The Soul Of The Game: Todd Bell

As they used to do before every Bears game during player introductions, the late Walter Payton and Todd Bell used to high five as Payton was introduced last. This high five was when Bell was the first to greet Payton at midfield after he became the NFL’s All Time Leading rusher during a game against the Saints on October 7, 1984. Each player was the heart of their side of the ball. Payton was the offense’s and Bell was his equal to the defense.

When you talk about the NFL’s greatest defenses ever, our CEO’s pick is the 1985 Chicago Bears. When asked why he tells us “they set the modern standard for great defense without they’re best player.” How can this be?? Hall of Fame players Richard Dent, who went on to be Super Bowl XX MVP, and Mike Singletary (1985’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year) were front and center. Then you have blitzing linebacker Otis Wilson, Dan Hampton, Wilber Marshall, and Gary Fencik. To know who their best player was you have to return to the season before and a player that defensive co-ordinator Buddy Ryan raved about… SS Todd Bell

Bell was a hard-hitting strong safety drafted out of Ohio St in 1981. The Chicago Bears were an average team with one superstar, the incomparable Walter Payton. Who at the time, was being recognized as he approached 10,000 yards and the inevitable question began: Could Walter break Jim Brown’s all time rushing record of 12,312?? As the media glare intensified following Payton’s pursuit of Brown’s record, some attention was being paid toward a very aggressive nickel defense that featured lots of blitzing.

Buddy Ryan was the architect of the 46 defense and he had a young safety coming into his own. He was a ferocious hitter and much like Ronnie Lott in San Francisco he was the emotional leader of that group. After finishing the 1983 season winning 5 of 6 games and with Payton on the cusp of history, media descended upon Soldier Field for 1984. Bell shined in 1984 as the Bears set an NFL record with 72 sacks (still stands) and finished #1 in defense.

For all their blitzing they needed a safety who could cover, adjust on the run and be a good open field tackler. He amassed 4 sacks, 4 interceptions and delivered countless big hits as the Bears fought for league wide respect. Not only was he voted to the Pro Bowl, in some circles he was in discussions for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

As the season went on, media attention shifted from Payton breaking Jim Brown’s record to a confusing defense wreaking havoc and; Could the Bears win their first division championship since 1963??  A question that seems goofy now but back in 1984, you have to remember Chicago was thought of nationwide as the Cleveland Browns or Buffalo Bills are now. Twenty one years without any distinction as a team will do that for you. The current Bills and Browns have been like that ONLY 13 years… so you have to understand.

What made Todd Bell was not the statistics but the moments. Those where a football game is teetering when it comes to balance…momentum, or who is going to dominate?? Who is going to establish tone?? The only way to do so in contact /collision sports of yesteryear was to have your main player deliver a thunderous hit to intimidate their opponent, and this was where Bell established himself.

In a week 10 win over the defending champion LA Raiders, it was Todd Bell’s fight with Todd Christiansen that got the Bears going. They went on to sack Raider QBs nine times in a 17-6 win. Four weeks after a rousing win against Minnesota, the Bears traveled to Minnesota with a chance to win that first division title since the merger. It was Todd Bell that sent the message that Chicago came to dominate. In the vignette below, on the second to the last play shown, you’ll see Bell’s hit on Vikings RB Ted Brown that broke his ribs and the Vikings spirit where Chicago went on to win 34-3.

After this win came the FIRST gatorade shower in the NFL between Head Coach Mike Ditka from Todd Bell, Dan Hampton, and Steve McMichael. It was the 1984 Chicago Bears that first performed this…not the 1986 Giants the New York based media has fed to the nation….yet we digress. It was Bell’s hit that changed the course of the game. Yet now they made the playoffs for the first time and NFL pundits thought the Bears reached as far as they could go. With a 10-6 record they were relegated to traveling to Washington for the divisional playoff.

The Redskins were two-time defending NFC Champions and had they won Super Bowl XVIII, would have gone back to back as one of the great teams in NFL history. So they had won it all once and played in the Super Bowl the year before and here they were on their way to possibly a third straight Super Bowl against the overmatched Bears at home. A season before, they had the highest scoring offense in NFL history, surely they could best the #1 defense the following year right??

Well the Redskins were ahead 3-0 and driving in a tense game where they were about to wrest control over Chicago. The had crossed midfield when at the 35 yard line Bell struck with the single greatest hit of the last generation. Had this hit happened in New York and not Washington it would be as famous as Chuck Bednarik’s hit on Frank Gifford from 1960.

The Redskins offense was intimidated the rest of the day and we didn’t see of Joe Washington any after that. His team gained so much confidence from that shot they went on to win 23-19 and moved on to the 1984 NFC Championship Game. Shamefully he and Bears management couldn’t agree to terms on his demands in 1985.

He sat out the season and the Bears, whom he helped give ultimate confidence to soared to new heights without him. Bell’s story is a cautionary tale. To what heights would he have gone to had he been there for the 1985 season?? How many fewer points and shutouts would they have achieved had they had their hatchet man patrolling the secondary?? For 1984, 1985, and 1986 the Bears fielded the NFL’s #1 defense. They set the NFL record with 72 sacks in 1984. They led in nine of fourteen defensive categories as the great ’85 team won it all. Then they were 14-2 in 1986 and the team set the NFL record for fewest points allowed with 187 in the new 16 game season format. How would Todd Bell’s career have gone had he stayed on the field and gained momentum from his 1984 season leading into 1985?? Leaves you to wonder how his meteoric rise would have played out.

Prologue: Bell returned to the team in 1986. During his holdout, many Bears were disgruntled by management’s unwilling to negotiate agreeable terms to such a proven player yet could give a $1.35 million contract to William “Refrigerator” Perry for being a 1st round draft choice. To which Defensive Co-Ordinator Buddy Ryan scoffed “We should have given the money to Todd Bell and the pros we know who can play and we should have forgotten about Perry.”

After his contract was up Ryan signed Bell to play for his Philadelphia Eagles where he was converted to linebacker just to get him on the field. A safety converting to linebacker in the pros?? That is a rarity and shows what kind of confidence Ryan had in Bell. The Eagles played the Bears in the 1988 playoffs and Bell starred intercepting two passes in what has come to be known as the Fog Bowl. Yet Bell’s career ended the following year (1989) with a broken leg ironically at Soldier Field again.

Todd Bell left us in 2005 after he suffered a heart attack… Bell was 46, the same number of the defense he helped make famous in Chicago. A ferocious hitter. Gone but not forgotten.

Dedicated in memory of Todd Anthony Bell: (November 28,1955 – March 16, 2005)

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NFL Week 8: NFC North – New Beginnings

Will Jay Cutler’s toughness be questioned after coming back from a frightening sack on Monday night??

In a gritty performance on Monday night, the Bears upped their record to 5-1 beating the Detroit Lions 13-6. The game wasn’t an artistic one for the Bears by any means but a win is a win is a win. Bear fans were thrown for a huge scare when Ndamukong Suh slammed Jay Cutler to the turf in the second quarter. As trainers attended Cutler, everyone flashed back to the 2010 NFC Championship Game. In that one he left with what looked like a questionable injury and his toughness has been in dispute ever since. The Monday night crew showed replay after replay and it looked like he may have suffered a serious injury to his shoulder or collarbone.

The silence at Soldier Field was deafening until he popped up and ran to the sideline. The uneasiness of losing Cutler could derail what looks like a possible super season for the Bears. Anxiety turned to appreciation when he jogged onto the field a few minutes later. A quarterback once questioned for his toughness, was now receiving a standing ovation for exhibiting such. There was something gained during those anxious moments between the Bears fan-base and Jay. It will be interesting to watch as we move forward on how he will be perceived. We believe a new found respect for Cutler and the Bears offense will emerge from this. They won more than a game a few days ago.

Lets take a look at the standings…

North Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Chicago Bears Bears 5 1 0 .833 162 78 3-0 2-1 1-1 3-1 W4 4-1
Minnesota Vikings Vikings 5 2 0 .714 167 131 4-0 1-2 1-0 3-1 W1 4-1
Green Bay Packers Packers 4 3 0 .571 184 155 2-1 2-2 1-0 3-2 W2 3-2
Detroit Lions Lions 2 4 0 .333 133 150 1-1 1-3 0-2 2-3 L1 1-4

Charles Tillman has been a Pro Bowl caliber corner for years. On Monday Night he turned into Optimus Prime, holding Megatron to just 3 receptions for 34 yards.

Now according to NFL accounting, the Bears field the 6th best defense in pro football. Yet what jumps out at you is they have only given up 78 points this season. In the last four games they have held three of their opponents to 10 points or less. An argument can be made against them since they haven’t beat a team with a winning record. However if you’ve looked at their schedule, seven of their last eight have winning records and we will know where this team is going facing that gauntlet. When our CEO did his Pro Bowl voting, he could only find spots for four of these defenders on his ballot. Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, Tim Jennings, and Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year candidate Lance Briggs. Melton has reaped the reward of teams paying so much attention to Julius Peppers on the corner. His 18 tackles and team leading 4.5 sacks is best for NFC interior defensive linemen. As the season progresses and teams make Melton more of a focal point, it will free Peppers to make more of an impact.

They are playing team defense that hasn’t been seen since the 2008 Steelers or 2002 Buccaneers. Do you realize in 6 games, they have 21 sacks, 14 interceptions, 5 defensive touchdowns, forced 9 fumbles, recovered 7 of those to the tune of 21 turnovers?? Those are ’85 Bears numbers if you project them out to a full season.

As it appears the Packers have righted their ship, they lose a rudder with Charles Woodson going down with a broken collarbone. He is out indefinitely and this is a big loss. He is the reason they are able to juggle him around at safety, nickel corner on slot receivers, and can use a variety of blitzes with his man to man cover skills. Without him the Packers may change how they are calling plays from a defensive standpoint. Right now they are 14th in total defense and 17th against the pass while giving up 22 points per game. They will have to score to win.

Speaking of which, the Packers have sprung to life on offense averaging 33 points per game in their last three. All of them against defenses that rank in the top half of the league. After a slow start Aaron Rodgers has thrown 16 touchdowns in the last 4 games. That is a torrid pace and here comes the 24th ranked defense of Jacksonville to help pad his Pro Bowl stats. Yet in back to back games the Packers have been unable to run for 100 yards and this will eventually come back and haunt the offense at some point. This deficiency may not come back to bite them this week, but the week after against the 4th ranked Cardinal defense it may. Still a season on the brink in Green Bay.

Adrian Peterson is the heart and soul of the Vikings offense once again.

Is there a more below the radar 5-2 team than the Minnesota Vikings?? Whenever we hear the so called experts talking about the best team in the NFL no one mentions them. Everyone anoints the Niners the team to beat but these Vikings hammered them in week 3, 23-14. Not only does this team have a 2-1 record against teams with winning records, they are an RG III 76 yard touchdown run and an Adam Vinatieri field goal from being undefeated. Percy Harvin has been one of the league’s best players and received a Pro Bowl vote from our CEO. He has 53 receptions for 577 yards and teams never know where he’s going to line up.

As the season goes on, Adrian Peterson looks like he’s getting stronger with each game. With 652 yards on 136 carries (4.8 yd avg) and 3 touchdowns, already worthy of a Pro Bowl vote, we’re waiting for that breakout game during the second half of this season. It’s coming. Think back to Jamal Lewis who once played for the Baltimore Ravens. He tore up his knee in 2001, and after a slow 2002, burst out with a 2,066 yard season which was the second highest in NFL history. We see the same thing coming in Peterson and with his speedy recovery we expect him to be a tornado come playoff time. It’s not far fetched when you remember this guy holds the NFL rushing record of 296 in one game.

Then you take a look at the defensive side of the ball and you’ll see it’s a complete systemic effort. Pressure from the front four starts with Jared Allen (pro bowl vote) with 6 sacks, along with Brian Robison’s 4, only then do you realize they have more sacks than the Bears at 22. Is there anyone Chad Greenway (pro bowl vote) hasn’t tackled?? He has 75 and we’re not at the half-way point of the season! He is on pace to be over 160 for the season and deserves to be recognized for his steady play. With 55 tackles, 1 sack and 2 interceptions Antoine Winfield is having a great year, but can he keep it up at 35 years of age. As a group they don’t force a lot of turnovers yet are ranked a respectable 11th.

So we at Taylor Blitz Times understand what we see: A serious contender for the NFC North title and serious NFC representative for the Super Bowl if they can get through weeks 12-17, when the division faces one another. First off, they have tie break advantages over San Francisco and Arizona if they are both division champions or wild card participants. They play Seattle in two weeks where they could possibly have them under their thumb also. By the way, the Vikings are 4-0 at home and only have one loss in the conference. It’s all these tie breakers that will propel the Vikings forward and should come back to haunt Green Bay. As The Chancellor of Football has said many times “At some point you have to believe what your eyes are seeing.” Wake up!! That holds true when you think of this team and a new way to look at them as a contender.

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By the way, many thanks to The Artie Clear Show where The Chancellor was on talking football with Artie yesterday. The show is a friend to the Taylor Blitz Times in more ways than one. Check out all the former pro players, from all sports that he has on. Tellin’ it like it is except when he’s debating The Chancellor, give the show a listen. Especially with the baseball postseason going. He’s on it… http://www.theartieclearshow.com/

 

NFL Week 4 AFC East: See You At the Crossroads

The AFC East has a Super Bowl favorite, a Gotham media darling, and a classic underdog who are all vying to be pro football’s best for 2011. Then you have the Miami Dolphins who lost their quarterback Chad Henne to season ending shoulder surgery as of Thursday. Where do the Dolphins go besides a rebuilding year now with their main quarterback out?? Then more important question comes up… Who are the New York Jets?? Are they the team we here at Taylor Blitz Times picked to win Super Bowl XLVI, or are they the .500 ball club emblamatic of their 2-2 record??

Right now there is a team to the northeast, dying to get some payback and deal the Jets possibly a crushing blow to their season in the Patriots. They have treated their first four games like a 7 on 7 passing drill with the league’s #1 ranked offense.  Do you realize this team is averaging 507 yards per game?? The New Orleans Saints are #2 and average nearly 50 yards less per game. YIKES! Is this really the time for a Jets defense, which has given up 34 points in each of the last two games, to take on a Patriots team averaging 33.8?? Tom Brady has passed for 1,539 yards with a league leading 13TDs while leading the second highest scoring team in all of pro football.

Last Sunday the Patriots beat the Raiders 31-19 behind a modest day from Tom Brady (226 yds passing) yet went to the ground game for the first time this season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 75 yards while Stevan Ridley (pictured here) ran for 97 with each scoring once. They kept the ball from the Raiders with 30 carries for 182 yards in the most balanced game of the season. However their defense is still struggling. Campbell lit them up for 344 yards yet a few timely stops by the Patriot defense ultimately derailed the Raiders. In a battle of once beaten teams, the Patriots proved they were the more complete team. Now they set their sights on an old antagonist who upset them in the playoffs in the New York Jets. Think this team hasn’t had that game circled on the calender?? Think again…but let’s check the standings.

AFC EAST W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Buffalo 3 1 0 .750 2-0-0 1-1-0 1-0-0 3-1-0 133 96 +37 Lost 1
New England 3 1 0 .750 1-0-0 2-1-0 1-1-0 3-1-0 135 98 +37 Won 1
NY Jets 2 2 0 .500 2-0-0 0-2-0 0-0-0 1-2-0 100 95 +5 Lost 2
Miami 0 4 0 .000 0-2-0 0-2-0 0-1-0 0-4-0 69 104 -35 Lost 4

Bills Fred Jackson is among the league's best rushers.

That’s right the Buffalo Bills were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten yet what have we learned?? Well they fear no evil and have gone after their opponents with aplomb not seen since Jim Kelly. When you’re down to a perennial division rival with 3 minutes to go and your first play is a five step, hitch and throw up the sideline for 40 yards, you’re not fearing anybody. Last week the Bills offense was slowed in a 23-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bills were up 17-3, in a game where many felt they were due for a letdown after the emotional win over New England. Yet the #1 defense in football slowed the Bills offense down and rookie Andy Dalton led the Bengals to a comeback win. However the Bills are still 4th in scoring with 33.2 points per game. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/buf/2011.htm Fred Jackson is doing his best Thurman Thomas impersonation with 369 yards rushing, 4TDs, and another 13 receptions out of the backfield for 147 yards more. While Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown for 1092 yards 9 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. They now return to the friendly confines of Rich Stadium where they get to take on the back pedalling 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles. Its going to be loud Michael Vick, just warning you.

Which brings us back to the “Boys from Gotham”…who are they?? Well right now they are a .500 football team. The defense is the strength of this team yet has given up 34 points in back to back road losses to the Raiders and the Ravens. Those were bad losses to fellow AFC teams that will have tie breaker affects on playoff seeding at the end of the year. Now they have to take on a revenge minded Patriot team who is averaging nearly 34 points?? Yikes this doesn’t look good and it’s time to face facts. These three early road games were where this team was to establish it’s dominance. If they could have stood tall and stepped on the leaders of the AFC North and the strongest team in the AFC West they would be coming into this game with confidence and seize control of the conference. Then to put the hammer down on the Patriots would have cemented that point home. Once you think about their stealing their opening game against the Cowboys after a sluggish start and this team could be 1-3.

However they are 2-2 and have a chance to right the ship today. If they can ride football’s #8 defense to a victory against the Patriots they will have held serve that they may still be best in the AFC East. http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&defensiveStatisticCategory=GAME_STATS&conference=ALL&role=OPP&season=2011&seasonType=REG&d-447263-s=TOTAL_YARDS_GAME_AVG&d-447263-o=1&d-447263-n=1 Right now Mark Sanchez has been given free reign of the offense to be able to audible and throw downfield. He isn’t lighting it up statistically and something needs to be done with Shonn Greene and the running game. We know Center Nick Mangold has been out but the ineptitude of the Jets running game is derailing this team. Do you realize that after 4 games Shonn Greene leads the Jets in rushing with only 157 yards?? In four games?? Pathetic!! His rushing average is a paltry 3.1 yards per carry with Tomlinson averaging 3.0. These have to improve and they may have to get into a groove and give Tomlinson the ball first and supplement with Greene. Something has to be tried or they’ll continue to be undone by an unbalanced offensive attack. Will it happen this week in Foxboro??

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Week 4 NFC North: Titans Ready to Collide

Detroit's defense harrased and hounded Tony Romo throughout the second half.

If someone were to have asked you at the beginning of the NFL season: Who would be the last two undefeated teams?? There is no way anyone would have guessed they would be the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Well the champion Packers yes but the Lions are roaring into the NFL’s collective conscience in a way not seen since the ’99 Rams. After over a decade of losing the Lions are on a tear. That’s right, 8 straight games when you include the last 4 to end the season and the first 4 of this campaign. However last Sunday’s win in Dallas might have been the most telling win out of all of them for the way they pulled it off.

We have talked at length about the psychological building blocks that make up a championship team. Understand this is a franchise a little over a year removed from losing the most consecutive road games in NFL history with 24. Now in back to back weeks the Lions roared from 20 points down to beat the Vikings 23-20 in Minnesota. Then with all NFL eyes upon them down in JerryWorld, they stormed from behind to win 34-30 after being down 27-3. What makes it one of those psychological building blocks we talk about?? The fact that they never believed they were out of the ball game and played with great heart. Detroit had to find a way to win with their defense and special teams forcing errors. Most great comebacks happen because a quarterback and his offense got hot. That wasn’t the case down in Dallas last Sunday.

Matthew Stafford struggled for much of the game yet came to life when he was needed to complete the comeback started by the defense. He threw for two fourth quarter touchdowns to Calvin “Megaton” Johnson, who now has 11TD throws on the year. Johnson has continued his torrid streak becoming the first in NFL history to start the season with 2 TDs in each of the first four games. Hell he’s on a pace to grab 32TDs. All of this while the Lions became the first team in NFL history to overcome 20 point deficits to win games. All of this on the road after setting the record for most consecutive road losses?? Yes, a complete confidence is growing within this Lions team that may become hard to extinguish, however the World Champion Packers are looming just over the horizon. Before we get there lets look at the standings.

NFC NORTH W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Detroit 4 0 0 1.000 1-0-0 3-0-0 1-0-0 3-0-0 135 76 +59 Won 4
Green Bay 4 0 0 1.000 2-0-0 2-0-0 1-0-0 3-0-0 148 97 +51 Won 4
Chicago 2 2 0 .500 2-1-0 0-1-0 0-1-0 2-2-0 94 98 -4 Won 1
Minnesota 0 4 0 .000 0-2-0 0-2-0 0-1-0 0-2-0 77 96 -19 Lost 4

The WR/CB matchup of Green Bay's Charles Woodson and Detroit's "Megatron" Johnson should be worth the price of admission

Which brings us to the streaking World Champions, who are also 4-0. Aaron Rodgers has just made defenses look foolish with his torrid start to the season. His quarterback rating of 124.6 includes 12 TDs to just 2 interceptions and he has 1,325 yards passing. http://www.nfl.com/player/aaronrodgers/2506363/profile Yikes! After last year’s postseason run it’s a miracle he’s not getting more ink. Everyone has been talking about Cam Newton, Brady’s record setting start, Romo’s chronicles in Dallas, and even Matthew Stafford’s 11TD start in Detroit. Yet there may not be a team more reliant on their signal caller than the Super Bowl XLV MVP. Right now they are balanced with Rodgers at the helm. James Starks has 210 yards rushing which is supplemented by Ryan Grant’s 157. If Rodgers were hurt teams would come forward to stop the run more which is a no brainer. What has been overlooked is the fact that the Packers defense is ranked a dismal 28th overall and 31st against the pass. http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?archive=false&conference=null&role=OPP&offensiveStatisticCategory=null&defensiveStatisticCategory=TEAM_PASSING&season=2011&seasonType=REG&t    This would not be a good time to take on Detroit and it’s a good thing they don’t have to for seven more weeks. What is a problem is the fact that there are no big injuries to point a finger to and after a quarter of the season is gone, it’s safe to say they may not be a top 10 defense this year. Teams are forced to play catch-up so much chasing the new highest scoring team in the league. The Packers dropped an epic 49-23 beatdown on the Denver Broncos last Sunday.

Matt Forte has quietly been one of the NFL's leading rushers.

However to the southwest is a Chicago Bear team seething at the attention afforded their division brethren. Sure they fell to the Packers 27-17 two weeks ago, but that was a tough game and the Bears relish a rematch with their rivals. Although they played in last year’s NFC Championship Game, this team has been largely forgotten about. They just beat the Carolina Panthers and slowed Cam Newton, somewhat, enroute to a 34-29 win that places them 3rd with a 2-2 record. This Monday Night matchup with the Detroit Lions is where the Bears can show that they are still in the fight. A lost fact is the Bears have scored over 30 points twice so far this season, and take a guess which two of their four games they won?? Matt Forte has rushed solidly for 324 yards and 1TD and Johny Knox and Devin Hester have been decent with 12 and 7 receptions respectively. However it’s former Lion WR Roy E. Williams who should be motivated to make an impression in this Monday Night showdown. If he can’t get going in this one against his former team when will he??

One looming problem for the Chicago Bears is they’re defense is ranked 31s overall after a tangle with Cam “The Human Highlight Film” Newton. He did throw for 376 yards on the Bears defense and they need to shore that up. By the way…did we tell you that Bears defensive co-ordinator is former Detroit Lions Head Coach Rod Marinelli??  Division rival…wanting to showcase that they are still an NFC heavy, and the emotion of Williams and Marinelli coming back to Motown!! Dammit Hank Williams for your comments about Obama being Hitler, but if ever we wanted to hear your “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL??” It would be this Monday Night when the Bears travel to Ford Field.

The next time will be Thanksgiving when the Packers travel to Ford Field. Remember, late last year the Lions beat them in their 4 game winning streak. Shhhhh…food for thought.

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NFL Week 3 AFC East: Sobering Lessons

Welcome to Inside Our NFL’s Monday after a Sunday full of NFL football that was chock full of surprises. In the AFC East we learned this entire division is going to be good, but what about Miami?? The Dolphins traveled to Cleveland in search of their first win and played the Browns to a standstill and had a 16-10 lead late in the 4th quarter. Chad Henne had his best game of the young season. In the first half alone he completed 15 of 19 passes for over 190 yards, yet only completed 4 passes in the second half and finished with 255 yards. Colt McCoy drove the Browns to a late score with a touchdown pass to Mohamad Massaquoi with :43 in the game. The Browns moved to 2-1 while the Dolphins are scratching their heads after a numbing loss, dropping to 0-3.

This Reggie Bush fumble turned the tide.

Their missing a belief in themselves and should have finished off a Browns team without Peyton Hillis. First off where is Brandon Marshall?? Second Reggie Bush is a space player, he can’t run between the tackles. He didn’t at USC and he didn’t in New Orleans. It was this fumble when the Dolphins had Bush running out of the I formation, that turned the game around when the Dolphins had a 7-0 lead and had momentum. Get Brandon Marshall the ball 15 times a game and you’ll start winning. He had 4 catches for 43 yards?? Nowhere near enough. Denver used to get him the football 100 times a season so what gives??  Their position in the standings…lets take a look

AFC EAST W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Buffalo 3 0 0 1.000 2-0-0 1-0-0 1-0-0 3-0-0 113 73 +40 Won 3
New England 2 1 0 .667 1-0-0 1-1-0 1-1-0 2-1-0 104 79 +25 Lost 1
NY Jets 2 1 0 .667 2-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1-1-0 83 61 +22 Lost 1
Miami 0 3 0 .000 0-2-0 0-1-0 0-1-0 0-3-0 53 78 -25 Lost 3

Elsewhere in the division the New York Jets traveled to play the Oakland Raiders and the second leading rusher in the NFL in Darren McFadden. The gameplan was to stop McFadden with their NFL’s 8th best defense coming into this matchup. Each game Rex Ryan’s boys start slow offensively and rely on the defense to keep control of the game. Well it’s a good thing they didn’t in this one. After the Jets moved to a 17-7 lead, the Raiders didn’t abandon the running game and were rewarded. In a surprising show of force, the Raiders ran the football down the Jets throats as McFadden exploded for 171 yards and 2TDs. McFadden ended the game as the NFL’s leading rusher. The Raiders made the Jets look slow as they showcased speed on reverses, special team plays, chasing down Tomlinson from behind after a 71 yard gain. Rex Ryan’s boys will be fine as long as they play a slow plodding game. Yet other teams are showing that they do have some speed within the division.

Where you may ask? Try Buffalo where the NFL and the New England Patriots were introduced to a team that is playing without fear. They lined up against their longtime division nemesis and promptly fell behind 21-0. This is where a team that doesn’t have a team wide belief in themselves comes apart and gets routed. Ryan Fitzpatrick calmly led the Bills back into the football game and by halftime had the score reduced to 21-17.

Tom Brady set the NFL record for most passing yards over a 3 game period as expected with 1,258. However the Bills defense picked him off 4 times yesterday, equal to his interception total for all of 2010. One of those interceptions brought the Bills all the way back to take a 31-24 lead early in the 4th quarter. What did the Bills learn about themselves?? They proved they can beat anybody playing their game.

After allowing a Tom Brady 4th down pass to tie the game at 31. Fitzpatrick on the first play hits a 5 step hitch and throw for 40 yards up the sideline over a back pedalling CB Devin McCourty. A screen pass to Jackson netted another fifteen. Then splitting into a 5 receiver look, the Bills ran Jackson on a crossing route and Fitzpatrick hit him in stride taking it more than 30 yards down to the one.  You read that right, with just over 3:00 to go instead of conservative passes this team was throwing with gusto starting with a bomb. Three plays they were down to the 1 yard line after gaining 80 yards. They are 3-0 after downing the ball and kicking the winning field goal, 34-31 and the entire NFL took notice. This team is fast and it’s fearless. They don’t know how good they can be and after breaking a 15 game losing streak to a long time nemesis, the sky is the limit. For if most pundits have the Patriots picked to make it to Super Bowl XLVI, what does that say about how good this Bills team can be now that the Patriots have been vanquished?? We will all be watching these interesting developments.

2011 AFC West Previews & Predictions

The NFL season is about to commence and now we break down the AFC West. Last year this may have been one of the best divisions in football. The two best rushing attacks in the NFL came from Kansas City and Oakland while the San Diego Chargers had the league’s #1 ranked defense. Actually the Chargers became the third team since the AFL/NFL merger to finish #1 in offense and defense in the same season. The other two?? The Dallas Cowboys went on to win Super Bowl XII and the ’87 San Francisco 49ers finished 13-2 and were upset in the playoffs. Yet the Chargers didn’t even make the playoffs with all this firepower, finishing with a disappointing 8-8 campaign.

Well if the old adage of “to win in football you have to run and stop the run” still holds true, something definitely went wrong. The Oakland Raiders went undefeated in the division behind the second best rushing attack yet missed the playoffs along with the San Diego. The Chargers achieved their #1 offensive status with WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates missing a combined 17 games. This should have sabotaged the Chargers top rushing defense yet Rivers threw for more than 4,700 yards. Only the Kansas City Chiefs with Jamaal Charles’ 1,467 yards, the NFL’s second leading rusher, and Thomas Jones with 896 yards, made the playoffs. So what made the Chiefs complete the postseason equation where their counterparts could not?? By adding the performance of quarterback Matt Cassel who threw for 27 TDs and only 7 interceptions. He was third in interception percentage with only a 1.6% of his 450 attempts. This performance by Cassel solidified him as a legitimate quarterback and showed his 2008 season with the Patriots was no fluke. Now add to this equation the free agent signing of WR Steve Breaston, from Arizona and 1st round draft pick WR Jonathan Baldwin and you’ll see where our story begins…

Kansas City Chiefs 1960s AFL Logo

2011 AFC WEST PREDICTIONS

Kansas City Chiefs 12-4 *

San Diego Chargers 10-6 #

Oakland Raiders 7-9

Denver Broncos 2-14

So the Kansas City Chiefs banner will sit atop this division again. No team did more to strengthen themselves when it comes to balance. After leading the NFL in rushing attempts (556), rushing yards (2,627), and finishing tied for 4th in rushing attempts with a 4.7 yards per carry average, this team comes off the ball with consistency.  The seven man sled is alive and well in Kansas City practices.  This team had 72 runs of over 10 yards or more and pushed for first downs on 3rd or 4th and 2, 73% of the time up the gut.  When a team can come off the ball and push their opponent back it bodes well for the passing attack.

Do you realize the last time Coach Todd Haley last saw Steve Breaston, they were in Super Bowl XLIII together with the Arizona Cardinals?? Now Haley brings him in to line up with Pro Bowler Dewayne Bowe, who only gained 1,162 yards on 72 receptions and led the league with 15TDs. So the Chiefs will field one of the biggest sets of receivers and lets ask the question: What won’t this team do on offense?? They’d definitely like a rematch with the Ravens in the playoffs with this new group. It would definitely be a different story.

The Oakland Raiders have fielded one of the most underrated defenses for years yet their “send in the clowns” offense has sabotaged their efforts. They jettisoned JaM…we can’t even say his name…and brought in Jason Campbell and now grabbed former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. So you can’t say Raider brass isn’t trying. With the emergence of Darren McFadden, there should be passing windows open just beyond the linebackers. Campbell has to throw the ball down the field and be more accurate this year.

Last year’s drafting of Rolando McClain and fellow linebacker Kamerion Wimbley are the heart and soul of the defense. Losing Namedi Asoumgha would doom most teams but the drafting of Demarcus Van Dyke (The U) at corner, Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson have covered well in pre-season. Most folks don’t realize that they finished 2nd in the NFL against the pass. They will not miss Asoumgha. The Raiders can go further than the 7-9 record we project if Campbell can play beyond his capabilities. However we see him as a marginal NFL talent and his upside is somewhere around a 3,000 yard season and 18TDs v 12 int. at best.

The enigmatic San Diego Chargers seem to lack a motivator to get them going. They keep falling behind early in games and come roaring back. Some games they win and others they fall too far behind and that is the reflection of Head Coach Norv Turner not getting his team up for the lessor teams. Phillip Rivers last year was magnificent and is the best of the young quarterbacks. He is in his prime, and without his two best receivers for 17 combined games, thew for 4,710 yards 30TDs and only 13 interceptions. He had to take some chances and still came up a winner. This year he will benefit from a projected 1,500 yard season for second year back Ryan Matthews out of Fresno State. Then when you add the defense and their play this team has no obvious onfield weaknesses. This team may be in need of a different coach to get them over the top. A coach that is more of a grinder that can get this team a little more battlehardened to go out and take care of business, no matter the opponent. We look for Coach Turner to be replaced at the end of the season. Remember they fired Marty Schottenheimer after he led the Chargers to a 14-2 record, so don’t be surprised.

As for the Denver Broncos, this is a rebuilding year. Coach Fox needs to let Tim Tebow start the season. It would energize the fanbase and possibly the organization. Then they could make a move to Kyle Orton if he founders. With a season start hosting Oakland and the Bengals, and if they can get to a 2-0 start, they could salvage the season with the early promise. This would be the recipe to offer your team and fans some hope. However Tebow isn’t favored by John Elway, who is in the front office, and that doesn’t bode well. During the pre-season Tebow was dropped to #3 on the depth chart and you could hear the disappointment from Bronco fans all over the blogosphere. With all of this going on and the need to revamp the defense, it’s time to completely rebuild and go younger. Don’t be surprised if a trade couldn’t send a Champ Bailey or a Kyle Orton away for future draft considerations. So start Tebow and see what you have. He’s under contract and you have nothing left to lose.

So that is your AFC West in a nutshell. All indications point to Kansas City reigning over the division with some competition from the San Diego Chargers. It’s hard to pick against a team that has several former NFL head coaches in one staff.  They learned a valuable lesson about playoff intensity from the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s playoffs. They will be more formidable this time around. The road to Super Bowl XLVI is a path that they can take with a few lucky bounces of the ball. Are the Chiefs ready for primetime??  We say absolutely…