Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What Tampa Bay is Getting with Dirk Koetter, If He’s Named The Buccaneers Head Coach

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only team to the play fast and loose with their head coaching position, but the Glazers have certainly made some eyebrow-raising moves since winning the Super Bowl with Jon Gruden thirteen years ago. It began with Gruden, currently ESPN’s color analyst for Monday Night Football, being shown the door after consecutive 9-7 seasons, and there’s been a folly of errors with the Bucs top job, including the questionable dismissal of Lovie Smith earlier this week.

The team’s improvement to 6-10, from 2-14 in Smith’s first season, apparently wasn’t enough, so the core of Gerald McCoy, Jameis Winston, and Mike Evans will get their marching orders from a new leader when mini-camps and OTAs begin later this year. We’ve heard rumors from the ridiculous to the absolutely reasonable, so you can rule out Alabama head coach Nick Saban, but there are other candidates not named Dirk Koetter interviewing for a job they like won’t be offered when it’s all said and done.

Say what you will about the Rooney Rule, I personally understand the spirit behind it, but I don’t feel the mandate for a minority candidate interview fulfills its purpose, nor do I feel its necessary, given how much we’ve evolved since Art Shell was hired in 19891Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928. It’s difficult to put a name to this, and I don’t care to insult the man, but with Koetter being the in-house favorite, we’re going to label Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin as the Rooney Rule candidate.

It isn’t fair to Goodwin, available to interview during the Cardinals’ bye week, but all parties involved can get something out of this. Best case scenario, speaking to supporters of the Rooney Rule, Goodwin blows them away, and gets the job. Under this scenario, Koetter walks, which is something of a wash, because Goodwin will certainly want to be the architect of the offense, in his first steps away from the shadow of Bruce Arians, aka “The Quarterback Whisperer”. Bottom line: This is an interview Goodwin deserves, but many will see it as a farce, and only the ones in the room will ever really have a feel for how legitimate the process is.

Until Cam Newton started to make Riverboat Ron Rivera’s offense tick, the strength of Carolina’s game is what you see when the Panthers don’t have the football. Sean McDermott has been coordinating that defensive unit since 2011. Give him credit for knowing how to utilize Luke Kuchely, and how to disrupt in the trenches, his defense is the reason they sit on the 1-line in the NFC as we enter the playoffs. He’s a candidate, but he’d have his work cut out for him with the 7th-worst scoring defense in the game, and that was in Year 2 of Lovie Smith.2This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.

I could get hit by a bus, but I’ll probably be home for dinner.

Barring a very genuine surprise, the former Arizona State head coach will be promoted by the Tampa Bay brass from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach very soon, but they have to complete the process. Honestly, what does it hurt to talk to viable candidates, even when you’re 99% of the direction you want to go? In Jacksonville, Atlanta, and now Tampa Bay, Dirk Koetter has received a lot of praise for the way he calls an offensive game for whoever was featured on the Jaguars offense from 2007 to 2011, for Matt Ryan, and for the very talented Jameis Winston.

One area of concern remains; there’s a big difference between being the Skipper and the First mate. The Glazer family, Jason Licht, and everyone involved with this rumored decision to put Koetter in charge of the show are willing to make a leap that no has dared to attempt since failing to elevate the Arizona State over six seasons3Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.. Koetter put a few players in the NFL, most notably Terrell Suggs and Zach Miller, but the Sun Devil football program never could conquer the Pac-10 on his watch.

He may be another Norv Turner, a guy who is brilliant until he gets the big whistle and a challenge flag, but I have to commend the Buccaneers commitment to stability for Jameis Winston, even if you might want to denigrate them for pink-slipping Smith after two seasons, and just one with the services of Winston. After all, you usually hear about the head coach/quarterback tandem more than the chemistry between the signal caller and the OC.

You might hear conversations about Brady and Weis, McDaniels, and O’Brien, but none of them roll off the tongue like Brady & Belichick or Belichick & Brady do. Things tend to change over time. Maybe under the guidance of Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith, he understands the head coaching role better now, as well as the NFL game. There’s a precedent for that with the aforementioned Belichick. He didn’t get it done with the Browns, spent more time with Bill Parcells, and quickly took the Patriots to the promised land with his first second chance. I might believe Josh McDaniels was on the verge of that, but he’s got some work to do if he ends up in Nashville.

If any of these jobs were easy or “good”, there probably wouldn’t be vacancies, so they’re all difficult undertakings. Keep in mind, there are no exclusive rights to Koetter’s service, despite the Bucs being his current employer. He’s talking to San Francisco and perhaps Philadelphia, but probably isn’t the favorite to land either of those jobs. The move makes sense, and honestly, Goodwin and McDermott are logical targets, but potentially giving Jameis Winston the same voice for the foreseeable future carries a value that can’t be matched. Sun Devil fans won’t believe they’re watching the same guy when they see the pewter, orange, and red on their screen on Sundays.

   [ + ]

1. Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928.
2. This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.
3. Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.

More Than A Friday: Is Spaceballs Actually Better Than Star Wars?

Um, no. Though, I do think Spaceballs comes with a cast of more likable characters, the hysteria behind the Star Wars franchise holds water.

What is it that they say? Mockery is the most sincere form of flattery, or something like that. To spoof something, there has to be something worthy spoofing, and Star Wars has it. When you’re not comparing or contrasting it against its source material, something you should not be doing anyways, Spaceballs holds up very well on its own as a comedy.

To prepare for my viewing of The Force Awakens, I, like many others, decided to get a refresher on the George Lucas franchise, going with an unconventional, yet logical order of viewing. It’s called Machete Order, and you start with 4 & 5, the first in order of theatrical release. That tells the story of Luke Skywalker, then you revert back to 2 & 3 to see his father’s story, without the concern of spoiling the reveal in Episode 5, since you’ve already watched it. You skip the Phantom Menace altogether, as it’s really unnecessary to the saga, and watch Luke and Anakin Skywalker’s stories come together in Return of the Jedi. It worked for me, and got me to thinking how complex the sci-fi trilogies are versus the simplicity of the spoof. Imagine how difficult it would be to create the prequel backstories for Vespa, Lonestar1Bill Pullman had to mock the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker characters as one role., and Yogurt. Would there have been a time that Yogurt aided the Mogs at war, and had a previous relationship with Barf, a la Yoda and Chewbacca? How was Helmet beckoned to the dark side of the Shwartz? Were Alderaan and Druidia similar places for princesses to grow up? Who knows? Who cares?

While we’re on the subject of immitation, what’s up with the NFL going with the Oregon model, when it comes to outfitting these professional organizations? Did you see what the Rams and Bucs were rocking for the final installment of the Color Rush games this season? I don’t mind a little color-on-color, in the wake of black & white televisions going the way of the dodo, but drowning us in monochrome is not a good application of games without white jerseys. On the field and in the stands, I began to feel the pain of those old scabs being peeled off, remembering that the Rams victory on Thursday night might very well be the last NFL game ever played in St. Louis. If it was, can the diehard Rams fans in Missouri somehow be pleased with what two decades of a team from Southern California brought them?

They got Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, two Super Bowl appearances, and one title; not bad for twenty years of existence in the Gateway City. Lions, Bills, Jaguars, and Carolina fans would gladly take that. The Browns, on the other hand, would take the perpetual 7-9 run that you get from Jeff Fisher, and they would be glad to have it. That begs the question2Okay, it doesn’t beg anything, but it gave me an opportunity to transition., are the expansion Browns the Spaceballs to their original counterparts (the Browns that existed from 1946-1995)?

For those of you familiar with the new Browns, you’d probably liken the new chapter of Browns to some really low budget porn tie-in or a Lifetime original that cuts too many corners in production. You know how it goes, not funny or good, but for some reason, people tune in. This weekend, Cleveland visits the NFL’s answer to the Death Star, as it exists in the form of Century Link field. The Seahawks organization yields its own darkside characters; the once-wholesome Russ Wilson draws some parallels with Anakin/Vader, while Pete Carroll represents Big Poppa Palpatine, and you can find the Colonel Sanders and Major Asshole types on the Sea Chickens defense. How many assholes are on that team anyways?

The problem with the comparison is that the Browns lack heroes, even accidental ones like Han Solo or Lonestar. That’s not to put down the valiant efforts we’ve seen, but as Episode III reminds us, even the greats like Yoda fail from time to time, and sometimes there’s just no hope3No hope, until A New Hope comes along anyways. Perhaps, the 2016 NFL Draft will provide that hope.. Meanwhile, Browns fans are willing to die on that hill, screaming about how Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, and/or Johnny Manziel was supposed to be the chosen one. In reality, the years of 5-11 seasons and no light at the end of the tunnel gives off that vibe of the love of our lives walking away and being left to burn in molten lava by the only friend we’ve ever had.

Maybe I’ve got that all wrong, and it’s Art Modell that left us all for dead, deeming us unworthy as fans of his team. We needed a Sith like Al Lerner or Jimmy Haslam to give us a new beginning, but despite having the Deathstar destroyed twice and the Emperor being betrayed by his established #2, the Republic had a better run than any Browns fan born after 1983. That story of murder, mayhem, betrayal, and redemption are a little heavy for a Friday morning. That’s where it’s nice to instead live in a world of using strawberry to “jam” a signal, Jedi-type weapons coming from Cracker Jack boxes, and Mr. Coffee being conveniently located next to Mr. Radar. At least we can laugh about our owner looking like a giant penis. You have to laugh.That’s the only option to get through a life that has you stuck in purgatory.

The only changes we know are when they go from “Suck” to “Blow”.

   [ + ]

1. Bill Pullman had to mock the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker characters as one role.
2. Okay, it doesn’t beg anything, but it gave me an opportunity to transition.
3. No hope, until A New Hope comes along anyways. Perhaps, the 2016 NFL Draft will provide that hope.

Four Downs – Browns at Bears

The Cleveland Browns take on the Chicago Bears tonight at 8:00pm at Soldier Field in Chicago. Here are four things to look for during this game.

First Down: A Terrelle Pryor sighting?

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor catches a pass during practice at NFL football training camp, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor catches a pass during practice at NFL football training camp, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Will we finally see Terrelle Pryor tonight against the Bears? If we do, it would be a good and bad thing for the Browns.

First, the good. The Browns would finally get to see Pryor against other defensive backs and see how he has progressed. Pryor has made the transition from quarterback to wide receiver. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of players such as Josh Cribbs and Antwaan Randle El. The major difference with these players is that they made the switch coming out of college while Pryor is making his switch mid-NFL career.

Now the bad. Pryor has been battling a nagging hamstring injury throughout camp. When he spoke to reporters this week, he mentioned that he is only about 80-85% healthy. The fact is this, if he suffers another injury during the game tonight, he would likely find himself on the waiver wire. There is another option. Pryor could be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. If Pryor is placed on the PUP list, he would not be eligible to be on the active roster until week seven of the season.

Second Down: Crowell – West – Johnson

Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and Duke Johnson are all competing for the starting running back position. The Browns are looking for one of these players to step up. Crowell has been the best of the backs so far through the preseason, though that is not saying much. Through the first three games, Crowell has carried the ball 17 times for 47 yards, an average of just 2.7. However, he has also been significantly better in pass protection.

West still has the major problem of going east to west instead of north and south. He dances way too much in the backfield, very Trent Richardson-esque.

The other Browns running back, Duke Johnson, has hardly been on the field. He, much like many other Browns’ players, had been battling a hamstring injury throughout training camp. He finally got to participate in last week’s game against Tampa Bay, however it was short lived as he was concussed. He will not play in the preseason finale.

Third Down: Roster Battles

The Browns’ roster has to be cut down from 75 to 53 by 4:00pm EST on Saturday. It will not be easy to trim the roster down to 53. There will be some surprises as it seems there always are. I am no NFL General Manager but I can make a few predictions of some players that will get cut: QB Pat Devlin, RB Shaun Draughn, RB Timothy Flanders, WR Darius Jennings, WR Vince Mayle, WR Rodney Smith, TE Rob Housler, DT Jacobbi McDaniel, DT Dylan Wynn, LB Darius Eubanks just to start.

I am looking forward to seeing of Josh Lenz will make this team and tonight will be an important game for him. He reminds me of a player like Julian Edelman. Another player I believe who is on the bubble but I believe will make this team is Jamie Meder. He has been tearing up offensive lines so far this preseason and this game is really important for him as well. It will be interesting to see what the depth will look like on the defensive line after cutting Phil Taylor.

Fourth Down: Get out of the game healthy

You hate to see any kind of injuries in the preseason, especially in the final game where you are already resting your starters in hopes to prevent any major blows to the team. The last thing you want to see is key reserve players get hurt and miss any significant time.

Four Downs will be a weekly post leading up to each game.

Another one bites the dust

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 25: Defensive tackle Phillip Taylor #98 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after the Cleveland Browns defeats the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Steelers 20-14. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – NOVEMBER 25: Defensive tackle Phillip Taylor #98 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after the Cleveland Browns defeats the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Steelers 20-14. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Another one bites the dust.

Phil Taylor has been cut by the Browns. The 21st selection of the first round in the 2011 NFL Draft was battling for a position on the defensive line. Taylor has been associated with Julio Jones because that is the pick that the Browns gave up to trade down and take Taylor.

Now look at the situation that the Browns now have with the defensive line and you can see why Taylor was expendable.

During the preseason, it appears that the Browns have hit a home run with Danny Shelton. The first round pick out of Washington has been a menace for offensive lines in the preseason. Shelton has been able to already command double teams by the opposing teams which has opened the pass rush for other players.

The Browns have 11 sacks in the first three preseason games. As a barometer, the Browns had four sacks in the first three preseason games last year. Shelton has been a big part of that.

The worry of Shelton before the NFL Draft was that he would only be a two-down player. He has quieted that worry so far. However, it is not only the emergence of Shelton, but the emergence of other players.

The Browns signed Randy Starks in the off-season and he has already paid dividends in the improvement of the run defense.

One of the biggest surprises in camp is fellow rookie Xavier Cooper. Cooper was the third round pick in the draft this year. Much like Shelton, he has been disrupting plays constantly.

Jamie Meder was a long shot to make this team after being undrafted out of Ashland. He was on the practice squad last season and has played well in camp and in the preseason games. He also is a favorite of Head Coach Mike Pettine. 

In the 31-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Meder registered five tackles (three solo), a sack, a tackle for loss and a QB hit in limited playing time. With the Browns also cutting Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Meder has a good shot at making this team.

The Browns have had eight first round picks in the past five years. Only one of which is starting this season, Danny Shelton.

Here is the list:

2011

Phil Taylor – Cut by the Browns today.

2012

Trent Richardson – Traded to Colts for first round pick.

Brandon Weeden – Backup to Tony Romo in Dallas.

2013

Barkevious Mingo – Battling injuries and will be a backup starting the season.

2014

Justin Gilbert – Will be a backup to start the season.

Johnny Manziel – Who knows what will happen here.

2015

Danny Shelton – The only player starting on this list.

Cameron Erving – A backup offensive lineman to start the season.

Despite the production of first round picks, the Browns have a really good defense and a highly-rated offensive line. The age old question for the Browns is if they have enough firepower on the offense to compete this season and help keep the defense off the field.

This is a make it or break it year for Mingo. The biggest jump for NFL players is between their second and third seasons and this is his third. If he does not improve this season, he will end up just like Taylor, Richardson, Weeden and so on and so on.

Monday Night Football, Where 5-8 Doesn't Add Up

Some things just don’t add up. Sure, after Monday night’s contest at Soldier Field, the Bears, Saints, and everyone else in the NFL had played 14 games, but the logic with numbers stops there. In New Orleans and wherever else Saints fans might reside, they watched their 5-8 team on Monday Night Football, with the hopes their beloved Saints would jump the 5-8-1 Panthers for the division lead in the NFC South. Meanwhile, the hometown crowd just hoped Jay Cutler and the 5-8 Bears wouldn’t embarass their city on national television.

Cutler hasn’t been much of a favorite with the home crowd, or any crowd, except maybe the Green Bay crowds, since being traded to the Windy City in 2009. Under Lovie Smith, he was just expected to be better than Rex Grossman or whatever other void has lined up under center for the Bears this century. In other words, he just needed to do enough to let the defense win them ball games. Now, enter offensive-minded Marc Trestman, add Cutler’s favorite weapon from his Denver days, plus a big physical receiver, and the role has changed. Nobody was asking for leadership from the Vanderbilt product, just good quarterback play and an attitude that reflects the opposite of what you might consider a douchebag.

The Bears haven’t gotten that, but they also haven’t had a losing season, since going 7-9 in Cutler’s first year with the team. It’s for that reason and possibly a legitimate fear of not being able to upgrade the position that a decision was made to commit to Cutler for the next seven years after his contract expired at the end of last season. It didn’t take long for what we assume would be buyer’s remorse to kick in with Cutler’s play in 2014, even if mitigated by key injuries in his supporting cast. The Bears wear their 5-8 with shame, while their fans look to the NHL, NBA, and Major League Baseball chapters in town for some sports salvation.

Meanwhile, the Saints are far enough removed from both their World Championship run of 2009 and the scandal that plagued in 2012 that they have both expired as factors for the 2014 Saints. They did, however, still enter their Monday Night game with an identical 5-8 record to the Bears, who are, by every definition of the word, broken. However, hope springs eternal in the Bayou, as there hasn’t been a more perfect year than this to be medicore, or even slow, out of the gate in the NFC South. Entering play on Monday, the division was a collective 17-37 in the Win-Loss Column.

There’s no criteria to flex out of Monday Night football, but if there was, this was the one to kick to the curb. Maybe someone could have sold you on the idea that the Saints weren’t as bad as their sub-500 record might have suggested, but it’s countered by Chicago is probably worse than their 5 wins might insinuate. The Bears might have stolen a few and New Orleans probably gave a few away, but the bottom line is, you are what your record is. Come to think of it, both of these teams were ranked in the bottom 5 of many pertinent defensive categories across the National Football League. You expect teams like this to lose more games than they’ve won, but somehow the Saints still control their own destiny to host a playoff game.

It only took two plays from scrimmage from each team to demonstrate to anyone who has dismissed either participant in Monday’s game that they’ve done so with merit. Cutler’s first pass was ridiculously incomplete, and in a “I should probably tell everyone I was throwing the ball away, only I wasn’t throwing it away” kind of way. His second pass was picked off. The Saints didn’t fare much better. After a nice run to move the chains, Drew Brees hit his tight end, Jimmy Graham for another first down, inside the 10, but didn’t protect the football and the Bears defense had quickly bailed Cutler out for his first mistake of the night.

The two teams stalemated for 15 minutes, but the Saints opened up the scoring in the second quarter, and eventually took us to the fourth quarter with, really, a less than impressive 24-0 lead. The Bears did salvage some points to go through the motions, but ultimately looked exactly as sloppy as you might have expected in a 31-15 defeat. There’s out-of-order, there’s dysfunctional, and then there’s the 2014 Chicago Bears. They host the Detroit Lions next week, and you can expect to see some empty seats. You can also expect a lot of talk about eating eight figures in guaranteed money that Bears ownership might decide to eat just to rid themselves of another six years of the headaches that #6 brings to the table and the locker room.

It’s a different story for Sean Payton‘s team, going forward. As tough as the sledding has been for the Saints, they know that they’re in the playoffs with wins at home against Atlanta, and in Week 17 at Tampa Bay. They won’t even need the win over the Bucs if the Browns beat Carolina and they hold serve against the Falcons, but it gets a little messier with a loss to Atlanta, who also controls their own destiny at 5-9. If the Saints do win their last two games against their division rivals, they would finish 8-8, like a handful of division champions before them, and it’s a non-story.

If the Saints lose in Week 16 or 17, we’d have our second playoff team with a losing regular season record ever, whether it’s a 7-9 team or the 7-8-1 Panthers. On the bright side for the NFC South, at least the Saints know all too well that a team with a losing record isn’t doomed to be one and done in the postseason. In 2010, the 11-5 Saints visited the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks as the top Wild Card team in the NFC, and left the emerald city with a 41-36 defeat, which prematurely began their off-season.

It’s funny how we talk about trends early in the year, as soon as Week 2 or 3 sometimes, and how doomed a 1-2 team might look when stacked against teams of the same record historically. You might think a Week 15 battle of 5-8 would spell doom a little more boldly, and for the Bears it does. In this case, the winner is sitting pretty, and 6-8 equals 14 games just the same, but it just doesn’t add up. I’m not sure it ever will.

OBB Presents Rapid React: Browns 22 Buccaneers 17

<iframe width=”320″ height=”30″ src=”http://mtaf.tv/?powerpress_embed=17886-obb&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>

Orange and Brown Breakdown and Rapid React: RSS (audio)iTunes (audio)StitcherTuneIn

As ugly as it may look sometimes, there’s something about Brian Hoyer throwing the ball back across the field for big chunks of yards that catches opposing secondaries off guard and it isn’t always pretty. Hoyer hit Taylor Gabriel for 34 yards and a score on the second play of that nature on Sunday to clinch the 22-17 victory over Tampa Bay at First Energy Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Not pretty, but acceptable. That’s how the Browns have operated to date in 2014, whether they’re playing down to the level of their competition or not. We had our eyes on four things as the Browns improved to 5-3 at the halfway point in the season. In their third game without Alex Mack, will the offensive line improvise and improve? How will the undersized players in the Cleveland secondar handle the big, physical Tampa Bay receivers? Since there’s been a massive void in the return game this year, can the Browns win the field position game? Finally, Brian Hoyer has been challenged, what do we think at the halfway point?

Offensive Line

It looked bad early and mediocre late, but never good. Nick McDonald is not cutting the mustard in relief of Alex Mack, but there are few other options. You could see him being pushed around by Gerald McCoy and Akeem Spence in the first half, and you can see how ugly it is on the stat sheet anytime you want. A running team has to be better than 1.8 yards per carry.

Bucs’ Physical Receivers

temp141102_Bucs_Browns_WEB_0007--nfl_mezz_1280_1024
I think the actual scoreboard reveals this to be a victory for the Browns. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson both check-in at about 6’5″ 230 pounds, setting up difficult match-ups for sub-six-footers Buster Skrine and Joe Haden, which showed. Evans had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro, hauling in two scoring grabs among his 7 catches for 124 yards on the day. Jackson had 6 catches for 86 yards, but there wasn’t much more available to Mike Glennon than that, which meant something in the end.

Field Position

There was nothing conventional about how the Browns survived the fact they don’t return kickoffs well and they don’t return punts at all, but they were still fine on special teams. They blocked field goals and punts, got turnovers when they needed them, and managed to get Spencer Lanning out of the shadow of his goalposts. The offense did their defensive counterparts few favors, but they were still five points better on the scoreboard in the end.

Brian Hoyer

Didn’t play well, but he played well enough to win. Cost the team six on the first throwback to Ben Tate on a play that should have allowed him to walk in the endzone, but it was over-thrown and his running back had to tip-toe the sidelines just to complete the reception. He threw too many balls to the middle of the field behind his receivers, but still did enough to get them in the endzone twice on the day, and stepped up when it counted. The calls for Manziel aren’t coming with justification, but they might someday soon, and that won’t be a good day for the Browns.

Cleveland Browns Week Seven: The Good, Bad and Ugly

For the Cleveland Browns, last Sunday’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was their worst defeat of the season thus far. Sure, losing to the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers in last minute fashion is heartbreaking, but to be embarrassed by (arguably) the worst team in the NFL when you are favored to win on the road is demoralizing. A lot went wrong this past Sunday in Jacksonville, but it wasn’t all bad. Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from last Sunday’s Browns game.

The Good

GipsonYes there was some good in this game, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. For starters, safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted two Blake Bortles passes and is now tied for the league lead in interceptions with four so far this season. Gipson, a player I admittedly wasn’t as high on as others, is proving himself to be a ball-hawking, centerfield type safety. While he does struggle a bit in run support, quarterbacks this season have just a 46.2 QB Rating when throwing into his coverage. Gipson was not alone in the secondary this week either. Despite having an up and down (with more down than up) rookie season, Justin Gilbert turned in a solid performance on Sunday. Gilbert started the game for the Browns and saw 46 of 74 possible defensive snaps, the most for him since week two. He managed to get a hit on Blake Bortles and, while he only saw three passes come into his coverage, just allowed one completion for three yards. Also, despite allowing a touchdown, Buster Skrine turned in a solid performance. He was targeted 12 times throughout the game, limiting the damage to just 6 catches for 70 yards. He also broke up one pass and intercepted another. Overall, this was probably the best the Browns secondary played all season (Joe Haden, paging Joe Haden).

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Karlos Dansby continued to earn his paycheck. Dansby got to Bortles twice on Sunday, once for a hurry and once for a sack, and managed six stops. Chris Kirksey also played well in limited action (39 snaps), getting a positive grade from Pro Football Focus and leading the team in total tackles on Sunday with nine.

The Bad

The Browns rushing attack only managed 69 total yards on 30 rushing attempts. Ben Tate received the most carries with 16, but only managed 36 rushing yards. Combined, Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West had 28 carries, 62 yards (2.2 yards per carry) and no touchdowns. This was in part due to Jacksonville’s commitment to stop the run and struggles along the offensive line, however there is plenty of blame to heap upon the running backs as they at times missed holes and generally failed to capitalize on what was considered to be a porous run defense in Jacksonville.

While Brian Hoyer was far from good Sunday, his receivers didn’t help matters either. Browns receivers, who had just four dropped passes coming into play Sunday, dropped four on Sunday. Andrew Hawkins, who otherwise had a fairly good day, dropped two passes while Miles Austin and Travis Benjamin each dropped one.

The Ugly

Brian Hoyer, Telvin SmithOffensively, the Browns were a train wreck. For starters, the absence of Alex Mack (out for the season) really showed as the Browns offensive line was generally bullied at the point of attack. Individually, Joe Thomas had a solid game (per usual) and Joel Bitonio wasn’t bad either (getting a barely positive grade from Pro Football Focus), however overall the unit struggled. The right side of the line may as well have been a red carpet to the backfield. Combined Paul McQuistan and Mitchell Schwartz allowed one sack, three QB hits and four QB hurries. The Browns offensive line also failed to consistently run block effectively, which is partly why the ground game suffered.

Despite being under some pressure, Brian Hoyer easily had the worst start of his career. Pressure was present, however only on 14 of his 44 drop backs. Hoyer was just 2/11 for 14 yards and an interception when under pressure. While statistically he hasn’t been great while under pressure all year (58 dropbacks under pressure this season, going just 16/49) Hoyer was obviously struggling more than usual. Even when he wasn’t under pressure (30 of his 44 dropbacks were pressure free) he still only completed 46.7% of his passes. Hoyer was also inaccurate, beyond just going 16/41 on the day. His passes were off target, most notably missing a wide open Jordan Cameron in the end zone from four yards out. He hasn’t been the most accurate passer all year anyway (completing just over 60% of his passes entering play), however Sunday was far and away his worst showing.

Browns special teams, and notably the return game, has been very underwhelming this season. That trend continued Sunday, however if Special Teams was just simply bland that would’ve been fine in hindsight. With the game still in the balance, Jordan Poyer went back to receive a punt with 6:12 left to play in the game. This could’ve/should’ve setup another Brian Hoyer game winning drive. What happened was pretty much the exact opposite. Poyer backed up to receive the ball on the two yard line. This alone should make anybody scratch their heads. With the ball looking to be extremely close to the end zone, why not let it bounce and (more than likely) go into the end zone for a touchback? Why fair catch the ball on the two yard line? Not only does Poyer stupidly call for the fair catch, the ball then bounces off of his facemask and is recovered by the Jaguars. On the very next play the Jags score a touchdown. If you aren’t going to be an electric retuner (Poyer isn’t) at least be a smart one. Poyar was neither.

In Conclusion

While overall the game on Sunday was a nightmare for the Browns, there were a handful of bright spots. Up to this point the Browns have (generally) played fairly well. Looking ahead, the Browns have two winnable games against the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the Browns can make this past Sunday the exception instead of the rule, all will be forgiven. If not, well we all know what that means.

Fantasy Football and the NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan – Ryan is coming off of a season in which he attempted a career-high 651 passes and threw 17 interceptions, also a career-high. He still topped 4500 yards to make it his third consecutive year in which he finished in the top 5 in passing yards. With a horrible defense and a lack of a running game, Dirk Koetter should look to let Ryan continue to air it out, and with a healthy Julio Jones, Ryan should sniff around 4500 yard and 30 touchdowns this season.

Roddy White – White caught only three touchdowns last year, while averaging a career worst 11.3 yards per reception. With a lot teams looking to key in on superstar Julio Jones, I look for him to bounce back this year after receiving a four year, $30 million dollar extension in the off season.

Julio Jones – Jones played in only 5 games last year and he went over 100 yards receiving in three of them – and 99 yards week five against the Jets. If his now twice surgically-repaired foot can hold up, Jones should be a shoe in for top-5 fantasy WR status being the clear-cut featured wideout in an offense that will be playing in a lot of shootouts.

Steven Jackson – Jackson is still listed as the starting, goal-line, and third down back on the Falcons depth chart. He has already missed time in camp with another hamstring, and rookie Devonta Freeman is proving that he is capable of running between the tackles. I would be very weary of selecting the 31 year old, touchdown dependent tailback as he hasn’t proven he is able to remain healthy over the course of a full NFL season anymore and with a youth movement at the position lurking in the shadows.

Devonta Freeman – Although he is still listed as the Falcon’s number 4 running back on the depth chart, Freeman is clearly the most talented pure runner of the group. If and when Steven Jackson misses time, Freeman should be thrust into an early-down role with Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith continuing their roles as COP and passing down backs.

Harry Douglas – Douglas is coming off of a breakout season in which he racked up 85 receptions for 1067 yards and two touchdowns. Now while he was able to amass those numbers playing as and every down WR with Julio Jones on the shelf, there should be plenty of balls to go around in 2014 giving him a bit of a WR3 appeal, but he would become a must-own player is Jones or White were to miss any time.

Levine Toilolo/Bear Pascoe – There is no Tony Gonzalez here. Both of these tight ends are much better blockers than receivers and should offer very little fantasy value. I would recommend looking elsewhere instead of trying to talk yourself into thinking one of these bums can fill Gonzalez’s shoes.

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton – Cam quietly had a real nice year last year after his sophomore slump of a 2012. He completed 61% of his pass attempts and threw 24 touchdowns – he did record career lows in both rushing yards(585) and rushing touchdowns(6) – that being such a big part of Newton’s fantasy appeal there is a bit of concern in that regard. If his surgically-repaired ankle is as good as the Panthers are saying it is Cam should look to make more plays with his feet this year with his go to guy, Steve Smith, off to Baltimore, and Carolina’s glaring lack of offensive weapons outside of Newton.

Kelvin Benjamin – Rookie wideouts rarely make too much of an impact from a fantasy perspective. Benjamin may be an exception though, not the rule. He reportedly has formed as outstanding relationship with Cam Newton and will operate as Carolina’s clear-cut number 1 WR. At 6’ 5” and 240 pounds, and with very little talent behind him at the position, Benjamin should expect to be force fed the football and on that volume alone is in the high-upside WR3 conversation.

Jason Avant/Jerricho Cotchery – I think we all know what these guys are. They are both strictly possession guys that at this point in their careers leave a lot to be desired athletically. Both could flirt with 50 catches since they’ll probably be Cam’s third and fourth reads in an offense that is devoid of any proven star power at the WR position, but neither is on any kind of fantasy radar.
Greg Olsen – Olsen is coming off of a 2013 campaign in which he caught a career-high 73 balls for 816 yards and 6 touchdowns. He will remain Cam Newton’s go-to-guy when he needs to move the sticks in third and intermediate situations, and should also see plenty of red zone targets. He is a low-end TE1.

DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart/Mike Tolbert – The Carolina Panthers have been going at this RBBC for a long time now and have inexplicably been shelling out cash left and right to its underwhelming RB group. Deangelo Williams seems to be the best bet for touches in standard scoring leagues, though I don’t like him as anything more than a RB3/4, and Tolbert should be the guy in TD heavy leagues considering he should see more goal-line chances than any of the other running backs. As far as Jonathan Stewart, I am still not convinced that he is an actual person, either way for me the fact remains that the best running back on this team is playing quarterback.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees – This guy is an absolute machine. Brees has topped 5100 passing yards and 40 touchdowns each of the past three seasons. He is sitting out preseason games because of a mild oblique injury, but more so just because he doesn’t need preseason games; the guy knows what he is doing. Brees promises to put together another sparkling year and remains a slam dunk top-3 fantasy quarterback.

Jimmy Graham – At the start of 2013 Graham was playing at a level unlike any other we have seen. Through the first 5 games he recorded 37 receptions for 593 yards and 6 TD. That is a nice season for most TEs. He sustained an injury, played through it, but was held catchless by Aqib Talib in week 6. Graham failed to find that record setting form he enjoyed in games 1-5 playing with a bad wrist, but still went on to catch 86 balls for 1215 yards and 16 TDs. He remains the clear cut number one TE in fantasy, and in my opinion the number one overall pass-catcher in fantasy, if I really had to I could make a strong case for taking Jimmy Graham number one overall in fantasy drafts.

Marques Colston

Marques Colston – Last season Colston failed to top 1000 receiving yards for the first time since 2008, a season in which he only played 11 games. I look for the veteran wideout to bounce back and have a nice season this being, being in the conversation for 1000-1200 yards and 7-10 touchdowns as teams will try to shut down Jimmy Graham, try being the operative word. Colston is a steal in the seventh round.

Brandin Cooks – This rookie jitterbug of a receiver has been the talk of the town in most fantasy circles, with a new report about Cooks making waves and turning heads at Saints camp surfacing seemingly every day. Although he projects as a prototypical slot receiver – Sean Payton likes to use both Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham in the slot – I don’t foresee a lack of opportunity for Cooks. The Saints have made it clear that the want to get the ball in the dynamic speedster’s hands one way or the other. He could catch around 60-70 balls and handle another 15-25 carries, while also returning a punt or two here and there. Cooks is a WR3 that could bring WR1/2 value to your fantasy team.

Mark Ingram – Ingram has looked like a beast in the preseason so far. He has been working as the starter and has been running with authority, slashing through holes, and punishing defenders as he finishes his runs. Now I’m sure this sound all too familiar for those of you who bought your ticket to the Mark Ingram hype-train last year, and I really cannot blame you for your continued skepticism as Ingram hasn’t proven he has what it takes to shoulder the load as the Saints feature back. Whereas I am probably higher than ever on Ingram’s seasonal outlook, I still couldn’t bring myself to roster him as anything more than a RB4.

Pierre Thomas – Thomas seems to be the forgotten man in New Orleans’s three-headed monster of a rushing attack, with a lot of the preseason hype being reserved for Khiry Robinson (we’ll get to him) and the aforementioned Ingram. Not for me. With the Saints being a pass-first offense and Darren Sproles heading to Philly, I expect Thomas to build on his 77 catch season a year ago. Drew Brees loves throwing to his running backs and Thomas has proven that that is a role he was capable of taking on. He is the back to own in PPR formats, hands down.

Khiry Robinson – Robinson showed pretty well in limited action as a rookie last year, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Robinson’s role in this year’s Saints offense promises to be increased, but I am still unsure of shape it is going to take, with Ingram looking to operate as an early-down option and Thomas handling passing-down and long-yardage duties. My guess would be that he will take bites out of a little of both, though it remains to be seen just how big of bites. There is definitely some late round flier appeal here in deeper leagues, but we will probably just have to wait and see what kind of role the second year back carves out for himself.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Josh McCown – Even though journeyman signal caller lit it up last year to the tune 13 touchdowns and just 1 interception in 8 games spelling the injured Jay Cutler, I down think anyone outside of a 16 team, 2 QB league is seriously considering drafted him. Although much like in Chicago last year McCown has two enormous targets on the outside, the Buc’s woeful offensive line doesn’t project to allow McCown to operate efficiently enough. Coupling that with him no longer being under the wing of 2nd year, quarterback whispering head coach Marc Trestman, puts the 35 year old off of any sensible fantasy radar.

Doug Martin – The Muscle Hamster averaged 23 touches per game in his first to NFL seasons, on his way to a sensational rookie outburst, followed by a lackluster sophomore year that ended abruptly in week 7 with a season-ending shoulder injury. I do not expect Lovie Smith to allow that kind of usage for him to continue. Martin remains one of the true anomalies in fantasy football for me this year, even though rookie Charlie Sims – who projected to be Dougie Fresh’s direct backup – is going to miss the first three months of the season, the Buc’s still plan to rotate backs in behind Martin to keep him fresh. We can still see Martin easily handling 14-16 touches per game in this run-first offense, but that massive volume was what had Martin in the number 2 overall pick conversation last year.

Vincent Jackson – Jackson as really reanimated his career in Tampa Bay. In two seasons with the Buc’s the veteran has compiled a 150-2608-15 line while staying healthy and playing in all 32 games. Given that V-Jax has put of those numbers with the likes of Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon, there is no reason to believe that he cannot do much of the same with Josh McCown. Although I do expect a bit of regression with Jackson now 31 years old and a physical freak of a rookie looking to take targets away and make a name for himself, he should remain a serviceable WR2.

Mike Evans – This number 7 overall pick has all the measurables you want out of a big time NFL wideout, going 6’ 5” 230 pounds, with a wingspan approaching 7 feet. He is another one of these converted basketball players with great size and strength and incredible high-pointing ability. Like almost all of these former hoopers in the NFL, Evans is very raw and is a certainly going to struggle with the language, speed, and route conceptuality at this level early in his career. If he figures it out sooner rather than later Evans can be a WR4 that offers WR2 upside.

Brandon Myers – Myers received a 2 year $4 million contract from the Bucs this past offseason, looking to bolster their TE corps a bit. I am not sure how successful they were in that as the slow, in-line TE promises to be part of a TEBC with pass catching specialist Tim Wright and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins being far more athletic and explosive than the 28 year old.

That’s it, that’s the NFC South and its impact on Fantasy Football. To see the all of the conference Fantasy Football Forecasts, check out my author profile!

Follow me on twitter@ASquiresFF or email me with Fantasy Football questions!

Why Helmet-to-Helmet Rules Exist and Why You Don’t Care

Last week in college football there were at least three players ejected under the NCAA’s new targeting rule, and at least as many helmet-to-helmet penalties flagged

in the NFL. These are important rules for both players and the

sanctioning bodies at both levels of football. The NCAA and NFL are both driven by money, as are the players. The players want to make as much as humanly possible (which I support) and the owners and NCAA want to spend as little as possible (which I support).

Here’s the fundamental problem: both sides cannot win. In their zeal to reduce the amount of concussion-like injuries in the NFL, the league turned itself into what many call the ‘No Fun League.’ Teasing names aside, at the end of the day the change is best for the players, but not the fans. Allow me to expand on this – as fans, we generally only care about two things: wins/losses and fantasy sports. For the most part, fans feel no direct impact on whether a player is injured or concussed, and the only real impact we feel is if a player isn’t playing because of injury or suspension.

Bell: Expanding helmet rule could be NFL’s next step

The owners in the NFL and administrators in the NCAA have a much bigger stake in the game than we do. No, I won’t say the owners have all the liability, but honestly they have most of it. The game cannot be played without the players, but it also cannot be played without the owners who finance the teams we watch or the stadiums we sit in. For the record, I don’t have an extra $2 billion dollars laying around to buy an NFL franchise.

What everything boils down to is the owners want to make money and protect their investments. In fact, their investments are really no different than your retirement account, except for the fact that they’re a lot larger.

Players, on the other hand, want to play and they aren’t interested in protecting themselves, but they should be. One can only play football so long before life kicks in. The average NFL career is less than seven years. What about college football players who never make it to the NFL? What’s their post-football career outlook?

I’m not suggesting players stop playing football, because for some that simply isn’t an option, but consider this: after you play football, what are you going to do with your life? Owners won’t care about you unless you’re suing them, and fans will forget about you six months after you leave school or retire.

Uni Watch: Impact of helmet policy

As fans, we live in the here and now, but owners and NCAA administrators have to think about the long-term effects of how violent football has become. If that fundamentally changes the way football is played, so be it.

What would you think of football if one of your sons, brothers, or husbands had played football only to retire and not remember his name in 10 or 15 years? At that point is his playing career more important than his life?

The easy answer is no, and the rules aren’t going to revert back to where they were 10 years ago. That’s a continuing adjustment for fans. Game officials will rightly err on the side of caution to protect players from themselves.

The simple fact is that fans have no skin in the game, other than maybe a few hundred dollars here or there, while owners are gambling with billions and players are risking their lives. Think about that the next time a player is ejected or fined for helmet-to-helmet contact.

Elite TEAMS win Super Bowls, not elite Quarterbacks

The matchup for Super Bowl XLVII (That’s 47, I had to look up the roman numerals) is now set.  The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers successfully navigated the AFC and NFC respectively, to wind up in New Orleans, Louisiana, where they will decide who will be crowned NFL Champion for 2012-13.

There are some significant storylines which will get a lot of play over the two weeks leading up to the game.  The Harbaugh brothers coaching against one another; and the end of the Ray Lewis era are the two which will get most of the headlines.  There is however another storyline which likely won’t get much coverage; and it has to do with the quarterbacks.

I’m sure we’ll know everything there is to know about Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick by the time the game kicks off on Super Bowl Sunday.  The aspect that won’t get much focus is that neither one of these quarterbacks are elite.  That’s right, one of these two quarterbacks will win a Super Bowl, and neither one of them is elite. 

I have long stood by the premise that you don’t absolutely have to have an elite QB in the NFL to win the Super Bowl.  Does it help to have an elite QB?  Sure it does.  Having an all-world signal-caller running your offense eliminates some major question marks.  It also covers up a lot of deficiencies.  Can you win without an elite quarterback?  Yes you can. 

Teams sell out every year to try and get that guy.  You see it over and over on draft day; some team will reach in the first round to grab a QB who isn’t worth the stretch.  Meanwhile, those same teams could be filling in gaps all over their roster by picking the best players available; and actually building the foundation of a great team.

Look at the list of quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls and many of them are all-pro caliber.  But there are some glaring examples of supreme mediocrity under center.  How about Brad Johnson for the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  Or Trent Dilfer for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.  What about theWashington Redskins?  The Skins won in ’87 behind Doug Williams and ’91 with Mark Rypien.  Let’s not forget Jeff Hostetler for the 1990 New York Giants? 

The aforementioned Bucs, Ravens, Giants, and going back even further to the 1985 Chicago Bears; dismantled the opposition with ferocious defense.  The Bears had Jim McMahon.  He’s a shining example of why you don’t need a star at QB to win it all.  That guy was atrocious.  When you have Walter Payton, and one of the best defenses of all-time, it doesn’t matter.

I’m sure I’ll take flak for this example, but even Kurt Warner can be thrown in to this group.  Many people believe he was elite.  His true identity was a pretty good starting NFL QB, who had an excellent grasp of the Rams offense in 1999; and a ton of playmakers around him.  I’d argue that at least half of the starting QB’s in the league in ’99 would’ve won with that St. Louis Rams team.  As Warner showed with a not so good New York Giants team just a couple season later; on his own, Warner was just another guy.

Any of those guys on an average to below average NFL team, would’ve been downright bad.  Put in the proper situation, with protection, a running game, and good defense; and suddenly they’re Super Bowl Champions.  Both Rypien and Hostetler beat a Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly to get their rings.

John Elway is one of the best QB’s ever to play in the NFL.  For years he carried a pedestrian Denver Broncos team to the Super Bowl, only to lose badly.  It wasn’t until they brought in a stud running back like Terrell Davis, upgraded his receiving corps, and put some semblance of a defense on the field, before he could grab a couple of rings.

Let’s take a look at the two Super Bowl participants.  I’m sure the media will try and sell us that Joe Flacco is on the verge of stardom.  Maybe he is? I can’t say for certain.  I tend to believe that you can tell if a player is elite right away.  Flacco has not shown that, and I don’t believe he will ever be elite.  Is he good?  Sure he is.  He’s an above average, starting NFL quarterback; and that’s all you need. 

How about Colin Kaepernick?  Given how young he is, there is certainly a chance he becomes an all-time great player.  I highly doubt it though.  Now, I have a tendency to dislike QB’s that are heavily reliant upon their legs to make plays.  That’s fine if you can do that, but ultimately in the NFL, you do need to be able to throw the ball.  Kaepernick may never be elite, but he can sling it enough to win a championship.  The Falcons made him do it Sunday.  He only ran for 21 yards.  With time to throw, he made the plays necessary to win.

The reason one of these average QB’s will win a Super Bowl is simple; they are surrounded by great players.  Both the Ravens and 49ers have solid football players on both sides of the ball.  Each of these teams can run the football.  Each of these teams can protect the quarterback.  And each of these teams finish tackles and hit harder than their opponents.

Baltimore and San Francisco went about building their teams in different ways.  The Ravens have sustained success while trying to find the right guy to man the QB position.  They never did reach, or dump half of their draft picks to get their quarterback.  By plugging in quality players all over the field, they’ve remained competitive year in and year out. 

The 49ers had to endure a period of struggle, prior to finding success in the last few seasons.  All the while, they began to add to the core of the team which is now on the precipice of a title.  The Niners did select Alex Smith #1 overall, but he wasn’t really a reach.  He was supposed to be picked that high, he simply didn’t pan out.  By staying the course, and making good draft selections each season, San Fran has grown into a Super Bowl caliber team.

Now, I’m not suggesting that any organization with a star at quarterback should dump them.  Having an all-pro QB puts your team ahead of the curve, and maybe just a few pieces away from being in the Super Bowl.  If you end up with the #1 pick in the draft, you take Andrew Luck like the Indianapolis Colts did this past year.  What I am suggesting, is that if your organization is patient, makes sharp evaluations, and puts talent on the roster; you can win championships without a stud at quarterback. 

Every few years we actually get a surprise MVP of the Super Bowl.  Without a golden boy running the show for either team, this may be one of those years.  It’s refreshing to see that either the Ravens or 49ers will be rewarded for winning as a team, in what is arguably, the ultimate team game.