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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Lions vs. Saints

Despite trailing at halftime, the Saints rolled to a 45-28 victory over the Lions on Saturday night to advance to the Divisional round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs. Here are quick-hit reactions from this Wildcard shootout.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (C) dives for a first down against the Detroit Lions during the third quarter of their NFL NFC wildcard playoff football game in New Orleans, Louisiana, January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- What Drew Brees does is almost surgical. If he has time to survey the field, he always goes vertical. I’m talking 9, 20, 40-yard strikes down the field. If he feels pressure, he has a trio of backs at his disposal that are elusive, powerful, and can create yards after contact when they slip out of the backfield. If he sees that a blitz is coming, he knows exactly where to go with the ball at all times. (Although it makes it easier when the defense leaves your 6’6” tight end wide open at the goal line. I mean, he’s 6’6” – the Lions couldn’t find him?) Granted, Brees has a ton of help. Marques Colston made a huge mistake in the first quarter when he fumbled the ball to kill a potential New Orleans scoring drive, but he’s as good as them come. Pierre Thomas ran tonight like he did back in the ’09 postseason and somewhere Chargers GM A.J. Smith is kicking himself for letting Darren Sproles leave San Diego. Jimmy Graham is a freak of nature and when all of those weapons aren’t available, Brees still has Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem (when he’s not dropping wide-open passes) and Lance Moore (when healthy) in his back pocket. This is a well-oiled machine New Orleans has here, and Brees is the absolute perfect captain to be at the controls.

- Want to know how the Saints score 40-plus points at home every week? Try 7-of-11 on third down and 3-of-4 on fourth down. When an offense constantly picks up third downs, it absolutely deflates a defense and that leads to points. Detroit clearly didn’t believe it could stop Brees tonight and it didn’t.

- That said, it’ll be interesting to see how the Saints fare now that they have to go on the road for one, and possibly two games over these next couple of weeks. There’s no question they’re a different team away from the Superdome, as Sean Payton has a tendency to get less aggressive and the defense doesn’t perform as well. San Francisco owns the best defense in the NFC playoff pool this year, so we’re about to find out how good this New Orleans offense is on the road. What a great matchup next weekend in San Fran.

- Lions fans will note that several calls didn’t go their way tonight, and they have every right to. But it’s hard to win when your defense can’t get off the field on third and fourth down, when your players don’t wrap up, when you turn two first-half turnovers into zero points, and when two of your defensive backs drop sure interceptions. There’s no question that Detroit got the short end of the stick when it came to penalties. No question. There were several missed holding calls on the Saints’ Pro Bowl linemen throughout the night, a bad spot on third-and-11 in the third quarter that gave New Orleans a first down (which led to a score), and of course, a blown whistle that most likely would have led to a Lions’ touchdown on Brees’ fumble in the first half. But the Lions failed to do the basics tonight and it cost them. Bad officiating or not, when you can’t tackle and take advantage of potential turnovers then you’re not going to win most games.

- One thing the Lions did do a great job of in the first half was get pressure on Brees with just their front four. Outside of the two Saints’ turnovers, that’s the main reason they held a lead heading into halftime. But about midway through the third quarter that pass rush dropped off and Detroit’s overmatched secondary was exposed. It’s unfair to play the defensive line for how things unraveled in the second half, because the bottom line is that the Lions’ defensive backfield made zero plays tonight. But the difference between the two quarters is that Brees was under duress in the first, and had time to find open receivers int he second. (And I mean wide open receivers.)

- As long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy Detroit fans won’t have to go another 11 years before they see their Lions play in another postseason game. That dude is for real. That 42-yard rainbow that he dropped perfectly into the hands of Calvin Johnson in the third quarter was beautiful and he had a handful of other passes that were right on the money. It’s not that he has a big arm: he has a big, accurate arm. He’s going to be an elite quarterback one day. (Again, if he can stay healthy.)

- I don’t know how defenses are supposed to cover Calvin Johnson. He’s obviously going to make plays when he’s open but there were several times when two New Orleans defenders were draped all over him and he still came down with the football. And if you make a mistake in coverage like the Saints’ corner did while playing Cover 2 on Johnson’s corner route in the second quarter, it’s almost a guaranteed touchdown (which it was). It’s amazing to think that one of the knocks on him coming out of college was that he sometimes lost focus. The guy has transformed into one of the best players in the game – focus on that.

- I thought Scott Linehan called a very good game until things got out of hand in the fourth quarter. He stayed aggressive throughout, which is something that most opponents won’t do when facing the Saints because they’re petrified to give the ball back to Brees and that offense, and constantly had New Orleans’ defense guessing. But at some point the Lions will need to find more offensive balance. Granted, they did lose starting running back Jahvid Best earlier this season due to a concussion, but 32 rushing yards on 10 carries isn’t going to cut it. Not against the Saints, not against anyone. When a defense doesn’t have to worry about stopping the run, they can drop extra defenders back or blitz effectively off the edge. New Orleans had to worry about one thing tonight: Stopping Calvin Johnson. (Uh, which they didn’t, but at least their offense scored 45 points to make up for it.)

- There’s no doubt that fans will be disappointed after this game. But the Lions made the playoffs this season. That’s fantastic. You won’t find a more loyal fan base than the one up in Detroit, so hats off to you Lions fans – your team finally made the top 12 again. Hopefully it’ll be a regular occurrence moving forward…

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Quick Hits: Bill Belichick only pays half price for his talent

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco gestures to a teammate from the sidelines during the second half of the Bengals’ NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Maryland October 11, 2009. REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL)

In Friday’s Quick-Hits, I discuss the one big difference between the Redskins and Patriots (besides you know, that whole winning thing), Chris Johnson’s second holdout in as many years, the narrowing race to sign Nnamdi Asomugha, and the reuniting of Roy Williams and Mike Martz. Plus Vince Young, the Bucs and more.

- In the wake of the Patriots acquiring Chad Ochocinco from the Bengals, MMA Blitz writer and fellow TSR contributor Drew Ellis texted me this last night: “Is it just me or are the Patriots turning into the Redskins?” I get his point. The Patriots have never been worried about “name” talent; Bill Belichick just plugs players into his schemes and they win. But besides the obvious differences (like winning), the main reason the Patriots and Redskins are different is because Belichick never pays full price for anything. What did he give up to acquire Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth the last two days? Two fifth round picks and a sixth-rounder? That’s nothing. That’s three special teamers or camp bodies in exchange for a receiver who absolutely loves Belichick and one of the best interior defensive linemen in the game when he’s motivated. On the flip side, the Redskins have paid out the ass for veteran talent and haven’t gotten anything to show for it. As I texted Drew, Belichick doesn’t take a dump in the morning without having a game plan. These moves will pan out – I guarantee it.

- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Titans need to pony up and pay Chris Johnson, who will not report to camp on Friday says beat writer Jim Wyatt. Johnson has been one of the most productive backs in the NFL the past few seasons and he’s only 25. That means he has four or five more productive seasons left in him, so why Tennessee would dick around now is beyond me. They’re going to need this kid when Jake Locker is ready to take over the offense and is looking around for help. And seeing as how Kenny Britt probably won’t be around in another year or two, giving CJ a five-year deal makes a lot of sense.

- The race to sign Nnamdi Asomugha is apparently down to two teams according to NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi. Apparently some players in Dallas (with Tony Romo being one of them) are willing to restructure their deals in order to land the top corner on the market, while the Jets have made some moves in the past 24 hours to help clear cap space. (They released Mark Brunell and waived CB Will Billingsley and G Marlon Davis.) If it’s down to the Cowboys and Jets, I think New York walks away the winner. But I’m also the guy who predicted that he would land with the Bucs so…Dallas it is.

- The Bears have reunited Roy Williams with his former coordinator Mike Martz after signing the receiver to a two-year deal. It’s a nice fit given how productive Williams was under Martz in Detroit. It’s funny though, I have often wondered whether or not Williams could get any slower and the Bears have provided the answer. His speed should transfer real nice onto that dirt patch Chicago calls a field.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young (10) signs autographs for fans after a 24-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals of an NFL pre-season game at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee on August 23, 2010. (UPI Photo/Frederick Breedon IV)

- Vince Young did the right thing signing a one-year deal with the Eagles. There was no market for him as a starter, so he might as well go to a place where the coaching staff is excellent and he can learn from a guy in Michael Vick (who obviously had to do some growing up himself). Besides, Vick always gets hurt once or twice a year so maybe if V.Y. turns in a solid preseason and fills in admirably for Vick, there will be a market for him next offseason.

- Let me get this straight: the Bucs want nothing to do with Nnamdi Asomugha but they hand free agent punter Michael Koenen $19.5 million, with $6.5 million guaranteed? Koenen is one of the best in the league but it’s a little befuddling why Tampa would pony up that much for a punter instead of at least kicking the tires on Asomugha (especially given Aqib Talib’s legal issues). My God, man.

- For the past two years I have wondered why the Saints were so willing to push Reggie Bush out the door. He said he was willing to take a paycut to stay in NOLA, so why not keep the versatile playmaker around as a role player? But the deal they just made for Darren Sproles was solid. The Saints have averaged more yards and points with Bush out of the lineup than with him in it, and they essentially just filled his role with a cheaper option in Sproles. Oh, and New Orleans also received a late-round pick and a 22-year-old special teams ace in Jonathon Amaya for Bush when they sent him to Miami. Nice work this offseason, Mickey Loomis.

- Here’s my off-the-cuff prediction of the day: Osi Umenyiora winds up in Atlanta after the Giants cut him.

2010 Fantasy Football Preview: Sleeper RBs

ST. LOUIS - NOVEMBER 29:  Justin Forsett #20 of the Seattle Seahawks runs with the ball for yardage against the St. Louis Rams during their NFL game at Edward Jones Dome on November 29, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Seahawks defeated the Rams 27-17.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

All 2010 Fantasy Football Articles | 2010 Position Rankings

There are twenty running backs currently going in the first four rounds and 19 of them — Matt Forte excluded — are playing in what I refer to as ‘settled’ running back situations. We can move forward feeling pretty certain that these 19 RBs, barring injury, will get enough touches to be productive starting-caliber fantasy running backs.

But this piece isn’t about those guys. It’s about the rest of this year’s RB crop, or specifically RBs going in the 7th round or later: The Sleepers.

Below is a list of a few guys that I’m targeting later in drafts. They enter the 2010 season unproven, or unsettled in their respective situations, or even over the hill. I’ll list them in order of their current ADP at Antsports:

Brandon Jacobs (7.01)
In his worst season in three years, Jacobs finished as 2009′s RB31 on balky knees. He had them scoped in the offseason and says he feels better than ever. He’s just 28 years old and only has 779 career carries, so his mileage is pretty low given his age. Moreover, the Giants have a great offensive line and a solid passing attack to keep defenders out of the box. I’m expecting a bounce-back year from Jacobs, making him a nice RB2 for owners loading up on WRs early or a great RB3 on any roster.

Justin Forsett (7.05)
Pete Carroll has a history of using RBBC, so if he’s in a major timeshare I’m not sure Forsett is even worth his current draft position. But looking solely at his resume, there’s a lot to be excited about. He averaged 5.4 ypc last season, and had a couple of impressive performances against Arizona (22 touches, 149 yards, TD) and St. Louis (22 carries, 130 yards, 2 TD). He was also #6 in Yards After Contact Per Attempt (YCo/Att) which put him in some good company. Forsett’s prospects for 2010 depend less on his ability to beat out Julius Jones or Leon Washington and more on Carroll’s willingness to let him loose.

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Chargers allow Sproles to test free agent market

Despite releasing LaDainian Tomlinson last week and not having a true every down back, the Chargers will allow running back Darren Sproles to test the free agent market says Adam Schefter via his Twitter page.

Official: San Diego will not tender RB Darren Sproles and will allow him to test free-agent market. No LT, probably no Sproles. Changes.

It’s an interesting development for the Bolts, but one that isn’t entirely surprising. If they tendered Sproles, they’d have to pay him nearly $7 million next season, which is high for a part-time player. In comparison, Reggie Bush will make $8 million next season.

Sproles is an outstanding returner and dangerous with the ball in his hands, but $7 million a ton of money to pay a back that will get limited carries. Maybe he’ll sign with San Diego at a cheaper price, but as of right now Sproles will hit the open market as a free agent.

It goes without saying that the Chargers will spend the offseason looking for an every down back.

NFL Divisional Playoff Preview: Sunday

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
1:00 pm ET
TV—FOX

Of any player that needed the bye week, you have to believe 40-year-old Brett Favre did the most. He might not say so, because in many ways, the man who had an incredible “comeback” season (4202 yards, 33 TDs, 7 picks) thinks he’s still 18. Dallas, meanwhile, has been on quite a roll ever since they upset the Saints in New Orleans in Week 15. They are playing lights out on both sides of the ball, and Tony Romo (whose boyhood hero growing up in Wisconsin was Favre) along with Jason Witten and Miles Austin are going to give the Vikings’ sixth ranked D all they can handle. On defense, the Cowboys rank ninth overall, and even though they are 20th against the pass, that’s skewed a bit because they terrorized Donovan McNabb for two weeks straight, and virtually shut down Drew Brees’ Saints for three quarters in that upset game. The Vikings will likely turn to all-world RB Adrian Peterson a bit more than usual, to try and soften Dallas’ front seven for Favre to take shots down the field with big receiver Sidney Rice and speedy rookie Percy Harvin. And pass rushing specialist Jared Allen will have fun chasing Romo all day. This one has all the makings of a classic, and it’s even more intriguing because these teams have not played each other since 2007. Upset? Don’t be surprised. THE PICK: COWBOYS 27, VIKINGS 20

New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
4:40 pm ET
TV—CBS

Imagine a tug of war where the other team lets go of the rope halfway through the contest. That’s basically what happened to the Jets when the Colts pulled their starters in Week 16, and a 15-10 Colts’ lead turned into a 29-15 Jets’ upset. Since then, the Jets routed the Bengals 37-0, when Cincinnati also basically rested their players most of the game. But rookie head coach Rex Ryan doesn’t think his team had any advantage or luck or whatever, and he proved it last week when his Jets went into Cincinnati and upset the Bengals at full strength, and on the road, 24-14. That #1 defense of the Jets is no mirage, so Philip Rivers and that fifth ranked passing offense will really have their hands full. They do have LaDainian Tomlinson, but based on the fact the Chargers are ranked 31st in rushing offense, either LT or his supporting cast is not the same. So the Jets will likely try to stop Rivers, along with big receivers Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates first, but they can’t make the mistake of paying no attention to Tomlinson or the speedy change-up back, Darren Sproles. The Jets will try and use their top ranked run game to speed up the game, and with the Chargers ranked 20th against the run, they just might be able to do that a bit. What’s likely here is that the team which makes the most mistakes will lose. And the Jets are due for one of those games. THE PICK: CHARGERS 23, JETS 13

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