welkerThere’s never a dull moment in the NFL, yet Week 12 somehow managed to surpass our expectations with a plethora of wacky plays and weird stat lines.

We witnessed the No.1-ranked scoring defense give up 41 points and lose at home, two overtime battles and three teams that failed to score a touchdown in their matchups.

So what did we learn from it all? Here are my notes from the week’s results:

Washington Redskins–Maybe it’s the scheme OC Kyle Shanahan is running, and maybe QB Robert Griffin III isn’t an accurate quarterback, but the fact remains, this offense is in complete disarray, and looks  out of sync.

The zone-read is not having anywhere near the success it had last season when the team ran it. It could be due to opposing defenses watching tape and making the necessary adjustments, or maybe RGIII isn’t fully recovered since his knee surgery and doesn’t have the mobility or explosiveness in the open field as he once did. Maybe he never will.

The Redskins secondary is a mess and Monday night’s game showed CB Josh Wilson is not capable of starting on the outside in this league right now. He looked completely lost and was abused many times by veteran WR Anquan Boldin, who got much more separation than a 33-year-old should get. QB Colin Kaepernick targeted him often and ate him for dinner. The Niners did a great job of using shifts and motion to get favorable matchups for Boldin and TE Vernon Davis, and it worked, as the two combined for 164 of Kaepernick’s 235 passing yards.

I’m not sure if the Shanahans will be fired or not after the season, as humanitarian owner Dan Snyder has really liked them both from day one. But the proof is in the pudding: RGIII and Shanahan cannot coexist, the locker room is beginning to turn, and his system is just not working. The Shanny era has run its course.

Dallas Cowboys–  QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant deserve all the credit in the world for putting together an excellent game-winning drive en route to victory—converting multiple third downs along the way. Here’s something you might not know, for all the criticism he gets, Romo has the most game-winning drives of any quarterback since 2009.

This team is still the class of the NFC East, and at this point, the division is theirs to lose. They’re slowly getting some guys back from injury at the right time. And even if the race is close come Week 17, they host the Eagles, and their fate is in their hands.

Something else you may not know: Romo also boasts a QB rating of 118.2 in fourth quarters of games. It may be time to put that “choker” label to rest.

New York Jets– Live by Geno Smith, die by Geno Smith. It’s been a rollercoaster year for the rookie QB, but fans and analysts expected as much heading into the season. Following the Saints game, Smith was leading the league in game-winning drives. He’s now followed up with two abysmal performances, making rookie mistakes and looking completely rattled. In this particular loss vs the Ravens, Smith had trouble going through his progressions, and also caught a case of “happy feet” in the pocket on numerous occasions. He needs to be more decisive and also must stop staring down receivers.

The good news, is team’s defensive front continues to manhandle opposing offensive lines and bottle up the run. But the secondary still struggles to defend the deep ball and S Ed Reed’s presence hasn’t helped matters–as WR Torrey Smith burned him for a 60-yard touchdown, doing his former team one last favor.

While the Jets may field one of the best defenses in the NFL, their offense is among the league’s worst. Not only is Smith currently struggling, but he also has a group of receivers that fail to get separation and make things difficult on him.

Can this team wright the ship and sneak into the playoffs? Sure. Smith has shown plenty of flashes of brilliance this year, and the Dolphins season seems to be trending downward. Their remaining schedule is a cake walk, and 4-1 is absolutely possible down the stretch (with @CAR being the possible loss). However, previous losses to the Steelers and Titans won’t help matters as far as tiebreakers go. And with the cold, frigid weather now making its mark again at New Meadowlands Stadium, things aren’t going to get any easier for Smith.

Saying Sunday’s game vs. the Dolphins is a “must-win” is an understatement. If the Jets want to salvage their season and keep in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to get back to the run game to regain their rhythm on offense and take the pressure off Smith.

And maybe spend a little more time in the film room, and a little less time at Dave & Buster’s.

Kansas City Chiefs– The Chiefs defense may not be as stout as we once thought, as QB Philip Rivers threw for 392 passing yards (3 TD, 0 INT) on just 27 completions. There were blown coverages and missed tackles galore–but no turnovers forced.

The team had a different identity with the absence of its two top pass-rushers. Injuries sustained by LB Justin Houston and LB Tamba Hali could not come at a worse time, and the impending MRI results could be very important as the playoffs are just around the corner.

If the defense can’t perform at the exceptional level it was operating at previously, and QB Alex Smith is forced to make throws outside of his comfort zone (anything more than 7-10 yards), this team will be vulnerable and could struggle against the league’s elite squads.

The Chiefs are a good team. Andy Reid is already resurrecting the franchise and the future is promising. But are they elite? I don’t think so, at least at this point in time.

San Diego Chargers– Every time I want to write this team off and look toward next season, they come up with a big win to shut me up. Rivers put together another solid game-winning drive, and it’s clear Mike McCoy was exactly what he needed. He’s now getting the ball out of his hands quickly and his reads have been simplified. His 70.8 completion percentage and 22:8 TD/INT ratio clearly illustrate that, as the QB is well on his way to a career year.

Looks like “rebuilding” is coming along just fine, as we’ve seen the recent emergence of speedy TE Ladarius Green (22.1 ypc). Green (3 receptions, 80 yds in game) looks to be a suitable replacement for Antonio Gates, who’s lost a few steps and isn’t as dangerous after the catch as he used to be. And WR Keenan Allen, another YAC monster in the open field, will be a dominant No.1 receiver for years to come. He and QB Philip Rivers seem to already be developing a lot of chemistry together, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jose Canseco isn’t normal by any standards, but the most recent incident with the former MLB player is pretty shocking, even for him.

On Wednesday evening, he channeled his inner Animal Farm , and decided to take a road trip with his girlfriend, Leila Knight, to purchase some goats. He later tweeted about being pulled over by police a few hours north of Las Vegas, wherein diaper-wearing goats were just hanging out in the back seat.

The picture he shared really says it all:

goatscanseco
The Toronto Star was able to track down Knight, Canseco’s current girlfriend, who was also in the car during GoatGate. And she was able to shine some light on the situation:


“We bought fainting goats … because we both love animals and he really wanted to get some goats,” she explained.

“We’re going to love them,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I have pet dye, so I’m going to dye the ears pink and we’re going to have them as pets.”


While most normal people elect to buy or adopt a cat, dog or maybe even a bird, these two characters decided to pay $175 apiece for goats.

What will be the next addition to Canseco’s animal farm? Only time will tell.

Eat your heart out, George Orwell.

offensive-line-2

Offensive linemen may be the most underrated and overlooked personnel on NFL teams in this day and age.

The league has become pass-happy, and quarterbacks throwing for 400+ yards in a game is no longer an anomaly, in fact, it’s quite common.

But none of that is possible without a strong offensive line (Are you listening, Jeff Ireland?).

Look at the 2009 New York Jets for example. This team took a rookie quarterback to the AFC Championship game, utilizing a stout offensive line to run the football (team ranked No. 1 in rushing, 167.5 ypg) and also provide Mark Sanchez with time to read through his progressions without the threat of pressure affecting his throws. Sanchez will never be a franchise quarterback in the NFL—hell, he may never be anything more than a backup—but the Jets offensive line, excellent RB tandem in Greene-Jones and tenacious defense masked his inadequacies, and carried the team through the playoffs.

A stark contrast to the 2013 Miami Dolphins, who spent a boatload of money in free agency this past offseason:

 

The team’s biggest signing of note was a six-year, $96 million contract for one-dimensional WR Mike Wallace. But what Ireland and the front office failed to understand, is without good pass protection to allow the play to develop, the speedy WR does not have time to get separation downfield. And without the threat of a rushing attack to keep defenses honest, his effectiveness is mitigated. And the proof is in the pudding, as he’s averaging only 12.4 yards per reception, and has hauled in only one touchdown all season. Wallace has had only four catches for 30+ yards as well.

We need not look any further than the offensive line, which has created much buzz in recent weeks, but for the wrong reasons.

With OG Richie Incognito and OT Jonathan Martin off the team, it’s not going to get any better for the team. In fact, they’re left with the following, via the team’s depth chart:

LT Bryant McKinnie Will Yeatman
LG Nate Garner Dallas Thomas
C Mike Pouncey
RG John Jerry Danny Watkins David Arkin
RT Tyson Clabo Jonathan Martin

Maybe they should have tried a bit harder to re-sign OT Jake Long? The team clearly misses him. Let’s look at some offensive rankings:

Category Ranking
Third down conversion % 20th (36.59%)
Time of possession 28th (27:43)
Sacks/game 32nd (4.1/game)
Rush attemps/game 30th (21.7/game)

To counteract these problems, the team needs to utilize more 5-step drops, targeting WR Rishard Matthews in the short and intermediate passing game. And RB Lamar Miller must see an upgraded role, with more screens and misdirections to get him going in the open field.

Prediction: The Dolphins will not bounce back from the devastating loss in Tampa Bay, will go on to lose five of its last seven remaining games, and GM Jeff Ireland will finally be fired after his spending spree backfired.

Ed-Reed

The Texans loss could be the Jets gain, as S Ed Reed, a future NFL Hall of Famer, has now been reunited with former DC Rex Ryan, becoming the newest member of the 2013 New York Jets.

The Jets signed the opportunistic (ballhawking [when he was in his prime]) safety to bolster the back end of their secondary, which is in desperate need of veteran leadership to improve against defending the downfield pass. And they could use a few extra forced turnovers, too (-10 margin).

He comes over from the Texans, who vastly overpaid him, inking him to a 3-year, $14.875 million contract, with $5 million guaranteed. The financials are a bit complicated, but Spotrac broke it down on Twitter:

(For more: Ryan Alfieri did an excellent job of breaking it all down here).
But how much does the 35-year old safety have left in the tank? And how big of an upgrade can he actually be for this defense? He’s battled leg and hip issues over the last two seasons, and has played only 62.9 percent of snaps in his seven games as a Texan this year.

Reed’s biggest strength is his ability to read the quarterback and create big plays. He has nine turnovers returned for touchdowns in his career (7 INTS, 2 fumbles). But he’s past his prime, no longer has explosive closing speed, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be finding the end zone like he did earlier in his career. So instead of being a traditional ballhawk, he’ll have to simply read quarterbacks and sit on routes, forcing them into going with another read.

His biggest weakness is his tackling. Not only do his injuries prevent him from being able to wrap up and finish properly, but he also doesn’t seem as motivated and willing since winning his second Super Bowl ring and leaving Charm City. In fact, PFF’s tackling efficiency safety rankings have Reed currently ranked 74th (out of 86 total players).

Watching some of Reed’s film from his stint in Houston, it appeared as if he had lost a few steps, and didn’t look nearly as quick to the ball as he once did. Let’s look at this particular play from the Week 5 HOU-SF matchup, as 49ers WR Jon Baldwin ran a comeback route on first down.

Reed reads the play correctly, and anticipates that Kaepernick is going to Baldwin. He begins creeping up toward the WR and takes a great angle which would allow him to pick off the pass and take it to the house.

reedReadsBut he’s too slow, and while he does jump the route, he was about two steps away from timing the play perfectly and coming up with one of his vintage pick-sixes. He came up short, and instead turned his hips and dropped to help on Baldwin. The old Reed would’ve turned that ill-advised throw by Kaepernick into an touchdown.

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As far as how the Jets can utilize him, Erik Frenz suggests they use a “Robber” technique in Cover -1, and have Reed underneath. This makes sense, as Rex/Thurman do play a lot of Cover-1, and in this role he can read the QB’s eyes, and with limited ‘responsibility’ can mask the fact that he doesn’t have the range he once did.

If Reed can serve as a mentor for the Jets secondary, on and off the field, his presence would a huge lift for a potential playoff run. Even though gang green (it appears) has its safeties for the next few years penciled in with Landry and Allen, Reed can provide an added boost if utilized in the right situations. The thought of him as a deep safety in Cover-1 nauseates me, personally, so I hope that’s not where we see him. (Instead of producing the big play, he’ll more than likely get beat on one.)

He certainly knows the system, which is an issue for most late-season acquisitions. And the Jets already have a three-safety package, so he does fit the team’s schemes. But one has to question both his current health and motivation to play for a non-Baltimore team.

But if anyone knows how to get the best out of Reed, it’s Rex. Can the two win another Super Bowl together? The clock is ticking.

Not even Nostradamus himself could’ve predicted the Jets would be 5-4 going into the bye week, with victories over the likes of both Tom Brady and Drew Brees, but the team continues to silence its critics, week in, week out.

QB Geno Smith has played an integral role in the team’s success, managing games and beating opponents with both his legs and his arm.

Sunday’s game was especially interesting, and was reminiscent of when Smith was under center at WVU, as his receivers excelled in yards after the catch. His eight completions combined for a total of seven yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But with a strong running game, downfield passing isn’t a necessity, and ex-Saints RB Chris Ivory was more than motivated to trample his former team.

The Jets RB rushed for 139 yards on only 18 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per rush. He’s known for being a powerful, downhill runner,  similar to what Shonn Greene was for the team in 2009, but on Sunday showed flashes of explosiveness in the open field, busting into the second and third levels of the Saints defense multiple times.

Could he be the Jets new “bell cow”? Gaining 100 of his 139 yards versus his former team after contact (via Pro Football Focus) will certainly help his case to be the workhorse as the team goes into the bye week.

And on the defensive side of the ball, Jets did a great job of getting pressure with their stout defensive front, disrupting the timing of Brees’ passing game by taking him off his spot and knocking him down.

Rex Ryan improved to 5-0 against his brother, Rob, and the team’s gameplan to run the football to keep Brees off the field worked to perfection.

Let’s break down the four key plays that resulted in the Jets entering the bye week over .500, with the luxury of facing only one team with a winning record (Panthers) during its final seven games of the 2013 regular season.


  • Play No. 1: First quarter, 7:43, 2nd-and-4, INTERCEPTION

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It’s the Tip Drill Show, starring S Dawan Landry and LB Demario Davis!

Jets went to work in their 3-4 base defense, with S Dawan Landry trailing TE Benjamin Watson, who was running a crossing route.

As Brees dropped back to pass, PFF’s Midseason All-Pro Team DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison got pressure up the A-Gap and forced Brees to step up in the pocket.

Landry read Brees’ eyes—notice he never really takes his eyes off Watson—and saw the TE coming open across the middle. He accelerated and put his hands on Watson as the ball was arriving, careful as to not grab or push him to warrant a flag. He reached his hand in to break up the pass, which was thrown behind Watson, and Davis was able to come down with the tipped ball for the early turnover to keep the game scoreless.

  • Play No. 2: Second quarter, 14:57, 2nd-and-12, 52-yard gain

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The Jets were pinned deep near their own end zone—looking for some breathing room. They would get that and more, thanks to Ivory’s second-longest career run and some excellent blocking by his teammates.

The Saints stacked the box with nine defenders, but it didn’t seem to matter on this play, and it actually helped the Jets RB burst through a hole to quickly bust into the third level of the Saints defense.

Ivory is known as a great downhill runner, but he flashed great open-field speed here, looking explosive after hitting a hole opened up by RT Austin Howard, who continues to improve every week. FB Tommy Bohanon was the lead blocker on the play, and he literally picked up CB Corey White and turned him outside to move him out of Ivory’s way.

S Kenny Vaccaro (who I was hoping Jets would draft) was able to take a great angle and would eventually chase Ivory down, but not after a 50+ yard pickup that helped flip field position and led to a Nick Folk field goal. Read the rest of this entry »

1382299325000-geno-smithJets QB Geno Smith continues to silence the critics and gives opposing defensive coordinators fits week in, week out, and in his most recent feat, he helped Gang Green oust its division rivals from Foxborough for the first time since the 2010 playoffs.

The rookie QB has started seven games, and has already manufactured a league-leading four game-winning drives—not too shabby.

Smith managed the game well vs the Patriots, making plays with both his feet and his arm, but it was the Jets defense that really set the tone on Sunday. And Rex Ryan tried something different—he employed a conservative approach and utilized a lot of nickel package to get the job done. In fact, he sent five or more rushers on only six of 50 dropbacks by Tom Brady (via ESPN Stats & Information).

Ryan and DC Dennis Thurman schemed the hell out of Brady, as the two once again revealed the blueprint to beating him. Jets rattled the veteran QB with pressure from their stout defensive front and moved him off his spot, while also playing tight coverage—forcing him to throw into tight windows. And it worked, as Patriots were just 1-for-12 on third down conversions in the game, and produced a ridiculous -5 net yards in the third quarter. Also, this happened:

The Jets committed to a run-heavy gameplan to keep Brady off the field—rushing 52 times for 177 yards (doubling the number of attempts OC Marty Mornhinweg averaged in Philadelphia). It was key in the victory, helping them possess the football for 46 minutes to the Patriots’ 23, which seemed to wear New England’s defense down in overtime.

Let’s break down the key plays in Gang Green’s 30-27 thrilling victory in overtime:


  • Play No. 1 (TURNING POINT/GAME-CHANGER): Third quarter, 14:36, 2nd-and-17, 23-YARD INTERCEPTION/TOUCHDOWN

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S Antonio Allen came up with possibly the biggest play of the 2013 Jets season thus far—the turning point in the game that really took Brady out of a rhythm and shifted the momentum back to Gang Green’s side. And Allen had a tough task during the game—to shadow TE Rob Gronkowski, who ended up with 17 targets. Allen covered Gronk on 14 of those, and did a great job covering one of the most explosive players in the NFL.

With the Patriots facing a 2nd-and-long situation following the sack on the previous play, Brady operated with two receivers to the left, one split wide to the right, and Gronk in the slot. Jets elected to play man coverage with 2-deep safeties to force Brady to throw underneath—he did.

The Jets fielded six defensive backs, as they were in their dime package, and Allen was matched up against Gronkowski, knowing he could be opportunistic with safety help behind him as insurance.

Brady dropped pack to pass, and DE Quinton Coples used his long reach to wave his hand in Brady’s face just as he attempted a pass to Gronk, which resulted in the pass being underthrown. Allen jumped the route, picked off the pass, juked the hell out of WR Julian Edelman, and the result was a touchdown of the pick-six variety.

This was only the second interception of the season forced by the Jets defense—but it could not have come at a more opportune moment.

(PS. For an excellent breakdown of how Allen was able to contain Gronk, check out Ryan Alfieri’s post here.)

  • Play No. 2: First quarter, 9:48, 3rd-and-7, 12-Yard TOUCHDOWN pass

smithTD

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This play illustrated Smith’s ability to read the defense, and also showcased his arm strength—capping off a 12-play, 80-yard drive which gave the Jets an early lead and set the tone for the game.

Smith noticed the Patriots were playing man coverage, but CB Kyle Arrington was playing off WR Jeremy Kerley and gave him a 5-yard cushion.

He stepped up in the pocket and zinged a pass to Kerley who was running an out route, for the touchdown.  Smith got great velocity behind the ball, which was just enough to prevent Arrington from breaking up the play.

Patriots DC Matt Patricia was almost daring Smith to run on this play, with LB Dont’a Hightower spying on him underneath. Many quarterbacks would have taken the bait and attempted to run for the TD—likely leading to a fourth down and field goal attempt. But he went with his first read, the correct one, recognizing Arrington was backpedaling and on his heels.

  • Play No. 3: First quarter, 1:45, 2nd-and-10, 80-Yard INTERCEPTION/TOUCHDOWN

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This was Smith’s one boneheaded play of the game, as he did his best Matt Schaub impersonation—forcing one to the flat when WR David Nelson was nowhere near open.

Nelson (6’5”) had a favorable matchup working against rookie CB Logan Ryan (5’11”), who jammed him at the line. Unfortunately, Nelson could not get a clean release, and Smith should’ve elected to go with one of his other reads.

Unfortunately, he didn’t, and not only did he lock his eyes onto Nelson the entire play, but he was also under duress, pressured by LB Rob Ninkovich, and probably should’ve just thrown the ball away to keep the drive alive. Instead, Ryan out-muscled Nelson (who could’ve done a better job against the undersized CB) and took it the house for a 80-yard pick-six.

This play left points on the board as the Jets were nearing the red zone, and Smith can’t make mistakes of this magnitude (a la Sanchez) when in deep in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

When Falcons TE Levine Toilolo caught a go-ahead TD pass with less than two minutes remaining on Monday Night Football, Jets rookie QB Geno Smith wasn’t fazed.

My confidence is always sky-high,” Smith told ESPN. “Nothing can bring me down.”

And he looked the part, completing all four passes he attempted during the Jets 8-play, 56-yard drive capped off by a game-winning Nick Folk field goal.

Smith displayed a ton of poise and managed the drive like a veteran QB, even audibling to a Bilal Powell run to get the field goal into more manageable range. OC Marty Mornhinweg had initially called in a pass play with Smith in shotgun, but the rookie QB read the defense and decided the run was a better option. He was right.

Most importantly, Smith again showed how comfortable he is in the 2-minute drill. While running Dana Holgorsen’s offense at WVU, he operated in an uptempo, no-huddle offense, so the fast pace is nothing new to him.

The Jets second-round draft pick now leads the NFL with three game-winning drives, and is already shattering Jets records as well.

On that note, let’s go back and review the game’s key plays, and how the Jets were able to emerge as victors in the Georgia Dome.


  • Second quarter, 11:08, 3rd-and-11, 20-yard TOUCHDOWN

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TE Jeff Cumberland had just been whistled for an illegal substitution penalty—a potential drive-killing mistake that resulted in Mornhinweg giving him an earful. But he would more than make up for it.

On this play, Falcons rushed five but Jets did a great job of picking up the blitz and giving Smith time to set his feet and throw. Cumberland went streaking down the seam and was covered by rookie UDFA LB Joplo Bartu, who Cumby abused multiple time in the game in man coverage. Smith recognized the mismatch, and trusted his first read. It would be the correct one, as Bartu never even got his head turned around to look for the football.

Once Cumberland beat Bartu at the line, it was a done deal. S Thomas DeCoud stepped up to help on WR Clyde Gates—who was coming open over the middle– instead of dropping to help Bartu.

CumberlandTD

Smith put just the right amount of touch on the football, which landed right on Cumberland’s back shoulder for an easy TD catch. An overthrow would have resulted in an incompletion or interception, but Smith fit it right in between Bartu and S William Moore, and the Jets re-gained the lead which would set the tone of the first half.

  • Second quarter, 0:01, 1st-and-goal, NO GAIN

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Coaches/coordinators don’t usually elect to run 196-pound, 5’6”, change-of-pace RBs up the middle in short-yardage situations. But then again, Mike Smith’s team does things differently.

Smith was given a second chance here after failing on the previous fourth-down play—bailed out by a holding call on LB Demario Davis—and instead of choosing to kick a field goal and make it a one-score game, what does he do? He chooses to run the undersized RB Jacquizz Rodgers right up the gut against arguably the best run defense in the NFL (ranked No. 2, giving up only 76.2 ypg).

The result was a surprise to no one. DE Muhammad Wilkerson and DT Sheldon Richardson beat up on LT Jeremy Trueblood and C Peter Konz as they had all night, and Rodgers was stuffed like a potato, with no hole at all to run through.

FB Jason Snelling is almost 30 pounds heavier and is probably more suited for a goal-line carry, just saying.

Mike Smith’s decision was a head-scratcher. (Photo credit: SportsNola.Com)

This play was reminiscent to another goal-line decision that happened just 24 hours prior, when the Chargers ran the small yet elusive (ex-Jet) RB Danny Woodhead up the gut on 4th-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. Both plays resulted in goal-line stands and momentum shifts.

Credit the Jets for an excellent goal-line stand—the defensive front has played exceptional all year and has been vicious against the run. But Mike Smith’s bonehead decision to not kick a field goal certainly helped matters. The rumors are true: He really does love fourth downs. Read the rest of this entry »