Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday Night pick and some Nickel and dime stuff

Just a quick hello and how are you? Good, time to make a pick for the Week 16 Thursday Night game. Carolina Panthers @ Pittsburgh Steelers: Do I really have to sit down and go through this one? The Panthers may have won at the weekend but that had little to do with the Panthers inherent ability to win tough games and a hell of a lot to do with playing the Cardinals. The Steelers will not prove to be such a cake walk. Even though they've booked a place in the post season, the Steelers still haven't secured for sure the AFC North, so they definitely still have something to play for. Now despite the loss of Troy Polamalu, the Steelers still have an excellent defense, and certainly they have a favourable match up on Thursday. They're pretty good from a run defense perspective and running is just about the only thing the Panthers entire team does well. You also have to remember that the Panthers lean heavily on their tight ends to make plays in the passing game, so the loss of speed & play making instincts in the Steelers secondary shouldn't be too noticeable in this one. Sorry Panthers fans, but I'm taking the Steelers. Steelers win. Now for something a little different. Basically I want to talk to you about Nickel Backs, as in the extra defensive back typically brought onto the field by defenses that are expecting a pass and/or are facing a three wide receiver set. To say what I want to say about Nickel backs, I need a bit of a visual aid so I'm going to pinch a diagram from the Blitzology blog ( Ahh, that's better. My apology's to Blitzology for chaffing their picture. So the character that we're interested in is represented -- unsurprisingly -- by the letter "N". What interests me about this image is that it shows the Nickel back aligned just slightly inside the slot receiver to the right of the picture. This is something we're seeing more and more of in both College football and the NFL, though the inside alignment of that Nickel back is often even more dramatic than you see here, sometimes splitting the difference between the slot receiver and the offensive tackle to that side. What this does is provides the defensive coordinator with a remarkable degree of flexibility. Despite being shifted inward, the Nickel back can still cover the slot receiver man-to-man, providing the receiver doesn't slant hard to the sideline at the snap. He can also drop back into a short zone. He can trade zones with a linebacker. He can dash out and play the underneath zone to the far right while the corner drops deep into, say, cover 3. Importantly, the Nickel back can still blitz the QB off the edge and is in good position to play as the primary force defender on a run play to his side of the field. Even more importantly, he doesn't need to tip off the QB through alignment to do any of these things. As I said, if you watch enough college clips you'll see this tactic is becoming increasingly common place. Even the NFL is starting to latch on. Of course what is needed to play this role is a solid all round defender; someone who can play zone coverage, can cover a slot receiver (typically a teams 3rd choice wide out) man-to-man, and someone who -- unlike a lot of corners -- has the balls to get stuck in against the run. Notice then that the Green Bay Packers are increasingly shifting CB Charles Woodson inside to handle this duty. Woodson can cover in both man and zone. He still has the speed to blitz. And he is a rare(ish) breed among corners in that he has no problems putting his shoulder in and taking on a lead blocking fullback or a pulling lineman. This I think is important. It sets a precedent for defensive coordinators in how to handle 3 wide receiver offensive sets. It also highlights the impact that a quality all-round Nickel back can bring to a modern NFL defense. I'd venture to say that rookie Syd'Quan Thompson of the Broncos fits the mold well and that increasingly we may see teams reach out in the draft in the next year or two looking for a well rounded corner prospect to come in and be a teams "Super Nickelback". Just a thought. Keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground on that one. Here's another thought while you're at it; in March/April of this year, the going trade rate for Michael Vick was a second round pick. It was widely believed that, that was all the Eagles would ask for him. Now I appreciate that much of his success in Philadelphia this year can be attributed to the next potential "Queen Prima Donna" of the NFL -- DeSean Jackson -- but still, Vick on his own is a formidable package. For a second round pick, he'd be looking like a complete steal right about now. Just check this out (you'll need to create an account. I tried embedding it but it's being an asshole.) Tomorrow I shall be back at some point with a quick recap of the Thursday Night game, but hopefully either attached to that post or somewhere in between that post and this one, I'd like to hand out my award for the "Most Improved Analyst From a Major Network" award. Or as I like to call it; the MIAFMN award. And the winner is..... don't be a cheap skate. Comeback tomorrow to find out. Laters.

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