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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First Quarter Report Card: New Orleans Saints

It is totally amazing how in the game of football, a team can look nearly identical as it once did but the results are totally different. Take the 2014 New Orleans Saints. Here at Taylor Blitz Times The Chancellor of Football posed this question: When do you say when? What were the Saints about to sacrifice when they were about to commit heavily financially in Jimmy Graham??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Over the first quarter of the new season it looks like they sacrificed everything. When it was time to sign TE Jimmy Graham it was expressed he was the security blanket Brees needed. This isn’t true. He’s a weapon but the true chain mover of this offense was RB Darren Sproles.

Every time the Saints needed a first down they went to Sproles on screens, circle routes out of the backfield, draws, you name it. They haven’t had the same returns going to Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. A combined 6 receptions for 40 yards and no big plays. Last year after 4 games Sproles had 23 receptions for 277 yards and 1 touchdown.

Defenses are focusing in on this and the Saints first down totals 30, 27, 26, and 20 are diminishing per game. You won’t see it in Drew Brees totals but you see it here and in defensive statistics.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Last year, the Saints owned time of possession and wound up with the league’s 4th best defense. In 2013 the Saints were 3rd in time of possession where this year they are 16th. Couple that with poor tackling and free agent losses and they’ve plummeted to 30th on defense. Allowing 89 more yards and 27.5 points per game.

They have a chance to right the ship in the upcoming weeks against the Bucs, Lions, Packers, and Panthers. None are offensive juggernauts and Green Bay is ranked 28th. ESPN and their talking heads keep mentioning Aaron Rodgers like this is 2010.

However Brees is playing like its 2010 as he has completed 71% of his passes for 1,203 yards and 7 TDs. He leads the NFL’s #3 offense into battle with the 26th, 1st, 22nd, and 24th ranked defenses in this next quarter. To get back into this season the Saints need to go 3-1 in this next quarter to give themselves a chance. If they can get to 4-4 or even 5-3 by the midway point, they will put themselves in wildcard contention.

If Atlanta keeps backsliding with their 31st ranked defense, they can still grab the division.

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Salary Cap: When Do You Say When??

Let’s see if we have this right…. All Pro Tight End Jimmy Graham is up for free agency and if he’s franchised, he wants the money of a wideout, not that of the position he plays. Where does that logic come from?? Welcome to the lunacy that can be NFL free agency. For a team that has just $5.1 million of cap space, are the New Orleans Saints about to overpay for Jimmy Graham??

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Now that the Saints are coming off their first season with Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator, they made it to 4th in total defense and 14th against the run. Yet the Saints let go of longtime defensive leader Jonathan Vilma and dangle starters Will Smith, CB Jabari Greer, and both Safeties Roman Harper, and Malcolm Jenkins for other teams to sign.

All this for a Tight End that disappeared in 2 games against Seattle last year?? He had a combined 5 catches for 49 yards. The Panthers and 49ers had success against Graham also. The Saints will have to rebuild their defense instead of gaining strength from the continuity they established last year.

That’s too much money for a player that can be taken out of the game by a stout defense.

Sure he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16TDs but now they won’t have money to field a legitimate defense. At the top of the conference sit the best defenses since the early 2000’s. So how is a Tight End worth $40 million, who is taken out of the game by tough defenses going to improve the Saints??

Stay tuned…

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NFL Wild Card Week: New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles

Now as we move on to game two of the National Football League’s playoffs, where the New Orleans Saints travel outside to The City of Brotherly Love. The first thing that jumps out at you is how poorly they have played on the road this year (3-5) and how they haven’t won a road playoff game in their history. Every pundit is talking about the battle between Drew Brees and Nick Foles.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

The bigger issue is the Eagles field the NFL rushing champion in LeSean McCoy while Pierre Thomas is out for the Saints. Brees and the offense needs some balance in this game. They have passed the football 68% of the time on offense. That doesn’t win road games and especially doesn’t win playoff games. If Mark Ingram can step up the Saints have a chance to win this game.

However Sean Payton won’t want to stay with the running game long enough to keep the Eagle offense out of rhythm. Drew Brees will have to carry the load as he throws 50 times on a windy night. Now would be a good time for the defense to force Foles and McCoy into a few turnovers to steal momentum from the Eagles.

Problem is Nick Foles has played as well any quarterback in the NFL this season. All the Eagles have to do is stay balanced and they should win this game. Mark Ingram will have the chance to leave his imprint on this game, however he will have to show some toughness as he takes hits going into the second half. Especially in the cold. The Eagles defense should make him turn it over late and secure a solid win 30-17.

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Protecting The Quarterback: A Knee Jerk Reaction

Remember when Jack Lambert was quoted “Quarterbacks should wear skirts.” back in 1975?? Well with another rule change or two they may actually be doing that. What happened yesterday was a complete travesty that could wind up derailing the season for the San Franciso 49ers.

Drew Brees is about to be sacked by Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers.

Drew Brees is about to be sacked by Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers.

Toward the end of yesterday’s game between the Niners battle with the New Orleans Saints, the game had boiled down to a critical third down. San Francisco had played a brilliant game on the road and were about to put on the finishing touches on what would have been a 20-17 win. Up until the moment of the hit, the Niners had held Drew Brees to just 200 yards passing the entire game.

It was 3rd and 2 from the San Francisco 35. Brees takes a Pistol snap and takes the equivalent of a seven step drop when Ahmad Brooks levels him. The ball comes out and Patrick Willis recovered back at the 48 with 3:17 to go. The first substantial drive of the fourth quarter by the Saints had been squashed and the Niners could run out the clock in a quiet Superdome….right?? Well there was a flag on the prescription turf.

Brooks was flagged for hitting Brees in the head.  Replay clearly showed that he hit him across the chest causing a fumble.

Brooks was flagged for hitting Brees in the head. Replay clearly showed that he hit him across the chest causing a fumble.

Unecessary roughness was called on Brooks indicating he had hit Brees in the head. During the call we heard the ref describe “attacking the neck of the quarterback”. The Saints retained possession and thanks to the 15 yard penalty were in position to tie the game with a field goal, changing the momentum.

The turn of events led to the Saints being in field goal range to tie the game. The subsequent change of momentum stymied San Francisco’s last drive and New Orleans last second kick to win it 23-20. A travesty had occurred with the Niners losing that game. You didn’t go away feeling the best team won, you felt something else. The Niners hadn’t been cheated like that since the 1983 NFC Championship Game.

The over-protection of quarterbacks is at an all time high and it’s ruining the game of football. On the play in question Ahmad Brooks came storming around the strong side and hit Drew Brees high but with his arm and shoulder across the chest. Because Brees wasn’t ready for it and didn’t brace himself causing a whiplash effect doesn’t make it a penalty. Brooks didn’t hit him in the head nor did he use his in making the tackle. Now thanks to a terrible call, the defending NFC Champions may not make the playoffs with a 6-4 record. They now have 3 conference losses and tie breaker advantages to several teams.

If this is a roughing the passer penalty, I'm from Mars.

If this is a roughing the passer penalty, I’m from Mars.

Quarterbacks are playing the game of football too. Personally, I like seeing quarterbacks knocked about, it’s one of the reasons you’re reading the Taylor BLITZ Times and not the Taylor Long Pass Times. We here understand the necessary measures but this is getting ridiculous.

Thanks to the knee injury suffered by Tom Brady in week 1 of 2008, a falling lineman can’t fall into the legs of a quarterback. The league always had a rule where if the defender was reaching to knock down a pass and hit the helmet, it’s a penalty. Now the referee is worried that Brooks hit Brees in the neck when replay showed clearly he didn’t. Never knew a quarterback’s neck was off limits. By the time we put in quarterback hook slides and such….Jack Lambert was 100% right. Not only should they wear skirts, they should take off their shoulder pads and helmets also.

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