Monthly Archives: September 2013

This Season’s Surprises (so far)

So here we sit, 4 weeks (almost) have passed and we’re seeing some very interesting story lines develop.  The NFC East has combined for 4 wins and the 0-4 Giants are only 2 games behind the division leading Cowboys.  How about the Dolphins and Chiefs starting off a combined 7-0?  Lastly, perennial AFC power Pittsburgh is off to an 0-4 start.

Let’s start with my favorite story line so far, the 4-0 Chiefs. What’s been the winning recipe for Andy Reid and the Chiefs thus far?  In my opinion, their success lies in field position and turnovers.  Kansas City is tied for the league lead in the giveaway/takeaway column with a +9.  Alex Smith has done a GREAT job of picking and choosing his downfield shots and he’s completing just over 60% of his passes while only throwing 2 picks to his 7 TD’s.  In addition to Smith being efficient, the Chiefs have been able to do some damage on the ground, as well.  Jamaal Charles is averaging 72 ypg while Smith is also putting his legs to use, averaging nearly 38 ypg. Finally, the Chiefs have the 10th ranked defense according to ESPN.  McCluster and Demps have also been solid in the return game.

Moving on, let’s take a look at the Giants and Steelers, who are a combined 0-8.  The Giants are experiencing some major o-line issues as Eli has been sacked 14 times and the run game is only averaging 57.8 ypg.  The same can also be said for the Steelers, Big Ben has been sacked 15 times while the run game is averaging 58 ypg.  Defensively, the Steeler’s defense has yet to force a turnover and find themselves at -11 in terms of turnover ratio.  The Giants are sitting at -9 in turnover ratio; both teams find themselves in last place in this category in their respective conference.  I think both these teams need to reevaluate their offensive line situation and figure out something to take some heat off of Eli and Big Ben, the threat of a run game is non-existent for both.  While the news has been pretty dreadful for both teams this year, there is a silver lining beneath it all … both teams are only two games back in their respective division races.

  • Injuries aren’t helping either team
  • Both defenses are respectable in terms of yardage surrendered
  • The WR’s for both teams don’t always seem to be on the same page as their QB’s
  • Both D-lines need more of a pass rush

And now for some final thoughts:

  • I think Miami’s first loss comes tonight
  • The NFC East and AFC North are still wide open
  • Peyton Manning is good
  • If the Lions play 4 quarters and don’t self-destruct they’re a threat in the NFC North
  • If Seattle’s passing game starts getting hot look out!
  • The Pats are playing tough with makeshift skill players, Tom Brady is getting some help in the way of yards after catch.
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NFC North Tour: Heading into Week 4

Heading into week 4, things seem pretty standard throughout the division (aside from the Lions being in 2nd place and the Vikings being winless).  The Bears defense has been creating turnovers and points, the Lions passing game is on point, Green Bay is decimated by injuries, and the Vikings still have Ponder.  What should we expect moving forward?

Chicago: Chicago is yet to be tested on the road, the Steeler’s game was close early in the 4th but it still felt like Big Ben and Tomlin had no chance.  Week 4 will see the Bears travel to Detroit to take on Stafford and Megatron.  The Bears have had a lot of success lately against Detroit, Charles Tillman (provided he’s healthy) will once again be asked to check Megatron in an attempt to contain the Lion’s aerial attack.  Offensively, Trestman’s offense has been efficient, Cutler is doing a GREAT job of taking what the offense gives him and getting rid of the ball early (6 TD’s to only 3 picks) … and let’s not forget his Earl Campbell impression Sunday night.

Week 4 will be an interesting one if Detroit protects the ball and can win the special team’s battle.  Through three weeks of play, Chicago is +6 in the turnover game while Detroit is +3.  Briggs and the defense continue to make game changing plays, I think turnovers will once again be the difference for Chicago this week.

Prediction:  Chicago 31, Detroit 27 (Forte is going to have a big game)

Minnesota, where to start … Christian Ponder is completing less than 60% of his passes, he’s amassed 2 TD’s to 5 interceptions and teams are loading up the box to stop AP and daring Ponder to beat them.  Week 4 sees the Vikings hosting the Steelers across the pond, in London.  I think this will be the week we see Tomlin and Big Ben get their first win.  Minnesota has really struggled defending the pass and Roethlisberger is coming off a big week against the Bears.  If Pittsburgh protects the ball and limits Ponder’s short-field opportunities I like their chances this week.  Minnesota will need to keep Big Ben in the pocket and limit his scrambling opportunities if they hope to have a chance in this one.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Minnesota 17 

Green Bay: Green Bay is off to a 1-2 start after what may be the sloppiest game of the year so far.  Week 4 for Green Bay brings a much needed bye; at one point against the Bengals Jeremy Ross was in the backfield taking over the 4th string RB duties.  Green Bay’s offense has been as of expected this year, outside of a new found running game the last two weeks.  Rodger’s continues to be efficient through the air (when his WR’s aren’t breaking off routes), the o-line is tough in the run game and struggling in pass-protection, Jones/Nelson/Cobb/Finley are doing what everyone expected of them and Franklin/Starks/Lacy will be looking for continued success in the run game.  Defensively, the front 7 have been great against the run but have been giving up chunks through the air.  In week 3, Sam Shields had a solid day defending AJ Green but key injuries in the defensive backfield have been tough on the secondary.  Look for Green Bay to get healthy leading into their week 5 matchup against Detroit.

Prediction: No one gets hurt in week 4.

Packers at Bengals: What the hell did we just watch?

So, I sit here on this chilly Monday morning still trying to wrap my head around the debacle I watched take place in Cincinnati.  I don’t even know where to begin: the Green Bay’s defense Jeckyll and Hyde act, Cincinnati doing everything they can to let the Packers in the game in the 1st half, Aaron Rodgers looking like a shell of himself, or Cincinatti’s offense and how terrified they are of a short-field.

For Green Bay: I understand Jeremy Ross is a solid player and a good WR but good lord.  This guy is killing Green Bay with his special team’s play and the affect he has on field position.  I was cruising through the box score again this morning and saw 182 yards on the ground, how does an Aaron Rodgers led team blow a game in which they pick up 182 yards on the ground?  Finally, I think this will prove to be an anomaly for Rodgers; if any of you readers could provide the stats on what he’s done after a loss I’d really appreciate it! On a positive note, looks like the 3rd string RB (Franklin) will be ok, this should limit exposure to Jeremy Ross.  The lone bright spot was Jordy Nelson, he continues to be an acrobat on the sideline.  Also, for those wondering, the o-line was tough in the run game (against a tough Cincy front 7) and still shaky in pass-protection.

Defensively for Green Bay: The front 7 continue to be stout against the run game, giving up only 82 yards on the ground.  The secondary looked much better, giving up 215 yards through the air.  Sam Shields had an amazing day against AJ Green, limiting him to 4 catches for 46 yards and 1 touchdown on 8 targets, he also picked off a pass.  The defense, aside from a few long drives had a pretty good day.  The pass-rush looked a bit better as well as they were able to muster 4 sacks.

On the Cincy side, Andy Dalton, when not doing dumb things when the pocket breaks down continues to be a very reliable QB.  Dalton rarely takes ill-advised chances and I thought his accuracy improved significantly from week 2.  The offensive line needs to shore things up in the run game to make life a little easier for Dalton.  Eifert and Gresham were ineffective for the most part, not sure if this was something GB was doing or something with the Cincy gameplan.  Bernard had a great game, both running the ball and receiving, he’s a shifty runner who can also lower his head when he needs to.

Defensively for Cincy, the front 7 struggled in the run game but were able to get to Rodgers pretty regularly with the pass rush.  The secondary did a great job of limiting the big plays and helped contribute to one of the worst days we’ve seen out of Rodgers in quite some time.  Additionally, the Cincy defense did an amazing job on Randall (Reggie for those watching the game) Cobb, limiting him to 54 yards on 5 catches after being targeted 11 times.

Final thoughts:

  • I’m still baffled by this one
  • Mason Crosby had a solid day
  • Both teams did everything they could to lose yesterday
  • This bye week comes at a good time for GB
  • Cincy should move to 3-1 next week vs. Cleveland
  • Green Bay continues to be complacent with their playcalling when they’ve established a lead
  • Green Bay had 399 yards of offense while Cincy had 297, each team had 4 turnovers.

Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh: What we can expect

The Bears are coming off a thriller against Minnesota and Pittsburgh is coming off a loss to the Orange-cats of Cincinnati.  2 weeks behind us and the Steelers are already facing a very pivotal game as falling to 0-3 this early in the season could prove to be too much of a hole to climb out of.  The Bears find themselves at the top of the NFC North heading into week 3.  So what can we expect from these two as they square off on Sunday Night Football?

For the Steelers:  The recipe for success against the Bears lies in field position and the turnover battle.  Offensively, Todd Haley has probably put the troops on notice … for a variety of reasons.  First, the Pitt. offense has been dreadful, the running game is stuck in neutral, Big Ben has only thrown for two TD’s and he’s completing less than 60% of his passes, and they have a turnover ratio of -4.

As I mentioned before, the recipe for success against the Bears lies in field position and turnovers, this has been the case for quite some time as that defense in Chicago is an absolute monster!  Roethlisberger must protect the ball and know when to take a sack or throw the ball away.  Also, Pitt is 7 for 25 on 3rd down conversions … if you give Chicago too many short-field you have no chance against them.  Look for Todd Haley to implement plenty of play action to open up some throwing lanes for Big Ben to get him going early; from there, the Steelers must remain two-dimensional on offense if they’re going to have a chance.

The Bears find themselves right in the middle of the pack offensively after the 1st two weeks.  Cutler has been completing just under 68% of his passes and has 5 TD’s and 3 picks in the first two weeks.  He continues to find Marshall in the passing game who’s once again off to a fast start.  In the run game, Forte has been decently effective but his real contribution comes in the passing game.  Forte continues to be one of the best receiving backs in the league; he’s a threat regardless of where he lines up on the field.  Look for Chicago to try to chip away with the ground game and short passing game to open up the down field shots for Cutler.

Defensively, Dick LeBeau and the Steelers have been stout thus far, giving up an average of 318 yards a week.  LeBeau, often regarded as the mastermind behind the zone blitz, will most likely want to get after Cutler early and often as turnovers will be paramount this week for both sides.  This will be the first 3-4 defense the Bears have seen this year so look for the Steelers to throw in a few wrinkles early.

Final thoughts:

  • If Hester has a big day the Steelers are in trouble
  • Martellus Bennett is off to a quick start
  • If the Bears are +2 or higher in turnover margin the Steelers are in trouble
  • Pittsburgh must make Cutler and the offense deal with a long field
  • Big Ben needs a big day if they’re going to win
  • Will the Pittsburgh zone blocking scheme make an appearance this week?
  • Weather around kickoff will be in the low 50’s, 10% chance of rain, and little to no wind.

Prediction:  Bears 23 Steelers 16  

Big Ben and the offense just don’t have the firepower

KC vs. Philly – Thoughts so far …

4 first-half turnovers and it’s still only a 1 possession game as we approach the 4th quarter.  Does this say more about the Philly D or the KC offense?  I’m sure you’re all saying ‘a bit of both’ and I’d have to agree.

Philly has been moving up and down the field, accumulating 16 first downs to 10 for Kansas City (1:30 remaining in the 3rd).  Philly seems to be really sputtering in the red-zone.  Vick and Kelce seem to be on different pages so far.  Additionally, I’ve seen some really poor tackling from both side.

The KC offense seems to struggle the closer they get to the red zone, I’d like to see Smith take more shots downfield but I think we’ve been saying this for years.  Moving forward, I think both of these teams are going to be a force in their respective divisions: KC will rely on a tough defense, controlling the clock, field possession, and a steady dose of Alex Smith and Charles to get the job done.  Philly will lean on their offense to put pressure on the opposing offense, thus allowing their defense to hopefully defend a one-dimensional team that’s playing catch up.

Random thoughts:

  • The KC skill players do an AMAZING job of blocking downfield
  • The Philly offense is struggling in the red-zone
  • Smith continues to play smart, rarely taking ill-advised chances
  • Jamaal Charles is a grown man
  • Andy Reid looks like the Kool Aid Man in all that red… OH YEAHHH!!!

All in all, if Philly finds a way to stop shooting themselves in the foot and the defense continues to progress I think they’re going to make a lot of noise in the NFC this season.  If Kansas City gets a good amount of production from Smith and the running game they’re going to be knocking on the playoff door this year.

Green Bay at Cincinnati

After coming off a dominating performance against the RedSkins the Packers head to beautiful Ohio to take on the Bengals.  Cincinnati  is coming off an offensive-shootout (heh-heh) win against the Steelers this past Monday night.  Cincinnati took awhile to get going against the Steelers but ultimately took over the game in the second half.

For those that didn’t catch the Cincy game on Monday, Andy Dalton got off to a slow start.  Cincy put themselves in numerous 3rd and pass situations, putting the pressure on Dalton to convert.  The Bengal WR’s were able to get separation early but Dalton was a bit off early in the game; many of his passes were sailing high early on.  Dalton would eventually settle down but Cincy’s struggles on 3rd down(7 for 17) will need to be addressed if they’re going to have success against Green Bay’s defense.

Green Bay comes into the game with a very banged up secondary that’s had their fair share of struggles these first two weeks.  In week 1, it was Boldin and Davis; in week 2, it was Garcon (catch-up ball).  Green Bay’s secondary will have to find an answer for Green as he’s one of the best WR’s they’ll see all year.  Green Bay will also need an answer for Jermaine Gresham, who’s proven he’s a big play threat as well.  Look for Dom Capers to throw timely blitzes at Dalton with various looks on the back-end to try to confuse him and get Rodgers a few short fields to work with.

Up front, Green Bay’s run defense has been stout the first few weeks.  They committed to stopping the run vs. the 9ers and gave up chunks to the ‘Skins late but ultimately they’ve been impressive the first two weeks.  Cincinnati boasts one of the leagues more impressive offensive lines so the trench game shapes up to be an interesting one.  In my opinion, Cincinnati must stay two-dimensional on offense if they’re going to hang around given Green Bay’s high octane passing game.

Offensively, everyone knows Green Bay’s game plan.  They’ll look to keep the Bengals honest with Starks coming off a big week vs. the ‘Skins.  If Green Bay establishes an effective run game it could prove to be a long day for the Bengals, look for Peko and Atkins to be very active early in an attempt to take away the Green Bay run game.

On the back-end, Cincy will have their hands full.  Jones, Cobb, Nelson, and Finley are all big play threats.  Hall, Newman, Jones and the safeties will be busy all day, look for Zimmer to throw various coverage looks and timely blitzes at Rodgers to keep him guessing.  Zimmer will be preaching the importance of limiting the big play this week as Green Bay has 12 catches of 20+ yards.

Final thoughts:

  • Special teams will be a big part of this game, field position will be critical
  • Jeremy Ross has been sub-par on his kick returns so far averaging only 13.5 yds a return
  • Tim Masthay is killing the ball on kickoffs
  • Pacman is always a threat on punt returns
  • Green could have a monster day
  • Weather looks to be high 60’s with little to no wind and sunny

Prediction:  Green Bay 30, Cincy 24