NFL 32: On the Clock – New York Jets

The Jets’ season suffered a big blow in pre-season, when Mark Sanchez went down with a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season. Thrust into the limelight earlier than he would have expected, rookie Geno Smith endured a difficult first season. That the Jets were able to rally from a 5-7 record to win three of their last four games and finish at 8-8 speaks of the character that Rex Ryan is able to call on amongst his troops. Ultimately a run of five defeats in seven games cost the Jets the final Wild card and a place in the postseason; something that they will look to improve on heading into 2014.

OFFENCE

With no Sanchez, the focus fell firmly on rookie Smith. With seven games in which the offence posted 14 points or less, scoring enough points to win was a problem to contend with. Smith’s 3046 yards showed his promise, but 12 touchdowns compared to 21 picks and a rating of just 66.5 serve to highlight his struggles. A run of five games without a touchdown passes in the middle of the season adds to the evidence of offensive problems. Smith was not helped, however, by the lack of weapons he was provided with. Only Jeremy Kerley (with 43) managed more than 40 catches with Santonio Holmes managing a mere 23 grabs all season. With only 13 passes thrown all year, the four hauled in by Jeff Cumberland lead a disappointing total. More weapons are needed in the passing game in 2014. On the ground, Chris Ivory racked up 833 yards at 4.6 yards per carry and Bilal Powell managed 697 yards at 4 yards per carry. Smith himself showed that he is part of the group of modern ‘mobile’ quarterbacks with 366 yards at 5.1 yards per attempt. But for the Jets to improve in 2014, there is huge room for improvement offensively.

DEFENCE

Defensively, the Jets ranked 11th in the NFL in allowing 334.9 yards per game and 19th in allowing 387 points (at 24.2 per game). David Harris (124), DeMario Davis (107) and Dawan Landry (100) all racked up triple digit tackle totals whilst Muhammad Wilkerson (with 10.5) and Calvin Pace (with 10) provided an effective pass rush. Rookie Sheldon Richardson was particularly effective against the run in the centre of the defensive line. In the secondary, cornerback Dee Milliner justified the faith that the Jets had shown by drafting him ninth in the draft in picking off three passes and defending a further 17. The Jets did, however, give up 4189 yards through the air and Milliner will need some support in order to make them a tougher proposition to beat in 2014, especially with two games against Tom Brady and the Patriots to overcome in their division.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The fact that kicker Nick Folk was awarded the franchise tag emphasis his importance to the team. He connected with 91.7% of his 36 Field Goal attempts over the course of the season. Punters Ryan Quigley and Robert Malone combined for a net average of 39.7 yards per punt and the Jets may look to improve this area. Josh Cribbs averaged 24.5 yards per kick return and shared punt return duties with Kerley.

COACHING

There was much speculation over the future of Rex Ryan during the season, but he will still be in place as Head Coach for the 2014 season. At one point Ryan himself seemed to be expecting to leave, but he remains committed to improving his team going into next season. Progress could lead to him keeping his job but regression would almost certainly leave him looking for alternative employment for the 2015 season.

DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS

The need for offensive weapons in the passing game is huge. Adding former Bronco Eric Decker at wide receiver and bringing in Michael Vick at quarterback should both help in this respect, but the Jets still need to add weapons, especially with the cutting of Santonio Holmes put into that equation. Expect Ryan to look to exploit the depth at this position in the draft by adding at least one new target for Vick/Smith to exploit.Help on the offensive line will also be a priority, with whoever is starting at quarterback needing greater protection to be able to try to move the ball though the air and, as stated above, the secondary will also be addressed via the draft. Milliner will start on one side, but with Antonio Cromartie now plying his trade in Arizona there is a hole to fill on the other side of the defence. This is almost certain to be another area that will be identified for improvement via the draft in May.

NFL Honours: Rookies of the Year

Lauren Draper-Wood continues to cast her eye over the talent recognised for their outstanding play this past season, today its the turn of the leagues first timers.

AP Offensive: Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

Packers RB Eddie Lacy bulldozed his way to the Rookie of the Year award receiving more than double the votes than Chargers WR Keenan Allen (35 votes to 12). Allen won the rookie accolade voted for by the fans, but for the American Press award there was really no comparison. Had I been voting, I wouldn’t have hesitated in marking Lacy my winner.

Keenan Allen undoubtedly had a fantastic year; with 8 TD’s and an impressive 69.7 yards per game there will be a number of teams kicking themselves for passing over the rookie who wasn’t drafted until the third round. Allen provided the gloss to a Chargers team with the solid foundations of QB Phillip Rivers and RB Ryan Mathews.

The reason that Lacy perhaps won so effusively was the fact he carried a Packers team through a substantial stretch without their MVP QB Aaron Rodgers. His performances were backed up statistically too. With 11 touchdowns only the Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles and Beastmode (Marshawn Lynch) scored more than the rookie. The Packers undoubtedly looked to Lacy more without Rodgers arm to punish sides; the young RB delivered effectively finishing 5th in the league for attempts and 8th in rushing yards and yards per game. For a franchise that for a long time has been dependant on the arm of their QB, Lacy has added a much welcomed dimension to the side. The new season will be met with excitement by Packers fans that will go into the New Year with a genuine dual threat from both Rodgers through the air and Lacy on the ground. Watch out NFC opponents.

AP Defensive: Sheldon Richardson, DE, New York Jets

Jets DE Sheldon Richardson received the Rookie of the Year award at this weekend’s NFL Honours. Bills player Kiko Alonso was Richardson’s only potential rival to the award with 4 votes less- no other player received more than 4 votes. Richardson and Alonso featured on defences that ranked 19th and 20th in the league this year. So what is it about them that drew plaudits? Richardson displays an engine that never waivers and alongside Texans JJ Watt, is possibly the best in the league at stopping the run.

Richardson statistically finished well with 3.5 sacks and 77 combined tackles, but it was Kiko Alonso who had the more impressive figures and would’ve gotten my vote. Alonso had a huge 159 combined tackles and two sacks. The Bills had once again a disappointing season, but remarkably their defence finished in the top 5 of passing yards allowed- a stat that has to be attributed to Alonso’s influence. Richardson did indeed put in an impressive rookie season, but Alonso is a more complete player with technical ability alongside natural athleticism. Going forward I’d expect to see Alonso develop into a name continually linked with defensive awards.

Last year’s winner Luke Kuechly a year younger than Richardson followed up his rookie win by taking the defensive honour this year. A precedent has now been set, can Richardson go into next season and repeat Kuechly’s impressive achievement?

Get it White Special – Super Bowl Prediction

Earlier on today Mike gave us his run down on both the Broncos and Seahawks and gave us some thought on what each team needs to do to win the big game in a few hours time.

Now he gives you his final verdict as to who will win and why.


It’s going to be intense out there, and I think it could end up being an extremely tight 60 minutes of football in New Jersey. Surprisingly, the Denver defence could end up being more important to their chances of success than their offense, as stopping Marshawn Lynch is imperative.

Terrance Knighton is a star in the making and if he and the rest of the front seven can have another monster game, his place among the league’s best may well be cemented with a ring. Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense, even against a defence as strong as Seattle’s, should be able to score 20 points, giving his defence a chance to keep up its recent good work. Expect a fairly heavy workload for the two running backs, both on the ground and on screen passes and short, quick routes over the middle: this will be the best way for Manning to shake off some pressure. No, he does not have ‘happy feet’, he’ll just have to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.

As for the Seahawks, if they play to the best of their ability, I think they can provide the Broncos with their nightmare matchup. A tough pass D with some great pass rush and an offense with a mobile QB and some big play ability: Percy Harvin, if healthy, could provide a huge x-factor in this one. RB Lynch has been Seattle’s best player on offense, and if he can get his wheels churning, it will be difficult for the Broncos to exert any degree of control on the game. The matchup between Richard Sherman and Demayrius Thomas is going to be fun to watch after all of the jawing that’s been going on in the run up to the game, while Bobby Wagner trying to take Julius Thomas’ head off over the middle will be a spectacle too. The Hawks will play violent come Sunday, and it’ll be up to the Broncos’ mental toughness, and of course the tolerance of the refereeing crew, to hold out.

The main thing I’m looking at here is that Seattle won’t change the way they play for Denver, but the Broncos will try to add new wrinkles and new variations to their gameplan to find a way through this wall of a defense. While this isn’t anything particularly new or worrying for Peyton Manning, as someone who is infamous for his meticulous planning and time-consuming tape-watching, it just means that they have less time to master the smaller things in the playbook. It’s going to be tight, make no mistake, but the Seahawks have been working on the same things all year: being tough to beat, opportunistic and intimidating, as if they knew it would come down to this exact matchup: they’ve been designed to win this.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 23-20 DENVER BRONCOS

Get it White Special – Super Bowl Preview: Denver Broncos

Super Bowl XLVIII Preview

23:30 – MetLife Stadium, New Jersey

For the first time in a long time, NFL fans will be treated to a Super Bowl between the two best teams in the league: the #1 ranked offense in Peyton Manning’s Broncos, and the league’s #1 ranked defence, led by trash talking Richard Sherman. It’ll be a clash of styles and ideologies, both as successful as one another, but we will have to wait a little longer to find out if defence really does win championships, or whether the NFL has changed to a high-powered offense dominated league.

I can’t help but think that this could be one of the most attritional, evenly matched season-enders of all time, and I’m really looking forward to the battle. Who knows, it could even be snowing, raining, hailing or blowing a gale come Sunday night: football is a game that should be played outside, so it’s only right that the biggest game in all of football is played in view of the elements.

So let’s take a journey through each team’s strengths and weaknesses, and find out what they have to do to win the game, starting with the explosive Denver Broncos.

It is plainly obvious that this team revolves around the future hall-of-fame QB Peyton Manning, and it has been so successful for Denver this season. Almost 5,500 yards and 55 touchdowns equals arguably the best season an NFL Quarterback has ever put together, and especially at the age of 37, Manning has answered every critic. Playing in the cold against big-time pass rushes and top class secondary’s has posed no problem for Peyton this year, when many thought he couldn’t possibly perform at the ‘Indy standard’ of old.

Manning’s list of targets is as long as Calvin Johnson’s arm: Wes Welker, Demayrius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno, Jacob Tamme. That’s not including the rest of the step-ins on the offensive side of the roster who have played their part as the season has gone on. No matter how good the Seahawks’ secondary is, they will struggle to keep every target quiet, Manning will find someone open.

On the other side of the ball, the Broncos’ defense has made some real strides recently: stopping the run when it mattered and pressuring the QB. DT Terrance Knighton has been a wrecking ball in the last few weeks, and if he can keep his level up, the Hawks will find it hard to keep him from fighting his considerable way into the backfield. Obviously Von Miller is a big miss for this team, but they seem to have rallied together as a unit to raise their performance to a very good level, especially in shutting down the Patriots’ power running game in the AFC Championship.

But the Broncos aren’t a perfect machine, their safety play leaves a lot to be desired, and their linebackers can be picked on in pass coverage. Even the legendary older Manning brother isn’t infallible: he has a habit of throwing interceptions at bad times, although he hasn’t done so recently. Is one due? Injuries have also taken away quite a few starters for Denver, especially on the defence, and they will be hoping that their squad players and backups can step up and play at the top level when it matters the most.

To win the Super Bowl, the Broncos will have to do two main things: run the football well and stop the opposition doing just that. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball have a massive role to play for the AFC Champs, they have to grind out the tough yards between the tackles to stop the Denver offense from becoming one-dimensional, allowing the Seahawks’ big corners to pressure their receivers and force mistakes from Manning. They will also have to be available for quick passes and short dump-offs when nothing is open downfield, otherwise Manning will be throwing into danger all night.

Defensively, they have to keep up their good play against the run whilst remaining disciplined in their gaps and zones, just in case Russell Wilson decides to take off. They need to fix him in the pocket and pressure him, so that he has to throw into tight coverage provided by Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at corner. If they can stop Marshawn Lynch from rushing for 80+ yards, the Broncos will give themselves a huge chance of lofting the Lombardi Trophy.

Later on today Mike will give you his thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks, before giving his verdict on the big game itself.

Hail Mary: Broncos dominate Patriots to advance to Super Bowl

It wasn’t quite the game we were expecting but the Denver Broncos, who have been dominant all year long, booked their place in the Super Bowl with a dominant 26-16 win over the New England Patriots.

The final score didn’t do the Broncos any justice as they never let the Patriots get their run game going and stifled Tom Brady in his passing, the Broncos outgained the Patriots 507-320 in total yards, and it would have been more but for New England’s desperate attempt to come back late on in the game.

Matt Prater kicked the first of his four field goals in the game to open the scoring, this was the only score of the first quarter. After a slow start from both offences, the Broncos led by record breaking Peyton Manning, got the first touchdown of the game through Jacob Tamme, a 1 yard pass reception. The teams then traded field goals to end the half, the Broncos leading 13-3. The game far from over despite Denver’s superiority.

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Denver got the ball first in the second half and took half the time off the third quarter clock as the drove the length of the field. Demaryius Thomas hauled in a 3 yard toss from Manning to extend the lead and land a big body blow on the Patriots. We’ve seen big comebacks before from Brady, but this was a big task now, especially as Prater booted the Broncos further ahead. Brady now in complete hurry up mode did get his team into the end zone with 9.30 left in the game. Julian Edelman grabs a 7 yard pass from Brady and the comeback was on.

Not this time though as the Broncos steadied their ship and saw Prater kick a huge 54 yard field goal to put the Broncos ahead by 16 with just over seven minutes left. Ever the competitor Brady took his team down field again and hit paydirt himself, scrambling in from 5 yards. They of course had to go for two points, but failed, and when the attempted onside kick was recovered by Denver that was it.

Peyton Manning finished the game with exactly 400 yards passing, Demaryius Thomas snagging 7 balls for 134 yards.

Denver have been the best team all year and so its only deserving that they end up in the big game. The Patriots can look at the season with mixed emotions having come so far with an injury ravaged roster.

It is however the Denver Broncos that go on to represent the AFC in the NFL show piece game in two weeks time.