Huddle Up Pre-Season Week 2: By Jason King

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a breakout season last year.  But despite finishing 10-6, they missed out on the playoffs.  They are the youngest team in the league and are hoping to have another successful year. 

Third year coach Raheem Morris is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL, despite being the youngest.  He is only 34 years old.  The Bucs finished 3-13 in his first season at the helm.  After that season, many people called for Morris to lose his job.  Mark Dominik, the Bucs general manager, stuck with him despite the criticism. Continue reading

Advertisements

2009 NFL Season – Week 5 Preview

joshmcdaniels

In one of Week 5’s best games, it will be “The Hoody” vs. “Hoody Jr” as Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels leads his young team against his old boss Bill Belichick and the Patriots

 Week 5 of the 2009 NFL Season is upon us and around the league many trends are starting to form.  The most important trend of them all is that “Separation” has definitely begun amongst the NFL’s 32 teams.  After an exciting first quarter of the season has been completed, five undefeated teams are looking towards the playoffs (Giants, Saints, Vikings, Broncos, and Colts) and five winless teams are  planning for the 2010 NFL Draft already (Bucs, Rams, Chiefs, Browns, and Titans).  Between these two groups are twenty-two teams stuck in the parity middle of the NFL, trying to figure out if they are “Contenders” or “Pretenders” before November and December hit. 

But remember there is still a lot of time left on the NFL calendar and much more work to do for teams around the league.  “We know we’ve won four games but four games will never qualify us for the playoffs or win our division,” said Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels.  Pretty much every team that has at least one win still has a chance to climb into the playoff hunt.  We already know that in modern NFL history that only one team, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, climbed from a 0-4 start to make the playoffs.  But history has shown that a losing record at this point in the season does not negate a team’s chances of making the playoffs.  Since the current playoff system (12 teams) was instituted in 1990, 22 teams have rebounded from a losing record through a season’s first four weeks to qualify for the postseason. Four of those clubs advanced to their conference championship games, including the 2001 New England Patriots (1-3) who also just happened to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

In looking at this week’s games there is clearly not many marquee match-ups.  Especially with front line teams the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and San Diego Chargers on a bye.  Five games have over 8 point favorites (Eagles-Bucs, Vikings-Rams, Steelers-Lions, Raiders-Giants, and Cowboys-Chiefs).  The week’s best games include two divisional battles in the Bengals-Ravens (see Preview) and the Jets-Dolphins on Monday Night Football.  But the big enchilada this week is the match-up that I like to call, “Young Belichick vs. Old Belichick”.  The New England Patriots will travel to Denver to face a red-hot Broncos team led by former Patriots offensive coordinator and Belichick want-to-be Josh McDaniels (worked on the Patriots staff for 8 years).  The young protégé coach has mimicked his mentor right down to a sometimes icy relationship with players and the media plus of course the cutoff hoody. McDaniels said, “We’re not going to make more of this game than what it is…It’s the fifth game of the year.  It’ll be a great challenge to play against one of the best franchises in this league.”

The Patriots were thought to have been on their way down after an embarrassing loss to the trash-talking NY Jets.  But something strange happened on their way to the bottom of the AFC East, where the Buffalo Bills dwell, the Patriots led by the familiar duo of Belichick and comeback kid quarterback Tom Brady woke-up.  The Patriots knocked off upstarts the Falcons and Ravens in successive weeks and now they are also looking to knock the Broncos from the ranks of the unbeaten.  If the Broncos are smart, they better try to figure out how to stop Brady from hitting his favorite receiver Randy Moss (scored his first touchdown of 2009 versus the Ravens).  The game will give a true gauge of whether the Broncos are a contender or just plain lucky at this point in the season. 

Against the Bengals in Week 1 it took Brandon Stokely’s “Tremendous Tip” to win and last week it was receiver Brandon Marshall to the rescue.  However as much as everyone has talked about the key breaks that the Broncos have received offensively, it is their defense that is the true story.  Led by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Broncos’ defense looks nothing like the group that routinely gave-up 400 total yards and had a per game average of over 20 points.  Nolan has instilled his fiery attitude into a group that has over five new starters.  Some players stepping forward for Nolan is veteran safety Brian Dawkins – came over from the Eagles in free agency and has been a tackling machine – and undersized defensive end Elvis Dummervil, who leads the NFL in sacks with eight through four games.  Through four games, the Broncos’ defense has yielded 26 points (6.5 per game).It should be a great match-up and fans can probably even  expect a warm handshake, for a change, between Belichick and his opposing head coach.

Before we got to our featured game for this week, let’s grab some Lloyd’s Leftovers.

Big week for NFL primetime games on television – The Packers-Vikings game on ESPN Monday night drew the largest audience in cable history with 21.8 million viewers.   The FOX doubleheader game (mostly Cowboys-Broncos) was the week’s most-watched show with 22.0 million viewers. And the NBC Sunday night Chargers-Steelers game ranked third with 18.4 million viewers.  

LeBron still runs Cleveland and don’t you forget it – After an alleged incident between former Browns WR Braylon Edwards and a LeBron James’ crony, apparently Browns head Eric Mangini had seen enough.  Edwards was traded to the NY Jets for WR Chansi Stuckey, LB Jason Trusnick and a pair of draft picks.  The former 3rd overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft never lived up to his “Diva” status and other than a breakout year in 2007 (16 TDs in a Pro Bowl year), Edwards has seemed to care more about being a future actor than football player.  Injuries and drops have plagued Edwards throughout his Browns career and hopefully Jets no-nonsense head coach Rex Ryan will break him of his bad habits. In 62 career games, Edwards has 238 receptions, 3,697 yards and 28 TDs.  Look for the Browns to give more time to young wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi.

40 is the new 30 – Fresh off his magical win over his old team last week, Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre (85-125, 68%, 837 yards, 8 TDs, and 1 INT) will celebrate his 40th birthday on Saturday, October 10.  On Sunday when the Vikings play the St. Louis Rams, Favre will become the 12th 40-year-old quarterback to start an NFL game in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).  Only four quarterbacks have started at least 5 games after their 40th birthday since 1966 (Warren Moon, Len Dawson, Vinny Testaverde, and Doug Flutie).

Viva NFL — The NFL’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month will culminate in a series of special events surrounding the Jets at Dolphins Monday Night Football game on Monday, October 12, on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and on the radio via Univision Radio.  Telecast will have a customized version of Hank Williams Jr.’s opening video featuring Grammy award-winning singer Gloria Estefan and including lyrics in Spanish.  Grammy award-winning singer Marc Anthony will highlight gameday activities by performing the national anthem.  Also Land Shark Stadium will have several activities inside and outside of the stadium.

NFL Week 5- Featured Game

CINCINNATI BENGALS (3-1) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-1), 1:00 PM ET (CBS)

Broadcast Team: Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker

I will call this one, “The Battle for Hard Knocks Supremacy”.  The Ravens were the series original team back in 2001 and the Bengals appeared in this year’s version.  It didn’t seem that long ago that the AFC North division was the sole stomping grounds of the 2008 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  But the times seem to be changing as the Steelers are surprisingly now looking up at both the Bengals and Ravens.  The stage is set in the Charm City as the two organizations that have some ties, including current Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis used to be the defensive coordinator for the Ravens back during their Super Bowl run in 2000, will meet to see who is the AFC North driver’s seat.

To make things even more exciting for Sunday, Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco (17 catches for 258 yards, 15.2 ypc, and 3 TDs) has spent the past few days taunting Ravens defensive backs Dominique Foxworth and Fabian Washington via Twitter. Ochocinco tweeted to Washington, “Tell Vivica Foxworth he better just sit this game out!!!”  Wrong move No. 85 as the Baltimore Ravens aren’t happy over their treatment in New England last week.  In Week 4, the Patriots handed the Ravens a 27-21 loss, which was their first of the season.  Then there is also the little matter of the Ravens perceiving that the officials “jobbed” them on some personal foul penalties – season-high 9 penalties.  After the game, the Ravens players could not hold their tongues.   “Without totally going off the wall here, it is embarrassing to the game” linebacker Ray Lewis said.

The match-up that I am most interested in is the Ravens stellar defense (allowed only an average of 291 total yards per game) led by Lewis, safety Ed Reed and OLB/DE Terrell Suggs against the Bengals offensive playmakers led by QB Carson Palmer.  The former first overall pick from the 2004 NFL Draft has won six of his first eight starts against the Ravens.  Palmer was on a roll against the Ravens until last year when he had one of his worst performances against them last year.  In the 17-10 season-opening loss in Baltimore, Palmer threw for numbers: 9-24, 94 yards and 1 INT.  Palmer will try to get the ball to Ochocinco, RB Cedric Benson (84 rushes for 367 yards, 4.4 ypr, and 2 TDs) and big play receiver Chris Henry.  The Ravens pass rush can bring pressure from a variety of players and head coach John Harbaugh’s D is always looking for turnovers (+2, tied for 3rd in the AFC) that often time turn into points.

The crazy thing about the 2009 season is that the Ravens are not known for their attacking defense as their offense is piling up yards like crazy – averaging 413.5  yards (3rd in the NFL).  After a rookie season where he was more of a caretaker, 2nd-year starter Joe Flacco has become a Mad Bomber.  In his first four games this season, Flacco has completed 95 of 151 passes for 1,103 yards with eight TDs and three interceptions, which is a major improvement his rookie season.  The young quarterback from the University of Delaware will have help though from his running tandem of Ray Rice (49 rushes for 295 yards, 6.0 ypr, and 1 TD) and rebounding veteran Willis McGahee (leads the NFL with 7 TDs).  The Ravens also be counting more big plays from veteran receiver Derrick Mason (19 rec, 284 yards, 14.9 ypc, and 2 TDs).  The Bengals will be counting on DE Antwan Odom (8 sacks) to get pressure on Flacco so that rookie of the year candidate LB Rey Maualuga and their secondary led by Leon Hall and James Joseph can make plays.

In terms of injuries, the Bengals will probably be without DT Tank Johnson (foot), S Chinedum Ndukwe (hamstring), and S Kyries Hebert (hip).  The Ravens will more than be without OT Jared Gaither (head/neck), but the good news is that the big former Maryland O-lineman is making a big recovery after being taken off the field on a backboard against the Patriots.

LV’s Pick:  The last time these two met, the Ravens ran up and down the field as they pulled off a 34-3 win last November.  Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has a 2-0 record and I believe that he will continue to stay undefeated against the Bengals.  Marvin Lewis’ team is coming off a skin-of-their-teeth win over the hapless Browns, while Ravens are fighting mad.  There will probably be more offense in this game than most people expect, but I still believe the Ravens will get a key turnover, possibly for a touchdown – Ravens 24, Bengals 20

Week 5

SUN, OCT 11 

Cleveland at Buffalo 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Pittsburgh at Detroit 1:00 PM (CBS)

Dallas at Kansas City 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Minnesota at St. Louis 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Oakland at NY Giants 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Washington at Carolina 1:00 PM (FOX) 

Cincinnati at Baltimore 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Atlanta at San Francisco 4:05 PM (FOX)   

Jacksonville at Seattle 4:15 PM (CBS)

Houston at Arizona 4:15 PM (CBS) 

New England at Denver 4:15 PM (CBS)  

Indianapolis at Tennessee 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, OCT 12 

NY Jets at Miami 8:30 PM (ESPN)

Bye: Chicago, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Diego

 

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 Training Camp Questions – AFC West

Denver Broncos

How will the Broncos many offseason pick-ups including 14 unrestricted free agents fit together?

Is young 32-year old head coach Josh McDaniels already on the hot seat for his flare-up and trade of former franchise quarterback Jay Cutler?

Are there enough backfield carries to go around in the Broncos’ crowded backfield (Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan, first round pick Knowshon Moreno, and RB/FB Peyton Hillis?)

Will the Broncos be able to workout a new contract for malcontent Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall and if he doesn’t get his new contract how much of a distraction will he be this season?

Will the addition of Pro Bowl S Brian Dawkins and four defensive draft picks helps a defense that allowed 448 points during the 2008 season?

Kansas City Chiefs

Is new head coach Todd Haley ready to lead a Chiefs team that only won two games during the 2008 season?

Will high-priced running back Larry Johnson continue being a good soldier or is there a flare-up waiting to happen when he doesn’t get his carries?

Was new Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassell a one-year wonder for the Patriots or is he ready to make the leap to the Pro Bowl after being traded to the Chiefs?

Is there a tight end on the Chiefs current roster that can replace future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez?

Will the addition of LB Mike Vrabel and first round pick DE Tyson Jackson help a defense that allowed 440 points during the 2008 season?

Oakland Raiders

How secure is head coach Tom Cable’s job even though Al Davis removed the “interim” from his title this offseason and can he turn around a Raiders team that has gone 24-72 since the 2003 season?

How will the addition of veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia affect developing former first overall pick QB JaMarcus Russell and is the 3rd year pro mature enough to lead the Raiders?

Are there enough backfield carries to go around in the Raiders’ crowded backfield (Justin Fargas, Michael Bush, Darren McFadden and Gary Russell)?

Did the Raiders reach for rookies WR Darius Heyward-Bey and SS Mike Mitchell and how will the youngsters reach to the high expectations placed on them?

Will new Raiders defensive coordinator John Marshall be able to replace fiery departed DC Rob Ryan (Cleveland Browns) and will the Raiders defense be better than the 388 points they allowed in 2008?

San Diego Chargers

After a great run at the end of the 2008 season where the Chargers won a playoff game can head coach Norv Turner now relax about losing his job?

How healthy is now 30-year old RB LaDanian Tomlinson and does he have a rebound season left in him after barely getting 1,000 rushing yards in 2008?

Will the return of Pro Bowl LB Shawn Merriman from injury and the drafting of first round pick LB Larry English help to bring the Chargers defense back to their high standards of 2006?

Is Pro Bowl Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers ready to take his career to the next and get his team to the AFC Championship game and beyond?

Will there be enough balls to go around for an offense that features L.T, Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates, emerging WR Vincent Jackson, WR Chris Chambers, and newly franchised RB Darren Sproles? 

 

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)

Broncos trade Cutler to Bears for Orton and Draft Picks

jaycutler2

Jay Cutler is now a Chicago Bear, but we will have to wait and see if the Monsters of the Midway gave up too much to land their new franchise QB

This year’s “Favre-ian” quarterback melodrama came to a rather quick end as malcontent Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler was traded only days after Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said that his former first round golden boy’s Broncos career was over.

The Broncos traded Cutler to the Bears for quarterback Kyle Orton along with first-round picks in 2009 and 2010, and a 2009-third round pick. The Bears will receive Denver’s fifth-round pick this year along with their new strong armed quarterback. All along everyone thought that Cutler would land with the Washington Redskins, but I guess even Daniel Snyder was not ready to part ways with two 1st rounders for quarterback who has so far made a living in the NFL off of potential.  

The move by the Bears is a “gamble” in that you are adding a quarterback who has all the tools in the world, but who also has never played in a playoff game (17-20 as a starter), forces passes that sometimes end up as interceptions (37 career INTs in 3 years), allegedly likes to party, and is a noted immature player.  Remember Cutler and his agent Bus Cook forced the Broncos to make this deal when it became apparent that the petulant passer would never forget that new head coach Josh McDaniels had put him on the trading block.  By the way, GET OVER IT Jay!! Even hall of fame legend Terry Bradshaw was on the fastest car out of town before the Steelers and him worked it out.

Cutler (2008 passing numbers of 384-616, 62.3%, 4526 yards, 25 TDs, and 18 INTs) will find a new beginning with a Bears team that finished 9-7 in the 2008 regular season, but they were unable to catch the NFC North division winning Vikings due to inconsistency.  Everyone wanted to blame Orton, who was a winning quarterback, but the real problem was a receiving core void of a true playmaker.  The Bears  receiving core’s main player is kick returner turned receiver Devin Hester (51 rec for 665 yards,  13.0 ypr, and 3 TDs), so it is easy to see why their offense has leaned on tight end Greg Olsen (54 catches) and rookie running back Matt Forte (63 receptions).  Cutler will now have to make believers out of the tough Windy City faithful, who have been looking for a franchise quarterback it seems since 1985 Super Bowl hero Jim McMahon.

Cutler is supposed to be a top-five quarterback entering his prime, but now he will have the weight of being the bell cow of a “Herschel Walker” type trade.  Be careful what you wish for Jay…Everyone will want an instant high-octane offense from the Bears now that Cutler is in town.  However you can probably expect a full summer of learning from the former Bronco with a receiving group that is below average.  The key will be,  if the Bears can find a pass catcher on the level of departed receiver Bernard Berrian (left for Vikings in 2007 free agency).

Right now on April 2nd, the trade looks good for both sides, but it remains to be seen if Cutler is the next Brett Favre or Jeff George.  Those two were also quarterbacks who were traded early in their careers, but in the end they had very different journeys in the NFL.