Season In Review – Indianapolis Colts

By Euan de Ste Croix

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 season

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. 

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Michael Conroy/AP

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. 

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Mark Zaleski/AP

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. 

offseason outlook

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. 

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Darron Cummings/AP

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. 

Season In Review – Houston Texans

By Euan De Ste Croix (@podcastTexans)

The NFL season is over which means 2 things, 1 – it’s time to be sad for a few months until the NFL Draft and 2 – You now have a lot of time on your hands.

In this series of articles, we try and take care of number 2.

entering the season

Another Houston Texans season has come and gone with an all too familiar ending. A disappointing play-off loss and not for the first time, a resounding defeat to Kansas City. This was to be the final act for the players, prior to clearing out their lockers, at NRG stadium.

In July, the Texans decided against having a GM, when Brian’s Gaine was fired and the team were heavily scrutinised for the investment given in trade deals involving Laremy Tunsil & Kenny Stills coming in from the Dolphins. Conversely, Jadeveon Clowney was sent to Seattle for a cents on the dollar type of value, in a seemingly emotive move by O’Brien.

A mixture of an ageing defensive co-ordinator and erosion of defensive talent contributed to the biggest concerns of this team. The lack of pass rush, mixed with a continuously revolving personnel in the secondary would typically not provide a formula for effective defence. A historical shift in identity for a team which has been lead by it’s defensive stars.

during the season

The biggest change for team was beating the supposed upper echelon teams with wins against Kansas City and New England contributing to a 10-6 record and were even afforded the luxury of resting their starters for week 17 (for those with an interest in to patterns, go and check out the Houston win loss sequence this season).

This offence lead by Deshaun Watson, at times, looked capable of beating anyone. However, two regrettable off-days against Carolina and Denver, both at home, lead to much frustration amongst the fan base. O’Brien was caught on camera amidst a heated exchange with a fan, leaving the field in the latter, which summed up the frustration levels amongst the support.

Will Fuller’s absence towards the back end of the season again was a sore miss for the Texans. Fuller is a true game changer on offence and the Texans looked one dimensional without him on the field. The offensive improvement were equalised by the fading talent and injuries to their defence. Which ultimately left them cursing what could have been, if an automatic seed had been grasped, for a consecutive season.

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Image Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty

In the Wildcard game they were reliant on a monumental comeback form Watson against the Buffalo Bills being. Acrobatic heroics from Watson we’re required, coupled with a John Allen implosion to sneak an overtime win. The divisional match up, reversed the roles, where the Texans, inexcusably threw away a 24point lead. As they were on the receiving end of an offensive schooling by Andy Reid and Patrick Mahommes.

Some players of note, Carlos Hyde had a bounceback season, rushing for over a 1000 yards, a career first, after bouncing around multiple rosters in the past few seasons. Duke Johnson was third in targets and provided a complementary piece to this offence. Both 1st and 2nd round picks Tytus Howard and Max Sharping had stellar rookie seasons to build upon and solidified the line in front of their quarterback.

On defence, Whitney Mercilius was able to put together 7.5 sacks and 2 interception on the season. The former Illinois, first round pick was rewarded with his second contract extension, despite his age. Jacob Martin off the edge has a great deal of potential if he can develop as a speed rusher. Zack Cunningham lead the team in tackles yet again and is perhaps their most important piece in that unit.

offseason outlook

After falling substantially short, it would seem changes to the coaching staff would likely follow. The loss of Jadeveon Clowney, left a big hole in the front seven which will be priority number one to address. There’s also issues with the personnel in the secondary left the Texans finishing 28th in defensive efficiency and in need of major upgrades. In his maiden season as defensive co-ordinator, will face a sizeable challenge to turn this unit around.

The biggest talking point this off-season will be the growing influence of coach Bill O’Brien. He as de facto-GM made major plays to add to the offence and the cornerback positions. This then lead to relinquishing draft picks but the teams record regressed and looked more than short of being genuine contenders in the playoffs. Long time cap guru Chris Olsen was let go just weeks after the season, with further changes in offing for the front office and its unquiet structure, centred around O’Brien.

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Image Credit: Michael Wyke/AP

Another AFC South title is a modest achievement based on the draft capital expended. With many key players requiring extensions (Tunsil, Watson, Cunningham & Fuller) this off season, it will likely consume much of their cap space. The ability for Texans to acquire players cable of generating a pass rush and improving depth on Offence may not be an easy task, especially considering the lack of draft capital over the next few years in the early rounds.

As we stand today, the fan base is growing restless with Bill O’Brien who will need to build a roster capable of a top AFC seed and a deep play-off run if they are to be appeased. 

Week 14 Takeaways

By Euan (@dissy89)

The Cowboys crumble in the Windy City, 31-24. Thursday night football saw the Bears take their 4th win in their last 5 games. Mitchell Trubisky showed his wheels with 63 rushing yards and 244 through the air, providing 4 total touchdowns. Despite being the number one offence in total yards, the Cowboys are now 6-7 as their rollercoaster season continues.

Kareem Jackson showed the Houston Texans made a mistake in letting him go this offseason. Signing a $33million-three year deal with the Denver Broncos, tees up an “avalanche” of early scores to seal a road one, prior to half time. The Houston defence looks out of kilter and Drew Lock made easy work of getting the ball to 9 different receivers, Noah Fant had 120-yards on the day in a 38-24 win.

Dolphins head Coach Brian Flores was enraged with the officials at the Jubilant Jets rushed the field after a disputed call that lead to the field goal. It was a field goal fest as both teams kicked a total of 10-kicks for three, Miami kicker Jason Sanders, kicking 7 for his team. The Jets have now 4 games from five, after starting 1-7 after this 22-21 win.

The Vikings made easy work of David Blough in their 20-7 home win. Dannielle Hunter became the youngest player to reach over 50 sacks and Blough couldn’t escape the grasp of the Minnesota defence as Kurt Cousins and Dalvin Cook combined for a pair of TD’s, as little offence was needed to see out this one as the Vikes now sit at 9-4.

In their 10th win of the season, Green Bay failed to cover the points spread in their 20-15 win against Dwyane Haskins and the Redskins. Terry McLaurin continues to be a bright spot but the Green Bay defence was the real difference maker, forcing a three sacks, three fumbles and an interception in the game.

The Browns won the their second consecutive game since 2002. The return of Andy Dalton wasn’t enough to find a way despite being the more efficient quarterback in the tie. Throwing two picks and only 11 completions, the Cleveland offence found it’s success on the ground and Nick Chubb lead the team with 106 yards and a TD. A Denzel Ward Pick-6 was enough to edge out their 6th win of the season, a final of: 27-19.

The Panthers first game without Ron Rivera wasn’t a turning point as Kyle Allen turned the ball over three times as the Carolina late season slump continues to be a trend. Matt Ryan was effective, throwing for over 300 yards and a pair of TD’s. The Atlanta ground game came alive and Devonta Freeman and Brian Hill combined for 146 and a two scores, in a 40-20 win in the NFC South.

The Jaguars looked to be confined to be planning their off-season vacations for another consecutive year. The Chargers were able to turn round their recent struggles and late losses to file a commanding 45-10 road win. Austin Ekeler put up 213 yards and a receiving touchdown, one of three thrown by Phillip Rivers on the day. The return of Gardner Minshew wasn’t able to give the Jags a spark and may be headed for changes this off-season.

Tampa Bay and the Colts played out a 77 point thriller in Florida. The 38-35 win came at the cost of Mike Evans hamstring injury that looks to have ended his season. Despite throwing four touchdowns, another three interceptions by Winston, now see’s him lead the league with 28 turnovers. Two picks by star linebacker Darrius Leonard and two TD’s from Jacoby Brissett wasn’t enough, in game that saw a kicker not Name Adam Vinatieri kick a field goal, for the first time since 2009.

Ryan Tannehill is now 5-1 as the starter for the Titans, the lethal combination of rusher Derrick Henry appear to be playing at a high level and Tennessee are playing the play-action game expertly. Rookie AJ Brown had 153 yards and two touchdowns in a day that they were too strong for the Raiders in penultimate home game, winning 42-21.

The Steelers are able to still win games with Duck Hodges under centre. The Steelers defence are a fearsome unit, who now have 5 sacks and 2 takeaways in five games this season. Two interceptions by Cornerback, Joe Haden and one from TJ Watt were too much for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. Pittsburgh were 23-17 winners despite Hodges only throwing for 153 and 57 of them came from the Dionte Johnson touchdown. The Steelers are in the play-off race and few teams would want to face this defence, come the post-season.

The 49ers visits to the Saints was a game for the neural, combining for a total of 94 points. Both defences couldn’t stop the clash of two high powered offences. It appeared the Saints had done enough to take a 1-point lead late on with another imperious Drew Bree’s game-winning drive but it was George Kittle who was to be the hero. By the way of a tugged face-mask, the former Iowa Tight-End set up a Robbie Gould chip shot to seal it at the buzzer.

Lamar Jackson and Baltimore Ravens continue to answer the bell at every occasion. Their defence has now allowed 25-points or fewer in their previous nine games. Limiting the Bills to 4 of 17 on third down on a day where their longest drive was seven plays. The Hayden Hurst 61-yard touchdown in the second half seem to swing the game and despite a late Cole Beasley score, the Ravens win 24-17, to get to 11-2 and look to have secured the no.1 AFC seeding.

The Patriots lost for the first time at Gillette stadium since 2017. The KC defensive front put Tom Brady under pressure and held the Patriots to 16 points and only 169 passing yards. Both Mahommes and Brady threw for a pair of touchdowns and an interception. But Travis Kelce ran in a direct snap and Mecole Hardman caught 48-yard touchdown for the Chiefs. As the Patriots were denied a late pass break-up in the end zone and N’Keal Harry was adjudged to have stepped out of bounds on a touchdown play, when the replay appear to show otherwise. A 22 home-game winning streak ended and the Chiefs appear to be in the chase for the 2nd seed in the AFC.

The Sunday Primetime game saw the the Rams find a way back to form with play action passes and receiver end-arounds. The return of tight-end Tyler Higbee has helped balance the passing attack, putting up 116 yards on the night. Jared Geoff looks comfortable, as the Seattle pass rush couldn’t fluster the LA quarterback and on his way to 293 yards and two TD’s. The Rams defence held Russell Wilson’s Seahawks to only two field goals and are now with a chance to reach the play-offs after looking like a premier team in the NFC, once more

Monday Night Football saw the Giants appear to roll back the years briefly with Eli Manning back in the fold, the Giants lead 17-3 at half time, after a pair of Darius Slayton Touchdowns. The Eagles were able to pass their way back into this despite Alshon Jeffery’s injury. A touchdown in the second half a further grab by tight-end Zack Ertz was enough to let Philldelphia keep pace with Dallas for first place in the NFC East, win a 20-17 over-time win.

National Football Litigation – The Foundations of the Game in Question.

By Euan De Ste Croix (@Dissy89)

The NFL, supposedly stands for the National Football League. A complex sport which relies on its custodians in the black and white stripes for the integrity of its game to be upheld. But the 2019 season has seen many question their role. Their credibility, is the subject of much debate, particularly on the newly introduced pass interference rule, where the play has become challengeable. After 13 weeks of the season, it would seem, it’s not worth a head coach throwing the red flag, if they are not in agreement with the call in the field.

We’ve seen multiple instances of pass interference calls being missed by the officials, none more so than a recent game between the Texans and the Ravens. Wide receiver Deandre Hopkins tangles with Marlon Humphrey, who clearly pulls at his jersey, wraps his arms around him then pushes Hopkin’s right arm away. His forward movement and ability to catch the ball is clearly inhibited. A typical indicator for ref’s when making such calls, did the defensive play make an attempt to play the ball? There was none, only a tackle on a player when the ball was in the air – a foul. The play was then challenged but upheld, as it didn’t meet the supposed criteria for reversal. A flummoxing decision for many, just adding to a long list of plays to this point in the season.

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Image Credit: Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports

After watching these questionable calls back, the question has to be raised: how can a qualified referee watch it back, on an HD monitor, across multiple angles and not over turn it?

What will stick in the throats of football purists, never mind Texans fans, if there was a change in the rule to allow coaches to challenge, then why have the officiating crews dismissed all but a few challenges? Lead by a league office memo but if the origin of the rule amendment was to correct errors in judgements, then why not use it? A failing was recognised or was seen to be recognised but the remedy offered, is not utilised. That premise is illogical on so many levels.

This melee of confusion originated from the New Orleans NFC Championship game and with the benefit of hindsight, the NFL’s competition committee will perhaps have wished they hadn’t opened this door. If we put to one side, that if the Saints had ran the ball three times, they would have taken time off the clock then this isn’t likely borne into the monster it has created.

Fast forward 9 months, and the game is no better off. The Texans should have had the ball on the 1-yard line, with the score at 0-0. These games are decided by momentum swings and that was handed to Baltimore with this error. It didn’t definitively seal a result as clearly as the decision that benefited the Rams, in handing them a Superbowl ticket, that they just merely needed to stamp. But the Hopkins non-call, certainly put a game early on a path that, by the definition of the rules, shouldn’t have happened. As many will testify, its not for the first time have the powers that be, have entangled themselves in a self-created officiating muddle.

The League head office has a track record of making rule changes based on a watershed moments, leading to mass confusion and frustration. There have been recent seasons where the the definition of something as rudimentary as a catch has been called into question. This plagued games every weekend for a season and then the it appeared that common sense prevailed and the ref’s understanding was rectified. Though, it may be worth noting, the change appeared to occur pre-Superbowl which benefited the Eagles in keeping a score on the board, despite almost identical plays being ruled as incomplete just weeks prior. Perhaps many were blindly delighted that a resolution was sought, but the timing of the change had to be called into question. 

There was also a time where the roughing the passer, the result a 15-yard penalty, was having an unhealthy bearing on games. This despite edge rushers adjusting their technique to avoid the outlined, bearing weight down on the passer when coming into contact with the ground. It again reared its head in the Green Bay, Carolina game where the offence was handed an extension of their drive for no discernible reason. This then plays a significant enough role to outweigh the talent on the field, in post game talking points.

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Image Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Often used as a possible correction to the current crisis, is the addition of a sky judge. The judge would form part of the game day officiating crew, sit in the stand and be used as the video referee, which has been successful in rugby. It would make sense, and could be done with limited changes, bar hiring additional person per crew to take up the role. Could this be done mid-season? It could, of course, but likely won’t change until next season where the ability to challenge pass interference will disappear. But based on recent history, the next dumbfounding rule change is just around the corner for the 2020 season.

For those that truly care about sport and the integrity of it, perhaps an older school of through, could rightly say the Exec’s in Park Avenue, Manhattan have taken their eye off the ball. Or have they?

The intrigue of the NFL is based upon, the unrivalled athleticism of players and skill exhibited, in the midst of executing a highly strategic and tactical game plan, for a said team to win. Now the league head office in it’s infinite wisdom, have grown the value of the sport and are experts in monetising the game.

Potential consumers are changing the way the core product is being consumed and on that front, it’s difficult to argue with their approach, as accessibility of the league is at an all time high. All would seem well, but if you lift the lid even slightly on the most profitable sporting organisation, it would seem there are some worrisome trends occurring and could risk long term cash-flow projections, if they are not considered in their approach.

As the league are acutely aware of the diminishing quality of its product since the agreement of the flawed CBA with the players union. Mid-tier veteran, players have barriers to trade based on ‘Salary-cap-enomics’ and the overall level of play in the field is reduced, as they are replaced, by less talented but cheaper players.

The central theme is one of erosion, there are too many teams, that cannot under current circumstances pay enough good players, to fill out a quality roster, to then in turn fill their stadiums. Many teams have sections of their stadium they don’t even open as they know they won’t sell the tickets and risk a black-out of local television coverage. So this is a huge issue the league faces, but its one they’ve masterfully papered over the cracks with fantasy football and fan-facing analytics, for the time being. But could there be another subtle, but strategic ploy to mitigate the game’s not so obvious plight?

There could be an intriguing argument made that a multi-billion dollar entertainment company actually enjoys the bi-product of terrible officiating. As in reality, it its adds to the circus of media clamber, a rotating news cycle that evokes engagement and reaction across the globe.

On the face of it, it may seems an ill-logical hypothesis but the more its considered, perhaps its the case. Why would you agree a new contract, just this season, for further seasons of part-time officials? Why would you pay them so poorly? As the best talent have taken up cushy numbers at television networks. The good referee’s have left their positions in their droves over the last few seasons, but they were allowed to.

Again, this wouldn’t seem a logical approach to not retain those that are vital for the money to keep rolling in for the owners and its surrounding parallel industries. But the modern mindset of people have the first inclination to exhibit their reaction outwardly, on public platforms. Can they see means to further profit, in designed anarchy?

As remember – it’s not their fault, its the ref’s. They must be the only league employee’s that the corporation distances themselves when the court of public option swing in an unfavourable manner.

The basic rules of engagement of public relations – deflect, deflect and then deflect some more. So all things considered, perhaps this is by design rather than gross oversight. Whichever way, it’s a chronic situation which continues to detract from anyone’s enjoyment watching every team, every Sunday. But maybe consider Goddell & co don’t care about your feelings. They want your money, end of story. 

Until such issues are eradicated and the “Shield” find means of speeding the game up and removing mass confusion on what should be straightforward refereeing decisions, the detractors will continue. As is stands, they would be correct in referring to the top-tier of America’s most popular sports as National Football Litigation and it seems those in charge, like it that way. 

Full10Lookaheads – Week 13

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y) and Euan De Ste Croix (@dissy89)

Who’ll be the Turkey at Thanksgiving?

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Although they’ve done away with the Galloping Gobbler award on thanksgiving, many people will be looking to see if Jason Garrett will be ripe for roasting once again as they host the Buffalo Bills in their traditional home Thanksgiving game.

A lot of criticism went Garrett’s way after his decision to kick a field goal late in the game at Foxboro’ and the dangerous Buffalo Bills could put Garrett and his coaching qualities under the spotlight once again.

The Cowboys missed an opportunity to steal a march on the NFC East, which would have given him a bit less of a hotseat. With the Eagles now having an easy stretch of schedule, the Cowboys cannot afford to slip up, although it’s likely the NFC East title will come down to their Week 16 game, even if the Cowboys fall to a game behind. IF that scenario does play out, will Garrett even be the coach then?

Other potential Turkeys include third stringer QB David Blough for the Lions who goes up against a Bears defence that’s actually giving up less points than they did last year (funny how our opinions see them as less fearsome), Mitchell Trubisky (no explanation needed) and the Atlanta Falcons, who have to prove it all again after their defeat to the Bucs as they host the Saints.

Helmets collide again

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Image Credit: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Usually, the game between the Steelers and Browns needs no introduction but this particular fixture will have more spice than Jamie Oliver’s cookbook.

There will be a few key protagonists missing from the game that were involved in the skirmish 2 weeks ago, some through suspension (Garrett, Pouncey) and some through inability to function as an NFL player (Rudolph).

What wont be lost is the heavy hitting, cheap shots between the players looking to continue their scuffles.

Keep an eye on the referees in this one as they will try to maintain order in the AFC North battle. The Browns will want the win more as they still have an outside shot at the playoffs, but can they keep their composure, can they execute their plans, something they’ve struggled with all season.

49ers and Ravens

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Image Credit: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

The mouthwatering clashes keep on coming for the neutrals as 49ers and the Ravens, the 2 trailblazers with a combined record of 19-3, meet this Sunday. Yet again the 10-1 49ers are the ones who seemingly have to prove their credential for the Super Bowl whilst many are quick to brandish Lamar Jackson the MVP award and the Ravens a Super Bowl berth.

This is of course a Super Bowl rematch from the “Harbaugh Bowl” back in Super Bowl XLVII when the Flacco led Ravens came out victorious of the Colin Kaepernick led 49ers in the Mercedes Benz Super dome (and of course that famous blackout).

Can the 49ers now do it on the road after recording home victories the past few weeks against the Packers and Cardinals. Teams usually get their due when travelling to tough environments in the NFL as home comforts can usually get you bye in case of any struggles.

There will be no room to hide with the spotlight currently beaming down on these two teams and it will be fascinating to see who comes out victorious when the dust settles.

LA-st chance Saloon

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Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

That Jared Goff Contract is not looking like it will be conducive to them reappearing in the Super Bowl anytime soon.

With their embarrassing loss to the Ravens at home on MNF, the Rams are now 6-5 and 3 games back off Seattle, 4 off of the 49ers and 2 games back in the Wildcard race where the Vikings currently sit with the #6 seed.

It’s amazing how not even a year ago, the Rams annihilated everyone that was put in front of them and it was about this time last year when we were treated to the 100+ game in LA vs the Chiefs.

That Rams team is a far cry away from what it is now and you have to wonder whether or not McVay and co have the ability to turn it around.

Their recent trade for Jalen Ramsey means they don’t have any picks of great value for the next couple of years and Jared Goff’s salary means that they can’t move on from him (nor Todd Gurley’s for that mattter).

It could be a spiral out of control situation and it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that the whole organisation is blown up.

PS: Dallas, send the Rams a 1st round or 2nd rounder for McVay.

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Playoff INDTEN-tions

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Image Credit: Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

An AFC South battle sees the current #8 and #9 seeds going toe to toe in effectively a playoff matchup.

Indianapolis and Tennessee will leave it all out on the field in Lucas Oil Stadium as the winner could potentially move in to the 6th seed which the Steelers currently hold. Pittsburgh face the Browns and the #7 seeded Raiders face the Chiefs, so chances are the winner here leap frogs all of them.

The Titans has seen a resurgence under Ryan Tannehill, currently the highest rated QB since he took over from Mariota. HC Mike Vrabel and OC Arthur Smith will look to keep on rolling as they face a slightly banged up Jacoby Brissett, Marlon Mack-less Colts team. Indy have won the last 3 between these two so recent history is against them but this wasn’t a Ryan Tannehill led Titans team.

The Titans then travel to Oakland before facing Houston in 2 of their last 3 games.

You have to feel the Titans have it all in their hands. The question is can they grab it?

Can the decibel best the mentor?

Image Credit: Boston Herald

Bill O’Brien is comfortably the most successful graduate from the Bill Beikchick coaching tree but that is hardly a seismic feat. After serving under the most successful head coach of the modern era from 2007-11, O’Brien must be considering privately, this Sunday Primetime game, would represent his best chance to finally claim a victory against the New England dynasty. But Bill is currently 0-5 against them and 0-2 since the drafting of franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Perhaps the closest the the Texans have come was in Watson’s rookie season. Not going for a 4th & 1, saw the Texans hand the ball back to new England and miss out on their best chance to beat their perennial superiors rivals since 2011.

The New England offence, post the loss of Gronkowski, is still attempting to find an identity and it’s output won’t be one that will scare any potential opponents and particularly Watson and the Texans offence who will likely fancy their chances, all things being equal. The key will be – can O’Brien’s Houston team learn from the great one and play mistake free football? A central theme to the success for footballs ever persistent powerhouse.

The Texans have their not so secret weapon in speedster, Will Fuller, who O’Brien publicly declared the up turn in Hopkins and Watson’s game when he’s on the field. Fuller, often injured, but immeasurably effective when on the field, has missed the previous two clashes with Watson under centre.

If O’Brien and his coaching staff can come out of the headlights of a primetime game win against his professor, prior to move Pat’s personnel chief, Nick Caserio, to Houston as GM this off season. Then the Texans will possibly have their first one over New England in a long time, until at least the play-off’s.

A Cross-State Battle with more Questions than Answers at QB.

Image Credit: Douglas R. Clifford

Tampa Bay visit their Florida rivals in Jacksonville this Sunday in a game that will likely be shunned by neutrals and for good reason. The visiting side perhaps put their best performance of the season against division rivals in Atlanta, last Sunday. Jameis Winston, continues to the show up short of his draft status and the franchise is at a cross roads on what to do with the 5th year passer.

Taking last weeks game in isolation, that alone would suggest Winston would be in line for an off-season extension, but his interception filled stint would not in Tampa, would not. Winston has 5 games to avoid a career as eternal back-up. Regardless the outcome, a year on the franchise tag may be all he can hope for, if he’s to stay in south Florida.

On the other side of the field, a similarly intriguing proposition lies, as big money free agent and former super bowl MVP, since returning form injury has appeared to take Jacksonville backwards. In his absence, Gardner Minshew appeared to have won the job in 9 games posting, 13 touchdowns to 5 interceptions and racking up 2,285 yards at a completion rate of above 60%.  Losing both games since his return, albeit putting up more accurate passing numbers, Foles has thrown two TD’s but the team doesn’t appear to carry the same spark as it did, when Foles was watching from the sidelines.

The Jag’s are not so far removed and from an AFC championship berth but have had many salary-cap casualties when signing Foles to a his deal. It could be argued that the lack of cap space was the initial driver of the Jalen Ramsey trade and it would seem they are lily to lose edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. A lot is riding on Foles to be successful in Duval county but it would seem, the rest of their roster has suffered in an attempt to replace the Blake Bortles saga.

Both teams are looking for reasons for optimism but it would seem change lies ahead in either coaching or personnel to revive either teams fortunes.

Games to Get Right Or Quelling underlying fears?

Image Credit: David Maialetti

Both Philadelphia and Carolina face two games which on the surface of it would seem automatic wins. Both are 10 point favourites. Both, on the surface have strong rosters and will feel their respective records should be healthier than they currently read.

Regardless if they win by the outlined margin, does the 6.25% step forward, really represent anything other than short term progress. The Eagles, at the outset would have been set for a Super Bowl run or at least deep into the play-offs, by many on lookers. Hindered by a poor secondary and a quarterback – who after a number of injuries and changes to his offensive personnel – seems lost, in not overwhelmed. Wentz’s regression is stark and in spite of a bounce back game on Sunday against Miami, there are longer terms concerns for a team who were heralded for Howie Roseman’s roster building acumen. This is now the second consecutive season of under achievement after their Super Bowl win and concern has to be there and unaffected, even by a 50-point win on Sunday.

The Carolina Panthers, have a quandary at the most important position in all of sports also. The continual decline of Cam Newton’s health has seen Kyle Allen step in a lead the ship admirably. An underachiever in the college game has never been doubted talent-wise but it would appear his consistency and application has. There have been some strong outings for Allen. But he also has has some games to forget, the showing at home versus at Atlanta, rightly called into question his decision making. Even with a strong follow up performance against a struggling Washington team, Kyle will be looking to re-assert some positively  after their narrow loss to New Orleans. A game they should have won, if not for the missed five points by their rookie kicker Joey Slye.

There are question to be asked about how much Allen’s play is bolstered by Christian McCaffery’s all-pro and possibly MVP calibre season at running back. As limitations have been shown, so is there enough there to give confidence to ambitions new owner, David Tepper? A many who made his fortune in investments, will shortly tell us how willing he is to invest the future of the franchise in Kyle Allen.

Does Defence win Championships still?

Image Credit: Pete Smith

The adage has been echoed round NFL-based discussions for decades. If you didn’t have a league leading defence with multiple blue-chip players, at all three levels your chances were nullified. This uprising of the San Francisco 49er’s has perhaps shown that the notion is alive and well. The undoubted strength of the team is it’s defence. The litany of first round draft picks across its front seven make it difficult for the opposition to move the ball. Whether it’s, Ford, Bosa, Armstead, Thomas or Bucker. There isn’t 5 tougher blocking assignments for an offensive line in the game.

This front has allowed the linebackers and secondary to flourish with the additional pressures this unit brings. Witherspoon finally seems to be realising his talent at corner and Richard Sherman appears to be having a plus year, after looking not his former self last season. So the leading statement has proven to have varying levels of validity across the season. So much so, the performances have been questionable from their quarterback but Jimmy-G plays within a system that he suited to and it doesn’t require him to chase big plays outside of it. The running game the defence will ensure that’s not the case. But Sunday they face their biggest test of the year.

An apposing body evidence to this argument would be the Baltimore Ravens who, defence is strong in its own right and have done an amicable job of letting players go and finding replacements throughout the draft. But their real revelation has been the improvements show in the game of second year quarterback, come magic man, Lamar Jackson.

After crashing out the play-off’s he has come back with vengeance. Their unique brand of offence is an intriguing one which relies on the run. The league seem to have changed and in a way that has allowed Jackson to flourish rather than one that would have traditionally rejected his athleticism. His play and level at the offence is running at, is unrivalled through this point of the year. The two and three tight end sets have allow Baltimore to control the line of scrimmage and pick off high percentage throws and run the ball to the tune of over 200 yards per game.

The 49ers perhaps pose the strongest test of their system to get the best out of Jackson. This Sunday, will likely be one for the old school lovers of ground and pound running game. Whilst the game could provide a timely reminder that in 2019 offence may well win championships. Or is the old platitude still correct? The number 1 rushing team plays the number 2 team in a clash which should help us in that understanding, come Sunday.

Only the Young & Offensive Minded need apply

Image result for goff and mcvay
Image Credit: Steve Dykes

When a failed college head-coach in Cliff Kingsbury was hired by the Arizona Cardinals it seemed odd. Relieved from his duties at Texas Tech, he had only just taken up the Role of USC’s offensive co-oridnator in the weeks prior. But some how he had landed one of the prized 32 gigs to coach at the highest level. It seemed odd on the face of it. Kingsburry was allowed to draft Kyler Murray No1 overall in this years draft, re-make an offence and a team with limited talent for year one of a multi-year project.

Last off season – that was the latest trend for every franchise who wanted to get ahead of the curve or at least join it, was to hire a specific model of coach, to take them into the next decade of a changing league. At one point last off-season the common joke was: “I once cleaned Sean McVey’s pool so I’d like to apply for the Head Coaching job.”

Fast forward not even three quarters of a season and those remarks certainly won’t contain the same level of relevancy, compared to when team owners/GM’s were looking for a new team leader, last off season. Often referred to as an acronym off ‘Not For Long’ the NFL has a habit of building you up just as quickly as it will bring you down with a crash. The Ram’s offence appears to have embodied a typical NFL cycle and crash it has done, but with such alarm. After letting linemen leave the building and extending Jared Geoff, no longer receives to the same level of protection and wide open targets he previously enjoyed. It would seem that their once heralded system appears to have dropped in effectiveness. Just as the brightest head coach in the NFL galaxy doesn’t appear quite as bright as it once gleamed.

Now, Sunday represent a milestrone game and clear barometer of how these two young coaches are set for the following seasons and beyond. Both need a further influx of talent to be competitive with the play-off calibre teams. But it will show, how was has Geoff fallen from his perch of league leading offence against a questionable defence – out with safety Budda Baker. But it will also show how the QB of choice, young dream coach experiment is rounding into shape.

It will be an intriguing watch if this archetype is desired for the next round of, off-season, head coach carousel, in 2020.