The Collateral Damage of Kyler Murray

A few weeks back the Cardinal franchise was celebrating a 34-33 win over the sinking 1-5 Atlanta Falcons. This on the heels of a 26-23 victory over the winless Bengals lent extreme optimism out here in the desert. Kliff Kingsbury’s crew went from an 0-3-1 record to 2-3-1 in a matter of 8 days and local media was waxing philosophically how this team had turned a corner.

Had they???

Murray led a last second drive in The Queen City that allowed the Cardinals to escape with a win over the NFL’s 31st ranked defense in Cincy.  Then came the nail biter as Murray & his offensive mates hung on for dear life as a 27-10 lead evaporated as Matt Bryant’s field goal sailed wide left preserving a 34-33 win. The Falcons came in with the 27th ranked defense.

Now follow that up with a surprising 27-21 win in New York where backup RB Chase Edmonds flashed in relief of starter David Johnson. Behind his 126 yards rushing and 3 TDs the offense didn’t have to depend on Murray (14 of 21 for 104 yards) throwing a wet ball too much in a driving rain.

This brought their record to 3-3-1 although it came at the expense of the Giants 28th rated defense. Arizona had fashioned a 3 game winning streak with improved play from Kyler Murray. He had thrown for 697 yards completing 61 of 90 throws and 3 TDs and no interceptions.

Just feet from the action you can tell how diminutive Murray is.

The Cardinals beat a few down on their luck teams and we knew we’d find out where this offense truly was once they played at New Orleans, host the 49ers and then go to Tampa then San Francisco before they make it to their bye. At the time these are the 5th, 1st, 23rd and 1st ranked defenses and all 3 had played lights out in recent weeks.

Now here we are halfway through that gauntlet and the Cardinals dropped 2 straight to the Saints 31-9, and the 49ers 28-25 on Halloween Night and are behind 10-6 on the road in Tampa.

One aspect of attending the Halloween matchup with San Fran is being close enough to get a sense of size. Or rather lack there of….  At the goal line awaiting an instant replay review, super rookie DE Nick Bosa was standing next to Kyler Murray and it looked like a big rother walking his little brother to school. Yes it’s great to cheer for the little guy but the NFL is the land of giants.

All night Murray was on the move amid the moving redwood forrest that was the 49er defensive line. He was sacked 3 times, hurried on 7 other attempts and on 3 occasions, Murray had to hookslide on scrambles in front of corners Richard Sherman & Emmanuel Moseley. Each corner even dwarfed him to the point he never tried to make either miss or power through an arm tackle and pick up a 1st down.

Keep in mind this is Murray at his quickest and most nimble. He can’t make the plays on the run a Lamar Jackson can do and he has to develop in the pocket. He has nice touch but as Defensive Coordinators really game plan against him, can he keep his touch over a complete football game. In today’s game the telecast announced that 31 times Murray and the Cardinals had been in the RedZone and come up with just 11 touchdowns. The worst in football. Defensive Coordinators are able to knock Murray off rhythm for a half as in most games the Cardinals are off kilter in the 1st half…only to scramble back in the 2nd and falling short in the games they lose.

Some of this is Kyler Murray’s fault but more of it is Kliff Kingsbury’s.

Murray shows tremendous flashes with great throws but there are too many sporadic 3 and out series. However Klingsbury never puts Murray under center where he could use his voice cadence to slow the pass rush. He also doesn’t put him under center where he can call half rollouts that can also slow the pass rush. In the Pistol you can’t run “Waggles” nor standard formation (2TE/1RB or 2RB/1TE) calls that brings 1 and possibly 2 additional Linebackers on the field and open up Murray’s throwing windows past 15 yards.

Yet that is too sophisticated for Klingsbury who is one of these analytic football coaches completely overcoaching the game and undercoaching situations. You’d think he was calling plays as though he is coaching football on Playstation or XBox Madden. Very few adjustments and shows why his hiring was questioned by those who never believed in him or his system when it never produced a winning record in the Big XII.

A collegiate conference that doesn’t play defense!

For The Chancellor of Football this all feels like “The Old Ball Coach II” when Steve Spurrier was supposed to revolutionize the NFL back in 2000 or The Run & Shoot offense only to fall flat on their faces when NFL Defensive Coordinators drew a bead on what they’re offenses couldn’t do.

Another is this penchant for hiring these “fast talking” young analytic football coaches a la Sean McVay who come in with a fancy Pistol formation and play call sheet and inability to react and make adustments in their offense when they face a defensive guru like a Bill Belechick. Or make adjustments to the elements or team’s defensive strengths. These guys are a thorn in the side of long time front line coordinators looking for head coaching jobs in the NFL. Same for many former black players who are not being afforded the chance to enter the coaching ranks with the “Rooney Rule” at these guys expense.

So teams are coming full bore on the Cardinals offense to chase Kingsbury back to college and Murray is the collateral damage. Remember in his 2nd preseason game showcased on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” when Murray, as the game concluded, asked several Raider defenders why the Raiders DC kept blitzing him when he expected a vanilla defensive game plan?? Its been relentless ever since.

Will Kingsbury adjust and learn the pro game?

Will Kingsbury alter his game plan away from the same formations and alter their plan of attack to protect Murray??

Will Murray be able to take the punishment before NFL defenses either beat the speed out of him or chase him back to baseball??

Interesting questions that history has shown direction but we have to let play out in real time. Asking “The Chancellor of Football?” We’ve seen this before and doesn’t think so. Klingsbury calls too cute a ball game just like Matt Nagy in Chicago. They’re too in love with playing to the point they are geniuses instead of adjusting to what will make their team’s successful. Then just like “The Old Ball Coach” they will be chased back to college.

This just in: The Arizona Cardinals just lost their 3rd straight, 30-27 to Tampa, and now drop to 3-6-1…and now travel to 8-0 (haven’t played this week yet) San Francisco with the NFL’s #1 defense. Yikes!! Kingsbury and Murray…your mission, should you choose to accept it…

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2019 NFC West Previews & Predictions

Once the final seconds ticked away at the conclusion of Super Bowl LIII, a series of questions rose to greet the Rams before they trudged back to their locker room. Scott McVay’s “Boy Wonder” status had been ripped to shreds in a 13-3 loss where the Rams offense couldn’t get out of it’s own way.

What was the impetus for RB Todd Gurley’s diminished role in LIII just as it had been down in the NFC Championship in New Orleans?? Did Gurley really hurt his knee where Rams brass kept it quiet or was it fall out from his appearance on LeBron James’ show “The Shop”??

How did the NFL’s highest scoring team, averaging 32.9 points per game, wind up tied with the Dolphins of Super Bowl VI with the lowest game total in S.B. history with 3 points?? Have McVay and Jared Goff recovered from being dominated in a world championship game when all eyes were on them??

When you lose a Super Bowl all questions rise to the surface and no team recent memory has as much to answer to than the defending NFC Champions.

One of the teams they have to stave off to repeat as NFC West champions is the #1 rushing attack of Seattle. Pete Carroll’s 3 headed monster, Chris Carson (1,141 rush yds), Mike Davis (514 yds) & Rashad Penny (420 yds) combined for 15TDs while averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Their combined 2,084 yards running established attitude and tone the Seahawks hadn’t seen since Marshawn Lynch. With Penny coming on at the end of the season it’s hard to see this group along with the front line not becoming the bellwether focal point of a young ball club.

2019 NFC West Predictions

  1. Seattle Seahawks 11-5 *
  2. Los Angeles Rams 9-7**
  3. San Francisco 49ers 6-10
  4. Arizona Cardinals 4-12

Pete Carroll’s team finished winning 6 of their last 7 and was the most solid NFC team coming down the stretch. Now they add the 4.3 speed and size of 2nd round draft pick DK Metcalf to bolster a receiver group in flux. He has the size and speed to become the 1st #1 receiver in Russell Wilson’s tenure. For the 1st time this team will be known for their offensive strength and rely on timely defense vs an overpowering one.

Eventually 49er QB Jimmy Garoppolo was going to have to hit the field and earn his large contract. Truth be told he struggled at the beginning of last year which should be the case at the start of 2019. He hasn’t played against live fire in nearly a year. Fan favorite backup Nick Mullens will have a chance to wrest a few starts from Garoppolo if this team starts 0-3 with a bye in the 4th week.

However the 49ers have bolstered their defense with the signing of free agent LB Kwon Alexander,1st round draft pick Joey Bosa and acquiring DE Dee Ford along with former Raider and Seahawk LB Malcolm Smith. The 49ers should have one of the better defenses in the NFC. It will make for closer games however the Niner offense lacks explosion so they’ll keep games close but…

The Niners running by committee and lack of explosive playmakers on offense will short circuit efforts early in the season. They’ll win a few ugly games late. Keep in mind this team was 1-5 in the division last year. They have to establish themselves here.

In Tinsletown the Rams are ready to bounce back from their Super Bowl meltdown… however we need to find out about Todd Gurley first. Last year Gurley was one of the best weapons in the NFL yet something happened. On Dec 2nd, Gurley rushed for 132 yds on 23 carries and 2 scores and was the big strike RB earning his $57 million contract. Two days later he appeared on Lebron James show “The Shop” where James famously made the comment “NFL owners had a plantation mentality” and all of a sudden we didn’t see him carrying the football.

In the last 4 games of the season he had 11, 12, 0, and 0 carries to finish the season. Interestingly in the wild card win over Dallas he burst for 115 yards on 16 carries yet played 2nd fiddle to CJ Anderson’s 123 yards on 23 carries and 2 scores. Then back in hibernation mode with 4 attempts for 10 yards in the NFC Championship Game and 10 carries for 35 yards in the Super Bowl. Hmmmmmm?? OK

Well there was some fudging with the injury report with an arthritic knee unofficially we learned leading up to the Super Bowl yet it wasn’t reported. Another theory is Gurley was silenced and pulled out of the lineup for the appearance on The Shop… it came at the height of the national anthem debate and in the black community we spoke of it on social media and in the blogosphere. He didn’t defend ownership or give a rebuttal to the “slave mentality” comment and we won’t know for some time.

Either way Gurley and the Rams have to deal with the psychological fallout from this and the Super Bowl flameout or a star running back with an arthritic knee. For one who relies on jump cuts and option routes on LBs and Nickel backs in the passing game, this is a problem and he could be worn down by week 12.

We’re waiting to see how Jared Goff bounces back from the Super Bowl. Goff enjoyed a Pro Bowl year completing 364 of 561 passes for 4,688 yards and 32 scores. Yet he only threw for 1 TD in 3 postseason games and didn’t throw for more than 300 yards in any of the 3. In this copycat league teams will follow what the Patriots did and disguise their coverages then shift into a new look when the play clock gets down to :15. This is when Sean McVay can no longer speak to him in his helmet speaker. He HAS to be able to audible and move his offense into different formations to beat defenses on his own and not just rely on presnap play design.

Keep in mind as NFC Champs they are going to get everyone’s best shot and this team was only 3-3 against playoff teams in the regular season. If the Rams can start fast they won’t have to deal with all these items discussed except Taylor Blitz sees a 3-3 start this year and the talk will begin. They will miss the playoffs in 2019.

Pete Carroll and the Seahawks win the division.

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Early Moment of Truth: Buccaneers v. Cardinals

For every championship football team, there are signature wins where one must prove to themselves they are among the league’s elite by beating a quality opponent. Another psychological building block on the way to the playoffs or a championship season is to conquer a desperate quality team that knows you’re coming. Such will be the case Sunday when the 1-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to an 0-1 Arizona Cardinals team that has Super Bowl aspirations.

David is swallowing intermediate receivers and runners coming into his area.

David is swallowing intermediate receivers and runners coming into his area.

Last year Tampa finished with a top ten defense which figures to be one again this year. Leading the way is a linebacking corps where Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander might be the best set of linebackers in the NFL. These two combined for 251 total tackles, 6 sacks, 5 interceptions returning 1 for a touchdown. Alexander is off to a torrid start with a 17 tackle 1 sack performance in a week 1 win over Atlanta. This is going to be his breakout year where he will join David in the Pro Bowl and is an early favorite for Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

This is the breakout year for Kwon Alexander.The Cardinals live and die on the intermediate routes of Larry Fitzgerald, RB David Johnson as Carson Palmer works the crossing routes underneath 15 yards over the middle.  They have to establish the run to suck these athletic linebackers up and clear those areas.

Last week the Cardinals were able to establish the run early but when G Evan Mathis left the game with a foot injury they lost offensive continuity. He will be back this week and has to deal with Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy in Tampa’s defensive line rotation.

johnsonAfter a lackluster postseason Carson Palmer had a good game in the opener against the Patriots. They can’t get off to the slow start they did when they lost to New England. It took the ball out of David Johnson’s hands and half the Cardinal playbook was moot when they fell behind 10 Sunday Night. Inevitably Johnson wound up with 92 yards on 16 carries in the game but they need to get him running right at Tampa’s defense and keep Jameis Winston on the sideline. His bruising style can wear down the Bucs athletic defense and open up passing routes later in the game.

This could be the coming out party for Jameis Winston as he has the chance to pull off a second straight upset and establish the Bucs as a team to be reckoned with if they go 2-0. Last week he outplayed Matt Ryan throwing for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns while completing 71.9% of his throws. He had more TD passes (4) than incompletions (3). As long as he is supplemented by Taylor Blitz Times favorite Doug Martin, he will throw against a balanced defense that will resort to blitzing if they can’t get to him.

The strongest suit for the Cardinals is to lean on their passing game late. If they come out and fast break they allow the Bucs defense to clog the passing lanes and force turnovers and 3 and out series. The Cardinals need to have the “Red Sea” make noise and help make it uncomfortable for Winston.

Who will win this game?

Don’t forget these two teams were picked to be the NFC Wildcards in Taylor Blitz Times NFC preview. Arizona Head Coach Bruce Arians likes to show off his passing attack and will play right into the hands of this Buccaneer defense. The Cardinals won’t stay with the running game long enough to sustain offense early. Winston and his tall receivers will expose the surprising Achille’s Heel of the defense and that is their secondary.

Tampa wins this one in an upset and establish who they are in 2016 with a 34-24 win…

2016 NFC Predictions

As the nation mourns the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we’re kicking off another NFL season. The memorials have made today more sobering than the open giddiness of last week’s kickoff with college football. Yet we move on and remember those lost.

Winston is growing as a signal caller.

Winston is growing as a signal caller.

Here in Phoenix, all the radio shows have been abuzz with a Super Bowl or bust season for the Arizona Cardinals. Of course their flagship station is all pro Cardinals with only one on air personality, John Gambadoro, remembering his awful finish. This echoes The Chancellor of Football’s view that their season begins and ends with the psyche of a 37 yr old quarterback who has never had NFL postseason success. Our NFC West preview still has Seattle as the class of the division.

In Dallas, the Cowboys feel they have found their quarterback for the future in Dak Prescott. With 1st round pick Ezekiel Elliott the offense will benefit from an offensive line that paved the way for 2014 rushing champion DeMarco Murray. The question is how will Prescott perform when he is faced with real exotic NFL regular season defenses?? Will it be enough for the Dallas Cowboys to win the east??

rs_news_photoNFC West Champs: Seattle Seahawks 12-4**

NFC North Champs: Green Bay Packers 12-4

NFC South Champs: Carolina Panthers 10-6

NFC East Champs: New York Giants 9-7

Wildcards – Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The team to reach Super Bowl LI in Houston will be the Seattle Seahawks. Once there they will beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-26 to win their 2nd title in a 4 year period.

Russell Wilson will have an MVP season as he matured into a total quarterback last year in Marshawn Lynch’s absence. Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael will be able to maintain a solid rushing attack. Wilson can still take off on runs to supplement his growing prowess as a passer. Keep in mind he has already been to 2 Super Bowls and down the stretch he threw for 24 TDs to only 1 interception in the last 7 games.

The Legion of Boom defense is still formidable and finished 2nd only to the World Champion Denver Broncos. They are still the best team in football and if they force teams to make that long trek to the Pacific Northwest, this team is hoisting the trophy.

In the East, the New York Giants with their offensive weapons will lean on their defense for the first part of this season. Yes you heard that correctly. Eli Manning and the offensive woes of the preseason will take until midseason before they gel late. Coach Jason Garrett’s defense is way too porous for the Cowboys to win this division or even make a playoff push.

The roof will cave in on the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles for different reasons. Kirk Cousins will have it all on his shoulders as the Redskins let Alfred Morris go. NFL Defensive Coordinators now have a year of film on Cousins and he will have a sophomore slump and no proven runner to lean on.

The Eagles are a mess and are about to start a rookie QB in Carson Wentz who missed most of the preseason with a rib injury. Are you serious?? Philadelphia may win less than 4 games this season.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

However the Seattle Seahawks are the class of the NFC and the NFL and will win Super Bowl LI.

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2016 NFC West Previews & Predictions

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

If you go back to last year’s NFC Divisional Round, the Seattle Seahawks learned the hard way how valuable the homefield advantage was they had enjoyed the previous two seasons. After having traveled 8,931 miles in round trips to Phoenix, Minnesota in the Wildcard, then taking the field in Carolina, they were an exhausted team. Falling behind 31-0 by halftime to the eventual NFC Champion Panthers. Their season came to a close with a 31-24 defeat at the hands of Cam Newton and company.

In an attempt to make it to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, Seattle needs to draw teams up to the Pacific Northwest. Let them fatigue with the travel. Yet a question remains: So who are they?? The team that fell behind big in Carolina or the team that came roaring back outscoring them 24-0 in the 2nd half??

seahawksalt22016 NFC West Predictions

Seattle Seahawks 12-4**

Arizona Cardinals 10-6*

San Francisco 49ers 6-10

LA Rams 4-12

The first question that will arise from the desert will invariably be: “What about the Arizona Cardinals? They won the NFC West last year?”

Which is 100% true. Yet let’s take you back to week 17 of the 2016 campaign and offer the genesis why they aren’t favored.

In week 10 the Cardinals had knocked off the Seahawks in a rousing 39-32 road win to become the media darling of the NFC West. National sports shows and pundits flocked to the desert to interview this team. Some even waxed philosophical about Carson Palmer for league MVP, he was having that good of a season. Yet a date with an old bully loomed in the last week of the season.

There was an outside chance the Cardinals had a shot at homefield advantage, and more important could knock the Seahawks from the playoffs. Just as important to the Cardinals psyche was the chance to sweep their nemesis and prove to themselves the first win was no fluke. They had become the heavy in the NFC West and this would cement that notion to both teams…to everyone.

carsonpalmerWell the Seahawks punched the Cardinals right in the mouth as Palmer deteriorated (12 of 25 for 129 yards 1 TD / 1 int) into his worst performance of the year. He was pulled in the 2nd quarter in the middle of being routed 30-6 by intermission, finally falling 36-6. His spotty play continued against Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs, as the offense struggled for continuity in a 26-20 overtime win.

The only reason they won that game was Larry Fitzgerald early in overtime caught an intermediate route, cleared Clay Matthews, and in normal circumstances runs out of bounds with a 1st down. However Fitzgerald knew he had to take matters into his own hands and turned upfield instead of going out of bounds. He ran like the Cardinal’s playoff life depended on it going 75 yards to the Green Bay 3. Winning the game with a shovel pass 2 plays later.

Then comes the 4 interception and 2 fumble meltdown 49-15 loss to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. Palmer finished with 3 poor games when the stakes were the highest and has to prove he’s not a shot fighter. He hasn’t had a good postseason outing since the 2002 Orange Bowl in college. Only problem is Pete Carroll was his coach then and not the division rival as he is now. Much like a boxer after a vicious knockout loss, the Arizona Cardinals need to win the battle with themselves psychologically. Starting with Palmer. That is why they aren’t favored.

Bruce Arians and the window for the Arizona Cardinals is going to close after this season. Its now or never to make it to the Super Bowl with Palmer (37 yrs of age) and Larry Fitzgerald (33 yrs of age) leading the charge. David Johnson is coming into his own at RB and should rush for 1,300 yards this season.

The Cardinals had the 5th best defense in football and pulled off a coup of a trade picking up OLB Chandler Jones from New England. However his addition is offset by Tyrann Mathieu rehabbing another blown out knee. Can Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher get enough out of top pick DT Robert Nkimdiche and Jones in the rush to keep from his exotic blitz packages?? Mathieu had CB like coverage skills when 100% healthy. This season he could get exposed by those blitzes so they need the front seven to get after opposing QBs.

rams.takingfield.losangeles

The L.A. Rams taking the field for the 1st time in the 21st century.

In Los Angeles we had 90,000 come out to the LA Coliseum to witness the Rams returning to Southern California, and we are in the honeymoon stage. Lets not forget this was the 32nd or dead last offense in the NFL last season, and 1st pick Jared Goff needs a lot of work.  Despite RB Todd Gurley’s 1,106 yd 10 TD debut season, this is a team that had to take a QB#1 overall after tossing an anemic 11 TDs last season. It looks like journeyman Case Keenum will start as the prized rookie (Goff) learns the pro game from the sidelines. The question that arises… Can Coach Jeff Fisher and QB Coach Chris Weinke get Goff ready to be an NFL signal caller?? Maybe they will…but not this season.

The 49ers could be the surprise of the season with Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick leading a new charge under Chip Kelly. Carlos Hyde will have to become the every down back Frank Gore used to be and rush for 1,200 or better. Kaepernick and an improved Gabbert will win 6 games this year as the 49ers build back to respectability.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Which brings us to Seattle. The Seahawks had a dress rehearsal of the upcoming year without Marshawn Lynch in 2015.  Wilson became the focal point of the offense and developed as a total signal caller. In completing 329 of 483 for 4,024 yds 34 TDs to just 8 ints, Wilson graduated from being the resourceful scrambler to a bonafide elite QB add MVP candidate.

With so much attention on Wilson, Rawls (830 yds / 4 TDs) was able to settle into the RB position along with Christine Michael. The defense is still one of the NFL’s best although they lost LB Bruce Irvin to the Raiders. Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman are still patrolling the secondary with LBs Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright eating up the passing lanes underneath. The Seahawks have to get more from Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett up front this year. At times the pass rush wasn’t there last year and exposed the back 7 some.

Seattle is the class of this division and should challenge for homefield advantage.

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2015 NFC Championship Preview: Larry Fitzgerald

When Larry Fitzgerald took off on his 75 yard reception in last week’s overtime win over Green Bay, how much did that play have to do with his legacy?? In The Chancellor’s view he may have played his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

fitzWith the score tied at 20 in overtime, and league mvp candidate Carson Palmer at the end of a skittish performance, it was Fitz who made the decision to go win the game. Once he caught the pass you saw where he turned up-field and it looked as though he would head out of bounds at the 50. At that moment he turned back to the middle of the field, went by Clay Matthews and intended to win the game.

The flash popped in my mind immediately of his 64 yard touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII to take the lead with 2 minutes to go.  As though he was running for destiny. Who else to make that play?

Earlier this year, Fitzgerald was being interviewed on the radio when asked if he could put up the old numbers he once did now that he is playing in the slot. His answer was no and he was being honest. So now after a bounce back season in which he put up a career best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and 9 TDs… who else to make that play?

Today’s NFC Championship he will have to outfox Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. These ‘backers don’t come off the field and will clog Fitzgerald’s intermediate routes. If the Cardinals can isolate him on #20 Coleman, Arizona would have a match-up. With Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman out on Michael Floyd, Fitz has to come up big today to get his team to Super Bowl L.

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