Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl Favorite In the AFC??

Most of the time you look at what a team projects to and you waffle with will the team play up to those expectations. In the case of the 2015 Indianapolis Colts, the maturation of the rebuilding process beginning with Peyton Manning’s release, should pay off this year.

Luck scores in last year's playoff win in Denver.

Luck scores in last year’s season opener in Denver.

Let’s face it the Colts struck gold in the selection and development of Andrew Luck. Every year he has elevated his game along with another playoff accomplishment. At the end of the 2013 season, he brought the Colts back in a 45-44 wildcard thriller before falling to Brady’s Patriots in the divisional round. Last year his Colts won a couple playoff games including a 24-13 win against Manning’s Broncos signaling a changing of the guard.

In that game he out-dueled Peyton and looked to be the more confident quarterback with more command of the field. Our eyes didn’t deceive us. Luck was sure of himself and his teammates fed off his energy. Along with his playmaking ability, you could see he was capable of carrying a franchise.

However once again Luck and the Colts were struck down by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game 45-7. What was different about the loss last year is we clearly saw he didn’t have the talent around him to beat New England. The year before they were just a step behind Brady’s boys where last year, a retooled Patriot secondary obliterated the league’s #1 passing attack.

It’s evident: To get to the Super Bowl the Colts need to get Luck some dogs to help lead the pack. Enter Frank Gore and Andre Johnson.

How many championship teams over the years have brought in grizzled veterans to lend experience and tone for a young team?? Remember when the ’81 49ers brought in “Hacksaw” Reynolds and Fred Dean?? How about the ’92 Cowboys bringing in Charles Haley and Thomas Everett?? What about the ’01 Patriots bringing in LB Bryan Cox?? The latter was just as impotant.. go back and see which “alpha dog” lead them onto the field for Super Bowl XXXVI. it was Cox…yet I digress

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Frank Gore brings a punishing, tone setting style to an offense that can be described as finesse up to this point. Indy couldn’t knuckle up with two tight ends and impose their will on a defense. Gore brings that will and toughness to an offense relying too much on trickery. Knowing his time in the light is short, his hunger to get back to the Super Bowl will fuel the team’s urgency to win now.

The same can be said for fellow [[_]] alumnus Andre Johnson.  Year after year he’s had to watch the Colts foray into the NFL playoffs as his Houston Texans stumbled. They played in Super Bowls and AFC Championships. Now they have retooled on the run and came within a game of the big dance last year. How envious has he been watching this from up close in the same division?? So he’s staying within the division  (Calvin) and joining ranks with Gore to bring a veteran hunger to forge a tougher team mentality than the last few years.

Andre Johnson fightDid we say a tougher mentality?? Now I know you remember the fight between Johnson and former Titan Cortland Finnegan. Well this is a microcosm of the toughness he’ll bring to the offense converting 3rd and 7’s over the middle this season. A 7 time Pro Bowler will work the intermediate routes while TY Hilton will blow the top off opposing defenses.

With all the departures in New England this team should ascend to Super Bowl L. A third shot at New England with an even more mature Luck will come up rosy for Indy. Don’t forget LB Robert Mathis will return to join free agent DE Trent Cole to rush the passer. They join former Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year D’Qwell Jackson to improve last year’s 11th best defense. If this team is playing with a lead they will be hard to beat.

All they need is a good draft to address a few needs and luck when it comes to injuries.

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2013 Houston Texans Preview – The Time Is Now

JJ Watt was a finalist for the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of The Year

JJ Watt was a finalist for the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of The Year

When you think of the 2012 NFL season, most football fans thought the Houston Texans were an imposter when asked if they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Although they had rushed out to an 11-1 record, they failed to capture the imagination of fans or pundits outside Houston.

Sure they had defeated the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens 43-17 in week 7. However mind numbing losses to Green Bay (42-24), and a Monday night massacre in New England (42-14) late in the season, cast doubt on their Super Bowl legitimacy as the playoffs neared. They did finish 12-4 winning a Wild Card game before losing in the AFC Divisional round to the Patriots. Yet the question remains… Who are the Texans?? Are they a team moving up to elite status or are they beneficiary of the AFC as a conference becoming weaker??

Texans QB Matt Schaub will turn 32 this season.

Texans QB Matt Schaub will turn 32 this season.

Quarterback: Caught in that same identity vortex is quarterback Matt Schaub. Twice in the last four years he has been a Pro Bowl performer yet he leaves you wondering. Coming into last year the team and it’s fans were buoyed with optimism after backup TJ Yates led the team to a Wild Card win the year before. The overall feeling was if they could make it this far without Schaub, they should be able to compete for a title with him being healthy for the playoffs. The fact that they didn’t advance any further raises doubt if they can win it at all with Schaub at quarterback.

Make no mistake this team is better with Schaub at the helm but this may be his make or break year with the Colts coming on strong. In 2012 he completed 350 of 544 passes (64.3%) for 4,008 yards 22 TDs with only 12 interceptions. The perception was he didn’t perform when he faced the league’s elite. To that there is some truth but early in the season he carved up the Denver Broncos with 4 TD passes in a 31-25 victory on the road. He had his chance to show the nation when they lost to New England on that December Monday Night 42-14. In that game he looked disengaged, not the leader you’d want at quarterback, and couldn’t make a play to turn the momentum.

For most, he sits in that abyss of good quarterbacks that aren’t thought of as championship signal callers. Right where Joe Flacco was last year and where Matt Ryan sits this year. This is Schaub’s make or break year. This will be his 7th season as quarterback of the Texans and 11th overall after coming over from Atlanta. Its ironic that he and Ryan are both in the same position. Had Schaub not signed with Houston, he would have taken over the Falcons after Michael Vick’s dog fighting conviction. Yet he’s still a good quarterback that has to prove he can be a championship one. The nucleus of this team is aging and at 32 when the season starts, Schaub will be right there with them. Houston is playoff calibur at quarterback until proven otherwise.

Arian Foster has been among the best running backs in football.

Arian Foster has been among the best running backs in football.

Offensive Backfield: Going into his 5th season, the Texans couldn’t be more solid at running back with Arian Foster leading the charge. Next to Adrian Peterson, no back in football has been more productive than Foster’s 4,264 yards and 39 TDs over the last three years. He isn’t the flashy runner breaking the huge play like CJ2K or Peterson, but he’s a steady performer that churns out important first down after first down as the Texans closer. This is a running back in the prime of his career and has a solid back in Ben Tate (4.3 yards per carry in 2012) to back him up. The offense runs through the one cut and go running game Foster brings to the table. In 3 of the Texans 4 losses last year, Foster failed to rush for 50 yards. Part of it was Coach Kubiak abandoning the run once they fell behind. The Texans are Super Bowl quality at running back and should get a 1,300 yards from Foster this season.

Receivers: A fascinating study is Andre Johnson. When you’re watching him on game film, he doesn’t look as quick as he did a few years back. He seems to only be explosive in spurts now and really gets by on guile.You do realize he’ll also be 32 years of age when the season kicks off. He was the prime target in this offense gathering 112 passes for 1,598 yards, yet only caught 4 touchdowns. What’s missing now is the big play element from the offense with Johnson and TE Owen Daniels (62 rec. 716 yds 6TDs) as the intermediate threats.

With 818 receptions for 11,254 yards in his career, Johnson's numbers are approaching all time great status.

With 818 receptions for 11,254 yards in his career, Johnson’s numbers are approaching all time great status.

It looks as though the Texans realize this and released WR Kevin Walter who was the intermediate receiver across from Johnson. What they need is exactly what they let go in 2011, a Jacoby Jones. Right now this offense is missing a home run hitter that can take the Safeties deep. Houston anointed 2nd year wideout Keshawn Martin to the starting line-up to be the X receiver but he’s unproven. Look for the Texans to add this element in the draft or a free agent signing to compete with Martin. If they can address this they can upgrade their ranking. As it stands they are playoff quality because teams know they can’t get deep and clog the routes 20 yards or under.

Offensive Line: In today’s NFL, the offensive line is measured by how well they can protect the passer by most pundits. However here we grade beyond that. This group allowed only 28 sacks last year which was good enough for 7th best in the NFL. Left Tackle Duane Brown was an All Pro while making the Pro Bowl with Center Chris Myers and Guard Wade Smith. However Smith and Myers will each be 32 by the time the season kicks off. They’re young at the tackles but older on the line’s interior.

One aspect of the game they could use some improvement is run blocking. How can we say that about a group that had 3 Pro Bowl members and a 1,000 yard rusher?? Very simple. Foster isn’t a back that dances. He takes the ball on “Belly” and “Stretch” plays, makes a cut and then goes up-field. However they are 30th in negative rush plays to the strong side with 20 and 31st to the weak side with 28.  Further evidence is when it’s 3rd or 4th and goal or less than 2 yards, this group only converted 57% of the time to the strong side which was 20th in the league. This team could only run up the middle where they did convert 75% of the time in obvious power situations. So it’s obvious they struggle with younger more athletic defenders. This will only get worse over time and lowers their ranking to average. 

Defensive Line: This group begins and ends with JJ Watt who is the premier defensive lineman in the game. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year had a career season with 81 tackles, 20 1/2 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 16 defensed passes. Sixteen?? That is an obscene number. One thing they should do is move him around more so he can’t be game planned out of being effective. That is what New England did and he wasn’t a factor in the playoff game or the 42-14 loss.

In Houston’s 3-4 the interior linemen are primarily space eaters to clog the line and allow the linebackers to make the tackles. The Texans were 7th in defense overall and 7th against the run. Earl Mitchell held down the point at Nose Tackle and weakside Defensive End Anthony Smith did move crash the pocket for 7 sacks. In this 3-4 he’s limited from a lot of outside moves because Defensive Co-ordinator Wade Phillips likes to send linebackers like he did with the departed Conner Barwin. Because of Watt’s presence this is definitely a Super Bowl caliber group. Twenty seven and a half sacks from a 3 man line?? Come on now…

If Cushing can have a bounce back year....watchout! Will he be inside or outside??

If Cushing can have a bounce back year….watchout! Will he be inside or outside??

Linebackers: We just mentioned the loss of Connor Barwin who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. This team can hopefully get a healthy year out of Brian Cushing who could be moved back outside. In fact last year’s infirmary list included Cushing, Darryl Sharpton, Tim Dobbins, and Barrett Ruud missing a combined 27 games last year. This was the Achille’s Heel of the defense but that is understandable when you’re playing second string all year.

Bradie James was the leading tackler on this team with 76 stops and had 1/2 a sack. With so many players injured it’s almost impossible to gauge how effective this group will be. They do have pieces in place and we’ll have to see if they are going to draft an outside linebacker or what we believe… Brian Cushing will go back outside. If they can get their linebackers on the field we think they can be good. However since we haven’t seen them hit the field yet we have to grade them as below average.

If Ed Reed can hold up this season, he can transform this defense from a good one to a great one.

If Ed Reed can hold up this season, he can transform this defense from a good one to a great one.

Secondary: With a stout pass rush that produced 44 sacks and 11 forced fumbles, this group should have had more than 15 interceptions. CB Kareem Jackson was the leader in that department with 4, and Jonathon Joseph went to the Pro Bowl with 2 picks. The Texans needed to desperately improve their secondary that ranked 20th against the pass. They needed a spark… Enter Ed Reed.  We’ll see if Reed will make a huge difference. Had this been 2008, we’d immediately say yes. With him going into his 12th year, we’re taking a wait and see approach

Last year’s Free Safety Glover Quinn was second on the team in tackles with 85 yet intercepted just 2 passes. Now you know why the Texans went after Ed Reed. SS Danieal Manning will come up and make a hit but these guys are limited cover guys. This group is playoff caliber if Reed plays like he did in Baltimore. The Chancellor would like to see more out of this group when it comes to coverage. Could see another draft pick used on corner and safety as well. They need some insurance to keep coverage on slot receivers. With the addition of Reed this is now a playoff caliber group.

Overview: This team is on the verge of having to retool on the offensive side of the ball. They are at a collective age where a crash could happen at any time. Schaub, Johnson, and the center of the offensive line all being over 32 years of age?? Tight End Owen Daniel will turn 31 in November. You better believe the time is now for this group. They couldn’t pull past the Colts while Manning was there and now they have to put up with a completely new Colts regime. One that gained confidence beating the Texans in the finale last year 28-16.

In reality this has been the AFC South’s best team since 2010 yet they couldn’t get that landmark win to push themselves to the top of the conference. The Chancellor’s crystal ball sees more of the same as they won’t make it past the divisional round of the playoffs and may actually be a wildcard entrant. Look at the relative age of this team. Just remember the NFL is a long season for all these thirty somethings. This will be their last year as a playoff team as well…

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Week 2 NFL Picks

Welcome to the Taylor Blitz Times NFL selections for week 2. We had a catastrophic crash that took down several articles and we apologize for not getting these out sooner. Yet this is about who will win in this second week in the season. Now our picks took a catastrophic turn for the worse also and we need to get back on track. So without further adieu lets jump into the games.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Detroit Lions: We have the Lions in this one. Matthew Stafford stayed healthy and the team is brimming with confidence after they’re fifth straight regular season win. Of course that’s dating back to last season. The Chiefs are still trying to figure out what happened to them last week at home against Buffalo.

Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers: The bad news, the Steelers looked old on defense and a step slow against Baltimore last week. The good news?? They get the referree who officiated the lopsided calls in Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks. The Steelers should pound out a win with Mendenhall breaking the 100 yard mark in the Steelers home opener. Steelers should win big.

Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints: This is an upset alert special. Brian Urlacher will take the field with a heavy heart with the death of his mother and his teammates will rally around him. He’s the heart and soul of the Bear’s organization and his team will elevate it’s play in this one. The Saints have had an extra four days off after their high scoring week 1 affair against the Green Bay Packers and they still haven’t learned to tackle. Just as they acquiesced in a defensive slugfest to Tampa at the end of last year, they won’t have the stones to stay in this one. Da Bears in a tough game

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Jets: The Jets in this one. Jacksonville comes in with both Maurice Jones Drew and Greg Jones on the injured report this week, and now journeyman Luke McCown is going to throw at Cromartie and Revis?? Ball game over right there. Although they are a slow starting team, Rex Ryan and the boys can seriously add one of those championship mental blocks by taking it to a lesser team and beating them soundly. This is where the Jets need to show another level of growth. Two years ago it was winning against the good teams. Last year it was finding ways to win close games and this year it’s to dominate lessor opponents and rest your starters late in meaningless action.

Cleveland Browns @ Indianapolis Colts: In an announcement to the NFL, it will be hammered home that the Colts have completely fallen from the league’s elite. The Browns were burned on a fluke / mishap last week when they were caught in substitution when the Bengals went ahead in the game. they had led the whole way…in this one. Peyton Hillis will run at the undersized Colts defense who may be missing MLB Gary Brackett also. If the Browns can get ahead and play ball control with Hillis and keep greybeard Kerry Collins from gaining any rhythm, they should pull away. Browns get first win of the year.

Arizona Cardinals @ Washington Redskins: Rex Grossman?? Yes, Rex Grossman. Off of the NFL trash heap to make folks forget all about the Donovan McNabb fiasco and give the Shanahan regime a legitimate quarterback. Skins were spirited in their conquest of the Giants where as last week the Cardinals were busy chasing Panthers all over the field while giving up 422 yards to Cam Newton. So the question that settles this is: If Cam Newton can carve up the CB deficient Cardinals (shouldn’t have given up Rodgers-Cromartie) to the tune of an NFL record at home…what will happen on the road to a resurgent Redskin passing attack?? Redskins in this one

Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers: Intriguing matchup and lets put you in the drivers seat for a second. Lets say you were the defensive co-ordinator for the defending world champions..right?? Now you get to go back to where you had been fired and you were the first coach in that team’s history. Do you think you’d be prepared for that game?? Yes that is the plight of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers today. What better way to make the Panthers remember who they gave up than to silence the NFL’s new golden child?? Think Cam Newton will be confused?? LOL Capers is drawing up Packer blitzes as we speak. Packers roll in this one.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Minnesota Vikings: We have no idea why the Vikings are favored here aside from the fact that odds are given to make betting money even on both sides. The Bucs are more physical than the Vikings and this is where they have to build on the aforementioned late season road win in New Orleans last year. They have the physical running style in LaGarrett Blount to run at the Vikings and the defensive heft to stop Peterson. Right now Donovan McNabb is really struggling and Aquib Talib and Ronde Barber are licking their chops. For a bit of history, remember when the Bucs went to the Super Bowl in 2002, it was Barber who sealed the deal with a 95 yard interception for a TD to finish off McNabb in the NFC Championship…yes an abstract. The Bucs win this one…close game though.

Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans: Just don’t see how the Ravens could lose to a team with such little momentum, they lost to the backpedalling Jaguars in week 1. After bludgeoning the defending AFC Champion Steelers last week and coming to town with the AFC’s defensive player of the week in Terrell Suggs?? Adelphi Coliseum will be empty going into the 4th quarter. Ravens pull away in this one.

Oakland Raiders @ Buffalo Bills: Rich Stadium should be brimming with excitement not seen since the 2001 signing of Drew Bledsoe. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick the real deal? Was the blocking performance by the Bills offensive line as stout as appeared, allowing one sack and producing a 100 yard rusher?? Yet before we get ahead of ourselves Bills fans, understand that Kansas City still gained almost a whopping 6 yards a carry to the Chiefs. They controlled the running attack by scoring and taking the running game away from the Chiefs. Can they do the same to the Raiders??

Darren McFadden is showing that last year was no fluke. The Raiders ran the ball down the Broncos throats last week. After a 22 carry for 150 yard performance the Bills better not let the Raiders get a lead because it could be a long one. Yet the noise should allow the Bills to get an early lead and control the game.  The Bills should be 2-0 at the end of the day.

Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers: Both teams played well last week yet the 49ers blew out a substitute NFL team in the Seahawks. The Cowboys dominated the team (Jets) Taylor Blitz Times picked to win this year’s Super Bowl. Only a late game collapse with the injuries doomed the Cowboys in that Sunday night game.  A closer look at all those missing players had alot to do with who was missing on the special teams that allowed the punt to be blocked to seal their fate. This week Romo and the offense needs to keep the petal to the metal and score over 30. We think they will….Cowboys

San Diego Chargers @ New England Patriots: Here come the Jeckyll and Hyde Chargers playing up or down to their competition. Last week they played down to Leslie Frazier’s Vikings. Tom Brady nearly assaulted the NFL record  book last week coming within 40 yards of the all time record. Tedi Bruschi lit a fire under Chad Ochocinco in what we feel was a cheapshot, but it lit a fire. So in this one we’re going to take the Patriots in a win by a touchdown.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Denver Broncos: Listen, no team can ever be settled when there is a quarterback controversy. Even the 1971 Champion Dallas Cowboys were mired with a .500 record while they waffled over their quarterbacks. So why should the undermanned Broncos be any different with Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow. Coach Fox needs to put his face on the franchise and if I were he I’d ride Tim Tebow like Seattle Slew. First off, the fans want him and he’ll keep asses in seats all season. Second he allows the Bronco offense to play 11 against 11 down on the goal line and at any time they decide to exploit his 245lb body running the ball. Will he let it happen this week?? He pulls the trigger next week after another loss…..Bengals will find a way to win late

Houston Texans @ Miami Dolphins: The NFL’s best receiver is going to play back where he starred in his collegiate years with the Miami Hurricanes. He will be a tad fired up having watched his alma mater (The U) beat down nemesis Ohio St. the day before. His Texans had a seismic win last week pummeling the Indianapolis Colts. Now he gets to go against a secondary that gave up 517 yards to Tom Brady and the Patriots last week?? Yikes!! He might go for 200 himself in this one. Houston’s time to shine. It’s their year in the AFC South. Texans big.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons: Now Deion Sanders has always proclaimed the Georgia Dome to be the house that he built. Maybe, but it did house the Michael Vick Experience for many years until the dog fighting ring derailed a young promising career. How he is received will dictate how he plays and how he plays, so goes the Eagles. If they cheer their prodigal son upon his return, look for Michael Vick to have a terrific game.  He’ll want to showcase all his skills and it’s up to Andy Reid to help temper his game and keep his emotions from getting the best of him. The Falcons will be able to move the football on one of football’s worst run defenses. Its paramount that the Falcons keep #7 off the field and not abandon the running game as they did last week in Chicago. Have this suspicion that Michael Vick is going to do something special. Will it be enough for the Eagles to win in Dixie? We think so as well Eagles!!

There ya have it…week 2 is ready to kickoff…. Here are our selections, tell us yours

2011 AFC South Previews and Predictions

With the NFL season a few days away, the Colts are starting to realize what life will be like without Peyton Manning. His inability to recover fully from neck surgery has given the front office a gaze into the near future when he will not be under center. The Colts spent a majority of this year’s draft improving the offensive line, it’s a given he will take some shots as this line develops. The images of an aging Brett Favre taking hit after hit have to be dancing in Coach Caldwell’s mind, and Manning has been placed as doubtful on the injury report for week one against the Texans.

Just in the nick of time too as Texan linebackers Mario Williams and Brian Cushing were going to come screaming at him off the corners. It seems as though the Colts are after one last hurrah where a division rival from Texas has grown in leaps and bounds. Last year they fielded the NFL’s leading rusher in Arian Foster. His 1,616 yards and 16 TDs to go along with the production of perennial Pro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson, should make this the best offense in the division.  Coach Kubiak is on the “hotseat” and hopes new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can improve his defense. These developments are happening at just the right time in our eyes. Circle week 4 when this team hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers to find out if they are for real or not.

2011 AFC SOUTH PREDICTIONS

Houston Texans 10-6 *

Indianapolis Colts 9-7

Tennessee Titans  5-11

Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            For the first time since they moved from Houston in 1996, the Tennessee Titans will be moving in a new direction without Jeff Fisher. The team he left behind has some pieces but made a mistake in not retaining Kerry Collins. He could have provided some continuity as the team develops #1 draft pick Jake Locker. Now he will help shape the Colts (when Manning returns) gameplan when they face his former team. Furthermore the contract renegotiation for the services of RB Chris Johnson are over, yet the subsequent holdout normally mean hamstring problems. Something to watch as this team brought in Matt Hasselbeck to be the transition quarterback.

Now we have the swan song for Jack Del Rio coming up. It looked like his team had been regressing since that playoff loss to New England a few years back. If you remember, Coach Rio in a stunning move, cut starting QB Byron Leftwich and handed the keys over to David Garard to generate more offense. that was 2007, so what does that have to do with 2011?? Lets just say same time same channel. As we went to press yesterday, Del Rio released starting quarterback David Garard. This time there is only rookie QB Blaine Gabbert to handle the offense.  He’s simply lost it with this move. In his defense, the last time he made this bold move, Garrard had provided a second half spark in many games during the previous season. Maurice Jones Drew will see mammoth 8 man fronts and will see a long season. The Titans were picked to finish last when this move came across the wire.  Looks like a recipe for disaster.

As for the Colts, this looks like the end of a remarkable run. This team won 115 games during the 2000’s which included a Super Bowl triumph in the 41st edition. As time has gone on they have drafted low for many years and now the team is devoid of any star power outside of Manning. Even if he is healthy, he masks many deficiencies. Yet with the loss of defensive sparkplug Bob Sanders there is a lot to overcome. With the emergence of the Jets and re-emergence of the Ravens with superior secondaries, the Colts deficiencies at receiver have shown up in their last few playoff losses. Each of which have come in the first round…only this year the Colts won’t make it that far.

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Next up: AFC North