Cleat Geeks

Vikings Game Recap: I Don’t Know How to Feel

Before the game Sunday, I had a feeling in my stomach. A certain name popped into my head for no apparent reason. It was Daniel Carlson, and I had a bad feeling in my stomach. I said out loud to myself, “I wish they had kept Kai Forbath, I would never trust a rookie kicker” Well, whaddya know? Daniel Carlson had a chance to win this game for the Vikes TWICE and blew it. Both times. But, the Vikes also did not lose this game. Thanks to a furious 4th quarter rally, and a miracle pass that somehow slipped through two Packers’ defender’s hands, the Vikes tied the game up. And the game ended in that final score, 29-29. So, I’m not sure how to feel. I guess unhappy because our kicker blew the game, but, technically we are still undefeated. Regardless, we experienced a roller coaster of emotions Sunday. Let’s review:

The first half ended 17-7 in favor of the Packers. Despite a TD catch by Laquon Treadwell, the Vikes looked rather lifeless, to be frank. The second half is where things really pick up. Stefon Diggs played a huge role, catching two critical TD passes and a two-point conversion. Late in the 4th quarter, Kirk Cousins appeared to be intercepted, but it was called back due to a Clay Matthews roughing the passer call. This was a questionable call, as it could have gone both ways. If I were the ref, I probably would not have called it, but hey, I’ll certainly take it. Cousins made them pay, driving the Vikes down and scoring, thanks to a one Mr. Stefon Diggs. He also caught the two-point conversion which made it 29-29. With 37 seconds left, Aaron Rodgers (the Magician) drove the Packers into field goal range (where’s the defense??). It was a 52-yard field goal and the Vikes iced Mason Crosby. It worked, the second time he missed wide left.

The Vikes got the first possession in overtime and quickly drove into field goal range. The drive stalled out, and Mr. Carlson came into the game for a 49-yard field goal. Can you guess what happened? Yep, he missed. Taking over, the Magician took the Pack into Vikes territory, but a huge sack took them out of field goal range. The final possession of the 10 minute overtime belonged to the Vikings. They score, they win. Period. Methodically, they drove into Packers territory. Thanks to two Laquon Treadwell drops, the drive ended. With four seconds to go, on trotted Daniel Carlson for a makeable 35-yard field goal. The Packers iced him. The guy absolutely shanked it. Completely wide right. The game ended in a tie. Such an anti-climactic ending to a great game. Some final quick notes:

+ Laquon Treadwell had some key drops in this game, his days in Minnesota are numbered.

+ Kirk Cousins played like an $84 million guaranteed QB, throwing for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. Convinced me.

+ Hasta la vista, Daniel Carlson.

+ The NFL needs to change the OT rules to college football rules. It would be much more fun and exciting. Nobody likes a tie, except the Cleveland Browns.

+ Next week, we have the Buffalo Bills at US Bank. Let’s go and take care of business.

Bear Down; Defense Records First Victory Of The 2018 Season

The Chicago Bears have defeated the Seattle Seahawks 24-17 at Soldier Field for their first win of the season. It was also Matt Nagy’s first NFL win as a head coach. This win certainly helped Bears fans wash a bit of that sour taste in their mouths after the heartbreaking loss to Green Bay the week before.

As Chicago Bears tradition goes, the story of the success was the defense. Khalil Mack got a roaring ovation from the crowd in Chicago as he took the field as a Bear for the first time at Soldier Field. The defense sacked Russell Wilson five times in the first half and held the Seahawks to a field goal in the first 30 minutes. Biggest play of the night came from Prince Amukamara in the fourth quarter when he picked off Wilson and ran into the endzone for six, making it 24-10. Bears on the next Seahawks drive recovered a Wilson fumble, creating two turnovers on back-to-back defensive drives. Seahawks found the endzone in the last half-minute of the game in “garbage time.”

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Photo by; The Chicago Tribune

In total the Bears recorded six sacks, a pick-six and held Wilson to under 250 yards. Danny Trevathan had two of the sacks and rookie Roquan Smith had seven solo tackles, which led the team. Khalil Mack recorded a sack and four solo tackles.

Mitch Trubsiky and the offense was on and off. The first offensive drive of the game was incredible and led to a Trubisky to Trey Burton shovel pass for a touchdown. They did not find the endzone again until the fourth quarter when Trubisky rolled out to his left and fired a 10-yard pass to rookie Anthony Miller. Overall the young QB went 25/34 with two touchdown passes, two interceptions and 200 yards. A number of his passes were off the mark, but he also made some very nice throws in the scoring drives. Still plenty of work to do with him, but hopefully he can build on it.

A nice thing for Bears fan to see was the energy at Soldier Field. There has not been a lot to cheer about on the shores of Lake Michigan the past few years, but the crowd was in the game the entire way and very loud. Bears fans will likely show up in droves next week in Arizona as they take on the Cardinals.

The Roar: Lions Look to Rebound in San Francisco

Game Information:

The Detroit Lions (0-1) are on the West Coast to pay a visit to the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) @ Levi’s Stadium. You can catch the action on Fox 2 or on WJR-AM 760 in Motown.

Kickoff is set for 4:05 PM ET.

Briefing:

Monday Night Football was disastrous in Detroit, at least for one side. Matt Patricia’s Lions certainly didn’t start the season on the right foot.

The 49ers didn’t win either, but they didn’t walk away from the stadium that night with their tails between their legs.

Matthew Stafford is coming off the worst performance of his career as he completed 27-of-46 passes for 286 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

Not to mention, No. 9’s signs and signals were being picked all night long.

That cannot happen.

With it being a shortened week, for Detroit’s sake, hopefully offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford have things figured out.

On San Francisco’s side of the field, they gave the Vikings a run last Sunday in Minnesota, but Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t all that great in the losing effort.

The 26-year-old quarterback was 15-of-33 for 261 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.

He’ll have to clean it up a bit as well.

Though, it will be interesting because Detroit’s defense allowed a rookie in Sam Darnold to have a rather strong debut in their own building. Garoppolo, who is familiar with Patricia’s defensive ways from their days in New England together, has more experience than Darnold.

Getting to him in the backfield would help, but that’s been a struggle for the Lions in recent times.

It might not get any easier this time around.

You can make the case that San Francisco is stronger with protection up front than the New York Jets, but they’re battling a few injuries.

Potentially evening that out, if Ziggy Ansah can’t dress due to his shoulder injury, it could be a low pressure afternoon for Garoppolo.

Garoppolo won’t have Marquise Goodwin to throw to as he’s out with a quad injury.

Last Sunday, he connected with tight end George Kittle on five occasions. You can expect a similar nine targets in his direction.

Detroit’s offense will be without T.J. Lang up front and could potentially be without LeGarrette Blount as well. Both guys are nursing back issues.

At least five of San Francisco’s defensive players missed time at practice this week due to ailing injuries. Only two are listed as questionable for the matchup, safety Adrian Colbert and linebacker Malcom Smith.

Prediction:

Matthew Stafford puts together a solid day, but the Lions fall short, 27-24. Robbie Gould with a 49-yard field goal to win it in the waning moments.

FEED DJ THE DAMN BALL

Less than 24 hours after signings his 3yr/$39M ($30M guaranteed) contract extension late last Saturday evening, RB David Johnson was underutilized by his new coaching staff as he received a mere 14 touches for 67 total yards and a rushing TD. After receiving five touches on the opening drive, they chose to go away from DJ as the fell out to a 21-point 2nd-Quarter deficit. He certainly wasn’t the only Cardinal to underwhelm during Sunday’s 24-6 snoozefest of a loss at home to open the 2018 campaign against the Washington Redskins.

In fact, the 14 first downs and 213 yards compiled by the Cardinals offense last Sunday was the lowest amount in each category since the 2014 Wild Card game in Carolina, when they posted only eight first downs and 78 total yards. The Ryan Lindley game.

On top of that, the Cardinals ran less plays in the first half than Washington had points (21; Cards ran 14 plays including a kneel), as Sam Bradford went 3 for 7 for 11 yards during that first half of play. As the offense turned one-dimensional in the second half, Sam went 17 for 27 for 142 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT in the third and fourth quarters. Cardinal wide receivers caught 8 passes for 80 yards. Larry Fitzgerald caught 7 of those for 76 yards. Rookie Christian Kirk caught the other pass. J.J. Nelson, Arizona’s only real deep threat, played only one snap in the embarrassing loss.

Even though he’s known more for his feet than hands, the Cardinals need J.J. out there to help open up passing lanes that otherwise wouldn’t be there. With his elite level speed, even if just acting as a decoy, Nelson being on the field would help keep the Rams secondary honest and give the Cardinals intermediate passing game more of a chance to be successful than it was against Washington.

This week’s opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, sport two cornerbacks, Aqib Talib (5X Pro-Bowler from 2013-’17) and 4th-year vet, Marcus Peters (2X Pro-Bowler in his first 3 seasons), that will in all likelihood make life miserable for Cardinal receivers for a second consecutive week. With that being said, it’s going to be vital to get David Johnson running downhill from the start in hopes of opening up the air attack as the game progresses. Last week, Talib & Peters held WR’s Jordy Nelson & Amari Cooper of the Raiders to 4 catches on 32 yards combined. Peters also had one of the Rams’ three interceptions on the day.

The L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer was on Arizona Sports 98.7 F.M. earlier this week and said he believes the Rams biggest weakness is probably their linebacker group. That was evident by the nine catches apiece that TE Jared Cook (180 yards) and RB Jalen Richardson (55 yards) had during Week-1 (both positions typically guarded by linebackers). The Cardinals will most certainly try and follow the blueprint laid out by the Raiders on how to move the ball against such a stout defense, that not only has Peters & Talib, but also the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald. Donald was mostly contained last Sunday as he finished with just one tackle to his name. Ndamukong Suh, who the Rams acquired this off-season, finished his first game with the team that drafted, now Cardinal, QB Sam Bradford first overall and one spot ahead of him in the 2010 draft.

On that note, it’s going to be imperative that the tight ends make an impact against the Rams. If Jermaine Gresham (Achilles) can’t go, Ricky Seals-Jones will be asked to shoulder the workload for a second straight week. RSJ finished last week with 18 yards on three receptions. Seals-Jones also failed to haul in a touchdown late in the game. Last season, the second-year tight end averaged over 16 yards per catch. While that number is probably unrealistic, the Cardinals need him and Bradford to combine for better than 6 yards a completion to help open the field up for Larry & David this afternoon.

Of the 11 victories with Johnson starting in the backfield, only twice did the Cardinals feed him less than the 28.6% that he received in last week’s loss. In victories, DJ receives over 36% of touches, while he’s closer to 33% in losses – not much of a difference but the Cards will want to be over 35% more times than not, especially in this offense with the lack of starpower in the skill players. With an offense in a state of flux while still learning a new system, to go along with an exceptionally unproven receivers room – of the 1,319 combined receptions from the five WRs, 1,315 have come from Fitzgerald (1,241) and Nelson (74) – offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Sam Bradford need to find a way to get their most potent playmaker, David Johnson, much more than 14 touches – or 28.6% of the plays – he received in the season opener.

Look for the Cards to try and get as close to that 30 touch magic number for DJ today – even though he worked through a minor back injury this week – as they look to pull off the biggest upset of the NFL weekend in LA (worst odds of the week in Vegas; 23% chance of winning).

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Carolina Panthers Preview: Defense

We got a good look at the defense in the season opener against Dallas, but let’s take a closer look.  The 2017 defense posted a DVOA of -8.8% (negative numbers are better for defenses), good for 7th in the NFL.  The Panthers have maintained a Top 10 defense in four of the last five years, with the only exception being 2014, when they were 15th overall.  Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was a fantastic replacement for Sean McDermott, who moved on to become the head coach in Buffalo.  Now Wilks is the head coach in Arizona and  the Panthers promoted defensive line coach Eric Washington to the DC position.  Washington spent seven seasons as the defensive line coach for the Panthers, and developed one of the best units in the league.  Most of the core of a very good unit returns, with a few new faces, but overall it is a familiar outlook for Panthers fans:  the front seven looks very strong, and there are questions in the secondary.

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Starting up front, the interior defensive line should be very good. Last year, the unit was dominant according to Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics.  They ranked fifth overall in Adjusted Line Yards (essentially how much of the opposing team’s yards per carry were given up by the defensive line as opposed to, say, linebackers or defensive backs missing assignments or tackles), second in Power Success rate (how often did opponents convert on downs with 2 yards or less to go), and fourth in Stuffed percentage (how often did the Panthers stop the opponents for no gain or a loss).  That’s a lot of words to say the Panthers D-Line didn’t take mess off nobody last year.  Expect similar results this year. Kawann Short made his only Pro Bowl in 2015, but continues to play well against the run and pass.  He has 24.5 sacks over the last three seasons and 8 passes defensed.  He also has 37 tackles for loss during that time.  His numbers have gone down since his dominant 2015 season, but that is mainly due to the fact that he sees more attention from opponents now.  That will likely change this season, as Dontari Poe joins the D Line from Atlanta on a 3yr/$28m contract to replace Star Lotulelei, who signed a huge deal with Buffalo.  Poe is 6-3, 346lbs, and has good athletic ability (4.98 40 yard dash).  His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but what he brings to the table isn’t easily quantified.  This article from last offseason on Arrowhead Pride (Chiefs blog–Poe was previously with KC), does a good job showing that Poe is valuable for his general stoutness against the run, decent pass rush ability, and due to the fact that he is a three-down player.  Based on that, I think he is in a great situation in Carolina because he will be the guy freeing up Kawann Short to make plays, not the guy who the Panthers expect to make the plays.  Poe has played 80 straight games, so injuries have not been a big problem.  Combining Poe with Short will give the Panthers one of the best interior line combos in the game, which fits Ron Rivera’s philosophy of creating pressure up the middle. The backups are Big Vern Butler and Kyle Love. Butler was the Panthers’ first round pick two years ago, and always seems on the verge of becoming really good, but just hasn’t gotten there.  Part of that is due to the fact that he played behind Short and Lotulelei for two years.  He has the physical attributes (6-4, 330) and athleticism (5.15 40 time, 29.5″ vertical jump) to be a force on the D Line, yet he was inactive on game day as recently as the middle of last season.  When the Panthers drafted Big Vern, it felt like an insurance policy for when they lost either Short or Lotulelei in free agency.  Well, that happened and the Panthers signed Poe, which leads me to believe they don’t believe Butler is ready to be a full-time starter.  He is also facing charges of assaulting a woman, which could affect his availability at some point.  Kyle Love is a solid veteran with 13.5 career sacks.  He is not spectacular, but the Panthers like to rotate their D Linemen quite a bit to keep them fresh, and Love is very reliable and gives them plenty of snaps.  He will be a free agent at the end of the year, and it will be interesting to see if the Panthers can resign him.

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Photo by; Panthers.com

At defensive end, Julius Peppers will return for what surely will be his last season before calling it a career–unless, of course, he decides to come back again in 2019.  And who could blame him if he did?  He threw down with 11 sacks despite playing only half of the Panthers’ defensive snaps in 2017.  He is a sure-fire first ballot Hall-of-Famer, and will likely give the Panthers some production again this season in a limited number of snaps. Mario Addison also had 11 sacks last year, and has lethal speed coming off the edge, but average run support ability. The yin to Addison’s yang, Wes Horton does not produce much in the way of pass rush (though he did deliver a sack in Week One), but continues to hum along as an underappreciated run-stopper.  Those two plus Pep account for most of Carolina’s returning experience at end.  Long-time Panther Charles Johnson retired before camp opened this year, and while it’s certainly sad to see him go, injuries had limited his ability to help the team the last two seasons.  Johnson’s retirement plus a reduced workload for Pep means that there will be snaps available, and one or more of a group of unproven players must step up and contribute this year. The leading candidate is Bryan Cox, son of former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox. The younger Cox played 129 snaps for the Panthers last year as an undrafted rookie–perhaps more a testament to the lack of quality depth at end than anything else–so he gained some valuable game experience.  Per his NFL.com draft profile, Cox is an average athlete (relatively speaking–the man is 6-3, 260 and runs a 4.9 second 40) and needs some coaching up, but should offer a relatively high-floor/low-ceiling option and eat up some snaps without being terrible.  There’s inherent value in that alone, especially as the season drags on and injuries pile up. Marquis Haynes is a rookie fourth-rounder out of Ole Miss who projects as a pure pass rush specialist in the NFL.  He will need to add size to his 235-lb frame, but runs a 4.67 40-yard dash.  He will likely see the field on third downs and other passing situations if the Panthers use their version of the NASCAR package this year.  Finally, the most interesting member of the 53-man roster, Efe Obada, has a story made for the movies.  Seriously, click that link and read about this guy if you haven’t already done so.  I have no idea what to expect from him on Sundays this year, but my gut tells me he is least likely of these three to consistently contribute.  With that said, I may blow a gasket if he rips off a huge fourth quarter sack in a tie ballgame.  Seriously, if you can’t get behind this guy, I got nothing for you.  Go click that link, for real.

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Photo by; Cat Scratch Reader

The linebackers are also among the best in the NFL. Luke Kuechly went to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl last year, and landed on the first team All-Pro list for the fourth time.  His list of accolades continues to grow, and he looks likely for Canton one day if he can stay healthy.  His concussion history is troubling.  But he is the best linebacker in the NFL, and the linchpin for the Panthers’ defense.  Joining Luke as a stalwart on the fantastic defenses of the past five years, Thomas Davis continues to amaze with his play well into his 30s, and having overcome three devastating knee injuries.  TD will miss the first four weeks of the season because of a suspension for a banned substance.  He initially indicated he would retire after this season, but now says he may play another year. Shaq Thompson will get the chance to play more while TD  serves his suspension, and he can become a star.  He is one of the fastest linebackers in the league, and has gradually improved in the last two seasons.  His nine tackle performance against Dallas (including a sack) seems to indicate that this will be a breakout year for him.  Athlon Sports recently named Kuechly the top MLB in football, while naming TD the #6 OLB and Thompson the #8 OLB.  Expect the LBs to be the heart and soul of a very good front seven yet again.  The backups are David Mayo and Ben Jacobs, who have both been with the team for a while and are capable special teamers and can play some snaps if required.  Rookie additions Andre Smith and Jermaine Carter had good camps, although Smith had a hamstring injury during the preseason.  Both should contribute on special teams.

For as long as the front seven has been great, the secondary has been a question mark.  2015 notwithstanding, when Josh Norman led Thieves Ave., the Panthers have never found consistently good cornerback play.  They shipped off former third-round pick Daryl Worley in the off-season to Philly in exchange for Torrey Smith, and not a moment too soon.  Worley’s play had been inconsistent, but shortly after the trade, he got into some trouble with the law that ultimately put him in jail and on probation.  The Eagles sent him packing, and he’s now with Oakland. His draft classmate James Bradberry has been better, but must be more consistent this year.  Bradberry often covers the opponent’s top receiver, and that is notoriously difficult in the NFC South.  He will need to improve his ball skills, as he only has four career interceptions.  Rookie Donte Jackson played well opposite Bradberry in Week One, and offers top end speed and the swagger that has been missing from the Panthers’ secondary since Norman left.  Kevon Seymour is the other outside corner, but his Pro Football Focus grade was the lowest of any Panthers defensive regular last year.  Jackson must play well early on for this unit to be good.  Captain Munnerlyn returns in the slot after his well-publicized lack of playing time and subsequent saltiness about it last season. Munnerlyn played 54 snaps against Dallas in Week One, so there is some salve on the wound, but expect that when TD returns, Shaq Thompson will continue to stay on the field and Munnerlyn will be the odd man out.  Corn Elder is a young guy who will likely see his playing time increase as the season goes on.  He is a slot corner.  At safety, many expected rookie Rashaan Gaulden to see a lot of time, but Week One saw Mike Adams dominate snaps while Da’Norris Searcy and Colin Jones split time at the other spot.  Adams, 37 (you always have to point out his age) played well last season, and is reliable in run support.  Searcy came over from Tennessee, where his PFF grade was average, but he looks like an upgrade over Kurt Coleman, who was a liability in coverage last year.  Gaulden is an intriguing prospect who played corner in college, but has moved to safety with the Panthers.  He projects as the long-term solution at free safety.  The Panthers absolutely have to get contributions from the guys they brought in this past off-season.  If that happens, this defense could be Top 5.  If not, they should still be a Top 12-15 defense at worst, but an injury or two up front could easily derail that.

Everybody in the Carolinas, please be safe during the hurricane, and after the hurricane as well.  #keeppounding

Straight Dealing: Panthers Win Over Cowboys Leaves Nasty Aftertaste

Panthers fans have to be feeling a bit down despite the 16-8 win over Dallas on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, winning your home opener is a great feeling, especially when it’s against the Cowboys. My father-in-law and my best man from my wedding are Cowboys fans, and I just really wanted the Panthers to win this one. The carnage left behind by this win is definitely cause for tempered jubilation, though. First, there were key injuries to Greg Olsen, Daryl Williams, and Trai Turner. We also saw our old nemesis, the conservative offense that we have come to know from the Panthers when they get a lead, and once again they allowed an opponent back into a game that the Panthers had been controlling.  There were bright spots, as the defense and–you may need to sit down for this one–the special teams were good, and played a big part in this win. Overall, there was more to like than to not like, but the injuries and offensive risk aversion pose significant concerns leading up to this Sunday’s division showdown in Atlanta. All advanced stats are from Football Outsiders, and traditional stats are from ESPN.

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Photo by; The Boston Globe

Let’s get to the injuries first. G.O. looked really good early on, catching his first two targets for 33 yards and two first downs. He re-injured the same foot that caused him to miss eight games last year, but Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer is reporting that the team will not use an IR spot on Olsen, instead opting to keep him on the roster in hopes he can return after “a few” weeks of rest. Yikes. Olsen showed what a valuable asset he is to the offense when he is at full strength by corralling a couple of throws down the middle of the field before his injury. Young TEs Chris Manhertz and Ian Thomas played about 40 snaps each, but neither produced much. The main beneficiary (if you’re an optimist) of Olsen’s absence should be Devin Funchess. Funch played 57 snaps on Sunday and saw five targets, producing three catches for 41 yards. I think it is critical that Funchess picks up where he left off last season and gives Cam a reliable big target down the field. The Panther offense is at its best when Cam makes big plays in the passing game down the middle of the field and that is the biggest cost of losing G.O.

Cam went 2/5 for negative 7 yards on third downs on Sunday, which tells me that the team is taking the ball out of his hands when it needs him the most.

As if the Panthers needed any more bad news on the offensive line, Daryl Williams re-injured his right knee and Trai Turner is now in the concussion protocol. Williams had torn the MCL and dislocated the patella in his knee early in camp, and I was skeptical that he was healthy enough to suit up in Week One. I’m sure the Panthers’ medical staff did their due diligence with Williams, but in light of his re-injury, it begs the question of whether he was ready to play. Williams will undergo surgery and is likely to go on IR, per Rodrigue’s report. Turner played all 67 offensive snaps but has since entered the concussion protocol. If Turner can’t go on Sunday (which I think we would all support given the long-term effects of concussions), the line will be missing three starters. The Panthers signed veteran free agent Chris Clark, who last played for Houston in 2017. Clark can play both tackle spots, and has 53 starts in 108 career games. I expect to see Taylor Moton at LT, Greg Van Roten at LG, Ryan Kalil at C, Tyler Larsen at RG, and either Clark, recent acquisition Corey Robinson, or old standby Amini Silatolu at RT. Silatolu took the 13 snaps after Williams went down Sunday, and he has the most experience in the offense. He has also been a train wreck when on the field, so if Robinson or Clark are up to speed, perhaps we will see one of them.

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Photo by; ABC 11

The injuries to the offensive line are not the only negatives to come out of this game. The Panthers opened up in the first half with several nice throws down the field, and Cam was able to do whatever he wanted in the run game. The offense produced 209 yards and 11 first downs. The average time per play was 26.7 seconds, good for twelfth in the league.  With a 10-0 lead, the Panthers decided to slow things down and get super conservative in the second half. The offense only produced 84 yards and 7 first downs in the second half, and average time per play went up to 33.9 seconds, dead last in the league. Losing G.O. obviously affected the passing game, but this is a problem that Panther fans have become accustomed to dating back at least to 2015. Since it has now bridged two coordinators, I assume that it’s Ron Rivera dictating a strategy of sitting on leads and going in the tank in the process. Cam went 2/5 for negative 7 yards on third downs on Sunday, which tells me that the team is taking the ball out of his hands when it needs him the most. If Rivera and Turner don’t trust Cam to throw the ball down the field, the offense will continue to stall. And building a lead and then trying to punt and play defense to hang on to a win is a strategy that I think will bite the Panthers this year.

The offensive numbers were not great, and part of that is probably due to the aforementioned “play-not-to-lose” strategy. Cam was 15th in Defense Adjusted Yards over Average (DYAR), behind Case Keenum of all people. His line of 17/26 for 161 (no touchdowns, no picks) was not terrible, and when you tack on the 58 rushing yards and a TD, he played well enough for a win. But I just can’t shake the feeling that the Panthers are not getting the best out of Cam. Christian McCaffrey ran 10 times for 50 yards, and added 6 catches for 45 yards, but his fumble inside the 5-yard line on the opening drive was just brutal. His minus 11 DYAR as a runner means that the Panthers would have been better off starting just about any NFL backup. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that, but CMC has yet to live up to the number eight overall pick the Panthers spent on him last season.  CJ Anderson gained 35 yards on his 7 carries and registered a DVOA of 29.8%, but only played 12 snaps.  As versatile as CMC is, and with G.O. now definitely down for a while, I’d like to see more of CJA and CMC on the field at the same time.  Not only will it disguise the Panthers’ intentions (7 carries on 12 snaps is an indicator to the defense that when CJA is in, he’s likely to get the rock), but it gets more play makers on the field together at the same time. The receivers were not good, with Funchess finishing 39th in DYAR, and Jarius Wright finishing 71st, likely due to his nearly disastrous fumble in the second half. Torrey Smith played 51 snaps, but only had two targets and one catch. Curtis Samuel did not dress as he deals with medical issues, and Damiere Byrd didn’t play an offensive snap although he did leave the game with a knee injury.  Rookie first-round pick DJ Moore only played 17 offensive snaps and did not see a target come his way.  With the emphasis on “giving Cam more weapons” this off-season, it seems like the staff is failing to put those playmakers in position to make plays, including keeping the younger (and more explosive) guys on the bench.  The Panthers will have to work DJ Moore into the rotation and throw some deep balls to Torrey Smith if the offense is to play at a championship caliber.

Defensively, the Panthers were very good on Sunday posting six sacks on Dak Prescott and holding Zeke Elliott to 69 yards on 15 carries, and posting the fourth best yards allowed per drive average (21.3). Dallas does not project to have a fantastic offense this year, but holding them to 232 yards and eight points is a big win for Carolina. Dallas found more success running right than they did up the middle or to the left, and that makes sense because they had Zack Martin and La’el Collins on that side working on Mario Addison, who’s a really good pass rush end, but is only average against the run.  On the left side, KK Short absolutely terrorized rookie LG Connor Williams to the tune of two sacks and four QB hits.  Wes Horton delivered in pass rush with 1.5 sacks and two more QB hits, and delivered a tackle-for-loss in the run game.  Over the course of the game, the Panthers D Line seemed to wear Dallas’ O Line down, culminating in the sack/fumble that sealed the deal.  Julius Peppers only played 24 snaps, which is a good thing, and Bryan Cox played 25 snaps.  If Cox can deliver 25 solid snaps per game, the Panthers will likely continue to have second half success rushing the passer as the rotational D Line guys are just fresher than the opponent’s O Linemen, who play every down. Rookie Donte Jackson played every defensive snap at corner, made five tackles and held up in coverage.  Panthers fans should be very, very excited about that, because as we talked about in the defensive preview piece, stability at outside corner is something the Panthers desperately need.

The special teams were good for the Panthers, and would have been really good were it not for a botched PAT attempt. Specifically, the punt and punt return teams did their jobs well, and it reflected in the Panthers’ average starting field position (own 38, 3rd best in the league on Sunday), and the Cowboys’ (own 21, 30th).  Michael Palardy has been a great find for the team, as he averaged 47.8 per kick and dropped three of six punts inside the 20 with one touchback. This is a part of the game that is so often overlooked as we use the punt as a way to extend the commercial break and give ourselves more time to visit the fridge, but for a team like the Panthers who look to win by playing stout defense and not beating themselves (i.e. being very conservative) on offense, winning field position is a must.  The punt return team also shined, as Byrd and DJ Moore combined for 62 yards on 4 returns, better than 15 yards per attempt.  The Panthers have not had an explosive punt return man in some time, and new special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn certainly appears to have options in that regard now.

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Looking ahead to this Sunday at Atlanta, Vegas has the Panthers as 2.5 point underdogs. The biggest theme of this game will be injuries.  We covered the Panthers’ big dogs that will not play already, but the Falcons will match that with two of their top defenders and a big piece of their offense.  Safety Keanu Neal and LB Deion Jones are both on IR, and RB Devonta Freeman has a knee issue that has kept him out of practice all week.  Offensively, Matt Ryan played really poorly last week at Philadelphia.  His 21/43 for 251 yard, zero touchdown/one interception game produced a QBR of 12.7 and a DYAR of minus 128.  The only starting QB that played worse according to Football Outsiders was Nathan Peterman.  Ouch.  Matty Ice looked to Julio Jones 19 times on Thursday night, and had great success (10/169), but the Eagles adjusted by bringing a defender underneath Jones’ routes in the second half.  Julio has destroyed the Panthers historically, and this will be a good early test of Donte Jackson and the rest of the new additions to the secondary.  The Falcons defense did a decent job against the Eagles, particularly against the pass (10th in DVOA, only 119 yards allowed), but that was against Nick Foles.  The Eagles were also able to run the football with some success, especially in the second half.  The Falcons surrendered 113 yards and 2 TDs on the ground, and ranked 25th in DVOA against the run.  Losing Jones and Neal will hurt the run defense, but also the pass defense, since Jones is one of the best coverage LBs in the league.  This would look like a juicy matchup, but with the injuries up front and without G.O. to exploit the mismatch against Jones’ replacement, we have to wait and see if the Panthers can open up the offense enough to get a win.

Stay safe during Florence, Panthers fans!

The Roar: Lions Bullied by Jets at Home

20 seconds into the game, the Lions had a lead and Ford Field was rockin’.

Quandre Diggs’ pick-six delivered by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold had the city feeling good about its chances on Monday Night Football.

Then, SOL happened.

Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions, Matt Prater missed a 44-yard attempt, Detroit’s running backs combined for 39 yards on the ground while Ziggy Ansah and T.J. Lang left with injuries.

Final score: Jets 48, Lions 17

Detroit’s first offensive drive looked far too familiar as they went three-and-out.

The Jets responded quickly as they flew down the field and found the end zone on the fifth play of their drive.

On third down on the pursuing drive, Matthew Stafford threw his first of four interceptions.

New York’s kicker Jason Myers chipped in a 35-yarder to make it 10-7 to start the second quarter.

Shortly after, Robby Anderson reeled in a pass from Darnold and took it to the house for a 41-yard touchdown.

Prater brought Detroit back within a score before halftime as he notched a 21-yard field goal after a 10-play drive.

The Lions were the receiving team to open up the second half.

Golden Tate tied things up with a 24-yard touchdown, concluding a four-play, 75-yard drive.

It was a game, until it wasn’t.

It wasn’t long before the Jets stormed down the field, left and right.

Nothing was going right for Detroit.

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In fact, when the opposing team knows just about everything you’re about to do, chances are, things aren’t going to go your way.

“We were calling out their plays as he was getting up to the line”, said Darron Lee, New York’s 23-year-old linebacker. “We knew his signals, we knew everything.”

After a shotty preseason, last night’s performance was an absolute nightmare that came true in the worst way possible, in front of a national audience.

Week 1, an absolute kick to the groin.

 

The Roar: Lions Host Jets for Monday Night Football

Game Information: 

The New York Jets visit the Detroit Lions for Monday Night Football @ Ford Field in Detroit, MI. You can catch the action on ESPN or on WJR-AM 760 in the Motor City.

Kickoff is set for 7:10 PM ET.

Briefing:

After cringe worthy preseasons out of the Jets and Lions which led to 1-3 records, both football teams are chomping at the bit to get off to a good start in the regular season.

Matt Patricia is entering his first season as head coach of the Lions and will be presenting a different running back combination this fall with LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson. Blount signed a one-year deal with Detroit back in March, about a month before the Lions drafted the 21-year-old Johnson 43rd overall out of Auburn University.

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That duo is presumably the best one Detroit has had in the backfield in a while and should be expected to be an aid against New York’s defense tonight.

The Jets are rolling with the 21-year-old quarterback out of the University of Southern California, Sam Darnold, who was drafted third overall this past April. Darnold is set to become the youngest quarterback to start a Week 1 game during the Super Bowl era.

Prediction: 

Crowd plays a factor, Darius Slay and Glover Quin with interceptions as Lions defend the den, win 28-17.

 

 

The Cardinals “Invest” In David Johnson

So, David Johnson had a tale of two seasons. He was not a high draft pick, he set the football world on fire in his first year and earned his money and then some. But, his second year was a loss, through no fault of his own, but if the Cardinals are looking at this like a business, and they should be, they got no return on their investment in year two.

So, lets take this a step further and lets look at this as if you are an investor and David Johnson is a stock. You got lucky on your initial investment, you had a few “scouts” looking at a few options for you, and you took their advice and you bought low and got a good return. Last year, the stock did nothing for you, you may have even lost a minimal amount, but you made so much off the initial investment, you were able to absorb that loss and still come out ahead. Now the owner of the stock is saying that they believe their investment is again going to bring you a return similar to the first year of the stock, and they ask you to put an upfront investment of $30 million dollars into the stock, so you can guarantee that you and only you will get that big return that they see coming, but is not a sure thing. And to sweeten the pot for you, not only will you get that potential windfall for one year as you did before, but since you made a large upfront investment, your return, good or bad will be for 3 years. So, what do you do?

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Photo by; Arizona Sports

The Cardinals decided to invest in David Johnson. A dynamic and one year runaway success, that all your counterparts noticed and wished they had, followed by a year of no gains. They will hope that over the next three years that their investment pays off as the the Arizona Cardinals have completed a contract extension with running back David Johnson, the team announced Saturday night. The deal is a 3-year, $39 million extension, but no deal in the NFL is a straight deal, all deals with major superstars have a maximum and a minimum.  According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal has a maximum worth of $45 million and a minimum guarantee of $30 million.

Johnson was a third-round pick (86th overall) in the 2015 NFL draft out of Northern Iowa. He was a person no one really ever heard of, from a school no one knew existed, but he has made himself into a millionaire. Johnson became a first-team All-Pro in 2016 after bursting onto the scene and leading the NFL while setting a team single-season record with 2,118 scrimmage yards (1,239 rushing; 879 receiving). He also led the NFL and set a franchise record with 20 touchdowns. Then, in the first game of 2017 while playing the Detroit Lions in the motor city, Johnson broke his wrist and was lost for the season.

Who will the investment pay off for? Johnson, the Cardinals, or both? Leave your comments below.

Bear Down; Looking at 2018 With Cautious Optimism

The Chicago Bears will begin their 2018 season on their biggest rival’s turf in Green Bay Sunday evening. Many eyes will be on first-year head coach Matt Nagy, as well as quarterback Mitch Trubisky, newcomer OLB Khalil Mack and many others. A match-up between Mack and Aaron Rodgers is something football fans will certainly want to watch.

The new-look Bears had no doubt the most productive off-season of any NFL team. In addition to hiring a new coaching staff and trading for Mack, they acquired free agent talent in receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel as well as signing former Eagles TE Trey Burton, re-signing CB Kyle Fuller and drafting LB Roquan Smith in the first round…just to briefly sum it up. Many holes were filled around the young core of Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson and Akiem Hicks. There is a lot to be excited about for Bears fans for the future.Image result for mitch trubisky bears

What about 2018 itself? Can this team with all the new talent make a huge leap forward and be playoff contenders? It is certainly not out of possibility, but at the same time there are reasons to be cautious about the upcoming seasons. This is not to say that I do not believe in what GM Ryan Pace has done, he has made great moves and it will eventually pay off, but 2018 may still be a step in the staircase towards playoff contention.

Unknowns and growing pains

There are many promising, yet unknown pieces on this team. The Bears are dealing with a first-year head coach with a quarterback that only has 12 NFL games under his belt in Trubisky. Last year he threw for 2,193 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was greatly handcuffed by the conservative John Fox offense and no reliable targets to throw to, but he showed promise. Trubisky is a great athlete with a good arm and ability to use his legs. With a full season coming and an offensive minded coach like Nagy and talented targets for him to throw to, he can play at a very good level. Promise is there, but we need to see it consistently. A number of players and personnel fall into this category, but Trubisky is by far the most important asset on the team.

Speaking of Nagy, he is in his first year as an NFL head coach. There are a lot of positive things to say about him so far, but again we need to see results in regular season games. With him coaching a lot of young guys with not much experience/guys in new roles (Trey Burton being the anchor tight end for example), there will probably be some ups and downs early on. That is just how it goes with teams building up with young talent and a new staff.

NFC North

One of the most difficult parts of this rebuild is the division itself. It is looking early on as one of, if not the most competitive division in the NFL. Obviously the biggest roadblock has been and probably will be Aaron Rodgers. The Bears have just two wins against the Packers since 2011 and they are finally looking to turn the tide. While Green Bay has shown great weaknesses on the team over the past few years, a healthy Rodgers makes them Super Bowl contenders year in and year out. Chicago is going to have to beat Rodgers if they want to go on a run, not easy by any means.

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With all of that being said we still have to get to the favorites to win the North, the Minnesota Vikings. Even with Rodgers on the field for the Packers, the Vikings with their elite defense and newcomer QB Kirk Cousins make them very likely candidates to repeat as division champs. Beating that defense is going to be the toughest part and one big test for Trubisky who is 0-2 against the Vikings so far in his career. The Bears have one win against the Vikings the past three seasons.

It also is worth mentioning the Detroit Lions and Matt Stafford, who has been a thorn in the Bears side the past several years. They may not be favorites to win the division, but certainly not an easy win. Bears defense playing well will be key in beating the Lions.

“Safe” predictions?

This Bears team can go in several directions; a reasonable prediction would be around the 8-8 mark. That is a prediction I will personally stick with as the season begins.

While there are a lot of unknowns on the team, there is no doubt enough for this team to at least be competitive. Biggest questions are if they can beat their division opponents and how they matchup against teams like the Patriots and Rams. Established players like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Jordan Howard are definitely should be enough to get you wins against lesser teams, it is all about those tough opponents. Pace is in his fourth year as GM and has been in a rebuild mode throughout most of that time. Now it is time to at least expect improvement more than anything.Related image

Now can the Bears surprise the world and go say 10-6 and contend for the playoffs? Sure there is. If all this talent works out and the team is healthy, then they have the potential to have a lot of success. The Bears have lost so many frustratingly close games they could have won the past two years and this is the opportunity to turn those close games into wins. Not to mention we so often see teams for from worst to first on a yearly basis, no reason why it is not impossible for the Bears to do that especially with all the new talent. It just won’t be easy.

The talent is there.

The coaching is there.

The team philosophy is there.

The excitement is there.

The winning attitude is there.

This offeseason and 2018 regular season will be a huge stepping stone for the Chicago Bears organization. 2019 is a time Bears fans will hopefully be fully expecting playoff berths and playoff runs. The 2018 season should be exciting for Bears fans, however, it seems like there are plenty of reasons to hold certain cautions. Really want to finally see results on the field and not just on paper. Enjoy the ride and hope for the best.

 

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