NFC East Preview Podcast

So I was walking the dog around the block, and I figured why not try out an NFL preview podcast before the season starts? I ended up only doing the NFC East because I talked for so long, but… nonetheless, give a listen!!

Timestamps:

0:00 Intro

3:34 Giants

24:20 Cowboys

27:40 Redskins

31:51 Eagles

41:05 Wrap Up

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How does the 2017 Patriots Offense compare to the 2012 team?

The Patriots followed up their Superbowl comeback for the ages with a fantastic offseason, and many are already penciling them in as Superbowl favorites yet again. The offense has found a way to become even more talented, and while this unit will inevitably draw comparisons to the 2007 team, I’m not sure that’s a valid comparison. People try to make that comparison pretty much every year, but that was a special team in a unique set of circumstances. That was the year the Patriots acquired Randy Moss, one of this game’s few truly transcendental players, capable of escalating the play of and changing the identity of an offense regardless of where he plays and who he plays with–not to mention how the defense approaches you. He was a guy who was, at his peak, unstoppable. Even if he was well covered, he would often still find a way to make the play, simply because of his sheer unmatched physical talent. The Patriots had to change a lot of their passing concepts to incorporate Randy Moss into the game plan, and they haven’t really been the same kind of downfield passing offense since. Throw in the fact that that Patriots offense in many ways revolutionized the way the game is played; they were the first offense to use shotgun formation more than 50% of the time (the NFL average in 2006, the year before, was 19%, while the NFL average this previous season was 68%). They were also unique in just how pass heavy they were in certain games, often not even trying to run the football (although I don’t have the numbers for that). They still do that more than a lot of teams, but it truly was unusual and relatively unseen in 2007 when they rolled out that record setting offense. Throw in the fact that Tom Brady, at least in the regular season, had arguably the best season of his career, that the Patriots secondary WR’s of Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney were more traditional downfield receivers than they’ve had since, and that the league just wasn’t ready for the way the Patriots planned to use Wes Welker (the small, shifty, dink and dunk slot guy in a primary role), and 2007 was a unique year for the Pats in that they really were ahead of defenses, and that the offense they ran, in virtue of all the factors I just mentioned, was a unique one, even for the Tom Brady/BB era.

I thought a better / more interesting comparison would be to compare the 2016 Patriots Offense with that of 2012. 2012 isn’t really looked at as that special a year for the Patriots, but looking back on that roster on offense, they were pretty stacked at just about every position, and pretty balanced in terms of run/pass as well. I thought it would be useful to compare this year’s Patriots with that unit, and maybe in doing so, we can decide if all the Patriots offseason hype is justified.

Quarterback: Tom Brady (2017) vs Tom Brady (2012)

 

Brady is a better QB now than he was in 2012. I was not super impressed with Brady’s 2012 and viewed it as a step down from his spectacular 2011 season (and spectacular 2010 season, for that matter). The numbers were still good, and it was still a good season overall, but I thought his pocket presence was lacking and had taken a step back, and I viewed most of the good numbers as a result of the system as well as a relatively weak schedule. And although the overall numbers were good, there were signs of decline: his yards per attempt and completion percentage were the lowest they’d been since 2006. This decline spilled into the 2013 season–where he struggled significantly, especially for the first half of the season, and his numbers were notably worse–after he lost essentially all of his receivers in the offseason.

What I did not predict was the degree to which Brady would bounce back. He’s won two Superbowls in the past three years. This past year, 2016, was especially impressive. Not only did he fix his pocket presence, but he’s actually become a much better functional mover than he was before. It’s evident watching him that he’s a LOT more comfortable making plays late in the down and moving when he has to get off his base. It’s pretty impressive. He’s still improving his game even at this age, and he’s no longer just a quick rhythm passer. He’ll move around and make improvisational plays if you need him to. Even more impressive is that last year, he made a notable improvement to his deep ball and throwing to the outside–general areas of weakness for him throughout his career with the exception of the 2007 season, and especially after his ACL injury in 2008. These were notable areas of weakness I saw for Brady in 2012 (playing late in the down, pocket presence, and throwing deep and to the outside), and that he’s essentially corrected them is a testament to how great he is.

At Tom Brady’s age, the decline could essentially come at any time. History has not been kind to 40+ year old Quarterbacks. But assuming he keeps up the level of play he showed last year, the Patriots are in very good shape.

Advantage: Brady (2017)

WR1: Julian Edelman (2017) vs Wes Welker (2012)

 

Stats:
Julian Edelman 2016: 98 Rec, 1106 Yards, 11.3 Y/R, 3 TD
Wes Welker 2012: 118 Rec, 1354 Yards, 11.5 Y/R, 6 TD

You’re more or less talking about the same guy here. I was a big Welker fan, did not like how the Pats treated him after the 2012 season, and was skeptical that Edelman could replicate his production. But he has, and he’s arguably a more versatile player, with the ability to play on the outside, get deep, and return kicks. Welker could do all those things too, but Edelman probably does them better. As a pure slot WR, Welker is still the gold standard: Very few have his lateral agility, football IQ, change of direction, twitch, toughness, motor, and start/stop ability. Still, we’re essentially splitting hairs.

Welker was on the back end in 2012 (he started to have some issues with drops), but his production didn’t show it. Edelman is probably more in the prime of his career now than Welker was in 2012, but at some point, all the hits he’s taking are going to pay a toll. Again, Edelman is probably the more versatile player, and that along with what he likely has left in the tank, should merit me ranking him above Welker. Still, considering the respect I have for Welker, as well as how reliable was and well he played his role in 2012, I’m not sure I can put him below Edelman.

Advantage: Push

TE1: Rob Gronkowski (2017) vs Rob Gronkowski (2012)

 

Stats:
2016: 25 Rec, 540 Yards, 21.6 Y/R, 3 TD
2012: 55 Rec, 790 Yards, 14.4 Y/R, 11 TD

No one does a better job of filling the “just as you’re ready to call him the greatest tight end ever, he gets hurt again” role better than Gronkowski. I was actually surprised at how low his 2016 numbers were, but again, that has more to do with availability than anything else. It’s also shocking that the Patriots completed that comeback in the Superbowl without him, as his loss is usually what sinks them in the playoffs.

Still, when Gronk’s healthy, it’s pretty clear what he offers and what a dominant and unstoppable force he is. It’s pretty self-evident, everyone knows it, and there’s not much else to be said. His play speaks for itself. It’s even more a testament to his greatness that he’s been able to be this productive after Aaron Hernandez left, showing that he and he alone truly is the difference maker.

It is fair to wonder how much Gronk has left in the tank after yet another injury. But when you have a player as good as he has been, I’ll have to see it with my own eyes before I write him off.

Advantage: Gronk

TE2: Dwayne Allen (2017) vs Aaron Hernandez (2012)

 

Hernandez gets the easy edge here. He was a pretty special player before his poor choices (putting it lightly) off the field caught up to him. He wasn’t a great blocker, but he was a really good receiver. He was in many ways a movable chess piece. He could line up as an inline tight end, could run routes from the slot (where he was arguably most valuable), and even would line up in the backfield on occasion. He was a very smooth athlete, more of a hybrid player than a true tight end.

Dwayne Allen is a nice player and a talented player, but he never really lived up to expectations in Indy. They gave him that gronk-like megadeal around 2014, essentially betting on his potential to become a big tight end. That never really happened, and he was released this past offseason after being outplayed by Jack Doyle. He’s more of an inline tight end than a guy that’s going to split out or line up in the slot like Hernandez did. Expectations should be fairly low for NE, although you never know with them.

Advantage: Hernandez

Runningback: Mike Gillislee (2017) vs Stevan Ridley
(2012)

 

Stats:
Gillislee (2016, Buffalo): 101 carries, 577 yards, 5.7 y/c, 8 TD
Ridley: 290 carries, 1263 yards, 4.4 y/c, 12 TD

Ridley had a really nice year in 2012 and revitalized the running game for the Patriots. I always viewed him as a solid back, but his fumbling issues in New England, along with the second coming of Blount, made him expendable, and he never really rebounded after leaving NE.

Gillislee is a nice pickup, another nobody from Buffalo who is likely to have a big year in New England (last year it was Chris Hogan). He was backing up LeSean McCoy in Buffalo last year, so his yards per carry numbers likely won’t be as high if he’s the primary this year.

Ridley gets the edge only because Gillislee is somewhat of an unknown, but there’s no reason he can’t be just as valuable, even if the volume numbers aren’t quite as high.

Advantage: Ridley

Receiving Backs: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead (2017) vs Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen (2012)

 

The pats have never been a team to be lacking in backs, and they will likely run a committee this year, as they usually do.

James White really came on last year, especially in the Superbowl with 14 receptions (Vereen had 11 receptions in their 2014 sb win), and I expect the Patriots to continue utilizing the backs in the passing game. They really showed how valuable the mismatches a receiving back creates can be, especially when you split them out wide and get them on a linebacker. This continued utilization of backs in the passing game is likely where the NFL is headed; we saw a similar dominance with Atlanta, the other team in the SB, often using Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman on the field at the same time, and having Coleman run routes out wide against linebackers, as can be seen with Coleman’s receiving TD in the Denver game.

The Patriots added another great fit for their system in Rex Burkhead, who, if it works out, would likely play a Danny Woodhead type role. There’s no doubt the Pats are loaded at this position.

I did go back and forth on this one. If Burkhead works out this is a pretty scary trio. But he’s still an unknown. I think Woodhead and Vereen are a slightly more talented pairing. Keep in mind Dion Lewis has had injury issues, and Woodhead and Vereen could both run the ball, while White isn’t much of a runner. This is a close one. Similar to what I said about Gillislee and Ridley, I think these three could absolutely prove equal or greater worth to the 2012 group, but for now I’m going to put the 2012 group ahead as I see them as a slightly more talented group with greater production.

Advantage: Woodhead and Vereen

Outside Receivers: Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell (2017) vs Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch (2012)

 

Stats:
Chris Hogan: 38 Rec, 680 Yards, 17.9 Y/R, 4 TD
Malcolm Mitchell: 32 Rec, 401 Yards, 12.5 Y/R, 4 TD

Brandon Lloyd: 74 Rec, 911 Yards, 12.3 Y/R, 4 TD
Deion Branch: 16 Rec, 145 Yards, 9.5 Y/R, 0 TD

The Patriots have gotten themselves a talented pair of receivers here, and Tom Brady’s newly emerged outside/deep passing abilities certainly don’t hurt the situation. Chris Hogan is the Patriots latest rags to riches project, as who would have guessed he would have become such an effective deep threat? Malcolm Mitchell is an intriguing young athlete as well, and it seems like BB finally may have broken his curse of not being able to draft WRs.

Branch was a reliable possession guy and savvy route runner for Tom Brady (he was a deep threat earlier in his career, but that was all but gone after his Seattle days), but as you can see by these numbers, he was pretty much done in 2012. Brandon Lloyd is an underrated receiver and had respectable numbers with Brady, but that connection never really blossomed with Brady as he was never really a great fit for their offense. He was more of a deep threat/spectacular catch guy than a timing and rhythm quick-strike guy.

Hogan and Mitchell both exceeded expectations and they both had big games in the Superbowl. If Brady can maintain his success throwing outside the numbers, expect them to continue to contribute.

Advantage: Hogan and Mitchell

Second Slot WR: Brandin Cooks (2017) vs Aaron Hernandez (2012)

 

Stats:
Brandin Cooks (2016 Saints): 78 Rec, 1173 Yards, 15 Y/R, 8 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 51 Rec, 483 Yards, 9.5 Y/R, 5 TD

This is the offseason acquisition everyone is talking about. Cooks was a playmaker in New Orleans. He was also mostly a deep threat in New Orleans, and he’s likely to be more of a quick option route typical slot WR in NE. However, smart football minds / film gurus like Andy Benoit and Greg Cosell are confident that he’s capable of doing that, even though that’s not how they used him in New Orleans. I’m also assuming he’ll play in the slot, but who really knows. The Pats always seem to have almost entirely slot guys on their WR core and just end up putting some on the outside (Amendola, Edelman, Welker). Don’t expect Cooks’s numbers to look like they did in New Orleans after moving away from Drew Brees, but he’s still likely to be an asset. Although WR in New England has historically been a question mark, especially when it comes to free agents coming in and learning the system, Cooks is too good a player to not contribute.

I doubled up on Hernandez here because as I mentioned, they essentially did treat him as a WR, often splitting him out wide. I was going to put Edelman here too, but if I remember correctly they mostly used him on the outside rather than the slot in 2012 since they already had Welker, and he didn’t get much playing time on offense anyway.

Advantage: Cooks

WR4: Danny Amendola (2016) vs Julian Edelman (2012)

 

Stats:
Danny Amendola (2016): 23 Rec, 243 Yards, 10.6 Y/R, 4 TD
Julian Edelman (2012): 21 Rec, 235 Yards, 11.2 Y/R, 3 TD

This just shows you how deep the 2017 Patriots depth chart is. Amendola is a guy that is perfectly capable of playing a primary role (he was essentially Welker in the slot in St. Louis), but they just have so many bodies that he doesn’t get the chance. Yet he always ends up making some crucial plays in the postseason after you forget about him in the regular season. And he keeps coming back for less and less money each year.

It’s not that Amendola is a better player than Edelman (he’s not), but that the 2012 Patriots just didn’t go this deep. Edelman was mainly a special teamer for them, while Amendola contributed greatly to the 2014 and 2016 postseason runs.

Advantage: Amendola

Summary:

 

QB: Brady (2017) vs Brady (2012)

Advantage: Brady (2017)

WR1: Edelman (2017) vs Welker (2012)

Advantage: Push

TE1: Rob Gronkowski (2017) vs Rob Gronkowski (2012)

Advantage: Push

TE2: Dwayne Allen (2017) vs Aaron Hernandez (2012)

Advantage: Hernandez (2012)

Runningback: Gillisslee (2017) vs Ridley (2012)

Advantage: Ridley (2012)

Receiving Backs: Lewis, White, Burkhead (2017) vs Woodhead, Vereen (2012)

Advantage: Woodhead, Vereen (2012)

Outside WR: Hogan/Mitchell (2017) vs Lloyd/Branch (2012)

Advantage: Hogan/Mitchell (2017)

Second Slot WR: Cooks (2017) vs Hernandez (2012)

Advantage: Cooks (2017)

WR4: Amendola (2017) vs Edelman (2012)

Advantage: Amendola (2017)

Point Summary:

2017 Team: 4 Points
2012 Team: 3 Points

_

Conclusion

 

As you can see, these are both very talented offenses that matchup very well to each other. The 2017 team has to get the advantage because of their ridiculous depth (especially at WR), an improved Brady, and a better defense. I also feel very good about how they will use their backs in the passing game, especially if Gronk gets hurt again.

Back to the Superbowl for the Patriots?

 

Now that we’ve looked at the offense from top to bottom, and compared it to one of their more talented and balanced squads from the past (the 2012 Patriots lost in the AFC Championship to Baltimore, 28-13), let’s revisit our initial driving question: Is this Patriots team good enough to get back to the Superbowl, just as all the pundits are predicting?

Perhaps I didn’t phrase that well enough. The answer is yes, of course they are talented enough to get back and win it again. A better question is, will they?

The Patriots absolutely deserve the benefit of the doubt after last year’s Superbowl. The 25 point Superbowl comeback was unprecedented (the previous largest comeback in the Superbowl was 10 points, also set by the Patriots), and essentially forced ESPN and all the stats guys to rewrite their win probability models (many of which had the Falcons at close to 100% probability of winning at many points in the game). As Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders wrote after the win, the Patriots have become the NFL’s toughest kill. And with that comeback granting Belichick and Brady a fifth ring in this decade, you have to give them credit, even if they were assisted by what I believe was an epic chokejob from the Falcons.

Furthermore, what was alarming about the SB win is that it’s allowing the Patriots to game the system even more. Belichick is an excellent businessman, and they’ve always been great at working the draft as well as picking up players that may not be the most talented but are smart and fit their system, players that are often overlooked and because of that come really cheap. And if one of their guys is up for a new contract and there’s any doubt about the future, they won’t overpay him. Coaching absolutely plays a role in their success too, and these factors combined, in addition to having a HOF QB (and playing in a weak division), have allowed the Patriots to remain consistently competitive in a salary cap era that is supposed to lead to parity.

But to me, what this offseason showed is that, the Patriots have gotten so good that players are willing to come to the Patriots and not be paid that much, if only to get a shot at winning a ring. That should be very alarming for the rest of the league, as it allows the Patriots to get good players for a fraction of their worth.

I also think the AFC Landscape is ripe right now for more rings for the Patriots simply because of the competition level. Let’s take a look at who the Patriots have lost to since 2005 in years that they haven’t been winning rings:

2006: Colts (Peyton Manning)
2007: Giants (Superbowl)
2008: No Brady
2009: Ravens
2010: Jets
2011: Giants (Superbowl)
2012: Ravens
2013: Broncos (Peyton Manning)
2014: Ring (Beat Ravens, Colts, Seahawks)
2015: Broncos (Peyton Manning)
2016: Ring (Beat Texans, Steelers, Falcons)

See a theme here? When the Patriots haven’t been getting to the Superbowl, outside of the Jets loss (back when they had that dominant 2 year stretch under Rex), it’s been either the Ravens (twice), or a Peyton Manning led team (3 times) stopping Brady. When they do get to the Superbowl, only the Giants have been able to stop them, although the Seahawks and Falcons came painfully close (as did the Rams and Panthers, really…).

But Peyton Manning is retired. Brady struggles against that Broncos D, but they’re unlikely to make it back to the Playoffs anytime soon without Peyton Manning. The Ravens era of dominance has been seemingly over too, ever since they paid Flacco. They’ve only made the playoffs once since then, and that was when Gary Kubiak (who won the SB with Denver in 2015) was their OC. To be fair, they did lose to the Patriots that year that they did make the playoffs, but they still played them really well, as the Pats had to come back from down 14 twice in that game. It’s also worth mentioning that the Patriots beat the Ravens in the 2011 postseason, but the Ravens really had that game in their grasp and some very good luck helped the Patriots (who had struggled on offense that day) secure the win: Lee Evans dropped what would have been Flacco’s game winning touchdown pass to put the Ravens up 4 with 27 seconds left, and then Billy Cundiff, rushing onto the field thanks to some scoreboard shenanigans (coincidence???), rushed his kick, and missed the 32 yard chip shot. (Not to worry though, in addition to getting their Superbowl the following year, the Ravens would sign Justin Tucker, who is not only on his way to being the greatest kicker of all time, but also the most swag kicker of all the time). So not only did the Ravens end 2 of the Patriots postseason runs, but they also almost beat them two more times.

So who does that leave in the AFC Landscape to challenge the Patriots? The two main contendors, in my view, are the Steelers and the Chiefs, and I don’t see either of them beating the Patriots because of lackluster coaching. Andy Reid is a good coach, but he always seems to screw up clock management in the playoffs. We saw it with the Eagles lack of urgency down 24-14 in Superbowl 39, with Alex Smith’s intentional grounding on a screen pass against the Colts in 2013 during the Chiefs’ final drive, and with, again, a drive that was way too slow against the Patriots in 2014, down 2 scores late in the 4th. The chiefs continued to huddle up (just like they did in Superbowl 39), failed to score before the 2 minute warming, and had to try an onside kick. It’s really amazing how these issues keep coming up for Reid.

Then you have the Steelers, who no matter who’s on the team, continue to play like crap against the Patriots. This has been the case for over a decade. You continue to see blown coverages, zones that are way too soft, falling for play action fakes and trick plays, and just a general lack of preparedness to play the Patriots high speed offense. Last years AFC Championship game was embarrassing. The number of receivers New England had running free, in a game of that magnitude, is inexcusable. As Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders once said on Twitter, Tom Brady could come out of retirement at 45 (assuming he’s not still playing then) and still put up 300+ on the PIT defense. I blame coaching for this. PIT is too good a team to consistently underwhelm like this. (Side Note: Let’s not forget they also lost to Tim Tebow in the 2011 playoffs, who had 31.6 yards per completion in that game…)

If New England were to go to Kansas or Pittsburgh in the playoffs, I think we could have  the potential for a really good game. But with home field advantage, they’re basically a lock for the Superbowl. And we know PIT is going to blow some game to a team that ends up going 1-15, as Mike Tomlin for years has been playing down to the competition. Those games make a difference in playoff seeding. Many people have been hyping up the Raiders this offseason, but a general rule for teams that are perennial losers is that, until you see them stop losing, continue to expect them to lose.

Bottom line is, on paper, it all looks good for the Patriots this coming year. They deserve the benefit of the doubt to get back to the Superbowl after their historic comeback against the Falcons, and they’ve capped it off with a tremendous offseason. They have the best coach in the league, one of the most talented rosters in the league, are in a weak division and conference, and their QB is seemingly timeless.

Having said all that, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s really hard to win two Superbowls in a row in this league. The Patriots only did it once under Belichick and Brady, and that was back in 03-04. With the single elimination format the NFL uses in the playoffs, all it takes is one off day from Brady and the offense. Even if you have all the talent in the world, it’s still tough to show up and score points each and every week. Can the Patriots do it again? Only time will tell.

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The Bears Release Robbie Gould

In a somewhat surprising move, the Chicago Bears have parted ways with their longtime kicker, Robbie Gould. The move comes less than a week before the start of the season. Gould was Chicago’s all time leading scorer with 1207 points and was the most accurate kicker in franchise history. He had been with the team since 2005, and currently ranks ninth all time in career field goal accuracy percentage at 85.449%. <pfref>

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Robbie Gould is the Bears all time Leading Scorer

 

Gould hit on 33 of 39 field goals last year, good for an accuracy percentage of 84.6%, ranked 19th in the league. But he had crucial misses in back to back weeks: In week 13, Gould had ugly misses of 40 and 36 yards, the latter of which would have won the game. Then, in week 14, Gould missed a game-tyer late from 51 (career long is 58). The Bears went on to lose both games. They finished the season 6-10. That’s a potential extra two wins cost because of your kicker. Coaches have very little patience for that stuff.

Gould also appeared to be getting progressively worse on his kickoffs. According to teamrankings.com, his 46.99 touchback percentage ranked 27th in the league. And according to footballdb.com, his average kickoff distance of 60.3 yards ranked dead last. (Although, Bleacher Report’s Kicker Rankings have him at 63.4 yards, so not positive what the correct number is there.) This was a kicker once known for his strong leg; although to be fair, leg strength on field goals doesn’t always translate to kickoffs, and vice versa. Gould did, however, try to increase his weight over the offseason, which I can’t imagine would be for any reason other than adding strength.

The fall for kickers is often swift and unforgiving. Billy Cundiff used to be a pro bowl kicker for the Ravens. He was never anywhere near as good as their current kicker, Justin Tucker, but he hit on 26/29 (89.7%) in 2010, good for sixth in the league. He also led the league with a ridiculous 40 touchbacks in 2010, back when kickoffs were still from the 30 yard line. That was a record for kickoffs after the instatement of the K-ball rule. The Ravens signed him to a long term extension after the 2010 season.

We all know where this is going. In the 2011 AFC Championship game, Cundiff missed a 32 yard chip shot to send the game to overtime in Foxborough with 15 seconds left, and the Patriots went on to lose to the Giants in the Superbowl (hehe). He was released before next season started.

I feel bad for Cundiff, as I don’t really entirely blame him for missing the kick. Never talked about is the fact that the scoreboard at Foxborough was actually behind a down, causing Cundiff to think it was only 3rd down when it was actually 4th. This caused Cundiff to be late coming onto the field, as the replay shows him running to get to the play with the clock at 15 seconds and counting. As a result, he likely rushed the kick, causing him to over-rotate his hips and miss wide left. Kickers are creatures of routine like no other. Any time that routine is off, chaos can ensue.

Ultimately though, none of this mattered. The NFL is a results oriented business. Cundiff was cut. He kicked here and there for the Redskins and Browns, but never kicked higher than 80 percent in a season after the Ravens cut him. He’s currently unsigned.

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Billy Cundiff misses a chip shot to take the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2011

 

Blair Walsh also had a big time miss in the playoffs that wasn’t necessarily his fault. Walsh missed a go ahead 27 yarder with 26 seconds left in the game in last year’s divisional round vs Seattle. But the punter, Jeff Locke, gave Walsh the laces for the second time that day. Who knows whether this truly affected that specific kick or not, but anyone who’s seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective knows that giving the kicker the laces is a no-no. The Vikings chose to stick with their young kicker, but a few weeks ago in the preseason at Seattle, he missed a longer kick with almost the exact same trajectory. It’s just one kick, but the jury is still out as to whether Walsh will bounce back or not.

Bouncing back as a kicker is tough. The position is so mental. Josh Scobee played ten years with the Jaguars, but he was released in 2014. He was also released by the Steelers last year after going just 6/10, and missing two late kicks against Baltimore that could have put the game away. He was injured last year, but again, it’s results that matter in this business.

Good kickers are around for so long, due to the non-contact nature of the position, that they often become part of the identity of the team, as well as some of the more well known faces of the league. Adam Vinatieri, currently the oldest player in the NFL, has been playing in the league since 1996. That’s absolutely ancient for this league. He’s older than the Giants new coach, for crying out loud! Gould has been around for a while and has been one of the better kickers in the league. I feel bad for Gould. It would have been nice to see him retire a Bear. Apparently, he struggled during the preseason. And like I said, he wasn’t great last year. I know it’s a brutal business, but the Bears could have at least given him a chance to rebound. If they were worried about money, they could have asked him to take a pay cut. That’s what the Packers did with Mason Crosby after his horrendous 2012 season in which he hit just 21 of 33 for 63.6%. I was surprised when they didn’t cut him, but he bounced back nicely and has been above 81% every season since. I believe he was just extended.

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Adam Vinatieri in Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 against Brett Favre’s Packers (Left). Vinatieri, now a Colt (Right), continues to be one of the best kickers in the NFL today.

 

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Phil Dawson, 41, after a successful career with the Browns, continues to be an asset with the 49ers.

 

Do kickers ever find life on new teams after such long tenures with their first team? David Akers, after 11 years with the Eagles, had a great season with the 49ers in 2011, but struggled in 2012 and was cut after the season ended. He is now retired. Phil Dawson, one of the best kickers in the league, was released after 13 years with the Browns and is now in his 4th season with the 49ers. He is still going strong. (The Niners did, however, take him off kickoff duty, just like the Colts did with Vinatieri in 2009.) Olindo Mare stands out as similar to the Gould situation because, although he, unlike Gould, bounced around teams for a lot of his career, Mare missed some late crucial field goals in 2011 for the 6-10 Panthers, and was cut the year after. (Unlike Gould, Mare was a great kickoff man that year.) The Panthers replaced Mare with Graham Gano, a guy who’s had a really nice turnaround in Carolina after a few terrible seasons in Washington. Gano’s different however because he was still young when he went to Carolina and hadn’t been with Washington for that long. He also made some really noticeable mechanical changes after coming to Carolina; he looks like a different kicker. Gould doesn’t struggle mechanically. He’s always been a really smooth and easy kicker. He just needs to make the kicks. And Gould is 34 years old. Even though like I said, age isn’t as much as an issue for kickers in terms of the body wearing down, it’s still the case that when older kickers start to falter, it usually tends to be pretty final. Kicking is just a position that’s so mental, and a position where there’s just not a lot of tolerance for error.

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Robbie Gould had a great ten years with the Bears. I wish him all the best. If the Giants do end up getting rid of Josh Brown because of the recent domestic abuse incidents that are starting to come to light, I would be happy to give Gould a shot in Blue.

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Saints Domination

As I was watching Drew Brees line up under center late in the fourth quarter with another 2+ score lead and in complete control of the game, yelling his signature cadence with his signature voice before handing the ball off to his RB for what was sure to be another first down, the players on the other team just watching solemnly knowing there is nothing they can do, I couldn’t help but feel I had seen this before. It seems that at least half of the primetime games I’ve watched in the last 2 1/2 years have been the Saints just completely destroying the other team. It seems that if you get the Saints in New Orleans during primetime (sunday or monday, specifically), it’s almost guaranteed to be a blowout. Chris Collinsworth said that it almost doesn’t matter who the other team is anymore in these situations. While that may sound silly at first, it really does feel true. I wondered if I was just selectively remembering the games where the Saints dominated in these situations. In definitely hasn’t always been the case, but more often than not, especially as of recent, it does hold true. In 2008 (I haven’t looked before then) the Saints had 2 primetime games at home. One was a 27-30 loss to the vikings; the other, a 51-29 rout of the Packers. That’s 1/2 games where the Saints dominated (Keep in mind the Saints were 8-8 that year with a pretty bad defense. Keep in mind also I’m not working with a formal definition of “dominated”.) In 2009 the Saints had 2 primetime sun/mon games: A 35-27 defeat of the Falcons and a 38-17 rout of the Patriots. Even though if my memory serves correctly the Falcons would have had to recover an onside kick to win, I still won’t count that game because it was only a one score win. So that’s 1/2 games the Saints dominated. 2010, the “superbowl hangover” year, was not a great year for the Saints or Drew Brees, (by normal Saints/Drew Brees standards) and they really did not dominate many teams that year, primetime or daytime. In primetime sun/mon games, they had a 14-9 win over the vikings and a 20-10 win over the Steelers, neither overly impressive. However, 2011 is where we really start to see this pattern emerge. The Saints had 4 sun/mon primetime home games that went as follows: Beat the colts 62-7, beat the Giants 49-24, Beat the Lions 31-17, Beat the Falcons 45-16. Oh, and let’s not forget about their home playoff win (albeit on Saturday, if my memory serves correctly) where they beat the Lions 45-28. So thats 4/4. (5/5 if you include the playoffs, although I am breaking my “only sun/mon” rule, which I really only put in place to discount NFL Network games such as the 2009 loss to the cowboys, which was really not as big a deal as the 2011 playoff win, because it was a reg season game, the Saints had already locked up a playoff spot, and who really likes NFL Network games anyway. So maybe the rule should be ESPN or NBC games? I don’t know. Moving on.) 2012 was another so-so year for the Saints, who lost Sean Payton for the year thanks to the Bounty Scandal. In primetime at home they beat the Chargers 31-24 and beat the (later would be 4-12) Eagles 28-13. Neither amazingly impressive, although the Chargers game was a pretty good game by Brees, who broke the record for cons. games with a TD (in the reg season only? you’ll have to check that one) that night.

Now here we are again in 2013, and all the Saints have done is destroyed the Dolphins 38-17 on Monday Night, and just now finished off their 49-17 defeat of the Cowboys, breaking the record for most first downs in a game. It’s not the first record that has gone in these situations, as I just mentioned the cons. TD record against the Chargers, and then there was the night against the Falcons in 2011 when Brees broke Marino’s record for most passing yards in a single season. I’m sure if you dug deep enough, you’d find plenty of other Brees records in these situations.

So there were the impressive Packers (2008) and Patriots (2009) wins and the Superbowl hangover 2010 season, but 2011 is where we see this streak really start to take off (we can also judge a pattern better due to the fact that the Saints simply had more primetime games this year). This is discounting 2012, which I think it’s fair to do as it’s pretty clear that Sean Payton is the mastermind behind this offense and it would be foolish to expect the same results without him in the mix.

The whole team seems to click in these situations, with defense, the running game, and the passing game often at their best. But most impressive in these situations is Drew Brees. In the aforementioned Packers (2008) and Patriots (2009) games, Drew Brees had a perfect passer rating. Against the Packers he was 20/26 for 323 yards and 4 TD. The Patriots? 18/23 for 371 yards and 5 TD. Against the Colts in 2011, he was 31/35 for 325 yards and 5 TD. He threw for 300+ yards and 3 or more TD’s in all the other 2011 home/primetime games. And the playoff game against the Lions that year? He went 33/43 for 466 yards and 3 TD’s. He definitely set at least one playoff record in that game, although I don’t remember what. (My best guess would be most passing yards.) In all the games I just mentioned except for the Atlanta game (broke Marinos record but threw 2 picks), Drew Brees had zero interceptions. Tonight he was 34/41 for 392 yards and 4 TDs. Oh yea, and no picks. I could go on and on, but you get the point. He finishes with ungodly, unhumanlike, numbers for completion percentage AND touchdowns AND total yards AND TO ratio. Most quarterbacks that have good games may finish with one, two, or even three of those, but rarely all four. For most quarterbacks, ONE game with any of these statlines would be a career game, but he does it again and again and again.

Again, are we selectively remembering the Saints and their good games? There are certainly other teams that have been consistently dominant as of recent–whose quarterbacks put up great numbers, who just completely destroy the opponents–namely the Packers and the Patriots. However, and I can’t completely put my finger on it, there’s something about the Saints that when they do it, it just seems more impressive. Again, it goes back to what I feel like Chris Collinsworth was trying to say. You just get the sense when watching them that they CAN’T be stopped, that the other team has absolutely no chance, that they’re just so damn relentless. I feel this more or at least more often when watching the Saints than I do when watching the Packers and/or Patriots. The way the Saints do it is unique. I’ll leave it to the analysts to figure out why.

People have said for a while now that the Saints, and especially Drew Brees, have an advantage because they play in a dome. You almost get the sense that people try to use this fact to detract from the Saints’ greatness. For example, when QB arguments come up, people have said that Tom Brady is better than Drew Brees because Drew Brees plays in a dome. (Just an example, not trying to start a QB argument.) Now, I don’t know for sure, but it does seem like playing in a dome does give you some sort of advantage. However, I think we have to keep some perspective here. There is a difference between saying playing in a dome gives you an advantage and saying playing in a dome is the reason that you are so dominant. Using the dome to justify the way that the Saints play is completely ridiculous. At the end of the day, they are the way they are because the players are incredibly talented, execute at an amazing level, and because the coaches (and by coaches I mean Sean Payton) game-plan and communicate like no other. You know what other team plays in a dome? The Rams. They haven’t had a winning season since 2003.

The amazing part (and maybe one of the reasons they are different from the Packers/Patriots) is it’s not like the Saints are beating up on weak teams. The 2008 Packers went 6-10, but the Saints loss was by far their largest margin of defeat. 2 of their losses were by two scores, the other 6 by one score. The Saints loss was their only 3 score loss. The 2009 Patriots were a 10-6 team, with all other losses coming by one score. The Saints loss was also their only 3 score loss. Going into the Saints game, they were 7-3. The same can be said for the 2011 Giants and the 2011 Falcons: Both of those teams suffered their only 3 score loss of the season by the Saints. The 2011 Falcons would move onto the Playoffs, and the 2011 Giants would win the Superbowl. Not to beat a dead horse, but what Cris Collinsworth said really sums it up: The opponent just doesn’t matter. It’s another reason why these wins are so impressive. Looking back, it seems like outside of the later to be 2-14 Colts, most of these wins were against decent opponents.

So what’s the point I’m trying to make? Drew Brees and the Saints are not only CAPABLE of putting together supernatural performances; they are doing it time and time again to the point where we expect it. If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that what we are witnessing is truly special. We should enjoy it and not take it for granted, because what these Saints have been doing in these situations is unique, and there will come a day where the juggernaut does not exist anymore, and we will be lucky to have been able to witness it.

NOTE/UPDATE: I personally don’t really enjoy watching these Saints games. I’m not a Saints fan, and I get tired of seeing them run away with it again and again. I’d much rather watch a close game. But I do recognize that regardless of whether I  enjoy it or not, what they’re doing is very impressive, and I guess that’s my real point.

Bears-Giants Thoughts

This was the first Giants game that I actually watched most of, seeing as I’m on fall “break” (which means I have Thursday and Friday off, really not sure that constitutes a “break”) and seeing as this game was on Thursday, I did not have to worry about homework lurking in the background. In addition, the live streams on my computer are slightly more watchable when the feed is from NFL Network for some reason. Still miss having my own TV and not being surrounded by Saints fans, but I digress…

Nice being able to relax and watch a whole game without worrying about homework. At 0-5 (0-6 now), the Giants have been a complete embarrassment and have left fans such as myself utterly depressed, confused, and empty inside. I’m not really in my best state on sunday as I usually wake up very late and out of it after a completely inactive saturday and am half-watching the games on my computer and dorm TVs while simultaneously thinking about all the homework I have and haven’t done and should have done yesterday and when I’m going to do it while simultaneously trying (and failing) to motivate myself to take a shower. Being in this state, flipping on the game on my computer on these sundays and seeing the Giants (in full 8 bit resolution) self destruct with horrible play after another while at the same time the cruel, painful, and unnecessary jeers from the Saints and Patriots fans on my floor (you know who you are) get louder and louder like a knife stabbing my chest, does not bode well for my persona.

Maybe that was all a little dramatic, but the point is it has not been a happy football season for the freshman in college Giants fan. The stress of sunday mixed in with the complete sucking of the Giants is not a great combination.

Well, tonight it was nice to relax and be able to watch almost the whole game without having to be stressed about other stuff, AND it was nice to have the Giants put up somewhat of a fight.

I guess there are some positives to tonight’s game, and I guess I should start with those. We went on the road and played a good football team and played pretty well for most of the night. Like I said, I haven’t seen most of the previous games so I can’t say for sure what those games were like, but I got the sense that for the most part we played better tonight than we had previously this season. Sure they made some plays and there definitely were some times where we got lucky (Jay Cutler misfired on a couple sure TD’s) but for the most part our defense, for what it is played ok, or at least better than it has in the past and in previous seasons. I don’t expect them to be a great defense, they’re just not. Tonight, it was clear that Brandon Marshall is just bigger than our DB’s, he matched up well. Would have been nice if we doubled him not sure why we didn’t, but nonetheless our D they kept the game manageable, which is a step in the right direction. As for our offense, I really wasn’t a fan of bringing back an old Brandon Jacobs initially. However, we need a run game–we can’t just throw it all the time like we’ve been doing, it’s not a good strategy, Eli this year just isn’t good enough, neither are our WRs–and if Jacobs can deliver then why not. It’s clear Coughlin trusts him more than David Wilson. A lot of his nice runs were at wide open holes, it’s not like he was breaking a ton of tackles, but he’s running hard and reading his blocks correctly. He seems to be playing with more effort than he did when we got rid of him. Small sample size, obviously. But we need a run game and we need to keep being patient with the run and keep handing off. I know that’s hard when you’re behind, but play calling has been too heavily tilted toward the pass when it doesn’t need to be and those pass plays have not been creative at all. It’s a lot easier to make mistakes when you’re throwing and with all the tipped balls, misreads by WR, inaccurate throws, or all the other things that have led to interceptions from these short passes, we’re just not a team that can be efficient with the short passing game to pick up yards. We never have been, but we especially can’t with this year’s personnel. So enough with all this empty backfield and all the slants we’ve been running in previous games. I liked our commitment to the run today. Whether the production from it will hold up, we will see.

And we gave ourself a chance at the end, which is what I was surprised to see. I felt good for most of the game, there were plenty of times where we could have let it get out of hand but we didn’t. So that’s the good stuff. But honestly, at the end of the day, that ending just kills you, and that’s what’s going to–and should, for the most part–define this game. This is what bad teams do, they blow it at the end. It was a good looking drive and a play that could have worked, but Eli has been high and inaccurate with his throws for a lot of the year. A throw just out of reach of Brandon Myers–who is smaller than Martellus Bennett, why did we get rid of him by the way? That play can’t happen, obviously. The disappointing (to say the least) season continues. 0-6, at this point we can DEFINITELY say (if we couldn’t before) that the Giants season is over.

What about the Bears? Watching them under the command of Marc Trestman was interesting. Jay Cutler disappointed me last year. I was a fan of him, and everyone expected him to … I hate to say this because it’s getting so cliche … “take the next step” as the media would say, due to the acquisition of his BFF Brandon Marshall and his former QB Coach from Denver Jeremy Bates. Instead, he did not have a good season. Most people wanted to blame it entirely on the offensive line (as usual), but last year was a clear regression. Not counting his nightmare 2009 season (his first year in Chicago with 26 INTs), in 2012 we saw Jay’s lowest Y/A and lowest passer rating since his rookie year. Despite playing 15 games, he barely surpassed 3000 yards. He’s never been a guy with great stats, but I was not seeing the impressive throws that I was used to seeing from him. So when the media started asking if Marc Trestman could “fix” Jay Cutler, I was highly skeptical. If 2012 was supposed to be “the year” and he had Jeremy Bates and Brandon Marshall and he couldn’t do it with them, why would we ever see it?

Well I can’t speak for the season, but I tonight I was very impressed with Jay Cutler. He looked good. It seems I was wrong, and it seems Marc Trestman (former Montreal Alouettes Coach–CFL LETS GO!!!!) has had an impact on him. He was getting rid of the ball very quickly. He was taking the checkdown, taking what the defense was giving him, not hesitating to throw it away when the play wasn’t there. Play calling was fantastic. Matt Forte seems to be having an “on” year as well. I don’t know a ton about this team, I don’t know how far they can go. But for me it’d be nice to see them back in the playoffs. They’re a hard working, quiet team, not talked about too much. Their last playoff run ended so strangely and abruptly with Jay Cutler getting injured and sitting out the AFC championship. I was impressed with Jay and their offense tonight, and they seem to be on the right track to make a push for the playoffs.