Tag Archives: Minnesota Vikings

NFL17: A Patriots Peer, It’s Back To Top-Tier or These Packers Turn Flat-Beer

28 Mar

Pretendership: It’s an NFL station most Green Bay Packers devotees have never knelt before in prayer for guidance and delivery. Anyone rooting for the Acme club yet having no recollection of the play that made John Brockington and Lynn Dickey house-hold names in the badger state is probably in that blessed group.

But that’s for later.

For now, just imagine rooting for an NFL team, one that not only wins most of its regular season games but will have on display any given year a future Cantonese or two roaming the turf, that for most of your conscious life has been an NFL contender. Imagine that. Easy enough for New England Patriots faithful but for the rest of fandom it’s a little hard to picture even in the mind’s eye.

Twenty-five years of pretty much football bliss in Northeastern Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, thanks in large part to two men (GMs), four if you count the coaches (Holmgren / McCarthy), six if you include the QBs (Favre / Rodgers).

Sure, there were some struggles, a few 8-8s seasons, even a couple losing campaigns, but there was always an easy scapegoat to find (Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman, Bill Schroeder) and soon enough the Good Ship Green & Yellow would find its contender course again and all was ship-shape.

The Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson Packers have never dominated the sport as did former Green Bay juggernauts under Vince Lombardi (60s) or founding father Curly Lambeau (20-40s) but playoff births have been nearly automatic since 1992 and the two Super Bowl victories (1997 & 2011) have given the period of prosperity a legitimacy that can only come with championships.

While the Patriots recent reign of championships is incomparable in this still newish century of play, it’s not hyperbole to write that it is actually the Packers, hang with me here, by way of a crafty continuity in success that’ve been the more impressive of NFL’s two most juggernautious franchises these past 25 years.

Sure, New England coaching genius Bill Belichick and his sure-to-be 1st ballot HOF quarterback extraordinaire in Tom Brady are likely the most terrific title tandem in the Super Bowl era (See also; Noll & Bradshaw, Landry & Staubach, Walsh & Montana), but the manners in which both Wolf and then Thompson engineered their respective coach – QB tandems-in-terrificness are the templates in ‘How To,’ 1) Acquire a diamond-in-the-rough bench-warmer (Brett (ATL)), and 2) draft a replacement (Aaron) for a living legend.

Just imagine, two consecutive GMs who respectively displayed an expertise in post-draft patience (Ron) and then prediction on player longevity (Ted), that player in Favre being, to Wisconsin sports fans, next to God, making it very risky business to draft any heir apparent in 2005 (Aaron).

Wolf’s persistence and then shrewd calculation in extracting Favre from Atlanta’s roster in trading a #1 pick (respectful enough to get their interest but not so generous to get ’em wondering) should be an example to every GM and fantasy fan, i.e., that post-draft follow-up can be of greater value than draft day doings.

And Thompson, in showing Brett the door by drafting the Berkeley Bear Rodgers in 2005, took one humongous gamble. To appreciate just how bold a move it was you have know just how popular was the man from Southern Miss.

Directly north up in Wisconsin, Favre was bigger than Lombardi had ever been, in part because every female sport fan in America’s Dairyland had become enamored with the dude. And that’s putting it mildly.

You think Tom Brady’s huge in 2017? He is, but Brett Favre was huger. Hell, Brett was bigger than the NFL. The Green Bay Renaissance that he and his team fashioned, back-to-back Super Bowls and plenty o’ playoff action, briefly put them in the America’s Team seat, after the Aikman Cowboys disbanded, a starry status that played no small role in facilitating formation of the still budding international game in the early 2000s (Mexico City (05), London (07)).

Consider that when “Onslow (Geoff Hughes)” dons Packers gear on the hit British TV comedy, Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95),” it’s not because of NFL rules changes or networks addition of female sideliners. It was Favre, plain & simple.

So if Rodgers doesn’t pan out when handed the offensive reins in 2008, Ted probably gets run out of paper-mill country on a rail, figuratively speaking, after hustling out the family dog first (See; Devine ‘74). But instead, the pan turned up gold and Ted will get a street named after himself, if he hasn’t already.

“Mississippi,” as Falcons Jerry Glanville referred to the rookie QB in smirk, had a couple good seasons left in the tank when he exited Lambeau: An injury-affected Jets campaign (10-6) and two seasons with arch-rival Minnesota, the first in 2009 which would be his best single statistical show and see the Vikes fall to the Bounty-gate Saints in the NFCC10-OT and finale when he dragged himself back for one more go before hanging up his Canton-bound cleats.

♫ Shades of Mediocrity ♫

Mercurial might aptly describe the 2016-17 Green Bay Packers.

Hovering around .500 to the midway, then going three (losses) in the hole, the Pack found some consistency the rest of the way (6 + 2PS) until getting stomped in the NFCC at Mercedes-Benz (Georgia) Dome (44-21 (24-0 H)).

The party isn’t over, not by a long shot, not while perennial MVP entry Aaron Rodgers has his legs underneath and maintains his pin-point passing precision. But some of the good-times have started to head for the exits and a few of those that remain are looking a bit green around the gills (gulp).

One of those always in attendance is the Green Bay defense. It’s a curiosity for even as they helped raise a Lombardi for head coach Mike McCarthy in 2011, it’s also a unit that’s looked wather wobbly since the Reggie White – George Koonce – Sean Jones – LeRoy Butler bunch broke-up.

Team ranks tell the tale. In 2016, the Green figured about where they usually do in the McCarthy era, 22nd in yards allowed per game (364), 21st in points (24+). In the NFCC17 those middling marks came home to roost as Atlanta feasted.

At the center of the defensive scheme has been The Hair, sack-minded linebacker Clay Matthews. Never a top tackler, perplexing for a middle-man, Clay’s numbers have been trending down since that Super season to the point where real value should be a real question for GB staff. He does make a fun soup commercial.

The run game, as party-goers go, hasn’t had much to say lately.

The weighty part of the ball-carry was spending most of its time at the buffet. But Lacy’s gone now and won’t find better eats in the greater Seattle metro, that is unless you really like salmon. And maybe that‘s the point. Bon appétit, Eddie.

Ty Montgomery (2y-SU) filled the void nicely in 2016, for a time, then faded late, 2010 draftee James Starks was not re-signed of , another 2d-yr. in big guy (6’1 255) Aaron Ripkowski (Sooner) will full-back just fine (4.4 – 2td), F/A pick-up Don Jackson (Nevada) had 10 carries last year while former Seahawk Christine Michaels was inked to a deal but has much to prove (9-GS from 2013 (4.3)).

Finding replacements, not mockery, is why the draft matters.

And then there’s Mike ‘What Have You Done For Us Lately’ McCarthy.

Coaching the Green Bay Packers, an early NFL entrant (1921) with accolades enough to fill a cruise liner (sink it along with its Captain in rough waters), is like riding a tiger: When times is good, everybody purrs, but when the champagne rarely flows, the big kitty pitches a fit and sometimes eats its own (gulp).

Mike’s got a monkey on his back clutching an NFCC runner-up trophy in symbol of GB’s disaster known as Cheese-Melt 2015. Packers 1st half lead frittered away and overtime nailed their coffin shut as the Seahawks returned to the Super.

Mike McCarthy has been suffering the “slings and arrows” of regional critics with no return trip to the Big Game. But the rather disappointing playoff runs, enabled by a rather terrific career regular mark (.651), is just part of a pattern he’s displayed since being hired to replace Mike Sherman in 2006. Some good years, a few pedestrian and patience, more patience.

There’s only one Bill Belichick, folks.

Mike’s big mistake was caving to pressure after the Melt to concede offensive play-call, a concession he…revoked (?) at last season’s midpoint. Trust then becomes an issue. But remember, MM turned Packers back into champions when all looked discombobulated, six (6) years after the guy who was prone to sideline temper tantrums left for the State of Washington.

It wasn’t easy filling Favre’s sizable shoes…wait…come to think of it, it actually was pretty easy for Thompson. But Brett was bigger than life and there’s only been one mobile pocket-passer the likes of Mr. Rodgers, a player who, as he will enter his thirteenth (13) NFL summer camp shortly, I’d give four (4) 1Rs in trade today if by some fluke he became free and I a GM in need.

Such a smooth succession in kingly QBs in Packerland in pass of the bejeweled scepter of signal-caller royalty, the Patriots (Belichick – Brady) have not yet displayed. Course, they haven’t had the need. When Tom retires, likely same time Bill hangs up his headset, we’ll see how they do it in Foxborough.

But the Pack are on the championship clock. They need to return to elite status in 2017 (12-4) or their royal carriage may turn pumpkin before anyone expects it.

Last season’s road to the Halas Trophy (NFCC) was not exactly strewn with pot-holes in serious contenders. It was more like the E-ZPass® highway.

The Atlanta Falcons were the real deal in 2016-17 yet may still feel the reel this upcoming campaign from their colossal collapse in SB51.

To write that the rest of the NFC was deficient would be an understatement.

Though much ballyhooed after a W1 loss to the Giants, the Cowboys much anticipated playoff turned Texas-sized soufflé in loss at home to Green Bay; G-Men and Lions proved pretenders, not because they lost in the PS which, by itself is no fraud, but in both getting shellacked; Seattle, never quite the same since losing SB49, gave one of those shellackings (DET) but then got one themselves (ATL); and while Tampa surged to respectability, Redskins never got rhythm, Vikes were extra-mercurial (6-0), Panthers licked their wounds all season (SB50 – L) and pre-season hopeful Arizona never got going.

Residence in the once vaunted North divsion, f/k/a Black & Blue, always boosts the Packers pre-season rank which sits just under Atlanta as NFC favorites, ahead of Seattle (Lacy ≠ Lynch), then Arian’s Cardinals sure to rebound, the Giants, Lions, Dallas who won’t surprise in 2017, D-Vikes, maturing Bucs and sometimes capable conundrums in Redskins, Eagles, Saints and Carolina.

Procuring a reliable run-game is not the challenge that is finding a top-flight, resilient pocket passer, but good ball-carriers don’t grow on trees, either.

Letting lunch-a-lot Lacy exit looks prudent now, but if McCarthy, Thompson and OC in former GB ball-carrier Edgar Bennett cannot in trade or late-April draft find that impactful runner(s) to spell Rodgers and give opposing DCs a ground-attack to diagram, and then the bodies to shore-up a defense that too often turns leaky in rough waters, Packers will continue to get bounced too early from playoffs, Mike will get pink-slipped with no contribution to anyone’s awareness and this era of exuberance will creep to a close, great QB, notwithstanding.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: A.Rodgers-M.McCarthy, wc.cca, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; Packers-print, wc, 1959; B.Belichick, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; A.Rodgers, wc, M.Morbeck, 12.7.08; Minnesota-Vikings-GreenBay-Packers, P.Loadholt-C.Matthews, wc, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck; M.McCarthy, TJ.Grant, wc, 8.11.07; NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao
Posted: 3.28.17 @ 11:39am EST, edit 11:01; 3.31; Copyright © 2017

Advertisements

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 W12: Who Makes Your Playoff Final Four?

25 Nov

Minute Waltz Thanksgiving

Late-game INT aside, Bradford’s value to Vikes’ roster is unquestionable;

Lions Tahir Whitehead goes John Lennon (Here, There & Everywhere): 11 solo;

Cowboys’ Sean Lee goes Paul McCartney v. Redskins with 14 tackles, 9 solo;

Cowboys half-time show: Grotesque, in the contemporary Super Bowl tradition;

Steelers @ Colts: A proven back-up QB on roster is no luxury, it’s a necessity.

Minute Waltz Week 11

brady-8-28-09-k-allison-wc-cca-862mCards miss their Sun King, Tyrann Mathieu;

Likely less than ten 1000-yard rushers in 2016;

Tannehill = Rodney Dangerfield (“no respect”);

It’s “Future Shock” for the Green Bay Packers and the Cheesehead Nation who are now fast approaching Mediocre City;

Quarterback GWD totals are driving much of the excitement this 2016 season.

The Jell-O® Four: Proof is in the Pudding

For clothing, proof is in the wear…and the wash.

manningeli-wc-4m-aj-guel-10-10-10In the culinary creations (food), the proof is in the tasting…and then the digestion (Burp!).

For football teams, evidence of a championship caliber (SB) is found in week-to-week play.

At the two-thirds mark of this NFL 2016 season there’s been plenty of game action, mettle testing from which to glean who are those top (four) contenders for hoisting the 2017 Lombardi trophy. That all making it possible for some bold predictions.

Not the Super Bowl forecast, mind you. Picking those two teams at Week 12 would be like pre-season prophecies on the Big Game, which are about as valuable as four-day old turkey. Hash it, Honey!

Instead, it’s time to select your AFC – NFC Conference championship teams for the games that often prove more competitive than the Super (Snoozer) Bowl.

roethlisberger-9-9-12-wc-cca-j-beall-3-9mTime to cut through all the crap, i.e., playoff pretenders (NFCN, AFCS champ), and settle on the four juggernauts who are just one win away from the Big “Par-taaay (D.Heffernan),” teams that’re most likely to run the gauntlet and come out Top Dog. Woof, woof!

And because it’s possible that your (my) Conference picks will face-off earlier in the PS, consider THAT game to be the championship bout between the two best with its winner making the final four, or too possible that none of your chosen CC teams at W12 will even land a playoff spot (0-4), you could end up with some sizable egg on your face when the title tussles actually kick-off in mid-January. But no risk, no reward, like if you go all Rogers Hornsby with the picks (4-for-4).

What to look for in Conference championship combatants?

1) Balance (offense / defense team rankings);

2) 1st-Team All-Pro talent at key positions;

3) ‘In good’ with the Gods (at / below League average on injuries), and

4) Small point-margins in losses. How you lose is as relevant as how you win.

wilson-2-5m-11-11-12-l-maurer-wcJuggernaut Club cues: D-mettle and composure (GWD).

2017 NFC Championship: Seattle v. Giants
2017 AFC Championship: Patriots v. Steelers

Seahawks: It’s Carrolling Time.
Giants: Gathering of veterans (Eli)
Patriots: Bill, Tom & Pax Patriotana
Steelers: Big Ben Roethlisberger

cherries-ripe-chirak-wc-605k-6-24-7Cherry Picks Week 12

Titans (5-5) @ Chicago (2-8): 11.27 CBS 1:00: Bears win
Bengals (3-5-1) @ Baltimore (5-5): CBS 1:00: Cincy wins
Cardinals (4-5-1) @ Atlanta (6-4): Fox 1:00: Arizona wins
Los Angeles Rams (4-6) @ New Orleans Saints (4-6): Fox 1:00: Saints win
San Diego Chargers (4-6) @ Houston Texans (6-4): CBS 1:00: Chargers win
Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1) @ Tampa Bay Bucs (5-5): Fox 4:05: Seahawks win
Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) @ Denver Broncos (7-3): NBC 8:30: Denver wins
Green Bay (4-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (5-5): 11.28 Disney 8:30: Pack wins

Record: 49 -58 -2

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: P.Carroll, wc, K.Allison, 10.6.14; T.Brady, wc, Allison, 8.28.9; E.Manning, wc, 10.10.10, AJ.Guel; B.Roethlisberger, wc.cca, 9.9.12, J.Beall; R.Wilson, wc, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; cherries, wc, Chirak, 6.24.7; NFL-symbol, wc, wikiproject
Posted: 11.25.16 @ 1:13pm 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 W4: Presidents, Field Generals & Super Chiefs

28 Sep

One down, two to go. Phew!

With the first presidential debate of Election 2016 now in the books* and media spin-cycle on full-tilt, this NFL fan got to thinking about the prestigious prize Dollar Don and Capital Hill are both eyeing, the Commander-in-Chief job (adjustable hat included), and then what it takes once you’ve been voted the reins of leadership to make it a memorable tenure.

This phase in the Oval Office Chase is a little like the playoffs in sport: The TV camera test for the candidates is a whole ‘nother season, with both contenders starting over at 0-0.

On a gaffe (Ford, “No Soviet domination of E.Europe,” Carter using Amy as a “nuclear arms” standard (76), Dukakis playing opossum in failing to dress-down question-poser Bernard Shaw (CNN) for needlessly making Mike’s wife Kitty part of a crass death penalty hypo (“raped and murdered“) (‘88) and Papa Bush checking his watch (‘92)), a lead in the polls can evaporate faster than a fat NFL lead at the half (Swing Time), just as the candidate who tosses a tight, talking spiral for TD can make-up a poll deficit quicker than Tom Brady finds pay-dirt.

ford-851k-wc-grfl-1933-umFootball forensics aside, an NFL quarterback won’t bear near, nor near beer, the burdens of our Chief Executive, to be sure. He is, however, often referred to as a field general, empowered to muster his offensive troops in a Ulysses S. Grant-like forward-thrusting campaign to gain territory and vanquish an opponent. That’s the plan, anyway.

On the other hand, it’s also fair to say that while Presidents can sadly suffer the greatest of physical harm (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, JFK (JV squad Harvard), Reagan wounded), rarely, if ever, must they bear the weight of a 200+ lbs, muscled-out, charging defender landing on his person as does Joe Quarterback.

In truth, QBs and CICs are pretty much worlds apart in the duties department. They do, however, have one thing in common: As Big Kahunas, both get the credit in victory, nearly all the blame in a loss.

So with that as backdrop, it’s a champion time to honor all those who bear lonely burden of leadership, in whatever endeavor, but here in particular, today’s top NFL field generals teamed with our nation’s finest Presidents over these past 240, both who’ve supped the champagne yet most certainly “suffer(ed) the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (Hamlet (de Vere)).”

Note: No QBRs have been referenced (I can read a stat-line) and no greenhorns considered (R -> 2y). As in politics, top candidates must be vetted and the highs & lows assessed with a dispassionate eye in order to gain a substantive read.

America’s Best Signal-Callers

brady-8-28-9-k-allison-wc-cca-2m-dc1) Tom Brady: New England Patriots, pocket-passer;

FDR: The only Commander-in-Chief besides the Cherry-chopper who could’ve been king (4x), his economic vision (New Deal) prescribed emergency medicine in seriously Depressed times, taking federal policy beyond simply feeding the greed, then he and his wife Eleanor undertook to save the world (WW2);

2) Ben Roethlisberger: Pittsburgh Steelers, mobile-PP;

Lincoln: Made the union whole, more human and gave his life in the process;

3) Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay Packers, mobile-PP

Washington: Iconic leader who led world’s first revolt against Imperium slavery since Spartacus (d.71 BC), gave the new office stature and nation a good start;

4) Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints, pocket-passer

Jackson: Old Hickory was the first non-elitist President who fought Indians, British invaders, banker thugs and brought the people and democracy to DC;

wilson-edithbolling-galt-wc-11m-6-1920-harrisewing-loc5) Eli Manning: New York Giants, pocket-passer

Wilson: Professor President (1856 – 24) with steely resolve to make America a world leader in war (WW1) and peace (LoN), whose 2nd wife Edith (Ellen) co-ruled after his stroke (1919) making her unofficially the first female U.S. President (1872 – 61);

6) Joe Flacco: Baltimore Ravens, pocket-passer

JFK: He saved planet Earth (CMC (’62)) and then lost his life in the risky battle against entrenched power;

7) Russell Wilson: Seattle Seahawks, mobile-manager

Cleveland: Should’ve been first 3-term Prez, designing the template for modern-era “government of the people, by the people, for the people;”

8) Phil Rivers: San Diego Chargers, pocket-passer

Jefferson: Crafty Purchase (Lou.) doubled nation’s size decades after he drafted America’s Declaration of Independence (‘76) and our first public college (UV);

lbj-fdr-allred-5-12-37-wc-259k-nara9) Alex Smith: Kansas City Chiefs, manager-PP

LBJ: Mis-policy in foreign war (Vietnam) did not derail efforts of this legislative juggernaut in making civil rights reality and honoring America’s seniors;

10) Matt Ryan: Atlanta Falcons, pocket-passer

Polk: Pragmatic, fiscally sound and productive, James was Mr. Manifest Destiny, adding thirteen (13) States in whole or part to America’s family of stars. Worn to the bone, he died 3 months post-term;

11) Andy Dalton: Cincinnati Bengals, pocket-passer

Truman: Plain-talking, former farmer, WWI major, haberdasher and pianist (Bacall) proved critics & premature press-men (Chicago Tribune, etc.) wrong with a strong, spirited & common sense administration;

12) Tony Romo: Dallas Cowboys, pocket-passer

Teddy: “Big Stick” policy boosts US clout, trust-bust sent checks monopoly-greed and initiates our national parks system. Celebrity turned progressive;

teddy-wc-loc-thmRounding Out Top 15

13) Cam Newton: Carolina, run-QB / James Madison;
14) Carson Palmer: Arizona, PP / Andrew Johnson;
15) Andrew Luck: Colts, mobile-PP / William McKinley

 

cherries-ripe-chirak-wc-605k-6-24-7Cherry Picks Week 4: “Nothing to fear but fear itself”

Miami (1-2) @ Cincy (1-2): 9.29 NFLN 8:25: Bengals win
Seattle (2-1) @ NY Jets (1-2): 10.2 Fox 1:00: ‘Hawks win
Bills (1-2) @ New England (3-0): CBS 1:00: Patriots win
Carolina Panthers (1-2) @ Atlanta Falcons (2-1) (GTW): Panthers win
Oakland Raiders (2-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-0) (GTW): Ravens win
Denver Broncos (3-0) @ Tampa Bay Bucs (1-2): CBS 4:05: Buccaneers win
Los Angeles Rams (2-1) @ Arizona Cards (1-2) (GTW): Fox 4:25: AZ wins
New Orleans Saints (0-3) @ San Diego Chargers (1-2): Fox 4:25: Saints win
Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) @ Pittsburgh (2-1) (GTW): NBC 8:30: Steelers win
NYG (2-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (3-0) (GTW): 10.3 ESPN 8:30: Giants win

Record: 14 – 17

* No clear winner from Monday night’s dialectic (WU in STL), though, there was little debate in the contest directly South in the Big Easy (ATL 45-32). But as Ms. Clinton, pre-debate poll leader, former White House decorator (1992-00) and of a much lengthier political résumé than her veritable newcomer opponent in Mr. Trump, her failure to deliver a haymaker of sorts might give the Don the win on points. But there are more rounds to go and whomever claims victory in this first foray had better not rest on their laurels and come out swinging-with-style in the next. Like NFL16, it’s still anyone’s fight to win or lose, i.e., wide open.

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Photo credits: G.Cleveland, wc.cca, 1903, Library-of-Congress, F.Gutekunst; G.Ford, wc, GRFL, 1933, UM; T.Brady, wc, 8.28.9, K.Allison, DC; W.Wilson, Edith-Bolling-Galt-Wilson, wc, Harris&Ewing, 6.1920; Edith-Bolling-Galt-Wilson, First-Lady, 1915-21, wc, LoC; FDR-Allred-LBJ, wc, 5.12.37, NARA; T. Roosevelt, wc, LoC; cherries-ripe, wc, Chirak, 6.24.7; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 9.27.16 @ 9:22pm, edit @ 11:38 EST; Copyright © 2016