Year 3 of Zone Coverage today! Thanks for following :)
AboutA collection of thoughts, analysis and other Patriots-related material from an outside-US source.
Year 3 of Zone Coverage today! Thanks for following :)
It’s easy to forget who had a great NFL season. Here’s a top-five list at each spot (with the best Patriot thrown in):
1. Nick Foles, Eagles - 119.20
2. Peyton Manning, Broncos - 115.1
3. Josh McCown, Bears - 109.0
4. Philip Rivers, Chargers - 105.5
5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers - 104.9
17. Tom Brady, Patriots - 87.3
RB (YPA, over 150 attempts):
1. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys - 5.2
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles - 5.1
3. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots - 5.0
4. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs - 5.0
5. Matt Forte, Bears - 4.6
WR (Yards per game):
1. Josh Gordon, Browns - 117.6
2. Julio Jones, Falcons - 116.0
3. Calvin Johnson, Lions - 106.6
4. Antonio Brown, Steelers - 93.7
5. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos - 89.4
25. Julian Edelman, Patriots - 66.0
TE (yards per game):
1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots - 84.6
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints - 75.9
3. Jordan Cameron, Browns - 61.1
4. Vernon Davis, 49ers - 56.7
5. Julius Thomas, Broncos - 56.3
1. Cordarelle Patterson, Vikings - 32.4
2. Dwayne Harris, Cowboys - 30.6
3. Quintin Demps, Chiefs - 30.1
4. Jacoby Jones, Ravens - 28.8
5. Devin Hester, Bears - 27.7
*Patriots did not have a player with 20 returns.
1. Tandon Doss, Ravens - 15.6
2. Marcus Sherels, Vikings - 15.2
3. Dwayne Harris, Cowboys - 12.8
4. Antonio Brown, Steelers - 12.8
5. Micah Hyde, Packers - 12.3
12. Julian Edelman, Patriots - 10.7
Defensive line (sacks):
1. Robert Mathis, Colts - 19.5
2. Robert Quinn, Rams - 19.0
3. Greg Hardy, Panthers - 15.0
4. Mario Williams, Bills - 13.0
5. Cameron Jordan, Saints - 12.5
7. Chandler Jones, Patriots - 11.5
Defensive back (interceptions + pass deflections):
1. Alterraun Verner, Titans - 28
2. Lardarius Webb, Ravens - 25
3. Richard Sherman, Seahawks - 24
4. Joe Haden, Browns - 24
5. Brandon Boykin, Eagles - 23
20. Aqib Talib, Patriots - 17
K (field goal percentage):
1. Matt Prater, Broncos - 96.2%
2. Steven Hauschka, Seahawks - 94.3%
3. Shaun Suisham, Steelers - 93.8%
4. Dan Bailey, Cowboys - 93.3%
5. Greg Zuerlein, Rams - 92.9%
6. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots - 92.7%
Congratulations to the 2013 Superbowl Champion Seahawks! They thoroughly deserved the win as the best team in football. I picked them to win at the start of the playoffs, but I will admit that Denver’s strong performance against the Chargers and Patriots made me a bit uneasy.
Good to see the MVP going to a defensive player (as the defense undoubtedly won that game) rather than the quarterback, who played well but certainly wasn’t the reason for the win (looking at you, Joe Flacco).
What’s next for these two teams? Typically the Superbowl loser has a rough next season, but I don’t see that happening for the Broncos. They retained all their coordinators, and assuming Peyton stays on, they likely won’t lose too many big pieces through retirement/free agency.
I see a tougher road for the Seahawks. The problem with having a bunch of overperforming lower round draft picks is that they all want to get paid, a lot. They’ve already got a ring though, so its a tradeoff Seattle fans would be happy to make.
Looking at a list of the available free agents, here’s my pick of the best available at each position. The criteria I’m looking for: Youngish, and not injured. Exclusive rights free agents are exempt from the list.
Matt Cassel - The 32-year old still has enough left in the tank to be a capable veteran starter, and I think a team looking at taking a QB in the draft would be well supplied with Cassel leading the team for a year or two. Next best: Josh McCown.
Knowshon Moreno - A former first-round pick replaced by Montee Ball, Moreno is only 27 and has plenty left in the tank. I think Moreno would be best utilised as the top back in a committee (i.e. not a full workload, but a lion’s share). Next best: Maurice Jones-Drew/Joique Bell
John Kuhn - I’d expect Kuhn to re-sign in Green Bay with a hometown discount, but if not he could land at any number of teams around the NFL. He’s reliable as a receiver, blocker or goal-line runner. Next best: Greg Jones
Jimmy Graham - This is an obvious selection, as Graham is one of the top five best tight ends in the league, and there’s almost no chance he ends up anywhere but New Orleans. You never know though, some team might be willing to give up the picks for a guaranteed playmaker. Next best: Dennis Pitta
Eric Decker - He’s a fourth option in Denver, and on any other team he’d be top two. It’s likely Decker will move on, and I think he’ll be the jewel of the free agent receiver class. Next best: Julian Edelman/Doug Baldwin/Riley Cooper
Eugene Monroe - Baltimore didn’t have a spectacular year running the ball, but it wasn’t Monroe’s fault. He’s 27 and looking for a big deal, teams in the market to shore up their line will give it to him. Next best: Zach Strief
Geoff Schwartz - For guards, if you haven’t heard their name, that’s usually a good sign. Schwartz didn’t play a full season, but was solid when he played, and is only 28. Next best: Travelle Wharton
Alex Mack - This guy has been a stalwart on the Brown’s line for the past few seasons, and has always played well. I can imagine a team like the Patriots wanting him to upgrade their interior line. Next best: Evan Dietrich-Smith
Randy Starks - Starks was the middle of an underrated Dolphins line, adding four sacks during the season and a forced fumble. Unlikely to get big money, but is definitely more than just a role player. Next best: Jason Hatcher
Greg Hardy - The Kraken had a breakout season for the Panthers, and was a big reason for their defensive success. He’s only 26 and will draw big money, in Carolina or elsewhere. Next best: Michael Johnson
Brandon Spikes - He’s a prototypical two-down, run-stuffing linebacker with the looks and attitude to go with it. His run blitzes probably keep guards awake the night before a game. Next best: Karlos Dansby
Alterraun Verner - One-half of a tremendous tandem in Tennessee, Verner made the Pro Bowl for the first time, and put in a big performance in his contract season. He’s only 25, and an attractive option for every team in the secondary market. Next best: Aqib Talib
T.J. Ward - He made headlines for taking Gronk out this season, but Ward played very solidly on the backend of Cleveland’s defense. Ward made the Pro Bowl and is likely going to make a big money deal. Next best: Jairus Byrd/Stevie Brown
Graham Gano - One of the youngest kickers on the free agent market this year, Gano had a great season for the Panthers and will be looking for a contract that pays him $2-$3 million a season. Next best: Steven Hauschka
Who will attract the biggest contract? Greg Hardy
Which position is strongest? Cornerback
Which position is weakest? Quarterback
Before the season, I broke down each division and gave some predictions. It’s time to check up on those predictions.
AFC West Predicted Standings:
1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
3. San Diego Chargers (6-10)
4. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
AFC West Current Standings:
1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
3. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
4. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
Analysis: Spot on with this division, although the Charger’s postseason berth surprised me.
AFC North Predicted Standings:
1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
4. Cleveland Browns (6-10)
AFC North Current Standings:
1. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
3. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Analysis: The poor season of the Superbowl champions was something I didn’t see coming, but I did have an inkling the Bengals would step to the top of the division. Bit rough that Cleveland coach Rob Chudsinski was fired after only one season.
AFC East Predicted Standings:
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
2. Miami Dolphins (9-7)
3. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
4. New York Jets (5-11)
AFC East Current Standings:
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
2. New York Jets (8-8)
3. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
4. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Analysis: Before the season started, the Dolphins looked like a chance to challenge the Patriots for the division. It wasn’t to be - the Pats easily held the title, although they did drop away games to the Jets and Dolphins.
AFC South Predicted Standings:
1. Houston Texans (11-5)
2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
3. Tennessee Titans (5-11)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
AFC South Current Standings:
1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
2. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
4. Houston Texans (2-14)
Analysis: Incredibly disappointing season for the Texans, for whom it all fell apart. They’ve certainly got an excellent chance to turn it all the way around to the playoffs next year, if they can get a quarterback (Johnny Football?).
NFC West Predicted Standings:
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
2. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)
3. St. Louis Rams (9-7)
4. Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
NFC West Current Standings:
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
2. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
3. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
4. St. Louis Rams (7-9)
Analysis: I’m not a big Carson Palmer fan, but he and first-year head coach Bruce Arians were great this year, just narrowly missing out on the playoffs. Did not see it coming.
NFC North Predicted Standings:
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
2. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
3. Chicago Bears (8-8)
4. Detroit Lions (6-10)
NFC North Current Standings:
1. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
2. Chicago Bears (8-8)
3. Detroit Lions (7-9)
4. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1)
Analysis: What a messy division - lots of talent, but not much consistency. I like the Bears to have the strongest season next year.
NFC East Prediction Standings:
1. Washington Redskins (11-5)
2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
3. New York Giants (8-8)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (5-11)
NFC East Current Standings:
1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
2. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
3. New York Giants (7-9)
4. Washington Redskins (3-13)
Analysis: I definitely didn’t see Chip Kelly being able to do the great job he did in his first year, winning the division. Missed opportunity for the Cowboys to win in a relatively weak year.
NFC South Prediction Standings:
1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
3. New Orleans Saints (8-8)
4. Carolina Panthers (5-11)
NFC South Current Standings:
1. Carolina Panthers (12-4)
2. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
3. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
Analysis: For me, the hardest division to predict. Atlanta went from the NFC Championship to the bottom of the league, and Carolina went from almost firing their coach to the top!
Here’s what we learnt from the past week, which had a few high-placed teams stumble.
Two first names means you’re a baller. Chiefs runningback Jamaal Charles had five touchdowns on Sunday against the Raiders, taking four passes to the house from quick screens. Charles also added a rushing score, coming close to a six-touchdown day, which would have been the first since 1965. Charles, who also holds the top spot in NFL history for yards-per-carry, helped the Chiefs secure a playoff spot and will be a tough ask for whoever they’ll visit in the wildcard round.
Two out of three isn’t bad. In 2012, three rookie quarterbacks led their teams to the playoffs. This year, only two (Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson) have managed the feat, with RGIII being benched for health reasons, and his team at 3-11. Wilson has become one of only three quarterbacks to throw 50 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and Luck has become one of three quarterbacks to throw over 7,500 yards in his first two seasons.
This time, Garrett gets a pass. The Allas Cowboys (henceforth named as they have no ‘D’) blew a 26-3 lead to lose 27-26 to Green Bay on Sunday, with Tony Romo throwing two fatal interceptions in the fourth quarter. Coach Jason Garrett often is blamed for Dallas losses, but the interceptions and other missed throws fall solely on Romo and poor decision-making. Romo signed a big contract to start the season and is in no danger of losing his job, but if the Cowboys lose either of their last two games, they’re out of the playoffs, and Garrett is likely out of a job.
Dramatic finish to come. With only four of twelve playoff berths confirmed, the last two weeks will be intense for the 15 teams still in the hunt. The Patriots and Bengals lost their chance to confirm in week 15, and will have to win out to ensure their spot. The big games to come in week 16 are Saints at Panthers, to decide the NFC South, and Bears at Eagles, which could confirm either team as NFC division winners.
Quick Hits: Undrafted rookie Matt Asiata had three touchdowns on debut for the Vikings (is AP just a system runningback? kidding!)… Peyton Manning has 47 touchdowns, which already is fourth-best in history… Alex Smith’s five touchdown passes travelled a combined 13 yards in the air… The 763 points scored on Sunday was the most on any one day in NFL history… There’s been 56 pick sixes so far this year, which is actually down from this time last season (62)…Calvin Johnson is the first player to have 5,000 yards in any three season span (who’s betting Josh Gordon to match that?)
One week ago, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stepped onto the field during a game against the Baltimore Ravens, as Raven Jacoby Jones streaked past with the ball. No contact occurred between coach and ballcarrier, and it’s arguable if he had any impact on Jones being run down from behind (Jones gestured so after he was tackled) but it’s still an inexcuseable error from Tomlin.
In week 12, a Jets coach was penalised for interfering with a ref running down the sideline, and it’s not the first time a Jets coach has been penalised for sideline interference.
The play made me think all the way back to the Superbowl XLIII between the Steelers and Cardinals. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned it the length of the field for a pick six, a 14-point swing in the game.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald caught Harrison right at the goalline, and brought him down as Harrison fell into the endzone. If not for sideline interference (from his own bench), Fitzgerald would’ve caught Harrison much earlier. If you keep an eye on #11 (search for the video on Youtube or NFL.com), he is impeded by curious teammates on the sideline, and has to pick his way through the bench to get back into the play.
Such plays as mentioned above can be avoided. If the NFL dictates that the white stripe area cannot be occupied by any player/coach/team personnel during any active play. In soccer, coaches are often restricted to a boxed area, which ends a few feet away from the playing field.
Obviously the nature of substitutions in the NFL is different, and there should be leeway before the ball is snapped, but a 5-yard penalty (and, if relevant, fines) should be targeted on anyone standing in the white area during an active play (whether they influence the play or not).
Here’s what we learnt from the past week, which kicked a number of teams out of contention including the Buccaneers, Falcons and Redskins.
Josh Gordon needs a Transformers nickname
Gordon, a supplementary draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, has become the first player in NFL history to have consecutive 200-yard receiving games following his 261-yard effort on Sunday.
Only eight players have ever had two such games in season. Gordon is one of the premier talents in the league, and it’s now up to the Browns to get a top quarterback to throw him the ball.
Geno Smith isn’t the quarterback for this year
Rex Ryan pulled the plug on rookie quarterback Geno Smith after a first half in which Geno could only complete four passes for 29 yards (QB rating of 8.3). Smith also threw his 19th interception, which makes him the leader in the NFL.
Smith could develop into an NFL-calibre player eventually, but right now he needs to sit behind a veteran (not Chris Simms) and learn the trade.
Perhaps the Jets should call Vince Young, or even Tim Tebow once more?
Peyton can ice up, son
Looking at Denver’s remaining schedule (TEN, SD, HOU, OAK), and their current 10-2 standing atop the AFC, the Broncos have likely wrapped up one of the top seeds in the AFC and will get a bye through the Wild Card week.
They have a two-game lead on everyone but the Patriots – Kansas are one game behind, but Denver hold the tiebreaker.
Whilst it may benefit Manning to play somewhere other than the cold, windy Mile High stadium, the extra week’s rest – perhaps two, if Week 17 becomes the Brock Osweiler show – will help Manning for a playoff run.
Eagles are validated
The Eagles four-game win streak didn’t seem legit (they beat up on the Raiders, Redskins and Rodgers-less Packers) until they faced the Cardinals and their top-ten defensive unit on Sunday.
It was a close 24-21 victory, and Foles continued his streak without an interception to prove that he’s no fluke, but the Philly defense was the real hero for the team.
Now 7-5, the Eagles have a great chance of making the playoffs, and will be a tough ask of any team assigned to face them.
Seahawks are unstoppable at home
With a dominant 34-7 victory on Monday Night Football, the Seahawks have practically secured the NFC top seed, two games ahead of the nearest competitors with four games to play.
They’ve smashed both the 49ers and Saints at home, and it is now certain that the NFC road to the Super Bowl runs through Seattle.
* Adrian Peterson is the third-fastest (101 games) player to reach 10,000 yards
* Cam Newton has 10 games in his career with at least two passing touchdowns and a running touchdown, the most by any player in their first three seasons
* Only one team has a top-five offence and top-five defence – New Orleans
* Tony Romo and the Cowboys are oft criticised for being loose with the ball, but they’re second in the league with a +12 turnover differential
* This might be rubbing it in, but if Nick Foles threw an interception on his next 50 (yes, fifty) passes, he would still have a higher QB rating than Geno Smith.