2019 NFC North Previews & Predictions

Welcome to the 2019 NFL round robin version of “Be Careful What You Wish For?” No division has had its teams decide to go down a given path then have to ask themselves if they have bitten off more than they could chew. Over in Packerland Aaron Rodgers questioned the game planning of Mike McCarthy and became downright ambivalent. Now he’s already made grumblings about new caoach Matt LaFleur’s decision to hold joint practices. Not exactly the way to show unity with the new coaching regime establishing a new culture.

Then off to Chicago where the NFC North defending champions entered last year’s playoffs, and the fear The Chancellor had “Would Coach Nagy call too cutesy a game in blustery conditions and cost the Bears a playoff game?”

Then came this nonsense on a 2 point conversion in the 4th quarter of the Wild Card Game at home against the Eagles:

Wouldn’t you know that ill fated 2 point conversion is the difference between the NFL’s #3 ranked defense going to New Orleans in the divisional round. Why not run former RB Jordan Howard on the 2 pt conversion vs a shovel pass in frigid conditions?? Remember him?? The 6’0 224 lb running back nicknamed “Bulldozer?”

Shovel pass to a 165 lb WR Taylor Gabriel at the goal line?? That is too cutesy…

This was the difference between winning a playoff by 1 and losing by 1…17-16 well that and Cody Parkey’s missed field goal at the end of the game. Then turnaround and trade your power back to the NFC rival Eagles who just beat you in the playoffs?? Who does Chicago give the ball to for the tough yards. On that ill fated 2 point conversion that was Khalil Mack motioning out of the backfield. What did I say about cutesy play calling??

2019 NFC North Predictions

  1. Minn. Vikings 12-4** (Homefield)
  2. Chicago Bears 9-7
  3. Green Bay Packers 6-10
  4. Detroit Lions 5-11

Watching all this is the division’s best team in the Minnesota Vikings. The national press and pressure is off of QB Kirk Cousins who didn’t live up to expectations after signing a huge contract to come over from Washington. As a team they fell from grace after an NFC Championship visit in 2017.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the smoke Cousins completed 425 of 606 passes for 4,298 yards 30 TDs and 10 picks and has the best WR tandem in Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen. All Diggs (102 rec / 1,021 yds/ 9 TDs) and Thielen (113 rec / 1,373 yds/ 9 TDs) did was power the 13th best passing attack with room for improvement. There were 87 missed connections on passes that short circuited drives forcing punts and disrupted offensive rhythm in games. Cousins is a beta quarterback however this is the spot where he performs without expectations.

This is also the year Dalvin Cook has his break out year now that he is 2 years removed from a knee reconstruction. The same time frame Jamal Lewis ran for 2,000 and a year shorter than Adrian Peterson ran for his 2,000. Not to say Cook is going for 2K, just illustrating this is that explosive year post surgery and a 1,400 yard season is within reach.

Keep in mind the Vikings field the 4th best defense in all of football. This could vault to a number one status if Cook and the running game dominate time of possession. LBs Anthony Barr and Eddie Kendricks need to have great seasons against the run and covering speedy backs and crossing receivers.

Smith intercepting a pass in last year’s 17-16 wildcard loss to Philly.

Chicago is going to field an even better defense although their statistics will be skewed with an offense that won’t possess the football as it did last year. Not only is defending Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack going to be in game shape week 1, Roquan Smith is ready to leap into player of the year status himself. Wearing #58 is like watching Wilber Marshall reincarnated and making plays all over the field.

Smith will now have his first complete offseason to get ready for 2019. In a year he didn’t make the Pro Bowl, he led the Bears with 121 tackles with 5 sacks and 1 pick. In the Wildcard he took an interception 60 yards for a touchdown that was called back when he was ruled down by contact.

Danny Trevathan was second in tackles (102 / 2 sacks/ 2 ints) roam the intermediate passing lanes with Smith. Together they knocked down an additional 17 passes.

Mack is the only 2 time TBTDPoY and still lose in a division with no pro bowl tackles.

Keep in mind these hunters are behind Pro Bowl and All Pro Khalil Mack, Pro Bowl DT Akiem Hicks, and both Pro Bowl and All Pro S Eddie Jackson & CB Kyle Fuller had the same accolades. This bunch will play for a new coordinator in 2019 but expect the same results. This overall is an incarnation of the 85 & 86 Bears who endured a coordinator change and will have that type of impact.

The problem is this defense will be let down by the offense who traded their hammer (RB Jordan Howard) and accounts reporting Mitch Trubisky has been off in training camp. Can Tarik Cohen carry the load at RB?? Taylor Blitz doesn’t think so. Great change of pace guy but doesn’t have the rocks in his pockets to last the season. Quick and flashy but doesn’t run with body lean to get tough yards.

Chicago is much better starting Mike Davis #25, who is 30lbs heavier than Cohen, and ran for 514 yards on 114 carries last year. Without a prominent running game to rest this defense puts the ball in Trubisky’s hands. Opponents have to watch for constant “jet sweeps” and “bubble screens”.. trickery plays where the propensity for fumbles and issues will arise. Taking this team back to the pack.

Speaking of the Pack, for the first time we can say this team is in a rebuilding year in many a moon. Rodgers is still the staple at QB and has a younger team around him than in year’s past. Entering year 15 it seems like just yesterday this was the fresh faced QB with so many years to come… now he is where Brett Bavre had been.

In 2018 Rodgers enjoyed a season where he completed 372 of 597 passes for 4,442 yards and 25 TDs to just 2 picks. However he was short circuited by a defense ranked 22nd against the run and 18th overall. Despite his best efforts he was forced to come onto the field in deficit situations pointwise and momentum-wise.

How do we know this??  The Packers were 22nd when it came to time of possession. It’s a catch 22 where Green Bay wasn’t in position to work on their running game if they wanted to.

By the way did you see the last preseason game against the Ravens? They gave up 36 carries for 171 yards and 4.6 yards per carry. You can’t win football games that way as the defense was pushed off the ball all night. Yes it’s preseason but you can’t turn on and off the ability to knock your opponent back. A staple in football for more than 100 years. 2019 will look much the same way as this will be a rebuilding year and defensive leaders and playmakers need to emerge.

In 2019 it’s all Minnesota Vikings and they will go deep in the playoffs.

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The 2018 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year – Khalil Mack

With the NFL’s second season upon us we have to look back to the team and players who made the 2018 season. Keep in mind this blog is about defense and the unheralded players appreciated by the rank and file. Yet bookending a season where Taylor Blitz & The Chancellor was there for the induction ceremony for our 1st subject written for the PFHoF in Robert Brazile, it’s with great pride to announce the 1st 2 time Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year in Chicago Bear Khalil Mack.

Mack made his presence felt the second he put on a Bears uniform.

Mack bested ’17 Taylor Blitz DoY Aaron Donald for this honor based upon his ability to show up in important games and the domino affect he has had on a division and a conference.

Dating back to a 2010 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, the Bears were 2-12 against them while Aaron Rodgers and company won the NFC North 5 times. The Bears either finished 3rd or last in all 7 of those years.

The Bears trade for Mack and sign him on Sept 2nd and one week later & not in football playing shape introduced himself in week 1 on Sunday Night Football.

Mack dazzled a national audience becoming the 1st defensive player in NFL history to record a tackle, a sack, force a fumble, recover a fumble and return an interception for a touchdown in the same game. On one of his 5 hurries forced Rodgers into a sack that knocked him out for much of the game as the Bears forged to a 20-0 lead in front of a shocked and silenced Lambeau Field. His impact on that game far exceeded his 3 tackles, sack, forced fumble and TD on an interception return. Although they lost 23-22 to their NFC North antagonist, the mantle of dominance shifted to Chicago from Green Bay on that day.

Mack shifted the entire focus of opponents blocking schemes.

The following week against perennial NFC West force Seattle he terrorized Russell Wilson sacking him once, forced a fumble, 5 tackles and another tackle for loss. Yet with all the attention focused on Mack, the Bears integrated 1st round draft pick Roquan Smith into the lineup and the Bears chased Wilson into 6 sacks. A monster defense was born.

The affect both of these games had on Sunday night in primetime was immense. Not only did Mack infuse confidence and swagger into his team, opposing teams had to adjust their blocking schemes to accommodate him. Where was he lining up?? We even warned in our week 1 preview: All of a sudden the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year & NFL Defensive Player of the Year lands in an NFC North without a Pro Bowl Tackle and you don’t think it will be an issue??

The clincher was another big game where the 9-3 Bears, still battling for respect, hosted the 11-1 Rams and 2017 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Where Donald was neutralized Mack had another 3 tackles, sack and forced fumble as the Rams #2 offense was held to 214 yards and 6 points. By far these were their season lows as the Bears announced they were for real. On two of Jared Goff’s 4 interceptions he was hurried by #52.

Mack’s performance has raised the NFL’s 10th ranked defense in 2017 to a ranking of 3rd while garnering 50 sacks. This also ranks 3rd. The Bears won the NFC North for the first time since 2010 and host the defending champion Eagles this weekend. They will do so with a terrorist to come off the corner in Khalil Mack.

For good measure the Bears won the NFC North with a 24-17 win over Green Bay in front of a frenzied Soldier Field. Mack had 6 tackles and 2.5 sacks as the Bears eliminated the Packers from the playoffs and soon after fired Coach Mike McCarthy. The changing of the guard was complete.

Mack finished with 47 tackles, 10 for loss, 6 forced fumbles, 4 recoveries and an interception for a touchdown. His best performances came against Chicago’s superior competition where Aaron Donald disappeared in games the Rams lost.

Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year recipients:

  1. 2011 -D’Qwell Jackson: Cleveland Browns – Recorded 158 total tackles (115 solo) 3.5 dqwell-jackson-11sacks, 1 forced fumble with 2 recoveries and garnered 1 interception as the only light on a 4-12 team. The Browns were in the top ten defensively all year and finished 10th.
  2. 2012 –Navorro Bowman: San Francisco 49ers – Garnered 148 total tackles (98 solo) 2 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception with a fumble forced. Was an All Pro force who outperformed his more celebrated All Pro teammate Patrick Willis. Starred on the NFL’s #3 defense and made the play of the year knocking down a 4th down pass to Roddy White on the last play of the NFC Championship Game. Sent the Niners to the Super Bowl.
  3. 2013 – Richard Sherman: Seattle Seahawks – He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and a week 4 TD against Houston that turned their season around. He also had 48 tackles, defensed 17 passes, recovered 2 fumbles and tipped Colin Kaepernick’s desperation throw into the game clinching interception in the NFC Championship Game.
  4. watt2014 – J.J. Watt: Houston Texans – One of the greatest defensive performances ever with 78 tackles, led the league with 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries returning 1 for a touchdown. Then had 1 interception returned 80 yards for his 2nd defensive touchdown. He drug a rebuilding Texan team to within a game of making the  playoffs with a 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s rookie season. May have been the greatest season by a defender in NFL history.
  5. 2015 – Thomas Davis: Carolina Panthers – The 6th best defense in 2015 & made it to Super Bowl L where Davis played with a plate in his broken arm just 2 weeks after the original injury. Toughness aside he garnered 105 total tackles (75 solo) 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Although his teammate Luke Kuechly garnered national media attention, the 4 additional sacks and 2 more forced fumble won Davis the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Award.
  6. 2016 – Khalil Mack – Mack’s season has been transcendent as he collected 55 tackles (46 solo) 11 sacks with 5 forced fumbles. He’s recovered 3, returning 1 for a touchdown before we remind you he has 1 pick for another touchdown that also came in the win over Carolina. These are huge impact plays that decide contests not innocuous stats in the middle of a game without meaning or context. In the last 2 seasons he has 14 sacks that have come in the 3rd & 4th quarter of games.
  7. 2017 – Aaron Donald – Despite missing 2 games, Donald forced 5 fumbles in his 11.5 sacks and had 15 tackles for loss. Keep in mind he held out all of the preseason awaiting a new contract. Imagine had he been in game shape in week one??

Congratulations to Khalil Mack and his Bears have a big game with Philadelphia tomorrow… will he have another big game performance himself??

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Armchair Coordinator – What To Do with Khalil Mack in Week 1 v. Green Bay

For those of you new to Taylor Blitz Times we usually offer a parallel to current events with an episode from a generation or so ago. When the Raiders traded Khalil Mack to Chicago The Chancellor of Football dubbed it “The dumbest trade of a defensive player in 30 years!” To what am I referring to and what significance does it have now?

Khalil Mack tilts the field in the NFC North

Well in 1981 the San Diego Chargers were at an impasse with Pro Bowl Defensive End Fred Dean. Yes over contract issues and Dean held out and Charger Owner Gene Klein decided to trade Dean to an NFC “have not” in the San Francisco 49ers/ At that point a team that had not made the playoffs in 9 years and had never appeared in a Super Bowl. It was an attempt to punish Dean that backfired badly.

Well right before the 5th week of the NFL season in 1981 the trade was consummated and Dean was a 49er. Without any chance to prepare Dallas OT Pat Donavan was across from a defensive terrorist. Dean wound up with 3 sacks and several hurries, one of which a Ronnie Lott interception in a 45-14 win. Not bad for a team that had lost 4 straight to Dallas including a 59-14 loss just 2 seasons before. An also ran whose last chance in a championship game had been thwarted by their bully had now turned the tables.

The field tilted because of a pass rusher added late their opponents weren’t prepared for. It worked for those ’81 49ers who went on to Super Bowl XVI and Charles Haley and the ’92 Cowboys who went on to Super Bowl XXVII. Now am I saying the Bears are off to win the Super Bowl?? Time will tell and I have seen this happen beyond these two examples.

All of a sudden the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year & NFL Defensive Player of the Year lands in an NFC North without a Pro Bowl Tackle and you don’t think it will be an issue??

Well since the 2010 NFC Championship Game when the Packers won 23-10 in Soldier Field, Chicago is 2-12 against “The Pack” and QB Jay Cutler was laughed out of the division. All of that humiliation has to fuel this journey into Lambeau Field. They’re going to have to play a conservative game and it’s imperative they steal a few possessions in this game.

Not only do they have to find a way to get 1st round draft pick Roquan Smith on the field, they have to play their wildcard in Khalil Mack.

Mack after sacking Brady last year.

In this game its best to keep Mack from thinking and send him nearly every play after Aaron Rodgers. To ensure the Packers can’t slide the line to him, run combo blitzes from the strong side into the face of Rodgers.

One adjustment is to slide TE Jimmy Graham to chip Mack. If Graham was a good blocker he would still be in Seattle. Rodgers needs him downfield where he creates mismatches. If they keep him in it slows Green Bay’s passing game.

However in “Nickle” and “Dime” situations I would intermittently flip flop him as a pass rushing end and run those same combo blitzes. Why?? If you have watched Raider games he has rushed from both the strong and weak side.

In one of his greatest games, Mack’s Raiders gave the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers the loss that knocked them out of the playoffs. All plays from the strong side where the 2nd best Tackle is normally platooned. First a 6 yard interception for a TD to put the Raiders up 24-7. Then later when clinging to a 35-32 lead had this sack and forced fumble from the strong side to close the game out:

At some point the Bears have to get tired of being sick and tired. Its time to go attack with your new weapon. You have tilted the field and have a great pass rusher to possibly turn this game.

Many Packer fans will claim “Well Rodgers practices against Clay Matthews and this game is in Lambeau.” Yet you forget the 2015 Denver Broncos won Super Bowl L and in week 14 hosted the Oakland Raiders and guess what happened? Mack starred in a 15-12 loss when he garnered 5 sacks and kept Oakland close. A bravura performance that set him up for the accolades he received in 2016. First…with Taylor Blitz Times….then the national media who were late to the party.

Is Mack a Hall of Famer like Charles Haley and Fred Dean to whom he has been compared in this article? He is well on his way….and remember when it comes to 3-4 OLBs…. the original in Robert Brazile and Kevin Greene with the most sacks, The Chancellor has advocated and saw their inclusion into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when few thought they would.

Hall of Famer Fred Dean w/ The Chancellor in 2018.

No one gets to lay a greater claim. No one…so don’t even attempt it. However I did run into one Hall of Fame pass rusher last month in Canton.

Chicago… your mission …should you choose to accept it:

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack

As the end of the NFL season draws near its time to talk about the awards for the 2016 campaign. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we’re about defense and it’s the most prestigious award The Chancellor doles out. Its been a banner year as we have recognized two defensive giants who made 2 different Hall of Fames. Our words were read to introduce Robert Brazile into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in June, then our invite to Kevin Greene’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. So this 6th time offering the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year will be a special one. Especially now that alumnus from here have made their way to football immortality.

Before we get started on this year’s Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year, lets take a look back at past winners:

  1. D'Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    D’Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    2011 -D’Qwell Jackson: Cleveland Browns – Recorded 158 total tackles (115 solo) 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble with 2 recoveries and garnered 1 interception as the only light on a 4-12 team. The Browns were in the top ten defensively all year and finished 10th.

  2. 2012 –Navorro Bowman: San Francisco 49ers – Garnered 148 total tackles (98 solo) 2 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception with a fumble forced. Was an All Pro force who outperformed his more celebrated All Pro teammate Patrick Willis. Starred on the NFL’s #3 defense and made the play of the year knocking down a 4th down pass to Roddy White on the last play of the NFC Championship Game. Sent the Niners to the Super Bowl.
  3. 2013 – Richard Sherman: Seattle Seahawks – He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and a week 4 TD against Houston that turned their season around. He also had 48 tackles, defensed 17 passes, recovered 2 fumbles and tipped Colin Kaepernick’s desperation throw into the game clinching interception in the NFC Championship Game.
  4. watt2014 – J.J. Watt: Houston Texans – One of the greatest defensive performances ever with 78 tackles, led the league with 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries returning 1 for a touchdown. Then had 1 interception returned 80 yards for his 2nd defensive touchdown. He drug a rebuilding Texan team to within a game of making the  playoffs with a 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s rookie season. May have been the greatest season by a defender in NFL history.
  5. 2015 – Thomas Davis: Carolina Panthers – The 6th best defense in 2015 & made it to Super Bowl L where Davis played with a plate in his broken arm just 2 weeks after the original injury. Toughness aside he garnered 105 total tackles (75 solo) 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Although his teammate Luke Kuechly garnered national media attention, the 4 additional sacks and 2 more forced fumble won Davis the last Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Award.

When gauging a defender’s impact the first thing you have to remember is at what point of the game does the defender make plays. When it comes to Khalil Mack he just had an 8 game streak snapped where he garnered at least 1 sack. The longest streak in the NFL in the last 7 years.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

However a closer look and you’ll see his forcing a fumble in overtime to short-circuit a Tampa drive in a 30-24 win in week 8. Another flash came late in the 4th quarter in week 13 when a gassed Raider defense was hanging on by a thread as Buffalo drove to the Oakland 17. A touchdown seemed imminent as momentum was teetering in the Bills direction. Well until this generation’s Derrick Thomas dipped his shoulder, came around the corner sacking Tyrod Taylor forcing and recovering the fumble preserving a 38-24 win.

Not bad until you realize the week before saw the Raiders clinging to a 35-32 lead with 1:00 to go and the NFL’s reigning MVP Cam Newton had the Panthers in Oakland territory at the 44. One more completion and Carolina, clinging to fading playoff hopes, could attempt a game winning field goal. On cue Mack burst into the backfield steamrolling Newton for a sack forcing a fumble and recovering it preserving another victory. These points are the difference between an 11-3 Raider team in line for homefield advantage, and Tampa 1 game out of the NFC wildcard, Carolina & Buffalo 1 loss from playoff elimination.

Mack forcing the game winning fumble. All but eliminating the defending NFC Champions from postseason play in 2016.

Mack’s season has been transcendent as he has collected 55 tackles (46 solo) 11 sacks with 5 forced fumbles. He’s recovered 3, returning 1 for a touchdown before we remind you he has 1 pick for another touchdown that also came in the win over Carolina. These are huge impact plays that decide contests not innocuous stats in the middle of a game without meaning or context. In the last 2 seasons he has 14 sacks that have come in the 3rd & 4th quarter of games. What happens if he carries that type of presence into the postseason??

Sure there are 2 games left in the season but no defender has meant more or produced more during the 2016 campaign.  Khalil Mack is the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

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2016 AFC West Previews & Predictions

The real reason Osweiler may have left the division.

The real reason Osweiler may have left the division.

What is it about the Denver Broncos winning Super Bowls and having quarterbacks retire?? This of course wouldn’t mean as much had Brock Osweiler stayed around. Now they have Mark Sanchez and highly regarded 1st round pick Paxton Lynch. This time around there won’t be a Mike Shanahan brain fart going with untested Brian Griese over veteran Bubby Brister. Hopefully Coach Kubiak will opt for the veteran and bring his prized rookie along slowly.

However an autumn wind is billowing in from the west. Its always fun to watch a team as it starts growing before your very eyes. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Amari Cooper headline a young star studded group out in Oakland. The question is will it grow to a point to challenge for supremacy in the AFC West this season??

raiderfanlogo2016 AFC WEST PREDICTIONS

Oakland Raiders 10-6 *

Kansas City Chiefs 9-7

Denver Broncos 7-9

San Diego Chargers 4-12

Most will scoff at the notion of the Raiders overtaking the Chiefs until you realize Alex Smith is still their starting quarterback. We have seen the best of his abilities and he will just keep you in ball games. At times he plays scared of throwing the football down the field. Jamaal Charles just made it off the PUP list but when will he gain his original explosiveness??  Now with LB Justin Houston returning from knee surgery also can we expect the same production there?? They were 11-5 with the 7th best defense in the NFL and OLB Tamba Hali is coming back from a broken thumb. This team will slide back in 2016.

Anderson will breakout n 2016.

Anderson will breakout n 2016.

In Denver the preseason has played out exactly as The Chancellor thought, no one is taking control at the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez’s penchant for turnovers has come back to haunt him in both preseason games. We still don’t have a starter named going into week 3 of the preseason. First rounder Paxton Lynch still needs grooming. He’s taken a few more sacks than you’d like but could become the starter by mid season if the offense sputters. His arm has shown zip. Now he needs to develop touch and throw the ball on time.

For a team that was 6-1 in games decided by 6 points or less the one thing they can ill afford is turnovers. Turning the ball over 3 & 4 times a game will get a defense in trouble. Even a #1 ranked defense. Go ask the ’85 Bears, 2000 Ravens and ’02 Bucs why they didn’t repeat. So expect Coach Kubiak to lean on RB CJ Anderson who should breakout with a 1,400 yard season. However the ball doesn’t bounce a team’s way 2 years in a row and QB instability will lead to 3 or 4 close losses this season.

Carr will lead Oakland to the playoffs in 2016.

Carr will lead Oakland to the playoffs in 2016.

It won’t be enough to hold off the growing Raiders under Coach Jack Del Rio. Look no further than the stunning development of Derek Carr. Last year’s performance (350 of 573  3,987 yds 32 TDs / 13 ints) marked him as an up and coming superstar and this will be the year he cements that notion. Both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are back as his main receivers along with 1,000 yard rusher Latavius Murray.

The improvement has to come from last year’s 22nd ranked defense. Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr did get LB Bruce Irvin from Seattle this year and signed S Reggie Nelson to replace Charles Woodson. Both are coming from winning organizations which should provide veteran leadership to help a young team learn how to win. First round draft pick Karl Joseph has Nelson to groom him for the pro game.

Circle the week 6 match-up with Kansas City, where the Raiders could be sporting a 4-1 record against a 1-3 Chiefs team. The knockout blow that could ignite an AFC West Championship for the Oakland Raiders.

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

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

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’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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