Inside This Week’s Sports Illustrated: The Undefendable Back-Shoulder Pass

Back Shoulder PassIn this week’s SI, senior writer Tim Layden takes a look at how today’s best freestyling QBs, including Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford, are blowing the lids off defenses with an old-school weapon: the back-shoulder pass. Layden writes, “It simultaneously exploits defensive backs’ fear of giving up long touchdown passes and rules changes that have steadily eroded defenders’ ability to control receivers with their hands without being penalized.” (PAGE 52)

Layden notes that the technique has been around for a long time but has exploded in popularity over the last five years, matching increasingly sophisticated throwers with powerful, athletic receivers. “It’s an amazing weapon,” says Colts backup quarterback and 15-year NFL veteran Matt Hasselbeck. “If it’s properly executed, the defender can’t be right.” (PAGE 53)

The back-shoulder pass is used almost exclusively against single coverage, and offenses use it to take advantage of defensive backs who do not want to give up a deep ball. Saints quarterback Drew Brees says, “If my guy is obviously not getting over the top, then there’s going to be a lane for the back-shoulder throw.” A receiver’s perspective: “If the corner stays over the top of me,” says the Ravens’ Torrey Smith, “we’re going to throw it back shoulder, where I can see the ball and he can’t.”  (PAGE 53)

The play is rarely called in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage. “It’s something you read,” says Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, “and then react to.” When asked about the back-shoulder throw, veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall of the Redskins nods his head. “That’s a play where if they do it right,” he says, “it’s tough to stop.” (PAGE 53)

Layden also looks at the evolution of the back-shoulder pass and who in the NFL does it best today. “Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees,” says Jon Gruden, “and Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson.” (PAGE 59) Layden says that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning throw it less frequently, though that could change. Who are the best receivers? Layden lists Anquan Boldin (49ers), Hakeem Nicks (Giants) and Calvin Johnson (Lions) as some of the best back-shoulder pass-catchers. Says Flacco, “The back-shoulder throw has really redefined what open and covered mean.” (PAGE 59)

Sports Illustrated Set to Debut Pro Football Now Presented by John Hancock


Sports Illustrated is set to premiere Pro Football Now presented by John Hancock, a new live, weekly talk show for, on Thursday, Sept. 5, 10:30 a.m. EST.  Host Maggie Gray and lead analyst and Super Bowl Champion of the New York Giants Amani Toomer will be joined on set by SI writers and experts for provocative discussion on the latest football news as well as preview the upcoming week’s games. For the premiere episode, Gray and Toomer will sit down with New York Giant Victor Cruz to preview the upcoming season.  PFN will broadcast from Time Inc.’s new state-of-the-art Manhattan studio, which debuts on Thursday. After each weekly episode premiere, the show will be available on-demand at

“We’re excited to expand our digital video portfolio with the addition of this new live video talk show,” said Paul Fichtenbaum, Editor, Time Inc. Sports Group. “Sports Illustrated is a leading source of in-depth NFL coverage and we believe our top-notch reporting will translate very well to PFN.”

“I’m excited to join the broadcast team at Sports Illustrated,” said Toomer.  “I think the viewers are going to enjoy our candid conversation. We’re going to have a lot of fun this season.”

PFN adds to a growing number of original SI live productions created in 2013.  Others include SI Now powered by Ford – Time Inc.’s first live daily talk show, which debuted in June, SI Swimsuit Live from Las Vegas – a 30 minute red carpet and 3D video experience and specials devoted to the NCAA college basketball tournament and NFL draft. These productions are also part of Time Inc.’s company-wide commitment to growing digital video offerings across its portfolio.

“The new Time Inc. video infrastructure with its cutting-edge studios and robust distribution network is an important statement to the advertising community that we are going to be a major player in the video space,” said Mark Ford, Time Inc. EVP, President Sports Group. “We have proven our ability to create award-winning and popular video as our Underdogs series and Swimsuit videos demonstrate. Now, we can offer the marketplace significantly more original content and audience scale which is a major differentiation to our clients.”

Inside This Week’s SI: CJ2K the Hard Way

CJ2KA 2,000-yard season created high expectations for Titans running back Chris Johnson—and he doesn’t mind them at all. Just don’t say he’s lost a step, writes Alan Shipnuck in this week’s SI. “Don’t say I’m back, because I never went away,” Johnson says. (PAGE 44)

After rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009, the magic number has defined and tormented Johnson, especially since he predicts each summer that he will rush for 2,000 yards.“I can’t rush for 2,000 yards, then come back and say I want to rush for 1,500,” Johnson says. “That’s slackin’, man. Two K has to be the goal.” With his nickname, CJ2K, and annual predictions, some outsiders have labeled Johnson as selfish. Johnson has a rebuttal. “When Adrian Peterson talks about rushing for 2,500 yards, he’s ambitious,” Johnson says. “When I talk about [2,000 yards], everybody says I’m selfish.” (PAGE 42)

Titans coach Mike Munchak openly supports all the talk about 2,000. “That relentless drive is what makes CJ who he is,” Munchak says. “We have a young quarterback [Jake Locker], so the more yards CJ gets, the more he’s helping this team win.” (PAGE 42)

After struggling last year behind a shaky offensive line and young quarterback in Locker, Johnson and the Titans are trying to reestablish their old identify as a team that dominates on the ground. The Titans drafted Alabama All-America guard Chase Warmak and signed free agents Andy Levitre (guard), Delanie Walker (tight end) and Shonn Greene (running back). Thirty-two-year old Dowell Loggains, who was promoted to Titans offensive coordinator last November and has been with the team since Johnson was drafted in 2008, is one of Johnson’s biggest fans. Getting to draw up plays for Johnson is “like being handed the joystick to a video game,” says Loggains. (PAGE 41)

“People see the exterior, and yeah, he’s not the most polished kid in the world, so they misjudge him,” Loggains says. “But he’s one of my favorite players. Everything is Yes, sir or No, sir. I’ve never seen him back-talk a coach or get into any kind of confrontation with a teammate. He works hard, does what you ask, shows up every Sunday. I’ve seen him at 10–0 and at 0–6, and he was the same kid.” (PAGE 43)

With new line personnel and an offense tailored to his skills, Johnson is “as relaxed as I’ve ever seen him,” says receiver Nate Washington, his best friend on the team. “For all the success CJ has had, he’s been through a lot of stuff on and off the field. Now the only thing on his mind is football. Mark it down: He’s gonna have a monster year.” (PAGE 42)

Johnson has spent the offseason working on running straight at defenders, rather than always trying to use his speed to outrace them down the sideline. That doesn’t mean he has lost a step. “That’s crazy talk,” Johnson snaps, when asked if he is not as explosive as he once was. “Chris is as quick and powerful as he’s ever been,” says Tom Shaw, a former Patriots assistant who helps fast players run faster in the off-season through training. “That’s a testament to his desire and his will to maintain his gift.” (PAGE 43)

For all he’s accomplished, Johnson still doesn’t like to hear criticism. “I saw on ESPN the other day a list of the top 10 fantasy backs, and I wasn’t on it,” he says. “They trippin’.” Now all he wants to do is help lead his team to the playoffs. “The ring’s the thing now,” Johnson says. (PAGE 44) Yet Johnson is very aware of his place in history and is already thinking about his legacy. “If I rush for two thousand yards this year, I’ll want to do it again next year,” Johnson says. “I look at what Adrian Peterson does, what Arian Foster does—I know I’m competing with those guys every Sunday. But I’m also competing with the Emmitt Smiths, the Barry Sanders, the Eric Dickersons. That’s how high my standards are.” (PAGE 44)

Inside This Week’s SI 2013 NFL Preview: Peter King’s Predictions

Peter King says RG3 will win the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year.

Peter King says RG3 will win the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s 2013 NFL Preview—on newsstands now—breaks down the 2013 NFL season with 68 pages of scouting reports chock full of analysis, stats and conference power rankings for all 32 teams, as well as the annual predictions from editor and SI senior writer Peter King. Who will take home the Lombardi Trophy this year? King predicts that the Patriots, led by 2013 MVP Tom Brady, will defeat the Seahawks 30-23 in Super Bowl XLVIII. “Brady’s mastery of the up-temp game and his team’s ability to seamlessly incorporate new skill players explain why SI is picking the Pats win the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season,” says King. (PAGE 70)


*Wild-card team

1. Patriots (12–4)
2. Bills (7–9)
3. Dolphins (6–10)
4. Jets (3–13)

1. Bengals (10–6)
2. Ravens (10–6)*
3. Browns (7–9)
4. Steelers (7–9)

1. Colts (10–6)
2. Texans (10–6)*
3. Titans (7–9)
4. Jaguars (4–12)

1. Broncos (11–5)
2. Chiefs (7–9)
3. Chargers (5–11)
4. Raiders (3–13)

1. Giants (9–7)
2. Redskins (9–7)
3. Eagles (8–8)
4. Cowboys (7–9)

1. Packers (10-6)
2. Vikings (9–7)
3. Bears (8–8)
4. Lions (6–10)

1. Falcons (10–6)
2. Saints (10–6)*
3. Buccaneers (8–8)
4. Panthers (6–10)

1. 49ers (11–5)
2. Seahawks (11–5)*
3. Rams (8–8)
4. Cardinals (7–9)


Bengals (3) 20, Texans (6) 16
Ravens (5) 24, Colts (4) 20

Patriots (1) 23, Ravens 20
Broncos (2) 20, Bengals 13

Patriots 30, Broncos 27

Saints (6) 33, Packers (3) 27
Seahawks (5) 27, Giants (4) 17

49ers (1) 34, Saints 23
Seahawks 31, Falcons (2) 27

Seahawks 27, 49ers 22

Patriots 30, Seahawks 23


Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots

Offensive Player of the Year: Chris Johnson, RB, Titans

Defensive Player of the Year: Geno Atkins, DT, Bengals

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Tyrann Mathieu, FS, Cardinals

Comeback Player of the Year: Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins

Coach of the Year: Sean Payton, Saints

Inside This Week’s SI 2013 NFL Preview: Dez Bryant is a Grown Man

Dez Bryant SINow that his talent and maturity are in better balance, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is finally ready to take off as a pass-catching star, writes Austin Murphy in this week’s SI 2013 NFL Preview. As the Cowboys added structure to his life, it started to click for Bryant, who might have been the NFL’s best receiver in the second half of last season. “It’s not like I didn’t want to do things the right way,” Bryant says. “I just really never knew how to get there, if that makes sense.” (PAGE 60) You can read the entire article on here.

Bryant has long been pegged as “troubled,” but Murphy finds he wasn’t a bad seed. Rather, his maturity and talent were out of balance.  Murphy asks Bryant about his arrest in July 2012 for allegedly assaulting his mother. The police report says he grabbed her by her T-shirt and hair, bruised her arms and hit her across the face with his ball cap. Asked to address those allegations, Bryant says, “I would be a crazy dude, man, to put my hands on my mom. I did not put my hands on my mom, did not even attempt to put my hands on my mom”—other than to defend himself, he clarified. What about the hat? “I remember taking my hat off and slamming it on the ground,” he says, but he denies hitting her. “I love my mom,” he replies. “We love each other.” (PAGE 62)

When he was suspended for most of his 2009 junior year at Oklahoma State for lying to the NCCA about having a relationship with Deion Sanders, Bryant says he panicked. “I lied,” he concedes. “I didn’t take any gifts. But I should’ve told them I went to his home.” (PAGE 62)

Murphy also dives into Bryant’s childhood. His mother, Angela, had Bryant when she was just 15. When Dez was eight, she was arrested for selling crack and spent 18 months in jail. Dez moved in with his father, from whom he is now estranged. Bryant fought through tough times as a child knowing that he was destined to be a great football player. “I always felt chosen,” Bryant says. “By that I mean, God gave me the ability to help myself and my family. I always had that in my head.” (PAGE 60) Bryant is not yet ready to talk at length about his upbringing. “When you hear the whole story, I promise you, you’re gonna be overwhelmed.” (PAGE 66)

Murphy writes that nobody ever questioned Bryant’s love of the game or his work ethic. “Dez is one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had,” says eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. “What’s happening now is that he’s raised the bar for himself. He’s attacking meetings the way he attacks practices and games. He’s becoming a true pro.”

In Bryant’s rookie year, Dallas coach Jason Garret recalls, “we could have fined him five hundred times. He’s late for this, late for that . . . . He had no structure in his life.” (PAGES 59-60). While Bryant may still squirm through meetings, Garrett says he has become, “a more consistent person,” doing what he’s supposed to do on a more regular basis. “He gets back to you when you text him. His routes are more precise. He knows what his hot adjustments are.” (PAGE 60)

After Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo forced a bullet pass to Bryant in a scrimmage during the Cowboys’ first day of full contact at this year’s training camp, a longtime team observer noted, “That’s why Dez is going to have a big year. Romo trusts him now.” (PAGE 60)


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