NFL 32: On The Clock – Tennessee Ttitans

The Titans are yet another outfit picking high in the draft following a disappointing 2013 campaign. On the face of it, a 7-9 record and second place in the AFC South is not such a bad performance – but this glosses over the fact that the division included the Texans and Jaguars, who both fared even worse. A slight improvement on 2012’s 6-10 record brought a fifth consecutive season without the playoffs and cost Mike Munchak his job. A series of eight losses in 10 games from week 5 (including two against division winners Indianapolis) cost them any chance of topping a weak division. More consistency is needed in 2014 to take the fight to a Colts team that is only going to get better in the coming years.

OFFENCE

Quarterback remains an issue in Tennessee. Is Jake Locker the man for the future? He had another season which was curtailed by injury and, beforehand, in which he showed more promise with 1256 yards, eight touchdowns and a passer rating of 86.7. In his absence, Ryan Fitzpatrick clocked up 2454 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 picks and a rating of 82. The role of starting QB for 2014 is still very much up for grabs. Chris Johnson failed to live up to his high standards, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry and, with 1077, nearly breaking the 1000 yard mark. Kendall Wright (94 catches for 1079) yards was the standout receiver, with Nate Washington (58 catches for 919 yards) and Delaine Walker (60 catches for 517 yards and six scores) providing the only real alternatives. Offensive improvement will be needed to make progress in an AFC which will include stronger Texans and Jaguars teams next season.

DEFENCE

The Titans ranked 16th in terms of points allowed and 14th in terms of total yardage. Not the worst in the league, but there is definitely plenty of room for improvement. Bernard Pollard (with 99) and Zach Brown (with 91) topped the charts in terms of tackles, but the standout players were undoubtedly Jurrell Casey (who racked up 10.5 sacks) and defensive back Alterraun Verner. Verner recorded a team high five picks (and a score) and a huge 23 passes defended. Only Pollard (with 10) also recorded double figures, whilst Derrick Morgan’s six sacks were second on the team. Tennessee will definitely need to improve on their low total of just 13 interceptions to become more competitive next year.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Leon Washington averaged 30.1 yards per kick off return, including a 95 yard return that somehow failed to make it into the End Zone! He outperformed Darius Reynaud on kick off and punt returns, but no Titan managed a return touchdown. Brett Kern will need better than a punt average of 43.4 to feel secure in his job, whilst kicker Rob Bironas managed to convert 86.2% of his Field Goals, missing only one of less than 40 yards.

COACHING

After three years at the helm, Head Coach Mike Munchak paid for a lack of progress in terms of reaching the postseason with his job. The first appointment after the death of owner Bud Adams saw the Titans appoint former Cardinals’ Head Coach and Chargers’ Offensive Coordinator Ken Wisenhunt to the role. Wisenhunt has one clear objective – get the Titans to the playoffs! Improving the defence, whilst adding more consistency at quarterback (and offensively in general), are the rather large obstacles that stand in his way.

DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS

One of the biggest threats to defensive improvement is the fact that star cornerback Verner is a Free Agent who will attract envious glances from many other teams around the League. The Titans may be forced to use the franchise tag on Verner, or risk losing him to one of the many other teams who have both cap room and the need to improve their secondary. Pollard is also a Free Agent; if they both leave then reinforcements in the secondary will be badly needed. These are by far the two highest profile potential casualties; expect the Titans to try hard to keep one, if not both of them.
Even if both players are resigned, Wisenhunt will be looking for reinforcements at safety, whilst pass rushing support for Casey is a must in terms of putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The biggest question hanging over Tennessee is that of quarterback. Wisenhunt must decide if Locker or Fitzpatrick can be the answer. If not, he will need to look to Free Agency or the draft to give him more options. Don’t be surprised if more competition is added for the current incumbents to try to ensure the highest level of play from such as key position.
With Johnson’s poor season fresh in the memory, a running back may also be picked up in the later rounds of the draft.

NFL 32: On The Clock – Buffalo Bills

The Bills, like Jacksonville, are in a period of rebuilding under a new Head Coach. Like the Jaguars, they will disappointed with their final record in 2013. Their 6-10 record under Doug Marrone matched their 2012 tally and resulted in a 14th consecutive season without playoff football. There are some signs of optimism in Buffalo however and, unlike the Jaguars, they feel they have a quarterback to take them forward in 2013 first round pick E.J.Manuel. At one stage they sat at 3-4 and in a position to fight for a playoff spot, but then injuries hit and helped contribute to a run that brought just one win in six games and effectively ended hopes of the postseason. But with two wins over rivals Miami (including a 19-0 shutout victory) there were positives to be taken from the year.

OFFENCE

Manuel missed several games with a knee injury, hampering his development in his rookie year. Thad Lewis performed well in his absence, but when he went down injured the Bills were forced to use third string Jeff Tuel (who struggled badly and put up a passer rating of just 45.1 thanks to three picks and a 44.1% completion percentage. Manuel’s rating of 77.7 is an encouraging start. 1972 yards and an 11-9 touchdown to interception ratio shows promise of more to come. Lewis proved himself to be a capable deputy. C.J. Spiller (927 yards at 4.6 yards per carry) and Fred Jackson (896 at 4.3) shared duties at running back. Spiller was less effective than he had been in 2012, but the Bills still managed to put up 2307 yards on the ground. Only Scott Chandler (53 catches for 655 yards) and Steve Johnson (52 for 597) surpassed 50 receptions on the year. Will the Bills look for a weapon to help Manuel in the passing game next year?

DEFENCE

The loss of Defensive Co-ordinator Mike Pettine to the Head Coaching job in Cleveland is a blow to the Bills’ development plans. Their defence ranked 10th in the NFL in allowing just 333.4 yards per game but 20th in points allowed (averaging 24.2 per game). This will need to be addressed in 2014. Rookie Kiko Alonso was the undisputed star of the unit, with his 159 tackles, four picks and two sacks putting him in elite company amongst defensive players. Leodis McKelvin excelled in defending 2 passes and the pass rush provided13 sacks from Mario Williams, 10.5 in the form of Kyle Williams, 10 from Jerry Hughes and a further 7.5 from Marcell Dareus. This contributed to an impressive 57 total team sacks. 89 passes defended and 23 interceptions suggest both a secondary able to play and a team that was passed on a lot during the season!

SPECIAL TEAMS

Dan Carpenter proved reliable in hitting 91.7% of his Field Goal attempts, but on the return unit no players excelled. Brian Moorman and Shawn Powell combined for a net average of 38 yards per punt; this will need improving in 2014.

COACHING

Marrone has been given time by the Bills’ ownership to stamp his mark on the franchise. His first season showed signs of promise and he would have been frustrated at the injury problems suffered at quarterback. An improvement to .500 will be needed this time around. Anything less could see him looking anxiously over his shoulder come Black Monday.

DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS

Buffalo risks losing some high profile players in Free Agency. Safety Jarius Byrd could well be off to pastures new, as could his fellow safety Jim Leonhard. These two combined for 1280 snaps last year. Tight End Chandler and kicker Carpenter are others who the Bills will probably look to sign to new deals.
With the quarterback position secure, the Bills can look at other areas in the offseason. If either Bryd or Leonhard (or both) leave then a safety would be a priority. Help on the offensive line, especially at tackle, could well be addressed in the draft. The Bills may well be tempted to look at an impact receiver to help their offence and Manual in particular as they try to improve the depth and quality in their roster. They may also look for a defensive end to complement an already strong pass rush.

NFL 32: On The Clock – Houston Texans

The Houston Texans were undoubtedly one of the surprise teams of 2013 season; unfortunately for them it was for all the wrong reasons. Tipped as potential Super Bowl candidates prior to the season (following a 12-4 record in 2012), the Texans imploded to finish 2013 at 2-14 on the back of a 14 game losing streak. 2013 will not be remembered fondly in Houston.

OFFENCE

Houston’s main problems came on the offensive side of the ball and stemmed from their play at quarterback and injury limiting the participation of star running back Arian Foster. Although Ben Tate (771 yards at 4.3 yards per carry) stepped up to deputise adequately for Foster, the rotation at quarterback was not an effective strategy this year. Matt Schaub started the season as the man in possession and proceeded to set an NFL record of four consecutive games with an interception returned for a touchdown. When he was injured in week 5, replacement TJ Yates continued the trend with a ‘pick 6’ of his own. Undrafted Case Keenum then took over the starting job from Schaub, showing promise in patches yet ultimately unable to pull off a much needed victory. Schaub threw for 2310 yards, 10 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a rating of 73.0 during the season. Keenum contributed 1760 yards, nine touchdowns, 6 picks and a rating of 78.2. At wide receiver, Andre Johnson (109 catches for 1407 yards) and rookie DeAndre Hopkins (52 catches for 802 yards) were the main threats, yet Johnson’s team leading five scores tells the story of the Texans’ season.

DEFENCE

The Texans ranked seventh in the NFL on defence in terms of yards allowed per game, averaging just 317.6. They were not so string in terms of points allowed per game, yet some of this must be put in the hands of Schaub and his string of pick 6s! Although falling short of 2012’s heroics, JJ Watt managed to rack up 10.5 sacks and was ranked among the top Defensive Ends in the league. The loss of linebacker Brain Cushing to a second serious knee injury against the Chiefs in week 7 impacted heavily on their effectiveness and with just seven interceptions and four fumbles recovered, there is room for improvement in terms of the turnover differential in 2014.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Keshawn Martin had one punt return for a touchdown and averaged 26.3 on kick off returns. The Texans allowed just one punt return against them all season. Kicker Randy Bullock’s Field Goal success rate of 74.3% could leave him looking for alternative employment in the off season.

COACHING

The Texans moved early to try to rectify the problems of 2013, sacking coach Gary Kubiak after their 11th successive loss in week 14 (to Jacksonville). Former Penn State Head Coach and New England Patriots Offensive Co-ordinator Bill O’Brien was the first new appointment for the 2014 season and has inherited a roster that, with some smart moves in the draft and Free Agency, has the potential to be turned around quickly. Foster, Johnson, Hopkins and Tight End Owen Daniels are all significant weapons on offence and any defence that can call on the talents of Watt and a (hopefully) rehabilitated Cushing can cause other teams problems. Don’t be surprised to see O’Brien have the Texans challenging again next year.

DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS

Houston are in the enviable position of holding the first overall pick for the 2104 draft. Much of what they do here depends on how O’Brien views the quarterback position in both the short and long term. If he feels that Schaub or Keenum are the answer then the Texans could chose to trade down and pick up a host of picks in exchange for their first selection. A more likely scenario would see Schaub being cut/traded and a new signal caller selected, most probably Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. Beyond the quarterback position, help on the offensive line (especially at Tackle) and in the secondary are areas that need strengthening. Defensive Lineman Antonio Smith and running back Tate could be two of the more high profile Free Agency departures. Much of the shape of the 2014 draft will depend on how Houston decide to proceed with their first pick. Watch this space!

Jordan’s Serial: NFL 2013 – Week 2 Takeaways

Week 2 wasn’t too far removed from its predecessor. There were lots of close finishes, some high scoring and big plays. There were a few upsets along the way, as well as the favoured teams making some big noise. Here is a quick recap of what happened in the second week of the 2013 season.

JETS 10 PATRIOTS 13

Notch this one up as a win for the rain. Neither team could move the ball with great efficiency due to the torrid conditions that made the game a dour spectacle. The NEW YORK JETS will probably see this game as one that slipped away, they managed to keep the NEW ENGLAND offense off the field long enough to give themselves a shot. An off target Geno Smith put paid to any hint of an upset.

RAMS 24 FALCONS 31

After a strong outing in week one, St. LOUIS had a rude awakening against ATLANTA finding themselves down big early. Just as last week though the Rams proved they are made of strong stuff and saw a comeback just fall short. The Falcons were back to their 2012 guise and when they are in full flow will once again prove hard to stop.

CHARGERS 33 EAGLES 30

The team that always finds a way to lose did just the opposite. SAN DIEGO hung in and in a game that they were never behind in finally got the win their play deserved. PHILADELPHIA were stung by a fast start but got their fast-groove on and kept coming back to keep the visitors second guessing themselves. In the end Philip Rivers & Co. had the answer.

COWBOYS 16 CHIEFS 17

If were honest with ourselves we kind of saw this coming. This is just the sort of game that DALLAS continuously slips up on, but in this case it’s doing KANSAS CITY an injustice. The Chiefs played a fine game, taking and making the most of chances given to them and ones they earned. Could the Cowboys have won this game? Sure, but they weren’t assertive or creative enough. Chiefs have now equalled their win total for last season. Dark Horse? (I’ll keep using that one until it pays off)

DOLPHINS 24 COLTS 20

A lot was said about MIAMI during preseason that they could be the surprise package this year. Well after a routine win in week one, they backed it up with a solid outing in INDIANAPOLIS. This could go down as a shock result, the Colts at home with Andrew Luck at the helm have grown into a solid playoff calibre team. Time will tell if the Dolphins can prove the “experts” right.

TITANS 24 TEXANS 30

Another nail biter of a win for HOUSTON. After digging one out last Monday night, they had to pool on all their resources again to outfight a TENNESSEE team that looked like they might pull off an upset. The Titans will see this as one that got away but will gain confidence from the way they played. Probably too much for them to do already given that they are now 2 games out of the division lead but could play spoiler.

REDSKINS 20 PACKERS 38

GREEN BAY were hot early and stopped the Redskins from doing anything worthwhile on its first 8 series. By the time the Packers were 31-0 up and the game was effectively over, WASHINGTON started (or at least were allowed) to play. The Redskins tackling was non-existent and they have the distinction of being the first team since 1967 to have yielded over 1,000 yards. The Packers power display puts them firmly on the map for NFC title contention.

BROWNS 6 RAVENS 14

Not to suggest that CLEVELAND aren’t a good football team but for a long time they were 6-0 up and heading towards an almighty scalp. BALTIMORE needed this though and were not going to be denied and 2 late scores righted any potential wrongs. The mere fact that the Browns ran the current champions close will be further proof that the AFC North division is as wide open as…the NFC East?

PANTHERS 23 BILLS 24

The nearly men of week one backed up that display with a stunning come from behind win this week. This BUFFALO team really could be the Dark Horse I mention so often. The AFC East will be fiercely played out. EJ Manuel was the hero with his winning TD pass with just 2 ticks remaining. CAROLINA once again has to lick their wounds and regroup, they haven’t done too much wrong so far this year and the 0-2 record doesn’t show the real story.

VIKINGS 30 BEARS 31

A wild game that almost had two back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns to start proceedings, it was only fitting then that CHICAGO won the game in the closing moments to move ahead in the NFC North. Stranger things have happened but Jay Cutler is starting to be a clutch QB. Who’d have thought that? MINNESOTA will feel unlucky to be 0-2 and need to get a W on the board soon or this could be another false dawn in their franchise history.

SAINTS 16 BUCCANEERS 14

A shocker of an ending for TAMPA BAY. They controlled this one throughout and should have sealed it with a field goal in the closing moments. The kick missed and you don’t give the NEW ORLEANS offense any chance to think they may get a shot. The Buccaneers now have the distinction of being the only team in NFL history to have lost games by field goals in the last 5 seconds of their opening two games.

LIONS 21 CARDINALS 25

A fast start by DETROIT and in particular Calvin Johnson was eventually pegged back by a resolute ARIZONA. Make no mistake this Cardinals team can play hard on both sides of the ball and may just surprise some of the teams in the NFC West. Detroit will be wondering how this lost this one, and will want to bounce back straight away before they fall too far out of sight in the North.

JAGUARS 9 RAIDERS 19

If you want a confidence boost in the NFL you simply play JACKSONVILLE. They helped make a very ordinary OAKLAND team look like playoff contenders. So that may be doing the Raiders a slight injustice, after all you still have to execute your game plan, which they did and almost managed to keep the Jags out of the end zone in doing so. The Jaguars did get a TD in garbage time and things don’t get easier this week at the Seahawks. That could get ugly in a hurry.

BRONCOS 41 GIANTS 23

For a while the Manning Bowl was a contest, in fact the New Yorkers could have been forgiven for thinking that they may just pull this one off. Three TD’s in just under six minutes put paid to that. Peyton beat Eli, again. DENVER got over 40 points, again. Some perspective here, as good as Denver were, the NEW YORK GIANTS were bad. Denver will lose this season (bold prediction?) but not this week on Monday Night Football.

49ERS 3 SEAHAWKS 29

The biggest matchup of the weekend and it didn’t disappoint. Well in terms of closeness in scoreline it did. At 5-0 and an hour’s rain delay because of lightning, SEATTLE finally got their rhythm. It’s taken a while but the 2013 Seahawks are here, and boy doesn’t SAN FRANCISCO know it. This isn’t the end of the season and the Niners will still end up winning more than they lose but for now Seattle have a serious edge on their closest rivals.

STEELERS 10 BENGALS 20

PITTSBURGH is in trouble. Not just because they are 0-2, but because they cannot move the football. In anyone’s book that spells trouble in the NFL. They really are in uncharted territory and Coach Tomlin has his biggest challenge yet in solving their problems. CINCINNATI however will see this as the first piece in them realising that they do have the talent to challenge in the AFC. It wasn’t an outstanding performance, but one in which they did what they had to do.

Jordan’s Serial: NFL 2013 – Week 1 Takeaways

After an age of waiting, the 2013 NFL season finally got under way last weekend; and it didn’t disappoint.

As expected, there was the first day settling down period as the some of the rust still had to be shaken off, but once teams settled down and nestled into their playbooks, the touchdowns started to flow and the tackling was as ferocious as before.

So what stood out in the first round of games? Who, or what, were the talking points? Here’s a game-by-game quick hit summary, and what we can take away from Week One.

RAVENS 27 BRONCOS 49

DENVER showed exactly why they were many experts pick to win it all. Peyton Manning was on a mission and his record-tying 7 touchdown passes has sent out exactly the right message to the rest of the League. BALTIMORE will lick their wounds and comeback fighting. It’s what they do right? They did play quite well and were just outgunned on the night by an unstoppable Peyton.

PATRIOTS 23 BILLS 21

Another comeback for Tom Brady and NEW ENGLAND, that’s his gazillionth of his career and another reason why you can’t count these guys out. Brady is playing with arguably his weakest set of offensive weapons, but still got the job done against a BUFFALO side that showed that they will be a team that can cause a few problems for many teams. Dark Horse for a playoff spot? Ask me next week.

TITANS 16 STEELERS 9

This was the shock of the week. Not so much the fact that TENNESSEE won the game, but the manner in which they did it. You don’t just go into PITTSBURGH and shut them out, and yes, they didn’t quite get that on the scoreboard, in essence though the Titans did just that. This proves that the Steelers are in transition, something we had a feeling about all summer.

FALCONS 17 SAINTS 23

You just somehow sensed that when Coach Peyton was back on the sidelines all would be OK again in NEW ORLEANS, and so it proved. It was as if he had never been away. A rough riding defence did enough to keep Matt Ryan’s ATLANTA at bay and score a vital division win. The Saints will always score points when Drew Brees is under centre, to beat them you just have to outscore them (obviously).

BUCCANEERS 17 JETS 18

Not many had this one down as a nail-biting, last minute field goal winning type of game, but it transpire to be one of the games of the week. TAMPA BAY seemed to be in control, even when they weren’t (if that makes sense), so they were as shocked as most watching when rookie Geno Smith led NEW YORK JETS to a comeback win of his own. Has this story got legs? The Jets circus travels to another town this week.

CHIEFS 28 JAGUARS 2

New sheriff in town and his new deputy didn’t let him down. Coach Andy Reid was always in a win-win situation going to KANSAS CITY. The change of scenery was always going to do him the world of good, and this was the shot in the arm the Chiefs needed. Alex Smith executed the game plan well and left JACKSONVILLE wondering how exactly they managed to get 2 points. Answers to that one on a postcard. Do they still make postcards?

SEAHAWKS 12 PANTHERS 7

“Phew, how did we do that?!” was the phrase heard around the SEATTLE locker room after this one. No? Well it should have been. After being held by CAROLINA for the first 3 quarters of the game, they finally came to life and pulled this W out the bag, but they had to give that bag a good old rummage through. Any sign of a slow start this week will see them on the end of a beating, but then they have got the 12th man.

BENGALS 21 BEARS 24

Two playoff hopefuls played out a playoff type game. CHICAGO weren’t favoured in this one, up against a fancied CINCINNATI team. AJ Green had a huge day for the Bengals with 162 yards receiving in a losing effort. What will he produce in a winning game? Coach Trestman will take great confidence from this result and look to build this coming weekend. NFC Dark Horse anyone?

DOLPHINS 23 BROWNS 10

Another entertaining game. Two second year QB’s that are maturing nicely in their roles played out a competitive closely fought game. MIAMI will need to improve the run game if they want to put up more wins, 20 net yards gained from 23 plays just doesn’t cut it. CLEVELAND can and will improve, they have a young team that will fight for each other and they are in a division where eight wins could win it, so they will consider themselves in with a chance.

VIKINGS 24 LIONS 34

BOOM! Adrian Peterson went 78 yards on MINNESOTA’s first play from scrimmage, and so the tone of the day was set. It wasn’t the running of AP that would be the talk of the day though, in fact he would only go on to gain 15 more yards on the ground all game. The day belonged to DETROIT new boy Reggie Bush, his 90 yards on the ground and 101 through the air was the main reason why the Lions got this win.

RAIDERS 17 COLTS 21

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Andrew Luck steered his INDIANAPOLIS team to a win, however this wasn’t the scheduled walk in the park that it was meant to be. OAKLAND were down 14-0 early on looked to be on their way to another big defeat. Then rookie QB Terrelle Pryor orchestrated his own comeback that stirred the emotions of Raiders Nation. A false dawn? Time will tell.

PACKERS 28 49ERS 34

We know he can run, and now we have further prove that he can pass. The cannon of an arm that SAN FRANCISCO QB Colin Kaepernick was put to full use and he had a career high 412 yards, this helped shoot down the GREEN BAY team that even Aaron Rodgers, having a more than decent day himself (333 yards) could not keep pace with. Even at this early stage you get the feeling that these two could meet again in late January.

CARDINALS 24 RAMS 27

ST.LOUIS last year had the best division record within the NFC West. They are already 1-0 there this year after a wild game against ARIZONA. New Cards QB Carson Palmer had a great day but his interception towards the end of the game sealed the win for the Rams. Should the big two in the West slip up, the Rams could well be there to pick up the scraps. Coach Fisher has them playing hard on defence, and that could be a difference maker down the stretch.

GIANTS 31 COWBOYS 36

This game should have been out of NEW YORK’s reach early on as the DALLAS D created turnovers on the Giants first three offensive series. Their failure to put big numbers on the scoreboard meant that the Giants were able to keep things close. Dallas got 6 takeaways in total, the final one being the nail in the coffin, just when Eli Manning looked to have his team in a winning position. Hard to read too much into this win but the Cowboys will be pleased with their all-round team effort.

EAGLES 33 REDSKINS 27

In the first half the PHILADELPHIA offence had run more plays, 53, than RG3 had pass yards. It was a breathless first half which came as a shock especially as WASHINGTON grabbed the early momentum with a huge fumble return for a touchdown. Coach Kelly did admit after the game that perhaps he took his foot off the gas too early as the Redskins slowly bought themselves back into the game. Does this mean that this high speed offense will be played out for the duration of a game? B-U-R-N-O-U-T.

TEXANS 31 CHARGERS 28

How do they do it? Not HOUSTON, although their come from behind win was one of wonder and great team ethics. No, the story of yet another SAN DIEGO meltdown when seemingly in cruise control grabbed the headlines. This would have been a huge morale boosting win, and at 28-7 up the win was theirs, but the never say attitude of the Texans meant that the Chargers faithful were walking from their seats before Randy Bullock’s 41-yard field goal split the uprights.