Tag Archives: Houston Texans

Five Late Round Picks I Got My Eye On

The draft itself is only one part of the draft season storyline.

With no real games to watch, football fans go mad and cling to what they can.  The combine, pro days, contract signings and training camp all keep the draft and its players relevant in the offseason.  It’s how we get through the long winter, or summer, in this case.

Now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete, it’s finally time to hypothesize which players will prove to be great picks for their team.  Early picks are n fun so here’s a list of late round picks whose professional prospects intrigue me for one reason or another:

Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State Buckeyes

Round 3, Pick 22 (85 overall) to the Houston Texans

If it weren’t for J.T. Barrett taking his spot when he was injured, Braxton Miller might not have been drafted at all.  His inaccuracy severely limited his quarterbacking potential in the pros.  Moving to receiver has given his career new life.  Even though he had an underwhelming first season at his new position, there’s still a ton of potential here.  The Texans are awful.  If they’re smart, they’ll find ways to get the ball in Miller’s hands and let him do his thing.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia Bulldogs

Round 4, Pick 14 (112 overall) to the New England Patriots

Had the Patriots had a reliable receiver last year, they might’ve been able to sneak by the Broncos in the AFC title game.  Mitchell (great name, by the way) is a guy who can step in and vie for that role.  He’s a possession receiver with great speed and elusiveness.  That’s what you ordered, correct Mr. Brady?  Mitchell has torn an ACL in the past and Georgia didn’t have a good season last fall.  Those are the only reasons he wasn’t taken much sooner.  Oh, and apparently he’s not just a dumb jock, either.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah Utes

Round 4, Pick 38 (136 overall) to the Denver Broncos

This pick was an absolute steal for the defending Super Bowl champs.  Booker’s stock fell drastically because of a torn meniscus suffered in November.  He says he’s at about 90 percent right now and it sounds like he shouldn’t miss much, if any, of camp.  Booker can catch, he can block, and he’s always running downhill, picking up extra yardage.  He can flourish in Denver if given a real chance to chisel out solid chunks of playing time.

Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes

Round 4, Pick 41 (139 overall) to the Buffalo Bills

With such upside why not see what Cardale can turn into?  It’s not like the Bills know who their quarterback will be in five years.  They’ve tried a lot of different guys lately but none have stuck.  Let Cardale learn from the bench, give him some reps to show what he can do, and maybe he evolves into a somewhat reliable gunslinger.  He’s got two things you can’t teach: superior size (6’5”, 250) and a cannon for an arm.  So, the tools are there, he’s just go to learn how to use them to the best of his ability.  Taking a flyer on Jones was a great move for the Bills.

Keenan Reynolds, RB, Navy Midshipmen

Round 6, Pick 7 (182 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens

That’s right, Kenan Reynolds, the running back now.  The old record-breaking Naval Academy quarterback will be making the sensible transition to running back in the offseason.  This will be quite the experiment.  Reynolds didn’t take any handoffs in college and orchestrating a triple threat attack is a much different task than anything he’ll be asked to do in Baltimore.  Even so, his work ethic is unquestionable and his ability to pick up tough yards is unique.  Nobody’s saying it’ll be easy, but it’s hard to bet against this guy.

Photo Courtesy: Erik Drost / Flickr

Monday Morning Breeze: The Revolution Will Be Caught One-Handed

[(MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: The Breeze will recap CFB’s Alabama-Clemson National Championship game on Tuesday, so this will be Professional Football-heavy, or College-Deflated, depending how you choose to see the glass re: -imisms) It’s near impossible to miss the unfolding humor in a reality that pits America’s Most Traditionally Revered NFL team against the steaming pile of toxic that has been Daniel Snyder’s Washington Trumps, in D.C., for a wild-card playoff game.

When you add the fact that a prominent Packer player is named “Ha Ha Clinton-Dix” while Hillary stumps for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination, I mean, clearly Fate’s got a warped thing for the wickedly absurd. So what could prepare us for an NFL Wild-card weekend that lived up to its name? Where Ace Ventura jokes became re-relevant (“laces out”) making my heart gently weep for Minnesota’s Blair Walsh Project, where it seems everyone wants to be like ODB Jr whether it’s receivers vying for his “Best Ever Catch ‘Til Tomorrow” crown, or Vontaze’s Burfict crime-ing for his “Grossest Cheap Shot” frown, where all he does is Russell Wilson Seattle to wins (or perhaps Faith’s wind), while the Bengals missed Double-Deuce Dalton more than the time it takes to restore sore thumbs, Pack Nation slumbers well ’cause Aaron Rodgers remembered how to kinda throw again, some.

To playoff football let’s succumb. Enter to the beating drum of your heart’s hum and maybe find fun…

NFL PLAYOFFS PORTION OF THE PROGRAM

NFL Playoffs Games of the Week (Wild-card Round) Kansas City Chiefs 30 @ Houston Texans 0 So it was, ho hum, on the very first kickoff of the very first ho hum playoff game KNILE DAVIS EXPLODES THROUGH A MASSIVE HOLE AND ho hum RETURNS IT ONE-HUNDRED AND SIX FREAKING YARDS FOR THE TD. Houston was never really close on the majority of this play or for the rest of the game as Kansas City would never relinquish that lead, with the helpful, steady hand of Alex Smith leading the way and the woefully unsteady hand of Bryan Hoyer (4 picks, yikes!) leaving the Texans exposed like a butterfly filet of poor play.

Jon Gruden quote of the day: “JJ Watt’s battling a bad groin injury.” Look, Watt’s an incredible player, but even he can’t fight a Kansas City O-line AND tangle with one of those “bad groin injury” things at the same time.

Pittsburgh Steelers 18 @ Cincinnati Bengals 16 An enchanting, angry contest. Part 1 of “Insane Catches by Incredible Wideouts,” and Vontaze’s Rage. This story told with the help of Vine’s visuality. We’ll start with the uglier portions of the game and finish with the beauty of Martavis’ gorgeous holy-roller TD catch. In all, it seems Andy Dalton will still get blamed for another 1st round exit, even though he wasn’t playing. We begin with one Vontaze Burfict losing his famously hot-tempered mind, producing a near clone of the ODB Jr. cheap-ass headshot, this time on Antonio Brown…

..but “Oh by the way” Burfict was way more egregious, disgusting, with this cheap headshot on Maxx Williams in a previous game versus the Ravens. Careful, it’s disturbing…

https://vine.co/v/iMWPBbFYELr

…and continuing the ugly parade, Pittsburgh ASSISTANT COACH Mike Munchak, yes, a coach, ripping some of Reggie Nelson’s dreads, rightfully pissing him right off…

…but thank all that’s True and Right in the world for Martavis Bryant’s incredible athleticism, focus, and brilliance all on display on this catch in the 3rd quarter, possibly trumping Beckham’s one-handed stab heard ’round the world…

Seattle Seahawks 10 @ Minnesota Vikings 9 This game will forever be remembered (by me) as “The Blair Walsh Project,” but it also included Part 2 of “Incredible Catches by Amazing Wideouts” and one of the more unlikely turning-point plays in recent history. First off, it looked cold as freezer burn in Minn-eh-sot-ah, -3 degrees for much of the game, with breath bursting from the entire stadium’s mouths like 80,000 proud vapers.

While their defense was its usual stout self, Seattle came out slightly resembling a steaming crater of ineptitude on offense. Then the play below happened, which appears to foreshadow more terror for Wilson and the ‘Hawks offense. Except he’s Macklemore uncommonly composed Russ Wilson, even in the face of certain peril, proving once again on this play why he’s so valuable to Mr. Pete Carroll and the ‘Hawks. For a little forced imagination, think of how 99.9% of the time the QB/center shotgun exchange is botched like this it results in, at best, a sack.

Instead, picture this reality where Wilson recovers smoothly, calmly baseball slides, retrieving the ball and springing back up in one swift motion, rolls away from oncoming defenders, looks downfield and fires a strike to a wide-open Tyler Lockett for the game-changing play. Seattle would go on to a TD and huge momentum swing, injecting life into their moribund offense and turning the tides of what was shaping up to be a certain Viking victory.

Yeah, I believe in momentum, F Nate Silver on this topic, and this was a huge swing in a game largely dictated by field position.

…then Adrian Peterson fumbles on the ensuing Viking possession, and SEA recovers with 10:30 left in the 4th.

…oh by the way Doug Baldwin becomes a bent Beckham-like wizard and makes this incredible one-hander…

…although Chase Coffman proves there should be some kinda permit receivers have to earn to attempt one-handed catch, like a driver’s license, ’cause he tries to be like Doug B. but instead makes an interception so easy…

Trailing Seattle 10-9 very late in the 4th quarter, Kyle Rudolph beat Kam Chancellor in man coverage for a huge first down catch (vindication for Chancellor getting away with a clear hold on Rudolph earlier), putting the Vikings in money-FG position for the certain game-winner. It was a kick that 99.6% of the time would’ve been a Blair Walsh layup 3-pointer. In a kinder, gentler reality Walsh nails the kick, the Vikings win, slay the 2-time Super Bowl Seahawks and move on to the next round.

In this harsher, cruel, coooold reality Walsh shanks the kick so badly left of the uprights, like a boomerang that didn’t go where it was supposed to and never came back, allowing America to brush the 8-inch thick dust off every Scott Norwood and Ace Ventura joke no longer forgotten to mankind. I understand Walsh is a professional, paid a ton of money to make that kick. He has to make that kick. But damn, I just feel bad for him.

Green Bay Packers 35 @ Washington Cousins/Trumps 18
This game started with a bizarre “DeSean Jackson scores but doesn’t” on a catch and run where he crossed the goal line near the pylon but crossed too far and stepped first out of bounds while holding the ball back pre-goal line. Green Bay went on to hold Washington to a field goal and early momentum. However, Green Bay’s offense was dormant for much of the first half until Aaron Rodgers started hooking up hardcore with Davante Adams and James Jones (don’t worry, Olivia Munn) and headed into halftime up 17-11 after giving up a safety.

In the second half, the Packers could not cover Washington’s Jordan Reed, who played incredibly (9 catches, 120 yards) with Kirk Cousins putting the Washingtons up 18-17 with a QB run. As the second half wore on though, Green Bay wrested control away, shutting down Washington’s attack, pounding Washington’s D with a steady diet of Lacy and Starks, and squeezing just enough juice out of A-Rod’s recovering air raid to coast comfortably into the next round. Kirk Cousins and the Washingtons were kinda like Leo here, at the Golden Globes: they won their division, had home-field against the Pack, everyone was lauding them for pulling through the RGIII fiasco.

They’re laughing, they’re having a good time, sitting nearer the top than they’ve been in a while. Meanwhile Rodgers and the Pack were like Lady Gaga: they just hadn’t looked like their typically dangerous self after blazing to a 6-0 start to the season before dropping 4 of their next 5 and finishing 2nd in the NFC North.

But oh, never forget about the beautiful power of Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, as they approach laughing Leo/Washington all the way from the forgotten back, shimmering the entire way as they (purposefully?) knock the Snyder’s over-extended elbow out of the way, smirking a triumphant return to the next round with a future full of promise, leaving Leo and the Snyders meekly grimacing in their wake.

https://vine.co/v/iMApWTgWgvL

THIS WEEK’S SIGN SOMETHING’S ASKEW IN THE WORLD

https://vine.co/v/iMm2OdgxwAK

Selfishly Sprayed Tweets Peak at Past Week

The Colts Maintain Their Pulse in Week 16

The battered and bruised Indianapolis Colts showed enough moxie this past Sunday afternoon to pull off an 18-12 win over the Miami Dolphins in Sun Life Stadium. This victory was anything but pretty, but the way this season has gone for Indianapolis (7-8), they’ll take a win of any kind…beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

This was a game that the Colts were very lucky to win. Miami, now 5-10 on the year, outgained the Colts by nearly a hundred yards offensively, but there were some key moments that completely erased that advantage.

Indianapolis QB Matt Hasselbeck threw a first quarter interception that was negated by a holding call on Dolphins CB Brent Grimes. Later in the quarter, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill tried to hit WR DeVante Parker on a fade route in the corner of the end zone, but Tannehill was picked off by Indianapolis CB Vontae Davis. In the third quarter, Tannehill threw an apparent touchdown pass, only to have it taken off the board when WR Jarvis Landry was called for offensive pass interference on the play.

These three plays alone created an 18-point swing in favor of the Colts, but there was one last prayer they needed answered to pull this one out.

The Dolphins had driven to the Colts’ 5-yard line with under a minute to play, poised to find the end zone and score a likely game-winning touchdown. Instead, Tannehill threw the ball on three straight downs, misfiring each time. The fourth down play never got off the ground, as a mistimed snap caused Ryan Tannehill to be engulfed by the Colts defensive line before having any opportunity to get the ball out of his hands…and that was all she wrote for Miami.

Colts RB Frank Gore essentially carried the offense, rushing for 85 yards on 15 carries, including a nifty 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out of yet another game, and third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst came in and did his job: he played unspectacular but mistake-free football.

Indianapolis’ much-maligned defense held down Miami’s rushing attack, and made enough plays against Tannehill and his receivers to keep the Colts in the game, although they did give up 329 passing yards on the day.

Miami did everything they could to give this one away, but the Colts did capitalize on the Dolphins’ errors, so Indianapolis does deserve some credit for being opportunistic.

Despite the victory, the Colts playoff chances are slim…the Houston Texans are responsible for that (they blew out Tennessee 34-6 on Sunday). Houston continues to hold a one-game lead over the Colts, and it would take a myriad of things to happen for Indianapolis to wiggle into the playoffs now.

This was a win the Colts badly needed. Even if the playoffs are out of reach, they needed this to gain some momentum and confidence. However, there’s a problem with the way the Colts deal with winning games like this.

There has been a pattern this season of head coach Chuck Pagano overreacting to his team’s victories. He gave an inspirational and emotional speech earlier this season after a come-from-behind win over the Titans. Yes, the Tennessee Titans. Pagano repeated this act after Indianapolis picked up the ‘W’ over a Miami team who was eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.

Why is this a problem? It shows everyone how low the bar is set, and honestly, wreaks of desperation. There’s a saying in sports, “act like you’ve been there before.” Pagano acting like the Colts just won the Super Bowl each time they beat an also-ran is weak. He’s trying to convince his team that they accomplished something significant, and perhaps, hoping his boss (Jim Irsay) is fooled by this as well.

It’s not working, Chuck.

Jim Irsay’s goal is for the Colts to win multiple Super Bowls in the “Andrew Luck Era.” Surely he knows that will never happen with a head coach like Chuck Pagano. Pagano is a man of character and strength, and a very good NFL assistant coach…there’s a lot to like about Chuck Pagano. The simple fact is: he’s over his head trying to lead an NFL franchise to the Super Bowl, which is where the Colts want to go and believe they can go.

Yes, Indianapolis came out on top in this game. But, when you put it all in perspective, this victory rings very hollow.

The Sad Decline of the Indianapolis Colts Continues

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the words “Super Bowl” and “Colts” in the same sentence. Looks like it’s going to be a lot longer before we hear it again.

The Houston Texans came into Lucas Oil Stadium and wrested the division lead away from the Colts by virtue of a 16-10 triumph on Sunday afternoon. The Texans (7-7) now hold a one-game lead over Indianapolis, who fell to 6-8 with two games remaining in the regular season.

For the third straight week, the Colts held an early lead before imploding. After trailing 10-0 in the first half, Houston scored 16 consecutive points to win their first ever game in Indianapolis (the Texans were 0-13 coming into this contest). The Colts had an unprecedented 16-game winning streak within the division snapped last week against Jacksonville; now they’ve lost two in a row against the AFC South.

The quarterback matchup in this game was not exactly one for the ages: backup QB Matt Hasselbeck going for Indianapolis, while Houston had to play their third-string signal caller, T.J. Yates. Neither quarterback played particularly well, and when Yates went down with a non-contact knee injury after scrambling late in the second quarter, things looked even worse for the Texans.

Enter Brandon Weeden, the former starting QB in Cleveland, but currently number four on the depth chart in Houston. Weeden was the hero in this one, coming off the bench to go 11-for-18 for 105 yards and a touchdown after Yates’ injury. Most importantly, Houston scored all 16 of their points with Weeden at the helm, as he gave the Texans the shot in the arm they needed after falling behind early 10-0.

The Colts offense was anemic, gaining a paltry 190 yards for the game. QB Matt Hasselbeck had a tough day in more ways than one, going 17-for-30 for only 147 yards, and feeling pressure and taking hits from the Texans’ defense all afternoon. Indianapolis RB Frank Gore ran hard, but had nowhere to go, averaging 2.8 yards on 16 carries.

Aside from Brandon Weeden’s heroics, Houston didn’t exactly light it up either. The Texans’ running game was mostly held in check, other than Alfred Blue’s 41-yard run in the second quarter, which didn’t actually lead to any points for Houston.

The turnover battle was even, but the Colts only lost fumble was a very costly one. Indianapolis was driving late in the fourth quarter, trailing 13-10, when WR Griff Whalen took a short pass from Hasselbeck and coughed it up after a good hit by Houston CB Johnathan Joseph…this effectively ended the Colts’ hopes.

Indianapolis did get the ball back one more time, only to have Matt Hasselbeck throw a deep interception on the first play of the drive when he “misinterpreted the angle” WR Donte Moncrief took on his route.

The last three minutes of this game continued what has been a pattern of late with the Colts – key moment, key mistake(s).

Now that the AFC South lead has vanished and a playoff berth is becoming unlikely, what do we make of the 2015 version of the Indianapolis Colts? It would be easy to blame this disappointing season on injuries, particularly when your star quarterback has missed significant time on the field…but that’s not why this team has underachieved.

It all starts with a flawed roster, a fact that was previously covered up by QB Andrew Luck’s emergence as an NFL star. Even he could not continue to perform at a high level with a struggling offensive line in front of him. Colts GM Ryan Grigson chose not to address the offensive line to any large degree in the offseason, and it’s coming back to haunt the team now. In general, Grigson has just had far too many “misses” in the draft and in free agency, and they’ve led Indianapolis to where they are now.

Another key issue is coaching. Chuck Pagano, the Colts’ head coach, has not proven to be a top-flight coach in either game preparation or motivation. Consistent errors such as penalties and turnovers, especially at crucial times, are the mark of a poorly-coached team. As the season has worn on, the team is also playing with less and less desire and enthusiasm.

What a difference in outlook from Week 1 to now. The Indianapolis Colts were a trendy pick to win the AFC Championship this season, now, they’ll have to finish strong and hope for some help just to barely make the playoffs – in a weak division. Unless something spectacular (and unexpected) happens, some heads are going to roll when this train wreck of a season is over.

Indianapolis Colts Crash and Burn in the Sunshine State

Opportunity was knocking for the Indianapolis Colts as they headed south to play Jacksonville this past Sunday afternoon. The Colts, despite their struggles, were in first place in the AFC South. They came into the game carrying a 16-game winning streak within the division. A victory against the 4-8 Jaguars would go a long way toward securing a playoff berth for The Horseshoe.

With all this at stake, and a “winnable” game in front of them, you would expect a quality team to take advantage of a scenario such as this. Instead, the Colts took a promising start and turned it into an avalanche as they fell 51-16 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The way this game unfolded was eerily similar to that of last week’s debacle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, Indianapolis led 10-6 late in the first half, but were outscored 39-0 the rest of the way. Against the Jaguars, Indianapolis held a 13-3 lead late in the first half when Jags DE Andre Branch stripped QB Matt Hasselbeck of the ball, recovered the ensuing fumble and coasted 49 yards for a touchdown. After falling behind by 10 points, Jacksonville outscored the Colts 48-3 from that point forward.

How bad were the Colts in this contest? Let me count the ways. The Colts allowed the aforementioned fumble return touchdown. They allowed a 73-yard punt return touchdown to the Jaguars’ Rashad Greene. They gave up 154 rushing yards, allowing a gaudy 5.3 yards-per-carry average. QB Blake Bortles threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in a very effective performance.

Some of Indianapolis’ offensive numbers actually looked pretty good (they were only outgained 380-322 yards on the day), but this was a case where the yardage gained did not turn into points on the scoreboard. Every time the Colts drove down the field, they were eventually stopped. Every time Jacksonville drove down the field, they found paydirt.

The bottom line to all this is very simple: good teams make plays in the crucial moments, and find ways to win. The last two weeks, Indianapolis had late first half leads, and when “crunch time” was upon them, they wilted. Badly.

Around midseason, the two most disappointing teams in the NFL were arguably Seattle and Indianapolis, both preseason Super Bowl favorites, both sitting at 4-5. The Seahawks have proven they are a legitimate contender in recent seasons, so what have they done since that 4-5 start? They have gone 4-0, winning the last two in blowout fashion. In short, they’re on a roll.

The Colts, on the other hand, have lost their last two games by identical 35-point margins. This is not what contenders do, honestly, this isn’t even what decent teams do.

The Colts are still in the thick of the race for the AFC South Title after New England defeated Houston on Sunday night. But, does this really mean anything in the big picture?

The Colts are a mess right now, and trending very much in the wrong direction…they’ve basically hit rock bottom these last two weeks when the division race was just starting to heat up. We can talk about the offensive line problems, the fact that QB Matt Hasselbeck is starting to come back down to earth, a defense that can’t get much pressure on the quarterback and is giving up big plays at an alarming rate, and so on.

But, the real concern here has to do with intangibles. The players are not showing much fight or will to win, and the coaching staff seem to be losing their players at a critical point in the season…the players simply aren’t responding to head coach Chuck Pagano on any level right now.

Another “important” game looms next Sunday, when the Houston Texans visit Lucas Oil Stadium. There’s no sugarcoating it, everyone in the Colts organization from management to coaches to players need a serious gut check. Things like heart, resolve and commitment are necessary for a team to make the playoffs and be a contender once they get there. The Indianapolis Colts are showing a disturbing lack of these key ingredients, and they will go nowhere without them.

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: a Postmortem

For the Indianapolis Colts, this past Sunday began with good news…they saw their two closest division rivals, Houston and Jacksonville, go down to defeat. The Texans fell in Buffalo 30-21, while the Jags lost a 42-39 shootout in Tennessee.

The good news continued as their game against the Steelers commenced, when Pittsburgh’s Jacoby Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, giving Indianapolis the ball at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. Then, there was, well…the rest of the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers sliced and diced Indianapolis en route to a 45-10 drubbing on Sunday night. The Colts were able to hang tough for most of the first half, holding a 10-6 lead late in the period. But from that point forward, the Steelers completely dominated play.

Pittsburgh (7-5) will likely need to earn a Wild Card berth to advance to the playoffs, and the way they played in this game, they absolutely looked the part of a playoff team. The Colts (6-6), by virtue of playing in the AFC South, continue to hold the division lead, despite this forgettable performance.

Last season, Pittsburgh handed Indianapolis a resounding defeat as QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns. Big Ben didn’t generate the same kind of numbers in the rematch, but that’s deceptive, to say the least. Roethlisberger was brilliant again, going 24-for-39 for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

Indianapolis played some zone coverage early in the game in an attempt to slow down the Steelers passing game, but it didn’t work. When they went back to man-to-man, you guessed it: that didn’t work either. The Colts had no answer for anything Big Ben and his offense wanted to do on this night.

To add insult to injury, RB DeAngelo Williams was just as effective against the Indianapolis defense, gaining 134 yards on 26 carries. Let’s not forget, Williams is filling in for injured starter Le’Veon Bell…it’s nice to have quality depth, isn’t it?

Did anything go well for the Colts in this contest? Not really. Their offense was almost as inept as their defense, although RB Frank Gore had a solid outing, given that there was very little room to run against a tough Pittsburgh rushing defense.

Indianapolis’ offensive line couldn’t buy any time for QB Matt Hasselbeck to find his receivers, which was key for both teams – Pittsburgh’s defense against the pass has been poor most of this season, so that was the Colts’ best chance to compete in this game, and they could never get untracked due to the poor protection up front.

The Steelers certainly look the part of a playoff contender, but where does this leave the Colts? Actually, this hapless showing doesn’t change much for this team. They are still battling to fend off Houston (and perhaps Jacksonville) for the division crown, still sitting in first place, in fact. So, Indianapolis is still in position to make a run at the playoffs.

The more important question may be: if the Colts do win the division, can they make any noise once they get to the playoffs?

The overall talent on the roster, particularly if QB Andrew Luck returns and plays to his potential, says yes. But upon closer examination, Indianapolis just has too many holes to be a solid Super Bowl contender. The offensive line has been shuffled around all season in the hopes of finding an effective combination, but they have mostly been a liability. One of the team’s big offseason acquisitions, WR Andre Johnson, has been invisible in this offense. The defense has shown promise at times, but injuries and inconsistent play have left them searching for answers as well.

A healthy and effective Andrew Luck can cover up a lot of deficiencies, but his ability to get healthy or play effectively are very much in question right now. It seems that Indianapolis has played with fire for years now, counting on their young quarterback to make everything “right.” What we are seeing now is what happens when the many weaknesses this team has are no longer being disguised by one dynamic player.

The Colts may very well end up winning the AFC South and playing in the postseason. However, unless a lot of things come together for this group at just the right time, they won’t be playing in January for very long.

More Than a Friday: All About Cubs, and Some Other Stuff

There may have been nine other teams eligible for this 2015 post-season, and some great stories behind those teams’ run to get here, but the Chicago Cubs are the story. With the Yankees out of the picture, the St. Louis Cardinals are the only ones left standing with nowhere near three decades, if not all of eternity, between now and their last World Championship. And look, those Cardinals are the next obstacle in the way of the Cubs’ destiny.

It’s a different attitude on the north side of Chicago, this time around. We’re not blessing dugouts, exorcising goats, or doing whatever’s been done in the past to fuel the hysteria that comes with a fan-base that’s gone their entire lives without seeing their beloved baseball team compete for, let alone win, a World Championship. Okay, I concede there’s less than a what I would consider a chunk of Cubbie fans that are old enough to remember the Cubs falling to Detroit in 7 games in 1945, but no one has actually been waiting 107 years for what might happen next.

Give it up for the Ricketts family, for putting the right people in charge of the baseball side, and then getting the hell out of the way until it’s time to open the checkbook. There are only two ways to be a bad owner in sports; one is to meddle, and the other is to be cheap, and this family has done no such thing. They went out and got Theo Epstein to run the show, who in turn, brought in Jed Hoyer to be the General Manager, and eventually Joe Maddon was enlisted to manage the games. This group has done their diligence in serving the fans, by not giving a damn what they think. The first order of business was slamming the door shut on the dream of making Ryne Sandberg the skipper. Sure, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria never brought the Cubs anywhere near the promised land, but Ryno didn’t tear it up in his first go-around in the bigs, with the Phillies, either.

In addition to Sandberg not possessing the championship pedigree, if you think the fans were pissed he wasn’t considered, imagine the outrage when they had to fire him. The whole “we run the Cubs, not the fans” effect trickles down to the roster too. Cubs fans loved Tony Campana, and while this wasn’t exactly trading away Ernie Banks, Theo and Jed were able to ignore the groans heard when Campana was traded to Arizona for a couple of teenagers. Epstein wasn’t hired to dwell on the 103 years prior to his 2011 hire, but to make the next century of Cubs baseball great. He’s well on his way.

No matter how well you’re able to put the past away, if you have any rooting interest in the Cubs, and mine is tertiary, as I married into it, there’s always a little lack of confidence, if not paranoia, due to precedent. For many, the next hard groundball to first is still going through Leon Durham’s legs and the next 50/50 ball between the left fielder and the spectators represents a prelude to doom. Entering the snakepit that was a blacked-out PNC Park on Wednesday night, Maddon’s Cubs had to strike early and prevent the Pirates from reciprocating. Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber answered the call early and often. They were loose and unintimidated by Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, almost like someone forgot to tell them the Cubs hadn’t won a post-season game since 2003. Jake Arrieta took the ball, and despite not having his best stuff on the mound, he made sure Schwarber’s RBI single in the top of the first inning was enough. However, Schwarber put one in the Allegheny River and Fowler was a little more modest, instead going to the right-center field seats with his shot, to make the probably Cy Young Award winner comfortable with a 4-run lead. He was able to pitch out of several jams, thanks to several defensive gems behind him, but there is a sour note about Wednesday.

Aside from Schwarber and Fowler, not much offensive production from the Cubs. The probably Rookie of the Year, Kris Bryant looked so lost at the plate, you might have thought he missed the flight to Western Pennsylvania. You also have to take into account, the perils of playing that Wild Card game of the 1-game sort, you’ve exhausted your Ace and he won’t get two starts in the best-of-five division series. Those are bridges they’ll cross when they encounter them in the Gateway City, as they face that next obstacle in the Cardinals. The time to worry about that is today, but a nice little honeymoom was to be had all day Thursday. To paraphrase (What About) Bob(?) Wiley, Baby Steps towards a World Championship. It started in Pittsburgh, and may not have a happy ending for Bill Murray and the rest of Cubs Nation, but it’s a start.

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And, in other news…

Texas Rangers fans would probably prefer it, if I stop listening to their big games on the radio while driving down I-8 towards San Diego. For the second time in four years, the previous time being Game 6 of the World Series, my ears were privy to an epic Rangers collapse while en route to California for a Browns game. The last time, it was David Freese of the Cardinals, down to his final strike, who prevented the Rangers from closing out their first-ever World Championship with a double off the wall. The Boys of Arlington would get a shot at redemption in Game 7, but would have no luck in the deciding game. On Saturday, they took a 10-6 lead into the 9th, as I pulled into a Yuma gas station to re-fuel and call my wife. By the time, I got back in the car, the Angels led 11-10, and the assumption I’d had minutes earlier, that the Rangers were going to clinch the American League West had disintegrated. Unlike in 2011, the Rangers were able to take care of business the next day, and all was well in North Texas.

No one knows anything in College Football, a truth that reveals itself to the masses watching each week. On paper, Ohio State should have been able to exercise The Karate Kid III clause, and just waited for a worthy a opponent to take their title from them, in Glendale on January 11th, but they have to play the games. It hasn’t been pretty; you could argue they’re getting everyone’s best shot, but you could probably make a better argument that they’re a lot more flat than the team that impressed us in January. Imagine if it was TCU, and not the Buckeyes, that got to take that magical ride through the inaugural College Football Playoff. Would Ohio State be able to maintain its #1 spot with their play in 2015? If Utah and Florida can hold serve, this point is rendered moot, but how little do we know about the Pac-12 and SEC, and how confusing can the entire College Football Playoff picture be entering the month of December?

Toledo could finish the season undefeated, and there’s a strong possibility that they won’t get the “Group of 5” bid to the Access Bowls, given Boise State’s history and a committee’s tendency to forgive September losses. Rockets fans have to be hoping the stock on the win at Arkansas rises throughout SEC play.

The Browns found a new way to lose in San Diego on Sunday, and I was on hand for the agony. Having watched Josh Lambo’s first attempt sail wide, when my celebration was interrupted by news of the laundry on the field, I assumed someone in a brown jersey ran into the Chargers kicker, but the call was off-sides. I didn’t see off-sides, but the guy in the striped shirt on the field had a better vantage point. I went on with my day in Southern California, overhearing plenty of same ol’ Browns conversations. It was like Tuesday or Wednesday that I was retroactively angry at the linesman on Bill Vinovich’s crew, who guessed wrong and cost Cleveland a chance to take the game in overtime. The Lions are in the same boat with the bad luck of letting an official decide a game. It’s really no wonder, none at all, why neither of these teams have played in a Super Bowl or won a title since 1967.

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As a Browns fan, I’ve had faith in both Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer, but now that I’m seeing them play in other jerseys, I almost have to slap myself. Difference being, I liked the potential of Weeden, and soon as he put on the orange helmet, he showed he couldn’t play at a high level. Hoyer, on the other hand, won games for the Browns, giving people like me false hope and dismissing poor play as a slump or fluke. It took seeing that punt-looking interception he threw to former Brown Mike Adams on Thursday night, to convince me of his true colors.

Sunday’s New England-Dallas game will get a lot of the headlines, but I’m going to learn a lot more about the landscape of the NFL from Seahawks-Bengals and Rams-Packers on Sunday. I know the Seahawks and Packers are good, but I still need some convincing on 4-0 Cincinnati and the 2-2 Rams.

I’m offering up a lot of chalk with my Division Series predictions in baseball, but I’m looking forward to a Blue Jays-Royals ALCS, and I’m putting the Cubs and Mets in the NLCS. Regarding those National League teams, once they start winning, they don’t stop.

Basketball and hockey, we’ll get to you next week.

Have a great weekend.

Zone-Blocking Is Back With Kubiak Back in Denver

Peyton Manning doesn’t need to be told, I’m sure. No one wins without help. It’s a fact of life in the National Football League. Few, if any, team in the NFL can win without a quarterback, but no one will ever accuse a team that employs #18 of suffering that dilemma. Manning doesn’t need an all-star ensemble of receivers, though he always seems to be blessed with a corps that draws envy from around the league. Simply put, the guy needs a solid enough running game to keep defenses honest with his arm, which clearly is not what it used to be.

In John Fox, he had a coach that knew how to play to his strengths; in Denver’s case, it was the defense, before and after Manning signed with the Broncos via free agency, after he was released by the Colts in 2012. Casual fans tend to make the mistake of branding a guy as offensive or defensive, based on how one climbs the coaching ladder to the rank of head coach, but the best head coaches are simply coaches of the game, regardless of how long they spend as specialists on one side of the ball or the other. Fox left it to his lieutenants, Mike McCoy and then Adam Gase to engineer an offense to its own strengths, with varied levels of success. For failing to return to the Super Bowl or even the conference championship, Fox was shown the door, and Gase wasn’t far behind.

Enter Gary Kubiak, stage left. Kubiak is a Denver Bronco, through and through. From being drafted by the team late in the 1983 Draft and being John Elway’s understudy until he retired from playing in 1991, to returning to Mike Shanahan’s staff as an assistant in 1995 after winning a Super Bowl as Steve Young’s quarterbacks coach in San Francisco, to returning to the Rockies for the job that always felt like his destiny, no one will ever question Kubiak’s familiarity with the organization. Two years before Shanahan and the Broncos parted ways, Kubiak was named the head coach in Houston, where we improved the team overall, right up until a brutal 2-11 start cost him his job before the end of the 2013 season. A lot of things that worked in Denver ended up not translating to other organizations, but the zone blocking scheme (ZBS) the Broncos ran worked with an undeniable level of success for Kubiak and the Texans.

Even with the stable of weapons that Manning has to catch the ball, their success tends to hang in the balance, based on whether or not they can run the football well. With few exceptions, you need that type of balance to succeed in the NFL. In CJ Anderson, many believe the Broncos have their man to pound the rock and open things up downfield for the likes of Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker. Manning isn’t foreign to the idea of help, nor was his boss in the front office, John Elway, before him. There’s a difference between a quarterback making you very good and quarterback with the right complimentary pieces making you great. For Elway, it was the difference between handing the ball to Sammy Winder for 700 yard seasons and Terrell Davis for 1500+ yard seasons. It was the difference between being AFC Champs and the World Champions.

Now, Manning got into his own way a lot in Indianapolis. So, let’s not smear Edgerrin James in pointing out that Joseph Addai’s efforts as a rookie in 2006 and contribution to the offense in the subsequent post-season played a definite role in getting Manning his only Super Bowl ring to date. James was a fierce competitor and a certain upgrade from the likes of James Mungro and Dominic Rhodes, but he had the unfortunate distinction of watching his former teams play in Super Bowls. Addai split carries with Donald Brown, but still had the lion’s share of the touches on offense, catching 40 passes for 325 yards, to accompany his 1000 yards or so on the ground. In the years after the Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, the support from the running game wasn’t there, and it showed the most in Manning’s final game as a Colt, a 2011 Wildcard Game loss to the Jets.

Rex Ryan’s defense continually forced Manning to check down to the run, and Addai and Rhodes weren’t up to the task. They combined for 93 yards on 17 carries in a game where Manning completed just 18 passes on 26 attempts. It all equaled a 1-point defeat, and with Manning’s neck issues, he never suited up for Indianapolis again. In three seasons in Denver, he’s had a caravan of running backs behind him, most notably Knowshon Moreno, who left for Miami via free agency before the 2014 season. When Moreno was on, 18 didn’t have to throw for 400 yards to keep his offense on the field and his team in the game. When he wasn’t, the whole thing went plop, and it was most notable in a 43-8 Super Bowl loss to Seattle.

Now, even with a lot of the pieces returning to the 53, Denver has a new identity. They have the personnel to do it, but the Kubiak factor cannot be overlooked here. It took him a few years to get everyone to buy-in in Houston, but after inheriting Ron Dayne and Wali Lundy for the first two seasons, he made Steve Slaton a thousand-yard back and ultimately made Arian Foster a household name. After some tough breaks in Texas, Kubiak needed to take a stepping-stone job as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, and 1200 Justin Forsett rushing yards later, he was on Pat Bowlen’s short list to replace Fox in Denver. His first task in Denver, now that Manning confirmed his intention to return, must be to get a new group to buy into zone-blocking.

The sample size is small with Anderson, but it came during gut-check time. As the weather got worse, Anderson got more carries and led the team in most rushing categories, seeing his success play out over the second half of the season. We’ve seen this work with Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and Reuben Droughns in Denver before, and CJ Anderson is more than just a warm body. He’s a legitimate guy to watch, and Gase even ran some zone-blocking in 2014, so the idea isn’t completely new to anyone involved.

Behind Anderson, the Broncos have options. Montee Ball was expected to back-fill the production lost in Moreno’s departure, but injuries and fumbles have factored into him being a disappointment. Speaking of hit-and-miss, Ronnie Hillman remains an enigma. Hillman has had his flashes of brilliance, but it’s tough to judge who exactly he is, since he missed time to injury in 2014. Still, the former regime liked him, and with good reason. More Than A Fan’s own Dan Armelli explains on Denver’s Fansided page, Predominately Orange.

The Broncos will also be returning Ronnie Hillman, who gained the necessary weight in effort to become more durable. In a cruel twist of fate, he ended up missing the same amount of games in 2014 as he did in his first two years combined (8).

Even still, Hillman showed great improvement and proved to be an asset on this team. He can play on any down (though probably not every down), averaging a career high 4.1 yards per carry. Most of his 434 yards on the season came at a point where the Broncos offensive line could not run block worth a lick. Hillman was the perfect back at the time with his ability to bounce runs outside if and when it got messy between the tackles.

He was also able to earn the coaches’ trust on 3rd downs and passing situations. According to Pro Football Reference, Hillman improved on his pass block efficiency (which calculates how efficient a RB is when it comes to limiting sacks, hits, and hurries) from 88.5% in 2013 to 93.8% in 2014. Moreover, Hillman was targeted more in 2014 (34) than in his first two years combined (12, 14).

In another reboot of sorts for the Broncos, former head coach Wade Phillips will return to the charge of Kubiak, after serving as his defensive coordinator for three years in Houston, serving in the same role with Denver. If you’ve experienced the trauma of Phillips being your head coach, try to understand that he’s out of the way enough calling the defense, and he does that well. Jack Del Rio is a big loss for the players, but Phillips will have the unit ready to go without missing a beat once September rolls around. Overall, you expect some improvement from the 2015 Broncos.

They might even be able to afford some of the anticipated regression from Peyton Manning, and still be a better team, thanks to what Kubiak and the ZBS bring to the table.

Attention Browns: Feed the Crow

Fans want the Browns to “Feed the Crow.” With Ben Tate gone, there is more room for both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell to grow and show the coaching staff, the city of Cleveland and the entire NFL just what they can do.

As I wrote last week, I noted that with Josh Gordon coming back, he would help in many more ways than with the ball in his hands. A special talent like that has to be accounted for. That’s why I propose the Browns begin to start truly giving the reigns to Isaiah Crowell and let him run until he pukes.

In the last two games, Isaiah Crowell has played 63% offensive snaps, sporting a 7.73 yards per carry average. This, compared to Terrance West, who has played 26% snaps on offense the last two weeks with a 3,89 YPC. So, it seems the Browns are beginning to trend towards a Crowell takeover. However, in the game against Atlanta, West led with 14 carries and one reception, with Crowell getting twelve carries.

Ben Tate who? Now, I liked Ben Tate as an offseason signing for the Browns and wanted him coming out of Auburn. However, he has been riddled with injuries his entire career and has been ineffective in most games this season—most notably his -9 yards on two carries against the Houston Texans.

To be fair, the running game has been more off than on ever since losing Alex Mack for the season. Also, without Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron on the field, teams have been able to stack the box, taking away the running game and daring Brian Hoyer to defeat them with his inconsistent passing. With Gordon back (and hopefully Cameron soon), the Browns will need to throw less and pound the ground more, with teams loosening their grip of the line of scrimmage.

Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme has been built around a strong ‘X’ receiver (Josh Gordon, Pierre Garcon, Andre Johnson) that opens doors to all other players on offense, namely the running back. In Washington, we saw 6th round pick Alfred Morris reap the benefits and has now made a name for himself, as well as undrafted Arian Foster. Shanahan has been quoted saying he “would love for one of the [Browns running backs] to step it up and separate himself from the others.”

Crow2Well, Kyle, I believe Isaiah has stepped it up. This isn’t to say that Terrance West isn’t a good running back. I believe he is, but Crowell has shown special burst, vision and all around talent that it takes to be a #1 running back in the NFL. He was very impressive against the Falcons—albeit one of the weaker defenses in the NFL. Crowell’s 12 carry 88 yard day was highlighted by his Marshawn Lynch Beastmode-esque 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter, giving Cleveland a 23-14 lead.

With as much as I have stated the return of Josh Gordon will help the running game, the same is true of an effective running game having positive effects for the pass game. Kyle Shanahan seemingly now has a balanced offense.

Let’s go back to Kyle’s time in Washington one more time to illustrate what a balanced Kyle Shanahan offense brings. In 2012, Alfred Morris rushed for 1,613 yards on 335 attempts while Pierre Garcon caught 68 balls for 633 yards in 10 games (foot injury). Then, in 2013, a healthy Pierre Garcon caught 133 passes for 1,346 yards while Morris rushed for 1,275 yards on 276 carries. Pairing Shanahan with a bonafide ‘X’ receiver and a true #1 running back has proven to yield positive results.

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The big difference between Washington and Cleveland is, while Washington was effective on offense in 2013, it was their defense that let them down time and time again. That has not been the case for the 2014 Cleveland Browns.

The Browns have found their #1 running back in a Kyle Shanahan offense that just welcomed back the reigning receiving yard champion. I think it is time for the coaching staff to officially feed the Crow and for us, as Browns fans, to buckle up. It is going to be one hell of a ride the last five games of the season.

The Browns next game will prove to be a difficult one, with the Bills defense playing very solid football, terrorizing opposing offenses.

Feed the Crow. Go Browns.

Houston Texans, You Had a Problem

The Bengals Sunday gave Houston a Texas sized problem. Bengals Coach Lewis was pleased with his team after the 22-13 victory. In the locker room afterward, he praised their toughness repeating his admiration for their ability to “grind it out” on defense in the critical fourth quarter. In the third quarter when a Cincinnati turnover become touchdown brought the Texans to within 3 at 16-13, heart-stopping plays like a goal-line rollback by linebacker Rey Maualuga kept Cincinnati ahead until the end.

Scoring summary

1st qtr.-Cincinnati, Mohamed Sanu 6 Yd. pass from Andy Dalton (Mike Nugent Kick) Drive info: 13 plays, 94 yds. 6:19

2nd qtr. – Cincinnati, A. Blue tackled in end zone by G. Atkins for a Safety

Drive info: 1 plays, -1 yds. 0:05

2nd qtr.-Houston, Randy Bullock 36 Yd. Field Goal

Drive info: 15 plays, 67 yds. 5:04

3rd qtr.-Cincinnati, Jeremy Hill 2 Yd. Run (Mike Nugent Kick)

Drive info: 6 plays, 22 yds. 2:58

3rd qtr.-Houston, Johnathan Joseph 60 Yd. Interception Return (Randy Bullock Kick)

Drive info: 6 plays, 19 yds. 2:57

3rd qtr.-Houston, Randy Bullock 25 Yd. Field Goal

Drive info: 12 plays, 75 yds. 4:26

4th qtr.-Cincinnati, Mike Nugent 31 Yd. Field Goal

Drive info: 17 plays, 71 yds. 8:00

4th qtr.- Cincinnati, Mike Nugent 49 Yd. Field Goal

Drive info: 8 plays, 37 yds. 3:01

Other highlights included Rey Maualuga’s 1st quarter interception of Ryan Mallett in the Cincinnati red zone. Maualuga was also to be instrumental in the execution of a safety in the second quarter. After receiving a handoff from Houston quarterback Mallett running back Alfred Blue ran right from the Texans’ half-yard line. Maualuga was shooting a gap, however, and shoved the Texan center into the back, tripping him and sending him to the ground in the end zone-9-to-0 Bengals.

Maualuga also had a critical stop in last weeks’ game vs the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees. On a short pass near the Bengals goal intended for and caught by Erik Lorig ,Maualuga tackled Lorig short of the end zone and threw him for a loss on the fourth down play, ending the threat. It was a turning moment for the team and a moment also for the linebacker, who had been out for two games with a hamstring injury.

The offensive line kept Houston off Dalton, who suffered no sacks and was a stellar 24 for 35 with one touchdown and one interception. He hooked up with favorite receiver A. J. Green for 12 receptions for 121 yards.

Meanwhile, defensive end J. J. Watt of the Texans finished with seven tackles, a tackle for a loss, a pass defensed and a quarterback hit, a rather under-the-radar performance for the veteran.

The Bengals currently have 10 injured players including 6 on injured reserve and 2 out indefinitely, notably back-up QB A.J. McCarron, who seems out of sorts in his inactive role. The other out indefinitely is Andre Smith, the Bengals 340 pound tackle drafted in the first round in 2009. He has a partially or fully torn tri-cep.

The victory places the Bengals in first place in a tight AFC North Division race ahead of Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They will be advancing toward their third consecutive victory at Tampa Bay this week.