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NFL19 Wild Cherry Picks: A Showcase of Styles On the Evolving (Devolving) Pro-QB

5 Jan

If you think this 2019 NFL Wild Card playoff round looks like the makings of a quarterback revolution, I’d hold off on that thought for now. Think more like a less taxing, not as angry, Whiskey Rebellion (1791-94). That doesn’t make complete sense, either, but it ain’t a revolution, not yet, anyway.

The quarterback landscape is changing pretty rapid these days. With the college football ranks filling faster on flash quarterbacks than a tackle does on mashed potatoes (NO GARLIC, PLEASE!!), they’ve gotta’ end up somewhere, right? Canada’s one destination (CFL), but south of the 49th parallel north, the National Football League venue is every amateur’s biggest dream.

Couple that with the NFL’s need to replenish its ranks with capable signal-callers and it only stands to reason that the modern single-wing tailback would become plentiful at the pro-level, too, where, unfortunately, the real quarterback training in field assessment and development of serious intestinal fortitude begins.

Be that as it may, the pocket-passer will remain an NFL fixture, even if it becomes the exception, rather than rule, or ruler, as it were (See; SB).

As the run-quarterback operates largely on rabbit-sense, i.e., fear-flight, it will always be the master matriculaor, the ones who show poise behind the line, withstand hits in the face of pressure to connect consistently with receiver corps and in the most critical of times (red-zone), that will always be favored, not just by coaches, GMs and teammates but most by football fans who like courage and lots and lots of scoring.

And it’s the pocket-passer that will be one of the featured styles on both days of this weekend’s Wild Card slate, along with every other variety of quarterbacking style you can imagine, with the exception of maybe the wounded-duck form of field generaling. They may be gone forever.

Those were the guys like Billy Kilmer (Redskins) and Joe Kapp (Vikings) who never did perfect the spiral but generally got the job done on guts & semi-skill.

Here’s how the play-callers have been playing it:

Andrew Luck, pocket passer. Andy used to motor pretty well but recent injuries have curtailed that and the results, so far, are looking good.

DeShaun Watson, run-QB: He takes off at the drop of a hat but with an excellent C% (68+) and ypa (8.2). So the worry on scamper isn’t so much that he’s passing up opportunities in the air (red-zone blues?), but the injury risk.

Russell Wilson, mobile-manager: He has mobility to avoid the rush when the line breaks down and likes to roll-out. Russ’ earned an A+ in his biggest test in SB46 win over Denver, rambling a mere three (3) times, all early-on.

Dak Prescott, mobile-manager: Averages about 4.5 rushes per contest, finding the end-zone with regularity (6-TD). Level-headed and physically solid (“The Fortress” nickname fits), his motor has been tested in 2018 with a leaky Dallas O-line (56-sk), but can Coach Garrett deliver the Dude a game-plan?

Philip Rivers, pocket-passer: The old veteran (37 yrs) and sentimental favorite in this years early playoff round (37 yrs). Passing yards are down a bit but INTs reasonable (12) on pretty fair protection (32sk). His run-mates Ekeler (groin) and Gordon (ankle) are aching, so can Coach Lynn come up with a pass-heavy scheme that can compensate, on the road in Crabcake City (gulp)?

Lamar Jackson, run-QB: A Ravens post-season without Joe Flacco starting under center? Seems odd, but you go with what gets you there, right, and the young Mister Jackson (turns 22 on Monday) got the guys going in the right direction (6-1, 6t-3i, 695y-rush). The Bolts know offense, of course, but they also know defense this time around. Does Harbaugh know HIS offense, yet?

Nick Foles, pocket-passer: It’s a stand-tall-in-the-pocket tandem in Philly (+Wentz), together averaging a 70-C%, even as sacks are on higher side in 2018 (40). The Super Bowl winning Foles, who started the season slow, gave-way to Wentz and then got the call again, is like that race-horse who runs best in the stretch where the action intensifies and the stakes are highest.

Mitchell Trubisky, run-QB: This season, like most since 1919, defense is key in Chicago, which took some pressure off the 2nd-year from UNC (b.Ohio). Mitch carried his end well on nice C% (67), fair INTs (12) and enthusiasm, something that’d been missing on the Midway (JC), though, it does get a smidgen silly at times (post-TD). Run-game helps (Howard-Cohen-MT) but fumblitis (15).

NFL Wild Cherry Picks: Road Warriors

Indy @ Texans: 1.5 Disney 4:35E: Colts
Seahawks @ Cowboys: Fox 8:15: Seattle
Chargers @ Baltimore: 1.6 CBS 1:05: Bolts
Philadelphia @ Chicago: NBC 4:40: Eagles

Record: 63 – 51

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; R.Wilson, wc.cca, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; N.Foles, wc, T-Sgt-Walker, Dover, USAF; J.Kapp, wc, Ellensburg-Daily, 12.26.69
Posted: 1.5 @ 4:03pE; Copyright © 2019

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NFL17 Cherry Picks W6: Skin CAN Be Topical, When Thickness Is the Theme

12 Oct

We’re 1/3rd the way through NFL 2017 and only the Kansas City Chiefs’ mark remains, like that rare high school mug, unblemished (5-0), having avoided the deflating though brief malaise that will accompany that first loss of the season to keep the hopeful if naïve notion alive that ANYTHING is possible (16-0).

Five games in is when you’ve had enough ball under the belt to get a good idea of what’s working and what’s not, but not so late you can’t right the ship after a couple losses have begun to blow the vessel off course.

Since the 1960s, only the Dolphins (72) and Patriots (07) have managed to make it through the entire regular season Clearasil® clean (no losses), New England finally breaking-out (succumbing to the Giants in SB42) while Miami bested the Redskins in SB7 to stay Stridex® sound (undefeated). So in all likelihood, every team will post a pimple (loss) at some point early in the season. Eek.

It’s how a team HANDLES losing that’ll prove the biggest test.

Here’s what some famous people have had to say about winning, losing and how lemons can get turned into lemonade:

I believe the greatest failing of all is to be frightened: New Zealand (London) writer, Katherine Mansfield (Kathleen Mansfield Murry, 1888-1923)*

You can learn little from winning, you can learn everything from losing: New York Giants baseball great & WWI veteran, Christy Mathewson*

What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate: Donald Trump*

It is not enough to conquer, one must learn the art of seduction: Voltaire*

Okay, so that last one’s a bit bawdy for football but you get the idea, i.e., there’s more to it than winning. Holding onto power can be tougher than taking it.

But to handle a loss, even one that embarrasses badly, a good team with a champion’s constitution must have thick skin, thick enough to withstand the burning remarks of critics. And then, after the pain subsides, a mind-set for learning from the miscues that led to the collapse in confidence and play.

Who needs thick skin at this juncture? Prit near everyone, but those with a contender capability might be having their’s tested the hardest.

Arizona Cardinals (2-3)

Pre-season hopefuls, the Desert dwellers have had their skin tested in the next best (worst) manner, serious injury to a key cog, that being MVP-caliber running-back David Johnson who went out in W2 with a dislocated wrist.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3)

The Pack are always contenders for the Halas trophy (George must crack a smile up there every time someone ties his name to the Green & Yellow) with the likes of Rodgers under center, but giving ’em 20 points in the 4Q, at home in a game you had in control from the get-go has to burn the Boys skin bad.

As to some folk’s notion that last Sunday’s tussle (GB 35-31) constitutes NFL17’s game of the year, I say ‘Oh brother.’ Besides being premature (W5), any game where 30 points are allowed in the closing quarter can’t rank too high. Defense still has to count for something in the game of football.

Los Angeles Rams (3-2)

Looked to be the surprise contender of 2017 and might still fill-the-bill. With Russ Wilson, Wagner, Kam, Thomas, Wright and Coach Carroll, the Hawks, like GB, are an NFL Elite who own their Division, now that AZ has degressed. As such, there’s no shame in losing a close one to Seattle, even in LA. And when was the last time a Rams v Jaguars game seemed worth a look-see, eh?

Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)

Ben Ben’s talk of his demise is disheartening. Ever since Tomlin did his $100K (fined) turkey-trot on T-Day (13), I’ve hoped for better leadership to utilize best the final years of Pittsburgh’s future HOF quarterback. No such luck. But here’s more advice from the sage Giants moundsman: You must have an alibi to show why you lost. If you haven’t one you must fake one. Your self-confidence must be maintained. But keep it (alibi) to yourself, where it belongs.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 6

Eagles @ Carolina: 10.12 CBS 8:25: Cats
Packers @ Vikes: 10.15 Fox 1:00 GTW: GB
Detroit @ New Orleans: Fox 1:00: Lions
Patriots @ New York Jets: CBS 1:00: Patriots
Buccaneers @ Arizona: Fox 4:05: Cardinals
Los Angeles Rams @ Jaguars: Fox 4:05: Rams
Chargers @ Raiders: CBS 4:25: Los Angeles
Pittsburgh @ KansasCity: CBS 4:25: Steelers
New York Giants @ Denver: NBC 8:30: NYG
Indianapolis @ TN: 10.16 Disney 8:30: Colts

Record: 16 – 11

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Katherine-Mansfield, Archives-New-Zealand, wc, “thick-skinned-toady,” T.S.Eliot-critique, 1915 (+/-); Rhinoceros, India, wc.cca, Brehms-Life-Of-Animals, 1895;
Posted: 10.12.17 @ 4:55pE; Copyright © 2017
References (*): Mathewson: 1001 Fascinating Baseball Facts, Nemec & Palmer, 1994; Pres. Donald Trump, Google; Mansfield, Wikipedia; Voltaire, Wikipedia.

NFL17 Pre-Play: Triumvirate Intact, Patriots Grip On Power Remains Firm

1 Jun

Hail the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft!

Never in the history of sport has a tightly-woven triad of money (owner), brain (coach) & brawn (player) so effectively organized and implemented an operation of success over such a long period of time and with so little apparent friction as have these three, compatible personalities.

Historically, the triumvirate has shown mixed results.

The ancient Romans, building blocks to Western civilization, triumvirated a couple of times (Caesar – Crassus – Pompey 60 BC / Antony – Octavian – Lepidus 43BC), without much claim to victory, save brief respites from war.

Jumping forward to the North American pro sport scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same owner, coach (mgr) and top player remaining together winning titles for anywhere near as long as the Foxborough Three have been doing it.

There were the Habs (1944-79), Yanks (1923-62), Celtics & Lakers, dynasties we’ve been talking about for generations but none a triumvirate of top-level talent staying intact for as prolonged a period as these Patriots powerbrokers.

There were the Lombardi – Green Bay teams where ownership (EC – BoD), coach and key offensive player in Bart Starr, the way under-rated Bart Starr, won lots o’ titles but in a much more concentrated timeline (1961 – 68). Condensed greatness is potent (70s Steelers / 80s 49ers) and terrific in its own way but not of the championship continuum on topic here and special too itself.

It’s in the NBA where is found the only real comparison to the Patriots trio-of-time-tested-title-takers, that being the San Antonio Spurs.

The trifecta of Peoria native and current owner Peter Holt (1993), coach Gregg Popovich (1996 >) and recently retired center and championship nexus in Tim Duncan (1997-16) garnered five NBA titles (’99, 03, 05, 07, 14) in sixteen seasons, though never back-to-back (NE: 04-05), requisite for the dynasty.

But that was then, this is now, and wow, the Foxborough Three are defending NFL champions again after their Swing Time SB51 OT win over the ‘gotta’ still be stunned’ Falcons, having made the grade even as their starry starter in Brady had to sit the first four on his Deflategate susp’n. The red, white & blue bunch have been setting and maintaining a standard of sport excellence unlikely to be matched for a long, long time. Never say never, right?

Detractors will bemoan, ‘Hey dingdong, don’t forget Spygate, you fool!’ Always class-acts, and never redundant, the bemoaner boys. Rules violations are wrong, some even bad, i.e., failing to cooperate with an investigation (destroying a phone). But the general public, those with no serious rivalry axe-to-grind or having little interest in promoting their own brand of team who seek ’The Greatest’ award (Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, 49ers), just won’t be too bothered by black-marks on a team’s historical ledger that involve spying or stretching of the rules, outside game-fixing and PEDs. Spys have helped us win wars. A bit off-track here but that’s how the more rationally-minded fan will think.

Can they keep it going? Not forever, they can‘t, as hard as that is to imagine in 2017. Someday Tom will hang up his cleats, Bill hand in his headset one last time and Rob just won’t care anymore. All three have accomplished just about everything they can in the business of football, personally and as a team.

With Tom and Bill both having set the new standard in SB tandem wins with five and the team having set the record for Super Bowl appearances last February in Houston with their ninth (9) (5-4) (Pitt – Dallas – Denver all at eight (8)), about the only achievement unattained is to match and then surpass the Steelers league leading six (6) victories in the Big Game.

But as long as Brady stays healthy and the Foxborough Triumvirate keeps itself amused, an NFL bound to get more amusing, and lengthy, if not better, with Raja Goodell’s kow-tow in relaxing celebration rules, Pats should keep winning.

If you’re expecting to read here roster depth-chart chatter, draft break-downs and musings on New England’s 2017 schedule, forget it. Trust, in Belichick & Company’s judgment and future performance, has never been more earned.

Besides, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em? Anyone in the AFC?

Ben’s a trooper but needs sideline help; Denver & Houston have D but the Os are iffy; Colts & Titans have Os but Ds are doubtful; Raiders Las Vegas engagement came at a bad time for a still maturing Carr; Harbaugh & Flacco know how but is owner listening; KC will play out the string with Reid & Smith; Miami has a good QB in Tannehill but no good game-plan and Cincy, well, they’re Cincy.

In the weaker NFC the Cards turned conundrum; Wilson has D but needs a plan from Pete, not protest (CK); Rodgers needs a run-buddy and a D; Saints showed spunk late; Bucs are rising; Cats didn’t claw back in 2016; Eli is locked-in (‘20); Cousins may’ve peaked and that leaves Atlanta who need to shake off the shame.

Maybe it’s like those other eras with one, or two, dominant clubs, Pack in the 60s, Pitt – Dallas in 70s, 49ers in the 80s: Until the big dog (NE) loses its bite, everyone keeps focusing on the leader of the pack, tripping over their tail at the worst possible times. Course, having a defense that can close the deal is key, its absence to continue to be the biggest issue for most teams in 2017.

But in every NFL season there is the unexpected, that turnaround team where everything begins to click (Falcons / Raiders 2016-17), or sustained success sprouts from where no special tillage had been undertaken (Dallas draft).

As long as Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain together in good spirits and keep “calm(ing) the envious spirit” in those sporadic challenges to their predominance, efforts that will require a charmed season aided in no small part by a capricious Sporting God set (See; Carolina ‘15 – Dallas ‘16), this 21st century will remain the Patriots Period, period.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, wc.cca, Ixnay-Beao; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, US-Department-of-State, 4.25.15; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 6.1.17 @ 2:13p EST, edit 6.26; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Division Cherry Picks: Chaff Aside & Eight Seeds Alive, Goddess Ceres Asks, ‘Who’s Got Destiny?’

11 Jan

Green Bay Packers
New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers
Seattle Seahawks

They are the juggernauts of the oh-so sticky-glove era, winners of four (4) of the last eight (8), seven (7) of the last thirteen (13) NFL championships and almost half (13) of the last thirty (30) American – National Football Conference Super Bowl births. That’s alot of Bowl Babies, “by gosh by golly.”

ceres-wc-france-late19c-jlpc-9mThey are the haughty half of the eight remaining teams in the division playoff round, teams who have in recent times won their respective Conference hardware (Halas / Hunt) and are again in position to punch their ticket to SB51 in hopes of hoisting the vaunted Lombardi trophy, again.

The rich getting richer? It’s been the unaltered economic state going back to Nixon and will likely continue on with Trump directing the flow, so why buck the trend, eh? Ugh.

It’s in divisional play where the bye guys (no pun) in the Patriots, Falcons, KC and Dallas will now be tested under the brightest of lights and fiercest of foes. Simply stated, this is “the best of times,” for football viewers.

wilson-2-5m-11-11-12-l-maurer-wcUnlike the NCAA championships (March Madness) where Rd-1 of 34 games displays some of the most exhilarating and unexpected outcomes, NFL’s wild card stage is largely an exercise in separating chaff (hull) from the wheat (seed), i.e., threshing or thrashing, as it were. While Derek Carr’s presence would’ve had an impact, injuries plague every team and the WC is becoming semi-pathetic.

Did any unbiased, rationally-minded prognosticator truly believe that the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders or Miami Dolphins stood a snowball’s chance in Hades of advancing? And the one team some thought (moi) might put up a fight and make it interesting, the Giants, they too looked like they didn’t belong (13-38 GB).

Atlanta Falcons
Kansas City Chiefs
Dallas Cowboys
Houston Texans

They are the wannabes, the aspiring four remaining teams who’ve been out of the mix (Super) for so long (ATL, DAL, KC), or never in it (HOU), that they cannot rightly call themselves a standard-bearer, no matter the jersey sales (Dallas), and must earn their way back to where the big boys hang their hats (See; above).

kelce-wc-j-beall-9-14-14-1-5mThree of the four, Falcons, Chiefs & Cowboys, will play host to a juggernaut, boosting their chances a bit but had better bring their best game or next Monday they’ll be spending the day planning the next family cruise.

Winner’s Tale

1) Always able: Easy ability to matriculate (24+ pts);

2) Fourth-quarter defense that stops the scoring and bolts it down. Same holds true in college football and something that Alabama genius Nick Saban overlooked this time (“Clemson’s Dabo Swinney may have the nation’s best progression (75-27) since taking the Tigers’ reins (2008) and is a top candidate to topple cartel. Explains the raise ($5M) (9.2.16)”);

3) Fewest turnovers; and

4) Reliable kicking game (50 yd+).

cherries-hispalois-7-2-12-caceres-spain-wc-4-4m

Cherry Picks Division Grade

Seattle (11-5-1) @ Atlanta (11-5) 1.14 Fox 4:35 EST

Almost four years to the date (1.13.13) when in the divisional it appeared Pete Carroll’s building project hadn’t yet matured. Seattle played Swing Time in Atlanta to roar back for 21 points in the 4Q, only to lose on a late Matt Ryan-led FG drive (30-28). Falcons “Mighty (Dan) Quinn” was Hawks’ DC then and next year when Seattle hoisted (SB48). A-Birds are a scoring machine (33+) with best PS kicker in Bryant (92% (6-8 50+)) but DQ hasn’t built the top-stop (D) like he did in Emerald City. Awash in injuries, Seahawks’ defense still sticks while Rawls motors (6.ypc-DET). Earlier W6 battle is indicative (SEA 26-24): Close one where 4Q stoppage will decide it: Seahawks win.

Houston (10-7) @ New England (14-2) CBS 8:15

Osweiler battles Tannehill for ‘Rodney Dangerfield award (“no respect”)’ while facing maybe the best coach-QB tandem in history (Bill & Tom), in Foxborough, versus well-rested hosts with Tom in top form. Houston will need a Texas-sized shamrock to pull-off upset of the century. O’Brien has the defense clicking on all cylinders, even sans Mr. Celebrity (Watt), but the Pats, scoring experts they are, also play some D themselves, leading in all-important PPG rank (15.6), 2+ pts lower than next best, NYG (HOU 20.5), which goes to their W3 blanking of Texans (27-0). “Houston” would like to play for the crown in their NRG park come February but may have to satisfy still with the world’s Rollerball (‘75) championship (Ouch!). New England wins.

packers-cheer-9-26-10-m-morbeck309k

Pittsburgh (12-5) @ Kansas City (12-4) 1.15 NBC 1:05

Fans of this former AFL power hope Andy Reid’s plan gets Chiefs back where Hank Stram got ‘em when KC did “matriculate” all over the Vikes (SB4). Steelers defense is rated (342 ypg (12)) but KC bests their guest on PPG, 19.4 < 20.4. It’s former Chiefs guru Haley designing Pitt’s scoring scheme (24.9 ppg), a smidgen up on Chiefs OC Childress (24.3). Steelers have big weapons in Brown, Bell, Big Ben and SB coach Tomlin who wants desperately to prove he’s more than a “cheerleader.” No ICBMs in KC but QB Smith is cool customer, Ware aches (rib) but is all-purpose, Kelce a top TE and Peters a game-changer. Digits and W4 win (43-14) say Steelers favored but Ben’s gimpy (ankle) and Chiefs benefit from the home-field advantage: Kansas City wins.

Green Bay (11-6) @ Dallas (13-3) Fox 4:40

Packers get top TV slot, again, though, green & yellow would just assume face America’s Team sooner than later. Big Question: Will Dallas’ transplendent rookies in Prescott & Elliott hold up under bright lights or is middling GB defense (#22 / 21) enough to rattle their senses? Green Bay lit-up Vikes top D (#3 / 6) in W16 on a secondary that defected. No such discord in Dallas (#14 / 5). Boys W6 win at Lambeau (30-16) caught Pack in a state-of-funk, one since deodorized by a 7-game streak (sweet smell of success). GB still has a run void but Ramblin’ Man Rodgers is locked in. Long layoff helps veteran-led teams like Patriots but takes the edge off young Turks (Dak & Zeke). Nelson ribbed but was non-factor vs. NYG. Experience trumps exuberance. Packers win.

Record: 83 – 91 – 3

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-sign, wikiproject; Goddess-Ceres, France, late.19c., wc.cca, JLPC; R.Wilson, wc, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; T.Kelce, wc, 9.14.14, J.Beall; cherries, Hispalois, wc, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; Packers-cheer, wc, M.Morbeck, 9.26.10
Posted: 1.11.17 @ 11:14am, edit 3:35, pic-fix 1.13 @ 2:20pm; Copyright © 2017

NFL16 Cherry Picks W14: Are 11-1 Dallas Cowboys Super-Sizing or Just Surviving?

5 Dec

Monday Minute Waltz – NFL Week 13

The two most annoying words in sport today: fantasy points.

Mr. Bortles: “Trying to do too much (NFLN)” or just…plain…bad…judgment?

Larry Fitzgerald’s 2Q sideline handshake w/Redskins opponent DeSean Jackson was probably not the un-“selfish” play Cards’ coach Bruce Arians had in mind.

— — —

I don’t know who first uttered that buoyant phrase, ‘a win is a win is a win,’ but it’s point is pretty hard to dispute.

It’s the sentiment I expect was expressed by each and every Dallas Cowboys player & coach on their return flight home last Thursday nite following their narrow victory (17-15) over the hosting Minnesota Vikings.

cowboyshat-wc-5-16-8-dukeha-109ksb4That the Cowboys won their eleventh (11) straight contest and continue to have most people in the sporting biz thinking them colossal are morale boosters, for sure. That they won by the skin of their collective teeth is not all that disconcerting in that nearly every title team that’s hoisted the hardware had a close game or two on their road to Titledom.

The Minnesota win was valuable. Dallas won on the road, on short rest, topped a contender, a team that should’ve been highly motivated for victory to 1) keep playoff hopes alive that’ve been fast fading and, 2) win one for the Zimmer as head coach Mike was unexpectedly absent having emergency eye surgery (Detached retina?).

But how you win can be as important as how you lose.

‘Winning ugly’ has become a cute characterization today but in fact can be an omen, a warning sign of deficiencies that if not attended to forthwith will turn into big trouble down the road upon entering the playoff expressway.

The foreboding flipside to the Cowboys win last Thursday is in their failure to trounce a team that started hot (5-0) but has gone fairly frigid (1-5) since a week 5 win over the equally troubled Houston Texans.

garrett-j-wc-1998-user-archbridge-11kAdded to that, the host club’s home-field advantage was just lesser in that they were without their head coach and spiritual guide in Zimmer. Special teams man Mike Priefer, a key figure in the Chris Kluwe case, did a fine job filling-in and may’ve made identical calls to his absent boss but it’s just not the same.

In short, the Vikings were vulnerable, easy prey and the Dallas Dudes didn’t take full advantage. Cowboys’ failure to flex goes not only to the skill issue (do they have enough), but also to psychological aptitude as well, i.e., killer instinct.

Put more philosophically, does Dallas have the spirit of a champion?

Since their bye week, and setting aside the cakewalk win over Cleveland (35-10), in their five following victories, the Cowboys have won by an average score of 5.6 points. That’s less than a TD and that’s a close game. And had the Vikings game officials viewed the closing helmet hit on Vikes QB Bradford with an eye keener to protect passers from unnecessary harm, that average might even be lower.

Now comes the final stretch. All four of the Cowboys’ remaining opponents are contenders, some more serious than others but contenders, nonetheless.

First up are the Giants, a scheduled meeting whose timing is probably much to the liking of head coach Jason Garrett.

prescott-9-18-16-k-allison-187kThe division rival from New York (8-4), even with last Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh, G-Men are the only team in 2016 with moxie enough to topple the ‘Boys, taking the win in opening week (20-19). Garrett would just assume play the re-match now in the Metropolis having enjoyed a 10-day rest in preparation.

Next up is an AT&T call from the Buccaneers, who are, at least this week, one of the hottest clubs in the League at 7-5, followed by a visit from the roaring Lions (8-4), at least this week. Closing out the regular slate is a rematch with division foe the Eagles (5-7) whose losing mark should not belie their competitive play and the fact they’ve chalked up convincing wins over the Steelers, Vikes and bad-luck birds of Atlanta.

If the Cowboys, who qualified for the post-season on their Minnesota win and Redskins loss (@ AZ), close out strong (3-1), do so with emphasis (8+) and hold home-field, Super LI may be just their size come February.

cherries-wc-cca-b-kua-6-1-08-3-3mCherry Picks Week 14

OAK (9-3) @ KC (8-5) GTW: 12.8 NFLN 8:25: Chiefs win
Steelers (7-5) @ Buffalo (6-6): 12.11 CBS 1:00: Bills win
Broncos (8-4) @ Tennessee (6-6): CBS 1:00: Denver wins
Washington Redskins (6-5-1) @ Philadelphia Eagles: Fox 1:00: Philly wins
Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) @ Miami Dolphins (7-5): Fox 1:00: Cardinals win
Houston Texans (6-6) @ Indianapolis Colts (5-6): CBS 1:00: Colts win
New Orleans Saints (5-7) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5): Fox 4:25: NO wins
Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) @ Green Bay (6-6) GTW: Fox 4:25: Seahawks win
Dallas Cowboys (11-1) @ New York Giants (8-4) GTW: NBC 8:30: Giants win
Baltimore (7-5) @ New England Pats (10-2): 12.12 Disney 8:30: Patriots win

Record: 58 – 68 – 2

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: J.Garrett, wc.cca, K.Allison, 9.18.16; Cowboys-helmet, wc, DukeHa, 5.16.18; Garrett, wc, User.Archbridge, 1998; RD.Prescott, wc, K.Allison, 9.18.16; cherries, wc, B.Kua, 6.1.08; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 12.5.16 @ 4:20pm EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16 Cherry Picks W13: Will Dak-Delirium Finally Get Jason Witten That Ring?

29 Nov

There’s been alot written lately about Dallas Cowboys back-up quarterback, Tony Romo. Even more written on his resplendent rookie teammates in Ezekiel Elliott and starting QB, Rayne Dakota Prescott. Too much written about the Dez Bryant – Josh Norman dust-up and not enough written about Cowboys top defender in tackle-machine, Sean Lee.

Who you won’t be reading much about is old #82. Old in football time, that is.

He’s been on that Dallas’ roster (2003) longer than Mr. “Right” and caught his first NFL pass from none other than Quincy Carter (2001 – 04), the Georgia Bulldog who led the Vaqueros that year to a spiffy 10-6 record.

witten-j-12-7-15-wc-k-allison-dc-2mThe man is the 6’5” 257 pound tight-end for America’s Team, Christopher Jason Witten.

Romo’s top target for 10 years, Jason’s piled up catches (1072), yardage (11, 768), touchdowns (62), games (218) and Pro Bowl appearances (10) enough to put his name on Jerry Jones’ Ring of Honor and have fashioned in his likeness one of those bronze Cantonese busts when he finally decides to hang up his cleats.

More important, however, than the personal accolades, is the former Tennessee Volunteer’s skillful and workaday play (Witten’s missed just two (2) starts from 2004), a well-rounded repertoire that’s kept the Cowboys either in contention or respectability for his entire tenure in the Lone Star State.

And like Jason’s celebrity teammates, his AFC opposite in Rob Gronkowski gets nearly all of the love. Of course, almost every NFL player could claim the same shortage in appreciation where the way-popular Gronk is concerned.

The gregarious Rob is also on track to Canton sometime down the road (his 2011 was sublime) and deserves much of the extra coverage, on the field and in the tabloids. But the Gronkster has missed significant parts of three (3) seasons, including this 2016, since taking to start in 2010, and surprisingly, or not (See; Bill & Tom), his absences, while impacting negatively on Pats‘ offensive options, does not always prove detrimental to the victory outcome.

gronkowski-r-wc-a-campbell-9-14-14-975kThe same could not be said about GTO (go-to-option) Jason’s influence on his team’s success prior to this 2016. Described in one word: Indispensable.

Granted, Witten’s numbers have been in decline ever since his banner year, like Gronkowski‘s, in 2011 (110 – 1039). But the offensive weapons at the Dallas quarterback’s disposal are more plentiful than ever (reducing Witten’s targets) while the Volunteer’s skill-set appears still top-tier and in need of sustained defensive attention.

Could this be the season when veteran Jason Witten and the Dallas community get their long awaited, much deserved Super Bowl berth, the year defined by a talented pool of draftees, the year when all the stars seem to be aligning for the Cowboys? Their NFL opponents hope not.

But Cowboys fans, who are nearly as numerous as those stars in the sky, and those NFL regulars who will, at times, view the games with a neutral eye, understand it is players like Jason Witten, on offense, that fuel the matriculation necessary to victory yet shun the spotlight even as their role is prominent to that end, who really make their teams and the NFL click.

cherries-hispalois-7-2-12-caceres-spain-wc-4-4mCherry Picks Week 13: Showing ya’ what for

Cowboys (10-1) @ Vikes (6-5): 12.1 NBC 8:25: Dallas wins
Chiefs (8-3) @ Atlanta (7-4): 12.4 CBS 1:00: Falcons win
Detroit (7-4) @ New Orleans (5-6): Fox 1:00: Saints win
Houston Texans (6-5) @ Green Bay Packers (5-6): 1:00 CBS: Packers win
Philadelphia eagles (5-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1): Fox 1:00: Cincy wins
Miami Dolphins (7-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (6-5): CBS 1:00: Baltimore wins
Buffalo Bills (6-5) @ Oakland Raiders (9-2): CBS 4:05: Buffalo Bills win
New York Giants (8-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5): GTW Fox 4:25: NYG wins
Washington Redskins (6-4-1) @ Arizona Cards (4-6-1): Fox 4:25: Arizona wins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) @ San Diego Bolts (5-6): Fox 4:25: Chargers win
Carolina Panthers (4-7-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1): NBC 8:30: Seattle wins

Record: 52 – 63 – 2

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: J.Witten, wc.cca, 1.21.15, PB, Sgt.M.Jackson-J.Sarvinski, DVIDS; Witten, wc, DC, K.Allison, 12.7.15; R.Gronkowski, wc, A.Campbell, 9.14.14; cherries, wc, Hispalois, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 11.29.15 @ 12:45pm EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16: In Deferring to Dak, Tony Romo Fails the Grit-Test

17 Nov

He didn’t take many questions in Tuesday’s press conference. Instead, Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback for the past decade, Tony Romo, read a statement. He got goods reviews from the press corps and blogisphere bunch.

But place me about 800 yards west of the cheering section.

Grade given by this football fan for Romo’s blood-less abdication: D.

In his oration, Romo deferred to rookie back-up QB Dak Prescott on the starter question: “He’s earned the right to be our quarterback. As hard as that is for me to say he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record and that’s hard to do.” Very nice. Maybe too nice.

“Right” schmight. There are no “right(s)” in football, just ethical duties and contract obligations that some players will always meet, some will sometimes, some won’t but on their best day and a few don’t seem to give a damn at all.

romo-10-13-10-bigcatsliar-wc-343kOkay…you say you believe in rights. That should make you a Thomas Jefferson fan (BoR). For the sake of argument, let’s say rights do exist in football. Then I’d say, Tony Romo’s earned a BIGGER right to re-claim his starters job than has Prescott in retaining it, and with ten years of All-Pro play, sound character and seniority, shouldn‘t have to convince his owner of it, not if the Cufflink appreciates loyalty, anyway.

‘Seniority is lame,’ say some, but just wait until you start having to look over your shoulder at the young Turks coming to take your job. It won’t seem so silly then.

And I don’t want to read any hearsay from captured scribes or Cowboys’ brass (Steve Jones) on how Tony supposedly asked politely for his job back. Straight from the horses mouth (TR) or save it. Even if, this you don’t ask, you demand. If you lose the argument you take your lumps and stay a team-player, giving advice / support as needed. But you don’t ask.

And therein lay the wild-card in this hand of high-stakes football.

What would Jerry Jones have done if Tony had pushed hard to get back his starters spot, made an issue of it, would Jones have conceded, admiring the veteran’s moxie and taking it as good sign that maybe now Tony finally has the wherewithal to lead Dallas back to the Super show? Test of tenacity, as it were.

Apparently Romo never pressed the point, never handed in his exam.

Leaders, champions, they don’t defer to hot-streaks, popularity contests or young Tom Brady analogies. The greats will advocate, argue, fight tooth n’ nail for that starters spot and slot-to-glory, with both fists-a- flyin’ if necessary, Ty Cobb style when you had to fight for the right to play. And they did.

prescott-9-18-16-k-allison-187kIf I were Jerry Jones or Jason Garrett I’d likely tab Dak Prescott the starter myself. Stick with the hot hand and healthier frame than the oft-injured Romo.

I wrote, ‘likely.’ I’d need convincing that three good wins (DC, @GB, PHI), one pretty good win (@ PIT (Ben still bunged)), four walkover wins (CHI, SF, CIN, CLE) and one loss (NYG) gives a first-year guy the nod over a 4-time Pro Bowler.

But Tony Romo’s not an owner, he’s not a coach, he’s not Cowboys PR person, he’s not a GM implementing a youth movement or authoring a masters thesis on ‘Diversity and the NFL.’ He’s a man who dresses in shoulder-pads, cleats and rides point for America’s Team, or used to, anyway, the top job on the planet, a man with great passing stats in line for Cowboys’ Ring of Honor but posts a pedestrian playoff mark that raises doubts about his clutch-capability.

A man with that Dallas record and deep well of gridiron knowledge should NOT willingly hand over the starters spot. NEVER. And that’s Tony Romo all over.

From his first year as a starter when he bobbled that FG snap late in a playoff loss v. Seattle in Parcells final season (’06), you wondered about Mr. Romo. The bobble was a blip. Things like that happen. But with Romo it’s always something, something to derail the run. In fairness, Dez did (catch it (See; GB 2015)).

It doesn’t matter that Romo may be the only man in these United States who thinks he should start over an 8-1 rookie. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.” Some players, those imbued with spirit of competition and personal achievement, would understand and give their backing. Great quarterbacks have great big egos. They’d better.

jones-12-7-15-k-allison-wc-339kAnd if Romo had been given his job back and his ‘mates had tanked in protest, tanked on the team, tanked on the fans, that’s their problem. You go out with your head held high knowing you’ve done what a leader does: Take charge, give it your best, give it your all until that final gun goes off.

‘But what about the team,’ you say, ‘Dak’s got ’em believing?’ Sure he has, but Romo’s a master-craftsman in the pocket who’s won a playoff game or two, had Dallas believing in prior campaigns and could likely do it again. It’s theory but as sound as the Dak strategy.

I wish Mr. Prescott well. Youth must be served, elections excepted.

As for Tony Romo, I hope you like your Ring-of-Honor ceremony. When you get back to the fairways say ‘hey’ to President Obama and remember this link lesson: Drive for show, put for dough, Canton covets moxie that few come to know.

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: T.Romo, wc.cca, 12.7.15, DC, K.Allison; Romo, wc, bigcatsliar, 10.13.10; D.Prescott, wc, 9.18.16, K.Allison; J.Jones, wc, 12.7.15, DC, K.Allison; cherries-cloth, wc, picdrome, 6-2011; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 11.17.16 @ 5:07pm EST; Copyright © 2016