Week 8 AFC North: Protecting the NFL Republic

Bengals defense has been beastly the first half of the ’11 season.

With all this talk of wide open offenses in the NFL this year, there is a division where a more traditional game favors the defensive side of the football. The AFC North. Going into yesterday’s games, this division’s four teams ranked 1, 2, 3, & 4 in total defense. Surprisingly it was the Cincinnati Bengals who has led for most of the year before being overtaken by the Ravens. Baltimore luckily had a chance to pad their stats on Monday Night playing an inept Jacksonville team in a 12-7 upset loss.

Each team has the old mantra of running tough, milking the clock, and supplement that with timely passing. Yet the main ingredient is defense, defense, defense. For it was the swarming defense of  the Cincinnati Bengals that knocked the offensive minded Buffalo Bills from the ranks of the unbeaten earlier this year 23-20. This was one week after coming out on the short end of a 13-8 alley fight with the 49ers.

These are your Cincinnati Bengals. One year removed from a season that saw Pri-Madonnas Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco fail as Batman and Robin. Watched their franchise quarterback in Carson Palmer threaten to retire over returning to the team. No problem, Bengals draft TCU’s Andy Dalton and fed Cedric Benson the football. Such thinking has been rewarded with 458 yards and 2 TDs despite the fact he sat out yesterday’s 34-12 beat down of Seattle. Dalton has endured a rookie season baptism by fire where he’s finished the first half of the season with 1,479 yards, 9 TDs and 7 interceptions. He is this year’s Mark Sanchez where he’s not being asked to do to much, rely on his running game and his defense. After a 5-2 start, it’s safe to say that Marvin Lewis and his Bengals have an old tried and true winning NFL formula working for them.

As for the defense, Geno Atkins leads the way with 3 sacks with Jonathon Fanene following with 3. Safety Reggie Nelson leads the way with 45 tackles with Ray Maualuga cleaning up with a hard hitting 38. Were you looking for extremely high numbers?? Sorry you don’t understand the formula. Run the football and minimize how much your defense has to play. Been a staple for over 93 years in the NFL. Lets take a look at the standings as well.

AFC NORTH W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Pittsburgh 6 2 0 .750 4-0-0 2-2-0 0-1-0 4-2-0 176 139 +37 Won 4
Cincinnati 5 2 0 .714 2-1-0 3-1-0 1-0-0 4-1-0 171 123 +48 Won 4
Baltimore 5 2 0 .714 4-0-0 1-2-0 1-0-0 3-2-0 185 110 +75 Won 1
Cleveland 3 4 0 .429 2-2-0 1-2-0 0-1-0 2-3-0 107 140 -33 Lost 1

Returning to the leader board after 4 straight wins are the defending AFC Champion Steelers who has seen it’s defense surrender more yards than in year’s past. In 2010 the Steelers were tremendous holding opponents to 62.5 yards per game rushing. This year they have had some struggles yet have bounced back to a respectable 8th allowing 99.1 and this week they get James Harrison back from injury. With a rubber match head knocker this week against division rival Baltimore, all hands need to be on deck. However it was the Ravens that bludgeoned the Steelers with 170 yards rushing in week one. In Harrison’s absence, LaMarr Woodley has picked up the slack and leads the team with 9 sacks. Two of which came in last week’s 25-17 win over decade long nemesis Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Woodley sacks rookie Blaine Gabbert

Yet there are points for concern. Do you realize the win over New England represents their only win over a winning team this season?? Also for all the hard hitting the Steelers have been known for they have only forced 3 turnovers and 2 of those are interceptions. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/pit/2011.htm Right now their leading tacklers are safeties Ryan Clark (50) and Troy Palamalu (48) which shows teams are moving the Steelers off the line of scrimmage. Truth be told they have an easy schedule that may be masking the real Steelers. Right now Pittsburgh is #2 overall in defense yet if you take out the win over New England, their wins come over the Colts (30th in offense), Seattle (31st), Tennessee (25th), Jacksonville (32nd or last), and Arizona (20th).

http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?archive=false&conference=null&role=TM&offensiveStatisticCategory=TOTAL_YARDS&defensiveStatisticCategory=null&season=2011&seasonType=REG&tabSeq=2&qualified=true&Submit=Go

Just think it’s these anemic offenses that have passed for 10 TDs and only 2 interceptions?? This team is still deficient at defending the pass as they were in last February’s Super Bowl. Right now they are winning on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger. His 365 yards and 2TDs were the difference in the Steelers win on Sunday. Rashard Mendenhall has been solid (421 yds /3 TDs) however it’s come down to one frantic 3rd down scramble & throw after another to sustain drives. Can this formula keep?? If they can win this week at home against Baltimore they can sustain that they are in fact still the team to beat in the AFC North. A loss here and indeed the Ravens will have swept their nemesis and dropped them to 1-3 against teams with winning records. Which will really raise serious doubts on their ability to make it back to the AFC Championship Game.

Ready to try and sweep the Steelers are the up and down Baltimore Ravens. How is it the Ravens lost to the 2-6 Jaguars just two weeks ago 12-7 and to the Titans earlier in the season 26-13?? This team needs to quit overlooking it’s lessor opposition. Joe Flacco is coming under all kinds of heat for not showing much improvement over these last few seasons. He checks the football down too much and isn’t running the total offense when it comes to taking to the air. Yet the NFL’s #1 defense has led them to a 3-1 record against team’s with winning records. Ray Lewis (who else) leads the way with 55 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception. As a unit they have 17 sacks, 7 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries. Again it is up to this unit to carry this team as far as it can go.

The Ravens offense is too reliant on Ray Rice. He’s been super productive out of the backfield with 489 yards rushing, 5 TDs and 33 receptions for 373 yards and 2 more touchdowns. However his playing style takes too many hits and he may wear down by season’s end with this his 3rd season with such a heavy workload. It’s imperative that Flacco make better use of his receivers aside from Anquan Boldin (34 rec. 539 yds 2TDs) and TE Ed Dickson. Flacco is too predictable when you show him zone he won’t throw to the second level and just dumps it to Rice. He will be the reason this team doesn’t make it to the Super Bowl. In his 4th season he should have shown the growth to master more of the offense and learn the nuances of the quarterback position. Will he throw to the second level against the Steelers this week??

Cleveland’s D’Qwell Jackson is having a Pro Bowl season

Rounding out this defensive group are the “No Name” Cleveland Browns who are in the midst of shaping the same gameplan around a young QB in Colt McCoy while pounding the opposition with Peyton Hillis. Yet this season Hillis (211 yards / 2TDs) has been nicked with an assortment of injuries and has shared time with Montario Hardesty (244 yards). The Browns have been playing close to the vest games all year thanks to a defense filled with No Names that have roped teams into defensive struggles. Last Sunday they were out in San Francisco in another slugfest where they lost a close one 20-10. The 49ers jumped to an early17-3 lead and were nearly shut out from that point on. Again this defense was let down by an offense that couldn’t get out of it’s own way being held to 66 yards rushing. In their defense they were down to a second string running back with both Hillis and Hardesty out with injuries.

So how are the Browns just 3-4?? They have been able to best the weak teams in defensive struggles and can’t get over the hump when they require more offense. Their 5th ranked defense has been led by D’Qwell Jackson, a fifth year linebacker out of Maryland, who is having the best season of any MLB /ILB. He’s corralled 64 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries and looks like a young Ray Lewis. In fact this team has 17 sacks while forcing 8 turnovers. Four linemen have multiple sacks so far this season, their first under defensive co-ordinator Dick Jauron. Their a hodge podge group of veteran free agents and a few unheard of stars like Jackson. If they can get through the next three games relatively healthy, five of their final 6 games are against defensive brethren in cold weather. Their defense can only carry them so far. Otherwise they stand a chance to make some serious noise in the division if they can get some offensive help. Will they get it??

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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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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 Regular Season Picks: Week 1

Here we are folks, the gunlap to Super Bowl XLVI. It all starts with week one and we’re going to get into it right now. Winners in bold

Saints @ Packers: Packers should win this one relatively easy. 31-16

Steelers @ Ravens: We have the Ravens in a tight game 20-17

Falcons @ Bears: Falcons Have to think the Bears will slow down the Falcon offense. Yet will outscore the Bears in this one 24-16

Bengals @ Browns: Browns will win first game for new coach Pat Schurmur. Can’t think of a score

Colts @ Texans: The long reign of the Colts is over with the upstart Texans beating an undermanned Colt team. Texans 30-10

Titans @ Jacksonville: Titans Two rebuilding teams yet the Jaguars aren’t over the release of David Garrard.

Bills @ Chiefs: Too many playmakers for the Kansas City team to lose.  Chiefs 24-13

Eagles @ Rams: Eagles have been rusty but should squeak out a win in first week. Can’t think of score

Lions @ Buccaneers: These are two up and coming teams…have to take the Bucs at home.

Panthers @ Cardinals: Panthers should run the ball successful enough.

Vikings @ Chargers: The Chargers win this one.

Seahawks @ 49ers: Seattle wins this one. More stable at quarterback and defense

Giants @ Redskins: Giants ground game and defensive pass rush will dominate this one.

Cowboys @ Jets: Jets get off on a winning track to get themselves headed for first Super Bowl since Namath.

Patriots @ Dolphins: The Patriots normally win this early season trip and will this time also. Patriots

Raiders @ Broncos:  The Raider ground game wins this one for the silver and black

TOTAL RECORD= 0-0 We’re undefeated baby!!

See you next week, folks.