Tag Archives: NFL defense

NFL18 Cherry Picks W12: Pegging the Pretenders In a Contender Poor Playoff Picture

22 Nov

They‘ve gotta’ pick SOMEBODY, right?

The Halls of Fame, the Oscar®, that Mark Twain thing, we can’t make everybody happy with these honors and award shows but we sure can try, right?

And at the end of each NFL regular season the owners hold a playoff to spread the joy, selecting as many post-season participants as they can stuff into that PS bird, satisfying regional interests and keeping those coffers filling fat.

That meant expansion, adding teams (1971 AFL-NFL merger), crafting cute little divisions and then adding the wild card clubs which rarely have any wild about ‘em at all. So far, that means two more playoff participants per Conference.

Those slots must be filled, even if half the clubs are, for most the NFL weekends, just about as likely to stink up the joint as they are to shine bright.

Like most seasons, there are about 6 to 8 teams that have a pretty fair chance of winning their respective Conference (Halas (NFC) / Hunt (AFC) trophy) and then taking the Super Bowl, teams that look sound, front (O) and back (D).

We’ve got a ways to go before the twelve (12) playoff berths are awarded (Please, no cork-popping just yet, fellas (oy vey)), but it’s not too early to sift out the pretenders, those who’ll show their weaker hand and falter before the regular season winds up, while others will pass the mettle-test, in win or loss.

National Football Conference

Serious Contenders: Saints, Rams, Seahawks and Packers

We know New Orleans and Los Angeles have offense, but Saints are near top half in defense (Rams middle), while Hawks and Packers rank respectable on both sides, kinda-sorta.’ Even as their clubs sit around .500 each, I like the experience of Wilson & Rodgers, the latter whose club has a nice remaining slate. GB’s lost three close contests on the road vs top dogs, are better than half the clubs with winning marks and going 5-1 gets ’em into the PS where anything can happen.

Possible pretenders: Chicago, Carolina, Minnesota, Washington

Bears got growl that’s been hibernating since Lovie days and it’s not just Mack. Second-year QB Trubisky, like AFC counterpart Mahomes, has high confidence, though, with fewer weapons at his disposal. But Mitch also has a rabbit-habit which will cost him and his club dearly as quality of competition and game-importance grows. Cats and Vikes O&D ranks are respectable but both compete for 2018’s Fickle Franchise Award (+ Titans, etc.), while Washington’s solid season went down with Alex Smith’s broken leg in W11 action.

American Football Conference

Serious Contenders: New England, Pittsburgh and Houston

Houston (7-3): Texans started slow (0-3) but’ve found their mojo since (6-0), albeit on maybe the NFL’s easiest schedule. Nice win at DC in W11.

Possible Pretenders: Chargers, Colts, Ravens, Titans, Dolphins and Chiefs

Bolts loss at home to 3-6 Denver was telling and their remaining schedule, besides AZ (W12), is a bear. Indy, on the other hand, while a slow start has an easy remainder but probably won‘t gel soon enough to impact. Maybe 2019, if Andy can stay healthy. Baltimore is not better with Flacco floundering. Get him healthy again and back on track and we’ll talk about contending.

And the much touted Chiefs? They get their own separate breakdown.

The last Monday Night Football fiasco makes it clear (Rams 54-51 KC), the NFL, all four major American sports, for that matter, are now just about offense. Kids and the Jr.-media, especially the sabrheads who voted Mets’ deGrom NL-CY last week, just adore score. We adults like it too but, if unbridled, it makes us nervous because we understand that old adage, ‘what goes around, comes around’ or ‘careful what ya’ wish for, you just may get it.’

Defense, football, was born in a much more brutal time when boxing was big. Bad still happens today, of course. Selfishness, greed, dishonesty and cowardice abound, but your average fan, player and coach, are just not built that way, not like Chuck Bednarik and Lawrence Taylor. They loved to stick, to punish.

Today’s team must score early, often and be comeback capable. No pouting when your D miscues. Your offense must pull on their big-boy pants, get back out there and put another TD on the board, not settling for FGs. It’s a fair measure that the club with higher Super Bowl potential is the one that’s scoring proficient and at least defense capable, rather than the other way around (top D, so-so O).

The Chiefs clearly have offense, scoring well against some of the better Ds in early going (PIT, DEN, JAX, LAC). Keep in mind that those same teams will, as season progresses, figure better the habits of a newcomer like Mahomes which were unfamiliar in earlier weeks of play.

But KC’s own defense is atrocious, even when you adjust for the MNF disaster, which will haunt them in this final regular stretch and the playoffs where the level of competition is more clear and certain.

Kansas City is on their bye this Thanksgiving week to lick wounds and afford Reid & Co. time to figure a new plan. And don’t count on it. Andy is one of NFL’s senior gurus and made a Super Bowl with the Eagles, but defense has never been his stronger suit. The HC must delegate duties (DC), but it all starts at the top.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 12

Falcons @ NO: 11.22 NBC 8:20pE: A-Birds
Jaguars @ Bills: 11.25 CBS 1:00: Jacksonville
Hawks @ Carolina (GOTD): Fox 1:00: Seattle
New York @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Eagles
Dolphins @ Indianapolis: CBS 4:25: Colts
Pittsburgh @ Denver: CBS 4:25: Steelers
GreenBay @ Minnesota: NBC 8:20: Vikings
Titans @ Houston: 11.26 Disney 8:15: Tenn

Record: 40 – 38

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; D.Welniak-A.Reid, wc, J.Beall, 12.31.17, KCTV5; cherries, Hispalois, wc, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; Jim-Marshall, TCG, 1970
Posted: 11.22 @ 5:07pE; Copyright © 2018

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NFL18 Cherry Picks W8: Fans #1 Gripe Ain’t Commercials or Colin, It’s BAD Defense (oy)!

27 Oct

Ask your typical NFL super fan (fantasy shmantasy, real football fans just love to check scores) what irks them most about America’s #1 entertainment choice and you’re certain to hear a lengthy list of gripes:

Referees
Turnovers
Nike (uniforms, etc.)
Excessive TV commercial breaks
Player self-promotion and politics
Instant-replay delays
Thursday nite games
The high cost of attending a game
The dangers of attending a game
Scheduling bias / prejudice
Chatty TV announcers
Unqualified in-game, post-game TV reporters & crew
Roger Goodell (NFL Commissioner)
DeMaurice Smith (NFLPA Executive head)
Foreign location tease (Time to franchise ‘em already)
The on-going PED plague barely tested in randomness

That should cover alot of ‘em.

But there’s one complaint your average fan will spout about at least 2-3 times every game: The awful, atrocious, unbelievably bad defensive breakdowns that demean about half of all the contests on the Sunday slate.

A reliable defense is hard to find these days, harder than a savvy pocket-passer.

And in the current depressing defensive state, a healthy DeShaun Watson (five TDs vs Miami on just 16 completions in Texans’ 42-23 win on TNF – W8) will probably pass Brees touchdown total in just over ten more years.

Even the dreaded late-game, prevent-defense can’t be held entirely to blame.

That pathetic defense that’s been around since the late 70s as some sort of cut-n-run-and-make-a-final-stand-somewhere-later psychology of ditzy DCs, still drives fans bonkers. But today’s defensive efforts, excepting a few individual stalwarts who like to stick (Darius Leonard, Corey Littleton, Kiko Alonso, Budda-Baker, Jessie Bates), are lousy pretty much from start to finish.

Tackling at the professional level has become a lost art, largely because not many junior-level coaches are teaching it anymore.

Half of the linebackers (Matthews Mack etc.), the position that should be the defensive mainstay, its movable rock, spend most their time seeking glory stats (sacks), leaving their position and wide gaps for opposing runners and receivers to do their thing, while most secondary sorries just don’t seem to care, turning themselves into mini-missles (most stand @ 5’9”), hoping the impact knocks ball-carriers off balance. The typical result: Dud missle (oy).

It is important to draw distinction between bad defense and the stoppers who simply run outta’ steam after a hard fought three quarters of battle.

Case in point: The Saints over-taking the hosting Ravens in Week 7 (24-23).

Up 17-7 entering the 4th quarter with the Saints offense on the march, John Harbaugh’s club gave up 17 unanswered 4Q points while his Flacco-led offense could only muster one TD in the final fifteen. Had Justin Tucker made the extra point to tie the game, maybe a different outcome in O/T would’ve been had, but the mis-kick wasn’t the main cause for the Ravens loss.

Ravens fans had to be seriously disappointed in Tucker and their team’s defensive down-turn, but even the most flighty follower, as Mr. Harbaugh, too, had to pleased with their defenders effort for most of the contest. To hold a Payton – Brees offense to 7 points entering the final Q is pretty solid D.

It’s fair to write, an offense that sputters late in the game (Baltimore) as they cling to a lead is sadly mistaken if they believe their defensive mates can continually bail-them-out of their matriculatory ineptitude, especially having to fend-off a master craftsman like future Cantonese, Drew Brees.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 8

Eagles @ Jax (Ldn): 10.28 NFL 9:30a: Jags
Seahawks @ Detroit Lions: Fox 1:00: Seattle
Buccaneers @ Cincy: Fox 1:00: Cincinnati
New York Jets @ Chicago: 1:00 CBS: Bears
Baltimore @ Carolina: 1:00 CBS: Ravens
Green Bay @ Los Angeles: 4:25 Fox: Pack
New Orleans @ Minnesota: 8:20 NBC: Saints

Record: 30 – 21

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Darius-Leonard, A.Peterson, wc.cca, 9.16.18, K.Allison, Hanover; Willie-Wood, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 10.27 @ 12:27aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Super Cherry Jam: Eagles Win Proves Pocket-Passer Still Surest Route To Promised Land

10 Feb

The Take from SB52? Eagles don’t even get close to the Lombardi trophy with a run-QB subbing for Wentz on short-notice. Not a snowball’s chance in Hades or even the 70° cozy confines of US Bank Stadium.

Pocket-passer quarterback is a rare bird, endangered species in the pros due to emergence of collegian flash-QB, a place where he thrives like a Georgia robin in spring (they move in herds here) under laissez-faire tutelage of Coach-Lite.

But the traditional, stand-tall-in-the-pocket signal-caller who matriculates well past the RIF-stage to read D with proficiency, rabbits as a last option rather than reflex, is still the surest, quickest way to reach that wonderous state we call Titletown, aka, whatever metro currently holds the Silver Swag (Philly).

— — —

Hail the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Pederson, owners Lurie, SB-MVP Foles, regular-season super-QB Wentz, a defense that played well for 18 of 19 games and the rest of the E-Birds rosterees and staff, the 2017-18 NFL Champs!

In besting the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl 52, Philly nabbed their first NFL title since 1960, a club led by Chuck Bednarik (D) and Norm Van Brocklin (QB), that topped Lombardi’s first title-game Packers, 17-13.

And what a shocker it was.

Not because these Eagles weren’t impressive all season long, excepting a pathetic regular season finale (6-0 loss at home v. Dallas), but because they finished their run with a back-up quarteback that had started a mere one contest (KansasCity) since 2016 (22-14 career) yet defeated the juggernautious Patriots to do it while Nick’s defensive teammates allowed said New Englanders a whopping 600+ yards in total offense on way to hoisting the prized Lombardi hardware.

Nobody picked Philly to win SB52, nobody who wasn’t a fan, gambler or media hoping for some office bragging rights.

I don’t think anyone, not even Eagles brass and players, saw this kind of time-line for a championship. Maybe in 2-3 more years but SB52? Not on your life.

— — —

It’s the top topic for sportswriters in the days following every Super Sunday: What’s the champ’s template for success? In Philadelphia’s case, there is none. Forget about it. Eagles have no template for Titledom. Doesn’t exist. Nope.

What these present E-Birds DO have is, if not a wholly unique GM / coaching skill-set, a not altogether common ability to accomplish the two following tasks:

1) Execution of draft-picks with a certain wisdom (Wentz); and

2) Rostering a quality back-up QB (Foles), something the Patriots too have shown a panachee for finding (Cassel 10-5 (08) / Garoppolo 7-0 (NE / SF)).

But as important as are those two abilities, the 2017-18 Eagles were recipients of a gift from Lady Luck. That being that they competed in the least competitive NFC in this writer’s recent memory. A tale of the tape:

Giants (3-13): OB was out but we now know TC wasn’t the big problem.
Packers (7-9): Mike dodged one on Rodgers ill-advised return at Carolina.
Seahawks (9-7): Maybe the most disappointing winning-mark this decade.
Cowboys (9-7): Elliott’s on-off susp’n was disruptive but Dak’s still learning
Cardinals (8-8): Loss of star Johnson early-on is big blow cuing Arians exit.
Buccaneers (5-11): Tampa was expected to contend but barely made a ripple.
Falcons (10-6): Defending NFC champs were clearly a lesser grade in 2017.
Lions (9-7): Detroit is becoming the pretender of all 20-teens pretenders.
Redskins (7-9): Like TB, maybe higher expectations are not a good thing.

And yes, the Vikes and Rams infused some much needed competition into the NFC but it hardly made up for the general malaise that permeated, not all that much worse than a rather weak AFC itself in 2017.

It’s not the Colin Kaeprnick effect that explains the malaise. Better chance it’s the plethora of run-QBs, the never-ending flood of poorly-trained, modern single-wing tailbacks masquerading as quarterbacks coming into the League unprepared for the pro-style play. Oh yeah, throw in the mass of DCs who rely on glory stats (INTs / PD / sacks) to stop the score, and not too effectively at that. Translating into most defenders today who couldn’t skillfully tackle an opponent if their life depended on it. There’s that, too.

StevenKeys
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject, 6k; Eagles, SB52-Victory-Parade, souvenirs, 2.8.18, wc.cca, 7Beachbum; SB52, Kitten-Bowl, wc, 2.3.18, B.Allen-VoA; Eagles, SB52, Parade, N.Foles, 2.8.18, PA-GovWolf, wc; Eagles, SB52, Parade, VL-trophy, 2.8.18, wc, PA-GovWolf
Posted: 2.10.18 @ 4:49pE; Copyright © 2018

NFL17 Cherry Picks W17: Like Unique Gifts & Good Men, A Franchise QB Is ‘Hard to Find’

27 Dec

Ever wonder why a quarterback’s never been drafted U.S. President?

They’re popular enough, the well-decorated variety, anyway.

Most signal-callers possess a pretty good leadership ability. Most of ‘em, not all (See; JohnnyManziel and ColinKaepernick).

Nearly all of ’em can audiblize at the line, i.e. think on their feet. That would prove helpful with the testy press-corps.

I don’t know how ‘threading-the-needle’ would help as Chief Executive but you’ve gotta’ figure it would have to come in handy somewhere.

There’ve been a few close calls.

There was Jack Kemp, former championship Buffalo Bills’ QB (64-65 AFL) and 1996 VP candidate on the Bob Dole ticket.

President John Kennedy and clan were known to engage in a spontaneous touch football before and during his White House tenure (1961-63).

Ronald Reagan, 40th US President, portrayed an early-era quarterback, known then as a single-wing tailback, as the legendary George Gipp in the 1940 bio-pic, Knute Rockne All-American, co-starring Milwaukee native Pat O’Brien as the equally tragic and successful Notre Dame head coach.

But never has there been an ex-college or professional gridiron field-general to call signals from the Oval Office on Pennyslvania Avenue.

It’s true, the game itself has only been around less than half as long as the nation (1776), and then highly-prized less than one quarter of that time (1910 >).

With the popularity QBs enjoy throughout North America (+ CFL) and World NFL (London / Mexico), a starship lift-off in junior high and on up to the pros, a cheer resonating louder than that heard by most politicians and even war-heroes (post-WW2), you’d think a gridiorn field-general would’ve connected for an Electoral College touchdown at some point these past 100 or so years.

You’d think.

But I suppose when you endure enough heavy hits in the pocket, for those QBs with poise, you’d be kinda’ crazy to venture forth into the pressure-packed position of President to suffer even more “slings and arrows.”

Be that as it may, ever since MickeyMantle, BillRussell, CassiusClay and BobbyOrr retired, the quarterback has reigned supreme in much of NorthAmerica’s non-soccer sports world. There’s no doubt on that point.

Which all leads to this troubling observation on an unsettling state of affairs in World NFL: We’re running out of professional grade quarterbacks, making it even less likely one will ever man, or woman, the Oval Office.

TomBrady, BigBen and DrewBrees won’t play forever, even as they’ve been giving good imitations of such capability in their long and illustrious careers.

Flash-QB’s the culprit, and the collegiate coach-lite mentality that leans heavy on the modern-day single-wing tailback. As long as the RIF-challenged signal-caller keeps running and winning Heismans & NCAA championships (Young, Tebow, Manziel, Newton, Winston, Watson), the pro-prepped, poise-under-pressure pocket passer (PPPUPPP) will be a rare NFL commodity.

And the social sins of greed and arrogance are only making the matter worse.

The Elway Effect: John, on fatherly advice, refused to report to Baltimore after the Colts made him the first selection in the 1983 NFL draft. UCLA’s Josh Rosen seems to be following the same gameplan. Maybe good for him, not for football and its fans.

So where does that leave the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears of the National, teams that seem to forever be trying to fill their field-general void?

The quick answer, based on our obsession with guys under center who must lead their offense that scores-at-will in what’s come to be known as a quarterback league, is a revolving-door of QB experimentation. Pick the best one available and hope your coordinators can inspire bravery in the pocket and hobble his rabbit habit.

Better answer: Defense. Build a 60-minute crew that can tackle, front to back, and then settle for a capable signal-caller who won’t be expected to carry the offense but merely protect the ball and execute the game plan with a certain courage and savvy. Simple, eh? Oy vey.

Cherry Picks Week 17

Packers @ Detroit: 12.31 Fox 1:00: Lions
Texans @ Indianapolis: CBS 1:00: Texans
Redskins @ NewYork: Fox 1:00: Giants
Cowboys @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Dallas
Jacksonville @ Titans: CBS 4:25: Jaguars
Buffalo @ Dolphins: CBS 4:25: Miami
Raiders @ LosAngeles: CBS 4:25: Oakland
Cardinals @ Seattle: Fox 4:25: Seahawks
SanFrancisco @ LosAngeles: Fox 4:25: LAR
Panthers @ Atlanta: Fox 4:25: Falcons
Kansas City @ Broncos: CBS 4:25: Chiefs
New Orleans @ Buccaneers: Fox 4:25: Saints

Record: 71 – 52 (Won’t include W16 MIN @ GB)

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; J.Garoppolo, wc.cca, CaseyMcNeil, 12.17.17; C.Wentz, 9.10.17, K.Allison, wc, Hanover-MD; Cherries-cloth, 2011, picdrome, wc; JimMarshall, ToppsChewingGum, 1970
Posted: 12.27.17 @ 3:47pE; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Cherry Picks W1: Nuff With Knees & QBs, It’s Time For Bridesmaids & Tacklese

8 Sep

Even the best NFL tacklers like Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner could enjoy the chick-flick Bridesmaids (2011). That’s no foolin.’

When the thin one (Kristen Wiig) starts to panic on the jetliner (pills + liquor), triggering the air-marshal plan, it’s on-the-spot volunteer “Megan (Melissa McCarthy),” a G5 federal employee, who lays her friend flat with the best flying tackle seen by this football fan since Pat Willis patrolled the tundra (ret. 2015).

‘That was acting, Steve.’ Sure, but then sport itself can be fairly fantastic.

Take soccer (fútbol) for example. ¡Ay, caramba! Those guys fall to the turf more than The Bad News Bears (76), pre-“Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley)” and “Amanda (Tatum O‘Neal).”

— — —

For all the fascination with scoring by guys like Tom Brady and David Johnson, the foundation of every team will lay in its defense. It’s football 101.

And if you don’t have it for the whole shebang, i.e., 4Qs for 16Gs and the entire post-season, you’re in for a shootout at worst possible time, something the Atlanta Falcons, and Green Bay Packers for that matter (NFCC), know about all…too…well.

The two key measures in team defense have traditionally been yards allowed per game (yapg) and point allowed per game (papg). Why? Because you can’t pile up points without both of ‘em. Get it?

In NFL16, Houston (301), Arizona, Minnesota, Denver and Seattle (319) held down the top five (5) spots in the former category (yapg). Combined, they were eight (8) games over .500, two division titles, three (3) had winning marks with the Vikes even-Steven and Cards ½ game under. Not proof-positive of the D’s value, but not too shabby an indicator, either.

A better gauge might be the later rank, papg.

Those top five (5): New England (15.6), Giants, Seahawks, Broncos & Cowboys, a combined thrity-five and one-half games (35.5) over .500. “Zowie!”

The short story, and that’s what you’ll get most often at NFLCherryPicks in opposite of the trend to long story (See; sabrmetrics), is that defense matters, alot.

We know about the Patriots positioning prior to the playoffs (#8 / 1) but where’d the Falcons finish up in the top D rankings?

An inglorious 25th (yapg) and 27th (papg) is where the A-Birds settled in. And like I wrote above, those deficienies will not remain hidden forever. Great teams will expose them in the brightest of lights.

So if Atlanta was so deficient on the defensive side, how would you think they could make it through the post-season and into the Big Game?

Besides stellar offensive efforts by their quarterback and League MVP Matt Ryan, 3rd-year RB Devonta Freeman, another monster stat-season by receiver Julio Jones and offensive line that did their job (37s), the non-team-related reason was that the NFC was a veritable graveyard of competition in 2016.

Youth-movement-led Cowboys rolled after a W1 loss to the Giants but proceeded to flop in the PS, Green Bay had to kick-start its campaign and lost home-field in the process, Seattle hasn’t been the same since Lynch went wingnut and Arizona, expected by some to make the SB51, proved the Big Enigma of 2016.

Falcons’ defense did have its performers that shone bright when it counted most, of note was the League’s top sack-master in Vic Beasley (15.5) and the 25th best tackler in Deion Jones (75s – 33a). Those aren’t eye-popping stats but Jones was busy elsewhere, having 14 PDs and 3 INTs. Another player, or two, like Deion and A-Birds might make a return trip to the Big Game in 2018.

Cherry Picks Week 1: On the right foot

Chiefs @ New England: 9.7 NBC 8:30: NE
Cardinals @ Detroit: 9.10 Fox 1:00: Arizona
Buccaneers @ Miami: Fox 1:00: Tampa Bay
Raiders @ Tennessee: CBS 1:00: Titans
Ravens @ Cincinnati: CBS 1:00: Bengals
Seahawks @ Green Bay: Fox 4:25: Packers
Giants @ Dallas: NBC 8:30: New York
NO @ Minnesota: 9.11 Disney 7:10: Vikings

2014: 97 – 55 -1 (NE)
2015: 105 – 101 – 1 (DEN)
2016: 88 – 93 – 3 (NE (8 – 3))

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: NFL-icon, wikiproject; B.Wagner, wc.cca, 10.6.14, K.Allison; M.Ryan, 8.8.16, wc, E.Drost; cherries, Hispalois, Caceres-Spain, wc, 7.2.12; Wood, Topps, 1970
Posted: 9.7.17 @ 8:28pE; Copyright © 2017

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

NFL15: Bills’ Rex Ryan Tops Coaches on the Cue

28 Jul

The hot seat: That’s the term of the trade, coaching, that is.

Specifically, a term of warning that means, he, maybe she someday the way things are moving (See; Welter (AZ) & Hammon (NBA)), who sits on said seat had better get his rear-in-gear, find a winning touch or that proverbial pink-slip is certain to arrive by or before season’s end, depending on the equity said coach has accrued.

But that ain‘t this write, not exactly.

Coaching cats listed here would at least appear to be pretty well situated and are, in fact, not in immediate danger of getting the boot.

Some are new to their job but so popular they’d trigger an impromptu parade with local fans (Ryan). Others have recently received extension (Tomlin / Coughlin / Lewis) and most are in possession of Lombardi (replica) home décor.

Even so, not all is as rosy as it appears for these elite NFL sideliners.

While they’ve all had success and anticipation runs high as summer training camps are getting under way, each of them has struggled for extended periods time and failed, sometimes miserably, to meet their own particular expectations.

For some that simply means consecutive losing records and no post-season play; for others it means doing everything necessary in the RS to punch-ticket for prime playoff placement but then fail repeatedly to close the deal (GB).

If these expectations are not met, whether that‘s simply a >.500 record or Super Bowl birth, all of these coaching veterans could be looking for work next March or begin to feel a noticeable warming in their seats, contracts notwithstanding.

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Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills (1st year HC)

“A parade all by himself (Jimmy Cannon‘s description of Ruth)” would be bit of a stretch but Rex Ryan may be the closest thing we’ve got today, sans the whiskey, womanizing, wee-hour waltzes, hot dog eating contests, etcetera. Rex’s press conferences, anyway.

Ryan starts fresh in Buffalo after six seasons at the helm in Jetsland in the town the Babe called home for many years (1920 – 48), having left the Big Apple with mixed results. After reaching a couple AFCCs in the early going the wheels came off, offensive-side mostly, and a semi-amicable parting-of-ways was reached.

He hopes to dispel belief he’s an early-bloomer, inspiring with a positive persona in phase I, only to lose his grip in phase II when the bloom comes off the rose.

“Over-identification with his men,” is what Gregory Peck (“Gen. Savage”) called it in the classic World War II drama, Twelve O’Clock High (‘49). Big trouble. You want your men’s respect, even a little fear on occasion, not their friendship, not necessarily. Whether that’s factual with Ryan or not, only he and players can say, but it does give appearance.

Rex’s specialty, defense, is in the genes, evidenced by brother Rob (NO-DC) and their famous father “Buddy” having coordinated way back to those AFL title days in Buffalo (‘61-65). Like father, like sons, except James had some terrific guys on the O-side, including names like Kemp & Gilchrist (BUF), Namath & Maynard (NYJ), Tarkenton & Foreman (MIN) and Payton & McMahon (CHI), something with which Rex has rarely been assoc’d since his days in Baltimore (’99-08).

Mastering offense has proven his bugaboo, in particular, finding a quality field general. He ain’t alone. When young Mark Sanchez (NYJ) hit a wall, Ryan kept his cool but eventually was forced to make change and came up short (G.Smith).

As it stands, Bills QB question remains unanswered.

Veteran Matt Cassel, displaced in MIN by Ted Bridgewater, has two 10-5s under his belt (NE / KC) appeared the presumptive starter but Ryan wants to please everyone so everyone (Manuel / Simms / Taylor) will get a good look-see. He knows securing a signal-caller’s key to making his mark in Western New York State versus a likely last NFL head coach gig.

Bills fans are a frustrated lot, playoff-dry since ‘00 and though looking to be turning a corner under Marrone in ‘14 (9-7), saw him skedaddle and capable Orton call it a career at season‘s end. While playoffs in ‘16 is, to a Bills optimist, expected, the QB quandary permits RR something less, but with a seat-warmer handy. Gets cold in Buffalo!

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Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers (10th yr)

The hand-writing was on the wall for this move.

On the one hand, you can’t blame Packers for taking Mike down a peg in having to fork over the play-call book, given GB’s recent playoff runs with unexpected Ls to visiting Giants (’12), Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers (x2), last one at home, no less (‘14), and then the Cheese Melt 2015 (1.18) versus defending champs, Seattle, in NFCC in what looked (late) like an earned trip to SB49.

One the other hand, while Packers fans & Mgmt are some of the best in the biz, great success will often breed over-inflated sense of self-worth and unreasonable expectations, i.e., big brats, and not the Usinger’s® or Klement’s® varieties.

Green Bay’s collapse, a worst in NFL post-season history, was a team effort. Call it Murphy’s Law, if anything could go wrong, it did. I call it Swing Time (’36), the best of Astaire & Rogers and apt name of what afflicts this NFL. A winning team loses all momentum which swings to the up & comers who turn the tables. Cause? Millennials don‘t handle pressure like Dad? It’s as good an explanation as any.

And orchestrating Brett Favre’s high-profile return to the Fox Valley just prior to opening of training camp, the prodigal QB, as it were (Luke: 15: 11-32), just when faithful are having serious doubts about keeping McCarthy‘s hands on the controls, was not Thompson‘s best play. Now fans have all summer to remind ’em of those halcyon days of Green Bay Renaissance when Wolf, Holmgren, Favre & White seemed invincible, until they met Elway & Co. (SB32), of course.

Though, it’s a bit rough for a guy who built his rep on offensive know-how (See; UP ‘89), relinquishing strategizing duties is, in big picture, nothing to stew about, when you’ve got a guy named Aaron Rodgers conducting the orchestra (MVP ‘14).

Packers problem every January is the same it’s been since Reggie and LeRoy Butler retired: defense, or lack thereof, in crunch time.

A panache for glory stats guys (Clay Matthews / Woodson) in sacrifice of tackling (See; SEA, CAR, SF), the heart & soul of football, has too often been their undoing. Moving out of the mid-pack (yapg (15) / papg (14)) by leaping Minnesota and Detroit and into the top-10 on these key defensive measures will punch Green Bay’s ticket to Santa Clara.

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Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers (9th yr)

If I’d had ear of Steelers Chair Dan Rooney in 2013 I’d have advised Mike be dismissed from his coaching job at season’s close, giving Tomlin option of sooner if chosen, and pinned my own position of influence on the call.

Tomlin’s buffoonery in Baltimore on Thanksgiving, of all nights, where he clearly interferes with Ravens return man Jacoby Jones breakaway sideline run, gave the Pittsburgh organization a black-eye, traces of which still remain with the two-time Super Bowl (43 W / 45 L) coach’s continued presence on Steelers‘ sideline.

The fact he chose to step on the field while watching the ball-carrier approach (not Jumbotron as claimed), most certainly to divert Jones likely TD trot, was bad enough. That he wore a Cheshire grin immediately following his chicanery certified the misdeed. That he didn’t own-up afterwards was strike three.

Even as game officials failed to flag Tomlin, speaking once again to the fallacy of instant-replay’s purported necessity, the NFL fined Tomlin $100,000 for interference, one of largest penalties levied on a coach in the League’s history.

Tomlin just inked a 2-yr (K) extension with the Rooneys. Irony is that as long as veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger remains hearty & healthy, he, like Rodgers in GB, almost assures Steelers dbl-digit wins, which nearly assures Mike his continued employ in the Steel City that’ll pretty much assure Ben & Co. won’t be returning to a Super Bowl anytime soon. The steady slide in key defensive categories over the past few seasons (yapg 18 / papg 18) throws up another red flag.

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Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints (9th yr)

Like Mike & Mike, Sean’s nearing a decade at the helm of the first and only NFL team he’s headed, and, could too be on the outs soon, add’l proof that winning a Super Bowl doesn’t, or in some cases, shouldn’t, guarantee undying loyalty from the faithful.

Though the Saints haven’t exactly been in free-fall post-Bountygate, making the PS 3 of 5 seasons, they’ve clearly fallen from juggernaut status since the scandal.

What almost assuredly differentiates the Steelers guru and his Saints peer is that while Tomlin arguably rode on coat-tails of Bill Cowher’s success, Payton, strictly in coaching terms, forged a title-club by his own method & means, as debatable as they were, while others before (Haslett, Mora, Phillips, etc.) came up short.

Call it a pattern, trend or an NFL norm (I miss Cheers (pre-Kristie Alley)), but here’s another team with a Super QB (Brees) that looks to’ve become over-reliant on his wherewithal and seen the defense go to the dogs (yapg 31 / papg 28).

Drew, like Eli & Ben, is a tough customer but won’t play forever. If the once stout New Orleans D doesn’t find it’s footing in ‘15 (the OL protects the franchise well (29sk ‘14)), Sean may be footing it out the door in ‘16.

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Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (3rd yr)

Reid may be one of the few non-titlist NFL head coaches to get busted in Canton (See: Grant, Levy). In his 16 seasons at the helm for Philly (14 (’99)) and KC (2 (’13)), Andy’s had 9 dbl-digit, 12 winning and only 3 losing campaigns (2 @ .500).

Trouble with Andy (reads like a Hardy movie) may be, as with Rex, his teams come outta’ the gate strong but if they finish back, tend to fall back in later runs, not out of the money (show (playoffs)), but out of the big money (win or place (title)). Perceptions like that can be short on fact / substance but can carry weight, especially with a franchise that hasn‘t supped champagne since 1970 (Stram (SB4)).

Though not enriched with a fantasy-favored, statistically-elite QB in Alex Smith, who’s been stanchion under center the last four, compiling a 38-16 tally (SF / KC) with a tremendous TD-ratio (71-23), Reid’s Chiefs may have the best balance of all six teams listed herein.

Dropping in key offensive categories in ‘14 (ypg 25 / ppg 16), Chiefs still possess Alex’s matriculatory flair, the explosive, multi-man Jamal Charles and mythically mondo 3rd-yr TE in Travis “Zeus” Kelce, while the defense should take advice from nobody, coming in at #7 in yapg and just behind Seattle in papg (2).

Because full balance is attainable (more hands, top reserves on D), coupled with the Super drought (‘70), expectations are high for Reid in 2015. If KC boards the roller-coaster again (9-7) or busts early in the PS, no one in the Hunt household will hit the panic button but talk will begin on change v. staying the course.

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Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals (13th yr)

Like McCarthy, Payton and Tomlin, Lewis too is making the most his first NFL head coaching gig, setting franchise record in wins (100-90-2) and compiling mostly winning marks (6-3-3) over his dozen seasons in the Queen City. In April, Marvin, like his friend Tom in NYC, signed a 1-yr extension to a deal that was to terminate at close of 2015-16 NFL season.

Cincy has been a regular post-season player under Marvin’s tutelage but have yet to advance in any session, going 0-6, whether it be capable field generals Carson Palmer (‘04-10) or Andy Dalton (’11-14) barking out the signals.

The team rankings are unimpressive though hardly distressing. In 2014, the Tigers were the epitome of adequate, or, as “George Costanza” would say, “a solid C, not falling behind, not showing off (Seinfeld).”

On offense, they came in at #15 in both yards allowed and points allowed per game, while the defensive ranks fell slightly lower at #15 (ypg) and 22 (ppg). And somehow, some way, the Bengals found a way to manage double digit wins again. Where there’s a will, there’s a way?

And maybe that’s Lewis in a nutshell. What he may lack in rah-rah he makes up for in a professionalism and coaching cool that inspires players and staff to perform. Taking nothing away from a fine Colts performance, it’s fair to write that in their last playoff go-round, a 26-10 wild card loss at Indy, injuries to key personnel left Cincinnati a markedly different team.

But while patience is a virtue, even Machiavelli had his fill (See; The Prince).

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Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (12th yr (20))

Canton beckons for this 2-time Super Bowl winning coach (42 / 46), both roads to glory that ran through Green Bay (’08 / ’11) and culminated in competitive contests against one of the other ‘best’ coach (Belichick) / QB (Brady) combos in NFL annals.

Winning one Lombardi won’t guarantee a lifetime contract, that’s understood, but winning two in the fashion Tom (and Eli et al) did, well, if that doesn’t give an assurance of loyalty from owners and fans, I don’t know what does.

Even at 6-10 and a so-so run game, the Eli Manning (another Canton lock) -led offense finished impressively in ‘14 (ypg 10 / ppg 12T), with no small thanks to an O-line that knows blocking (28sk). But like the Saints, Bears & Falcons, this traditionally stout defense has fallen on hard times (yapg 29 / papg 24).

Though having in March signed a 1-yr extension that pays him through 2016 season, Misters Mara and Tisch will be honored to have Coughlin guide their Giants as long as they’re reasonably competitive (‘reasonably’ interpreted broadly: no playoffs since 2011 and combined 22-26) or Tom keeps competitive fires burning. But hard to imagine any result in ‘15-16? that’d stoke those fires sufficiently to bring TC back for another, add’l (K)-yr, notwithstanding.

.......NFL.wikiproject.6kb

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Photo credits: Ryan, 8.3.8, wc, Allison; Ryan, wc, O’Leary, 10.23.11; McCarthy, 8.11.7, wc, Grant; Tomlin, wc, 9.16.7, steelcityhobbies; Payton, wc, 2.7.10, VOA, Schy; Reid, wc, USAF, Sturkol, 8.6.8; Lewis, wc, emeybee, 9.16.13; Coughlin.Bush.Eli, WH, wc, 4.30.8, USGOV; NFL-Wikiproject;
Posted: 7.28.15 @ 5:15pm; edit (photo) 7.29 @ 5:57pm EST
Copyright © 2015