Today we take a peek back at the Denver Broncos’ season. One of a few teams that deployed 3 Quarterbacks in one season, which kind of tells you how successful it was. They do say that every cloud has a silver lining though.
ENTERING THE SEASON
The Denver Broncos entered the season with a new signal caller after trading for former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco from Baltimore.
GM John Elway hoped he had finally found a viable successor to Peyton Manning after failures (to at least some extent) with Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Case Keenum since the future Hall of Famer’s retirement in 2016.
Vic Fangio came over from the Bears as a first time Head Coach at the age of 61, hoping to capitalise on a defence boasting the abilities of Von Miller, Chris Harris and Bradley Chubb among others.
However, they were probably always an outsider for a playoff position, battling with phenom Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs in the division.
DURING THE SEASON
Denver, perhaps understandably considering the changes undergone in the offseason, started slowly, losing their first 4 games.
With an offence struggling to get out of second gear, added to a defence strangely passive in the early going, indeed exalted pass rush duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb failed to record a sack between them in the first 3 games of the season. With Chubb tearing his ACL in the week 4 loss to the Jaguars, as the season threatened to fall out of control.
However, the Broncos certainly showed some fight, as they managed to end the season with a respectable 7-9 record, good enough for 2nd place in the division.
On the offensive side of the ball Joe Flacco struggled to recapture his former magic, and when he went down to a neck injury after week 8, Brandon Allen was thrust into a starting role that he probably wasn’t ready for.
When Drew Lock returned from his own injury in week 13 however, he promised at a better future to come in Mile High. He went 4-1 to finish the season on a high note. WR Courtland Sutton also took a big step forward in his play, finishing with over 1,100 yards despite the turmoil at the QB position.
Denver are in a more settled position this year than in recent years, with the franchise’s confidence in Drew Lock, meaning Flacco will likely be moved on, or at least brought back on a reduced salary as a back up. That should mean they are able to be active in free agency, projected to have around $60million in cap space available.
Although some of that money will almost certainly be tied up in bringing back key personnel like Justin Simmons. It’s likely too that Denver look to invest in the lines, with most of the defensive linemen up for free agency, as well as improving the offensive line.
It feels like a big offseason coming up for John Elway as he tries to catch up with Super Bowl winners, the Kansas City Chiefs. However, with a few well-judged forays into free agency and a strong draft, there is no reason why they can’t improve next season and be a factor in the playoff chase for 2020.
Today’s “Season in Review” focuses on the Chicago Bears. The team a double doink away from a deep playoff run last year, expectations where high in the windy city. Could Trubisky take another step forward or were the team going to succumb to the high price paid for Khalil Mack?
Entering the Season
Coming off a 12-4 season and and NFC North divisional crown, things were looking rosy for the Bears coming into the NFL’s 100th season.
The question was, could the Bears defense, led by Khalil Mack, reach the dizzying heights that they did in 2018 without Vic Fangio running the show as defensive coordinator. Chuck Pagano was hired to oversee the unit, which on the face of it, wasn’t a revolutionary hire but also could be seen as a safe pair of hands.
On the other side of the ball, questions loomed around quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky and whether he could take the leap in Matt Nagy’s offense in year two. Bears fans needed to start feeling like they were winning games because of Trubisky, not in spite of him.
The Bears didn’t do much business in terms of incomings and outgoings during the offseason.
The team swapped safeties with the Packers – switching Adrian Amos for HaHA Clinton-Dix – Elsewhere in the defensive backfield, slot corner Bryce Callaghan was deemed too expensive to resign and went to Denver, and GM Ryan Pace brought in Buster Skrine in his stead. Speaking on backfields, the offensive backfield also underwent some renovations, with Jordan Howard traded to the Eagles for a 6th round pick and in came Mike Davis from Seattle and David Montgomery with Chicago’s third round pick on the 2019 draft.
That brings us nicely on to the draft and for the Bears, it was a pretty quiet affair.
Due to the monster trade for Khalil Mack, Montgomery was the Bears first selection of the draft and certainly the headline of their haul.
Pace said before the draft that the team didn’t have “pressing, huge needs” and could “select the best players”.
In that case, I guess he thought the Bears were primed for another divisional title and playoff run…
During the Season
Let me tell you, it did not go down like that.
Opening night, the NFL was full of celebrations, the Bears and the Packers squared off, a meeting of two of the oldest rivals in sport… Time for an offensive masterpiece between two QB’s at the top of their games… Right?
The Packers actually ran out 10-3 winners in what was a defensive battle, where neither team could get the running game going and to be honest, neither team could keep their QB on his feet.
After that came a season of streaks for the Bears, both good and bad. Three wins over the Broncos, Redskins and Vikings meant that the Bears travelled to London to kick off the international series in a healthy 3-1 position. One aspect of the team that wasn’t healthy, however, was the QB. Mitchell Trubisky had suffered a shoulder injury in the win against Minnesota – Although to be honest, he was struggling to ignite the offense before then anway, having thrown only 3 TD’s (all of which came against Washington) to 2 picks and only managing 5.6 yards per attempt.
Anyway, on to The Khalil Mack Bowl at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – a stadium tasting its first NFL action.
The Raiders jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead on the back of rookie running back, Josh Jacobs. The Bears answered back with 3 unanswered scores to make things very interesting indeed but eventually succumbed to another Jacobs touchdown that handed Chicago its first loss since week 1.
Mitchell Trubisky returned in week 7 but the victories did not. Three more losses followed after the bye and the Bears, sat at 3-5 at this point, were at the stage where it really was put up or shut up.
The defense, as the year before, wasn’t the issue – They were holding up their end of the bargain, the offense on the other hand were not.
A win against Detroit and a loss against the Rams didn’t do much to aid the cause, in effect it was just two more weeks that ticked by but the situation remained the same. 4-6, surely there was no hope?
However, 3 wins followed and hope was alive, the Packers were out in front by now but the Vikings were catchable – Plus, amazingly, it was still in the Bear’s hands as they had to play both Green Bay and Minnesota in the final three weeks of the season – 3 wins were needed but this was a tough ask because the meat in the sandwich of these divisional games was Kansas City.
Unfortunately for Bears fans, it wasn’t to be – the only win that was had was on the final day against Minnesota.
Too little, too late. 8-8 and a bit of a damp squib, really.
Do the Chicago Bears need a new quarterback?
Yes, Chase Daniel is out of contract.
Wait… What did you think I meant?
Of course I wasn’t suggesting that the Bears admit defeat on Trubisky – The traded up to get him with the second overall pick. He’s only 3 years into his career too.
Or was I?
In all seriousness, the Bears need to get someone in to put pressure on Trubisky, at least. Year 4 really is make or break for Trubisky’s long term NFL career, in my opinion – If he doesn’t perform to a high level in 2020, the Bears probably won’t pick up his 5th year option and he’ll be done in the Windy City – In the event that happens, the Bears will want a replacement to be in the building already.
In my most recent mock draft for the Full 10 Yards, I gave them a QB in round 2, you can see whom that was here.
That leads me on to the Bears capital both draft and financial… It ain’t good. Not a position you want to be in when you’ve just gone 8-8 and need a jump start in a very tough division.
Chicago probably needs to do some roster surgery, currently sitting with a smidge over $5m in cap, which ranks 28th in the NFL (according to Overthecap.com).
HaHa Clinton-Dix, Danny Trevethan, Nick Kwiatkoski and Aaron Lynch are all veteran contributors who are set to hit the open market – I can see these guys having to find new homes this spring, along with the aforementioned Chase Daniel. This will free up around $17m and give the Bears some flexibility.
This would mean that the shopping list will have the following positions; QB, linebacker, pass rush depth and tight end.
Yes, let’s talk about tight end for a second… The Bears got absolutely no production from the position last year and since overpaying for Trey Burton because he threw a Superbowl TD, two years ago. Burton caught 14 balls for 84 yards in 8 games in 2019 and in 2018, he amassed 569 yards (ranked 13th amongst tight ends) on 54 catches, 6 of which were touchdowns.
That isn’t a lot of bang for their buck at an average of $8m per year! $18m of his 4 year, $32m deal is guaranteed – the highest guaranteed money for tight ends in the league, as things stand.
That is not great, boys and girls.
The next problem for the Bears is that when it comes to the draft and acquiring the young talent to fill these gaps is that they simply do not possess the requisite capital which gives them a good chance of doing so – Ryan Pace needs to hit a few home runs in April.
Still paying back the Raiders for the Mack trade the Bears have two seconds, two fourths, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh round pick. That is hard.
So to sum up the offseason outlook for Chicago is, well, I wouldn’t say it’s bleak but man, they have some work to do.
Pace has to do some off-field surgery and keep his roster decent via clever drafting and free agent moves without premium capital with which to deal. Nagy also has to get Mitchell Trubisky and this offense firing – What he was hired to do – And turn the Bears into a force in a very, very, tough division.
Today it’s time to turn our attention to the AFC East. More specifically, the Buffalo Bills. After coming close to winning a playoff game for the first time in what seems like centuries, we assess why they fell short yet again, but will come back even stronger in 2020.
ENTERING THE SEASON
Languishing in the postseason wilderness since 1999, the Bills finally returned to the playoffs in 2017, only to revert to type with a 6-10 campaign in 2018. So, coming into last season, which scenario could Bills fans expect? Was 2017 a rare high in an otherwise bleak landscape, or could their team compete for the AFC East title again in their third year under HC Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane?
The offseason was largely shaped by Buffalo’s numerous free trade acquisitions, including centre Mitch Morse, wideouts Cole Beasley and John Brown, and TJ Yeldon joined in the backfield by the ageless Frank Gore. Not one but two Cincinnati tight ends (Tyler Kroft and Jake Fisher) added to the influx, contradicting the common narrative that “players don’t want to move to Buffalo”.
These recruits were complemented by a decent draft haul. Ed Oliver (No.9 overall) was picked to beef up the defensive line, guard Cody Ford was added to protect QB Josh Allen (no longer a wet-behind-the-ears rookie), while RB Devin Singletary and TE Dawson Knox were decent Round 3 and 4 catches.
Armed with this new talent, Buffalo beat the Colts, Panthers, Lions and Vikings in their first-ever undefeated preseason. Former Wasps and England rugby star Christian Wade, who joined as an exempt international player, nailed a 65-yard TD on his first carry as a running back against Indy. But for all that promise, Wade still needed time to learn the game and was shipped out to the practice squad.
DURING THE SEASON
Maintaining their preseason form, the Bills shot out of the gate. They started with back-to-back wins at New York’s MetLife Stadium over the Jets (a squeaky 17-16, having trailed by 16 in the third quarter) and the Giants (a more comfortable 28-14). The subsequent four-point win over the Bengals was notable for the aforementioned Dawson Knox rumbling over the Cincy secondary like a Chieftain tank, as well as two interceptions by CB Tre’Davius White.
Frustratingly, the Bills’ first loss came in a defensive battle with their AFC rivals from Boston. They lost 16-10 to the Patriots but in their defence, Allen did have to leave the field after a helmet-to-helmet hit. Buffalo hit back by seeing off the Titans and, after their bye week, the Dolphins, improving to 5-1 for the first time in a decade. Wedged between losses to the Eagles and the Browns (in which Stephen Hauschka missing a game-tying kick), a commanding 24-9 win against the Redskins saw the Bills equal their 2018 record of six wins with half a season to spare.
Things were going well, as the Bills ploughed on to an impressive 9-3. A three-game hot streak began in Week 11 against Miami, in which ‘Fitzmagic’ was sacked seven times and the ‘Fins were held to just 23 rushing yards. In shutting down the Broncos 20-3, Singletary recorded his first 100-yard rushing game and Gore went third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, the Bills’ 26-15 win over Dallas – featuring a trick TD pass from Brown to Singletary – secured only their fourth winning season in two decades.
Unfortunately, reaching such heady heights seemed to trigger a bout of vertigo and the Bills began to wobble. Their only win on the home stretch was a 17-10 primetime victory at Pittsburgh in Week 15, with four interceptions helping to seal Buffalo’s first 10-win season this century. In their other three regular season games, however, they fell to the all-conquering Ravens, the dear ol’ Patriots again (handing them the divisional title in the process) and, more surprisingly, the Jets – although a number of first-choice guys were rested before the playoffs.
Did someone mention the playoffs? Yes, the 10-6 Bills had locked up the AFC’s No. 5 seed and made the promised land again. But alas, they came up short at the first time of asking, losing 22-19 to the Texans in the Wild Card round. Buffalo ran up a 16-0 lead (with Brown throwing another trick TD, this time to his quarterback Allen) only for the wheels to fall off, leaving Deshaun Watson to mastermind a final-quarter comeback for Houston. The Bills managed to force overtime but Ka’imi Fairbairn’s game-winning FG extended the Bills’ playoff drought to 25 years…
From the outside, the Bills’ 60th season seemed a pretty decent one but for the Bills Mafia, I suspect the way it fizzled out was disappointing. Nonetheless, a second playoff run in three years is not to be sneezed at, and Josh Allen showed wholesale improvements in his second season. But can Buffalo take the next step from playoff pretender to legit contender? Well, they have $90 million in cap space and nine selections in the 2020 NFL Draft, which can only help, right?
The general consensus is that offensively, they’ll prioritise a physical wide receiver this offseason, despite decent production from Brown and Beasley. Buffalo needs an injection of youth and size at WR so when the Bills are on the clock at #22, expect someone like Tee Higgins from Clemson (a few mock drafts really like this pairing already) or Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr to be selected. Knowingthe Bills’ affinity for free agency, a deep threat such as the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper might also fit the bill.
With Frank Gore’s one-year deal at an end, Christian Wade also gives the coaching staff additional food for thought at RB, especially if they can’t snare someone like LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire with a mid-round pick.
On the other side of the ball, the defence is a decent, disciplined unit. Nonetheless, a pass rusher like K’Lavon Chaisson (another of LSU’s stars) should be high on their shopping list, especially with linebacker Lorenzo Alexander retiring and two defensive tackles hitting free agency. A second corner alongside the impressive Tre’ White would make sense too.
So there you have it. The Buffalo Bills are a well-run outfit that looks set to use college drafts, trades and free agents to build around a blossoming young quarterback. Since Coach McDermott came to Orchard Park, things have been on an upward trend and, with a decent war chest at their disposal, fans should expect more of the same in the year ahead.
The three time Super Bowl winners finished the decade without a single playoff victory and only three post-season games. 2019 turned out to be yet another disaster, as Chucky’s little bro had the locks changed when he wasn’t looking.
Entering the season
This was not going to be an easy season for the Redskins to do anything meaningful. Two previous 7-9 seasons and 3rd place NFC East finishes were no great cause for optimism, and head coach Jay Gruden was many tipsters favourite as the first HC to get the axe after just 35 wins and one playoff appearance in five full seasons in charge.
The team traded back up into the 1st round of the 2019 draft to acquire DE/OLB Montez Sweat after selecting their fourth 1st round QB this century, in the form of Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins. Haskins would be competing with veteran free agent acquisition Case Keenum, who came from the Broncos for a 6th round pick this year. Veteran QB Alex Smith was still recovering from a horror leg break and was a huge outside shot to play a single snap.
Elsewhere the ‘Skins brought in FA safety Landon Collins (above) from divisional rivals the New York Giants, and moved on from some big, but not superstar names, including WR Jamison Crowder (Jets) and Preston Smith (Packers).
The running back situation was filled with optimism as second year back Derrius Guice managed to survive the pre-season intact and was hoping to make a big impact ahead of future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, who signed a two-year deal.
Wide receiver was the team’s huge weakness, having released former first rounder Josh Doctson, carrying an injured and inconsistent but expensive Paul Richardson along with zero impact free agent signings, leaving the likes of Trey Quinn, and two rookies, Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon, to try and make some sort of impact.
The biggest single issue in Washington, as the 2019 season was about to begin, was the holdout of stud 7-time Pro Bowler OT Trent Williams, who fell out with the team following surgery he had on his head to remove a cancerous growth, claiming the team medical staff did not take his concerns seriously.
During the season
Up 17-0 in Week 1, on the road against the 2018 Super Bowl champion Eagles, and Redskins fans were in a state of euphoria, but the defense, much as it would be for the entire season, collapsed, as former star WR Desean Jackson scored on two bombs as Philly pulled off a 32-27 win.
Things got worse as the Redskins slid to 0-5, including three home losses, under Coach Gruden and Case Keenum. Keenum was benched Week 4 for rookie Dwayne Haskins (above), but he too failed to create a spark, throwing three interceptions in his first game action against the Giants.
The big but inevitable move then happened as Jay Gruden was fired before Week 6, replaced by former Raiders Super Bowl losing coach Bill Callahan, who took the job on an interim basis. In a battle between to 0-5 teams Callahan and the Redskins eeked out a 17-16 win in Miami against the Fitzmagic led Dolphins. The Redskins stopped a 2-point conversion with six seconds left to get win number one.
The single win was not built on as four consecutive losses followed, with just 35 points scored in the four contests, including a 0-9 home shutout to the San Francisco 49ers in a quagmire.
Standing at 1-8 after 10 weeks the Redskins somehow managed to put together a two-game win streak, under rookie QB Dwayne Haskins in just hs third and fourth career starts. The victories against the Lions and Panthers turned out to be the last notes in the win column for the 2019 Redskins.
Bizarrely entering Week 14 the Redskins were still in playoff contention at 3-9, due to the ineptitude of the rest of the NFC East, but that dream died in a 5 point loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The season ended with three consecutive divisional games, three consecutive divisional defeats, including a 47-16 humiliation by the Dallas Cowboys to end a miserable season.
Finishing 3-13 the Redskins managed to rank 31st in the NFL, finished bottom of the NFC East and the NFC as a conference, and as a result ‘won’ the 2nd overall pick in the 2020 draft. Redskins OT Trent Williams didn’t take a snap, the team lost all six divisional games, and they ended the season without a permanent head coach.
In a grave season there were few signs of life, with the exceptions being punter Tress Way (above), who became the NFC Pro Bowl starter and second-team All-Pro, and rookie 3rd Round pick Terry McLaurin having an outstanding year (58-919-7tds) and a place on the PFWA All-Rookie team.
The Redskins made a lightning quick move to get a new head coach in place, hiring former Panthers boss Ron Rivera to lead the team on New Years Day. Accompanying Rivera as defensive coordinator was another former NFL linebacker, in the form of Jack Del Rio, who served time as the Jaguars head coach. Bill Callahan is now back coaching the offensive line, and will be with the Cleveland Browns in 2020.
With the number two pick in the draft many experts are projecting Ohio State’s EDGE Chase Young as the obvious pick to make, after the 20 year old set a team record with 16.5 sacks in 2019. The Redskins will be hoping to emulate the success the 49ers had drafting a Buckeye at number two, namely Nick Bosa.
After round one the Redskins need to target a tight end and secondary upgrades. With TE Vernon Davis retired, and TE Jordan Reed about as stable as a polystyrene statue, Washington need a blocking and receiving playmaker in the mould of former h-back Chris Cooley.
The quarterback situation is not locked in. Dwayne Haskins will be entering his second offseason, under his second head coach, and therefore no loyalty. With an absolute plethora of free agents available the Redskins will likely avoid a big name as they kick the tyres very gently on Alex Smith (above) who will be 36, but still under contract.
The strength on paper, the defensive line, is not living up to it’s draft position as Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen have been gashed by running backs and need to go back to basics to tackle harder.
In a division with Saquon Barkley, Zeke Elliot and rising star Miles Sanders, the Redskins need to beef up the front seven. One name to look out for that may finally get some award recognition in 2020 is DT Matt Ioannidis, who ended 2019 with 8.5 sacks.
Even the most optimistic Redskins fan will only be reaching for mediocrity in 2020. 8-8 would be an acceptable finish, and in the NFC East that could win a division crown.
Time to look in the basement of the NFC North. In there were find the Lions, with no witches and no wardrobes. Can Matt Patricia turn this franchise around?
entering the season
The Lions were under the 2nd year guidance of Matt Patricia, a Bill Belichick disciple. Rumour has it the pencil behind his ear has not changed or moved since being appointed.
The Lions went Tight End heavy during the offseason, signing Jesse James from Pittsburgh which ultimately turned out to be a poor investment, and drafting TJ Hockenson in the first round and Isaac Nauta in the the bargain basement 7th round of the 2019 draft.
Heading out of Ford Field was Ziggy Ansah who signed a 1 year deal with the Seahawks whilst Darrell Bevell came the other way from the Seahawks after being released shortly after the 2018 season to oversee offensive playcalling duties and did ok with the weapons at his disposal.
during the season
The Lions were actually fast starters going the first 3 games unbeaten including an opening weekend tie against the Cardinals followed up by wins against the Chargers and upsetting the Eagles away from home.
A much ridiculed NFL staple, the early bye week put pay to their season as they then went on to win just 1 of their remaining games of the season against the lowly Giants.
The main storyline was at the Quarterback position, where is was unearthed that Matthew Stafford played with a back injury, linked to a back fracture back from the 2018 season. From week 10, Jeff Driskel (5 games) and David Blough (3 games) were under center and the season spiraled from there, only scoring more than 20 points just once compared to 7/8 in the games with Stafford as their signal caller.
It wasn’t just the QB position which suffered as a result of injury. Running Back Kerryon Johnson continue his form of injury setbacks, just playing the 8 games this season. A patchup consisting of 6th round draft pick Ty Johnson, Seattle Seahawk castaway JD McKissic and Dallas Cowboy reject Bo Scarborough were employed from the back half of the season with Scarborough probably doing enough to earn a roster spot for next season. Other cameos at the running back position included Tra Carson, CJ Anderson and Paul Perkins. Enough said.
The running game numbers, something which OC Darrell Bevell is well known for were similar to the previous year and it’s fair to say that Bevell managed to get the most out of Stafford in his curtailed season. He was able to ensure that Stafford became the fastest player to reach 40,000 passing yards on a career.
In the passing game, Kenny Golladay probably had one of the most quiet 1190 yard season to be ever achieved and Marvin Jones was unable to replicate a decent 2018, finishing with just short of 800 yards on 62 receptions. talking of 62 receptions, that was the total that offseason FA signing Danny Amendola amassed on the season for 678 yards and 1 touchdown which came in week 1. He did have a passing touchdown in week 17 so a nice bookend season for him.
The defence was bottom 10 defence in terms of points allowed, turnovers, yards given up and 1st downs allowed.
A few gaps to fill for Detroit, but have the luxury of a pick #3 in the 2020 draft. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see them trade back in a QB needy year with lots of QBs ripe for the picking.
Wide receiver will probably be addressed after Marvin Jones is getting up there in age. There are a few holes on defence that need to be filled including defensive tackle and a passrusher. They may take a shot with a late round running back too to help cover for Kerryon Johnson, who will unlikely be trusted with a full workload.
It bodes well for the Lions that the most notable names that could hit free agency are Graham Glasgow, the versatile offensive lineman and Danny Amendola, an ageing slot receiver. The Lions may look to extend one of their more reliable defensive pieces in Darius Slay, too.
Talking of staying, Matt Patricia and co. are seemingly here to stay after no changes were made personnel wise. In a division where wins will be hard to come by, the outlook isn’t as bright as some other teams out there but if Stafford is able to stay healthy in 2020 (ditto Kerryon Johnson), the Lions could surprise next season. Don’t expect January football though.
It’s time for another ‘season review’ for the 2019 NFL season. This article focuses on the Green Bay Packers, a team who reached the NFC Championship game, only to be beaten by the eventual runners-up.
ENTERING THE SEASON
Prior to the 2019 season, the Green Bay Packers split opinions maybe more than any other team in the NFL. 2018 was one of the most disappointing seasons of Aaron Rodgers career, they achieved a record of 6-9-1 which took them to their second consecutive 3rd place finish in the NFC North. Mike McCarthy had been fired, only to be replaced by Matt LaFleur, an “offensive guru” who only managed to lead a Tennessee offense to an incredibly uninspiring 6th worst offense in the NFL the previous year.
Moreover, General Manager Brian Gutekunst faced criticism for his offseason acquisitions. Despite bringing in some experienced talent (Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos & Billy Turner), at the time, not much was expected of these players.
The only positivity heading into the 2019 season was the buzz around the 3 players picked up in the first 2 rounds of the draft: Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage & Elgton Jenkins.
DURING THE SEASON
Week 1 in Chicago was a remarkable start that really set the tone for the Packers season. It was the first game of the NFL calendar, and many expected the match-up to be a shoot-out between two talented young offensive minds; Matt LaFleur & Matt Nagy. In fact, we saw the rise of Mike Pettine’s defense in a huge 5-sack performance. Also, the game was sealed by the new recruits; Adrian Amos getting a pick against his former team, and Za’Darius Smith with a big sack on the final play.
Week 7 was arguably the best performance of the season for the Packers, in a dominant 42-24 victory over the playoff contending Oakland Raiders. The game will be remembered for a majestic Aaron Rodgers passing performance, where he threw for 421 yards and 5 touchdowns with a perfect passer rating. The game was also an example of the Packers excellent pass blocking, who completely negated the Raiders talented pass rushers; Maxx Crosby & Clelin Ferrell. The leader of the offensive line in 2019 was Left Tackle David Bakhtiari, who finished the season as the only Packer to make the NFL All-Pro team. It’s also worth noting that, new offensive line recruits; Elgton Jenkins & Billy Turner played nearly every snap in the season.
In week 8, against the eventual World Champion Chiefs, the Packers had a big win led by Aaron Jones in a truly breakout performance. Not only did he run for over 5 yards per carry, but he had 159 receiving for 2 TDs. The Packers used him in a variety of positions as part of their Empty passing formation. Jones really had an impressive year, ending the season leading all skill position players in the NFL with 19 Touchdowns.
The wins over the Chiefs & Raiders were the best performances by the Packers all year, but the sweep of the AFC West came to a crashing conclusion in week 9 against the LA Chargers. The Packers were dominated 26-11 on the road, in a game where the Chargers ran the ball for fun, and held the Packers rushing attack to a season low 45 yards.
After another loss to San Francisco in week 12 which took their record to 8-3, the Packers finished the regular season with a 5-game win streak over the Giants, Redskins, Bears, Vikings & Lions. The victory over the Vikings was particularly impressive as they held the Vikings offense to less than 140 yards. Outstanding performances along the defensive line by Kenny Clarke, Za’Darius Smith & Preston Smith shut down a rushing attack without the injured Dalvin Cook. Moreover, this 5 game run highlighted the dominance of Jaire Alexander who, in only his second season, showed his talent as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Week 17 perfectly summed up the Packers regularly season, they snuck past a weak Lions side, led by David Blough, with a Field Goal in the closing moments. Here is a stunning stat: in the two wins over the Detroit Lions, they won both games, but the led for a grand total of 0 seconds.
In the 2019 Playoffs, the Packers beat the Seahawks in the Divisional round, before falling on the road to the #1 seed 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
The Seahawks game was a great example of what the Packers could do. They passed the ball extremely well, particularly to Davante Adams. Adams had his best game of the year, terrorising the Hawks DB unit with 8 catches for 160 yards and 2 TDs. Also, the mighty defensive line picked up yet another 5 sacks, which is even more impressive against the elusive Russell Wilson.
Despite being on the high of a 6-game win streak going into the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, the Packers dreams were crushed at the penultimate hurdle by a record-setting offensive performance. Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco offense ran for nearly 300 yards, only needing to throw the ball 8 times in a comfortable victory. Although the Packers defensive line is extremely talented at rushing the passer, they were abused by a far superior offensive line in the run game. On offense, Rodgers was sacked three times and had two bad interceptions. A poor performance by one of the best players to ever play QB.
Summary of the Packers season: Rarely impressive, but largely successful.
The 2019 Packers were fundamentally different to any Packers team within the Aaron Rodgers era. General Manager Brian Gutekunst brought in some amazing free-agent talent and, except for 1st round flop Rashan Gary, drafted well. 2nd round picks Darnell Savage & Elgton Jenkins may be pivotal Packers for years to come. Also, Head Coach Matt LaFleur showed that he could lead a team to a Championship game in his first year.
From an offensive perspective, the team has a completely new identity. In 2018, Matt McCarthy’s offense had become stale and predictable. His offense aligned in an 11-personnel grouping (1 Running Back & 1 Tight End) on 72% of all offensive plays, the 2nd highest usage in the NFL. However, under LaFleur, 11-personnel was only used on 53% of plays, this was the 9th lowest in the NFL. The formations and personnel groups were more creative and more effective than previous years. Going into 2020, there are plenty of positive signs for the offense.
From a defensive perspective, at the time of writing this article, Mike Pettine is still the Defensive Coordinator for the Packers. However, he had a pretty shaky season where the legitimacy of his defensive philosophy was brought into question. The Packers gave up more than 120 rushing yards in 12 games during the 2019 season.
There are plenty of talented players on the Packers defense, but schematically Blake Martinez is asked to do too much as the singular inside Linebacker. Either the Packers need to find a world class LB, or Pettine needs to change his scheme to fit the talent available.
Overall, it’s hard to ignore the issues highlighted in San Francisco’s dominant win over Green Bay. The Packers have two clear areas of concern: The skill position players struggle to win in man coverage & they cannot stop the run. However, if they can find solutions to these issues, then they could be a Superbowl favourite in 2020.
Today we take a look at the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers have a lot of question marks dotted all over the franchise in 2020. Were they able to answer any during the 2019 season? Let’s take a look…
entering the season
The Carolina Panthers were many people’s dark horse picks to make a decent effort in January. They drafted well in the early rounds, with Brian Burns the standout of their draft haul.
Cam Newton still struggled with niggles and injuries heading in to the season with a variety of reports from different sources ranging from “he’ll be fine” to “there’s something seriously wrong” with #1. A sprained foot in week 3 of the preseason put his regular season status in a lot of doubt. He was able to make the field but it wouldn’t be for long.
Elsewhere on the team, Matt Paradis was brought in on a three year deal to help the offensive line and heading out the exit door was WR Devin Funchess (Colts) and veteran linebacker Thomas Davis (Chargers). Matt Khalil and Captain Munnerlyn were released as surplus to requirements and to open up a bit of cap room.
during the season
On opening weekend, the Panthers were handed a tough start against previous Super Bowl participants, the LA Rams at home. They went down narrowly but the Rams always had the Panthers at arms length despite a blocked punt recovery at the 5 yard line which was converted by the Panthers.
Their fortunes weren’t any better on home turf in week 2 as the Buccaneers handed the Panthers an 0-2 start, something they had not experienced since 2013. Even more worrisome for the Panthers was the health of Cam Newton, who would not see the field again after week two with a plethora of injuries but at the forefront of those was reported as a plantar fasciitis his foot. He would later go on Injured Reserve in November.
Despite that setback, Carolina were able to turn it around and show their grit in the following 4 games prior to their week 7 bye. It was Kyle Allen and not 3rd round pick Will Grier that got the nod and Allen took his opportunity by the scruff of the neck; defeating the Cardinals to make it 200 all time franchise wins for the Carolina franchise along with wins over the Texans, Jags and Buccaneers in a blowout in London for the International Series game.
You could argue that the Panthers probably didn’t want their bye as the wheels fell off after that, only winning 1 of their remaining games in the season which came against the Titans in week 9. 4 straight defeats saw the Carolina Panthers freefall from a playoff berth towards the cellar of the NFC South. It was the loss against the Redskins that was enough for David Tepper to call time on Ron Rivera’s Head Coaching tenure in Carolina. Perry Fewell was unable to elevate the performance levels of the players for the rest of the season, losing his 4 games in charge. Will Grier was given the last few games of the season to show the coaching staff what they had as Kyle Allen’s wheels also fell off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very much and Kyle Allen saw the field once again before the season was out.
You can’t talk about the Carolina Panthers without mentioning Mr Do-it-all, Christian McCaffrey. CMC was able to have one hell of a season both on the ground and through the air, and joined an elite crew to have both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the season. He surpassed his receptions record from last year by 9, totaling 116 receptions in his 16 games (aided by 22 receptions in the last 2 games including 15 against the Colts in week 16). Unfortunately for him, we was unsuccessful on his 2 pass attempts on the season so perhaps Mr Do-it-all is unwarranted (I kid of course). Elsewhere, WR DJ Moore had himself a good if maybe a little under appreciated season, ending up with 87 rec for 1175 yards and 4 TDs. He and Curtis Samuel will look to take another step forward as a tandem in 2020.
Where to start?!?!
Already plenty of changes to the front office with Ron Rivera packing his bags after 9 seasons, and travelled north to the nation’s capital.
His replacement? Matt Rhule, a whipper snapper from the collegiate game over in Baylor takes his place, becoming the 5th Carolina Panthers HC in their history. Following him in is Joe Brady from the LSU coaching staff, leading to rumours that the Panthers could be in play to trade up and go get Joe Burrow at #1 overall. However unlikely you feel that may be, times certainly are changing in Carolina and this team will in most facets, be completely different when August roles around.
Owner David Tepper certainly has started to roll the dice with this team and put his stamp on the franchise. Will it work out? Considering Tepper’s history and his track record, you have to feel it could come good for Carolina sooner rather than later.
That all starts with the QB position though, and that will certainly warrant attention during the off-season to see how that is addressed, if at all. Cam Newton has expressed his desire to stay, but if there is even a chance he can be traded for a decent haul to try and get that #1 pick, expect Carolina to exhaust all avenues to obtain it. If they are unsuccessful, selecting from the #7 spot will still give them plenty of options.
They will need to address some holes elsewhere, none more so than the potential Hall of Fame hole left be Luke Kuechly after his shock retirement. Veteran TE Greg Olsen is likely to follow Kuechly out of the exit door, apparently interested in joining Rivera at the Redskins. Ian Thomas will likely step into his shoes for next season.
Back again for more season reviews, today it’s time to look at the Colts, a team who perhaps were the most under-prepared going into the season, but what’s the outlook for them?
The 2019 season was always going to be remembered, regardless of any ensuing on-field results, as the season Andrew Luck retired, just days before the seasons outset.
Rumbling’s all off-season lingered. There was an underscribed injury that had seen him miss time from training camp and he wasn’t going to be able to start the season. Then, that fateful 3rd mid-pre-season game announcement by the media. He stood helpless, in front of an enraged Lucas Oil stadium.
Luck, will have felt a gross injustice, when he left the field for a final time, to a chorus of Boo’s from a baiting home crowd that had been dealt the worse possible news. An ending, not befitting of such a decorated franchise player. But that was to be his final act. On the turf he called home. In a city he called home. “fans” took to burning his jersey and it all concluded in a manner that all would live to regret. A timely reminder that memories are short and feelings of goodwill are even shorter in pro-football.
Health was given as the reasoning, in an emotional press conference, where the devastating blow to the teams talent and resulting fortunes was tangible. Owner, Head coach and General manager stood in front of the media defiantly, stating they believed all was not lost. But regardless of their faith in Jacoby Brissett, it was almost going to be impossible to replace their talisman.
The regret and angst perhaps lies with Chris Ballard’s predecessors. He had formed a formidable line in front of Luck and a plausible case for one of the AFC’s elite. The reality was perhaps, the damage was already done, in seasons prior. The stand-in-the-pocket and deliver days still lingered harrowingly on the former Stanford playmakers body. So much so, he’d lost his love for the game. This seemed unthinkable based on the previous years performances which looked like he was “back”. His ailing health, the mounting injuries and the following re-habilitation process put him in a dark place. It was almost unthinkable for the Mr Nice Guy, who universally respected across the game.
It was a stark reminder, that beyond its, glitz, fireworks, fighter jets and national pride sentiment, lies a dark and shattering billion dollar business. They will bulldoze the lives and hopes of those who aspire to play it, at any given moment.
Ballard’s move for Brissett in prior years with New England seemed like a ingenuius strategy. The media darling GM was continued to be lauded for this young, fast and athletic team he had built. The realtity which planned out in 2019 appeared in many ways to be a departure from this notion.
Injuries played a part, comeback star Tight End, Eric Ebron, from a year ago looked short of form and eventually was placed on IR. Both Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore, both handed extensions in the off season, battled contuined injuries. As did defensive lineman – Denico Autry, who formed a strong core of their defence.
The in season retirement of long time kicker was another unforeseen circumstance that the team had to manage. The oldest player left on any of the 32 teams rosters at the start of the season, some questionable form which cost them games and his legendary leg, suddenly was done. A tough exit for a true great of the game but another microcosm of the Colts season.
Despite a well recognised line, the Colts appeared to be short of weapons, as a deep threat, TY Hilton. He struggled to contribute as injuries plagued one of the most underrated playmakers in the game. The Colts still consistently ran the ball well in an attempt to balance their offence, in support of Brissett. But the lack of passing attack could not be overcome, to find scoring dives, when needed, they become predictable as injuries and poor form mounted. The roster the ceased to cope.
The biggest questions that will need to be answered in the Off-season: what do they do at Quarterback? Brissett for all his leadership and intangibles, appeared to not provide the future John Irsay’s team. The Colts hold the 13th pick of the off-season and a question of trading up to attain a target may well be on the table. They have an additional 2nd round pick as ammunition – via the Montez Sweat trade- if they see a candidate they want. Who will be within their reach is partly out their control, as QB-needy teams have stated the price they are willing to past. So a move into the top 6-8 teams may well be required, to find their future signal caller.
Or conversely, do they fulfil the most important position with a known quantity and hope they can improve the team further. Their defence with a true edge rushing presence could be in the realms of top-5 based on talent alone. They are equipped with over $90.3 mil with of cap space. They have plenty space not only extend those needed to retain its core, they have room to make a number of splashed, if they feel the talent is warranted.
They were rumoured to be making a move for previous divisional foe – Jedeveon Clowney. A perfect fit for Matt Eberfuls’ defence and would add a complementary and further flexibility to what they run schematically. Players of this ilk will be where the Colts should be looking to shop for a quality over over quality approach. As Ballard has stated they will not pay over the value that they perceive each free agent to represent.
Besides a win at home against Houston, where Brissett hit unrepeated heights in his play, there were few signature performances to savour, in a 7-9 season.
They have reasons to believe as Darius Leonard is a player most front offices would want to run their defence. But they will want to find a permanent solution on offence shortly so they can maintain the young talented core together for a long as possible.
The Colts are a handful of players away from being a real force, just as they were prior to the shock Andrew Luck retirement. but based in their historic fortunes at filling that position, could they strike gold for a third time? Upon the close of the 1st round on the 23rd of April, we will then have a clearer ideas where Indianapolis see the most important question in all of sports.