Monthly Archives: November 2016

The soul-crushing slog of playing on a bad NFL team

When a season starts to slip away, as it has for many teams around the league right now, it breaks your soul as a player. The energy level in the building dips, the attention to detail falls off, the William Hayes Youth Jersey game prep starts to feel like homework. You start looking toward the offseason, just hoping to make it through the rest of the games healthy.

I experienced it firsthand back in 2003 as a member of Steve Spurrier’s Washington Redskins. After a 3-1 start that included a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots, we were talking big at the beginning of October: playoffs, Super Bowl, Pro Bowls. Hey, everyone wanted in on this thing. Jump on the train.

But success in the NFL can be so fleeting. We lost the next four games and never recovered. From 3-1 to 5-11. Brutal.

Bradford’s average pass was thrown 3.4 yards past the line of scrimmage, the shortest average throw distance by any QB in a game in the last 2 seasons (min. 30 attempts). Only one of his 37 pass attempts traveled more than 15 yards downfield as 78 percent of his attempts were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. As a result, only eight of Bradford’s 37 pass attempts (22 percent) gained a first down, the lowest percentage by a player in Week 12.

However, Goff struggled in the second half, throwing for 47 yards on 12 attempts. He also took two sacks, meaning that in 14 total dropbacks in the second half, the Rams gained 28 yards (2.0 yards per play). Goff completed all three of his third-down pass attempts in Zach Laskey Youth Jersey the second half on Sunday, but none of them gained first downs. He was 0-for-3 on passes thrown beyond the first down marker in the second half.

Goff also had the first two turnovers of his NFL career on Sunday, losing a fumble in the second quarter and throwing an interception in the third quarter.

In his first start since November 2013, Tolzien had some highlights and more than a few lowlights in the Colts’ 28-7 loss on Thursday night. In addition to two interceptions, Tolzien was sacked three times and fumbled once against Pittsburgh.

Like the rest of the Colts, who were stopped on two separate drives that reached the Steelers’ 1-yard line, Tolzien struggled in goal-to-go situations. In five goal-to-go plays, he gained more than 1 yard once and cost the team about 1.7 expected points. Tolzien has some positive to build upon, but ultimately his inability to convert his yards into points was a major contributor to his ranking atop this leaderboard.

The Jets went into the season knowing they had a lot riding on their 30-and-over group

Lack of playmakers on defense: One of the key elements to the Jets’ success last season was the number of takeaways by the defense — a total of 30, almost two per game. It was a huge help for the offense, creating short fields. It wasn’t the fastest defense, but it was aggressive, smart and relentless. This season, it’s probably a faster group, especially at linebacker, but the results aren’t there — a mere nine takeaways. This defense couldn’t find the football if you wrapped it in neon lights. Some of it falls on the defensive line, which hasn’t lived Jaye Howard Authentic Womens Jersey up to the hype. This means you, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson.

The old guys are hurt or ineffective (or both): The Jets went into the season knowing they had a lot riding on their 30-and-over group. Truth be told, it’s the guts of the team — Fitzpatrick, Mangold, Marshall, Ryan Clady, Matt Forte, David Harris and Darrelle Revis.

Of this group, only Forte and Harris are performing up to expectations. Revis and Fitzpatrick have slipped significantly, Clady suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, Mangold got banged up, and Marshall, playing on a bum foot, hasn’t been nearly as dynamic as last season. Decker is shy of 30, but his injury has been devastating to the offense, especially Fitzpatrick.

It’s OK to have older players, but they can’t be the foundation of the team. This is a flaw in the makeup of the roster.

Matthew Stafford and the Lions have come from behind in all seven of their wins.

“Our group plays loose and aggressive. That’s kind of how we try to keep it,” Lions Jeremy Maclin Authentic Womens Jersey coach Jim Caldwell said. “You can’t play a ballgame uptight. They don’t get uptight, even at the end of ballgames. In tough situations that are fairly tough for the most part and can be a little bit uncomfortable, it does not bother them.

“They’ve been in it. They find a way. They believe in one another, and they keep trying to find a way to win.”

Lions’ Matthew Stafford moves into top 50 all time in passing yards

Matthew Stafford is now officially one of the top 50 passers in NFL history.

Stafford moved past Hall of Michael Crabtree Authentic Jersey Fame quarterback Len Dawson and former Minnesota, Washington, Kansas City and Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon to move into 50th place in all-time passing yards.

Stafford entered Thursday with 28,627 yards and needed 117 yards to pass both Dawson and Gannon to make the move. He officially passed both of them with a 1-yard pass to Theo Riddick in the second quarter during the Detroit Lions’ game against the Minnesota Vikings.

If the Texans beat the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, the Colts will be two games behind Houston in the AFC South. That means Indianapolis cannot slip up in its final five games if it expects to catch the Texans in the division.

“We still have an opportunity and are still in a position where we can win our division,” cornerback Darius Butler said. “We have to take care of business. We can’t be concerned with what is going on outside of the building, we just have to take care of our business and win the games.”

There was a lot of uncertainty about how the Colts would function with Mychal Rivera Authentic Jersey backup QB Scott Tolzien starting in place of the injured Luck. Tolzien wasn’t perfect — he was wild on some throws and had two fourth-quarter interceptions — but he was not the biggest issue for the Colts.

The defense, as has been the case against the Steelers, couldn’t stop QB Ben Roethlisberger and his offense. The Steelers racked up 369 total yards and were 7-of-11 on third down. Still, the Colts could have lived with that had they been able to take advantage of scoring chances.

It started when Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri missed his second field goal in his past three tries — a 52-yard attempt — in the first quarter. Until then, he had made an NFL-record 44 straight first-quarter field goals. The Colts had a chance to get to within seven late in the first half, but receiver T.Y. Hilton dropped what would have been a catch-and-run touchdown along Pittsburgh’s sideline.

Baltimore put up a fight against the league’s only 9-1 team before going down,

It’s dangerous to put the Packers this high. They’re on a four-game losing streak, of course, and it has felt more traumatic than even that might indicate. The Packers have allowed 153 points over their past four games, including 30 points in each of those contests, the first time they’ve done that in 63 years. Concerns about the offense have given way to brutally terrifying performances from an anonymous, vanilla defense.

The blame for the defense goes everywhere. Injuries have sapped the secondary of top corner Sam Shields, out since the opener with a concussion. Clay Matthews has missed three games with a hamstring problem and came back in only limited Matt Ryan Womens Jersey duty this week. Ted Thompson chose not to re-sign Casey Hayward in free agency and let him leave for San Diego, where he has been above average, choosing instead to rely upon 2015 first- and second-round picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins to play bigger roles. Rollins has struggled and Randall is another injury casualty.

Baltimore put up a fight against the league’s only 9-1 team before going down, but things won’t be easy for them the rest of the way.

Cousins completed 70 percent of his passes for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Redskins’ win. He wasn’t dinking-and-dunking his way to those numbers, either. His average pass traveled 10.5 yards past the line of scrimmage, and two-thirds of his passing yards came through the air (as opposed to after the catch).

Their offense kept up appearances shortly after Green’s departure, producing two long drives, before Matt Schaub Womens Jersey sputtering out in the second half, where they produced a single first down in their first five drives.

The four teams behind them are the Browns, Bucs, Jags and 49ers, a combined 8-33. Opposing receivers aren’t afraid of the Green Bay secondary, either, as it has dropped a league-low 1.8 percent of passes.

DeMarco Murray, Jack Conklin top list of Titans GM Jon Robinson’s key acquisitions

Jon Robinson’s first-year roster building as Tennessee Titans GM looks pretty good through 10 games.

The guys he brought in are a big reason why the Titans are still in the race for the AFC South crown. Personnel men love ascending players, and the Titans added several of those.

Let’s rate the top additions Luca Sbisa Authentic Jersey as of Week 11.

Center Ben Jones: The free agent from the Texans is a settling force who has been quietly efficient. He leads the resurgent line and keeps things organized up front as the primary communicator. The Titans wanted a tone-setter, and got one.

Guard Josh Kline: Robinson knew Kline well, because they were in New England together. When the Patriots cut Kline, the Titans claimed him on waivers. And when Chance Warmack injured a finger in the team’s second game and elected to have season-ending surgery, Kline was inserted into the lineup. He has played better than Warmack.

“It’s senior night, and my grandma is going to walk him on the field.”

He said his father was an entrepreneur in South Carolina with a construction company and a training facility until the recession wiped out his business. Four years ago, his father decided to pursue a degree — he’s studying engineering — and revive his athletic career. Joe Jr., whose cousin is former Patriots receiver Troy Brown, was all for it.

“It’s been crazy for me,” Joe Jr. said. “I never thought you’d see a 55-year-old running Markus Naslund Authentic Jersey back. I’m just proud of him. He made his mind up to do something and stuck to it.”

When asked whether his dad can actually play, Joe Jr. said: “He always kept in good shape. He always works out. He doesn’t drink or smoke, so his body’s in pretty good shape. If you read the article, it says when I was in high school, I raced him in our front yard and he beat me.”

So while Manning, Wayne and the other members of the 2006 Super Bowl team in attendance get recognized Sunday, the thought of the current Colts hoisting the Lombardi Trophy doesn’t appear to be in the immediate future.

The best of Scherzer and Porcello in 2016

Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello won the Cy Young Awards in their respective leagues on Wednesday night. Scherzer is the sixth pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues (won AL Cy Young in 2013). Porcello is the seventh Red Sox pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, most by any AL team.

Scherzer led all qualified National League pitchers in wins, strikeouts, WHIP, strikeout-to-walk rate, and WAR, while Porcello led the American League in wins and strikeout-to-walk rate.

What made Max Scherzer great?

Even with a 20-strikeout start, Scherzer had a 4.05 ERA at the end of May. He posted a 2.44 ERA in his last 23 starts. The keys for Scherzer were cutting his walks (from 2.7 per 9 innings to 2.0) and home runs allowed (from 1.8 per 9 innings to 0.9).

Porcello got off to a fast start in 2016, winning each of his first 5 starts with a 2.76 ERA in the process. That 5th win came against the Yankees, with Porcello going 7 scoreless for the decision.

Complete games: July 29 at Angels; September 19 at Orioles

After not throwing a complete game since 2014 with the Tigers, Porcello threw 3 in 2016 (one in a loss). In the two wins, he gave up 2 runs in each, not walking a batter in either game. The July 29 complete game was Porcello’s 8th straight decision won. He was the first Red Sox starter to win 14 of his first 16 decisions since Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2008.

22nd win of season: September 24 at Rays

In his second-to-last start of the season, Porcello C.J. Mosley Authentic Womens Jersey capped it off with his 22nd victory, which would be his final of the 2016 campaign. The last Red Sox pitcher to win 22 games in a season was Pedro Martínez in 1999. He won the Cy Young award that year for his efforts.

Scherzer had a variety of ways with which he could get hitters out. He had the seventh-highest miss rate with his fastball in the majors, the fourth highest among NL pitchers with at least 15 starts (24 percent). Opponents hit .199 against it, a mark bettered only by Clayton Kershaw (.184), Jake Arrieta (.194) and Rich Hill (.195).

Scherzer’s other signature pitch was his Calvin Johnson Authentic Womens Jersey slider. Hitters missed that at a 49 percent rate, second-best in the NL (José Fernandez, 50 percent). Through the end of May, opponents hit .192 with a .370 slugging percentage against the pitch. The rest of the season, they hit .123, with a .240 slugging percentage.

Nkemdiche did play like a first-round pick in the five games I watched

I feel like I need to remind people before reading this breakdown on Robert Nkemdiche that my assessments don’t take into account off-field issues at all. These are projections based strictly on how I view each prospect as a player and whether I think their skill sets should transition well to the NFL. A guy can play like a top-five pick, but we all know that character issues could potentially knock them down draft boards.

Cool?

Cool.

Nkemdiche did play like a first-round pick in the five games I watched. That doesn’t mean he was perfect or even close, but he showed me enough in those five games that I can foresee Nkemdiche being a force on the next level. I think a team with an attacking style 4-3 defense (where “attacking” means they want their interior defensive linemen to get up the field and rush the passer just like their defensive ends) would be the perfect landing spot for him.

That doesn’t mean he can’t play well in other schemes, too. I just personally believe his greatest chance for success in the NFL is as an undertackle/three-technique. Sure, he could be a five-technique in a 3-4 and maybe even a nose tackle in a 4-3, but I don’t think a team will get nearly as much bang for their buck in those positions as they would if they put him at undertackle.

Nkemdiche is definitely going to need a lot of technique work, however. I don’t think I saw him play a single reach block by, you know, not getting reached in five games. He did make some plays with a backdoor (allowing yourself to get blocked inside so you can go behind the blocker to make the play) on reach blocks on several occasions, but as you might imagine that approach was kind of hit-or-miss. The chances of him winning with a backdoor on every reach block will go down significantly once he reaches the pros and has to face more athletic guys.

Well except for this one game …

Now, I haven’t done any breakdowns of Alabama offensive linemen this offseason, so I’m not 100 percent sure how good they were this past season. What I do know is that those guys were a lot harder for Nkemdiche to beat than the offensive lines on the other four teams. Alabama’s offensive line was much more physical with Nkemdiche, as well.

All of a sudden, Nkemdiche was the one getting knocked on his ass instead of the other way around. Not all the time, but definitely some of the time which wasn’t something I saw much of in the other four games. He still ended up making some nice plays against Alabama, including a sack off a pretty spin move near the end of the game, which is why not being quite as dominant against those guys wasn’t really that alarming for me.

Watching him get moved around more than usual did reiterate to me how important it will be to get his technique flaws ironed out.

That’s so Browns: Using a timeout before the first snap

The Cleveland Browns had to call a timeout before the first snap of the game Thursday night in Baltimore.

Seems the defense had 12 men on the field.

But what I’ve always felt, and experienced as a player during my travels around the league to four different cities, is that the mental break is even more important.

“NFL players are not robots and the grind of the season is real, so guys cherish their time away.”
People forget: A lot more goes into playing this game than what you see on Sundays. There’s a new playbook install to ingrain … every week. New scouting reports to study … every week. New film to digest … every week. New personnel packages to run through … every week. New call sheets to draw up … every week.

And then you add in the meetings and the practices and the walk-throughs and the lifting and the treatment. Like I said, it’s a grind. By the time midseason rolls around, players almost become robotic.

And when rookies hit the wall come mid-November, it’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing. These young cats can run all day. They aren’t beat up like eight-year vets yet. Heck, most of these guys are still built like rubber bands. But some aren’t used to the demands of the job when it comes to the prep time, the game planning or the film study. That can be a major adjustment from the college game. And by this time of the season, that mental exhaustion starts to take its toll.

But even for the vets, the players who attack this daily routine like true pros, the time off is a beautiful thing. And it doesn’t have to be some wild vacation.

For me, it was back to Iowa a couple of times on the bye week. Watch the Hawkeyes, drink some Busch Light, see old college teammates. I loved it. And I needed it. The same when I got older in the league. Back home to Chicago, over to New York, whatever.

Hey, take a two-day trip with your wife. Go watch the kids play a rec soccer game. Get to a warmer locale. Maybe a weekend in Miami for the young guys.

Really, it’s not so much about what you do during the bye week, but what you don’t do. And that means you get away from the game altogether. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but you would be surprised how many players come back from this mini-break ready to play.

Which struggling NFC North team is worth believing in: Green Bay or Minnesota?

Which surprise division leader is the more dangerous playoff contender: Oakland or Atlanta?

The Raiders are fun to watch. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Derek Carr, and head coach Jack Del Rio isn’t afraid to gamble to get a win. They’re a great story at a time when so much uncertainty surrounds that franchise and its future.

On the other hand, the Falcons made a dramatic statement by going into Denver earlier this season and knocking around the previously undefeated Broncos. That victory told us the Falcons weren’t just a high-scoring team that could take advantage of weaker defenses. This bunch has more mental toughness and more desire to prove that this fast start won’t lead to another late-season collapse (as was the case in 2015).

J.J. Nelson, WR, Arizona Cardinals (2.9 percent owned)
As their bye week began, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians confirmed that J.J. Nelson was now a starter in the three-wide receiver set, and someone would have to take the job from him. It certainly won’t be Michael Floyd, whose 44 percent catch rate ranks 84th out of 87 receivers with 30-plus targets this year.

Nelson already showed great potential in his first two games with a heavy workload, including Week 8 when he led the Cardinals in wide receiver snaps. In Weeks 7 and 8 Nelson owned a 40 percent share of Arizona’s intended air yards, whereas Floyd owned just a 19 percent share over the course of the entire season.

The Cardinals welcome the 49ers to Arizona in Week 10, and Nelson has an excellent chance at a massive game. San Francisco allows 15 touchdowns to wide receivers this season, which is the most in the NFL.

Rishard Matthews, WR, Tennessee Titans (6.4 percent owned)
Over the last five weeks no player has more touchdowns than Rishard Matthews, who is tied with Mike Evans for a league-high five receiving touchdowns over that span. While he’s only hit 70 yards receiving in just one of those games, he’s been a boss in scoring position. All five of those aforementioned touchdowns have come in the red zone, where Matthews trails only DeMarco Murray in targets seven to five.

Matthews’ 100 percent conversion rate inside the 20-yard line is just screaming for some regression, but it also looks like his playing time is on the rise. His snaps share has gone up every game the last four weeks with 40, 67, 88 and 89 percent from Weeks 6 through 9. The Packers should be able to put up points on the Titans, forcing Tennessee into more of a pass-heavy game script. In that case, Matthews

McAdoo has said on multiple occasions the Giants are not going to be afraid to play young players

Cruz likely would’ve fallen into coach Ben McAdoo’s category of “de-acclimation” had he not been injured. Tight end Larry Donnell also was not part of the Giants’ game plan coming out of the bye. Donnell did not play an offensive snap against the Eagles, after serving as the starter at tight end most of the season.

“We just talked about using all the 46,” McAdoo said. “Rotate as many players as we can in the ballgame and get them some quality reps.”

Instead of Donnell, Will Tye took a majority of the snaps and rookie Jerell Adams saw an increase in his playing time. Tye and Adams combined for seven catches on 11 targets for 57 yards.

With some rest, tweaks to their offense and help from a defense that created a pair of early turnovers, the Giants exploded, at least in comparison to what has been expected from them this season. They scored first for the first time since Week 3 and grabbed a quick 14-point advantage. Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes after throwing four in the previous four games combined.

The Giants (5-3) can take away some positives from this key victory over a division rival. They grabbed sole possession of second place in the NFC East, and their offense, which entered Sunday’s game averaging only 19 points per game, showed signs of life. It’s something to build on, even if it wasn’t perfect.

The Giants’ offense stumbled late and still couldn’t run the ball for much of the afternoon. But at times, the Giants looked like a different team from the one we saw before the bye.

Wide receiver Victor Cruz, before leaving with an ankle injury, didn’t start. Some of his snaps were taken by Dwayne Harris — who started because of his blocking — and rookie Roger Lewis.

Lewis caught a 30-yard touchdown early in the first quarter to give the Giants a 14-0 lead. He followed up an Odell Beckham Jr. 26-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Lewis brings an added dimension to the offense. He now has two touchdown receptions of 20-plus yards in limited playing time this season.

“I think I just add a playmaker. That is it,” Lewis said. “My playmaking ability from college is still adjusting in the NFL because it is kind of different. I want to be able to be a playmaker. I kind of feed off of guys like Odell. When he scored I was like, ‘Hey, I have got to go get me one.’ So with me being an undrafted guy, I am going to have to play with a chip on my shoulder and be able to make plays. That is it.”