Why all the fuss over Tebow at the Senior Bowl by Lloyd Vance

After a below average week at the Senior Bowl, a lot of NFL evaluators are wondering what’s all the fuss over Florida QB Tim Tebow

This week in Mobile, Alabama region, a phenomenon like none other took over the city on the Gulf.  No it was not President Barack Obama visiting, but to some it was something much bigger as former Florida quarterback and College Football legend Tim Tebow arrived to practice and play in the 2010 Senior Bowl.  The annual convention of NFL scouts, front office types, and the media that each year makes Mobile the hotbed of the football universe for one week, had never seen nothing like college football’s loveable folk hero.

Even though the Senior Bowl has been around for over 50 years, nothing could have prepared the All Star Game for Tebow.  Saturday’s game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, with a 40,000 + seating capacity, has already been sold-out for weeks in advance and the week’s practices were very well attended, especially for the South team – coached by the Miami Dolphins staff.  At practices, the stadium was abuzz at whatever Tebow decided to do whether it was consorting with the media, taking snaps under center, or just talking with his all-star teammates.

However I hate to rain down on Tim-polooza, but enough already with Timmy Terrific as the number one story at the Senior Bowl.  By all indications this week’s events at the nation’s foremost college all-star game confirmed what I have thought all along about him.  Much like former Gators’ standout quarterback Danny Wuerffel, Super Tim is a dream player off the field, a National Championship quarterback, a former Heisman Trophy winner, a college football “winner”, and an all-round great guy.  But the one thing that this week in Mobile confirmed is that Tebow is a second tier pro quarterback prospect at best. 

Tebow – described as the greatest college player ever by some — had difficulty in Senior Bowl practices taking snaps from under center, continued to throw with a painfully slow elongated delivery, and showed poor footwork.  One NFL personnel evaluator who was in Mobile said to me after watching Tebow practice, “He looks more like a fullback with each throw”.  To make matters worse for Tebow, not by his own doing, he stole all the attention from guys who really helped themselves in practices like Idaho OL Mike Iupati, Penn State DL Jared Odrick, Boise State CB Kyle Wilson, West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown, UAB receiver Joe Webb, and others.

Speaking of Webb, it was interesting to see that the former two-time over 2,000-yard passer and 1,000 rusher in the same season was “asked” to play receiver in this year’s game.  I wonder why a certain college superstar, who ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr believes has a chance at playing H-back in the NFL, wasn’t asked to practice at another position. 

To put it succinctly, this week confirmed what I thought of Tim Tebow’s potential as a pro quarterback going back to before the college football season.  As a prospect he is clearly behind Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Jarrett Brown, Dan Lefebvre, Tony Pike and many other quarterbacks in this year’s class.  Heck…give me Southern University passer Bryant Lee, who was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award in FCS over Tebow as a quarterback.

I am not alone in my current assessment of Tebow as ESPN’s Todd McShay also was not impressed by the former Florida Super Man this week.  “I thought coming in that maybe all the intangibles and all the little things he did, showing signs of improvement could help his stock,” McShay said. “But I would say, unfortunately, that (coming to the Senior Bowl) hurt his stock.”

It will be real interesting to see if Tebow can thrill the Senior Bowl’s sellout crowd on Saturday afternoon – already has put out the Favre-ian excuse that he has been suffering from strep throat all week.  But to me and others he has a lot of work to do from now until the NFL Draft in April.  I am not even sure if performing well at the NFL Combine next month or a good Pro Day workout will move Tebow up from his expected mid-level draft grade.  Right now it would seem ludicrous for any NFL team including the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are rumored to like Tebow as a ticket seller, to put the future of their franchise on the line by making him a first or second round pick.

For those that don’t believe what we have seen during Tebow’s all-star week performance just put in the tape of his game this year against Tennessee with former coordinator Monte Kiffin running the defense.  In the 23-13 win by Florida, the former NFL superbowl-winning defensive coordinator’s unit confused Tebow as he threw for only numbers of 14-19 for 115 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT with a longest completion of only 18 yards. 

Maybe Tebow will prove all of his naysayers, including yours truly wrong, but right now his road to transferring his flashbulb worthy college stardom to Sunday’s game is a long ways off.

By way, Wuerffel “the winner” was a surprise 4th round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 1997 NFL Draft and unfortunately he was quickly out the league within 5 years as his college mastery never translated to pro football. 

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Championship Round Review

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the “Who Dat” Nation were all smiles as New Orleans made their first Super Bowl by beating the Vikings in OT.  The upstart Saints will play the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV

We now know that the 90th NFL Season will culminate at Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida with the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) against the New Orleans Saints (15-3).  Both teams, who seemed to be on a collision course earlier this season, showed their mettle by turning back extraordinary efforts by the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings to earn their respective tickets to the NFL’s biggest stage. 

For a long time this year’s Super Bowl match-up seemed predestined as both of these teams remained undefeated teams through 14 weeks – first time two 13-0 teams in NFL history —  and an 18-0 undefeated showdown seemed very possible.  Of course any talk of the “Perfection” Bowl ended with the Saints losing to the Cowboys in Week 15 and the Colts choosing to “rest” their players in a Week 16 loss to the NY Jets. 

Though the match-up will be sans the undefeated part, many people’s intrigue around the Colts-Saints big game should be increased as two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks will be taking center stage.  This season, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning became the NFL’s only 4-time MVP while Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw more regular season touchdowns (34) than anyone else in the league.  Offensive fireworks are sure to fly in Super Bowl XLIV as both teams can put up points while their defenses are not known to be the stoutest — Colts ranked 18th in defense and the Saints finished 25th

Before we move onto the inordinate amount of hype that is sure to follow in the 2-week build up to the Super Bowl, let’s review the two Championship Games from this past Sunday that has brought us the NFL’s first No. 1 Seed battle since 1993 (Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII). In a very odd side note, my crystal ball for the 2008 season said the Colts over the Saints in the Super Bowl.  Of course I am a year late and my picks for this year, the Steelers and NYGiants,  are nowhere to be found.

2009 AFC Championship Game Review

In the end, surefire Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell held the Lamar Hunt trophy, signifying the AFC Championship, aloft  after a dominating 30-17 win over the scrappy New York Jets.  After enduring much talk during the week of their inability to out-tough the physical New York Jets, the Colts showed their gumption by scoring 24 unanswered points after trailing by a deficit of 17-6 late in the 2nd quarter.

This time around Manning and the Colts’ regulars played the entire game and there was no “rest” until the job was complete.  The Colts showed the heart of a champion as they had to endure the brash young New York Jets, who turned their swagger into some early points. 

The Jets continually throughout the 2009 regular season got early leads on teams and then allowed their vaunted defense to close the door.  But this time was different as Manning and the rest of his mates knew a 60-minute effort would be needed to make their 2nd Super Bowl in the last four years possible.

“We talked about being patient against these guys,” Manning said. “We knew it would be a four-quarter game.”  The road warrior Jets answered early Colts’ field goals by putting up two quick touchdowns and definitely seemed to be following in the footsteps of the old J-E-T-S of Joe Namath who beat the Colts in Super Bowl III. 

Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, the fourth rookie quarterback to lead his team to the conference title game, brought Jets’ nation to their feet with an 80-yard touchdown pass to  Braylon Edwards giving New York a 7-3 lead.

Then Jets Wildcat QB/receiver Brad Smith, a former dual threat passer at Missouri, connected with receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a 45-yard pass to the Colts 12.   Just three plays later, Sanchez hit TE Dustin Keller with a 9-yard touchdown pass to give the Jets a 14-6 lead and cause many Colts fans to recall playoff disappoints of the past.  The doom and gloom only got worse for Indy when running back Joseph Addai’s fumble set up Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal to make the score 17-6 with halftime looming.

Alright queue the NFL Films music…Knowing that going into halftime down to the Jets, who sported the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense coming into the game, was recipe for defeat, the Colts offense answered the bell.  Manning led the Colts on an 80-yard scoring drive in only four plays.  The 4-time MVP found one his new favorite young targets, rookie Austin Collie, three straight times with the drive culminating with a 16-yard touchdown pass to the former BYU player with little over a minute left in the first half.  By leading the Colts to a more manageable 17-13 deficit, Manning and Caldwell (fifth rookie coach to reach the Super Bowl) grabbed back the momentum for the second half. 

After stopping the Jets to start the second half, Manning and Colts took the lead for good when the veteran quarterback hit the Player of the Game, receiver Pierre Garcon (11 catches for 151 yards and 1 TD), in the end zone to make the score 20-17 with 8:03 left in the third quarter.  The Colts never looked back and there were a variety of players that made their Super Bowl trip a reality.  Manning finished with unbelievable numbers of 26/39, 377 YDS, and 3 TDs while becoming first player to pass for three touchdowns against the Jets this season.  The veteran quarterback made the Jets pay for their blitz-happy ways as he moved the ball around to five different targets throughout the game. 

The Colts had to find other options than No. 1 receiver Reggie Wayne and they did.  With the Jets focusing their entire scheme on getting pressure on Manning and having Pro Bowl sticky corner Darrelle Revis shadow Wayne. Manning’s other targets Garcon, Collie, and TE Dallas picked up the slack with each catching a touchdown pass in the win. Collie and Garcon, both had career highs in yardage, combined for 18 receptions for 274 yards and two touchdowns while repeatedly coming up with big receptions in the clutch.  With the Colts’ O-line keeping the Jets at bay, Manning — first player in league history with seven 300-yard postseason games — got the ball out his hands quickly and dropped passes into “shoeboxes” despite tight coverage in the win.  Caldwell said of his on the field leader, “Peyton had just an outstanding game. He’s one of those guys that can adjust to different situations. … A real champion.”

Credit for the win must also be given to the Colts often maligned defense, who shutout the Jets in the second half.   The Colts knew shutting down the Jets’ vaunted rushing attack was key and they did.  After averaging 170 rushing yards in their first two playoff games, the Jets’ top-ranked ground game was held to just 86 yards on 29 attempts – knocked rookie runner Shonn Greene out of the game with a rib injury.  And allowed the Colts to win the time of possession battle 31:25 to 28:35.  To his credit Sanchez (17 of 30 for 257 yards with two TDs and 4th quarter interception) did play some good football and produced some plays, but the Colts veterans on defense played with pride and forced one turnover.

The Colts are now headed back to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years and their fourth time in franchise history. To make things even more magical, the Colts will be playing at the same venue where they won Super Bowl XLI to close out the 2006 season.  Manning will also be facing the team he grew-up rooting for, the New Orleans Saints, who won 31-28 in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in NFC Championship.  Peyton’s father, Archie Manning, who played many years for New Orleans said of the upcoming Super Bowl match-up, “I’m pulling for the Colts 100 percent, it’s not even close”

“We’ve been here before, we had seven comeback wins this year. I think the guys were a little rattled at first, I think we took their best shot, but we came back,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “I think we did a great job of being the hunters and imposing our will today.”  The Colts their resiliency after the win, but they need to remember that is still one more game to go.  I know their fans will remind them as they will accept nothing less than a Super Bowl title to put “Rest-Gate” truly to rest.

2009 NFC Championship Game Review

Some will call this overtime thriller, where little known kicker Garrett Hartley connected on a 40-yard game-winning field goal to send the New Orleans Saints to their first  Super Bowl, an Instant Classic.  But I am not so sure as the Saints’ hard fought 31-28 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings was thrilling  however it was very sloppy too. 

The great ending overshadowed a tough game that featured 9 fumbles (4 lost) and 2 interceptions between both teams including five turnovers by the Vikings.  Of course the “prettiness” of the win didn’t matter to the Saint’s faithful who packed the Superdome – franchise’s largest of 71,276 – then afterwards flooded Bourbon Street for a celebration that New Orleans had not seen in years. 

The biggest play of the game of course was Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre’s risky cross-field pass that was intercepted by Saints DB Tracy Porter near the end of the regulation (19 seconds left in the game). The Saints defense had harassed and battered Favre the whole game and the aging quarterback wanted to make a play so bad that he made a huge mistake that setup overtime.   “I’ve felt better,” said Favre after the game. “It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better.”  Favre’s final pass as a member of the Packers, Jets and Vikings are all interceptions.  I wonder when old No. 4 is going to start his retire/unretire talk this offseason.

The seesaw game also showed the good and bad of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who ran “violently” for 122 yards and three touchdowns, but also lost two fumbles.  Overall, the Vikings piled up 475 yards and 28 points but were undone by five turnovers and penalties.  Conversely, Saints quarterback Drew Brees (17 of 31 for 197 yards and three TDs) was cool and calm in the pocket as he led one of the NFL’s most downtrodden franchises to their first Super Bowl.   Brees showed the savvy and leadership that caused New Orleans to embrace him before the 2006 season.

In overtime, New Orleans won the coin toss and Brees quickly guided the Saints to the Minnesota 22 mixing both the pass and run.  Before Hartley’s field goal, the biggest play of the drive was RB Pierre Thomas converting a fourth-and-1 with a goal-line type leap.  After Hartley’s game-winner, the Superdome that once serve as a refuge for many after Hurricane Katrina was now alive as the “Who Dat” Nation” celebrated their unlikely hero.  New Orleans is the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl after entering the playoffs with a losing streak of three or more games. The Saints’ record at home improved to 14-4 since 2008, including the playoffs.

Now former paper bag-wearing Saints fans could finally put their No. 1 fingers in the air as they had made it to the NFL’s ultimate game.  “It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time and obviously we’re not done yet,” said Brees.  The Saints (15-3) will meet Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) in the Super Bowl in two weeks in South Florida.

 The Super Bowl match-up will be a highly anticipated offensive match-up, but Brees and the upstart Saints will have to finish the job against the veteran-laden Colts.  Immediately following Sunday’s game, Indianapolis was installed as 4-point favorites and already the line is moving higher.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • With the NFC Championship Game ending in overtime on the Saints’ first drive after winning the coin toss of the extra session, there is sure to be much discussion around the league of giving both teams a chance to score in overtime.  However recent history has shown that no one around the league is really “crying” over the current rules other than some fans and media.  Back at the 2009 NFL League Meetings, the Competition Committee listened to the evils of sudden death overtime and they decided to not vote on any proposals to change the existing overtime rules. Despite the fact that back when the discussion occurred after the 2008 season that 63 percent of overtime games were won by the coin toss winning team.  Most players that I have talked to, do not mind the current overtime format and want to fight it out in sudden death – just have your defense stop the other team.  And I must admit that I am also in agreement with the Competition Committee.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Playoffs – NFC Championship Game

Quarterback Drew Brees leads the home team Saints against the Vikings in the NFC Chammpionship Game

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-4) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX, 6:40 PM ET) 

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Chris Myers and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

This features two of the NFL’s best passers, Saints QB Drew Brees and Vikings QB Brett Favre squaring off in a highly anticipated offensive pinball type game.  This meeting marks the 5th time in NFL history top-2 scoring teams in NFL meet in Conference Championship Game.  Minnesota since signing veteran Brett Favre before the season has pointed to playoffs for the future Hall of Famer to make a difference and against the Dallas Cowboys last week, he paid dividends by producing a 34-3 dominating win.

Though the quarterbacks are the marquee players, I believe the team that can run the ball more effectively and gets the most defensive pressure is going to win this game.  The Vikings are more than just Favre (363-531, 4202 yards, 33 TDs – 2nd in the NFL, 7 INTs, and a rating of 107.2 – second in the NFL) as the 40-year old passer has many offensive weapons at his disposal including Rookie of the Year explosive receiver Percy Harvin, Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, and TE Visante Schiancoe. But don’t forget the key part of the Vikings offense is their formerly ground-churning running attack led by Pro Bowl RB Adrian Peterson – hasn’t been over 100 yards rushing in 8 games — and a huge offensive line built around Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson. 

The main key for me will be the Saints (+ 11 in turnover ratio, placing them 3rd in the NFL) ability to rattle Favre as the veteran will make mistakes when he is harassed – threw over 20 INTs last year for the NY Jets.  New Orleans will have their hands full as they will be missing pass rusher Charles Grant, who is on I/R, but expect veteran safety and former Packers Favre teammate Darren Sharper (9 INTs) to spearhead New Orleans’ defensive effort.   Gregg Williams’ Saints defense will also have the 70,000 plus Super Dome noisy crowd behind them to rattle Favre and the Vikings high flying offense. “There’s no fan base that deserves a championship more than New Orleans and the ‘Who Dat’ nation,” said Brees.  “Just the bond that we have with them is special.  They give us strength.  They give us motivation.  We want to do it for them.”

On offense the Saints, ranked No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 403.8 yards per game, need to find their explosiveness that allowed them to score over 500 points this season (510).  Though the Saints struggled down the stretch (lost last 3 regular season games), Brees and rest of the team proved last week against the Cowboys (dominated in a 45-14 win) that these are the new-look Saints in the postseason – now have an all-time 3-6 postseason record. The Super Dome will be rocking as it should be a Mardis Gras type atmosphere for the home team Saints and their raucous fans. 

The Saints offense has many weapons (WR Marques Colston, RB Mike Bell, TE Jeremy Shockey, and others), but last week they re-discovered explosive jitterbug running back Reggie Bush.  The former Heisman winner got the home crowd on their feet as he produced 217 total yards and became just the second player in NFL postseason history to score a touchdown on a rush and punt return in the same game.  “He’s a guy who can change the game,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton.  Surely the Vikings’ veteran defense led by Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield and All-World pass rusher Jared Allen (14.5 sacks to lead the NFC) will look to rattle Brees before he can get the ball to his speedy receivers (Colston, Bush, Robert Meachem and others).  And Saints head coach Sean Payton will probably look to help Brees by using their three-headed backfield monster of Bell, Bush, and Pierre Thomas against the Vikings D-line led by the Williams Wall (DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams). 

These two teams are meeting in the postseason for the 3rd time with the Vikings currently holding a 2-0 advantage.  In the overall regular season series, the Vikings lead that too by a count of 18-7.

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough game, because both teams have a ton of weapons offensively.  But the two “X” factors of running the football and getting to the quarterback will be prevalent.  I still believe the Vikings’ defense, led by Allen, can get to Brees as the Saints O-line has been a little leaky since losing LT Jamal Brown.  Expect a motivated Peterson to show-up and for Favre to be relaxed in his 5th NFC Championship Game (current record of 2-2).  The Saints home crowd should make it tough on the Vikings, but I believe Minnesota is more ready to go to the Super Bowl –Vikings 31, Saints 27

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Playoffs – AFC Championship Game Preview

Multipurpose threat Brad Smith leads the J-E-T-S against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game

 

NEW YORK JETS (11-7) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (15-2) (Sunday, CBS, 3:00 PM ET)      

Broadcast Team: Jim Nance and Phil Simms

The pressure will be on the Colts to prove that they can win after “resting” key players down the stretch of the regular season in order to be prepared for the games that count. Colts President Jim Irsay said before resting players at the end of the regular season, “We’d love to get to 16-0. But the biggest focus is going to be on being prepared for that first playoff game.” This game is a direct rematch from Week 15 of the regular season, which many are calling “Rest-Gate”, right down to the venue.  Unfortunately for angry Colts fans, let’s go back to what happened back then.  The Indianapolis Colts, who were 14-0 and had already wrapped up the AFC’s No. 1 seed, came into the game riding a 23-game winning streak with a chance to match the perfect 1972 Dolphins (NFL’s only undefeated Super Bowl winner) and 2007 New England Patriots (16-0 regular season).  But unfortunately we all know that they  lost for the first time to the New York Jets by a score of 29-15.  The game was a  “C’MON MAN” moment for the Colts’ fan base.

The “real” Colts, namely quarterback Peyton Manning, left the crucial game in the 3rd quarter.  Holding true to their organizational philosophy, the Colts’ first teamers  after staking their second stringers to a 15-10 lead, took a seat on the bench — 5:36 left in the third quarter.  Subsequently the Jets outscored Indy  the rest of the way, putting up 19 unanswered points.  Of course Jets’ fans will not say it was a G-I-V-E-U-P, but who are they fooling.  Colts’ backup quarterback Curtis Painter was awful, to say the least, as he produced putrid numbers of 4/11 passing for 44 yards, 0 TDs and 1 interception in an effort that made most Colts fans long for former quarterback Jack Trudeau.  The former Purdue signal caller’s biggest play of the game, a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Jets, came immediately after Colts’ fans realized Manning was done for the game and serenaded the young quarterback with boos.  Painter was hit by NY Jets linebacker Calvin Pace and lost the ball, with Marques Douglas recovering and scoring.   It was all downhill after Painter’s gaffe as the Jets added a  2-point conversion making the score 18-15 and New York never relinquished the lead.

After the game, Manning as he always does, said all of the right things.  The 4-time NFL MVP said, “Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart. That’s what we’ve done as players. We follow order”.   But the loss robbed the 2009 Colts (Manning, Freeney, Wayne, Brackett, and others) of walking in destiny with the 1972 Dolphins (Cszonka, Griese, Warfield, Scott, and others).   The Colts may not have thought “resting” players was not a “give up”, but to their fans, it was.   “I don’t blame them a bit, man,” Colts’ center Jeff Saturday said after the loss. “I probably would have booed, too. I don’t blame them. They pay to come see us win games, and we didn’t get it done.”  The Colts’ management is hoping a trip to the Super Bowl will sooth their fans and Sunday’s game definitely is huge to say the least. 

The NY Jets are a tough physical team that loves to run the football with emerging rookie running back Shonn Greene (has posted back-to-back 100-yard games in the playoffs) and veteran Thomas Jones (over 1200 yards in the regular season).  Plus Gang Green also features an attacking defense led by shutdown corner Darrelle Revis.  If the Colts are to succeed and shut-up their very disgruntled fan base, QB Peyton Manning (regular season stats: 393-571, 4500 yards – 2nd in NFL, 33 TDs (first in AFC), 16 INTs, and a 99.9 QB rating) will need to protect the football and make some plays down the field to his multitude of weapons including Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark, and emerging youngsters Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. 

Even as good as Manning and his offensive passing weapons are, the Colts must find a running game to keep the Jets from pinning their ears back on every play —  led the NFL this season allowing 14.8 points per game.  “That’s the best defense I’ve played all year.  Against the run and against the pass, they’re really prepared”, said Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson after his team’s loss to the Jets last week.  Running backs Joseph Addai (219 rushes for 828 yards, 3.8 ypc, and 10 TDs) and Donald Brown will need to find a way to move the chains against the Jets’ high level tackling team.  The Jets can get pressure from variety of places (LB Calvin Pace – team leading 8 sacks,  LB Bryan Thomas, DE Shaun Ellis and others), but the key hitting the quarterback on every pass play – ala Rex Ryan’s Father Buddy Ryan’s former Eagles defenses of the late 1980’s – so Revis (6 INTs, which was 3rd in the AFC) and the rest of the secondary can get turnovers. 

On defense, the Colts will have to apply pressure from DE Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks) and the rest of their D-line as Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez (regular season stats: 196-364, 2444 yards, 12 TDs, 20 INTs and 63.0 QB rating) is essentially a caretaker right now.  The goal of Jets’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is to pound the rock by his huge offensive line filled with current and former Pro Bowl players (center Nick Mangold, guard Alan Faneca, OT Damien Woody, and OT D’Brickshaw Ferguson) while making the youngster throw 20 times or less.  However Freeney and the rest of the Colts small and quick defense will need to shutdown Jones and Greene as the Jets love to use their ground attack on the way to “ugly” wins.  Last week , the Colts shut down the Ravens’ powerful running game on their way to a 20-3 win.  And Indianapolis will need another strong performance this Sunday against the Jets’ top-ranked ground attack (172.3 yards per game).  Of last week’s effort against the Ravens, Caldwell said, “Our defense did not allow them to move the ball and get in a position to score.  They just did a great job overall.”  Watch for Colts’ safety Antoine Bethea (4 INTs in 2009) as the former Howard University hard-hitter has taken over for injured former Pro Bowl player Bob Sanders.

There is no love lost between these two teams going back a ways  as the Jets will forever be known as the team that put the AFL on the map in 1968 by beating the old Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in Miami, Florida.  These two teams have met two other times in the postseason with the Jets’ currently holding a 2-0 edge, but the Colts own a 40-26 edge in the regular season series.  And now the Colts and Jets are firmly at the center of the national “Rest or Play to win down the stretch” debate. 

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough one as every bone in my body wants to say that the Jets are red-hot while the Colts just want to prove everyone wrong about “resting” players to win.  The absolute key to this game will be the Colts ability to take away the Jets’ NFL leading running game and thus forcing Sanchez to beat them.  The Jets are a tough team, but I just don’t believe you can hide your quarterback in the playoffs.  I believe that the Colts will find a way to force Sanchez to make plays and that will make all the difference – Colts 27, Jets 20

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Conference Championship Round Preview

Everything will be on the line “Championship Sunday” as the Colts (TE Dallas Clark pictured) take on the Jets in the AFC Championship and the Vikings square off with the Saints in the NFC Championship

The Conference Championships of the 90th NFL Season, titled “Own the Moment”, are upon us and for the final four teams (Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, and Minnesota Vikings) it is time to show their mettle, in order to achieve their goal of playing in Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida. 

For a long time this year’s Super Bowl match-up seemed destined to be the NFL’s two undefeated teams through 14 weeks, the Colts and Saints, meeting in an 18-0 undefeated showdown.  Though the match-up could still materialize, sans the undefeated part, there is no denying that the 2009 NFL Season has truly been a wild rollercoaster type affair.  Not even the best prognosticators could have predicted two undefeated 13-0 teams through 14 weeks (first time ever), two rookie head coaches squaring off in the AFC Championship Game, the NY Jets going from last season’s Brett Favre led collapse to making the Conference Championship round, Favre unretiring and looking like the Vikings’ last piece for Super Bowl glory, and many other storylines that flipped the script on NFL history. 

Unfortunately last week’s divisional round was very ho-hum as the higher seeded Colts, Saints, and Vikings all won by double-digits.  Only the Jets-Chargers game produced a competitive battle, where rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez — only the 4th rookie quarterback to start in the Conference Championship since 1970 – led the J-E-T-S to the next round.  But there is no denying that this year’s NFL Final Four has produced two marquee games that feature some great storylines. 

These extraordinary teams have a combined regular/postseason winning percentage of 78% — combined record is 53-15. And did I mention this Sunday’s action on the field will feature the NFL’s career leader in quarterback wins and touchdown passes (Brett Favre), the NFL’s only 4-time MVP (Peyton Manning), the NFL’s number one rushing attack and defense (NY Jets) plus the NFL’s regular season passing touchdowns leader (Drew Brees – 34 TDs).

In Sunday’s early game, the Indianapolis Colts (15-2) will attempt to wipe away the nasty taste of their first defeat of the season, a 29-15 loss to the NY Jets in Week 15, and justify their “resting” players philosophy by winning a rematch this weekend in Indy.  You know irrate Colts’ fans, who have been ballistic since the team used back-ups in the Week 15 loss to the NY Jets, want revenge on Rex Ryan’s brash young upstart team. 

This game also has some of the same subplots of the historic Super Bowl III game between these two teams  — a heavy underdog Jets team, a young borderline-cocky NY Jets quarterback, a fiery Jets’ defense led by a Ryan, a good Jets’ running game and defense going against the an established team with a great record over a decade with a future Hall of Famer (Johnny Unitas) on their roster.  The Jets’ 16-7 win in Super Bowl III over 40 years ago put the AFL on the map and a win by the 2009 version of the J-E-T-S in the AFC Championship Game would be huge, but sorry…not historic. 

As good as the anticipation for the Colts-Jets “Rest-Gate” rematch game has been, the majority of NFL fans that I have talked to — via Twitter, email, and radio – all are looking more forward to the NFC Championship Game featuring the No. 1 seeded Saints against the No. 2 seeded Vikings.  After Week 12 of the 2009 NFL season, this match-up seemed a no-brainer, but both teams led by a pinball machine offense and an opportunistic defense had their moments where doubt crept into the conversation.  However both teams last week put up huge points on offense and their pass rushes were fierce in dominant wins over the Cardinals and Cowboys respectively.  So everyone is anticipating  a shootout in  the Super Dome between Pro Bowl quarterbacks Drew Brees and Brett Favre as the NFC Championship is on the line.

With three of the NFL’s best teams playing on Sunday, there is a distinct feeling that the cream of the NFL has risen to the top.  There is even a chance of the NFL’s two number one seeded teams can meet in the Super Bowl for first time since the 1993 season (Dallas and Buffalo).  Of course with the majority of the top teams still being in the playoff hunt, some NFL fans are asking, “Has parity finally left the NFL?”  I am not sure, but while some people like teams like the 2008 Arizona Cardinals going from a poor 9-7 regular season to the Super Bowl, it is wasn’t for me.  Though it has been nice to see Wildcard Round winners taking home three of the last four Super Bowl titles.  As someone who grew-up watching  perennial Super Bowl contenders like the Steelers, Dolphins, Niners, Cowboys, and Raiders serving as the bully for the rest of the NFL, I like watching the best teams fight it out.  Nothing against the upstart NY Jets, who are trying to match the 2007 NY Giants as a Cinderella team made good.  But I have always believed having the top teams in the Conference Championship round leads to more competitive games.

Whatever happens in this Sunday’s games, this round of the playoffs is truly special as the NFL’s junior prizes — conference championship trophies (George Halas Trophy for the NFC and Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC) — and a trip to the Super Bowl are all on the line.  However players on all four teams better focus on first winning this Sunday before looking ahead to confetti laced on-field celebrations and planning trips to Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.  All the prepartion that the players and coaches have been through from OTA’s to training camp to the long grueling 17-week regular season, and two playoff rounds all hangs in the balance.  As Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre recently said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “This is what I came back for”. 

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers for the Conference Championship Round:

NFL Television numbers support that the league is more popular than ever — There is no doubt that all of the excitement from the 2009 NFL season kept fans glued to their televisions and Football fans across America tuned into NFL games in the largest numbers in two decades.  According to Nielsen Media Research, the average 2009 regular-season game was watched by 16.6 million viewers – up 2 million viewers per game from last year and the NFL’s highest viewership average since 1990 (16.7 million), before the explosion of viewer choice on television and online.

Jets quarterback attempting to enter new rookie ground — New York Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan and his rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez can reach two milestones when they play Indianapolis Colts on Sundday.  Sanchez can become the first rookie quarterback to lead his teawm to the Super Bowl  — already tied with Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, who won two playoff games on the way to the AFC Championship game  in 2008.) and Ryan can become only the sixth rookie head coach to reach that mark.

Ryan and Caldwell make history – When the Jets and Colts meet in the AFC Championship, their respective head coaches (Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell) will become the first two rookie head coaches to oppose each other in the game.  In a great non-story, Caldwell if his team wins will be the 3rd African American head coach to lead his team into football’s biggest game – will join Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, who opposed each other in Super Bowl XLI.  After the Jets’ divisional round win over the Chargers, Ryan became the sixth rookie head coach in the Super Bowl era to win at least two playoff games.  But this is a much bigger prize and with the win, the winning coach will become the fifth rookie head coach to lead his team into the Super Bowl.  . 

Favre to add to his legacy – Certain Hall of Famer and Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre will not only be looking for a win against the Saints on Sunday.  But the NFC Championship Game  is an opportunity for him to extend his historic playoff numbers.  No. 4 ranks first in NFL playoff history in completions, and attempts.  But he is still second in passing yards and touchdown passes.  Favre needs 224 yards and three touchdowns to set postseason records in each passing category.  But getting a win against the Saints may prove to be tough for the graybeard passer, who 2-2 for his career in the NFC Championship Game including throwing a bad interception to end the 2007 rendition against the NY Giants.

With both No.1 seeds (Saints and Colts)  in action, we will see this Sunday if the trend of the top seeds in each conference  seeds not making it to the Super Bowl holds true.  Hard to believe it has been sixteen seasons since the last time two No. 1 seeds faced each other in Super Bowl (1993 season, Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII).  But remember, since 1990 only 17 of 36 number one seeds in the playoffs have made it to the Super Bowl with only 8 of those teams winning it all. 

Not surprisingly both home teams (Saints and Colts) are favored this week by Vegas –- Saints are a 3.5-point favorite while the Colts are a suprising 9-point  favorite over the underdog Jets. Everyone including yours truly will be pontificating on what will happen, but luckily the games will be played on the field and anything can happen — Any Given Sunday…right??  “It’s the playoffs, anything can happen” said New York Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan this week.

My predictions are to follow and one game I have strong feelings about while the other is a lot tougher to pick.  But as is the case with most games, I still believe time-tested playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense causing turnovers, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to”  will be the key determinants in all of the team’s fortunes this Sunday.

2009 NFL Playoffs Championship Round Games

NEW YORK JETS (11-7) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (15-2) (Sunday, CBS, 3:00 PM ET)      

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-4) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX, 6:40 PM ET) 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

NFL CBA-related Q & A

 
 

NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith (pictured) and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will soon be at the negotiating table to discuss the NFL’s soon to be expiring CBA

With the 2009 NFL Playoffs moving to the Conference Championship Round this weekend, everyone associated with the league including fans are starting to wonder about the impending Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) labor negotiations. 

NFL Free Agency is scheduled to start on March 5th, but before that the NFL and the NFLPA must see if they can work out an extension of the current deal CBA —  set to expire in March 2011.  If no CBA extension or new deal is worked out, there is the likely scenario of an uncapped year in 2010 and an owner imposed “lock-out” in 2011 (i.e. No Football that season). 

We will have to see if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his counterpart, NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith, can come to the table and sort this mess out by March 2010.  But from what the people I have talked to have said is that the world’s greatest sports league has a very high chance of having it’s first labor unrest since the very ugly 1987 Strike season.

In an attempt to bring NFL fans and everyone else up to speed regarding the multifaceted Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league this week released the following Q&A data:

Q. When does the CBA expire should there be no extension to the agreement?

A. In March of 2011.

Q. Will there be a college draft in 2011?

A. Yes.

Q. What is the “Final League Year” in the current agreement?

A. The “Final League Year” is the term used in the CBA to refer to the last year of the agreement. Without a further extension of the CBA, the “Final League Year” would be the 2010 League Year, which begins on March 5.

Q. What are the differences between the “Final League Year” and any other “League Year?”

A. The principal differences are that in the “Final League Year” there is no salary cap and there are substantial additional restrictions on player free agency and reductions in player benefits.

Q. Are current player benefits affected in the Final League Year?

A. We expect current player benefits to decline in the Final League Year. The union agreed that in the Final League Year, clubs would be relieved of their obligation to fund numerous benefit programs. Examples include second career savings (401K), player annuity, severance pay and performance-based pay. The total league-wide contributions to such plans in 2009, the last capped year, were in excess of $325 million or more than $10 million per club.

Q. Are retired player benefits affected in the Final League Year?

A. Commissioner Goodell has stated in a letter to the NFL Alumni Association Board of Directors that there will be no reduction in pension or disability payments to retired players during the Final League Year (2010). Since at least the fall of 2007, NFL owners have consistently agreed and planned that they will not reduce the funding for pension or disability benefits for retired players. Nor will they reduce funding for the 88 Plan during the Final League Year.

Q. What determines an unrestricted free agent in the Final League Year (2010)?

A. In capped seasons, a player whose contract has expired becomes an unrestricted free agent if he has four or more accrued seasons. In the Final League Year (2010), a player whose contract has expired becomes an unrestricted free agent only if he has six or more accrued seasons. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any club with no compensation owed to his old club.

Q. What determines whether a player is a restricted free agent in the “Final League Year?”

A. In capped seasons, a player whose contract expires becomes a restricted free agent if he has three accrued seasons. In the Final League Year (2010), a player whose contract expires becomes a restricted free agent if he has three, four or five accrued seasons. The first refusal/compensation rights of restricted free agents remain unchanged in the Final League Year.

Q. In addition to the right to designate a franchise (or transition) player each capped year, can clubs designate additional players in the Final League Year?

A. Yes, one additional player can be tagged. In capped years, a club may designate a franchise player or a transition player. In the final league year (2010), a club may designate one additional transition player. A transition player must be offered a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s prior year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no draft pick compensation from that club.

Q. What is the Final Eight Plan?

A. During the Final League Year, the eight clubs that make the Divisional Playoffs in the previous season have additional restrictions that limit their ability to sign unrestricted free agents from other clubs. In general, the four clubs participating in the championship games are limited in the number of free agents that they may sign; the limit is determined by the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs. They cannot sign any UFAs unless one of theirs is signed by another team.

For the four clubs that lost in the Divisional Playoffs, in addition to having the ability to sign free agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial parameters. Those four only will be permitted to sign one unrestricted free agent for $5.5 million (estimated) or more in year one of the contract, plus the number of their UFAs who sign with another team. They also can sign any unrestricted free agents for less than $3.7 (estimated) million in year one of the contract with limitations on the per year increases.

In the case of all final eight teams, the first year salary of UFAs they sign to replace those lost cannot exceed the first year salary of the player lost with limitations on the per year increases.

Q. Is there an Entering Player Pool in the Final League Year?

A. There may be. The CBA provides that the league has the unilateral right to keep or eliminate the rookie pool in the Final League Year.

Q. Is there a Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year?

A. There is no Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year. The Minimum Team Salary in 2009 is $107,748,000, meaning each team is required to allocate more than $107 million to player costs (not including benefits). The team salary cap in 2009 was $123 million.

Q. Are there individual player minimum salaries in the Final League Year?

A. Yes, but they rise at a rate somewhat slower than player minimum salaries rise in capped years.

Q. Do any player contract rules from capped years remain in place for the Final League Year?

A. Yes, some rules like the “30% increase rule” are still in effect in the Final League Year for player contracts signed in capped years. That rule restricts salary increases from 2009 to 2010. For example: a player with a $500,000 salary in 2009 would be limited to annual salary increases of $150,000 ($500,000 x 30%) beginning in 2010.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).

2010 NFL Draft Gets a Boost as Underclassmen Deadline Passes

Former heisman winner Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford was one of the bigger underclassman to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft

One of the bigger days on mine and other draft gurus’ calendars passed this week as the 2010 NFL Draft underclassmen deadline was on Friday, January 15, 2010 at 4 PM EST.  This deadline is important because every year the upper echelon of the draft is boosted by talented underclassmen.

The deadline is for players 3 years out of high school, mostly college redshirt sophomores and juniors. Remember there have also been rare cases of players like former Cardinals defensive tackle Eric Swann (6th overall pick in the 1991 NFL Draft) who have no college experience, but who are just coming of draft age. 

This year there were 53 underclassmen who declared, led by former Heisman Trophy winning Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford and Florida cover corner Joe Haden.  However declaring underclassman should keep in mind that in the 2009 NFL Draft there were only 41 underclassmen selected compared to 215 seniors.  Some encouraging news though is that 15 underclassmen, including first overall pick Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford, went in the first round.

Quarterbacks:

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
Jevan Snead, Ole Miss

Running Backs:

Toney Baker, North Carolina State
Jahvid Best, Cal
Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech
Toby Gerhart, Stanford
Stafon Johnson, Southern Cal
Darius Marshall, Marshall
Ryan Mathews, Fresno State
Shawbrey McNeal, SMU
Joe McKnight, USC

Wide Receivers:

Chris Bell, Norfolk State
Arrelious Benn, Illinois
Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas
Antonio Brown, Central Michigan
Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
Carlton Mitchell, South Florida
Golden Tate, Notre Dame
Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech
Damian Williams, USC
Mike Williams, Syracuse

Tight Ends:

Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
Rob Gronkowski, Arizona
Aaron Hernandez, Florida

Offensive Line:

Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bruce Campbell, Maryland
Anthony Davis, Rutgers
Maurkice Pouncey, Florida

Defensive Line:

Kevin Basped, Nevada
Carlos Dunlap, Florida
Clifton Geathers, South Carolina
Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
Everson Griffen, USC
Jerome Hayes, Penn State
Reshad Jones, East Carolina
Abe Koroma, Western Illinois
Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech
Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida
Brian Price, UCLA
Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech

Linebackers:

Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Rennie Curran, Georgia
Rolando McClain, Alabama

Defensive Backs:

Eric Berry, Tennessee
Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech
Dominique Franks, Oklahoma
Joe Haden, Florida
Kareem Jackson, Alabama
Reshad Jones, Georgia
Joshua Moore, Kansas State
Jerell Norton, Arkansas
Dennis Rogan, Tennessee
Amari Spivey, Iowa
Earl Thomas, Texas
Donovan Warren, Michigan
Major Wright, Florida

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).