’15 Midterm: Oakland Raiders

As the 2015 season has moved toward the midway point one thing has become evident. The Oakland Raiders are blossoming into an up and coming football team. Not only do they pass the eyeball test but you can see the game slowing down for a series of young players. Most notably 2nd year QB Derek Carr.

Carr looks like the real deal out in Oakland.

Carr looks like the real deal out in Oakland.

As you observe young quarterbacks in the NFL, many have the penchant for throwing rocket balls late relying on arm strength. They use this to compensate for reading the defense late thinking they can squeeze in passes, which leads to getting picked off by the underneath coverage. Carr has learned the touch to throw over linebackers into the space just before the secondary converges.

The only real late throw he had in a point of regression was the pick six against the Broncos in week 5. The Raiders lost 16-10 and easily could have won that game. However they sit at 4-3 and Carr is putting together a Pro Bowl year. Right now he is 150 of 229 (65.5%) for 1,793 yds 15 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.  He’s on pace to throw for 34 TDs to 7 ints. Hmmmm… with the season Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are having, show The Chancellor who should beat him out for a trip to Hawai’i if he continues playing at this pace. The growth he has shown just going back to last year is immense.

The Raiders are on pace to have a 1,000 yd rusher in Latavius Murray (534 yds / 3tds), 2 -1,000 yd receivers in rookie Amari Cooper (38 ec. / 553 yds / 3tds) & Michael Crrabtree (40 rec./ 483 yds / 3tds) & Carr passing for 4,000 himself. Add Marcell Reese’s 3 scores with the 2 to Andre Holmes last week, tell us where the focal point is to stop this attack. In short, this is giing to keep rolling.

Khalil Mack is the next Derrick Thomas.

Khalil Mack is the next Derrick Thomas.

As for the defense, the Raiders are 31st against the pass and 26th overall. Yet heady play by S Charles Woodson (5ints / 33 tackles) Khalil Mack (4 sacks ) and former Seahawk Malcolm Smith (3 sacks) have kept the defense above board. Going into the 2nd half of the season, if Aldon Smith can turn a corner and veteran Justin Tuck can step up their games, this unit can make it into the teens in terms of ranking. This will be enough to be a playoff contender this year.

When it comes to veteran leadership, Malcolm Smith, Justin Tuck, and Charles Woodson have Super Bowl rings won in the last 6 years. You don’t think what these vets can teach the young guys will go unheeded?

You better recognize what is happening in Oakland. This set of young bucks are learning their way up the ladder. Two of their three losses are to the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and undefeated Denver Broncos. This team is just learning how to win. The Chancellor of Football  has a saying:  At some point you have to believe what your eyes are showing you. This team is growing week to week. With the Steelers losing LeVeon Bell, this team is going to grow and fly under the radar. They will be hell to deal with come playoff time. All you have to do is get there and take your shot….this team has enough leadership to teach the young pups what they need to know. Stay tuned….

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2011 Packers Preview

Alright we had a break after a breath taking Super Bowl where we watched the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the 45th edition.  So now we turn our attention to the upcoming football season.  We want to avoid the labor talks because we’ll all be inundated with that talk through television outlets and we want to keep the talk on pro football.  Where do we begin?  How about where we left off?  Going into 2011, we watched the Green Bay Packer’s 2nd string win the Super Bowl.  If we were to address issues with the defending champion where would you start.  Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson have to be grinning from ear to ear.

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers joined the pantheon of quarterbacks that are the vanguard of future expected excellence at the quarterback position.  Accurate, mobile, and fearless he stands to wrest the mantle of NFL’s best QB from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning with an excellent 2011.  Think about it.  Of the 3 Super Bowl seasons Tom Brady had the best statistically was 2004, where he threw for 3,690 yards 28TDs, and 14 interceptions.  Last year despite missing 2 games with injury, Rodgers threw for 3,922 yards 28 TDs and only 11 interceptions for the Packers.  More importantly he didn’t have Corey Dillon run for 1,635 like Brady had either.  Rodgers had to manufacture yardage while the Packers ground game struggled to replace Ryan Grant.

Mobile, accurate, and fearless he is the first quarterback since Brady that we knew he had the better part of a decade left to shape his career after a Super Bowl triumph.  Barring injury, Rodgers would have thrown for 4,000 yards for a third consecutive season and second straight with more than 30TDs.  With Brady and Manning going into their “grey” years this is one of the quarterbacks that will own this decade.  Matt Flynn showed in the 24-21 loss to the Patriots he can move the football if Rodgers has some time away from the field.  As for Rodgers (shaking my head) Clearly on the rise…

Offensive Backfield: How can this team not get stronger with a return of a healthy Ryan Grant?  His 3,412 yards on 782 carries over the last three years is a lofty 4.36 yards per carry. Back to back 1,200 yard rushing seasons have shown that he can be a workhorse.  With his injury coming early in the season he saved his body from wear and tear and should be fresh coming into the new year.  James Starks and Brandon Jackson are serviceable.  I see the Packers exploiting Starks to spell Grant in the upcoming year.  He didn’t fumble in the playoffs as a rookie and had patient feet as a runner.  Jackson will be relegated to special teams since Grant is a good receiver out of the backfield.  Starks came into his own going into the playoffs and to play that well with the stakes at their highest, his confidence should be soaring coming into the new year.

Packers have a folk hero in John Kuhn whom fans relate to. His emergence along with Boise State product Korey Hall give Green Bay power backs to move the pile on 3rd and 1 or goalline offense.  However, both Kuhn and Hall have to get their noses dirty as blockers and each do so willingly.  The fullbacks will lose carries to Starks.   Look for the Packers to use Starks and his big body behind either Kuhn or Hall on most short yardage situations and save Grant from heavy pounding.  With all defensive eyes on Rodgers this could be quietly the best backfield in Packers history with a combination 1200 yard season by Grant and a 600-700 yard season by Starks. This of course barring injury.

Offensive Line: Although they tied for 10th in the NFL for most sacks allowed with 38, this group performed well in the playoffs.  They stymied the feared Steelers pass rush in Super Bowl XLV.  However this line did give up 15 sacks over the final 6 games of the regular season.  They must protect Aaron Rodgers better.  Rodgers made them look better with well timed escapes from the pocket that kept the sack totals lower than what they could have been.  Rookie RT Bryan Bulaga, 3rd year RG Josh Sitton, and center Scott Wells in his 7th season, simply need to get more push off the ball when rushing .  They tied for 8th with negative rushing plays running to the strong side with 17 during the regular season.  Again this is where they can improve and a bigger back in Starks may be the route they take.

On the left side is LT Chad Clifton, and another Boise State product in Daryn Colledge at left guard.  On the left side of the line the Packers were 24th with negative  rushing plays with only13.  A pretty good number for a team that runs a lot of draws and screens to their left.  Chad Clifton from time to time looks like he’s slowing down and then comes up with a big performance.  However facing the likes of Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and the Justin Tuck’s of the conference can wear him down.  The Packers may look to groom his replacement this year now they have the luxury of drafting for want and not need.  With Rodgers suffering two concussions last year, its imperative they protect him by getting those precious first downs rushing right (strong side) and protecting Rodgers from the weak side. Injured Tackle Mark Tauscher is getting a little older also and probably will be replaced permanently by Bulaga. Right now they are so set with the line with a good mixture of youth and age.

Receivers: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, an James Jones are deadly as a set of receivers.  Throw in a Jermichael Finley at TE with a mature Rodgers and this team can threaten some all time NFL offensive numbers.  Jordy Nelson’s growth and Super Bowl performance of 9 catches for 140 yards and a TD could spell the end of Donald Driver as a go to guy.  Not only did he not get down on himself during the Super Bowl after dropping several passes he proved to be more than an intermediate possession receiver.  He got deep, he made catch and run plays on digs or deep in routes and showed the burst that the fading Driver once did.  Driver is slowing down and a draft pick could be spent here.  James Jones had several key drops during the playoffs and the Packers aren’t sure which #89 is going to catch the ball.  Will it be the #89 that climbed the ladder for a spectacular leaping TD against the Atlanta Falcons, or the streaking #89 who dropped a sure TD in Philadelphia during the wildcard as well as the near TD that could have put Super Bowl XLV out of reach with a second 18 point lead.  Could see some change at receiver this year but at least two receivers two years from now.

Greg Jennings is an ultimate pro and team player.  Please pay attention this is a great player in the prime of his career. Entering his sixth season, this is a receiver who makes big play after big play when the Packers need it.  He’s had 3 straight 1,000 yard season with 2 back to back over 1,200 yards.  The last two years he has had touchdown longs of 83 yards and has caught at least 6 passes over 40 yards over the last three years.  Go back to the Super Bowl when Pittsburgh had swung the momentum, who came through with a 31 yard catch to turn the tide back to the Pack??  On third down to boot!!  He remains injury free he will go by many of Sterling Sharpe’s numbers. He’s not better than Sterling, he……I digress.  Jennings is going to be making music with Rodgers for years to come gang.

Defensive Line: Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji are decent at the point of attack but could be better anchors in keeping offensive lineman off of the linebackers. A little more push against the passing pocket could make a good defens a great one. In fact the key play that turned Super Bowl XLV was when backup Howard Green hit Roethlisberger which force the interception by Nick Collins and a 14-0 lead. Cullen Jenkins is a solid DE.  I could see a draft pick being used here as well.  The Packers could use a more impact player at the DE position.  Raji is a keeper but he does need to provide a little more push when rushing the passer.

Linebackers: Did the mantle of greatness leave the Steelers linebackers and thrust onto this team’s set?  Think thats overstated?  I watched James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and James Farrior combine for 4 tackles in the Super Bowl when Clay Matthews out did that hmself and forced a crucial 4th down fumble.  Clay Matthews came in 2nd in the voting for NFL Defensive MVP yet did get many votes to be Super Bowl MVP.  He,  A.J. Hawk, and their hair were the two starters who remained injury free and were the playmakers among the front seven.  Hawk became the linebacker the Packer’s brass envisioned when they drafted him from Ohio St.

I still am scratching my head thinking “They won the Super Bowl without Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett?”  To me, Poppinga had been the most complete LB before his injury and Barnett its soul.  Matthews has taken that mantle from them both.  As a unit this team could be frightening and their depth has to be considered a strength now that Zomba #58, Desmond Bishop #55 played admirably throughout the playoffs.  Throw in Brandon Chillar and I’m seeing a linebacking corps without a weakness.  Against the run, pass, rushing the QB, show me where they are deficient?  I’ll wait…

Clay Matthews is some kind of beast.  I thought his father was great, yikes.  This is going to be one of the faces of the NFL as Ray Lewis’ fades out with retirement.  The Packers should pull a coup and draft Casey Matthews of Oregon, yes his brother, just to confuse teams with the name and the hair when preparing for them.  LOL  In all seriousness being coached by Kevin Greene who is in tune with his young protege’, who told him in the Super Bowl that it was time for him to make a play.  Next play he forced the Mendenhall fumble.  We’re watching the beginnings of perhaps a Hall of Fame career and he did get my Super Bowl MVP vote for that fumble.  Hey, I like linebackers.

Secondary: Charles Woodson, the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year had just as good a year in 2010.  The emergence of Sam Shields (from the U) allowed him to blitz from the nickel back  spot just as Dom Capers did with Rod Woodson some 15 years ago in Blitzburgh. Sam Shields as a rookie got better as the season wore on and capped his season with two timely interceptions in the NFC Championship Game v. Chicago.  Did I say two interceptions in a playoff game?  Well Tramon Williams #38 performed that feat in the divisonal round and put that game against the Falcons out of reach with a pick six of Matt Ryan on the last play of the second quarter.  Did I say intercepti0n for a TD?  Well isn’t that what Nick Collins did in Super Bowl XLV to put that game out of reach?  I know it was only 14-0, but no team has ever come from a 10-0 deficit to win a Super Bowl, so that play was that big.  This is a cornerback threesome that is headed to a great 2011.  Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are the NFC’s best set of safetys.  Please show me what this secondary can’t do.  Support the run, defend the deep ball, blitz the quarterback…very little holes.

This is a team that will draft for want more than need.  They almost have a free agency type of impact just coming off injured reserve.  Aside from a few spots on the defensive line and possibly the offensive line this team damn near doesn’t need to even attend the NFL Draft.  They can address future needs at receiver also.  Right now Coach McCarthy, Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson are toasting somewhere with grins from ear to ear.  The Packers are set for a five year run at the top of the NFL easily.

Packers 13th NFL Championship: Super Bowl XLV Recap

Wow!!  You can’t say enough great things about this Green Bay Packers team as champions.  In 1996 they arrived with all their big guns in Favre, Reggie White, and company.  Where this team had 16 men on injured reserve and lost leaders WR Donald Driver and CB Charles Woodson for much of the game.  Yet the constant was Aaron Rodgers who kept firing amidst a receiving corp that dropped a few.  When it counted Jordy Nelson and James Jones made up for earlier drops with critical catches in the fourth quarter on the final scoring drive.  They indeed brought the Lombardi Trophy home in a unique way and vanquished an accomplished opponent.  Lets take a look at things.

What was a strength of the Steelers would be the ability to run the ball with Rashard Mendenhall.  At times it seemed like the Steelers got away from their running game but a closer look and you saw that the Packers were successful against the run.  Aside from 17 and 15 yard gains, Mendenhall had 12 carries for 31 yards (2.8yd avg) and on several plays he had to break tackles in the backfield to gain positive yardage.  Evidenced by the shot he took in the 4th quarter from Clay Matthews which forced the 3rd and final Steeler turnover.  What was the defining storyline of this Super Bowl for me was for all the Steel Curtain talk, the Packers were outhitting the Steelers from the beginning of the game.  They tackled crisper and with more conviction. We never heard NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu’s name called for any plays of significance and former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison’s until a fourth quarter sack to give Pittsburgh a fighting chance.  Green Bay had problems protecting Rodgers all year yet seemed to keep the Steelers blitz at bay for much of the game.  Pittsburgh cornerbacks, a liability all year, were completely undressed before the nation.  Had the Packer receivers not dropped 6 passes the game would have been a blowout.

In fact had James Jones not dropped that skinny post where he was inside William Gay and even with Troy Polamalu, he would have been off to the races and the score would have swelled to 28-10.  It was the mid point of the 3rd quarter and another 18 point lead would have been too much to overcome.  Actually that point was when Nick Collins picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter, returning it for a 37 yard TD for a 14-0 lead.  No team had ever come back from a 10-0 deficit to win a Super Bowl game. (Redskins in XXII)  The Steeler gave it a valiant effort but could not overcome their mistakes and penalties.

Roethlisberger had a poor game, no other way to say it.  He did have a few good throws, the fourth quarter TD throw to Mike Wallace was a thing of beauty.  He was off for much of the night.  His throws were high and they seemed confused on that last drive in just lining up. Yes the Packers had good coverage but Roethlisberger detractors would cite his holding onto the ball too long with the Nick Collins interception.  The second interception was a poor decision also.  Yes the receiver needs to fight for the ball but he was clearly double covered.  When the Steelers defense gave Ben the ball back, on social media, the countenance that he was in position to win it again was echoed loudly.  Then Pittsburgh looked confused lining up after a terrible penalty by Keyaron Fox for a personal foul that backed the Steelers up.  Then three poor throws and it was over.

This is about the Green Bay Packers winning this Super Bowl, not the Steelers losing it.  Green Bay forced every Steeler mistake and only gave up a first half TD when two of their top three cornerbacks Woodson and Sam Shields left injured on consecutive plays right before.  Aaron Rodgers MVP performance easily places him in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL.  He lit Pittsburgh up finding Greg Jennings for two TDs and making a Super Bowl hero of Jordy Nelson, who caught 9 for 140 yards and a touchdown.  His stats on the day 24 of 39 for 309 yards, 3TDs & no interceptions.  If you factor in the dropped passes his stats would have been staggering.

There was a time during the 3rd quarter, after the James Jones drop, where Rodgers played with nervous feet and was off for two series.  When the Steelers trimmed the lead to 28-25 in the 4th quarter, Rodgers made the play of the game with his throw to Greg Jennings for 31 yards which reversed the momentum.  He drove the Packers to a field goal for the final score of 31-25 and the milking of the clock left the Steelers with just 2:07 for a final drive.  Rodgers was the MVP of this game upon further review however he did have some help.  James Starks did run for 52 yards on 11 carries that kept the Steelers off balance.  Clay Matthews, AJ Hawk and Nick Collins picked up the defensive slack and stopped Roethlisberger when it counted.

The Lombardi Trophy returns to Title Town…Aaron Rodgers enters the realm of the league’s best quarterback.  With 16 players on injured reserve, I don’t see teams picking them apart in free agency. The Green Bay Packers just won the Super Bowl with a second string football team!!  How can they not be the pick to win next year’s Super Bowl??  There will be time to answer that…for now congratulations Green Bay Packers 2010 World Champions.