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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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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2015 NFC West Predictions

The 2015 NFL season is upon us! The first thing we have to do is get to the season after a tumultuous offseason for what had been the best division in football.  The Seahawks were reeling from a shocking Super Bowl defeat when holdouts and contracts threatened team chemistry. The St Louis Rams traded often injured Sam Bradford for Nick Foles at QB. However the story of the division was the devastating fallout from retirements, suspensions, and player defections after Jim Harbaugh’s dismissal. Easily the worst off-season for one team in NFL history.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

2015 NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks 13-3 **

2. St Louis Rams 10-6

3. Arizona Cardinals 7-9

4. San Francisco 49ers 6-10

After spending time in the spring with Kurt Warner, it doesn’t seem as if Colin Kaepernick’s mechanics have changed that much. He is still holding on to the football and taking to long to get through his progressions. Now he has to find chemistry with new receiver Torrey Smith with Michael Crabtree’s defection to Oakland. After the worst off-season in NFL history, this was the least of their worries.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Now another off-field issue could cause a suspension for LB Ahmad Brooks. Along with Aldon Smith’s latest transgression, the notable defenders that didn’t leave or retire wont be on the field much of the season. Navorrro Bowman is back to provide toughness and leadership. It will be a season of growing pains as the 49ers need new leaders to emerge with the loss of Justin Smith and Patrick Willis.

Carson Palmer has come back healthy as has scatback Andre Ellington. As was the case last year, they still can’t run the football. The Cardinals signed former Titan RB Chris Johnson to bolster their anemic running game. We have yet to see much from rookie runner David Johnson, and the offensive line is having problems. Free agent signee G Mike Iupati could be gone until week 7 due to injury. RT Bobbie Massey faces suspension after a DUI arrest and LT Jared Veldheer was terrorized by the Raiders Kahlil Mack in the 3rd preseason game. Mack looked like the second coming of the late Derrick Thomas, but Veldheer has to be able to hold his own.

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

An offensive line needs cohesion and missing two of the five starters projected will set back an offense that already can’t run. Now this puts more onus on the Cardinal’s passing attack. Palmer, who is returning from a knee reconstruction, has to go to work behind this patchwork line?? This is not a recipe for returning to the playoffs.

In St. Louis, not only did Jeff Fisher rid the Rams of the team’s former face in Sam Bradford, but he may have forged their new identity in drafting RB Todd Gurley. At 6’1 and 231 lbs. the team has a game controlling back whose been brought along slowly this summer. Fisher has already gone on record saying he would be better than Eddie George.  You remember George was the power source for Tennessee’s offense during Fisher’s tenure there.

Now Tre Mason can be used as the change of pace, 3rd down back type, he’s more suited for. After being pounded by Gurley, defenders are going to hate Mason darting in and out of holes when they’re exhausted. Especially if they interchange both backs from the same formations. New quarterback Nick Foles should have a great year in his new surroundings. He will be able to ease into his passing rhythm as this team will not fall behind in many games.

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

With DE Robert Quinn, DT Aaron Donald, and a healthy Chris Long, this defensive line will be dangerous playing with leads. Although many pundits have lauded the play of Linebacker James Laurinitis, it will be Alec Ogletree who will emerge as the new NFC super backer. Last year he forced 4 fumbles, gathered 2 interceptions to go with his 110 combined tackles and is a favorite for Taylor Blitz Times NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The Rams will make the playoffs this year as a wildcard.

Yet still on top of the division and the NFC for that matter are the Seattle Seahawks. The team is being chipped away as players like Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are being rewarded with lucrative deals. SS Kam Chancellor is holding out and could affect the play of the defense at the start of the season. With Marshawn Lynch back to punish defenses it will mask early offensive line struggles. In the preseason teams didn’t honor the read option and just teed off on Wilson. That won’t happen with Lynch on the field. Now we add in the intermediate play of new TE Jimmy Graham and you see why they are the odds on favorite to make a 3rd straight trip to the Super Bowl.

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2014 NFC West Predictions

Its football season and all is right with the world. Unlike in previous seasons, The Chancellor of Football spent the majority of this summer writing historical pieces instead of in depth team previews. However nearly every preseason game was watched as well as the roster moves for the top tier teams. So without further adieu lets take a look at the NFC for 2014.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

NFC West

1. Seahawks 14-2**

2. 49ers 9-7

3. Cardinals 7-9

4. Rams 4-12

No division will see as big a drop off in production as the NFC West. Once the province of 3 Super Bowl caliber defenses only 1 remains. Arizona lost Darnell Dockett off the DLine. He used to take on and beat double teams allowing Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington to flow sideline to sideline to the football. With his being gone for the season, teams will focus on DE Calais Campbell. Rendering him less effective.

Pro Bowl Corner Patrick Peterson and the secondary have to pick up the slack.

Pro Bowl Corner Patrick Peterson and the secondary have to pick up the slack.

Couple the loss of Dockett with the free agent defection of Dansby and season long suspension of Washington, the heart & soul of this unit is gone. How about the pending suspension for pass rush specialist John Abraham?? With 13 year veteran Larry Foote and Kevin Minter taking over for Dansby and Washinton this defense became two steps slower. Worse they’ll have to substitute more telegraphing their intentions.

Carson Palmer is the Andy Dalton of the NFC. One week he looks like a world beater then he’ll play uninspired and throw head scratching interceptions. He has to play his best to lift this team but he is a beta quarterback. His career has already been defined by this and it won’t happen. Ask the Raiders and ask Cincinnati.

In San Francisco…see the above about the Cardinals. Former Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Navorro Bowman will start on the PUP list which keeps him off the field until week 7. OLB Aldon Smith (28 sacks last 2 years) faces a 9 game suspension along with DE Ray McDonald facing a 6 game suspension. Just days after Roger Goodell unveiled his new discipline protocol for domestic violence too?? He might get more than 6 games.

Harbaugh will be on the hot seat.

This will be Harbaugh’s last season in San Francisco

Last year the 49ers were 7th in pass defense while ranking 18th in sacks with 38. Well removing these 3 players represents 17 of those 38. How much easier will it be to concentrate blocking efforts on 15 year veteran Justin Smith and OLB Ahmad Brooks?? Did you know NT Glenn Dorsey was put on the IR/PUP list and won’t be back until week 7 also?? Remember the Super Bowl caliber defense San Francisco fielded over the last 3 seasons?? This isn’t it. Addition from subtraction only works in creative math…not in football

Now couple this with GM Trent Balke not willing to offer a contract extension to Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. In fact Balke and 49ers brass almost traded Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns this summer. Traded?? Yes. There have been grumblings his message is getting old in San Francisco and now he’s being tied to the development of one Colin Kapernick. Honestly his game has not advanced in this last year and a half.

If this team comes out to the 2-4 record The Chancellor sees on the horizon, this science beaker will explode. Let’s say they are 3-3 or even 4-2. They will still drag a hodge podge defense into a week 7 road match-up with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Denver pasted the 49ers 34-0 in preseason to christen their new stadium. It could begin with a loss to the Cowboys in week 1.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

With all that has been offered: How significant was this pass defense in the grand scheme of these teams?? Their legacies?? Where they’re going?? Seattle just jumped all over the Green Bay Packers last night 36-16 to begin the defense of their Super Bowl championship.

We’ve already previewed the Seahawks and they played as advertised. Russell Wilson is maturing as a QB and they could have Percy Harvin all season. If they’re champions already with a young team that is getting better, what will that mean for the rest of the league?? Homefield advantage…

We do know what team will face them in the NFC Championship but won’t reveal it until later. One hint… it won’t be a team from the NFC West.

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Taylor Blitz Times NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

Someone somewhere coined the axiom  “Big time players make big plays in big games.” No defensive play this year was bigger than the pass defensed by Richard Sherman that turned into the game ending interception to win the NFC Championship. It would have been easy to catch Sherman flat footed having played a majority of the game being avoided.

TBT Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

TBT Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

If you make the biggest play in the history of your team to send them to the Super Bowl, you have done something. How many times do we see a player dominate in the regular season only to disappear in the playoffs??  Yet Sherman was front and center as one of the lead players on the #1 defense in football.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

In the most pivotal game of the season, Sherman provided the key play. Not the NFC Championship, but week 4 when the consensus was Seattle couldn’t win on the road. It was the 4th quarter when the Seahawks were losing in Houston 20-13. At the time the Texans were thought of as a Super Bowl team and on their way to a win. With just 2:51 left Sherman jumped a Matt Schaub pass and returned it 58 yards for the tying touchdown. Seattle eventually won 23-20 in overtime. The resultant confidence led the Seahawks to a 6-2 road record and NFC best 13-3 record. While the Texans didn’t win another game the rest of the season. Talk about a turning point.

The confidence building moment against Houston.

The big interception against Houston.

In 2013, Sherman talked the talk while leading the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and that significant touchdown. He also was 7th on the team in tackles with 48, defensed 17 passes and recovered 2 fumbles. The Seahawks assign him to their opponents best receiver and he answered the bell every week.

In the pivotal moment of the NFC Championship we saw a transcendent play. For an instant Colin Kaepernick thought he had Crabtree breaking free and let fly. From a fundamental standpoint he stayed inside Michael Crabtree, using the sideline as his friend, then reacted to make the play of the season.

Honorable Mention: 

Navorro Bowman pictured in last year's Super Bowl.

Navorro Bowman pictured in last year’s Super Bowl.

Navorro Bowman ILB – San Francisco 49ers: We were just a couple plays away from back to back Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player Awards for Navorro Bowman. If Richard Sherman doesn’t turn in that play to win the NFC Championhip how does he not win it again?? As we made it to the second half of the season, many pundits were pitching the case for Luke Kuechly. However truth be told he didn’t turn anywhere near the season Bowman did out in San Francisco.

  • Bowman -180 total tackles, 5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 9 passes defensed, 2 interceptions and 1 returned for a touchdown
  • Kuechly -166 total tackles, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions ,  8 passes defensed, yet 0 forced fumbles or fumble recoveries

On top of that, was there a bigger defensive play than the interception return for a touchdown to put San Francisco into the playoffs?? Monday night against the Falcons his 89 yard pick six takes place with 1:31 to go when the 49ers needed a play. This play and his final play are the essence of the man. He stops Kearse in the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship at the two yard line. The tackle wasn’t enough, he forces and recovers a fumble although he injures himself in the process. It’s that spirit that makes him the best linebacker in the NFL. One we wish a speedy recovery from the knee injury suffered against Seattle.

Burfict has been the playmaker on Cincinnati's  top ranked defense.

Burfict has been the playmaker on Cincinnati’s top ranked defense.

Vontaze Burfict ILB – Cincinnati Bengals: Another blood thirsty linebacker who turned in one stellar season was this former Arizona St. Sun Devil. He recorded an astounding 50 more tackles than his breakout rookie season with 177 total tackles. Add to that his 3 sacks, 8 passes defensed, an interception, 1 forced fumble to accompany 2 fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown.

He was the trigger man on the NFL’s third best defense and has a great future ahead of him. We just need to see if he’ll be featured in the new defensive coodinator’s scheme now that Mike Zimmer is the head man in Minnesota.

These were the defenders that made the season for Taylor Blitz Times.

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NFC Divisional Playoff: San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

This is the one playoff game this weekend that could have been interesting. With Carolina wideout Steve Smith at 60% by his own admission, or at least doubtful, it takes steam out of this match-up. Smith is the conscious and fighting spirit of that football team. Although the league’s #2 defense is intact, this team peaked a few weeks ago.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton can’t play sporadic and expect the defense to keep him in a playoff game until he finds his accuracy. Sure they won 10-9 in Candlestick but that really woke the Niners up for this one. In that previous game Vernon Davis left injured, Michael Crabtree didn’t play, and Aldon Smith was just coming back and rounding into shape. Colin Kaepernick is coming off of a third career playoff win and they haven’t lost since Crabtree has come back.

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year's Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year’s Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

One element of this game is the threat of the pass from the Tight End position. Vernon Davis has the speed to pull Luke Kuechely deep where he has to play the run honestly. Consequently Greg Olsen doesn’t do the same and Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman will creep up and shut down the run.

So watch for Frank Gore to have a good day and San Francisco to dominate the time of possession. The Niners win 26-13 today.

Even when I think back to Cam Newton’s National Championship performance against Oregon. His play that day wasn’t transcendent. Stars have to come out when the games get big like this. Weaknesses are magnified and without Smith 100%, he has to play above a pedestrian performance. He has to be a star for them to win. Just can’t see that in his first playoff game.

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