Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dinks and Dunks

Why is the NFL regular season almost over?  It really does go by fast.  In an effort to continue posting in the offseason, I am starting a segment called Dinks and Dunks to discuss a handful of topics that will swirl around in the coming months.  For now, here is a sneak preview.

1st and 10: Why should you care about Sunday night's NFC West Title game?

If you are a lover of football and the NFL, you should pull hard for the St. Louis Rams but more specifically QB Sam Bradford.  For all the deserved flak the NFC West has taken this year, the lone bright spot has been the play of Sam Bradford.  While the Seahawks, 49ers, and Cardinals have rotated through injuries and benchings all year long, Bradford has remained healthy and outplayed every other QB in his division.

On pace for 3500 yards, a positive TD:INT ratio and shot at 20 TDs (if he throws two Sunday night), and less than 35 sacks taken, that's better than Joe Flacco's rookie season and almost identical to Matt Ryan's.  This kid is going to be special; I say kid because I'm finally older than some QBs.  Nonetheless, Sunday night's showdown could really be a stepping stone in his career and coming of age moment for him.  As bad as the Seahawks are and as little as they deserve the playoffs, they are still one of the hardest stadiums to play as a visitor.  So bust out your Torry Holt jersey from 2001, rip off that extraneous "1," and root for a guy who has the potential to be an elite one in this league and not some QB who got bald at 25 and has an injury to his hip of all places.  Move one yard to second down because that's all this division deserves.

2nd and 9: Is there any way to stop the Patriots offense?

Surefire QB Tom Brady has been absolutely lethal this season.  The offense has scored nearly three times more touchdowns than field goals.  Since December, he's been the no-brainer MVP.  Can it be stopped?

Other than simply stating, "hope Tom Brady has an off game" here is my best guess at a style of defense that can stop him.  First and foremost, the Giants Super Bowl XLII blueprint was to pressure Brady like crazy with only the front four.  I would say that worked successfully because they held a team that averaged nearly 37 points a game that year to only 14.  Unfortunately, almost no teams this year have a boatload of pass rushers like the Giants did that year.  While the basic premise of success with rushing four remains true, here are two specific keys:

1)  Pressure up the middle.  Brady has been a master of quick release this season and has given edge rushers or blitzers no time to get to him.  In that case, what's the quickest way between two points?  A straight line.  Any team that has a dominant interior lineman capable of completely wrecking a play before it starts can take its toll over time on Brady.

2) Attack the blind side.  If there is a weak point on this line, it is LT Matt Light and his pass protection.  He is the weakest link of an otherwise superb offensive line.  If you can repeatedly get to Brady's blind side, it will force the Patriots out of their comfort zone and make them alter their protections.

If you have a combination of those two plus the ability to catch any bouncing balls or tipped passes, you can play good enough defense to hang with the Patriots.  If that still doesn't work, the only hope would be to have the Patriots face someone who can go punch for punch with Brady, like a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees.

The two teams most likely to slow down the Pats are the Ravens and Packers.  The Ravens can shut down the run along with Haloti Ngata rushing up the middle and Terrell Suggs on the outside.  Ed Reed and Ray Lewis can still make big-time plays.  As for the Packers, Clay Matthews is an absolute terror on the edge and BJ Raji is a force inside.  The next tier of teams they'd least like to face would be the Chiefs, Falcons, and Saints.  As good as the Steelers are, Brady just seems to have their number.

Brady dinks it five yards to Woodhead over the middle to set up third down.

3rd and 4:  What are they doing in San Diego?

Earlier this week, Chargers owner already gave head coach Norv Turner a vote of confidence in returning next year.  Is he serious?  Turner should not have even been the coach this year!  Although he's a genius mind, he's brain-dead as a coach.  Since 2004, the Chargers have been one of the most talented teams year in, year out.  Since he took over in 2007, they have progressively done worse and finally paid the price this year for a slow start.

Just imagine if Norv Turner and these Chargers played in Dallas or Washington or New York.  They'd be fried by the media week after week and I'm sure they would have called for Norv's head a year ago.  It's funny how different the media and fans react in certain cities versus others.  If it weren't 75 degrees and sunny in San Diego everyday, then I'm sure their fans would snap out of it and realize they are wasting away a super talented team with a terrible coach.  On to fourth down.

4th and 1:  What should Carolina do with the #1 pick?

This has been a popular topic of discussion in the North Carolina area now that the Panthers locked themselves into the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Things can change between now and April, but at the moment Stanford QB Andrew Luck has entrenched himself as the clear-cut #1 guy.  Herein lies the dilemma:  Should the Panthers make the move for the top prospect at the most important position or should they continue with Jimmy Clausen, the guy they thought would carry the franchise when they scooped him up in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft?

A lot has been made about how poorly Jimmy Clausen has played this season, but considering the plethora of injuries and dearth of skill position players on his side of the ball, nobody should be surprised the way the rookie struggled.  That being said, the jury is still out on him.  I for one thought it was foolish for them to throw him into the fire, especially because you can sometimes shell-shock a QB who isn't prepared yet to face NFL defenses despite his overall potential or physical tools.  However, I cannot blame a lame duck coach in John Fox trying to spark the team and seeing what his high value pick had to offer.  Furthermore, the front office decided to hitch its wagon to a not fully proven Matt Moore without a veteran backup.  Poor preparation like that coupled with a little bit of bad luck (Moore's injuries) resulted in horrendous QB play this year.

In this case, the Carolina Panthers MUST take Andrew Luck with the #1 pick if (and likely when) he declares for two reasons:

1) It took a few years for the rest of the country to realize it, but I think it's safe to say that everyone now knows that while football is a team game, quarterback play is of most importance in this day and age.  Drafting a QB that does not bust is no easy task for a GM, but Luck has all the right tools you look for in a player -- accuracy, leadership, size, arm strength, and intelligence.  For comparison sake, he looks like Sam Bradford without the injury history.  Clausen does still have a chance to be a pretty good starting QB, but the odds are more against him than for him at this point.  If Clausen ends up greatly improving, having two capable young QBs is an amazing problem to have.  After the 2006 season, Atlanta traded Matt Schaub to Houston for two second rounders.  In Philadelphia, the asking price for Kevin Kolb is similar.

2) The Panthers have no huge financial commitment to Jimmy Clausen.  And that is what it really all boils down to here.  [Aside: Every NFL team painstakingly works to trim salary fat, but the Carolina Panthers are downright Costanza-esque misers to the point of harm to the team].

This summer, Clausen signed a four year deal, $2.533 million guaranteed that included a $2.8 million fourth year performance escalator giving the contract a potential total value of $6.3 million.  If the Panthers were to draft Andrew Luck and start him on day one, Clausen's salary would not be high for a backup because if you take out the $2.533 million he made this year as well as the $2.8 million he would certainly not earn due to backup status, his average salary will run under $500,000 the next two seasons.  That is pretty cost effective. For the Panthers sake, they hope Clausen is "hot and a good deal" like the Wizard and not "not hot and not a good deal" like the Willard.  Catch the second Seinfeld reference?

If Clausen were a top 20 pick last year, I don't think you'd see the Panthers take Luck no matter how good of a chance he has at being an elite QB.  They would have too much of a financial burden on one guy to afford the other.  That is not the case here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Projecting the Playoffs

With just three weeks remaining in the season, it's time to start seeing who is in and who is out.


The Patriots and Steelers have all but locked up a first round bye, and will likely finish out as the top two seeds respectively.  Pretty much the only way Pittsburgh can gain the top seed is if they can finish a full game above New England since the Pats own the tiebreaker.  This year will be a complete turnaround compared to last, with the top seeds Indy and San Diego hosting warm weather or dome locations last season.

One would never think to say "AFC South race" in December with Peyton Manning at the helm, but that is the case this year.  To take it a step further, if the Colts do not win today not only will they be officially out of the division race, but they will really be putting their backs against the wall for a Wild Card spot.  The Colts will likely beat the Jags today to keep it interesting.  If the Colts win today, they will be tied with the Jaguars atop the NFC South at 8-6 with both teams having a 3-2 division record.  The Colts would hold the tiebreaker due to record in common games, however since that would make the Jags 6-6 and the Colts 7-5 (Note:  For division winners, common games tiebreaker precedes conference record).  This has been Peyton Manning's toughest season in about a decade, and it would not surprise me to see them miss out on the division; however, it's really hard to put your money against a guy who has won the division for more than half the decade.  I think both teams will finish 10-6 and the Colts will win the common games tiebreaker to claim the division.

The upstart Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) currently hold a half game lead over the late-surging San Diego Chargers (8-6), who always seem to make something happen in December.  Obviously, the safest way for the Chiefs to win the division is if they win out.  They will likely need to do that in order to clinch because they will not hold the common games tiebreaker.  By facing two teams that have thrown in the towel in the final two weeks in the Bengals and Broncos, there is almost no way the Chargers will not finish 10-6.  The division will likely tip in San Diego's favor after today since the Chiefs will be sending a recovering Matt Cassel to the field in St. Louis.  As bad as the NFC West has been, St. Louis is at least a tough team to play in their building.  Expect both teams to finish 10-6 and the Chargers to squeak by yet again.

As it stands now, the Ravens and Jets hold the Wild Card spots with the records of 9-4.  The Ravens hold the edge due to their Week 1 win over New York.  Both teams have pretty difficult final stretches and neither team has played well in the last month.  The Ravens host a red hot Saints team today and then finish up at Cleveland and home against Cincinnati.  Baltimore hasn't been the scary home site it used to be in the past two years and will be in a real battle today.  Playing in Cleveland next week will be no picnic either, as the Browns have been very competitive this year despite its 5-8 record.  I expect the Ravens to split these two games then obliterate the Bengals on Week 17 to vault themselves into the playoffs with a 11-5 record.  In just two short weeks, the New York Jets went from first round bye to fighting for their lives.  It doesn't get any easier with trips to Pittsburgh and Chicago before closing out at home versus the Bills.  The Jets could easily squander away playoff hopes by losing these next two difficult games.  The last thing they want is to finish 10-6 and hope to win tiebreakers because they will likely not make the playoffs that way.  When it's all said and done, they will squeak their way into the playoffs in typical Jets fashion.

Projected Seeds:

1. New England 14-2
2. Pittsburgh 13-3
3. San Diego 10-6
4. Indy 10-6
5. Baltimore 11-5
6. New York 11-5


For all intents and purposes, the NFC East crown will be decided today when the Eagles face off with the Giants.  An Eagles win will pretty much wrap up the division since Philadelphia won the prior meeting.  I expect that to happen today because the Eagles are the best team in the NFC records aside.  In the end, Philly will end up as the #2 seed in the playoffs.

In the NFC North, the Chicago Bears have been able to keep the ball rolling after a hot start to the season, coming in with a 9-4 record.  With an easy game on Monday against the Vikings, they will be 10-4 before two tough games to finish -- home versus the Jets and on the road in Green Bay to finish the season.  The Green Bay Packers still stand at 8-5 despite the slew of injuries its faced thus far.  It gets even worse tonight in New England without the heart of the team -- Aaron Rodgers.  After a probable loss tonight, they would need to win out.  Luckily they somewhat control their destiny after a loss because they will get to play the two teams they are competing with most -- the Giants and Bears.  I expect both teams to finish 10-6, but the Bears will hold the edge due to division record.

The team with the best record in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons, come in with an 11-2 record and will finish with the #1 seed.  As "bad" as the Saints season has gone so far, they are still 10-3 and have been playing really good football lately with many of their injured offensive players coming back.  Unfortunately for them, it won't matter because they will get shipped out on the road in the playoffs as the top Wild Card.  Both teams do face each other and the Saints still technically could win the division, but it would take an epic meltdown from Atlanta.  That won't happen.

Out in the lowly NFC West, the winner will host a home game despite not having a winning record.  The only team of any promise in that division is the St. Louis Rams, a young team that is confident at home.  While the Seahawks are still very much in the hunt, they are not any good and have started to fade of late.  Counting on the 49ers to win their final two is a pipe dream.  I'll take the team with the best QB (albeit a rookie).

The final Wild Card spot will come down to Green Bay and the New York Giants.  More specifically, it will come down to their Week 16 matchup.  Even though Packers players have been dropping like flies this season, I still expect them to crank out the victory in Week 16 and then close out with a win versus Chicago to claim the final Wild Card spot.  The Giants are too streaky and turnover prone to be trusted to win the final spot.  Losing Steve Smith hurts that dynamic offense, too.  He was Eli's go-to guy on third downs and helped keep the chains moving.  Tampa Bay is certainly in the hunt, but I still think they are too young to make the playoff run.

Projected Seeds:

1) Atlanta 13-3
2) Philly 12-4
3) Chicago 10-6
4) St. Louis 8-8
5) New Orleans 13-3
6) Green Bay 10-6

Monday, December 6, 2010

Final Words and Prediction

In a game in which both teams are so even, it could come down to one play, whether it's a turnover, special teams gaffe, or close call.

Or perhaps a challenge call...

A little humor for Jets fans out there.  If you do not understand, well then you're missing out.


I am too wimpy to post an objective final score because I have too much invested as a fan; this is probably the biggest regular season game in almost ten years.  However, I will go out on a limb with a bold homer prediction about something in the game instead.  Here goes:  LaDainian Tomlinson will throw for a TD tonight.  LT is 8 for 12 in his career with 7 TDs and no picks.  That could spark team that is struggling in the red zone.  It could be the one of those little determining factors in the outcome as mentioned above.

Enjoy the game.  I know I will.

Strategy Talk (continued)

The Jets offense needs a hot start in the worst way.  A three or four 

point deficit at half is manageable, but if they are down by a touchdown 

or more at half it could be doom.  The best way to a hot start would be to 

keep New England on its toes by coming out with the hurry up offense.  

Part of the early game struggles is attributed to predictability such as high 

percentages of run on first down.  It can also be attributed to Sanchez 

being a little too amped up and having many checks and calls at the line.  

He is a player that likes to play loose and shoot from the hip, and he 

certainly has the weapons at his disposal to suit a hurry up.  An often 

streaky QB, Sanchez has been the main benefactor in the up tempo offense.

On defense, the Patriots will likely put its early focus on stopping the run.  On 

early downs, expect them to crowd the box and line up Wilfork where they 

think the run is coming.  An interesting battle to watch will be how 

Wilfork performs against C Nick Mangold.  Both players have a tremendous 

amount of respect for each other and have gotten into some great duels in 

the past.  In obvious passing downs, the Patriots will play a lot of soft 

Cover 2 to negate the big play the Jets have thrived on this year and 

force Mark Sanchez to read and break down the opposing coverage.  The Pats 

won't gamble much with the blitz due to their pass rush struggles and 

Sanchez's evasiveness.  Make him find the open receiver around a crowd of 

zone defenders instead of gambling with the blitz and letting Holmes or 

Edwards abuse one-on-one coverage.

As the game progresses, if the Jets can have early passing success then 

they will be able to chew up clock with the run.  I don't expect the run 

to be productive in the first half.  Running in the second half will keep 

a red hot Tom Brady on the bench for as long as possible, and that is an 

absoulte must.  All of that will not mean much, however, if the Jets 

struggle to cash in on TDs and are forced to bring out the reeling K Nick 


For both the Jets offense and Patriots defense, the main thing here will 

be the turnover battle.  It is something New England has relied so heavily 

this on, and ball security has been the biggest buzz word for the Jets 

this year.  No longer is Mark Sanchez personally costing games, but even 

though he only had one turnover against the Bengals last week he cannot 

afford to have another statistical clunker tonight.  If Sanchez protects 

the ball but struggles otherwise, they lose a close game.  Furthermore, if 

the Jets commit multiple turnovers tonight, it could get ugly.  Nobody 

makes you pay more than the Patriots.

Strategy Talk

Since the Patriots have been so good at diagnosing the opponent's weaknesses, what will they do to expose the Jets on both sides of the ball?

Starting with the offense, they will likely start with the ball due to Rex Ryan's love of deferring the coin toss.  It would be of their benefit to use a similar approach to the Pittsburgh game since the Jets can stop the run and allow Brady to make quick, easy decisions out of shotgun formation in order to keep the defense from slapping him around early. While the Jets pose more secondary depth than Pittsburgh, they cannot get to the QB as quick without resorting to a sell the farm blitz.

To continue with the matchup based gameplans, expect Aaron Hernandez to play a bunch more tonight since he is an athletic mismatch over the linebackers and safeties and because of New York's weakness over the middle.  If Brady can establish and early rhythm, the Pats could abuse an impatient defense trying to blitz via the play action game with Gronkowski and screen game with former Jet RB Danny Woodhead.  Woodhead has the ability to break a 20 yard gain if David Harris or Bart Scott is caught napping or jumping too deep into the backfield.  Danny won't be a factor in the run game, but RB BenJarvus Green Ellis can be a factor in the red zone and later in the game to control clock.

Though the Jets run defense is stalwart, like any other defense it is susceptible to being worn down if left on the field for the large majority of the game. For the Patriots to win, controlling time of possession and keeping their leaky yet opportunistic defense off the field will be imperative. If Brady can lead three touchdown drives and keep it to one turnover or fewer, he walk away a winner.

For Rex Ryan and DC Mike Pettine, it begins and ends with making Tom Brady's life a living hell. He's going to move the chains one way or another and that's a reality you have to accept; however, if you can get into his head and have him hesitate a second too long or get rid of it too soon, he is human and can make a mistake.  While no defense has come close to saying they have Brady's number, he has been surprisingly mortal against the Jets in recent years.  Since 2006, reports that Tom Brady has had a 59.8% completion rate with 8 TDs and 6 INTs in seven games.

Wreaking havoc on #12 does mean bringing the house on every passing play. As evidenced by the second half defense in Week 2, we saw Rex mixing coverages and showing a lot of three and four man rushes. It's what helped contribute to Brady's three second half turnovers, including Jason Taylor's sack and forced fumble in which he spun by LT Matt Light out of a four man front.

That being said, the Jets cannot expect to force three turnovers this go around against a QB so protective of the ball.  Then how are the Jets supposed to get this offense off the field?  

It really comes down to two things -- sound tackling and taking away his safety valves. The Patriots love to dink and dunk their way down the field, and that sets up so many 3rd and short situations.  It will be paramount for the Jets LBs and DBs to make the immediate tackle and minimize yards after catch.  It could be the difference between three and seven points, and in a game like this, a big 3rd or 4th and short stop could prove to be the difference between winning and losing.  The best way to fight that is for the Jets to put Revis on Welker in third downs and occasionally put Cromartie on Hernandez or Gronkowski if their height and athleticism are too much for the 'backers and safeties. Additionally, an intermittent zone blitz (dropping a lineman back into coverage) could clog some of the short crosses and/or give Brady the perception that something is open when it is really not.

(Jets O strategy vs Pats D strategy coming shortly)

Previewing the Jets vs. Patriots (Part III)

Jets Offense:

If I told you that Mark Sanchez had more pass attempts than Tom Brady this year, would you believe me?  Probably not, considering how the Jets had over 100 more rushing attempts than the next highest team last year and threw less than any other team.  That's not the case this year, however; though New York still ranks 2nd in rush attempts per game, we are beginning to see signs of balance with the Jets ranking in at 20th in the league in pass attempts.

The biggest difference in the team from last year to this year is the reason why there is more balance -- the improved play of Mark Sanchez.  For all the flak he got last year (some definitely deserved), he was still just a 22/23 year old quarterback with only thirteen collegiate starts under his belt.  Growing pains were and are to be expected.  Many scouts liked Sanchez's upside but questioned if he were really able to help a team immediately due to his lack of game experience.  Even though he had some real nightmare performances to put doubts into even the most optimistic of fans, he showed flashes of brilliance when his team needed him most, propelling the Jets into the AFC Championship game.

Though he has plenty more to work on and develop, the biggest things Mark has improved on this year is ball security and pocket awareness.  He had done almost a complete flip flop on his TD:INT ratio; last year he had 15 total TDs (12 passing) with 20 INTs and 8 fumbles while this year he sports 18 total TDs (16 passing) with 8 INTs and zero fumbles.  With improved footwork and down the field vision, Sanchez has begun to use his athleticism to his advantage.

After a hot start, RB LaDainian Tomlinson has cooled off considerably in the run game but has been an asset in the passing game as of late.  While LT has been a pleasant surprise, RB Shonn Greene has been a disappointment in his sophomore season.  I do not know if he is not in good playing shape or if the run-blocking is not quite up to par, but he has struggled to turn the corner and break any of the runs he was able to last year.

While he struggled to get in sync in his first two games back from suspension, WR Santonio Holmes has thrived as Sanchez's go-to guy and pilot in three of the Jets thrilling finishes.  WR Braylon Edwards is primarily used as a deep threat and red zone target, while the surprisingly inconsistent WR Jerricho Cotchery operates the sidelines and is looked upon on third downs.  TE Dustin Keller shows signs of brilliance but disappears during stretches just as quickly.  Keller had success last time these two teams met but has taken a back seat in the passing game since the return of Holmes.

The two biggest weaknesses for this offense lie in its propensity for slow starts and its struggles in the red zone.  While New York averages a not too shabby 24 points a game, they only average a pedestrian 9.6 points in the first half.  This problem has been noticeably exacerbated in the games in which they have had ample time to prepare.  This is something to monitor as they have not played in ten days.  Whether it's the players playing tight or the coaching staff over-thinking things, it is something that needs to be resolved in a game of this magnitude.  Lastly, while this offense remains run-first, it hasn't had the "Ground and Pound" success of 2009 in the red zone.  Penalties have been a real thorn in the side as well, stalling out drives and leaving potential points on the board.

Patriots Defense:

This is not the Patriots defense of old.  Gone are difference-makers like Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, and Rodney Harrison.  They rank dead last in pass defense and allow the 11th most points per game.

Yet at the same time, this unit has been a major reason why the Patriots are 9-2 thanks to well-disciplined, opportunistic, and smart play.  It's pretty impressive considering the defense's youth and lack of elite players.  Belichick has been a master of disguising coverages without having the luxury of a dominant pass rush, too.  The result has been 15 interceptions; for comparison sake, that is more than double that of the Jets defense.

NT Vince Wilfork and ILB Jerod Mayo are the two top notch talents on the defensive front.  Wilfork is a top end run stuffer that can play multiple positions on the line.  Mayo, the former first round pick in 2008, is a sure tackler and leader of this defense. Rookie CB Devin McCourty took no time finding his niche in this play-making defense, recording 5 INTs thus far.  FS Brandon Meriweather has nice athleticism for the position and  SS Pat Chung has versatility in all phases of the game.

The biggest criticisms of this defense is its tendency to give up a ton of yards and to sometimes take its foot off the gas pedal when given a large lead.  Even though the Pats outscore their opponents by roughly a touchdown a game, they give up more yards than they gain.  Moving the chains has not been a problem for opposing teams; protecting the ball and going for six has been much tougher.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Previewing the Jets vs. Patriots (Part II)

Patriots Offense:

Since the prompt trade of Randy Moss during their Week 5 bye, one of the most intriguing things to watch this year has been the machine that is the New England offense.  The offense is centered by none other than NFL MVP front-runner Tom Brady, who is having an effective season as ever.  To me, three things stick out when watching the Patriots offense in 2010:  they spread the wealth; it is very matchup oriented based on the opponent; and it is lethal in the red zone.

1) The Robin Hood Offense -- Bill Belichick stole from Randy Moss his 80 catches, 1200 yards, and dozen TDs and has let Tom Brady redistribute the wealth between a plethora of new guys.  Even the best slot man in the game, Wes Welker, is on pace for his first season under 100 receptions in a Pats uniform.  On top of that, Brady isn't on pace for the gaudy passing yards he put up in his last two full seasons.  So shouldn't the Patriots offense be worse now considering those numbers?  Guess again because Brady's ability to keep the defense guessing has increased this well-oiled machine into a near juggernaut.  As a result, he is on pace for his second 30 TD and single digit INT season and has his team in the perfect position heading into Week 13.

2) The Chameleon Offense -- The coolest part about this offense is its ability to morph itself to fit the weaknesses of its upcoming opponent.  An excellent example of this is to look no further than the play of TE Aaron Hernandez, who exploded onto the scene in the Week 2 matchup with six catches for 101 yards by tearing up the weak underbelly of the Jets defense -- the middle of the field. Hernandez is an excellent receiving tight end, but the league's youngest player is a raw blocker.  In the last three weeks when facing potent potent pass rushing teams in the Steelers, Colts, and Lions we saw Hernandez's snap counts decline while the snap counts of superior run and pass blockers Rob Gronkowski and former Tar Heel Alge Crumpler's shot up.  In those three games Pro Football Focus reports that out of 193 offensive plays, Hernandez was only on the field for 46 of them while Gronkowski and Crumpler were on for 166 and 119 respectively.

To dig a little deeper, let's take a look at the brilliant gameplan used against Pittsburgh.  The Patriots used a vast array of formations, anywhere from the spread to max pass protect to jumbo sets.  Specifically, Gronkowski and/or Crumpler were used many times to stay home and block in conjunction with FB Sammy Morris (the smaller Danny Woodhead was rarely used) to completely neutralize the fearsome Harrison/Woodley duo.  Moreover, by spreading the field the Pats could take advantage of the Steelers solid but thin secondary with their slew of shifty receivers.  With early success in the pass game, they were able to achieve the impossible task of finding some semblance of a running game at Heinz Field.  From there, Brady and Gronkowski were able to gash the defense down the seam on play action, so much so that the tight end from Arizona ended up with five catches for 72 yards and three TDs.  In the last three games, he is averaging 3.7 catches for 54 yards and a TD.

3) The That's Gonna Cost Ya Offense -- This is a deadly group that leads the NFL with a robust 30.4 points/game average.  Not only are they capable of sustaining long, healthy drives but when they do they make you pay for seven points and not three.  Entering this week, the Patriots lead the league with a whopping 36 rushing and receiving touchdowns, or roughly 3.25 TDs a game. With an impressive combination of accuracy and arm strength, Tom Brady truly makes those around him better.  His leadership skills are undeniable and his decision-making is tops when he has time to go through his progressions.  If there is one thing the offense does not do a whole lot it is stretch the field vertically outside the numbers with their receivers.

Jets Defense:  

While the Jets defense isn't a complete shut down defense like last year, they certainly took a step in that direction on Thanksgiving by sacking Carson Palmer three times (including a safety), intercepting him twice, and holding him to an abysmal 45% completion rate.  But if you read the New York papers up until last week and didn't watch any Jets games you'd find it hard to believe this defense is ranked 4th in scoring.

Unlike last year, the strength of the defense this year lies in the play against the run.  Despite losing both NT Kris Jenkins and DE Ropati Pitoitua to IR before the season really took off, NT Sione Pouha (pronounced boe-OOH-ha) has emerged as the line's anchor and is playing at a Pro Bowl level.  Inside linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris are sure tacklers and are quick to fill any running lanes.  To not allow a 100 yard runner despite facing names like Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Peyton Hillis, and Arian Foster is a major statement.

As Darrelle Revis's health has improved, so has the play of the defensive backfield.  The secondary was a liability for the first half of the season but has has really turned it on since, largely due to Revis's play.  He has regained his shutdown ability the last five weeks, as evidenced by Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, and Terrell Owens insignificant stat lines.  Despite its recent success, it was dealt a blow on Friday with the loss of FS Jim Leonhard.  Though he had physical limitations against some bigger players due to his diminutive 5'8'' height, Leonhard was a master of Rex's defensive system and had a knack for a big play at the right moment.  Brodney Pool and Eric Smith will be the starters, though James Ihedigbo and Dwight Lowery will see time in certain packages.  Smith and Ihedigbo are liabilities in coverage while Pool and Lowery are average against the pass.  The safety play and the lack of a one-on-one pass rusher are the weakest links of an otherwise sturdy defense.

Next up, the Jets offense and Patriots defense

Previewing the Jets vs. Patriots (Part I)

In perhaps the biggest game of the NFL regular season, the New York Jets travel to Foxborough to take on the piping hot New England Patriots.  Both teams enter Monday night's nationally televised game with 9-2 records, and the winner will likely be in the drivers seat for home field advantage throughout the playoffs while the other will be shipped out on the road as the Wild Card contender.  In this part of the preview, I will give a few basic need to know details before I break down how each team sizes up on offense, defense, and special teams in later entries.

The Last Time They Met:  A trigger happy Tom Brady found himself locked on to Randy Moss too many times, resulting in two second half interceptions and ultimately costing the game on a sack/forced fumble caused by Jason Taylor.  QB Mark Sanchez played an extremely efficient game, throwing for three touchdowns and no turnovers.  The Patriots started the first half hot, featuring the coolest snow cone TD catch ever by Moss that I try to replicate when we sometimes toss the football at work (sports really is a distraction).  After scoring 14 in the first half, the Pats were then held scoreless and gave up more points in "Dougies" to Braylon Edwards than they could handle.

I won't go as far as saying throw the first game out the window, but I don't think the Jets have any psychological edge even though they won the first matchup.  On both sides of the ball, the Patriots are a lot different now than they were in September.  Neither are the Jets.  A repeat score this go around would be surprising to me.

Injury Bug: Jets: S Jim Leonhard (Injured Reserve); DB Dwight Lowery and RT Damien Woody (Questionable); and DE Shaun Ellis, NT Sione Pouha, QB Mark Sanchez, LB Calvin Pace, LG Matt Slauson, CB Marquice Cole, LB David Harris, CB Drew Coleman, C Nick Mangold, WR/KR Brad Smith, WR Jerricho Cotchery (Probable)  All but Jim Leonhard are likely to suit up and play on Monday night.  Cotchery, Cole, and Lowery would be making first appearances back after missing a few games.
Patriots:  RG Stephen Neal (Injured Reserve); DL Myron Pryor, DE Mike Wright, DB Jonathan Wilhite (Questionable); QB Tom Brady (Probable) Losing Neal hurts but isn't the end of the world as the Patriots have sufficient depth on the offensive line.  Brady is obviously going to play, but the questionable guys are a mystery.  I didn't even bother listening to Belichick's presser because he's about as vague as a James Joyce novel.

I'm Baaaaaaack: Patriots impressive LG Logan Mankins, who missed the first meeting between the two teams, returned in Week 9 after a holdout and immediately upgraded the line.  For the Jets, highly explosive WR Santonio Holmes gets his first crack at New England in a Jets uniform because he missed the first meeting due to suspension for having a little bit too much California Homegrown.

Weather:  You can look it up yourself but if you're thinking what I'm thinking, then yes I agree -- Bill Belichick will probably be wearing something stolen from the Wet Bandits wardrobe.  I mean seriously the guy looks like a hobo out there. Who not only wears a cut-off hoodie in warm weather, but when the weather gets cold continues to wear a cut-off hoodie but with long sleeves underneath?  I'm not saying we need to bring Queer Eye for the Straight Guy onto the sidelines, but in the words of Jerry Seinfeld wearing cut-off sweats like that says "I've given up.  I cannot compete in this world anymore, so I might as well be comfortable."  Alright, rant over.

Next up, Patriots O vs. Jets D

Saturday, December 4, 2010


My two favorite interests in life have always been sports and music (Aside: Well that's sort of a lie.  When I was about 6 years old and in a crabby mood, I turned down the opportunity to see the Beach Boys in Jones Beach because I said "I didn't like music."  I have no idea why I did that. Man, I'm a stubborn idiot sometimes).  I now realize why I was drawn to those two hobbies; sports always suited and fed my appetite for competitiveness while music has always been a curiosity to me, as it can be anywhere from therapeutic to electrifying.  In my humble opinion, they're great interests to have; unfortunately, the biggest downside is that I do not quite know how it helps me in any way in the real world yet sports and music are more thought provoking to me than any other thing out there.  I guess all I can do is write about what I enjoy.

Now that that sappy shit is over with, I want to say that this page is dedicated to anything that piques my interest, not solely limited to my two favorite endeavors.  However, most of the items will revolve around sports, mainly pro football.  As always, feel free to comment on anything of your liking.

And to close out this, I want to admit I am a huge fan of sports look-alikes.  For some reason, a really good look-alike always gets me.  A bad attempt though is pretty lame, like "Look, they both have goatees!" ...yeah that's about it.  In a complete cop out, this look-alike involves sportscaster Craig Sager and the Keebler Elf.  Take a look...