Cleat Geeks

Brees Passes Manning As All-Time NFL Career Passing Yards Leader

It was a special night for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football when they took down the Washington Redskins with a 43-19 score. Quarterback Drew Brees officially crossed into NFL history as Brees became the NFL’s leader in career passing yards with a total of 72,103 passing yards accounted for. Last Monday, Brees passed Peyton Manning’s career passing yards of 71,940 with a 62-yard touchdown pass to rookie Wide Receiver Tre’Quan Smith.

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The sports world all celebrated Brees’ incredible milestone on Twitter bringing into the discussion as one of the greatest Quarterbacks of all-time. In 18 seasons in the NFL (13 with the New Orleans Saints), Brees has completed 6,344 passes (1st all-time) from 9,455 passes (2nd all-time, 1st actively) for 72,103 yards with a 67.1 completion percentage (1st all-time) for 499 touchdowns (4th all-time), 228 interceptions (16th all-time), a 283.56 passing yards per game (1st all-time) and a 97.1 passer rating (4th all-time).

This amount of accomplishment as a Quarterback in a highly competitive is due to Brees’ consistency as a passer, strong arm, incredible accuracy, and poise in his progressions as a passer. So far in his career, Brees has accounted for five seasons where he has accounted for 5,000 yards passing season. There have been other Quarterbacks in the league, both past and present, that have only passed for 5,000 yards once. Brees is an 11-time Pro Bowler, 3-time 1st team All-Pro, a 2nd-team All-Pro in the 2011 season, a Walter Peyton Man of the year in 2006, the NFL comeback player of the year in 2004, a 7-time NFL season leader in passing yards, and a 4-time NFL season leader in touchdown passes. He also has the NFL single-season record for the highest completion percentage of 72%, which he accomplished last season for the Saints. Brees help led the Saints to their only Super Bowl with a 31-17 victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in February of 2010.

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So far this season in 5 games, Brees has passed for 148 completions out of 190 attempts (a completion percentage of 77.9%) for 1,658 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Brees and 3rd year Wide Receiver Michael Thomas already set an NFL record this season for most completions through 3 games in a season with 38 completions. Brees is a Quarterback who generally shares the ball to multiple Receivers. This season WR Michael Thomas, WR Ted Ginn Jr., RB Alvin Kamara, and now rookie WR Tre’Quan are now the playmakers for the Saints that can get open so easily in Head Coach Sean Payton’s offense. Brees is also accuracy with the ball because of the way he analyzes the field and where the destination of his passes will be.

Drew Brees has thrown to many talented and elite Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, and Running Backs in his 18 years in the league. In his time with the San Diego Chargers, Brees has thrown to RB LaDainian Tomlinson (254 receptions for 1,750 yard and 6 touchdowns), WR Kennan McCardell (97 receptions for 1,255 yards and 9 touchdowns), and TE Antonio Brown (180 receptions for 2,279 yards and 23 touchdowns). Brees has played with many great players who have either played their conclusive seasons with the Saints or they were drafted and groomed by the Saints. As a Saint, Brees has thrown to RB Reggie Bush (294 receptions for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns), WR Pierre Thomas (327 receptions for 2,608 yards and 12 touchdowns), TE Jimmy Graham (383 receptions for 4,725 yards and 51 touchdowns), and WR Marques Colston (706 receptions for 9,709 yards and 72 touchdowns). In the past few seasons, Brees has created a special connection to WR Michael Thomas (242 receptions for 2,901 yards and 17 touchdowns), who is 5th leading Receiver in yards thrown by Brees and RB Alvin Kamara (119 receptions for 1,179 yards and 6 touchdowns).Image result for drew brees

What is amazing is how Brees fully recovered from a torn labrum he suffered at the end of the regular season in 2005 with the Chargers. After major reconstructing surgery in the offseason including additional work on his rotator cuff, the Chargers were hesitant to give Brees the money he felt he deserved as a top-5 franchise Quarterback. After he went into free agency, the Miami Dolphins passed on him for Dante Culpepper thus giving the Saints the chance and money Brees deserved. The Saints were rewarded with the amazing, consistent playmaking ability of Brees followed a few NFC Championship appearance and a Super Bowl title. Brees has brought the Saints organization out from the below-average teams in the league and made them a consistent Super Bowl contending team with an outstanding young cast.

There is one major record that Brees can accomplish soon with this season or next season. The NFL passing touchdown record is currently held by Peyton Manning with 539. Brett Favre is next in line with 508 passing touchdowns and current New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has 500 passing touchdowns. Brees has 499 passing touchdowns and needs this game against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend to be over 500 touchdowns. With two full years left on Brees contract with the Saints, Brees can pass Manning with some competition with Brady as well.

The Saints are consistent threats this year to many NFC teams and are currently on top of the NFC South division with a 4-1 record. The Saints are serious contenders to reach for the Super Bowl this season after they played very well in the NFC Divisional Round against the Minnesota Vikings last season. New Orleans will be on a bye week this weekend fir for week 6 of the NFL after their Monday Night Football victory over the Washington Redskins. The following Sunday, they must travel to face the Baltimore Ravens (3-2), who are still fresh off their embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns in overtime. The Ravens are considered favorites according to ESPN’s Power Football Index but the Saints are ultimately the most consistent, thanks to the consistent and high-power arm of Drew Brees.

 

Eye of the Panther: Carolina Escapes With Lucky Win Over Giants

When Graham Gano’s record-tying 63-yard bomb went through the uprights late Sunday afternoon and gave the Panthers a 33-31 win over the New York Giants, it took the edge off what was nearly a disastrous loss. Despite outplaying the Giants for most of the game, the Panthers found themselves in that old familiar position–holding on for dear life in a game that they had once controlled.  Of course, this is the NFL, and wins are almost never easy. But Sunday’s game was different from many of the past games that followed this script. The Panthers were truly lucky, and won in spite of themselves.

Coming into the game, the biggest storyline was the Odell Beckham interview that aired on ESPN Sunday morning. ESPNs Josina Anderson did a fantastic job in this interview, and her rapport with NFL players is really interesting to watch. I didn’t feel like OBJ was completely comfortable saying the things he said about his teammates and about being happy in New York. Anderson definitely put him on the spot for an answer, and coaxed out a really big story. She was doing her job and I don’t fault her one bit.  But I got the vibe that OBJ felt pressured to say something provocative because of the bizarre presence of Lil’ Wayne.  What ended up happening was OBJ came off as passive-aggressive and it was not a good look.  Either way, the Giants looked determined to get OBJ the ball on Sunday, which is what they should be doing, and it worked.

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Beckham and Saquon Barkley is the most lethal combinations the Panthers have faced this year, and it was clear that they were very concerned about stopping them.  The defensive line disrupted that Giants’ running game all day, holding Barkley to 48 yards on 15 carries.  Looking deeper, Barkley had carries of 30 and 20yards, the former being an amazing individual effort by Barkley to spin free of Wes Horton in the backfield and accelerate through a completely different gap than the one for which the play was designed (it was the gap vacated by Horton, who had blown up the play in the backfield).  The latter of those long runs was a busted contain by rookie Rashaan Gaulden. Aside from those two plays, Barkley carried 13 times for minus-two yards.  Ron Rivera promised to fix the run defense, and he certainly delivered on that promise.

Beckham showed why he is one of the game’s best receivers, working the Panthers for 131 yards receiving and a beautiful TD catch in the fourth (the throw by Eli Manning was also beautiful). James Bradberry did a good job on Beckham, but when the Panthers went into zone looks, Beckham was able to find space.  The Giants made really nice use of play action once it became clear that Carolina was focused on stopping the run, and used the Panthers’ aggression against them on the double pass from OBJ to Barkley.  OBJ is incredibly dangerous in the open field, and it’s not a surprise that the Panthers were selling out to get to the football right there.  You have to just tip your cap to Shurmur and Shula for calling the play, and Beckham for making a tough throw. All the Giants’ TDs were either Barkley or Beckham, and when you’re facing a team with these types of weapons, they’re liable to put some points on you. The Panthers’ defense really wasn’t terrible, and outside of Donte Jackson letting Russell Shepard of all people run right by him (I don’t think I can emphasize enough how bad that was), they held up pretty well.

I saw a few Twitter posts about the Panthers’ lack of pass rush yesterday, citing only one sack of Eli Manning, so I took another look at the game to see if indeed the pass rush was as bad as the numbers said it was. While it is true that the Panthers did not sack Eli Manning or knock him down often, there were plenty of times when the Panthers pressured Manning, particularly in the first half.  Luke Kuechly got home on an A-gap blitz on a Giants fourth-down try from inside Carolina territory and although he did not get the sack, he clearly forced Eli to make a back foot throw before he was ready.  Just before the half with the Giants moving the ball near midfield, Kawann Short collapsed the pocket immediately after the snap and forced Eli to make a bad throw well short of the first down line-to-gain, and the Panthers were able to keep their 20-13 lead.  The Giants went to more quick passes in the second half and Eli did a good job of feeling the rush and moving around in the pocket for most of the day.  The Panthers pass rush will be just fine, especially if Efe Obada continues to improve.

Speaking of continuing to improve, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel were the big playmakers in the passing game.  It feels inevitable that Norv Turner will give the bulk of the snaps to these guys by the end of the season.  They both ran hard after the catch yesterday, and played with an attitude.  I think Panthers Twitter has beaten this horse to death by now, and it seems to be trending in the right direction with Moore getting 29 snaps and Samuel 12 in his first game back from injury/illness.  If the Panthers can keep these guys healthy and get Greg Olsen back on the field, the offense could be very, very good later in the year when the schedule gets tougher.

That tough late-season run that includes the Saints twice in three weeks makes this win not just important, but critical.  The Giants came into this game at 1-3, with obvious internal issues, and if the Panthers had lost this one (at home no less), it would have been inexcusable.  Although the Panthers controlled this one in the fourth quarter, they very nearly let it get away, and probably got luckier than Panther fans would like to admit.

First of all, the Panthers’ luck with fumbles was through the roof.  The special teams should get credit for playing hard through the whistle, but the punt return fumble that hit Beckham, caromed off a Giant’s foot, and ultimately ended up as Colin Jones’ first career TD was just pure good luck.  If that ball took a different bounce anywhere in that sequence, the Giants easily could have recovered it, it could have gone out-of-bounds, or it could have just harmlessly bounced into the end zone before it hit OBJ.  Later on, Cam made a really nice run to gain a first down, failed to secure the football on the hit by Eli Apple, and fumbled it right to about three Giant defenders, but by pure luck, Curtis Riley’s toe was out of bounds when he recovered the ball for New York.  The Panthers ended up getting a field goal later in that drive, and when you win by two, that’s a pretty important break.

The Panthers also benefitted from a couple of calls that, at best, could have gone either way.  The first was the 3rd-and-13 play early in the fourth quarter, where a questionable helmet-to-helmet call negated an incomplete pass to Devin Funchess.  Although there was contact to the helmet and Funchess looked shaken up, it seemed to me like both defenders were going for the ball and the contact was incidental to the play, not an attempt to make a hit.  The resulting first down kept alive the drive that produced the CMC touchdown catch that made the score 27-16.  Then, on the game’s final drive, McCaffrey was very close to a first down, and it was difficult to tell if he had made it, but the officials awarded the first down without a measurement or review, allowing the Panthers to clock the ball and ultimately give Gano a chance to set up for the game-winning kick.  There is a lot to unpack from this sequence, so I’ll start with the officiating.  The Panthers were out of timeouts, and so were the Giants, so the officials understandably probably wanted to remove themselves from the outcome by spotting the ball quickly and decisively.  A measurement would have amounted to a free timeout for Carolina, and at that point it looked like they had run themselves out of time by going above and beyond their usually poor end-of-half/game clock management.  So I applaud the officials for what I perceived as their attempt to let nature run its course.  A LOT of Giants fans on Twitter were extremely upset about this sequence, and given the outcome, I understand that frustration.  I looked back at the play in slow-motion about ten times before I realized that Fox had the “unofficial yellow line” graphic displayed about a half-yard long of where the real line-to-gain should have been (see below).  Note the nose of the football in the first picture is a foot or so short of the Carolina 45, meaning the line-to-gain would have been a foot or so short of the NY 45.  Fox had the graphic displayed on the wrong side of the NY 45, and that made it look like the play was much closer than it was.  The second picture shows McCaffrey holding the ball in his right arm, clearly across the NY 45.  So I think the officials got this one right, although I’m sure less than 0.00001% of Giants fans would entertain my argument.  I understand completely.

What this controversy and the Gano rocket masked somewhat is that the call to run CMC on third-and-one was highly questionable.  In retrospect, I think I see what Riverboat and Norv were doing, but it makes me cringe.  Gano’s previous career long was 59 yards, and his kick Sunday would have been good from near 70.  So he obviously has the leg to justify trying from that range.  I’m guessing that Ron didn’t want to risk an outside run that might lose a couple of yards since they were at the edge of sanity with respect to trying a field goal there.  He also wanted the first down so they could clock the ball on the next play, and he felt like he could rely on the offensive line and CMC to get him two or three yards to make the try more in line with Gano’s previous career long.  Here is why that logic is terrible.  If CMC fails to get the first down, you have no choice but to run the field goal unit out there and set up for a hasty try as time winds down.  That seems like it would diminish the already fairly low chance of making a 63-yarder under pressure.  Also, remember that Ryan Kalil had left the game due to an injury a few plays before, and the Panthers had their backup center, Tyler Larsen in the game.  Larsen is a decent backup, but the Giants interior defensive line had given the Panthers fits for most of the second half, so running up the middle had a lower than normal chance of success there.  If the Panthers were worried about being able to stop the clock, it seems like a short pass over the middle would do the same thing as they were trying to do with the run up the middle, but with an extra chance at a positive result if the pass failed in that the clock stops.  If the pass is complete, you run up and clock the ball and trot out the field goal unit.  What ended up happening is the Panthers got extremely lucky that the officials were decisive in their actions to spot the ball, and Gano hit a FG that we will all remember for a very long time, but probably goes in less than half the time.  Riverboat Ron comes out a winner, but like the guy who outdraws you in poker game, over time, his strategy is poor.

This has been a problem for the Panthers for some time, and I heard recently that Sean McVay hired a guy whose job it is to help him manage the clock in the endgame.  Maybe it’s something Riverboat ought to consider.

Moving on to next week, the Panthers face a tough test in Washington.  I’ll take a better look at that matchup later in the week after I get a chance to look at Washington a little better.  For now, let’s enjoy this win, and hope the breaks continue to go our way.

The Eye Of The Panther: Panthers Maul Bengals, Sign Eric Reid

The David Tepper era is truly underway in Carolina, as the Panthers made arguably the biggest news of the young season by signing former All-Pro safety Eric Reid to a one-year deal earlier today. Not only does it fill a position of dire need for the team, it also signals that Tepper is here to win, and will not succumb to outside pressure when it comes to how he will run his team. What a day to be a Panthers fan!

With that out-of-the-way, lets look back at the win over Cincinnati with a critical eye and see what went right and what went wrong.

The most glaring example of something that went right is the run game, specifically CMC’s 28 carry, 184 yard performance. Not only did he answer questions about his ability to carry a heavy load, he also answered questions about his ability to run between the tackles.  CMC went 23-154 on plays between the guards! Part of that is due to McCaffrey getting North/South a with a little more purpose, but what I have been really impressed with so far is the play of the patchwork offensive line.  According to Tim Weaver of msn.com, the team leads the league in yards before contact, which means the O Line is smoking the opponent’s D Linemen and LBs. Chris Clark has been an absolute find by Marty Hurney and the rest of the front office crew. He got bullrushed a couple of times on Sunday, and Carlos Dunlap really ate his lunch one time en route to Cam, but overall he has been solid in pass pro, and really good in the run game. Ryan Kalil looks like his old self, even getting out in front and mauling two Bengals defenders on CJA’s TD screen and run.  Taylor Moton graded out at as the Panthers’ best offensive player by Pro Football Focus, and looks like the next in a long line of Pro Bowlers up front for Carolina. And I would be remiss if I left out rookie TE Ian Thomas, who the Panthers have been using like a pulling guard, leading CMC into the holes. Norv Turner and run game coordinator/O Line coach John Matsko have done a great job finding ways to block the run game absent three starting linemen, but it was really the execution up front on Sunday that got it done. The Panthers now lead the NFL in rushing, and Ron Rivera must be tickled pink.

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On the flip side, the run defense was not thoroughly tested on Sunday, as the Bengals somewhat abandoned the run in the second half. What we did have to watch, though, was not great. Although the Bengals only ran for 66 yards, they averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and were able to seal off running lanes on the left side of the Panthers’ defense for gains of 12, 23, and 22 yards. I expect the Panthers to improve once Thomas Davis returns, primarily because Shaq Thompson will likely stay on the field and Captain Munnerlyn will see fewer snaps.

The other big story of the week is the Panthers’ defense being on the receiving end of four Andy Dalton passes. Since Thieves Ave. disbanded after the 2015 season, the Panthers were minus three in turnover differential entering the game Sunday. The secondary especially has struggled mightily to make those vital, game-changing interceptions that flip field position and help the offense out. In my opinion, Cam owes a large part of his success in 2015 to the fact that the defense handed him so many short field thanks to their 39 takeaways that year. Donte Jackson, who I felt didn’t play his best game against Atlanta, was stellar in this one. He ran step for step with Cincinnati speedster John Ross, and took the ball away in a one-on-one situation in Carolina territory Sunday. His second interception was a little luckier, but still a product of good coverage and outworking Ross for the ball.  Jackson is tied for the league lead with three interceptions and looks like a legitimate star in the making. The Panthers will have him under his rookie deal for three more years (until 2022), so they now have a cornerstone piece around which to build a secondary that can rival the front seven.

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Not to be outdone, however, Efe Obada recorded an interception, a sack, and a near strip-sack that the officials overturned on review in his first NFL game ever. I’ve covered Obada’s story here before, and it’s an amazing journey to the NFL from Nigeria by way of London, where he was a homeless child. The league named Efe NFC Defensive Player of the Week this week. He only played 19 snaps, but showed above average speed off the edge, using a shoulder dip move to get past Bengals LT Cordy Glenn. He looks like a situational player for now, but if the Panthers can use him on third down and other passing situations to enhance the pass rush, it will pay huge dividends going forward.  He is still relatively young, and has time to develop into a better run defender, but for now, we should be very happy that edge help fell out of the sky and into the laps of Eric Washington and Ron Rivera.

A couple of other odds and ends from the game…DJ Moore played 33 offensive snaps, almost equaling his combined total from weeks one and two, but still only caught one pass for three yards on two targets. There are two reasons why I don’t see this as a big problem. The first is that the Panthers only threw the ball 24 times for 150 yards on Sunday. There just weren’t many targets to go around. The second is that Turner moved Moore all over the field with a variety of motions and shifts, which forces defenses to plan for a multitude of threats. At some point this year, I think we will see DJ Moore start to get the football in his hands more regularly, so there is no need to panic right now…also, Rivera put on his Riverboat hat with a (failed) attempt on fourth-and-four from the Cincinnati 41. Although the attempt failed because of a good play by Carlos Dunlap, the call to go for it in the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead was the right one. Many coaches (including Rivera in the past) would punt the ball away there and give the opponent a long field.  With the way Michael Palardy has kicked since coming aboard two years ago, you could reasonably expect that he would put it inside the 20 at least.  But the Panthers controlled the line-of-scrimmage all day long, and Cam’s unique ability to run and pass make the Panthers very difficult to defend in situations like this. Kudos to Riverboat, hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

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Back for a moment to Eric Reid. His signing comes at a great time, as DaNorris Searcy is on IR, and the Panthers head into a bye week. It’s hard to say how well Reid will play after sitting out for so long, but he is almost certainly an upgrade over Colin Jones. Mike Adams is a strong safety by nature, but the Panthers use both of their safeties somewhat interchangeably, so Reid should fit in well regardless of which label the team puts on him. But more importantly, the Panthers did the right thing. Regardless of where you stand on the anthem protests, you should respect that Eric Reid had the courage to back up his friend and teammate Colin Kaepernick in the face of immense pressure. And you’ve got to feel the same way about the Panthers’ organization now. It’s a nice break from the last days of the Jerry Richardson era, when there was so much ugliness surrounding the organization.  I wish Eric Reid the best, not only because he could be an outstanding player on the field, but because he had his friend’s back in a time of need, and was willing to risk his career in the process. That is the type of guy you want in the trenches with you. Cheers to you, sir.

Will The Bucs Be Blown Away In A Windy City Match-up?

Photo from thejacketonline.com

The 2-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to take on their former NFC North rivals Chicago Bears. Tampa Bay has a quick turnaround after battling the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday night loss 30-27. The 2-1 Bears lead the all-time series between the teams 38-20. However, Tampa has won the last two contests between the teams in 2017 and 2016. Tampa’s offensive line will have their hands full after allowing 3 Pittsburgh sacks and constant pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bears come in leading the league in sacks with 14 sacks lead by pass rushing specialists Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. Buccaneer Tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson will be in for a long day if they are unable to stop Floyd and Mack.

Tampa will need to get the run game going. Tampa goes into Week 4 ranked 30th in the league in rushing. Tampa lead back Peyton Barber is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. The other half of the offense continues to click as Tampa continues to lead the league in passing following another 400 yard performance by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick now owns the record for most consecutive 400 yard passing games with three. Another record set Monday was most receiving touchdowns (35) in Tampa Bay history which was achieved by Mike Evans passing Jimmie Giles.

Tampa Bay will also be without starting safety Chris Conte as he joins Vernon Hargreaves on injured reserve following an injury to his knee. If that name sounds familiar, he was the victim of a “get out the club” stiff arm by Pittsburgh tight end Vance McDonald which was taken for a 75 yard touchdown. The starting job will be turned over to rookie Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead was described by defensive coordinator Mike Smith as a” heat-seeking missile” in terms of going after the ball. Whitehead’s counterpart at safety Justin Evans continues to impress after interception Monday on a route he jumped on Big Ben.

Photo from larrybrownsports.com

 

Jameis Winston is back from suspension and Dirk Koetter has yet to comment on who the starting quarterback will be Sunday against the Bears. Fitzpatrick was red-hot coming in Monday night’s game. Fitzpatrick struggled due to constant pressure applied to him which resulted in 3 turnovers in just the first half of the game. Fitzpatrick was pressured on over 40% of his throws. One of those turnovers was a costly interception in the red zone. Another was an interception which was returned for a Steeler touchdown. Fitzpatrick returned from halftime with a new fire which resulted in 17 unanswered points including touchdowns to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

I suspect Koetter will roll out Fitzpatrick Sunday and re-evaluate the position during Week 5 which will be Tampa Bay’s bye week. Tampa needs the win to maintain top position atop the NFC South. A 3-1 record going into the bye week will have energized a Tampa Bay fan base that hasn’t been there in many years. GO BUCS!

Meet the Bucs

Photo from bucsnation.com

If you want to watch the next player play in the Meet the Bucs segment, you’re going to have to wait till the 2019 season. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves 2018 season ended abruptly after a shoulder injury against New Orleans in week 1. Hargreaves was taken with the 11th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The former Florida Gator was a two time first team All-American and also a three time first team All-SEC. After a rough 2017 season, Hargreaves started off 2018 season with seven tackles, one pass deflection and forced a fumble that was recovered and returned for a Tampa Bay touchdown.

Follow me on Twitter @dynastydadmike for all things Tampa Bay and fantasy football advice. Also please follow @cleatgeeks for all things football.

Monday Night Football Showdown

Photo from espnmediazone.com

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-0 for the first time since 2010. After defeating the Superbowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles 27-21, the Bucs are sitting alone atop the NFC South division. On the first play of the game, Fitzpatrick connected to former Eagle Desean Jackson on a 75 yard touchdown pass. That would also become the longest play to begin a game in Buccaneer history. The Tampa passing offense would continue to stay on fire with touchdown passes to Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and OJ Howard.

Let’s not forget about the defense as well. Kwon Alexander (last week’s player profile) strip sacked Nick Foles. Linebacker Lavonte David made a critical 4th down stop on Zach Ertz to force an Eagle turnover. The defensive line came up huge with sacks by Jason Pierre Paul and Gerald McCoy. The Tampa secondary also came up big. With injuries to Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves, third year player Ryan Smith and rookie Carlton Davis got the start. Coach Koetter praised Smith saying “I thought that was Ryan Smith’s, easily his best game of his career,” Koetter said. “I thought he was aggressive all day. Not only that, but he made two really big plays on punt cover. And I’m just so, man, I’m so proud of him. Very proud of him. Because that kid’s taken some abuse. You know, for him to hang in there and keep battling.”

Up next, a Monday Night Football home match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1). Pittsburgh leads the all-time series against Tampa bay 8-2. However, in the last meeting (2014) between the two teams, Tampa Bay defeated Pittsburgh 27-24. Tampa Bay should be welcoming back Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes and it couldn’t come at a better time. Grimes first assignment will be to slow down the NFL’s best wide receiver in Antonio Brown. The Tampa secondary will also have their hands full with second year wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. The man throwing to these receivers will be 6 time pro bowler Ben Roethlisberger who has posted 5 touchdowns to 1 interception against the Bucs. However, a fact that cannot be ignored is Big Ben’s record on the road. Over the past 3 years, Ben is 17-6 while throwing 65 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions at home. On the road, he is 15-10-1 while throwing 25 touchdowns to 27 interceptions. The Steelers will also be missing stud running back Le’veon Bell who continues his holdout over his contract.

Tampa Bay has a chance to make a statement Monday in front of a national television audience that they are a team on the rise. One thing is for certain, Raymond James Stadium will be rocking Monday night. GO BUCS!!!

Meet the Bucs

Photo from deadspin.com

Would it be anyone else? Ryan Fitzpatrick was drafted in the 7th round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Drafted out of Harvard University, the journeyman quarterback would go on to play for 5 more teams before signing as a backup in 2017. His Harvard intelligence was on full display when Fitzpatrick scored a 48 out of a possible 50 points on the Wonderlic test. That record is the highest ever score for a quarterback. Fitzpatrick would take over starting duties for an injured Jameis Winston and would finish the Tampa Bay season with a 2-1 record. Fitzpatrick has started his 2018 season for a suspended Winston with a bang becoming NFC Offensive Player of the Week in week 1 and week 2. He also became the first QB to pass for 400 yards and throw 4 touchdowns in first two games of the season. If “Fitzmagic” continues on Monday night and Tampa Bay is 3-0, head coach Dirk Koetter is going to have a tough decision on his hands with Winston available to return from his suspension.

Follow me on Twitter @dynastydadmike for all things Tampa Bay and fantasy football advice. Also please follow @cleatgeeks for all things football.

Saints Facing Early Marque NFC South Match-Up Vs Falcons

Even for a long NFL season, each game is extremely important for 32 teams in the league. This Sunday will be an early marque NFC South rivalry matchup between the Atlanta Falcons (1-1) hosting the New Orleans Saints (1-1). Both teams are looking to continue their rebound losses from week 1 and make that push for the NFC South divisional title that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently on top of. The New Orleans Saints are usually efficient all-across the board on offense and defense. In week 1’s loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints defense to stop backup Quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald from scoring. The Saints would lose to the Bucs with a 48-40 score. The Saints almost lost to the Cleveland Browns because their offense couldn’t ignite a spark. The Saints were spared of an upset with a 21-18 victory because the Browns’ Kicker in Zane Gonzalez was horrendous with two field goals and two missed extra-points.

For the 5th straight season, the Saints have started out with an opening season loss including the last four seasons starting out at least 0-2. Last year, New Orleans did finish out the regular season with an 11-5 record including an NFC South divisional title. This Sunday, the Saints will need to have their entire team from the offense, defense, and special teams all play efficiently against this highly-talented Falcons team. There are many areas where the Saints must match systematically so they do not face a 0-2 record in the NFC South division race.

 

The Saints’ passing game must be the sole provider of points against this Falcons defense

With Running Back Mark Ingram still suspended for two more games due to PED substance abuse violations, the Saints are last (32nd) in the league in rushing yards per game (52.5). This isn’t a nod that RB Alvin Kamara isn’t ready for 1st string reps, but the Saints are trying out Kamara as an extra Receiver in the backfield. The Saints offense is ranked 6th in the league in points per game (30.5) and 4th in passing yards per game (322.5) but last week was a step back against the Browns defense. New Orleans is looking for more consistency in their passing game outside of WR Michael Thomas. In just two games this season, Thomas has accounted for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns on 28 receptions (an NFL record in two games). Despite Thomas being an elite Receiver in the league with elite Quarterback Drew Brees leading the helm, the Saints will need more impact from their other Receivers.

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Photo by; 247Sports

Falcons CB Robert Alford will try to lockdown Thomas along with a Linebacker or Safety in zone coverage. RB Alvin Kamara is the Saints’ 2nd top Receiver with 15 receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown. WR Ted Ginn Jr. has accounted for 9 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown but experiencing issues with his knee. Tommylee Lewis is listed on IR due to a knee injury and may not be back until week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles. This will leave TE Benjamin Watson, WR Austin Carr, and rookie WR Tre’Quan Smith not creating much of an impact. With Alford and a zone player in double-coverage on Michael Thomas and a talented Falcons D-Line and Linebackers reading Kamara in the backfield, the Saints other Receivers will need to step up to create or continue consistency for the Saints passing game. This is a Falcons defense that ranks 10th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (218.5).

 

Saints Offensive Line must play a huge part to create a high-power passing game

One of the biggest reasons for the Saints’ high-power offense, besides Brees and Thomas, is their consistent and efficient Offensive Line. Pro Football Focus ranked the Saints O-Line as the top performing Offensive Line unit in the league after only two weeks. 2nd year Ryan Ramczyk has been a solid blocker for the Saints since he was drafted in the 1st round (32nd selection) of the 2017 NFL Draft. This season, however, has been a huge boost for the Saints’ blindside pass protector in LT Terron Armstead has been incredible for the offense. Last week against the Browns was one of his best performances so far this season as he was graded 86.3 against DE Myles Garrett in pass protection.

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Photo By; Saints News Network

The Saints Offensive Line will have a huge task ahead of them against this Falcons defense that is looking for more pass rush. The Falcons defense is tied for 19th in the league in sacks accounted for with 4 total sacks. Falcons DE Takkarist McKinley has accounted for 2 total sacks so far this season but he hungry to put his name into the category of the top pass rushers in the league. The Saints also need to watch out for DE/OLB Vic Beasley Jr. and DT Grady Jarrett, who will be lined up over Saints G Andrus Peat.

 

The Saints Secondary will need to focus on the Falcons multi-talented Receiver Corp.

The Atlanta Falcons have a talented Receiving Corp of their own led by WR Julio Jones. The Falcons also made the addition of former Alabama Crimson Tide WR in Calvin Ridley, who was drafted in the 1st round (23rd pick) in the 2018 NFL Draft. Jones and Ridley, along with Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper makes a great set of targets for Quarterback Matt Ryan. This Falcons offense has not reached their full potential since they played two aggressive defenses in the Philadelphia Eagles and the Carolina Panthers so far this season. The Falcons are currently ranked 16th in passing yards per game (248.5) and 20th in points per game (21.5). In two games this season, Jones has accounted for 233 yards on 15 receptions (28 targets) but no touchdowns. This is likely to change as the Falcons Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian is still looking to have Jones create more of an impact in the red zone.

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The Saints star Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is performing like one of the most talented coverage players in the league after winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. Lattimore can lockdown Jones without extra help, the problem when facing the Falcons passing game is the other tools they have. On the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, Ridley can set up long-yard receptions and Sanu is an excellent provider of yards and first-downs as an inside receiver. The Saints will need consistent coverage from all their Defensive Backs and Linebackers in coverage.

This season, the Saints have not accounted for the same impact as they did last season. In two games, the Saints defense is ranked 30th in points allowed per game (33) and 29th in passing yards allowed per game (325.1). Last year through the first two games of the season, the Saints were dead last in passing defense and fixed it’s to be an above average defense. There will be time for the Saints defense to fix itself in the passing game, but it starts with the deep game with the Saints other Cornerback in Ken Crawley. Lattimore is a great Cornerback because he can cover in any range of yardage, but Crawley is mostly efficient in short-yardage. He is a Corner who can get beat deep through fast and explosive Receivers in the Vertical route. If the Saints want more efficiency in defending the pass, the Saints will either need better deep coverage from Crawley as the sole coverage player or put a Safety like Marcus Williams in support for a Falcons Receiver like Calvin Ridley.

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!

Saints Vs Divisional Foe Buccaneers

It was a long offseason for all the teams in the NFL since February. It was an especially long offseason for the New Orleans Saints since their NFC Divisional Round 29-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the Miracle of Minneapolis. One thing was determined last season was that they are back in the Super Bowl contenders after accounting for a 7-9 record in the 2016-2017 to accounting for 11-5 last season. The offense was always explosive with Head Coach Sean Payton and Quarterback Drew Brees leading the helm but the emergence of the defense was the turning point for the Saints. These past two NFL Drafts have been crucial for the Saints organization with the addition of many young and talented players.

With Super Bowl LIII in their sights, the New Orleans Saints have all the right characteristics and positions to be one of the few elite teams in the NFL. This task does not come easy though as they must face through a long season full of difficult opponents and potential roadblocks. The Saints kick their season off at home with an early NFC South divisional matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the Bucs are a team that has many flaws, they are certainly a tough opponent to face and stay efficient. In the last week of the regular season, the Saints had lockdown the NFC South division and a playoff spot but they lost to the Buccaneers 31-24. Every week is crucial for all teams as they look to start the 2018-2019 NFL season off the right way.

 

With Bucs QB Jameis Winston suspended, who do the Saints defense need to watch out for?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have many athletes on the offensive side of the ball that can make a difference. The Bucs are going to be without their franchise Quarterback Jameis Winston, who is currently serving a 3-game suspension from the NFL on his incident with a female Uber driver. This puts 36-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Bucs starting Quarterback for the first game against the Saints. This is Fitzpatrick’s second year with the Bucs but has not played a full game since his last season with the New York Jets in the 2016-2017 NFL season. One of the Bucs’ 2nd round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft in RB Ronald Jones (USC) is listed as the 3rd string back as he is not ready to start or take the majority of the carries. Short-yardage specialist Peyton Barber is listed as the starting Running Back for the Bucs. DeSean Jackson is not listed as the main Wide Receiver as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin is taking a lot of the reps in practice and in the preseason. Last season in his rookie season, Godwin accounted for 34 receptions for 525 yards and a touchdown.

Last season, Tamp Bay was ranked 9th in the NFL in total yards per game (363.5) but were also ranked 18th in points per game (20.9) due to inefficient ability to spread out the ball in the red zone. The Buccaneers’ 4th ranked passing game (272.9 yards per game) will take a hit due to Winston’s suspension. This will leave the Bucs to spread out more with Fitzpatrick to spread the ball against the Saints’ defense. 2017-2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the year in Saints star Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, now in his second season in the league, will have another highly-anticipated encounter with WR Mike Evans. Fitzpatrick is not a Quarterback who challenges the defense as often as Jameis Winston does. This will leave the Saints other Defensive Backs in Safety Marcus Williams and CB Ken Crawley to take the pressure on Bus WR in DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin. The Saints Linebackers in Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein have a huge task of them to cover multiple zones for receiver screens or screen to versatile Running Back Jacquizz Rodgers.

 

RB Alvin Kamara, WR Michel Thomas, and rookie WR Tre’Quan Smith to have huge performances

Even though Quarterback Drew Brees is the heart and soul of the Saints’ 4th scoring offense (28 points per game) and 2nd total offense (391.2 total yards per game), the Saints offense have a wide variety of explosive, young talent. 2017-2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the year RB Alvin Kamara was one of the biggest surprises last season as the most versatile and explosive playmakers in the NFL. Last season, Kamara accounted for 1,554 total yards (728 rushing, 826 receiving) and 13 touchdowns (8 rushing, 5 receiving) all as a backup. Kamara will have a chance to start the game as Mark Ingram will be suspended due to PED violations. He and the Saints talented Offensive Line, led by Tackles Andrus Peat and Ryan Ramczyk, will be facing a Tampa Bay defense that was ranked 23rd in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (117.5 yards). The Buccaneers did try to make their Defensive Line more efficient beyond one of the best Defensive Tackles in the league in Gerald McCoy with the addition of former Philadelphia Eagles DE Vinny Curry and rookie big-man DT Vita Vea. The Bucs, however, are going to be without Vea as he will be out with an injury.

New Orleans has been known to get on the board quickly through their efficient and tenacious passing game. Wide Receiver Michael Thomas has accounted for at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his two seasons in the league. The Saints added WR Tre’Quan Smith in the 3rd round (91st pick) in the 2018 NFL Draft to give QB Drew Brees another fast, deep-threat Receiver as well as relieve pressure from Thomas. So far in the preseason, Smith has been a mirror image of Michael Thomas in terms of speed, reliability as a Receiver for Brees, great hands, and durability to last throughout the entire game. This is a huge boost for the Saints offense, especially this week when they face off against the Tampa Bay defense that has yet to fix their problems in the Defensive Backs. Last season, the Buccaneers were ranked 32nd (dead last) in the league in total yards allowed per game (378.1) and passing yards allowed per game (260.6). This Saints offense, specifically in the passing game, can generate a high-amount of yardage, output, and points from this Buccaneers defense that will continue to have problems stopping high-power offenses. Kamara, Thomas, and Smith can all can create a lot of input for the Saints offense but don’t be surprised if you see Ted Ginn Jr. or new Saints Receiver Cameron Meredith tearing this defense apart.

New Orleans Makes Time-Efficient Trade For QB Teddy Bridgewater

There are many signs that an NFL team is going all-out for the upcoming 2018-2019 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints have made moves during the offseason to ensure their team would be even better than last year when they went 11-5. The Saints were one of the most surprising teams in the NFL last season and now they are attempting to add on to their highly talented team. Throughout all the positions they addressed either in the 2018 NFL Drafts, through trades, or through free agency, there is one position that the Saints feel they have not addressed properly. That was until on Wednesday, August 29th, the New Orleans Saints made a trade with the New York Jets for QB Teddy Bridgewater and a 6th round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft in exchange for a 3rd round in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Image result for teddy bridgewater saints

Photo by; The Advocate

Bridgewater is a 25-year old former 1st round selection from the Minnesota Vikings back in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was selected to be the franchise Quarterback for the team as he started immediately as a conservative passer without much of a talented Offensive Line unit. In his rookie year, he won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award as he threw for 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions on 259 completions (out of 402 attempts) with a 64.4% completion percentage. The following season was his first-ever Pro Bowl selection as he threw for 3,231 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions on 292 completions (on447 attempts) for a completion percentage of 65.3%. With only a few days before the 2016-2017 NFL season, Bridgewater tore his ACL and suffered more structural knee damage. He was originally projected to be out for 17-to-19 months. He did come back early to pass for 2 attempts late in the following 2017-2018 NFL season. The New York Jets acquired Bridgewater via free agency this offseason as he was going to start before they acquired QB Sam Darnold (USC) with the 3rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They then traded Bridgewater to New Orleans as Darnold had been the Quarterback they were looking for.

 

New Orleans gets a more productive and efficient backup Quarterback

While the Saints are high on 2nd-year veteran Quarterback/Special teams contributor in Taysom Hill, they feel more comfortable about having a more experienced and talented Quarterback as a backup in Bridgewater. This trade for the former Vikings starting Quarterback is a great fallback if the Saints starting Quarterback Drew Brees gets injured in a significant manner. Much like Nick Foles was for the Philadelphia Eagles behind starting Quarterback Carson Wentz last season, the Saints got Bridgewater to be the Quarterback to play immediately if Brees gets hurt and will take over the offense in an instant. The New Orleans Saints did not feel that if Brees were to go down with an injury, Tom Savage and Taysom Hill would not continue the high-power efficiency of the Saints offense that Brees lead. Last season, the Saints were ranked 4th in the nation in points per game (28), 5th in passing yards per game (263.5), and 5th in rushing yards per game (129.4).

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This addition by the Saints is not so much a statement against their current Quarterbacks in Savage and Hill but to get Bridgewater for a good asking price is too good to pass up. When healthy, Bridgewater is highly accurate, consistent, shows excellent, and is talented as a dual-threat player. Even if Brees isn’t injured, Bridgewater can provide the electrifying playmaking ability that Brees may not be able to support. This could be either a fast-paced offense or he brought could be brought out as a more diverse wildcat Quarterback instead of having RB Alvin Kamara at the shotgun position. Bridgewater is more than a running threat Quarterback under Head Coach Sean Payton’s offense. He has the leadership, IQ, and the passing tangibles to be an efficient Quarterback under Payton’s type of diverse and high-power offense. Bridgewater has the talent level of an NFL starting Quarterback as he was in a tough situation with Minnesota last season due to the fact he was still recovering his ACL tear and the three Quarterbacks that were playing. The Saints now feel that if their elite Quarterback in Drew Brees were to go down to a significant injury, Bridgewater will step in and keep the Saints on track to help lead the team to a Super Bowl appearance they are hungry for.

 

Teddy Bridgewater could potentially be the future franchise Quarterback

Even though Teddy Bridgewater has been brought in to the backup for the Saints this 2018-2019 NFL season, there are signs that he may be here for a bigger role. Bridgewater is currently on a 1-year deal when he signed with the New York Jets, so he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Head Coach Sean Payton, however, has stated that they would be to sign Bridgewater to a longer contract once they determine his performance and health from the 2015-2016 NFL season is back. Drew Brees is 39-years old and signed a 2-year deal with the Saints in the offseason. It is believed that Brees will retire his future Hall of Fame career from the NFL. Having a great Quarterback like Drew Brees starting with Bridgewater waiting will be a great learning experience so he could become the team’s future franchise Quarterback.

Image result for teddy bridgewater saints

Photo by; New York Post

The Saints did not select a Quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft and waited until a few days before the 2018-2019 NFL season to acquire a proper backup Quarterback that fits into their offensive system. Bridgewater is young, dynamic, smart, athletic, has a good arm, and has the leadership values to continue a young Saints offense either filling in for Drew Brees or after he departs from the NFL. Bridgewater can come into a system that fits into his style of play for the first time since he was playing college football at Louisville. Bridgewater will prove himself more this season by performing well in practices and then understanding the playbook. He might not get a lot of play on the field that isn’t filling in for Brees unless the Saints are winning by a large margin. Expect Bridgewater to make his push for the future franchise Quarterback position by staying healthy and building a strong relationship with Head Coach Sean Payton and Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael.

 

Conclusion – Saints make a great deal now and, in the future

Considering how healthy he can before the Saints, acquiring QB Teddy Bridgewater was a bold move considering how late in the off-season it is. Overall, the New Orleans Saints made an excellent deal, so they can win now and even win later if they play their cards right. Bridgewater is an NFL starting level Quarterback, who will show patience and knowledge, so he can be best prepared to impact the Saints organization as a backup/fill-in Quarterback to potentially becoming the team’s franchise leader within the next year or two. Fans will be eager to see Teddy Bridgewater in a Saints uniform, but they must also show patience as they don’t want to rush the process much like the Minnesota Vikings did during his rehab process. This will not be the last time you will signs to come for the Saints with Drew Brees in his last two years in the NFL and then Teddy Bridgewater happily taking over and becoming the NFL star he once was before his major ACL injury.

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