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The Cardinals Were Able To Overcome Self-Destruction

(photo courtesy of David Wallace/Azcentral Sports)

(photo courtesy of David Wallace/Azcentral Sports)

The game in Week 16, the Arizona Cardinals versus the Green Bay Packers was a blowout. The Packers were handled offensively and defensively in that game as they lost 38-8. Many wondered what would happen with the Packers after that game. They looked lost offensively and in the Arizona game, the defensive secondary looked like they were not up to snuff either. As for the Cardinals, they were flying high and it seemed like people had the Arizona and the Panthers on a collision course to meet each other in the NFC Championship. Well, the Packers were able to back into the playoffs after they lost the NFC North division at home against the Vikings. But the Packers were not alone. The Cardinals were blasted at home by the Seattle Seahawks in their last game as well and limped in. There were some that expected the Packers to lose against the Redskins on the road in the Wild Card Round. They looked so bad going into the playoffs right? Well, they found some magic offensively and shut the Redskins down for the Wild Card win. Their prize: going back to the desert to see the Arizona Cardinals. That team that blew their doors off in the regular season was going to see them again. But this time, the game was different.

Green Bay hung in with the Cardinals in this game. They were harassing Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer all game long. And to their credit, they helped him throw two crucial interceptions, with one being an interception in the endzone. Fortunately for Palmer, the Packers never really capitalized on all his mistakes. On those drives where Carson threw interceptions, the Packers were only able to muster seven points, which happened to be the points that put them up 13-7 in the third quarter. Being down and not playing their best game, the Cardinals could have given in. But instead of giving in, the Cardinals dug deep and found a way. Arizona would answer the Packers’ touchdown with ten straight points to take a 17-13 lead with 3:44 left in the game, including a touchdown that was deflected by a Packers defender and landed in the arms of wide receiver Michael Floyd. At that point, all the Cardinals had to do is stop the Packers once or twice and they would win the game. Arizona stopped the Packers on their first drive late in the game, turning them over on downs. And following that, the Cardinals were able to add a field goal to put them up 20-13. But what happened in that drive to get that field goal was interesting. The Cardinals inexplicably threw the football on 2nd and 8, saving time for Green Bay, which was out of timeouts after using their last one on 1st down. With that, the Cardinals saved the Packers about 40 seconds. And they needed every bit of that as well. The Packers were floundering on their last drive and were down to a 4th and 20. The Cardinals inexplicably blitzed and when they did, Aaron Rodgers escaped and found wide receiver Jeff Janis for a 60 yard gain. The play gave Green Bay new life, but it also allowed them to get down the field and in position for a Hail Mary. They botched downing the ball in favor of trying to run another play and that left the Packers with 12 seconds and 41 yards to go after a five yard penalty. And what happened next was magic. On the final play of the game, Aaron Rodgers rolled away from pressure coming at him and heaved a pass into the endzone. And unbelievably, Janis came down with another huge catch, this time in the endzone. The Packers did the unbelievable and tied the game to send it into overtime. The crowd and the Cardinals looked stunned. But could they overcome this and still win?

The Cardinals got the ball after that amazing play and there was some question as to how they would respond. Would they fold under the circumstances of what just happened or would they decide to step up and win this game? Well, the later happened and it happened behind the strength and determination of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran wide receiver out of the University of Pittsburgh had been making play after play all season long. And in this game, he was definitely making it happen. Every time a big catch was needed, you knew where Carson Palmer was going. And in overtime, the first play showed the magic that Palmer and Fitzgerald have. Palmer dropped back on 1st and 10 and was somehow able to avoid the rush from the Packers. He escaped to his right and was running looking down the field when he saw Fitzgerald on the opposite side of the field all alone. From there, he stopped, set his feet and threw a catchable football to Fitzgerald. Larry took that pass and raced through the Packers defense and down to the Packers’ five yard line. And from there, two plays later the Cardinals gave Larry the ball via a shuffle pass that would win the game, 26-20. The team celebrated by surrounding Fitzgerald, as he surely saved them from an early exit. His will to win would not let his team lose. And despite the many mistakes made to finish this game, the Cardinals hung on to win.

Going forward, the Cardinals need to learn from this one. The first thing they may want to do is find a way to get Carson Palmer back to making plays and not the careless ones he made Saturday night. The pressure to win a playoff game is now off Palmer, so that may help him relax a little more next time out. But his mistakes in this one almost cost them their playoff lives. Another thing they have to fix is the way they attack closing teams out. A few things happened there. The first thing is the all-out blitzes the Cardinals sent on Green Bay’s two huge passing plays. They should have known that Rodgers is even more dangerous with less people in coverage and bigger windows. He has enough mobility to escape the pass rush and he showed the Cardinals the mistake they were making twice. They should have made Rodgers have to dink and dunk down the field. And lastly, one of the best cornerbacks in the game made a mistake on something that’s taught all the way back to youth football. They always teach you as a defensive back to go catch the ball at its highest point. And in this situation where Rodgers is heaving the football towards the goal line, Patrick Peterson is supposed to be there to either catch that ball at its highest point or knock it down. Peterson did neither and helped the Packers get the game into overtime.

The game was pure excitement down the stretch and was great reality television for NFL fans across the world. But the real reality is the Cardinals were almost their own destruction down the stretch. And if it was not for the heroics of Larry Fitzgerald, then they could potentially be sitting at home right now wondering what could have been. Instead of that, now they are waiting to see if they have to travel to Charlotte to face the Panthers or stay home to host the Seahawks. Whichever situation presents itself, the Cardinals have to play better if they have any hope of making it to the Super Bowl by beating either one of those teams.

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Are The Green Bay Packers Getting It Going At The Right Time?

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

The Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins were going in opposite directions going into the playoffs. The Packers entered the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. They had been embarrassed on national television against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 38-8. And in the season finale going for the division crown, the Packers lost to the Vikings at home 20-13. The feeling around the Packers were that they had some issues on both sides of the football. Defensively, the Packers were solid up front. But in their secondary, there were some things going on there that were not conducive to good defense. Who can forget how the Cardinals had some fun at their expense in Week 16? But not to be left out, the offense definitely had their share of issues. The running game has been inconsistent all season long for the Packers offense and Eddie Lacy had not been himself. The wide receivers had not been able to get separation so Rodgers could throw them the ball. And the offensive line has been depleted all year. The feeling some in media had was that the hot team, the Washington Redskins, were better than the Packers at this point in the season. And if they were able to come out and jump on the Packers, then the Redskins would be marching on to the next game. But little did we know, the real Packers would come to play.

The Redskins came out and shook up Green Bay at first. The Redskins sacked Rogers in the endzone making it 2-0. And the Redskins took the next possession and drove it all the way down into Packers territory. From there, the Redskins squandered an opportunity while the Packers stood up. The Redskins thought they had scored when DeSean Jackson ran a dig across the field and got free. It appeared Jackson beat the defender to the pylon, but unfortunately Jackson did not stick the ball inside the pylon. That nullified the touchdown and put the ball at one-yard line. From there, the Packers defense made a stand. They stuffed the Redskins three straight times to force a field goal. The result of doing that missed opportunity was the potential four points that was left out there. The Packers had not shown that type of resolve in a few weeks and when put in a tough situation, they responded to the adversity instead of crumbling under the pressure. And as far as the running game, the Redskins had only 84 total rushing yards. That is outstanding rush defense.

But this was not all the Packers defense did. The aforementioned DeSean Jackson is an electrifying player. He can score from any angle on the field and make it look real nice while it’s happening. Against the Packers, it seemed the defense was clued into him and his abilities. And even though tight end Jordan Reed had a great day(9 receptions for 120 yards and 1 touchdown), the Packers were able to hold Jackson to just two receptions for 17 yards, with his longest being that reception that he should have scored on. The Packers communicated with each other and in doing so, helped each other do their jobs and keep Jackson in check. He did test them a few times down the field, but Green Bay was right there to swat the ball away. The young defensive backs of the Green Bay Packers (Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randle) handled the pressure of keeping up with Jackson and the Redskins passing attack quite well. And as a whole, the defense held the duo of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to under 100 yards total. That kind of defense, along with them putting heat on Cousins all game, will make any offense uncomfortable.

The defense played well, but the offense turned a corner on Sunday. It looked like the fun was out of the game in the last few weeks for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He was visibly frustrated at what was going on. He started off rough, but he soon found his rhythm. He would end up getting it going in the passing game to Randall Cobb, James Jones and Davante Adams. The one that got him even more pumped up was the score before halftime. The defense had held the Redskins before the two-minute warning and got the ball back to the offense. And the Packers took it 60 yards for the score before halftime. That throw and that drive let people know that Rodgers was really feeling good and the confidence the offense was missing had started to reappear. Rodgers would only throw for 210 yards, but he was solid and looked like he was at the beginning of the year. And as far as the offensive line, they held up admirably after giving up the sack for a safety early in the game.

The passing game looked good, but the element of the run was a welcomed addition to this game. All season there has been no consistency there. When Lacy and James Starks were present, the team and the offense looked better and was able to win. When Lacy and Starks were not running the ball well, the Packers faced even more challenges to their offense. Sunday, the Packers’ running backs came out and ran the ball hard and tough. Eddie Lacy ran for 63 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown, including a crucial 30 yard run in the second half. And as for James Starks, he ran for 53 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. When these two are running the football with conviction and toughness, the Packers are a tough team to beat. And with the holes the Packers offensive line was opening, it was definitely a sight for sore eyes to see that size of a hole. But what made their performances even better is they did not have to have the big holes to make yardage. There were a few times that Starks and Lacy had to duck their heads and get what they could get. And both realized that and did what they had to do. Eventually, they helped tire out the defense and make Aaron Rodgers even more lethal. When a passer like Rodgers gets a running game, it can keep the defenses guessing all game long. And that is something you don’t want with Rodgers at the helm.

Overall, the Packers looked like a much different team than they did the last few weeks of the year. And because of the polish they showed, they looked like the team that everyone thought they would be all season long. After this 35-18 win, the Packers head back to the desert to play the Arizona Cardinals next weekend. It will be interesting if they can carry the momentum from this win to next week or if it was just a win against the winner of a pretty bad division.

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The Sky Is Falling In Green Bay

(photo courtesy of Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(photo courtesy of Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Green Bay Packers are a team many look to as a contender for the Lombardi Trophy. The offense has arguably the best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers and plenty of weapons at his disposal. And as far as the defense, they have linebacker Clay Matthews and a mixture of veterans and young, talented players. The Packers lost veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the preseason and that made some think their offense would sputter. But after a 6-0 start, there was not many questions about the Packers. The offense was performing beautifully and the defense was causing headaches. That 6-0 start had many thinking the Packers were arguably the best team in the NFL. Well, all that thinking seems like a distant memory. In the last three weeks, the Packers have gone winless. The Broncos, Lions and Panthers took it to Green Bay in consecutive weeks and the Packers now look like a team that has to figure it out again. So what has been the source of the issues the last two weeks with them?

The Packers’ defense has been an issue the last few weeks. But it has not been the front seven that has been the biggest issue. The secondary, led by safety Morgan Burnett, was expected to take advantage of their front seven and the pressure they can create. Well, in the last three weeks, they have been exposed a little. In the game against the Broncos, it seemed like they were going after cornerback Casey Heyward. And every time they went at him, they had great success. Against the Panthers, it seemed like leaks were sprung everywhere and that led to Cam Newton and the Panthers lighting them up in the air. And finally they played better against the Lions, but just could not do enough to silence the Lions and Matt Stafford through the air (Lions scored both touchdowns through the air today). Sam Shields being missing for one of those games is something Packers fans may want to look at, but he was present for two of these games and in the Denver one, it seemed as if he was not there at all. Whatever the case may be with the Packers and their secondary, they must work to resolve it before the season gets away from them.

The Packers have problems defensively, but there are issues offensively as well. The receivers not being able to get separation and beat man coverage is one, but that isn’t the biggest one that is hurting them right now. We all know that Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. And over his career, he has carried the Packers offense plenty of times. But for this offense to be Super Bowl caliber, they must have a running game. This season, Eddie Lacy was expected to be the man and carry that burden. But unfortunately, injuries and ineffective play have plagued him. And with his stumble there, the Packers tried James Starks again as the starter. The results have been less than stellar and today Rodgers had to throw the football 61 times to even keep the Packers in the game. And what is even more puzzling is Rodgers and the Packers only put up 16 points. This high-flying team misses veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson. But what they miss most is a consistent running game. If that is to get on track, then maybe the offensive struggles would not be as bad as they have been. Whether it be Starks or Lacy, one of these young players has to step up and be the man. If not, then everything will continue to be on Rodgers’ shoulders. And it’s not to say Rodgers cannot handle that, but this team has Super Bowl aspirations. That will not happen with Rodgers becoming a gunslinger in the pocket.

With this third loss, the Packers have now lost the lead in the division to the Minnesota Vikings. And heading into next weekend, they are headed up north to see Minnesota. If they play the way they have been playing, they could be in trouble. The Vikings have found themselves and Adrian Peterson is starting to get in a groove. But if they can find a way to get the issues with their secondary and their running game solved, then maybe we get a different team come next Sunday. Whatever the case may be, the Packers have entered a dangerous part of their season and if they are to lose against Minnesota, their season could go in a tailspin. It should be interesting to see what happens next in Green Bay.

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Ranking The NFL’s Five Undefeated Teams

The NFL has had a lot of inconsistencies this season. One week a team can look like a contender and the next week they look like they don’t even belong in the playoffs. But there have been five teams that have escaped unscathed so far despite the ebb and flow of the NFL. Those teams are the Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. All five teams have managed to take care of business despite sometimes being in tough situations. All of these teams will more than likely not go undefeated, but which of them is the stronger team of the undefeated? Let’s take a second to rank each undefeated team. Let’s start with number five.

Photo courtesy of The Denver Post

Photo courtesy of The Denver Post

5) Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are undefeated this season and it has become a usual feeling to see them doing well. Defensively, the Broncos are scary good with two lockdown corners, two incredible pass rushers and a linebacker crew that underrated. Offensively, the Broncos are making a transition to Gary Kubiak’s offense and that has been painful to watch at times. But even with that, they have found a way to make it happen when it matters the most. The Broncos have employed the Orange Crush and some think they will get better as the weeks go on. But there has to be some concern about Peyton Manning and the offense. Manning has made big throws when his team needs them, but he has also made some inexplicable mistakes unbecoming of Manning. And as the season goes on, it gets cold in Denver. And we all know that Peyton is not the best performer when it gets cold. Couple that with the Denver running game still trying to get it figured out and that could mean some issues for the Broncos come playoff time. If indeed this is Peyton’s last season, he will need to pick it up if he wants to end it on a high note. For now, they have to be the last-ranked undefeated team in this grouping.

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer

4) Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have started 5-0 for the first time in their franchise history. Defensively, the Panthers survived the loss of superstar linebacker for three games and did not miss a beat. Defensive back Josh Norman has been spectacular in coverage for them in a contract season. And offensively, Cam Newton is making the plays for his team to win games every single week. They are playing very well on both sides of the ball, but the offensive limitations for the Panthers could hurt them. The loss of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a knee injury before the season was a huge blow to the Panthers offense. With him gone, the only weapon in the passing game that scares teams is tight end Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end has been excellent despite receiving extra attention from defenses. That may be something they can get away with in the regular season. But in the postseason, the Panthers will need someone to step up. Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess has all the tools to step up and be that other target Cam needs, but he has been inconsistent catching the football. Other than the Panthers passing game, all other aspects on offense and defense are solid. It will be interesting to see how they grow throughout the rest of the season.

Photo courtesy of Democrat And Chronicle

Photo courtesy of Democrat And Chronicle

3) Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have come out with some fire this season. Quarterback Andy Dalton is playing like he has something to prove this season. And to go along with the offense, the Bengals are also holding their own defensively. The most impressive moment of the season for them had to be the comeback in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. And the thing that is interesting about this team is they are not dependent on AJ Green to have big games every week. It is hard to find holes in this team with the way they are playing. But like all teams, there is something they are missing. The Bengals have given up the second-most points of the undefeated teams. In the past, it was very hard to make it happen versus Cincinnati. This year teams have been finding a little bit more success. The Bengals defense is talented, but they have to make sure and tighten it up as the season goes on. Offensively, running back Jeremy Hill has been struggling to get going. The Bengals are surviving without him producing a lot, but they will need him to get going in December and January to fulfill their championship aspirations and win that first game for the combo of Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis. Time will tell if they can get these issues resolved. But this team has some work to do.

Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

2) Green Bay Packers

Green Bay has come out this year just as impressive as they ended the season (despite the loss in the NFC Championship game). The defense has been better at all levels, led by linebacker Clay Matthews and his versatile play. And offensively, Aaron Rodgers is again playing like a MVP. Even with the loss of one of his best wide receivers, he still is making it happen and the Packers are still over 27 points per game. But even with all the great things, there are some things they need to work on. One noticeable thing is the offensive line. Too many times, Rodgers has had to be creative and avoid the rush. Some of that can be attributed to the pressure that comes. But other parts of that are linked to protection breakdowns. The Packers may face some issues if they don’t get that taken care of come playoff time even though Rodgers is their quarterback. Another issue offensively is health at the wide receiver position. They lost Jordy Nelson in the preseason for the year and many of their receivers have been dinged up. Rodgers makes it happen still in spite of that, but you need your best wide receivers on the field when the time comes to make a run. But even with these issues, the Packers have been able to look great this season. However, in order to win the title they must work to shore up those weaknesses.

Photo courtesy of The Boston Jam

Photo courtesy of The Boston Jam

1) New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have come out like a team possessed. They have scored the most points of any team in the NFL and they have been very solid defensively in each and every win. Some would say they are primed for a great run at repeating as champions. With Gronk in a groove catching the ball, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman running their short routes to perfection and the rotation of running backs playing well, there is no reason to think this offense will slow down anytime soon. Add to it the fuel that Tom Brady is playing with (Deflategate) and it looks like the defending champs are out to make a statement. But defensively, there lies one issue. The Patriots did not want to pay their starting cornerbacks from last season, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. As a result, Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan have been holding it down at the cornerback spots. Both have been doing their best, but they are not the best set of corners. In the playoffs, expect these two to be attacked and that could harm them. But with the offense they have and the defensive mind in Belichick pulling the strings defensively with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, they can cover them up with the pressure they bring and the disguises they make. Overall, it looks like the championship is theirs to lose.

These ranking could change as time goes on, but the Patriots are handling business. Each one of these teams has a great shot at making the championship game, but there are some things that both have to sure up or learn how to hide well. Whatever team does so will have the best chance at winning the trophy. It shall be interesting to see what the rest of the season holds for these five.

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No Need To Panic In Green Bay Over The Loss Of Jordy Nelson

Jordy Nelson falls to the ground as he suffered a knee injury versus the Pittsburgh Steelers (photo courtesy of Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

Jordy Nelson falls to the ground as he suffered a knee injury versus the Pittsburgh Steelers (photo courtesy of Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The Green Bay Packers were one of the favorites to go the Super Bowl this year. With wide receiver Randall Cobb re-signing with the team this offseason, the team had all their weapons back. Everyone was expecting this offense to be prolific with the Aaron Rodgers pulling the strings. The only thing they had to do is make it through the preseason healthy. The Green Bay Packers were healthy so far until their second preseason game. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a consistent veteran on the team, caught a pass and without anyone touching him, crumbled on the field. At that point, the Packers and their fans had their collective hearts in their throats. They were hoping the injury was not serious, but they knew it could be due to the nature of what happened. Earlier this week, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down without contract and was grabbing his knee. The result for him was a torn ACL. Well, after hoping for the best, the Packers got the same injury news the Panthers got on Benjamin. Nelson has been confirmed to have a torn ACL and will be lost for the season. And just like that, many began to question whether the Packers still had enough in the passing game to get it done. Well, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Losing a top receiver is never easy. And quite honestly, it will be very hard for Green Bay to replace Nelson in the lineup. But the Packers do have one weapon that can cause stress on the defense with his versatility. His name is Randall Cobb. The 5th year wide receiver out of the University of Kentucky had his best year as a pro last season. His 91 catches and 1,287 yards were second to Nelson on the Packers team. Cobb isn’t the offensive deep threat that Nelson is, but he is definitely more versatile. Over his time in Green Bay, he has lined up in a multitude of spots. That ability to line up in the backfield, in the slot and potentially in the Wildcat formation at quarterback can give defenses fits. And with Nelson out, expect Mike McCarthy and crew to get the ball in Cobb’s hands as much as possible. With him involved more, look for more quick strike things like bubble screens and crossing patterns so Cobb can use his skills. And along with the offensive abilities, Cobb can also be a spark in the return game for the Packers. When he first came in the NFL, he was dynamic as a punt and kickoff returner. With those skills, they Packers need to make sure and use them as much as possible.

Cobb will definitely be utilized more and will have some huge numbers this season, but he needs someone else to help him out in the passing game. And that help will more than likely come from a man that the Packers have a tremendous amount of belief in. Second-year wide receiver Devante Adams showed flashes of brilliance last season when given the opportunity. His seven reception, 117 yard game against the Dallas Cowboys in the postseason only furthered the belief the team had in him. Heading into this season, the Packers were sold on the fact that Adams could be the third wide receiver behind Nelson and Cobb. Well, that plan has been altered for now. With Nelson out for the year, Adams now has to step into the starting lineup. He has the size at 6’2” to give defensive backs problems. And at that size with the skills he has with the ball in his hands, he could give defenses fits. Of course the biggest thing is he has to be consistent for the Packers this season. Last year, he was inconsistent when given opportunities. But the Packers could afford his inconsistencies with Nelson and Cobb on the field. This season, he will be looked at to make it happen opposite of Cobb. And with more targets from Rodgers, he will definitely have plenty of opportunities to make it happen. The big question will be can he take advantage of more opportunities. The Packers think that he can.

The Packers still have championship aspirations despite the loss of their best wide receiver. And through drafting well, the team has two weapons that can make it happen in the passing game. You couple these two with the running game of the Packers (led by Eddie Lacy) and the Surgeon, Aaron Rodgers, at quarterback, and the Packers still have a very dangerous offensive team. Nelson will be missed, but the beat goes on in Green Bay. And contrary to popular belief, the Pack still have enough to win a title offensively.

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There Is Another “E” Word That Should Be Associated With Some NFL Quarterbacks

Russell Wilson isn't elite. But that is not a bad thing. (AP Photo courtesy of Ted S. Warren)

Russell Wilson isn’t elite. But that is not a bad thing. (AP Photo courtesy of Ted S. Warren)

Over the years, there have been many quarterbacks that have been showered with the “E” word. The word elite has been used for many quarterbacks after they have a good throw, drive, quarter, half or game. And immediately when that happens, the debate ensues. For example, the most recent debate was on the contract of Russell Wilson. It was talked about how the Seahawks quarterback wanted a bigtime deal that would make him the highest paid quarterback in the NFL. Now he did not get that deal, but the discussion about him leading up to that deal was an interesting one. Some used his record in his first three years as the main argument for him being an elite quarterback that needed to be paid like one. And on the flipside, there were others that pointed to the running game he had with Marshawn Lynch and that ferocious defense as keys to him being able to do what he did. That debate, even though he has signed his contract, still goes on to this day and Russell is not the only quarterback to endure it. But in having this debate and throwing the word elite out so loosely, the word has been diluted over time. Whether you agree on Russell Wilson or some of the other quarterbacks in the NFL is completely up to you. But one thing that is definitely true is elite does not describe every quarterback that is out there in the NFL. Although it falls short of many quarterbacks, there is one word that begins with an e that fits many quarterbacks for their prospective teams.

Russell Wilson fits what Seattle needs out of a quarterback. He is a smart quarterback who makes plays with his feet, arm and his head. But he is also a perfect fit for what Seattle does because he does not take many chances and uses his running game and his defense. If you look at any other quarterback that does what Russell does, you would not call what he does elite, you would call it essential. Russell is a very talented quarterback and he may very well be elite to many, but there is no doubt that he is one of the key factors that is essential to the success of the Seahawks. And without him, the Seahawks would not have made back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. But Russell is not the only quarterback that can fit in the essential category in the NFL. There are many that are essential quarterbacks in the NFL. The systems many quarterbacks play in, along with their talents, make them look as great as they do. But if you were to place some quarterbacks in other systems, there is no guarantees that they would succeed. In fact, some may look like a fish out of water.

For example, take a look at Cam Newton and the system he plays in. They grind it out at all times and they really don’t allow Cam to air it out. And for the system he plays in, Cam is great for them. The Panthers, with that combination of defense and ball control, have been in the playoffs two years in a row. And even though the last playoff appearance was with a subpar record, they still made it there keeping within their identity. But let’s take the play of Cam Newton and put him in an offense that airs it out every week like the Denver Broncos. Even though Cam Newton is talented and can make things happen, there is no guarantees that he would be successful in an offense that he is not used to running. And Cam putting the ball in the air 35-40 times may not best suit his talents. Many quarterbacks like Cam Newton play in systems that fit what they do and are successful at doing what they do. And because of those quarterbacks staying within the system and doing what they do, the team benefits from the success. The system, much like the players that play in it, go hand in hand. And without the essential pieces, the system crafted would not work.

There are only a three quarterbacks in the NFL right now that you can plug in any lineup and expect success. Their names are Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Those three are elite quarterbacks and there is no question there. But outside of these three, there are many quarterbacks that are just essential pieces to the grand scheme of things. There is nothing wrong with being an essential quarterback for a team. It means that you both fit each other and that you are a successful pairing. So instead of throwing the word elite around like every quarterback has that type of ability, you may want to sub that word for essential, as in his ability being essential for that team.

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Reggie Wayne Has A Decision To Make

Reggie Wayne's days in Indy are over. But what is next for him? (photo courtesy of The Indianapolis Star)

Reggie Wayne’s days in Indy are over. But what is next for him? (photo courtesy of The Indianapolis Star)

After he was not re-signed by the Indianapolis Colts, some thought veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne’s career was over. Considered the second-best wide receiver in recent Indianapolis Colts history behind Marvin Harrison, many were surprised the Colts did not keep him around after this season and let him walk into free agency. But sometimes business means more than the legacy of a player that meant a lot to the Colts. And just like Peyton Manning, the Colts had to make the tough decision to let a key player in their franchise’s history go. Despite the quiet free agency buzz around him, Wayne maintained that he would still be interested in playing with a team if the fit was good. There was a lot of doubt as to if someone would even pick him up after watching him struggle while battling through torn triceps. Recently, a list of teams mentioned they were interested in the services of Wayne. The teams mentioned included the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. The choice was there for Reggie to continue his career. The Ravens and Texans have reportedly backed down from their consideration of bringing in Wayne. But that leaves two teams that are in play for his services: the Packers and the Patriots. But if you take a look at both teams, neither would be a good fit for him at all.

The Packers are led offensively by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The veteran quarterback out of the University of California is arguably the best quarterback in the game. For Wayne, aligning with Rodgers would be excellent for his career. But in the scheme of things, how would he even fit that team at that position? This offseason, the Packers made sure to lock up one of their best weapons, Randall Cobb. The dynamic wide receiver signed a four-year, $40 million deal to stay in Green Bay. The deal keeps him paired with Jordy Nelson, who signed a similar deal with the Packers last offseason. After those two receivers, the Packers have a lot of young players. One young player that stood out for them last season was wide receiver Devante Adams. The rookie out of Fresno State only had 38 receptions for 446 yards, but it’s hard to get many catches when you’re playing with two guys that had over 90 receptions themselves. And the thing about Adams is he’s still young and improving. The Packers also have a penchant for drafting and finding good wide receivers. So in signing Wayne, they would be paying him to be a fourth wide receiver. And knowing the amount of money he may command, Wayne should be out of the question for the Pack. Green Bay would be stepping way out of their character if they brought in Wayne and for the veteran wide receiver, he would risk being cut before the season started if he signed there only due to his salary not meeting the potential production.

Tom Brady, like Aaron Rodgers, is in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL. He consistently does great things with the pieces that are handed to him. And last season, he made won the Super Bowl with a wide receiver crew that no one envied and a beast of a tight end in Rob Gronkowski. Heading into this season, the same cast that Brady had last season is set to return. And with the cast, the Patriots are considering bringing in Reggie Wayne. The veteran wide receiver, at this point in his career, does not have the speed he used to after his serious knee injury a couple years ago. He can probably still run good routes, but the separation from defenders on his routes may not be the same as it used to be. With the Patriots, they love to run the short routes that require separation. In Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman, the Patriots have the wide receivers they need to do the things they do. By adding Wayne, they would be adding one more guy that would be doing the same thing the others do. If anything, the Patriots need a guy that can take the top off of defenses. And Wayne has never really been a guy that strikes fear in teams with his speed. It has been his route-running that has been his staple over his entire career. Wayne would actually find himself in a battle to make the roster in New England like he would in Green Bay. And when it comes down to those choices with teams, you already know which way they will go. Teams would rather pay a young player that has upside and a smaller contract than a guy that an older guy that may command more money. Some fans of teams may or may not like the trend to keep cheaper, younger players, but this is what we are given in today’s salary-cap driven NFL.

The best choice for Reggie Wayne is to accept his time has passed. The veteran wide receiver has played his whole career up to this point with the Indianapolis Colts. With his health declining and with his speed declining, Wayne may not have the same affect he had in Indianapolis. Or even worse, he may not get to have that chance due to getting cut before the season on either of these two teams. Athletes are always on the go and in the end it is their decision when they want to give up the game. But it is also up to the players to actually notice the signs that tell you that it is over. Whether players listen or see the signs is up to them, but Wayne is missing the signs that it is time to call it a career if he steps on the field again.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder Matching Enes Kanter’s Contract Offer Is A Gamble

Looks like Enes Kanter is coming back to the Thunder. (photo courtesy of www.basketballinsiders.com)

Looks like Enes Kanter is coming back to the Thunder. (photo courtesy of http://www.basketballinsiders.com)

The Oklahoma City Thunder made a trade at the deadline last season that made them a better team. They got rid of guard Reggie Jackson, who wanted to be a starter, and veteran center Kendrick Perkins, who was vastly overpaid for what he did. And in return, the Thunder ended up with backup point guard DJ Augustin, wing player Kyle Singler and center Enes Kanter. Augustin was a natural fit as a backup for them and Singler was solid as a fill-in for Durant in terms of shooting. But the guy who made the biggest impact for them in this trade was Kanter. He was solid offensively, giving the Thunder what they have never had: solid post scoring. And with Durant missing, Kanter helped ease some of the burden off Westbrook, averaging almost a double-double last season in Oklahoma City. Going into the offseason, Kanter was a restricted free agent and many expected him to come back to the Thunder. The main thing that many wondered was at what price he would make it back to them. Well, that price has been named courtesy of the Portland Trailblazers. The young international big man signed an offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers on Thursday to the tune of four years and $70 million. Oklahoma City said they would match anything he may be offered this offseason to bring him back, but no one imagined he would be offered that amount of money. Yet the feeling is the Thunder will match the offer from Portland for Kanter to retain his services go on a quest to make the playoffs.

Kanter is a solid offensive player and that cannot be understated. But before he showed up in Oklahoma City, remember the time he was in Utah? Kanter and big man Derrick Favors were looked at as the frontcourt of the future for the Jazz. And because of that, the Jazz let go of forward Paul Milsap so both could start side by side. But the results of both playing beside each other was not the best thing. It seemed like both were in the same spots and they just did not mesh well together. The result was an upset Kanter and a player in Favors that still is learning on the job. Kanter was averaging a career-high 13.8 points at the time of the trade to Oklahoma City, but he was not playing as much as he wanted to due to his defensive liabilities. As a result of the liabilities he brought with him on the court, he gave up as many points as he scored in a lot of instances. Even with Favors back there, he could not protect the big man out of Kentucky on the defensive end of the floor. The Jazz eventually started going more with Rudy Gobert more because of his defense and when that happened, the writing was on the wall: Enes was getting ready to be traded to his next team. His unhappiness with Utah resulted in the trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder and it seemed like he was reborn there. He averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds and was a revelation for them. He and Westbrook fit each other perfectly. But he was also just as terrible defensively there as he was in Utah. And as a result, he did not help the Oklahoma City Thunder make the playoffs.

Going forward, Kanter will more than likely be the center for the Oklahoma City Thunder next season. And when he is, he and Ibaka will be the opposites of each other. Ibaka is very strong defensively but is not as strong as Kanter offensively. Kanter has been very nice offensively since he has been in Oklahoma City, but he has been awful defensively. This means that Ibaka will have to be his bodyguard this upcoming season. And fortunate for Kanter, Ibaka is better than Favors that he had in Utah. Ibaka may be able to cover up for him defensively, but he cannot make enough basketballs to go around for Kanter, Durant and Westbrook on the offensive end. When Durant was out, Kanter was the second option on the court. But now that we hopefully get back a healthy Kevin Durant, there may be less and less touches for Kanter there in Oklahoma City. And as we saw in Utah, there was an issue that came about when he felt he was not getting the touches and time he needed. Kanter better hope that new head coach Billy Donovan brings his motion offense to the NBA or he will not get as many touches as he would like. The outlook is good for the Thunder offensively with a true post player that can score now present. But on the defensive end, it will be hard for the Thunder to disguise a defensive liability like Kanter. The result of Kanter staying will mean they will make the playoffs this season, but they will have to camouflage him more as each round goes on.

The Thunder now put themselves in an interesting position this season. They are heading into the last year of Kevin Durant’s deal and they most likely will want to show him that they mean business when it comes to winning. And paying Enes Kanter will help ease them on into the luxury tax more than likely and that will be something that Oklahoma City does not want, but will have to do. Funny things is they had the opportunity to keep James Harden in Oklahoma City when he was coming upon an extension and they balked at the numbers given. But in 2015, it seems like the Thunder will make it happen and match Portland’s offer. You often wonder if they had done the same when Harden was up for a new deal where this team would be at this point. Some say with that type of talent, they would be running the West. But unfortunately, that is not the case and Harden got traded to the Houston Rockets. Maybe they have learned their lesson with this signing. And with the roll of the dice, the Thunder are attempting to right a wrong they had in Oklahoma City. Kanter is being bet on by Thunder management and he better come through for them. If he doesn’t, then then the Thunder wasted their time and money. And more importantly, this decision to sign Kanter could cost them Kevin Durant. He wants to win and he will do whatever it takes. If the Thunder and this move works out and satisfies him, then he will stay. But if not, it could interesting real quick in Oklahoma City.

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The General’s Six Drafting Rules All NFL Teams Should Follow

The draft is coming and there is definitely some interesting things that could happen. (photo courtesy of www.nfl.com)

The draft is coming and there is definitely some interesting things that could happen. (photo courtesy of http://www.nfl.com)

The NFL Draft is nearing with each passing day and many rumors are out there. You hear of rumors of teams not wanting certain players because of character concerns and also because of the fear their abilities will not translate to the professional level. One thing that can be proven over the years is that drafting players to fit a team is an inexact science. The best player on the board could end up being a colossal mistake. And that draft pick you passed over that you did not put much into scouting could end up being the best player many looked over. All in all, there is high stakes at the draft that could make or break teams and also gets some general managers, coaches and scouts fired. There is a lot of trust in what you see. But there is also a lot of trust in some basic principles. Whether teams admit to it or not, there is a fundamental belief as to why they draft players when they do. And those fundamental beliefs have led some organizations to success and others to the depths of despair. Well, what if you were a general manager and you were building an organization? What would be your strategy or rules to go by? Well, since the draft is near, it’s time for the General’s six rules for drafting.

Rule 1: Never Take a Quarterback in the 1st Round

There have been great quarterbacks taken in the first round and they have put up good numbers and some have even won Super Bowls. But you don’t necessarily need a 1st round quarterback to win the championship. For example, in the last six years three 1st round quarterbacks have won title (Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers, Eli Manning with the New York Giants and Joe Flacco with the Ravens). But there were also three quarterbacks that were not drafted in the 1st round that won Super Bowls for their organizations. Drew Brees won the title in 2010 as his New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts. The former 2001 2nd round draft pick of San Diego led one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL that season. Ironically, he left San Diego in free agency after a shoulder injury allowed the Chargers to replace Brees with former 1st round pick Phillip Rivers. The Chargers have won nothing while the Saints have some jewelry from the Drew Brees era. Russell Wilson was another quarterback that was not drafted in the first (3rd round pick of Seattle in the 2012 NFL Draft). The Seattle Seahawks were all ready to go with quarterback Matt Flynn the year they drafted Wilson, but they were wowed by the play of Wilson and decided to go with him as their starter. Good thing they did because he has helped lead them to two Super Bowl appearances in three years and has won one Super Bowl. But last but not least there is Tom Brady. The former University of Michigan quarterback was not even given the mere thought of as being a starting quarterback in the NFL, let alone a star. But with his last championship this past February, the former 2000 6th round pick now has three titles and six championship appearances. So with that, there is evidence that a 1st round quarterback is not needed, only good scouts that can actually understand quarterback play.

Rule 2: Only take a running back in the 1st round if you feel it’s necessary

Some of the same rules apply when it comes to taking a running back in the 1st round. If there is an absolute stud in the 1st round, then by all means take him if he fits your scheme. For example, when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson 7th overall in 2007, he fit seamlessly into what the Vikings wanted to do. And off-field issues aside, he is still one of the most solid running backs in the NFL and he is the focal point of that offense. But if you take a look around the league, teams are starting to go more to the passing game and less with drafting the bellcow running backs in the 1st round. Look at the starters of the past five NFL champions and you will notice that there was only one running back that was drafted in the first round started for their team (Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks). You can get better value for running backs later in the draft than you can in the 1st round. And time after time, many teams continue to prove that while teams like the Cleveland Browns swing and whiff at the supposed “stud running back” in the 1st round, only to be disappointed.

Rule #3: When an edge pass rusher is available, take him as soon as you can

The NFL has turned more and more into a passing league every single year. Gone are the days where you can put hands on wide receivers when they run down the field. It seems like all the rules are titled towards the offensive side of the ball. So, to even that out, you draft a pass rusher. There are some teams that are stout against the run, but they cannot put pressure on quarterbacks and that can cost them. For example, if the Dallas Cowboys would have had an elite pass rusher last season like they potentially have now in Greg Hardy, they would have beaten the Packers in Green Bay because Aaron Rodgers was limited in his mobility. The best thing a team that does not have stud defensive backs can do is draft a pass rusher to put pressure on the quarterback. The better a pass rush your team has, the more your defensive backs can be covered up and the less time quarterbacks have to find them and exploit them. Elite pass rushers are a very highly valued commodity and in the NFL, they can put your team over the top. Look at the Seahawks defense for example. They have the Legion Of Boom in their secondary, but they also have two great pass rushers in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and those two help make the Legion Of Boom look better while giving the quarterback less time. Drafting a pass rusher in the 1st round is not as huge a gamble for your franchise also.

Rule 4: Draft for depth for your defensive lines

The middle of your defense should be solid. With the speed of the NFL, teams should not be able to beat you running sideways. If you have a defense that is getting beat by a East/West runner, then the defense is not very good to begin with. The good defenses over the years like the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have all been stout up front. And consequently, those teams have all been very successful over the last few years. You can never have too much depth up to keep guys as fresh as possible inside. From the 1st round to the 7th round, there are always players that are found that can plug a hole on your defense and fit the scheme with which you decide to run. And with that depth, you can wear down an offensive line and then really let loose when it is winning time. The Seattle Seahawks have been using that formula for the last three seasons and no one seems to have an answer for it at all. They tend to find piece after piece throughout the draft and just plug those guys into their system. And in the NFL, it’s a copycat league and many are beginning to learn the value of having depth along the defensive line.

Rule 5: Get as many offensive weapons as possible offensively

Like was mentioned before, the league has turned into an offensive explosion for the most part. Many teams are putting up numbers each and every week. And if you look around offenses in the NFL, there are many teams that are following the same formula. Even though some teams may have had weapons the previous season, they are going out and drafting more weapons at the same position or another position. The more weapons a team has that complement each other, the more chances you can put defenses in compromising positions. Draft for need, but also draft a little for depth with weapons offensively because things like injuries and suspensions can happen unexpectedly and you have to be prepared as much as possible for that to happen. If you are not prepared, then the lack of depth at a position and the lack of weapons offensively could come back to haunt an offense and be the difference between a playoff spot and an early vacation.

Rule 6: Draft offensive lineman with very athletic backgrounds

This may seem like a dumb statement, but there are actually some lineman in the NFL that are not very athletic. You need lineman that are athletic for things like pulling, blocking guys in space and also making that one last incredible block to free your running back for a touchdown. And example of a team drafting athletic lineman is the San Francisco 49ers.If you look at their offensive tackles, Anthony Davis and Joe Staley, both can move in space and can maul the defensive lineman in front of them. And because of these two and the other pieces that surround them up front, the 49ers were known as one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in football over the last couple of years. Athleticism is a key ingredient for lineman to be able to keep up with the speed of the defensive lineman. And with a good offensive lineman doing their assignment well, the quarterback has time to make plays through the air and the running back will have holes to run through.

These are the General’s six rules for drafting and with these strategies, you would have a stout defensive team with a value pick at running back and quarterback that could cost less but be effective on the field. You would also have a team that has an athletic offensive line and depth on the defensive line that can be the lynchpin to what you need to win a title. Building from the inside out is a key essential in making a team that not only is good but has staying power.

Who’s The MVP?

The season is ending and the time has come to give out the awards. The most prestigious of these awards is the MVP. And this year, the award comes down to two quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Some are yelling that Drew Brees should win it. Some are yelling Aaron Rodgers should. In my opinion, two key statistics make the decision easy. It’s Aaron Rodgers who is the MVP.

The first set of numbers is wins. Drew Brees had 13 wins this year. A lot of people will say that all this was because of Drew Brees. Well, that suggestion isn’t exactly accurate. Brees and the Saints, despite their explosiveness, were a team that could run the football as well. Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas combined for 2013 yards as a whole. Rodgers, on the other hand, sported a 15-1 record, while not having anywhere near the amount of ground support from Ryan Grant and James Starks that Brees had from his foursome(1137 yards). That alone makes Rodgers and his 15-1 record even that more impressive.
Advantage: Rodgers

My next set of numbers is interception-to-turnover ratio. There’s no doubt that Drew Brees had an outstanding year. He eclipsed Dan Marino’s passing yardage record in a season(5476 yards) and he also threw a career-high 46 TD passes. Brees obviously threw the ball a lot to get those numbers. And with throwing a lot, that means interceptions will happen. Brees also had 14 interceptions this year. Let’s compare what Brees did this year to what Rodgers did. Rodgers passed for less yards(4643) and TDs(45) but he also threw only 6 interceptions all year. Looking at Rodgers’ touchdown-to-interception numbers and combining these numbers with the fact that Rodgers didn’t have a running game make his stats look even better.
Advantage: Rodgers.

To me, winning and not hurting your team are the biggest things that lead to making you a valuable piece. Rodgers hurt his team less and he was surgeon-like while he shredded teams on his way to leading the Packers to a 15-1 record. Brees had a great season, but give credit where credit is due. Rodgers was masterful this year.

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