2013 NFL Trade Deadline

Today is the 2013 NFL Trade Deadline and some players, like Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon, are rumored to be on the trading block

Today, Tuesday October 29th @ 4 PM EST is the 2013 NFL Trade Deadline.  And for the first time in a while, there is some “buzz” around the date.  Already the NFL saw the trades involving former Ravens OT Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins for picks, former Panthers LB Jon Beason to NY Giants for a late round draft pick and former Browns RB Trent Richardson to the Colts for picks including a 2014 first-rounder. 

Some of the rumored players that are said to be on the trading block include:

Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew
Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon
Bills QB Dennis Dixon
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald
Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez
Browns WR Josh Gordon
Eagles RB LeSean McCoy
Lions QB Kellen Moore
Giants WR Hakeem Nicks

However I never hold my breath around the trade deadline, as most trades in the NFL occur on draft day — due to teams unwilling to “give-up” a player until the offseason.  If any trades do happen at the 2013 NFL Trade Deadline, expect them to be something like the 2005 deal that sent former Niners QB Tim Rattay to the Tampa Bay Bucs for a future 6th rd pick .

2011 NFL Week 10 Remix by Lloyd Vance

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald is Taking It to the House’s Week 10 Game Ball award winner for his huge day in Arizona’s comeback win over the Eagles

With only 7 games left to be played for 28 of the league’s 32 teams, there is much more separation left to do within the NFL’s standings before January’s playoffs.  There are still the “Have’s” (5 teams with 7 wins or more including the league’s only undefeated team — Packers 9-0) and the “Have Nots” (11 teams with 3 or less wins, who are now basically spoilers).  But the majority of the NFL (16 teams) are still playing within former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s parity dream section. 

With records ranging from 6-3 to 4-5 including 6 Teams with a record of 5-4 — Bills, NY Jets, Falcons, Cowboys, Titans, and Raiders that need to figure out if they are “Contenders” or “Pretenders” in the upcoming weeks.  There are 12 covet playoff spots up for grabs and you have to expect that some teams will soon be giving thanks this Thanksgiving holiday for their opportunity in the playoffs. Continue reading

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

2008 NFL Playoffs – Conference Championships Round Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) – The 2008 NFL season themed, “Believe In Now”, continued to roll on toward an oh-too-fast ending. But one thing is for certain when the epilogue for this season is written, it will be titled, “One Crazy Season”.  I don’t think anyone’s crystal ball registered the Cardinals against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII way back in September — remember I picked the Colts over the Saints, so what do I know ;) — however we are now set to enjoy a rivalry game on February 1st in Tampa, Florida between too coaching staffs that know each other very well. 

To me both Conference Championships games were enjoyable and the interesting part from the games’ results is that the sanity of home field advantage was restored with the Steelers 23-14 win over the Ravens and the Cardinals 32-25 win over the Eagles.   With both home teams winning, the playoff history-defying streak of 5 out of 8 road teams winning thus far in the playoffs was ended.  The NFL’s Final Four round produced two games that definitely had two different NFL flavors.  The Philadelphia Eagles – Arizona Cardinals game featured a pinball machine type offensive explosion in a perfectly conditioned indoor dome environment, while conversely the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game was an old-fashioned black-and-blue rivalry game that featured several players limping to the sidelines of cold, snowy, and muddy Heinz Field.

In both Conference Championships our keys to success in the playoffs — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, and Limiting Penalties – were all very prevalent for the winning teams (Cardinals and Steelers).  

  • Super Bowl XLIII will pit two quarterbacks, in the Cardinals Kurt Warner and the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, that have already won a Super Bowl against each other.  The Conference Championships brought out the best in the two signal callers as Warner was efficient in getting the ball down the field to superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald (see Game Balls) and in picking up the blitz while Big Ben made a key deep throw to receiver Santonio Holmes and did not turn the ball over.
  • The Steelers (+3) and the Cardinals (+2) both won the turnover battle in their games and it was a huge difference.  The Cardinals produced 3 turnovers by the Eagles while only giving the ball up once (defensive player) and the Steelers were a little better producing four turnovers by the Ravens, including Troy Polamalu’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown, to only one giveaway.  The Cardinals and the Steelers also got pressure on the quarterback producing three and two sacks respectively.
  • The Steelers and Cardinals both had more rushing attempts than the Ravens and Eagles respectively (PITT 28 to 25) and (ARIZ 29 to 18).  The key was the final four winners never abandoned the run even when they lost their lead or the other team was within a couple of points.
  • An often overlooked factor in games is penalties, but the Steelers and especially the Cardinals made sure they were not hurt too bad by penalties in their wins.  The Cardinals only had three penalties to seven for the Eagles while the Steelers and Ravens were knotted at six apiece.

Game Notes

Arizona Cardinals 32, Philadelphia Eagles 25

This year’s NFC Championship Game, titled the “Why Not Us” Bowl was played out in the cozy confines of University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  If nothing else, this game between two improbable NFC lower seeded playoff teams was enjoyable.  The Cardinals came out of their locker-room full of emotion as they put their 48-20 Week 13 loss to the Eagles behind them by going on a 80-yard nine play touchdown drive culminated by Fitzgerald bullying his way into the endzone.  From there it was all Cardinals in the first half as they built a 24-6 halftime lead mostly on Warner finding Fitzgerald over and over (finished with 6 receptions for an NFL record 113 first-half yards and 3 TDs) as the Eagles either had to punt or settled for field goal attempts (the Eagles were inside the Cardinals’ 30-yard line three times in the first half and came away with only six points).  The Cardinals even brought out a beautifully crafted flea-flicker 62-yard touchdown pass from Warner to RB J.J Arrington back to Warner then down the field to Fitzgerald.  However the 3rd quarter it was all Eagles as the Cardinals got a good look at why Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is one of the NFL’s best.  McNabb led the offense in scoring 19 unanswered points to erase an 18-point Cardinals lead.  McNabb threw touchdown passes to TE Brent Celek of 31 yards and 6 yards.  But his finest throw was a 62-yard bomb that rookie DeSean Jackson juggled then took to the house giving the Eagles an improbable 25-24 lead.    While the Eagles were scoring in bunches in the 3rd quarter the Cardinals were limited to two three-and-out possessions.  However veteran quarterback Warner and the Cardinals had one more drive left in them.  The former two-time NFL MVP led the Cardinals on a chain-moving 72-yard, 14 play drive that took 7:52 minutes off the clock and culminated with a perfectly executed Warner 8-yard screen pass to rookie RB Tim Hightower.  The rookie from the University of Richmond also had a key play earlier in the drive converting a 4th and 1 play with a tough 2-yard outside run.  For good measure Warner also completed a two-point conversion to backup TE Ben Patrick to make the score 32-25.  Given one more chance, the McNabb and the Eagles moved the ball to the Cardinals 47-yard line.  But on the game’s defining four downs for the Eagles, McNabb could not connect on last four throws (Basket (receiver slipped), Jackson (overthrow), Basket (threw behind receiver), and Curtis (slipped/tripped and dropped pass).  The Eagles defense stopped the Cardinals leading to a poorly executed hook-and-lateral that was intercepted by the Cardinals to end the game.  The Eagles duo of McNabb and head coach Andy Reid are now a disappointing 1-4 in NFC Championship Games leaving many to wonder if this veteran Birds team will get another precious shot in the near future or has their window of opportunity closed. The Cardinals now become the final NFC team to make the Super Bowl in the history of the Big Game and they are the second 9-win regular season team to make the Super Bowl (other team was the 1979 Rams).

Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Baltimore Ravens 14

If you liked a hard-hitting defensive football in bad weather conditions then this was your type of game.  The Steelers, in their NFL leading 14th AFC Championship Game, early on were content to play solid defense and allow their offense to secure three points (two Josh Reed 2 FG’s).  But a 65-yard Roethlisberger to receiver Santonio Holmes touchdown pass broke the game open putting the Steelers ahead 13-0 and sending their home Terrible Towel waving fans into a frenzy.  However the Ravens kept hanging around at the end of the first half as running back Willis McGahee pounded his way to his first touchdown making the score 13-7 at the half.  Even though the Steelers were nursing a 16-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, you never sensed that the veteran team would panic.  The Steelers were never afraid that Ravens rookie quarterback  Joe Flacco (Lloyd’s Lackey) could beat them even when another McGahee touchdown cut the Steelers lead to 16-14.  All of everyone’s apprehensions about Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl were confirmed with less than five minutes left in the game.  The Steelers pass rush caused Flacco into an overthrow that safety Troy Polamalu picked off and zigzagged his way 40 yards into the endzone for the game-sealing score for the Steelers.  The game was not without injuries as this was probably the hardest hitting game, I have seen in some time as Steelers WR Hines Ward tweaked his knee missing the 2nd half, Ravens CB Frank Walker left in the 2nd quarter causing him to not return, and in the game’s scariest moment Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark drilled McGahee causing the former Miami Hurricane to be taken off on a stretcher (later had movement in his extremities). The Steelers are the 12th team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to defeat an opponent three times in the same season. And the Black-and-Gold will make their seventh Super Bowl appearance, second most all-time behind the Cowboys’ eight. Kudos should go out to Steelers 36-year old head coach Mike Tomlin, who validated Steelers owner Dan Rooney’s belief in him when the savvy owner handpicked the relatively unknown defensive coordinator as his headman.  Now Tomlin will be able to face the two men, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who thought they had a leg-up on the competition to replace Bill Cowher back in 2007.

 Game Balls

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald – The NFL’s best receiver was on display again as Fitzgerald was spectacular against the Eagles.  First he set an NFL record with 113 first-half yards on six catches including 3 TDs.  Then he helped close the game out with two big receptions on the Cardinals game-winning drive.  The former University of Pittsburgh All-American finished with nine receptions for 152 yards and 3 TDs. The Pro Bowl bound receiver also set a single playoff record with 419 receiving yards, surpassing the great Jerry Rice and did I mention that Fitzgerald has one more game left in Super Bowl XLIII.

Honorable Mention

Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb –– I don’t care what the McNabb bashers will say (missed some early throws, an interception, fumbled by getting sacked by Adrian Wilson and could not lead the Birds back in the 4th quarter), this man had a great game in the NFC Championship.  McNabb led his team back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead when it mattered and lets face it the defense let him down.  He set a career-high with 375 passing yards and was an incredible in the second-half completing 17 of 28 passes for 266-yards and 3 TDs. His final numbers were 28-47, 375 yards, 3 TDs, and 31 rushing, but I guess that will not be enough for the “Haters” who want the Kevin Kolb era to begin.  To everyone yearning for another quarterback than McNabb, you better take a good look around the NFL because there are not many quarterbacks better than Big 5.  Just image what McNabb could do with some real weapons — Did you see Greg Lewis drop that potential bomb??

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu — Finished with four tackles and led a Pittsburgh defense that held Baltimore rookie QB Joe Flacco to 141 passing yards.  Put the Steelers win on ice sending them to their 7th Super Bowl with his 40-yard interception touchdown return.

Other Honorees: Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed (Drilled 3 FG’s in tough conditions and finished with 11 points); Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (In going to his 3rd Super Bowl he was spectacular throwing for numbers 21-28, 279 yds, and 4 TDs); Philadelphia Eagles TE Brent Celek (In a game where franchise TE LJ Smith struggled, Celek had a career-high 10 catches, gaining 83 yards and two touchdowns); Pittsburgh Steelers LB Lamar Woodley (The Steelers “D” was stifling against the Ravens and Woodley was everywhere producing 7 TKLs, and 2 sacks);  Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson (The perennial Pro Bowl safety was spectacular finishing with 7 TKLs, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble); Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley (Kept the Eagles Defense off-balance the whole game mixing the run and pass well and how about the 14-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that was a game closer)

Lloyd’s Lackey

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco – In the biggest game of his career, “The rookie quarterback, played like a rookie quarterback”.  Flacco entered the game with no interceptions or sacks in 45 postseason pass attempts, but he threw three interceptions and was sacked three times by the Steelers.  Finished with terrible numbers 13-30, 141 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs

Other DishonoreesEagles safety Quintin Demps (The rookie safety, was beaten for a 62-yard touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald and he also cost the Eagles 15 yards on a dumb late hit on Kurt Warner); Eagles kicker David Akers (“Just a Kicker Being a Kicker”… lost his consecutive field goal streak on a missed 47-yarder, missed a point-after and sent a kickoff out of bounds right before halftime); Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson and the Eagles Defense (Too many blitzes with little results and overall the defense got pushed around…so much for this unit being better than Reggie White’s group.  Gave up 24 first-half points and couldn’t prevent a game-winning 14-play scoring drive at the end.  BTW: Why was two-time Pro Bowl player Lito Sheppard barely on the field); Eagles TE LJ Smith (The franchise-tagged tight end produced 1 catch for 5 yards as backup Brent Celek had a great game);  Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (Played with a hamstring injury producing four catches for 34 yards, but his sulking and arguments with Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines were bush-league.  Yo Q… your team is going to the Super Bowl, so put a smile on your face and grab a NFC Championship t-shirt and hat).

 

 

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)

2008 NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The second leg of the long treacherous road to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa is in the books and this year’s divisional playoff games delivered high drama along with continuing the trend that the 2008 NFL Season has indeed been one wacky season.  The 2008 Divisional round’s theme may have been “Let’s Do It Again” as there were four rematches, but the results from the exciting games were nowhere near a re-run.  The Cardinals and Ravens turned the tables on their foes after regular season losses and the Eagles proved that every season is different as they vanquished the defending Super Bowl champion Giants into the off-season with a strong road victory — three out of last four years the Super Bowl champ was sent home in the divisional round.

Given that all four home teams were favored in the divisional playoffs, after a crazy wildcard round where are all four road teams were given the edge, you figured sanity would reappear – going into this divisional weekend, above 75% of teams with a bye in the wildcard round won in the NFL Divisional Playoffs since 1990.  However holding to form that anything is possible in this topsy-turvy parity filled league, three road teams walked into hostile environments and gained victories (Cardinals over Panthers, Eagles over Giants, and Ravens over Titans).  I guess the only real non-surprise is that the Pittsburgh Steelers continued to dominate in the divisional round of the playoffs by beating the Chargers — entering the game, the Steelers were 10-2 at home in the divisional playoffs.  But given the NFL’s uncertain environment where being a high playoff seed doesn’t seem to mean much lately, you have to commend the Steelers organization for defeating a dangerous repeat opponent in Heinz Field.

I must admit that I was glued to my television on Saturday and Sunday as the divisional round was very enjoyable — even if I went 2-2 on my picks (had the AFC side correct).  The games showed that persistence, defense, and protecting the ball are the football keys to moving on in the playoffs.  The operative phrase is “Moving On”, because winning the battle on the stat sheet means nothing as getting “W’s” is all that matters in the NFL playoffs.  Surprising all four teams that scored first this weekend lost, showing that the good teams like a good boxer shake off early blows to deliver knockout punches later on in victorious bouts.  The winning teams in the divisional round persistence was led by their defenses as pressure limited scoring opportunities and caused turnovers.  The Cardinals formerly lowly defense joined he high-ranking Steelers, Ravens, and Eagles in capitalizing on turnovers and limiting their opponent’s scoring opportunities in wins — all of the winning teams caused at least 2 turnovers including the Cardinals forcing an amazing six against the Panthers.

What will happen next in the Conference Round???? Who knows as the NFL continues one wacky season.  Early on I thought that I had a clue who was playoff ready by subscribing to the old-school philosophy that home-field advantage still meant something — think Super Teams like the ’70s Steelers, ’80s Niners, ’90s Cowboys, and ’00s Patriots winning at home during their Super Bowl-winning runs.  However with several top seeds falling by the wayside, including both #1 seeds this weekend — No number #1’s in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997 — times have changed.  This year’s teams are following the “Road Warrior” mentality of recent past Super Bowl champions (2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants) as their blueprint for success.  The script has been flipped as the lower seeded playoffs teams have turned their “Us Against the World” lockerrooms into thought to be unfathomable wins. Next up is the Conference Round with the unlikely pairing of the NFC’s Number #4 seeded Arizona Cardinals hosting the #6 Philadelphia Eagles (first time ever two non double digit win teams will oppose each other in the conference round) and the AFC’s Number #2 seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, the lone remaining high-seed, hosting the #6 seeded Baltimore Ravens.  So right now going into next week’s games, expect the unexpected as teams try to continue to buck the odds in hopes of joining the ’05 Steelers and ’07 Giants, going from an unlikely Wildcard team to holding the Lombardi Trophy.

Game Notes

Baltimore Ravens 13, Tennessee Titans 10

Going into this game you knew it would be black-and-blue affair and the action on the field disappoint.  The weather was cold and windy, but it didn’t stop two of the NFL’s best defenses from teeing off on the other teams’ offense.  The game was low-scoring and both teams made it a point to stop the run (Ravens only had 50 yards rushing and the Titans dynamic duo Johnson and White were both well under 100 yards).  The story of the game for me was how the Titans never capitalized on scoring chances.  The Titans had the advantage in first downs (21 to 9), yardage (391 to 211) and clock (34:07 to 25:53).  But the home team Titans turned the ball over three times in Ravens’ territory including two fumbles inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line.  Ravens veteran kicker Matt Stover (2/2 FGs, 1/1 XP for 7 Pts) nailed a 43-yard field goal with 57 seconds remaining to put the Ravens up, 13-10.  Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was efficient throwing for numbers 11-22, 161 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT as he became the first rookie quarterback to win his first two starts.  You have to wonder if the stifling defense and efficient offense Ravens are feeling like their Super Bowl champion 2000 selves. Next up is a trip to Pittsburgh for a “rubber match” with the Steelers.

Arizona 33 Cardinals, Carolina Panthers 13

Do you remember about a month ago when the Cardinals clinched the pathetic NFC West with a weak 9-7 record.  Everyone thought the Cards would just be happy to be in the playoffs and have their first home playoff game since 1947.  Well everyone welcome to the new Arizona Cardinals as head coach Ken Whisenhunt has his team in position to go to the Super Bowl for the first time ever.  One of the NFL’s longest running punchlines — have never been to a Super Bowl and are in the NFC title game for the first time ever — showed the entire country that they are no longer a joke as they dominated the NFC #1 seeded Panthers.  The Cardinals ran the ball well (135 yards) and stopped the run (only 78 rushing yards for the Panthers).  But the story of the game was the awful play of Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme (see Lloyd’s Lackey) as opposed to the veteran leadership of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner (21-32, 220 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT).  Warner and receiver Larry Fitzgerald (see Game Balls) were on the right page from the beginning of the game as the Cardinals built a 27-7 halftime lead.  Also did you notice how up-and-coming rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie held Carolina receiver Steve Smith without a catch for until the fourth quarter.   Last year the Super Bowl was in Arizona’s home stadium, but this year the Cardinals will surprising host the NFC Championship against the equally surprising Eagles.  Fans were so excited the NFC title game sold out in six minutes.

Philadelphia Eagles 23, New York Giants 11

I have to admit that I didn’t think my hometown team could get it done against the Giants on the road for the second time, but they did (Thanks for all the calls and Emails friends and family).  Early on it looked to be all Giants as the G-Men won the coin toss, decided to receive, and backup running back Ahmad Bradshaw ran the opening kickoff deep into Eagles territory.  However kick David Akers stopped Bradshaw from scoring and the Giants started their theme of kicking field goals by converting on a short kick by John Carney.  After the fireworks  of the Giants’ opening drive, it was all Eagles as their defense harassed Giants quarterback Eli Manning all day.  Manning never looked comfortable in pocket as he threw wobbler after wobbler in the windy Meadowlands.  The game seemed to be over when Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel intercepted Manning’s first pass on the Giants’ second drive and returned it to the Giants’ 2-yard line. After a quick dive-in touchdown by efficient Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb (22-40, 217 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, and 16 rushing yards w/ 1 TD – now 9-5 in the playoffs) making the score 7-3, the G-Men had little fight.  The Giants had the ball five times inside the Eagles’ 50-yard line and had only 5 field goal attempts to show for it (Carney made three field goals and missed two).  The Eagles were outrushed (138 to 59), but on two key 4th downs they were up to the task. Eagles DT Brodrick Bunkley made two crucial fourth down stops to preserve the Birds’ win including stuffing Manning on a fourth-and-1 play and running back Brandon Jacobs on fourth-and-2.  Who would have thought it when the Eagles were 5-5-1 after a horrible beating at the hands of the Ravens that they would be going to their unprecedented 5th NFC Championship in 10 years (won 6 of their last 7 including two in the playoffs).  The New England Patriots (five) and Pittsburgh Steelers (three) are the only other NFL teams with more than two conference championship game appearances in that span.  Next up for the Eagles is tough game against a Cardinals team that they already beat on Thanksgiving 48-20.  The Birds cannot have a letdown as they are still the same team that lost to the Redskins twice this year including in Week 16 when their season was supposed to be on the line.  With the Cardinals and Eagles making it the to the NFL Final 4, combined 2007 record of four teams is 31-33.  It will be fun to see which team left for dead, the Eagles or Cardinals, represents the NFC in the Super Bowl XLIII.

Pittsburgh Steelers 35, San Diego Chargers 24

The Steelers were all business as they knew what was at stake in the last divisional game.  All three other home teams lost to lower seeds and the Steelers didn’t want to make it four.  On a snowy and muddy Steelers type track, P-Burgh’s boys dusted off veteran running back Willie Parker (see Game Balls) and rode the Super Bowl XL star to victory.  The game looked to be evenly matched until the Steelers needing a big play (down 7-0 at the time) got one from receiver Santonio Holmes.  The speedy former Ohio State product set a Steelers’ playoff record with a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown that knotted the score.  After winning only by a score of 14-10 at the half, a fully healed efficient Ben Roethlisberger (17-26, 181 yards, 1TD, 0 INTs) and the Steelers came out with smoke in their eyes running 13-play touchdown drive that took 7:56 off the clock. From there the Chargers tried in vane to come back, but the Steelers were too much.  The game was basically over in the  4th quarter when Parker carried the ball five times for 53 yards and scored the Steelers final touchdown to put them up 35-17.  Next up for the Steelers is their hated AFC North rival the Baltimore Ravens.  These teams are the NFL’s version of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s and it will be interesting to see if the Steelers can beat the tough Ray Lewis led Ravens three times in one season.

Game Balls

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald — With fellow star 1,000-yard receiver Anquan Boldin sidelined with a hamstring injury, the tall Pro Bowl receiver from the University of Pittsburgh was incredible.  Fitzgerald picked up the slack with 8 catches for 166 yards and 1 touchdown as veteran quarterback Kurt Warner couldn’t help but smile.  To get things started in the Cardinals rather easy 33-13 victory over the Panthers, Fitzgerald made a circus catch over double-coverage on his first grab.  He went on to surpass 100 yards with five minutes left in the second quarter and to no one’s surprise Fitzgerald recovered the Panthers desperation onside kick in the final minutes of the Cardinals’ win.

Other Honorees: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Willie Parker (Had his most carries since week 2 with 27 rushes for 146 yards and 2 TDs. Had his first postseason 100-yard game); Pittsburgh Steelers LB Lamar Woodley (The Steelers “D” was stifling against the Chargers and Woodley was everywhere producing 5 TKLs and 2 sacks); Philadelphia Eagles kicker David Akers (Was huge in beating the G-Men connecting on 3 for 3 FGs and 2 XP’s for  11 points plus tackling Bradshaw on the opening kickoff.  Also set an NFL record with 18 straight made field goals in the playoffs); Philadelphia Eagles S Brian Dawkins (helped stuff the Giants on two 4th down attempts finishing with 10 TKls); Baltimore Ravens S Jim Leonhard (Stopped two huge Titans drives. Before halftime he recovered a fumble and in the fourth quarter the small former Wisconsin star forced a fumble at the Baltimore 9).

Lloyd’s Lackey

Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme – The former NFL Europe quarterback looked like he belonged back in the minor leagues.  Delhomme (17-34, 205 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT and 1 fumble) accounted for six turnovers by himself and the Cardinals scored 23 of their 33 points off of those takeaways. Also only got the ball to All-World receiver Steve Smith only twice including a garbage touchdown. It will be interesting to see if on the hot-seat head coach John Fox brings Delhomme back for a salary of $11 Million dollars next year after such a disastrous game

Other Dishonorees — NY Giants QB Eli Manning (The deer-in-the-headlights look was back as Manning struggle against the Eagles throwing wobbly pass after wobbly pass.  The former first overall pick finished with numbers 15-29, 169 yards, 0 TD, and 2 INTs as his playoffs record fell to 8-7 for his career); Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers (After a bust out season producing 14.5 sacks, the former UNC star got no pressure on Warner finishing with only 2 TKLs); Tennessee Titans QB Kerry Collins (I had a feeling that playing the Ravens again was not going to be good for the former Giants Super Bowl quarterback.  Collins looked a little frazzled at times finishing with numbers 26-42, 281 yards, 0 TD, and 1 INT); NY Giants receivers (Anyone wondering if the G-Men would miss Plaxico Burress got their answer as Hixon, Smith, and Toomer only had 6 receptions for 80 yards)

 

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)

Eagles Still Searching for the Answer to Their Receiver Situation

(Philadelphia, Pa) — So you want a receiver Philly fans to finally fill the void or is it a ravine that has existed since the departure of — The initials that we dare not say —  T.O.   Sure we can all hear Andy Reid’s 9-year common retort –uh, uh, [Throat Clear], “We are okay with our receivers”.  Coach we all know you are trying to protect your group of handpicked pass catchers, but 16 receiving touchdowns from your entire receiving corps when players like Randy Moss (23) and Braylon Edwards (16) were in their neighborhood or down the block all by themselves is an indicator that an impact player is needed.

Kevin Curtis was scrappy with numbers of 77 catches for 1110 yards, 14.4 yards per catch, and 6 TDs.  But when you take away his 11 catches, 221 yards,  21 ypc, 3 touchdown performance against the putrid Lions secondary in week three, you are left with some average numbers especially the 3 touchdowns the rest of the way — he did have two additional scores off fumble recoveries which proves he has nose for the ball.  NFL personnel guys that I have talked to have continually said that the Eagles have a good nucleus, but no that scares you other than Westbrook on offense especially their receivers.

I believe that for all of his “We are fine there talk”, Andy Reid understands that an upgrade is needed at the position going into 2008 season.  When free agency beckoned in late February, Birds fans had visions of Donovan McNabb throwing to a variety of too good to be true front line receivers.

— Chad Johnson (Proved to not be as unhappy as everyone thought.  Maybe getting great fantasy football numbers receiving from Carson Palmer and getting all of the attention from his antics in Cincinnati is what he really likes)

— Randy Moss (The Birds’ brass was oh too happy to tell their fan base that they made a “run” at the game’s second most enigmatic receiver offering him more than the Patriots on paper, but even coach Reid knew he was going back to Tom Terrific)

— Bernard Berrian (Thankfully the Eagles decided to let the Vikings (Philly Midwest) sign him to the tune of six-years, $42 million dollars.  Which I thought was too much for a guy that has never had a 1,000 yard season)

— Donte Stallworth (The Patriots 3rd receiver was worth seven-year, $35 million contract, with $10 million guaranteed and $17 million in the first four years to the Browns.  May have been the best fit since “he knows the system” and loves to go deep, but the Birds were not about to give that to a guy who had spent a large amount of his time in Philly in the whirlpool)

— Larry Fitzgerald (Though people were constantly telling me that Fitz was coming here after a conversation that BIGPLAY Football had with him last week in Cleveland at the EAS show, I knew he wanted to stay in Arizona.  Sure enough he signed a crazy fat restructured deal of 4 years, $40 Million with $30 Million in guarantees).

You can also throw in lower level guys Jerry Porter (now with Jaguars), Javon Walker (now with Raiders), Patrick Crayton (Re-signed with the Cowboys), Devrey Henderson (Re-signed by the Saints) and others that were also not part of the Birds plans.

However as of mid March there have been many rumors and attempts with little to show for it other than the Eagles gaining “brownie points” with stepford fans for trying.   But the plan facts are Eagles fans are probably still looking at the same receiver group going into the draft.  Sure there are non-descript free agents like Bryant Johnson (rumored to be on the Bucs radar), Keary Colbert, and DJ Hackett left.  But you can almost book it that other than a blockbuster deal that falls in their lap (i.e. Roy Williams) that the draft is the Birds next move at the wide receiver position.

So with the Birds armed with probably 12 or more selections and Lito Sheppard they will have some options going into April, but if you are expecting the Rams to just hand over perennial Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt for Sheppard and 5th rounder you have eaten one too many cheesesteaks with “wacky whiz”.   There still maybe a play or two out there.  I am hearing rumblings that Jags WR Matt Jones an intriguing former college quarterback that Eagles were high prior to the 2005 draft maybe available.  The Jags have brought in Troy Williamson and Porter and the 24-year old Jones’ mouth and lack of production (only 24  catches in ’07) have made for a very rocky relationship with head coach Jack Del Rio.  I still believe the Eagles will be looking to the draft first for their guy.

This year’s draft class at the receiver position is nice, but there are too many 2nd round choice types that don’t deserving of the Eagles #19 overall pick – You also don’t have to be a genius to know an offensive or defensive lineman will be their first choice.  So look for a solid player that can maybe contribute on special teams, but if you are looking for a Vikings Randy Moss 1998 rookie season (over 1,300 yards and 17 TDs) wake up.

With any rookie receiver patience is a virtual as it usually take three years for these future prima donnas to develop and we all know the Eagles track record for playing rookies, so break out the redshirt.  Also remember it took until the playoffs for Giants receiver Steve Smith to finally get it and where was San Diego Chargers first round selection Craig “Buster” Davis all of last year (20 rec, 188 yds w/ 1 TD).

Some draft options include:

DeSean Jackson, California –    Junior Eligible speedy return man (4.32), who needs to be more consistent catching the ball.  At 6-0,  178 pounds reminds me a little of Carolina tough guy Steve Smith when he came out of Utah. His return ability would be a huge plus for the field position starved Eagles. 

James Hardy,   Indiana  – Huge junior target at 6-6,  220 pounds that could be a great fit in the redzone.  Has Plaxico Burress size and tenacity with adequate speed (4.59)

Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma – Another big junior (6-4,  218) with average speed.  Will need to prove that he is tougher than he appeared at the combine where he begged off drills due to a quad tweak.

Early Doucet, LSU – A big play receiver that could fit well in the Eagles system.  He can play inside or outside at 6-0,  211 pounds running in the high 4.4’s.  Shined at the Senior Bowl catching the ball better than any of the other targets in Mobile.  To me he could be better than last year’s Chiefs sensation and former LSU teammate Dwayne Bowe.

Devin Thomas, Michigan State – Was undoubtedly the star receiver at the combine showing that he has the size (6-2,  215), Hands (caught ball with hands in drills and I didn’t see a drop), and speed (4.4) to make an impact.  Great second round value player.

Others to keep an eye on are Florida’s  Andre Caldwell, Kevin Kolb’s former Houston teammate Donnie Avery, Virginia Tech’s Eddie Royal (4.39 returnman speed demon), Kansas State rangy wideout Jordy Nelson (reminds me of Ed McCaffrey at 6-3,  215,  4.5’s) and this year’s Wes Welker — Texas Tech receiver Danny Amendola (5’11, 180 with great hands out of the slot).