NFL Roundup Observations From Week 4

Ground and Pound Patriots? Who replaced Bill Belichick with Chuck Noll? The surprise of the week 4 has to be the Patriots unleashing a rushing attack out of the 1950s in their 56-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. The Pats gained 247 yards on the ground, led by someone named Brandon Bolden. With their reduced use of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez injured and opponents focused on Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots offense is in flux. It will be interesting to see if Belichick commits to a run based attack as the season goes on.
Tom Coughlin Out Thinks Himself. One of the staples of recent New York Giants’ teams is their strong decision making, especially down the stretch of tight games. In their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles two bad decisions: a killer interception thrown by Eli Manning in the redzone, and Tom Coughlin’s decision to attempt to score a TD and not simply set up the game winning field goal, hurt the Giants.  To be fair, no coach factors in the risk of a offensive pass interference call in late game strategy.  However at the time it seemed strange to me for the Giants to keep passing when they were well into comfortable field goal range.
Lowly Lions. The Detroit Lions are in trouble. We should have seen this coming when Calvin Johnson was named the cover athlete for Madden 13. The once vaunted defensive line is average at best, the secondary is a shambles and the explosive passing game is stuck in neutral. At 1-3 in the competitive NFC, the Lions are in a deep hole with no sign of turning things around.  They have faced what most viewed as the soft part of the their schedule (Rams, Titans and Vikings in three of their first four games) and came out of it with one narrow victory.  Three of their next four games are on the road, including trips to Philadelphia and Chicago.  Daunting to say the least.

NFL Round Up: Observations from Week 3 AKA Referee Apocolypse

Getty Images

After the insanity that was the end of the Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, there really is nothing else to discuss from Week 3 in the National Football League. Instead of rehashing what everyone saw or said, I decided to post three of my favorite reads that summarized the game and reaction.

1. Sports Illustrated writer Peter King did a great job of summarizing the process the referees used in making the call and the mistakes that were made.

2. Bill Barnwell from Grantland, who was a defender of replacement referees, put together a great opinion piece that isn’t overly long or reckless.

3. Mallary Jean Tenore at Poynter.org talks to Otto Greule, the photographer who captured the iconic photo of the officials who made conflicting calls on the game’s final play.

NFL Round Up: Observations From Week 2

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  1. It’s time to meet the Arizona Cardinals Defense.  You proabably know who Patrick Peterson is.  You might know Andrian Wilson.  Possibly Darnell Dockett.  But do you know Calais Campbell ? How about Daryl Washington?  The Cardinals may not have household names on defense but they are talented unit.  After the Cardinals upset win over New England, I’m sure Tom Brady knows who they are.
  2. Aqib Talib’s Rough Day.   Everyone has been talking about proper victory formation etiquette after the New York Giants thrilling come from behind victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, over shadowing the miserable day cornerback Aqib Talib had.  Talib shadowed Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks the entire game and was left with grill marks.  Nicks finished with 10 catches for 199 yards including plays of 40 and 50 yards.
  3. Is Reggie Bush A Late Bloomer? When Miami Dolphins’ running back Reggie Bush was drafted in 2006, many compared him to Barry Sanders.  After Bush struggled as a traditional tailback early in his career with the Saints, he gained a reputation as being soft.  Well now in his seventh season, Bush is looking like the franchise running back he was when he dominated in college.  He had his first 1000 yard rushing season last year, averaging six yards a carry.   This season he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, averaging 120 yards per game over the first two weeks.  Maybe all Bush need was some time.

NFL Round Up: Observations From Week 1

Peyton Manning’s Brain Still Works. Peyton Manning’s arm strength and courage in the pocket was what the media focused on as he made his comeback from neck surgery.  Manning’s arm may not be all the way back, but in his masterpiece against the Steelers, he showed that his most valuable asset,  his mind, is as sharp as ever.  His ability to consistently diagnosis the Steelers’ defense and get his offense into the right plays was vintage Manning.  He showed that he’s still the best offensive coordinator in the NFL and with him at the helm, Denver  has a punchers chance against any team in the NFL.

The NFC Is A Beast.  Of course, we are only one game deep into the season, but Week 1 reflected the general feeling that the NFC .  The average margin of victory in the NFC exclusive match-ups was six points.  The NFC was also 4-0 against the AFC in Week 1.  The NFC should be fascinating all season.

Is 2012 The Year Of The Interception? Much has been made about the five rookies starting at quarterback this season. But, there are also five second-year players starting quarterbacks.  Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder are all entrenched as starters even though only Dalton and Newton had strong rookie campaigns.  About a third of the league is in the hands of inexperienced signal callers.  With so many green quarterbacks throwing the ball 35 to 40 times a game expect a lot of interceptions.

Replacement Officials Will Be A Factor.  The NFL dodged a major bullet in the Seattle when the officials lost track of the timeouts, giving the Seahawks a chance to win the game.   In Green Bay an obvious block in the back was not called.  Bills defensive end Mario Williams ranted about the officiating, saying they allowed Jets right tackle Austin Howard to punch him in the head the entire game.  In Denver the officials weren’t prepared as Peyton Manning ran the no huddle and missed a penalty for 12 men on the field against Pittsburgh.  This is not to say the regular officials are perfect, but the combination of inexperience and pressure the replacement officials are facing make for dangerous situation for the NFL.

And Your Rushing Leader Is?  I understand and accept that the NFL is a passing league.  With that said, some of the rushing “attacks” were absolutely pathetic in Week 1.   Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker out rushed starting tailback Chris Johnson eleven yards to four in their loss to New England.  The Cardinals  leading rusher against Seattle was wide receiver  Andre Roberts with 15 yards.   Throughout the league there was an unwillingness or inability to  run the football.  With so many inexperienced quarterbacks in the league, offensive coordinators need to go back to basics and play a little power football.

Superbowl Sleeper: Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton was dominant in 2011 ( Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills) what it would take for them to get to the Superbowl in 2012.

What happened in 2011?

Quarterback Cam Newton took the league by storm, producing one of the best rookie campaigns in NFL history.  Unfortunately for the Panthers, the defense was no where near as productive.   Injuries to linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis along with a poor pass rush led to the Panthers giving up 429 points and a 6-10 record.

The Good

Of course this starts with Cam Newton.  His development as a passer exceed expectations and he transformed Carolina into one of the more explosive offenses in the league.  The Panthers also have playmakers at the skill positions, featuring the fleet footed Steve Smith, pass catching tight end Greg Olson and the explosive running back duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

The Bad

There are question marks throughout the defense.  Can Beason and Davis get healthy and regain their old form? Is the front seven strong enough to stop the run? Will someone other than Charles Johnson provide a pass rush?

Blueprint to get to the Superbowl

Cam Newton continues his development by cutting down on his turnovers.  Steve Smith shows he is still a top flight receiver, the running game provides balance and the defense improves from terrible to average.

Outlook

The New York Giants showed that a team can win the Superbowl despite an inconsistent defense if you have a top quarterback,  can create mismatches on the outside, and if you get hot at the right time.  Carolina has the weapons on offense and the potential to be good enough on defense.  Look for Carolina to be the Wildcard team nobody wants to play and a legit Superbowl contender.

Superbowl Sleeper: Buffalo Bills

(Photo Credit: Associated Press)

The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills) what it would take for them to get to the Superbowl in 2012.

What happened in 2011?
The Buffalo Bills were the early surprise in the league, getting off to a 5-0 start.  Then tailback Fred Jackson missed the final six games due to injury, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s play declined sharply, and the secondary fell apart.   The Bills finished 6-10.

The Good
The Bills are talented and deep on the defensive line featuring DTs Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus and DE Mario Williams.  Wide receiver Stevie Johnson and RB Fred Jackson are good cornerstone players on offense.

The Bad
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s  inconsistent play after signing a lucrative, long-term contract is a concern for Bills management.   Is there a receiver on the roster that can draw coverage away from Johnson?  The defense allowed opposing QBs to complete 63% of their passes and 30 passing touchdowns in 2011.

Blueprint to get to the Superbowl

Buffalo’s  defensive up grades along the defensive line ( free agent DEs  Mario Williams and Mark Anderson) and in the secondary ( rookie CBs  Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks) create turnovers and field position for Fitzpatrick.  One of the receivers not named Stevie Johnson (David Nelson perhaps?) steps up and brings balance to the passing game.

Outlook

I am bullish on the Bills (pun intended).  Their defensive line matches up well with the lack of pass protection in the AFC East.  Plus the return of Fred Jackson will put the offense back on track.  The Bills will not beat out New England for the division but will secure a wildcard and be a legitimate threat in the AFC.