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NFL17 Cherry Picks W9: It’s Paradise Found For Gridiron Leg-Men In London Town

4 Nov

NFL London Games is proving a Paradise for those players rostered to leg the ball, whether it be field-goals, kickoffs or punting the pigskin (cowhide) to opponents in an act of sportsmanship on their own failure to fashion a score.

That last bit is on slim chance a reader new to North American football (China, GreatBritain, Mexico, etc.), just happens to read my post and could use a little insight into just exactly how the gridiron game works and why (I’m still cricket-challenged). And that’s a chance slimmer than the one the Cleveland Browns presently hold (0-8) for winning the 2018 Lamar Hunt trophy (+ SB52 ticket to Minneapolis 2.2.17). But you do what you can.

In this age of massive passing stats, still highly-valued run-games (See; Ezekiel Elliott), sieve-like defense (prevent) and corresponding scoreboard tilt, kickers in football have generally been treated by most fans as chopped liver: Not a salivator but good for the mind and body.

One man’s punter whipping-boy can be another’s perfect athlete. That’s the case for NFL kickers when they sail off USA shore to the other side of the pond.

Here’s what the Browns injury-sidelined, perennial All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas had to say in observation of the Twickenham Stadium crowd while in attendance of last Sunday’s Pond East contest (and loss) against the Vikings, with Wembley Stadium serving as the other NFL London venue:

“The English sure seem to enjoy the kicking plays, the biggest applause seem to be these punts (USAToday – sports, 10.30.17 (@ JoeThomas73 on Twitter))!”

In actuality, this would be more of a return to paradise than a first find, as the kicking game was, in football’s early years, one of its most valued aspects.

Names like Pat O’Dea (UW 1898-99 (CFHOF 62)) and Jim Thorpe (Carlisle 1910-12 (CFHOF 51)) made national headlines with their famous footwork, long before Walter Camp turned the forward pass into a gridiron strategy staple.

The English (rugby) and the Mexican (fútbol – soccor) can teach us Yankees a new perspective, a broader appreciation for all the aspects of our own game. Because as every NFL fan knows, the kicking game, with all its memorable moments both good and bad can, when you least expect it, prove decisive.

And that’s the way we want to keep it. ¡Sí cómo no!

NFL17 Cherry Picks W9

Cincy @ Jaguars: 11.5 CBS 1:00: Jackson
LosAngeles @ NewYork: Fox 1:00: Giants
Atlanta @ Carolina: Fox 1:00: F-Birds
Baltimore @ Tennessee: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Arizona @ SanFrancisco: Fox 4:05: 49ers
KansasCity @ Cowboys: CBS 4:25: Dallas
Raiders @ Dolphins: NBC 8:30: Oakland
Detroit @ Packers: 11.6 Disney 8:30: Lions

Record: 34 – 23

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; mini-skirted-legs, wc.cca, S/E-England, 1972, IXIA; J.Thomas, D.Whitner, E.Drost, 4.14.15, wc; Cherries-ripe, wc, 6.24.07, Chirak; mini-skirted-lady, wc, 8.5.70, PiccadillyCircus, JaneArt
Posted: 11.3.17 @ 11:29pE; Copyright © 2017

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NFL17: Adrian Peterson Pressing For Saint-hood On a 2d Miracle Comeback

27 Apr

Adrian Peterson v. Marshawn Lynch

If New Orleans Saints new superstar in Adrian Peterson can pull off yet another miracle comeback as he did in 2015 when, post-injury, he led the League in rush yards and the Vikes to an 11-5 mark, it won’t qualify him for sainthood by Vatican standards but it should help to return the NFL Saints back to contendership while exorcizing any demon that All-Day may’ve realized in last year’s physical and family troubles. “The power of Christ (and a Super Bowl ring) compels you!”

On Monday, Peterson inked a 2-yr, $7 million deal with the Saints (3.5M gtd (2.5b)) that has a potential to pay the future HOF’er $8M+ if incentives are met.

Adrian’s exit from Minnesota and subsequent sign with his former team’s 2010 NFCC opponent, ironic in that it was they (NO) who forced him into fumblitis (3) to stymie his one chance at Super trip, marks the end of an era for the franchise which is still seeking its first SB win in four tries and return trip to the Big Game since 1977 when Bud Grant strolled the frigid Metropolitan (MoA) sideline.

In Peterson’s ten seasons in the Land of 10.000 Lakes, missing almost two complete campaigns due to knee injuries, Purple made the playoffs four (4) times, getting as far as the NFCC once with Brett Favre under center, Adrian winning All-Pro honors four times and MVP (AP) in 2012.

The Vikings have some things to smile about on the departure of their franchise face: A glittering new stadium (US Bank), veteran, fairly savvy QB in Sam Bradford and a head coach in Mike Zimmer who has returned the Norseman to a semblance of defensive respectability (#3 yapg / #6 papg) that has only been seen sporadically since the Vikings glory days in the 70s.

But while their braintrust in GM Rick Spielman, owners Wilf (Zygi – Mark) and the coach may feel equal parts of gratitude and relief when the optioned-out Peterson turns topic, they’ve still got a major problem in matriculation (offense) that’s persisted since Favre’s exit, one which the Draft won’t resolve quickly.

The Saints, on the other hand, they matriculate just fine.

In final 2016 regular season ranks, New Orleans led all teams in yards gained per game (426), just ahead of NFC champion, Atlanta (416 (#2)), and flip it with their regional rival in the all important points scored per game category (#1 / 33.8), putting up on average 29+ per (#2) last year.

When you’ve got record-setter Drew Brees expertly manning the controls (2001), an ageless wonder who, like Tom Brady, looks to have some kind of a Dorian Gray thing going, sans the gruesome painting (See; O.Wilde), offense is rarely a problem. Those 1000 receivers can come in (Michael Thomas) and go out (Brandin Cooks (NE)) and Brees just keeps breezing along.

And even a quarterbacking-machine like Brees needs a break from the pressure now and then. And that’s the run game’s job, assuming the OL is doing theirs.

Besides relieving the signal-caller of certain stress, a good ground attack also helps keep the defense on its toes and guessing. New Orleans got that in 2016 from backfield tandem in Mark Ingram (5.1) and the since departed Tim Hightower (4.1 (SF)). And that’s where All-Day will come into play.

But it’s the defensive side, once a strong suit for the gold & black but now New Orleans’ mountain to conquer, that‘ll need most attention. Key defensive ranks in 2016: #27 in yards allowed per contest; #31 points per. The collapsing Falcons (See; SB51) better join that climbing team, too, or can forget winning, let alone getting back to the Big Game (#25 / 27).

— — —

With the Raiders recent acquisition of game-dormant but very visible running back Marshawn Lynch from the Seahawks for a 2018 draft swap (5R for 6R), there emerges a curious comparison to the Saints own Peterson pick-up.

Lynch sat out all of last season and played < half of 2015. It’s good to workout (ML passed his Oakland test), but that won’t replace game hits and habits. Like Adrian, Marsh is no spring chicken, having turned 31 last week (2007). In AARP years (1 NFL year = 5 AARP), both men would be eligible for benefits & discounts (Caution: Always find & read boilerplate before contracting). Unlike Adrian, Marshawn has a title ring, playing a small but key role in ‘Hawks SB48 win.

Where Peterson gets winning points is in his attitude.

Lynch promotes himself as a free-spirit, some might say a wingnut. That’s cute when times are good but when rough waters hit, it’s the kooks that tend to pout and withdraw inward, a bad character trait in the ups & downs of team sport. In addition, because of his extended absence from the NFL, one has to seriously question Marshawn’s level of commitment to the competition.

With Adrian commitment is never in question. Imbued with great determination, his drive for perfection is pronounced, maybe too much so at times, in himself and with those around him. Big question on Peterson is not whether there is still sufficient ‘gas in the tank’ but will the tires hold out (knees)? Like Lynch, AP has missed nearly two of the last three seasons and turned 32 in March.

Ingram (2011), who joined the 1000 rusher club in 2016, is expected to remain the #1 carrier in Sean Payton – Pete Carmichael’s scoring scheme. If Peterson can contribute 600 on the ground, 200 in the air and impart some of his 10 years of NFL experience to the up n‘ comers, GM Mickey Loomis will be pleased.

The Saints (7-9) were competitive down the stretch in 2016, going 3-3 with only the Detroit loss a poor show. Again, a serious reconfiguration of D-scheme is New Orleans’ key to success in 2017 (See; Atlanta), but a healthy and occasionally electric Adrian could give their offense that added pop to keep defenders, and then the whole Saints sideline, confident in a return to contendership.

Commentators in the Bayou and in the Saints’ circle of strategy are tempering expectations over the arrival of the rehabbed and rather aged Mr. Peterson. But his gangbusters style of run and Hall-of-Fame credentials will no doubt give Saints fans hope that Adrian has another miracle in his pocket, or in his legs, as it were. The man and his mission to make good will likely be in their prayers.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject; A.Peterson, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12, wc.cca; D.Brees-Conways, USMC, E.Kirk-Cuomo, 11.2.9; M.Lynch, wc, 2.5.14, D.Sizer; Mosaic-Saint, Geolina, AachenCathedral, wc, Germany, 2011; J.Otto, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 4.27.17 @ 4:16pm; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 – SB51: Lombardi’s Legend Lives But It’s Bill Belichick’s Trophy Now, Vince

27 Jan

When the Big Game (SB51) is over n’ done, when all the “whohoopers” have blown and “tartookas” have bung, when the champions raise the Lombardi as a prize they’ve just won, serious discussions should begin at NFL Central about the prospect of re-naming the Big Trophy, after he hangs up his headset, of course, for the New England Patriots head football coach Bill Belichick who has for the better part of two decades mastered the sport like no other before.

— — —

It is Vince Lombardi’s name that is etched onto each Super Bowl trophy since 1971 (SB5), the year after the great NFL coach, teacher and cultural icon died from colon cancer in the nation’s capital city, Washington, D.C.

belichick-wc-d-shankbne-4-24-12-m176Vince’s pro journey began as the offensive coordinator on the 1950s Jim Lee Howell Giants (Landry as DC), then on recommendation of the Packers first choice, Iowa’s Forest Evashevski, was offered and accepted the project of resurrecting the greatness that had been Green Bay football under its founder, Curly Lambeau. When he was done in the Dairyland (‘68), having piled up five (5) NFL titles, including Super Bowls I & II, the Brooklyn-born taskmaster (Thurston: “He treats us all the same, like dogs”) was the standard of excellence in coaching and then started to tackle a new project in Washington, D.C. in guiding the long-suffering Redskins to their first winning season since Harry Truman’s first year as President in 1945 (7-5-2 (69)).

Lombardi’s Packers dominated much of the 60s, became the pride of Wisconsin football fans once again and, in its earlier days, the source of no small joy for the #1 Catholic and Vince’s friend in the White House, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

With his winning ways and confident, at times arrogant air, his legend grew to colossal size, so big that the name Lombardi become sacrosanct in sporting circles. All of which means a call to replace the name on the Silver Swag would lead Packer-backers and media friendlies to just about freak.

But the Vince Lombardi brand of ball is as old as a pair of Johnny Unitas high-tops. Not lesser in its importance, just older.

His style of coaching (“Captain Ahab” to Mike Tomlin’s “cheerleader(ing)?”) and game plans that dominated the gridiron are long gone, unknown to younger fans as the NFL’s Network rarely showcases their vintage & voluminous NFL Films library, fixated instead on gab & top ten lists to bring in the teeny-boppers.

lombarditrophy-wc-safetycap-6-16-16-619kThe last remnants of the Lombardi / pre-pass game retired when his rival Bud Grant handed-in his clipboard (‘85). Though personalities far apart (See; MMQB – SI.com), Vince & Bud were like-minded in their passion and emphasis on ground-game, team-play and toughness: No gloves, warming or sticky, nor heaters on the Metropolitan Stadium (d. 1983) or Lambeau Field sidelines, no matter the frigidity (-13°). It was a man’s game, though, on occasion, brutish ball (See; Ice Bowl).

‘So what’ you say, ‘Lombardi’s name is a terrific tie to the NFL’s glorious past!’ Agree. Nobody loves history more than this scribbler but the trophy should be fairly current in name-plate, more representative of the National game as it stands. Not to cue a change every ten (10) years but when 2+ generations have spanned and a good candidate is present (BB), a renovation is in order. Frankly, the Tiffany-designed trophy needs an update, a new model to lose the tail-fins.

This pitch isn’t about pegging the best head coach in NFL history. We know who the best assistant coach is in Buddy Ryan (d.2016), Hall-worthy anyway, voting snobs, but trying to make permanent the best ever by etching a name is foolish.

There’s never been a better football coach, motivator, than Vince Lombardi. But then one could safely say the same about Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Paul Brown, Joe Gibbs, NFL founder George Halas (NFCC trophy), Weeb Ewbank, Hank Stram, Curly Lambeau, John Madden and so on and so on.

sb-trophy-wc-2-5-12-l-tyrnes-s-lukeNot just any ol’ championship coach should be knocking the great Vince Lombardi off of his lofty, symbolic perch.

And Bill Belichick ain’t just any ol’ champion coach.

New England’s hoodie-wearing, gridiron guru is nonpareil and stands as the League’s new standard of excellence, a winning method as clear and consistent, as admired and feared by opponents as was the Green Bay Packers power-sweep in the 1960s. Success seems almost automatic.

What about Spygate? With ever-changing technologies there’s a corresponding rapid change in societal mores and then challenges in defining new boundaries.

His detractors might diss this on Bill, ‘Without Brady, Belichick is fair at best.’

But every great coach has his great player(s): Holmgren had Favre, Jackson had Michael, Huggins had Ruth…and Gehrig, Pop Warner had Thorpe, Riley had Magic, Bill has Tom and Vince had Bart Starr, who, if not the master-motivator behind the success was the master implementer of Lombardi‘s vision.

The difference? Some have a flair for innovation. In the Big Name group, men like Pop, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Sid Gillman, Hank Stram, Halas, Walsh, Lambeau, Paul Brown, Lombardi, Tommy Gorman, Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, Dick Irvin, Adrian “Cap” Anson, Pete Carroll, John Wooden, Red Auerbach, Knute Rockne and Belichick invent ways to win while putting an emphasis on fundamentals.

lombardi-starr-wc-cca-gbBeauty of Belichick is best illustrated, not in Pats 2016 regular season mark (14-2), almost ho-hum for a B&B team, but that even as Tom was out, NE went 3-1 (Ws v. AZ, MIA and HOU), guided by two quarterbacks who, though played with composure, had zero (0) starts prior between them in Jim Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.

By the time Bill retires, probably not long after his #1 (Tom) hangs up his cleats, Lombardi’s name will have graced the Big Trophy for over fifty (50) years. That’s a long, respectful time.

When the Powers-that-Be named the trophy in 1970, it was about excellence, empathy & remembrance. Another naming (2020+) could be about excellence, remembrance and relevancy. But even if, Belichick, as was Lombardi, is proud and would likely refuse the honor. Great minds think alike. Vince wasn’t all too keen either about renaming City Field for the legendary Lambeau. But one can hardly imagine today the famous frozen tundra titled any other way.

Will Bill Belichick hoist his 5th Lombardi when SB51 comes to a close? That I have not yet decided. Whether he does or doesn’t, the name game will begin.

ford-851k-wc-grfl-1933-umSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; B.Belichick, wc, D.Shakbne, 4.24.12; LombardiTrophy, wc, Safetycap, 6.16.16; SB-Trophy, wc, 2.5.12, Tyrnes, S.Luke; Lombardi-Starr, wc.cca; G.Ford, wc, GRFL, 1933, UoM
Posted: 1.27.17 @ 1:40pm, edit (+BW) 1.28 @ 9:42 EST; 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: In a Sorry Season, David Johnson is an Arizona Bright-Spot

1 Dec

Stiff-Arm

It was the time-tested stiff-arm tactic that first caught my eye when happening upon Arizona Cardinals then rookie running-back David Johnson (UNI) two summers ago in a pre-season exhibit game against the San Diego Bolts.

In carrying the pigskin prize, the Clinton, Iowa native had habit of putting his free-arm out like the Heisman guy, an effective tactic at keeping his AFC opponents at bay long enough to tack on a few more yards, no doubt to the delight of Cardinals staff.

az-cards-wc-m-epsilon-9-2-12-logo-10k-2005It’s true that pre-season play by tradition and common sense does not often go full-tilt and must be viewed in a different light than the regular season play. The reasons are well known: Rusty from the layoff, trying to avoid injury (to yourself / opponents) and a team chemistry that is still in flux due to new teammates by-way of the draft, trade or free-agency.

But if I recall right, this Cards – Bolts exhibition was one of the later games when the synergy is beginning to set in, defensive hits get more pointed and borderline players are fighting for their lives to make the final roster. And in this heightened state of competition, David looked to be a gem.

The Whole Package

From the get-go, you could, if possessing of even a rudimentary level of football know-how, see that this 3rd round 2015 draftee (#86) out of Northern Iowa had all the tools to survive head coach Bruce Arians’ roster-cut and then thrive at the pro level once given a starter’s spot.

It’s kinda’ basic but Johnson clearly knew his playbook. And how many rookies and then vets too have suffered a roster cut simply failing to know that much?

arians-8-5-16-wc-g-skidmore-2-2m-az*David let the O-line do its thing, found holes the playbook predicted and when they weren’t there, could cut on a dime and carve out his own. Then, when quarterback Carson Palmer put the ball in flight, it found sanctuary in a pair of hands that were made to catch.

That pre-season audition, impressive to this viewer and his coaches no doubt, seems to have started David Johnson on a professional pathway to a cherished place.

Born to NFL?

Making the Cardinals cut and sharing duties with former 2000-yard running man in Chris Johnson, David would go on to rush for near 600 yards, eight (8) touchdowns, haul in 36 catches for 457 yards and convert four (4) of those for pay-dirt. Pretty spiffy statistics for a greenhorn.

This 2016 season has David appearing as one of the few bright spots in a sorry Cardinals campaign (4-6-1), one where the team is beginning to show the blight of the dreaded “selfish” disease, as recently pointed out by Mr. Arians. But it’s seen the sophomore’s upward trajectory put David in class with the National game’s top rushers and most reliable go-to receivers.

az-cards-plane-e-maloney-4-6-08-425k*In handling triple-duty in the lion’s share of AZ’s rushing game, a healthy portion of the reception load and turning much of it into touchdowns (13), Johnson’s fashioning himself into a top NFL multi-purpose running back, nearing that stupendous class of 1970s greats like the Minnesota Vikings’ Chuck Foreman and St. Louis Cardinals’ Terry Metcalf, both offensive stalwarts who could do…it…all!

Entering W13 action, here are David’s NFL ranks in key personal stats:

#3 in rushing yards with 921;
Tied at #27 in receptions at 55 (#2 RB);
#40 in reception-yards with 613 (#1 RB);
#1 in touchdowns with 13 pay-dirts, and
#1 in yards-from-scrimmage (run / catch) with 1534.

Every year as the NFL season winds down there are a handful of viable MVP candidates to mull over. This 2016 campaign is no different (Brady, Prescott, Elliott, Carr, Wagner, etc.). But if David Johnson is not in one’s discussion on who should take home the coveted Associated Press award, it might be best that person forget about talking football and stick with The Walking Dead.

*Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Arizona-Cardinals word mark, wc.cca, M.Epsilon, 9.2.12, 2005; UniversityPhoenix-Stdm, wc, K.Lund, 4.10.9; B.Arians, wc, 8.5.16, G.Skidmore, Glendale-AZ; AZ-Cards-plane, wc, 4.6.8, E.Maloney; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 12.1.16 @ 3:11pm EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16 Cherry Picks W5: Fine Lines in the Trench

6 Oct

Men in the Midst

Stoppers who plug the drain,
Orange cones that close the lane,
Coach banks he’ll make the run stop,
Signal-caller trusts he throws timely block,
Men in the midst are not nameless in fact,
So big a Steinway could balance on back,
It’s the sack that’ll pull in the fantasy views,
But it’s battle of brawn to decide win or lose.

— — —

In pro football where nearly all the guys are a 3XL (even most the kickers are pumped today), they are the biggest men on the block, bar none. And that’s BIG.

They are the offensive and defensive linemen, the men in the trench, each hovering around 300 pounds. A mass of rumble and wrangle, they’re the ground troops manning the line of demarcation, that “dividin’ line” as “Lonesome Rhodes” would’ve called it, separating both teams at the snap. And whomever controls that ebb n’ flow will, more than likely, control the battle’s tenor and then the outcome of the war.

thomas-wc-4-14-15-6-6m-e-drost*Though highly valued by teammates, coaches and cufflinks, linemen work for the most part in anonymity, shunning the spotlight that naturally swings onto the glory-stat guys handling the pigskin for pass, province (rush), picks and put-downs (sacks).

A lineman, either side of the ball, will not win the NFL’s most valuable player award for the 2016 regular season. You can take that to the bank.

The Minnesota Vikings Alan Page (DT) was the first defender and lineman to cart home the award in 1971. He remains the last lineman and only one of two defensive stalwarts (Lawrence Taylor (‘86)) to win it since the Associated Press (AP) began awarding its version in 1958 (J.Brown).

The chance of another lineman winning the trophy are about as poor as a pro-choice candidate winning the Republican party’s presidential nod, or vice versa (anti-abortion Democrat winning their party‘s delegate count…): < 2 percent.

Quiz time: What’s the most valuable skill on the defensive side of the ball?

A) Interception – fumble finesse
B) Pressure on the quarterback
C) The art of tackling, or
D) Stopping – slowing the run

page-wc-ebony-1-1970-342kIf you answered ‘C’ you’re a football aficionado, possessing a broad understanding of the game and ample appreciation for what makes it tick.

Interceptions and forced-fumbles are terrific. They stop opponents dead in their tracks and flip it all around, i.e., you get the ball back. But they’re rare and too much focus on their fruition takes your game away from the major tasks at hand: Stopping momentum by more practical means in tackling and pass disruption.

Sacks too are sweet and give an emotional boost but again, they’re a rarity. The high is fleeting and the effort afforded in their unlikely event is better spent elsewhere, hello Mr. Linebacker (Matthews, etc.). It’s why J.J. Watt was a better player when his tackles began trending upward, regardless of the sack count.

How do you know a good rope? Personal stats won‘t do ya‘ much good. There aren’t many. A fine line more than any other aspect of football is a team effort.

That takes you to the team league-leader tallies to rate the top lines.

For offense the categories of concern are as follows: 1) Total offense (yards gained per game), 2) passing ygpg, 3) rushing ygpg and 4) QB-sacks allowed.

mangold-wc-nycmarines-11-13-09-554k-sgt-r-clintonAt Week 5 the Falcons, Cowboys and Raiders’ lines are faring pretty well and it shows in the W-L. See the sacks-allowed so far (NFL average = 8+): CIN (13), IND (15), JAX (12), KC (13), CHI (11), DET (10), TB (10), CAR (13), AZ (12); NYJ (6), HOU (7), DC (7), OAK (2), PHI (4), DAL (6), NYG (6), MIN (6), NO (7), SF (3).

The 49ers and Saints are conundrums.

One statistic for a team or player by itself won’t tell the whole story. Put all your prognostication chips on one number and you’re bound to lose the farm. But they do give clues. Of their three (3) losses, New Orleans, beset by injuries already, two (W1-2) were by a total of only 4 points. They may not be as bad as their won-loss purports.

And the best defensive lines? You take the same route: Total defense (yards allowed per game), passing yards, etc. (See: http://www.nfl.com/stats/team and http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams).

When rating the individuals, the team experts know best (coaches, GMs, scouts, players, favorite press), but Pro Bowl selection, even as the game itself has devolved to a dangerously dull level (Rice v. Irvin), still offers some standard.

Active NFL linemen with five (5) or more Pro Bowl selections: Joe Thomas (CLE), Dwight Freeney (ATL), Jason Peters (PHI), Jahri Evans (NO), Nick Mangold (NYJ), Vince Wilfork (HOU) and Haloti Ngata (DET).

cherries-hispalois-spain-wc-thm-7-2-12Cherry Picks Week 5: “Sufferin’ succotash!

AZ (1-3) @ SF (1-3): 10.6 CBS 8:25: 49ers win
NE (3-1) @ CLE (0-4): 10.9 CBS 1:00: Pats win
Eagles (3-0) @ DET (1-3): Fox 1:00: Lions win
Bears (1-3) @ Colts (1-3): Fox 1:00: Indy wins
Tennessee Titans (1-3) @ Dolphins (1-3): CBS 1:00: Miami wins
Washington Redskins (2-2) @ Baltimore (3-1): Fox 1:00: Ravens win
Houston Texans (3-1) @ Vikings (4-0): CBS 1:00 (GTW): Texans win
Falcons (3-1) @ Denver Broncos (4-0): Fox 4:05 (GTW): Atlanta wins
Cincinnati (2-2) @ Dallas Cowboys (3-1): CBS 4:25: Bengals win
Buffalo Bills (2-2) @ Los Angeles (3-1): CBS 4:25 (GTW): Rams win
San Diego Chargers (1-3) @ Raiders (3-1): CBS 4:25 (GTW): Bolts win
New York Giants (2-2) @ Green Bay (2-1): NBC 8:30 (GTW): GB wins
Tampa Bay (1-3) @ Carolina (1-3): 10.10 Disney 8:30: Panthers win

Record: 18 – 23

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: J.Thomas-Whitner, wc.cca, 4.14.15, E.Drost; J.Thomas, wc, 4.14.15, E.Drost; A.Page, Ebony, wc, 1.1970; N.Mangold, wc, NYC.Marines, Sgt-R.Clinton, 11.13.9; cherries, Hispalois, Spain, wc, 7.2.12; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 10.6.16 @ 12:58am EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16 Cherry Picks W3: Whosit at QB? Whocares…with Belichick’s Brain

20 Sep

Sittin’ Pretty

It’s one of the rivalry weeks in this early going of NFL16 as the Redskins take on the Giants, Lions visit Lambeau, 49ers with flair for football fend-off distraction and head north to Seattle, Steelers head East to Philly and the enigma that are the Falcons fly West to face conundrum that’s become their nemesis, the Saints.

Should be a ratings bonanza, even with the self-serve, i.e., Kaep Krudesader & Company. When being different (anthem boycott) morphs into just more of the same old same old (finger-point, blame shift & Change-in-$pecie).

Biggest news heading into Week 3‘s slate: With Patriots starting QB and Tom Brady understudy, Jimmy Garoppolo suffering a 1st -half shoulder bang at what appeared behest of Dolphins well-traveled linebacker Kiko Alonso in Sunday’s win over the visiting Miamians, NFL standard-bearer New England is now down to one rostered field general. That’s rookie Jacoby Brissett (NCSU), with end Julian Edelman, a 3-year flash-QB at Kent State, ready as the emergency guy.

brissett-wc-5-5m-b-salama-10-24-15*On Monday the Patriots’ braintrust in Bill Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels had few answers for media folk on whether Jim could go for their Thursday night game in hosting 2-0 Houston Texans, and then whether another quarterback would be rostered.

In limited duty on Sunday in subbing for the injured Garoppolo, Brissett, who went 91st (3R) in the 2016 draft and hails out of North Carolina State where he guided Wolfpack for two seasons as a run-QB, taking to rabbit nearly 10+ per, did pass his first test in going 6 of 9 with 0 TDs but no turnovers.

If the Continentals lose any more quarterbacks don’t be surprised if these names get dropped into the Foxborough discussion:

Tim Tebow: Timbo’s doing the national pastime thing now (Mets) but the man’s always in football shape. Too bad for Tim he didn‘t push for tight-end a few years back when given a Patriots pass-key and that big muscles won’t help much in hitting those nasty curves: Odds on call: 1000 – 1;

Jon Manziel: Last I read, ‘Johnny Big Hands’ had re-enrolled at his former school, Texas A&M, for what, only god knows because “Skittles® and beer” will not be part of that fine institution’s classroom curriculum. Odds: 500 – 1;

Shaun Hill: The former Maryland Terrapin (See Also: S.Diggs) started W1 for the Vikes and got a win (0 TD) but got handed back his clip-board in favor of Eagles cast-off, Sam Bradford who sports a career 26-37 mark but warmed Minnesota hearts with a big win over their dreaded rival the green & yellow on Sunday. A bit long-in-the-tooth by QB standards (36, 17-18, 62 C%), nobody in NFL deserves one more shot like patient Shaun. Odds: 200 – 1.

brady-8-28-09-k-allison-wc-cca-862mMike Vick: Currently a free-agent, Mike seeks a 5th team to keep the dream alive. Though he’s lost a step, ever since Vick returned to NFL action in ’09 (PHI) after 2-year susp’n for dog-fighting he’s appeared a model citizen, supportive teammate and now qualifies for the wily-veteran tag. What a “long and winding road” a Patriots finish would be for Mike. Odds: 100 – 1.

But with Tom set to make his return in W5 (@ Browns) after serving his 4-game Deflategate susp’n, marking the official display of NFL’s open-for-business sign, the Pats are sitting pretty at 2-0 in an AFC not exactly brimming over with stiff competition and then Garoppolo not expected to be sidelined for extended time, rostering another QB doesn’t presently appear the highest of priorities.

Whomever handles quarterbacking duties for the football version of America’s Team (sorry, Jerry, but apart from apparel sales it’s not even close, not as long a B&B click), you can be sure Patriots’ genius-in-residence in Bill Belichick will have matters well in hand, knowing when to tune it up and when to let it ride.

Best Equation in W2

New Digs (USB) + New Diggs (9r-182-TD) = Vikes win (v GB (17-14)).

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

HOU (2-0) @ NE (2-0): 9.22 CBS 8:25 (GTW): NE wins
Cardinals (1-1) @ Buffalo (0-2): 9.25 Fox 1:00: AZ wins
Raiders (1-1) @ Titans (1-1): CBS 1:00: Oakland wins
Detroit Lions (1-1) @ Green Bay Packers (1-1): Fox 1:00: Packers win
Denver Broncos (2-0) @ Cincinnati (1-1): CBS 1:00 (GTW2): Tigers win
Minnesota Vikings (2-0) @ Carolina (1-1): Fox 1:00 (GTW3): Cats win
Los Angeles Rams (1-1) @ Tampa Bay (1-1): Fox 4:05: Buccaneers win
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (1-1): Fox 4:05: ‘Hawks win
New York Jets (1-1) @ Kansas City Chief (1-1): CBS 4:25: Chiefs win
San Diego Chargers (1-1) @ Indianapolis Colts (0-2): CBS 4:25: Colts win
Pittsburgh (2-0) @ Philadelphia (2-0): CBS 4:25 (GTW4): Steelers win
Atlanta Falcons (1-1) @ New Orleans (0-2): 9.26 Disney 8:30: Saints win

Record: 8 – 11

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: B.Belichick, wc.cca, D.Shankbne, 4.24.12; Belichick, wc, 8.28.9, K.Allison, DC; J.Brissett, wc, B.Salama, 10.24.15; T.Brady, wc, DC, 8.28.9, K.Allison; cherries, wc, B.Kua, 6.1.8; NFL-symbol, wikiproject.
Posted: 9.20.16 @ 6:07pm EST; Copyright © 2016