9-0 when he has an interception;

• 9-1 when he has at least five tackles.

Has this award translated to Super Bowl success? In recent history the answer is yes. Polamalu is the fifth player in the last 20 seasons to win the award in the same year his team went to the Super Bowl. The previous four players (2008 James Harrison, 2002 Derrick Brooks, 2000 Ray Lewis, 1994 Deion Sanders) all played for the winning Super Bowl team.

D-Gaps: Texans made Tebow look great

December, 30, 2010

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Tim Tebow got kudos for his performance on Sunday. But was he worthy of such recognition?

Our weekly look at stats and notes from the "other" side of the ball.

Amid any sort of rush to declare Tim Tebow the Denver Broncos quarterback of the future, following his impressive Week 16 performance, the quality (or lack thereof) of the defense he faced may have been forgotten.

Tebow may in fact turn out to be worthy of the first-round pick he was selected with last April, but those calling him the next John Elway would be wise to note that his breakout performance came against a Houston Texans defense that is on pace to allow more passing yards than any team in NFL history, other than the 1995 Atlanta Falcons.

Tebow completed just 16 of his 29 passes vs the Texans, the second-lowest completion percentage of any QB against Houston this season behind a much less-heralded rookie, Tennessee Titans third-stringer Rusty Smith.

Whether or not Tebow develops into the Broncos' answer under center will depend in large part on his ability to improve his accuracy. He’s completing just 56 percent of his passes 10 or fewer yards downfield this season, well below the league average of 67.8 percent on such throws.

Of the 54 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 25 passes of that length in 2010, Tebow’s completion percentage ranks 51st.

Winfield shuts down Vick, Eagles

Antonio Winfield
The Minnesota Vikings were able to mostly shut down the NFL’s top-ranked offense Tuesday night by putting steady pressure on Michael Vick, sacking him a season-high six times for 39 yards. Minnesota brought blitzers from every angle and every position, spreading out their six sacks among two defensive ends (Jared Allen and Ray Edwards), a defensive tackle (Letroy Guion), a safety (Jamarca Sanford) and a cornerback (Antoine Winfield).

Winfield was especially effective coming off the edge, registering his first two sacks of the season and forcing a fumble that he returned 45 yards for a game-changing touchdown. He is just the second player this season to record multiple sacks and a fumble return touchdown in the same game, joining Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (Week 8 vs Washington Redskins).

To find the last time a defensive back had such a game, you have to go back more than 10 years. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber registered two-and-a-half sacks and returned a fumble 24 yards for a score in a 41-0 blowout of the Chicago Bears in Week 2 of the 2000 season.

Does anyone want the interceptions title?

With just one week left in the regular season, the league's interception rate is down about four percent from last year. But the interception leader's total is unusually low.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel is poised to win the NFL’s interceptions title, despite having only two picks since the first week of November. Since the season's midpoint, 15 players have more picks than he does.

If Samuel fails to add to his total of seven on Sunday, and no one passes him at the top of the leaderboard (eight players are tied for second with six each), it will be the first time since 1999 that the league’s interceptions leader finished the season with seven or fewer interceptions.

That year, five players finished tied with seven interceptions each. The 1999 season is the only non-strike season when no player reached at least eight interceptions since the AFL’s inaugural season in 1960.