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 have 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.

So Murray picks up a lot of fantasy stats in garbage time…not stats that equal winning football. Huge difference!

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 Kingsbury 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 Kingsbury 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 Belichick. 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. Kingsbury 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 South Previews & Predictions: Chasing Ghosts

With the season underway it’s time to take a look at the NFC North where the most loaded division in the conference exists. In the last 10 years, 3 of the teams representing the NFC in the Super Bowl have come from here. The Saints in XLIV, the Panthers steamrolled to Super Bowl L and the Falcons are still reeling from the comeback they gave up in LI. Last January many felt the most egregious non call in NFL history prevented a 4th with seconds to go in the NFC Championship Game.

The Saints have said they have gotten over the debacle of the NFC Championship….have they?? What about the Minneapolis Miracle on the last play of the ’17 NFC Divisional loss to the Vikings?? Not since the Cleveland Browns of the late 80’s have we seen an NFL team so snake bitten with bitter endings in playoff games.??

2019 NFC North Predictions

  1. New Orleans Saints 11-5*
  2. Atlanta Falcons 10-6**
  3. Carolina Panthers 8-8
  4. Tampa Bay Bucs 5-11

The most competitive divsion in football just solidified with Julio Jones inking a 3 year extension which will keep him in Atlanta. The beauty is he stayed in the fold working and he and Matt Ryan should be firing away from the start of the season. However Deion Jones needs to return to form and their defense has to improve from a ranking of 28th.

Will Vic Beasley ever return to his 2016 All Pro form when he had 15 1/2 sacks and terrorized the division?? Matt Ryan has to get the Falcons leads and over the last 2 years he hasn’t had the rushing attack of the Super Bowl season of 2016. He’s been mired in games where he has been forced to throw to bring the Falcons back in games.

Can Freeman carry the load in ’19?

Last year the rushing attack plunged to 27th after dipping to 13th in 2017. Ever since the loss of Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling (’16) and Tevin Coleman’s departure (’17) and Freeman’s injury, Atlanta has left that defense on the field and they’ve suffered too many breakdowns.

Matt Ryan has to become the QB that can overcome play deficiencies and deliver. He has to be able to take over games when the attack is sputtering. Might not be fair but as a Super Bowl franchise quarterback, he has to held to that standard. This is Matt Ryan’s 12th season he isn’t a kid anymore and has to take over in games that mean something for Atlanta.

In Carolina and Tampa each will be held back by their quarterbacks and could both be looking for new ones next April. Since this game has been founded nothing has derailed a quarterback’s career like shoulder injuries. Cam has been recovering since off season surgery and hasn’t looked right.

Will Carolina develop other weapons to take the heat off McCaffrey.

His delivery was always a problem but earlier in his career he could power the football with his shoulder strength. He hasn’t developed throwing on time where he doesn’t have to and loft over the underneath coverage. Newton throws a lot of interceptions to Linebackers undercutting his routes.

Newton has been hesitant to let the football go and the offense relies way too much on Christian McCaffrey. Without the threat of attacking defenses downfield McCaffrey is an easy key and will be worn down by season’s end. Carolina has an aging defense that will short circuit their best efforts as Newton learns to trust the system and throw on time. He also can’t run and accumulate punishment on it either. This is a recipe for disaster as most of the Panther’s offense revolves around Newton running and throwing.

As for Winston and the Bucs… they brought in the QB whisperer in Bruce Arians. The question is will Jameis Winston pick up on the nuances of reading defenses and delivering the football on time to all of his receivers?? Winston is locked in on TE Cameron Brate but he has to be able to complete all his throws… deep digs, posts, post corners and get the ball out on time. Much like Newton he tries to gun the ball in late and sees a lot of interceptions by defenders cutting under his routes.

jameisIt’s one of the reasons DeSean Jackson connected with Ryan Fitzpatrick last year and emerged as a deep threat for Philly in game 1. However 2 of the Bucs former head coaches are on the Falcons coaching staff where Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter are employed.  Tampa is in another coaching rebuild and will struggle. Tampa will struggle as will their quarterback. Will Winston make improvements to the point Tampa picks up his 6 year option?? Or will he fall by the wayside where the Buccaneers officially enter the Jalen Hurts sweepstakes??

The Chancellor of Football thinks it will be the latter.

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The 2018 Taylor Blitz Times Offensive MVP Preview: The Case for Drew Brees

With only 5 weeks to go in the 2018 NFL campaign, its time to discuss the best offensive players who have helped shape this season. This year seems like a changing of the guard as new faces have emerged to lead the next crop of superstars beyond the NFL’s 100th season. However a few holdovers aren’t ready to relinquish their stature atop the pro football landscape. So let’s take a look at a few:

Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints: One of the few accolades that has alluded record setting quarterback Drew Brees is that of league MVP. At the advanced age of 39 he benefits greatly from the rule changes which greatly reduces the punishment quarterbacks take, however he is completing a whopping 76.4% of his passes. He has already thrown for 3,135 yards 29 touchdowns to just 2 picks yet it’s a little bit more.

Think of how he threw for just 171 yards yet connected for 4TDs as the Saints completed a season sweep (31-17) over the desperate 4-7 Falcons. Practically ending their season. How about the 30 points put up while only completing 18 passes in a 30-20 triumph against the Vikings #3 ranked defense??

What about the ease with which he scorched the world champion Eagles 48-7 finishing 22 of 30 for 363 yards and another 4 touchdowns. It was the worst beating a defending champion has taken in the Super Bowl era. All this before the 45-35 drubbing that knocked the Rams down a peg and from the ranks of the unbeaten.

When he faced the NFL’s 32nd ranked defense, on the road no less, he put up a 22 of 25 for 265 yards and 3 scores in a 51-14 pasting of the Cincinnati Bengals. The next day the Bengals fired their Defensive Coordinator. Not only has he not thrown an interception in any of the games mentioned, he’s shown his growth as a quarterback. He will audible and lean on his running game. Something he didn’t do in previous seasons.

Do you realize Brees is on pace to throw for just 4,560 yards this season?? Yet the Saints are 10-1 and streaking toward the playoffs. That was never the case in all of his 5,000 yard seasons and if you go back to when he won Super Bowl XLIX, he only threw for 4,338 yards. His 2nd lowest over the last 10 seasons.

Either Coach Sean Payton’s play calling has matured or Drew Brees is having a season for the ages. The Chancellor thinks it’s a little of both.

However….out in San Diego where Brees used to call home… (to be continued)

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2017 NFC South Previews & Predictions

Last year the Atlanta Falcons won this division and broke a 3 year strangle hold the Panthers held over this division. With their coming up short in the Super Bowl as the Panthers had the year before, will they plummet this season?? Will the Panthers rebound with rookie weapon Christian McCaffrey providing a spark??

When 2016 concluded no offense looked more predictable than Cam Newton and the Panthers. A season after scoring a team record 500 points as one of the top scoring units in NFL history, they could only average 18 points as they went 2-3 in their final 5 outings.

Not only is McCaffrey an all around threat, he can break big plays in the open field where Jonathon Stewart and Tolbert struggled mightily last season. Those of us out west watched him break huge plays in all phases of the game in Pac 12 competition. With Newton, TE Greg Olsen, and WR Kelvin Benjamin, Christian should be a serious wild card on 3rd downs and spread formations. Will it be enough for Carolina to win their 4th division crown in 5 seasons??

 

2017 NFC South Predictions

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5*
  2. Carolina Panthers 10-6+
  3. Atlanta Falcons 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 5-11

In a division that sent 3 teams to the Super Bowl in the last 8 years which includes the last 2 consecutively, Tampa has taken their lumps and grown within the division. They are young and hungry & every time they take on a division rival they are playing teams who have made the NFL elite. So they know it’s in range. Last year they were 4-2 against their brothers in the NFC South and finished the season 6-2 over the 2nd half.

With the addition of DeSean Jackson and 1st round selection TE OJ Howard out of Alabama, Jameis Winston will have serious speed to stretch the field deep. Which should completely open up the intermediate areas where Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson thrive. It will back Safeties out of the box which would allow Doug Martin a superb chance at a bounce back year.

This is a big year for Martin who is in the 2nd year of a $36 million deal yet had an on again /off again season with only 429 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has been a Taylor Blitz Times favorite for many years and he has had 2- 1,400 yard seasons showcasing his talent. However Jacquizz Rodgers 560 yards and 2 scores flashed promise. Martin will get the chance as Rodgers is not an every down back. If he has another subpar season it will be his last in Tampa.

Quick question….how well did “Matty Ice” and the Falcons pick up the pieces after that meltdown in the NFC Championship in 2012?? Now they are supposed to do it after blowing a 28-3 lead in a Super Bowl??

Weren’t the waning moments of the 4th quarter where Matt Ryan made his bones over the last 9 seasons?? He is about to enter his 10th season and well into the latter half of his career. 2016 saw Ryan achieve career highs in completion percentage (69.9%), 4,944 yds, 38 TDs, and interception low of 7 along with a passer rating of 117.1. He will have to adjust to the loss of Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan. They were in a comfortable groove all year and will be tough to replicate with Steve Sarkisian.

The Falcons did have the NFL’s leading sack artist in Vic Beasley with 15 1/2 sacks, however upon further review you can see where the defense needs improvement. The Falcons finished with a ranking of 17th against the run. Not bad until you remember this team had several double digit leads that forced their opponents to take to the air. So going into 2017, opponents will look to run the football and keep Ryan and Julio Jones off the field. Call it good self scouting but the Falcons have to improve on their 25th ranking allowing 4.5 yards per carry as they did last season.

This team will suffer a hangover all year and it will be imperative to see how they react in the 2nd half when opponents seize momentum. They will see the ghosts of Super Bowl LI all year and will need to recover in 2018 once they see a shrink.

The New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees will have a long year. They brought in Adrian Peterson to split time with Mark Ingram however this team will struggle with their identity and took a big loss with WR Brandin Cooks going to New England.

So the NFC South in 2018 will go to the young, hungry and lethal Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They will have the best young LB crew with Kwon Alexander, LaVonte David, and LSU rookie Kendell Beckwith. The Carolina Panthers will make the postseason as a wildcard.

2015 NFC South Predictions

When the Carolina Panthers lost wideout Kelvin Benjamin for the season, everything changed for Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton. Instead of coming into a second season with Benjamin and fellow 1,000 yard receiver in Greg Olsen, the offense regresses with Ted Ginn Jr becoming a starter. Ginn doesn’t fight for the football and hears footsteps on in routes. This further stunts Newton’s growth as he will have to run for his life again with a pedestrian receiving corps.

Falcons-590x9002015 NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons 10-6 *
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7
  3. Carolina Panthers 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 6-10

The heat is on for Jameis Winston especially after that first game performance losing 42-14. He was badly outplayed by Marcus Mariota and his head is definitely out of the clouds now. Yet he can turn and give the ball to the shifty Doug Martin and settle into a balanced offense.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Tampa has weapons in WR Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson also. Two big physical receivers that will collect all of the intermediate passes if Winston is inaccurate. The biggest lesson Tampa should have learned is to not give Winston too much of the playbook yet. Lean on the running game and expand the sophistication of the passing game as the game and season wear on. Doug Martin had a great preseason and needs to be reestablished.

New Falcon Head Coach Dan Quinn will get more out of the defense than former coach Mike Smith. Offensively this team has had the firepower to make a Super Bowl run yet came up short on the other side of the ball. Matt Ryan is in his prime and needs to mature fully as a quarterback. What is keeping him from being great are his 3rd quarter flame outs that necessitate 4th quarter heroics. Great quarterbacks keep the pressure on the opponent to keep scoring with them. The Falcons rarely get up 2 to 3 scores on opponents.  So now its up to Quinn’s defense to make up the difference.

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Legendary Days: Ken Stabler’s Last Great Comeback

A few short weeks ago we lost Ken Stabler and it was felt by football fans everywhere. In my article describing why he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I cited the great moments he had as one of the reasons. He had so many famous 4th quarter finishes they had nicknames: The Holy Roller, The Sea of Hands, and The Ghost To The Post to name a few. However the one most people forgot about was his last great comeback.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff were gone and many holdovers from the 70’s were being phased out in 1979. Tom Flores was now the coach and Oakland was about to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Only the second time this had happened in 12 years. They traveled to New Orleans where both teams at 7-6, clung to fading playoff hopes.

The Saints had a shot at finishing with their 1st ever winning season. They had Pro Bowlers in QB Archie Manning, RB Chuck Muncie, TE Henry Childs, and WR Wes Chandler. Now on a Monday Night they were going to show the nation and the rest of the NFL they were to be taken seriously. They came out firing and took a 28-14 halftime lead on Oakland. The Raiders looked like an aging team as the Superdome was raucous from the 1st half heroics, then it got even louder early in the 3rd quarter:

…and just like that Stabler brought the Raiders back from 35-14 to the greatest comeback win in Monday Night history 42-35.  The Snake had gone 26 of 45 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were thrown in the 4th quarter alone.  On a Monday night in December 1979, Stabler turned back the clock with an unbelievable performance.

RIP Kenny Stabler

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