Saturday, December 20, 2014

Eagles - Slurs Takeaways

To Be Fair
> This week, for fun, KR Josh Huff fielded the opening kickoff and ran it back a bit

> QB Mark Sanchez to TE Zach Ertz for six yards, RB LeSean McCoy jitters for two, and I'd love for this club to not be in third and gah every first drive

> Sanchez to Ertz for five to convert, good placement on a covered receiver

> McCoy for 4, reasonable push from the line, then a false start from everyone on the line but C Jason Kelce, so it must be his fault; it also says something that

> Sanchez to RB Darren Sproles, drops a check down, so instead of 3rd and 7, it's 3rd and 12

> Sanchez to WR Jeremy Maclin for 22, big damned deal, really

> Sanchez misses Sproles, DC seems keyed on him

> McCoy on the left stretch, loss of three, just hate the way that's looked all year

> 3rd and 14 from the 47 is a strip, sack and fumble, and yeah, that's why he's Mark Sanchez

> Plenty of blame for RT Lane Johnson, beaten clean by LB Ryan Kerrigan, gets the majority of it

> 34th turnover in 14 games, way too goddamned many, and that was Just The Beginning

> RB Alfred Morris for 7, a lot of room for a first down run

> QB Robert Griffin to WR DeSean Jackson, simple out route, easy conversion for the first

> Morris for a yard, LB Connor Barwin ends what the line started

> LB Mychal Kendricks with a nice stop of the bubble screen

> 3rd and 7 is Griffin to WR Andre Roberts, bobbles and keeps it, and yeah, it's time to target CB Bradley Fletcher

> LB Brandon Graham eats Morris after a yard, Griffin rolls out and can't shake containment before a near pick throwback screen

> 3rd and 9 and stop the bleeding sees Green rush five, Griffin throws it away, and... it's a gift dumb ass flag on CB Cary Williams, who takes the bait from Roberts for a post-whistle shove

> Honestly, I have no idea how Williams can be that goddamned idiotic

> Morris for nothing, Griffin from the gun has all day before he gets a yard on an awkward looking scramble

> Third and goal from the 7 and dear God stop playing to DC's level is S Malcolm Jenkins breaking up a telegraphed pass to WR Pierre Garcon, and that could have easily been a TAInt

> K Kai Forbath connects from 25, and it's Red 3, Green 0

> Huff to the 20 and it ends with pain; looked like he had more opportunity

> Sanchez for a gain of three on coverage, McCoy for 4, and it's time for that overly important first third down of the drive

> Pressure on Sanchez before an incomplete, DC runs it in because they don't know how football works; hands to the face for a bailout first down

> McCoy for 3, then 18 as HC Chip Kelly remembers that he's good at catching balls out of the backfield

> Obviously Fake Defensive Injury to kill tempo, then Sanchez to Sproles for 7 yards on a check down drag

> Sanchez to Ertz, the TE saves a poor throw for 7 yards and the first

> McCoy for 10 on the drag, Sproles for 8 to the right on good patience on a screen

> McCoy for 5 as the line is generating holes, another first down

> Slower tempo than usual, then McCoy for 11 and the score

> Really nice job keeping his feet forward and sealing the deal on that run

> Green 7, Red 3, first really nice run-based drive in a long time

> Griffin to Jackson for 51 yards, underthrown ball, great adjustment by the WR, and, um, I have no idea why Fletcher is on the DC deep threat with a chip on his shoulder the size of a sequoia

> Morris through a big hole, three men miss, and that's a 28 yard score and just... um, yeah, we're all looking forward to no longer watching this team

> Red 10, Green 7, and yeah, it's hard to tell which team has 9 wins, and which one has three

> Sanchez to Maclin, low and incomplete, decisive but not accurate

> Tries it again, gets six yards and immediate stoppage

> Rather than call a draw on a formation where no one is around to cover it, four man rush gets to the indecisive QB, 2nd Red sack, end of drive

> P Donnie Jones for 33 and a fair catch, also not helpng much

> Morris for 3, then Griffin to TE Logan Paulsen on the settling screen for 6 yards

> Third and stop the bleeding is a gift first down as Cox encroaches, albeit with explosion

> Griffin to WR Pierre Garcon, 12 on the soft cushion against Williams

> Morris for 2 as Kendricks chases it down, then gets his fourth sack of the year for a loss of 11

> Really nice work by the LB there, and Griffin doesn't do his line any favors by just drifting back into the lane

> Roberts drops a very catchable stretch ball on 3rd and 19 that would have moved the sticks, and that's just an unforced error to get off the field without points

> P Tress Way gets it to the 6, and that's nice work by the kicker

> McCoy for 4, then Sanchez to WR Jodan Matthews (welcome back!) for the sticks

> Obviusly Fake Defensive Injury on random DB, and when, oh when, will the NFL stop Chip Kelly's horrifying injury causing tempo

> DB Ryan Clark has a hangnail, and returned after a play, of course

> McCoy for 22, all kinds of jittery goodness

> Sproles for 12 on his own to the right, drag route with fun tap dancing

> The running game is dominant, so let's call a passing play and have Johnson take a holding penalty -- gahhh

> Sanchez for another sack, and T Jason Peters with the misery

> 3rd and 25 from their own 40 is For Heaven's Sake Avoid A Turnover For Once In Your Goddamned Life, Sanchez, and actually converts it to Matthews on a 3-man rush

> This just in: Red Isn't Good Either

> Sanchez keeps for six rather than take the drag play, then McCoy for the conversion... but it's a hold on Peters, and the tackles are having issues

> McCoy for not much, setting up 3rd and 15

> Sproles on the bubble screen for 19, and it's time to cite him for invisibility powers because he's 10% smaller than an ordinary RB, and television analysts think that defenders only can see above six feet off the ground

> Sanchez for 6, then Sproles for 12 as the QB does well to avoid getting in harm's way on the backfield block

> First and goal from the 8 is McCoy showing patience for five yards, and Ow, Red Has N Owie

> Sanchez misses Ertz, open in the end zone, but the throw is high and wide

> Third and goal to take the lead is Sanchez to WR Riley Cooper, who somehow avoids disaster for the slant score

> Green 14, Red 10, second straight long drive for score with red zone win

> Griffin for 4, throw to RB Darrell Young for 3

> Third and 3 is a pressure throw to WR Jordan Reed, behind and that's all kinds of punty

> Sproles dances for six, and Green gets it back on their own 17

> McCoy for 6, tempo tempo tempo please, Sanchez to Cooper, but offsetting flags

> 2nd and 4 with 1:28 left is Sanchez to Ertz for 7, then again for 8

> Green timeout with 1:02 on the clock, smart use to keep the middle of the field in play

> Ertz for 4, then Maclin for 17, and Green Timeout #2

> Long developing, then a miss to Matthews, a bit on the WR

> Bad dance work on the bubble to Sproles; loss of a yard and final timeout

> 3rd and 11 to save the figgie chance is Sanchez missing Sproles, who never turns for it, and yeesh

> That's the first of many missed opportunities in this one, and one that could have given them separation against a team that was just ready to quit

> Jones punts, and that's the half

> K Cody Parkey a yard deep, and the STs come up with a gret stiff arm for the ball on Roberts

> CB/ST Nolan Carroll with the recovery, really nice poke to generate it by Jenkins

> McCoy for a yard, then loses one on a too slow screen

> 3rd and 10 from the Red 16 is long clock, then Sanchez missing Cooper in the end zone, but at least it wasn't a pick

> Parkey from 34 misses by a foot right, and gahhh, not good

> That's the second of many missed yada yada yada

> 2x the number of yards + even in turnovers should not be a 4 point lead, dammit

> Griffin with time, Jackson with space, 14 yards

> Morris gets five as Cox holds on, then plows for five more

> Blitz fails, and Griffin slips past it for seven yards; bad look on Kendricks

> RB Silas Redd Jr. in to get four yards and another first

> Morris for 3, Griffin to Garcon for 17, runs free off the line on Williams

> Morris for 5, poor man's beast mode

> Griffin to Reed, CB Brendan Boykin on the stop to save the first down

> 3rd and keep it a figgie chance is Griffin missing Roberts, but roughing the passer is another gift first down

> Call-wise, it's pretty much right there with that nauseating flag against the Niners last week

> No replay, of course, since those just undermine the officiating now

> Delay flag with a new C and the old coach

> Morris for a yard, Garcon for 9, another roughing the passer flag, this one on DE Vinny Curry

> Second ridiculous call of the drive

> Oh, by the way, pre-catch blocking by Red

> Young for the dive rush TD, Cox runs right past the FB, and yeah, nothing that happened in the last five minutes wasn't nauseating

> Red 17, Green 14

> CBS needs to show us that Daniel Snyder comes to games and knows how to pump his fist, so, um, yay

> Critical drive starts with McCoy dropping a throw in the flat, unforced error but wouldn't have gotten much

> McCoy for 3, setting up third and yeah, way too damned important

> Sanchez to Ertz, time and ball for 11 and the first

> McCoy for five, might have had more, but slowed just enough

> McCoy for two, patience unrewarded

> Third and 3 and keep the ball is slow tempo, Sanchez to Matthews for 22 on a simple and well done cross

> Sanchez for 6, mobility with concern about deep ball picks

> Sanchez stumble keeps for 3, more runnerish than usual tonight

> McCoy doesn't get anything on third and one, bad miss there

> Parkey from 46 misses right again, and that's opportunity number three; he's picking a bad time to be Alex Henery

> Griffin fumbles the snap from his old center, but gets it back for a loss of four

> Griffin to Jackson, wide open on Surprise Surprise, Fletcher, 55 yards

> The CB is lucky the ball isn't better, or that's seven right away, instead of later

> Morris for two, then Jackson to the end zone, tied up with S Nate Allen, automatic DPI flag

> Maybe it wasn't a good idea to just let this guy walk for nothing

> Young again, simple, score

> Red 24, Green 14 with 15:26 left

> Huff for 26, Flag #10 against Green (2 against Red)

> Sanchez to Cooper for 15 ends the third quarter

> McCoy for 8, but Flag #11 is a hold, and yeah, Green beat themselves with a stick today, then upgraded to bats

> Sanchez to Cooper for 9, late flag for no flag, so much for tempo

> Sanchez to Cooper for 9, same play, no RAC opportunity

> 3rd and is McCoy for six, nice movement in the hole

> Sanchez to Ertz for 8, lots of dink and dunk options here

> Sanchez tries WR Brad Smith, against the grain, near pick but down, and offsetting flags anyway

> The Sanchize is pretty much the definition QB for You Can't Throw Back Across Your Body

> Sanchez to Ertz for 9, simple stuff against poor LBs

> Sproles for 4, takes a hit but he's a tank

> Sanchez to Ertz, 16 yards with a great grab of a high ball

> McCoy for 4 yards of patience, then slow tempo for a loss from under center, and that wasn't good all over

> 3rd and 9 is Sanchez to Cooper, 16 yard score down the middle, and yeah, Red Isn't Good Either

> Parkey for a PAT gets through, Red 24, Green 21, 10:27 left

> STs do the job, Red starts at their own 17

> Cox with a 4 yard sack as Red gets cute with play action; nearly a strip

> Screen to RB Chester Thompson for 5, Green pressure trying to stop the offense just by themselves, which means roughing the passer flags all over the place, since touching the QB any more isn't allowed

> Deep ball to Jackson, underthrown, Allen able to come up and get a pick for the arm punt

> If that was actually thrown, it's another Red score, but Griffin's mechanical issues also means he's not that great at deep balls any more, either

> Sanchez to Cooper, drops the sit-down route

> Sanchez to McCoy for 11, nicely timed dump off

> Sanchez to TE Brent Celek, well-done screen release, 15 yards with RAC

> Sanchez to Sproles, telegraphed, RB nailed for a 2-yard gain

> Sanchez to Maclin, 18 yards with a great toe tap

> McCoy for nothing, Kerrigan stops the cutback

> Slow tempo on second and goal from the nine, Sanchez to Ertz for 4

> Third and goal is make or break with 6:30 left, tempo too slow, Sanchez to Ertz is too late, DPI not called, broadcast team doesn't notice because Ertz is a TE, rather than a prancy WR

> Parkey from 22 yards finally connects, game is tied

> Parkey to the end zone, but STs fail, and Red gets 41 yards from Roberts to start at their own 35

> Morris for 7, hole too big

> 2nd and 3 is Morris for little. DT Bennie Logan with the stop

> Griffin checks down for 4 yards to Reed, in front of Boykin, fairly easy

> Morris for nothing as Kendricks gets there, screen to Thompson loses two

> 3rd and 12 with three minutes left is stupid important, and Fletcher actually breaks up the play

> Poor throw by the QB, trying for WR Santana Moss

> Way to Sproles, who gets to the 15, and Green has 2:52, 3 timeouts, and 85 yards of field for an escape

> Sanchez to Sproles for 9, nice play call and execution

> Sanchez to Ertz for 5 and a first

> Sanchez to Ertz for 6, and that's the two minute warning

> Sanchez to Ertz, curl route for 11, and Red has to take a timeout for the automatic fake injury

> Sanchez tries Ertz, clear DPI, uncalled

> Sanchez to Ertz for 6, 15th catch for a franchise record, but, well, limited

> 3rd and 5 from the Red 48 is Sanchez to Maclin, throw is low and bad and picked, and yeah, He's Mark Sanchez

> Note that every single play in this have to have it and end the game drive was a throw by the league's most INT-prone QB

> Griffin to Garcon, spins on Williams, and yeah, the season is officially lost due to bad CB play

> Curry with a head tap adds 15 more yards

> Rather than let Red score and still have a chance to win the game, Green jumps offsides and tries to tackle

> Rather than let Red score and have a chance to win, Green tackles Morris after 7 yards and calls a timeout

> Rather than let Red score and have a chance to win, Green tackles Morris and calls their third timeout

> Red false starts, then throws Morris again, and yup, field goal with 10 seconds to end the season

> Forbath connects from 25, and yeah, Green was too stupid to win a game against a 3-win team

> Red squibs it, TE Trey Burton makes a great stop and sit, and Green has it at midfield with three seconds left

> Red knocks down the heave, and that's the season, or at least, should be

> On the plus side, Eagle Fan won't have to see this team for any more games after next week... which will also be a loss

> If you want to keep looking for positives, maybe this game convinces DC to keep Griffin and Gruden together

> Honestly, it's hard to lose a game when you have 190 more yards and the same number of turnovers, but penalties, missed field goals and dramatically dumb decisions will find a way

Six Points On The Rush To Judge The Eagles, And Chip Kelly

Yes, Yes It Is
There is nothing quite like being near Eagle Fans when things aren't going so well. Pro football has been a staple of the local cuisine since the dim start of the NFL (Go, Frankford Yellow Jackets, Go!), but How It's All Gone Wrong And Who Gets Blamed is a sport here.

One which, it seems I am not immune.

So without any further ado, let's do...

Point The First: Why is everyone assuming that this team is going to win 11 games?

There are two games left, both on the road, both in the division. Later today, the Eagles play the Slurs of DC in DC, and yeah, they should win that game... but honestly, it's far from a lock. They are a .500 team with QB2 Mark Sanchez in the lineup, and that should be expected, because Sanchez is a turnover machine. The STs have not been nearly as dominant in the past few weeks, and while the defense tries hard, they still start two below-average CBs. It's far from a given.

Point The Second: Why is everyone assuming that 11 wins won't get in?

Dallas has to win both of their remaining games, and that's far from a given. Indy in Indy is a rough matchup for them, and DC in DC has been a historical problem. With RB DeMarco Murray nursing a surgical hand issue and the club having issues in home games, this is also far from a given. The wild-card ways in -- Detroit falling to pieces and blowing games against Chicago and Green Bay, or Seattle losing out -- really aren't worth talking about. (They also create the possibility of going to play against the NFC South winner. Be still, my heart.)

Oh, and if you win 11 games and don't go to the playoffs, Oh Freaking Well. If you aren't the best team in your division, getting into the playoffs isn't something you had a Divine Right to achieve.

Point The Third: There really isn't an answer to the question of whether the year was better than 2013.

The Eagles in 2013 rode a historically efficient QB performance, especially in turnovers, to overcome weak special teams and a poor defense to a division championship and home field loss. That club was fun, but it took advantage of a cupcake schedule and was never a real contender, because when push came to shove, opponents could just shove (i.e., run the ball). This club has amazing STs, a run defense that's actually very good, and an offense that can't stop turning the ball over, especially against good teams. It feels worse because it didn't play it's best football at the end of the year, like the 2013 team did, but it's probably not a worse team.

Point The Fourth: If You Must Worry, Look At The Drafts.

WR Jordan Matthews is going to be here for a while, and WR Josh Huff has had some moments mixed with disaster. First-round pick Marcus Smith has gotten some snaps at MLB and OLB, more due to injury than competence. He hasn't shown any indication that he's going to be good, but it's still early. CB Jaylen Watkins and S Ed Reynolds haven't been able to penetrate a porous secondary. NT Beau Allen has had more moments than DE Taylor Hart. And I guess you can also slide in K Cody Parkey to this class, seeing how he's also a rookie and was traded for in preseason. In terms of actual utility, the K is trumping the field.

Oh, and there's also this: Kelly's Oregon fixation hasn't really worked out yet. Brandon Bair, Hart, Huff and WR Jeff Maehl  are all ex-Ducks, and none have really set the world on fire. (We'll give him a pass for MLB Casey Matthews, who was here before Kelly.) And unless you want to overrate T Lane Johnson, Jordan Matthews, or erratic TE Zach Ertz... well, the nice part is that no one seems like an utter bust, but nope, no stars, either.

Point the Fifth: The Free Agents Have Been A Lot Like The Drafts, Actually.

The club has been able to add some nice pieces -- S Malcolm Jenkins and RB Darren Sproles alone could probably have gotten the Saints back into the playoffs by now -- but again, no break out stars. They've been able to make the STs great, which is a nice leading indicator, but the best players on this team -- T Fletcher Cox, LB Connor Barwin, LB Mychal Kendricks, WR Jeremy Maclin, T Jason Peters, TE Brent Celek and RB LeSean McCoy... well, they mostly predate Kelly.

Oh, and let's just not discuss the curious decision to sign and retain TE3 James Casey, or the whole Extend Riley Cooper, Dismiss DeSean Jackson problem. It makes me curl up into a fetal position, still. (Not that I'm so wrapped up in the idea that Jackson would have solved all ills, or that Cooper is the cause of them. Just that dismissing an asset with no return is Not Good. And that Cooper sucks. Sigh.)

Point the Sixth: No One Wants To Hear This... But There's Not Nearly Enough Data Yet.

No one is claiming that Kelly's offensive ideas are ludicrous any more. Tempo still works, as does the read option as a supplement. He's won a very solid number of games without a wildly mobile QB, without his defenses falling apart due to a lack of time of possession, or with massive injury issues from humans just not being able to stand up to this pace. Indeed, the club's single biggest point of what might be a true edge on the rest of the league has been the relative health of the roster in these two years. He's still got a puncher's chance with QB2, and a fairly bad amount of turnover luck / regression to the two-year mean.

But on the other hand, he hasn't really won outside of his weight class yet. This team still looks best when it runs up against clubs with shaky coaching or bend don't break defenses. Performance in the red zone has been lacking, where offensive innovation should theoretically matter more. Going from 9-3 with two home games and a chance to stay home for the playoffs can't become 9-5 and needing help, not if you're going to hang your hat on the idea that Kelly's a transformative coaching genius. And we won't even get into the defensive coordination issue of having no Plan B when your CBs are getting roasted -- no replacement players, no double teams, no matchup zones, etc., etc.

Next year, Kelly's going to have to try to win with QB Nick Foles again, in all likelihood. He's not going to have a clear killer draft pick, and even if he did, rookie CBs usually struggle. If you are dreaming of free agents to solve the issues, you should root for Washington.

In Conclusion... 2014 might be a disappointment, especially if it ends without a playoff game, or a playoff loss, just like last year. But Kelly hasn't lost the faith of management, or given off much of an air that the job is too big for him.

Things are going to be harder in 2015. And that's what the NFL is like, for, well, everyone...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

NFL Week 16 Picks: Ready For Over

Clowntime Is Over
So as I was thinking about the column this week, I started to realize... I'm tired of this NFL season.

And it's not just the fact that my laundry has gone from 9-3 with a shot at a home bye to 9-5 and needing help to even get in. Or that my fantasy league team, a shocking Week One juggernaut, has whittled away, through injury and regression, to the middle of the pack. Or that the picks have bounded back and forth to stay away from a strong win.

Rather, it's this. I've just watched too much of this.

Think about it. Without even needing to go for the added expense of NFL Sunday Ticket, you can pretty much lock yourself into five games a week -- the Thursday, Sunday and Monday messes, and the Sunday afternoon 1pm and 4pm slots. Then there's the added games on Thanksgiving, the opening weekend problem, next week's Saturday games, the pre-season, and the upcoming 11 playoff tilts...

And, well, the nature of the NFL is that there is no such thing, in the overwhelming majority, as a meaningless game. There are just single elimination playoff games, and games that are a slightly less known amount of elimination. I haven't missed an Eagles game in this or any other year, since the mid 1970s. And unlike past years, there's been about 5-6X more games, than just my laundry, on my screen and yours.

So, um, no. The end of the season hasn't snuck up on anyone. It's not even unwelcome. Fatigue and overexposure and saturation has set it, at least for me.

Probably not for you, though.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Tennessee at JACKSONVILLE (-3.5)

The Titans are on QB # Who Cares, while the Jags are likely to still have QB Blake Bortles under center. Jacksonville can get to the QB on defense, move it a little with tempo, and care a little for no very good reason. Oh, and this gets shown to a national audience, on a stand alone night, just as a test to see how low of a rating an NFL game can get. Look for RB Toby Gerhart to break though for a huge game, just to make his incredibly bitter ex-fantasy owners break a television.

Jaguars 24, Titans 17

PHILADELPHIA (-7.5) at Washington

After the last two weeks, I'm not certain the Eagles can beat anyone, because, well, the offense is going to turn the ball over, the defense can't cover any WR worth his salt, and it doesn't seem as if the coaching staff can make adjustments any more. But, well, Washington at home is a team with a negative home field advantage, and at some point, this team has to remember that it's good at beating bad teams. Right?

Eagles 34, Slurs 20

SAN DIEGO (+1) at San Francisco

Dead Coach Walking! The Niners are eliminated from playoff contention, and host the surprising Chargers and dark horse MVP QB Philip Rivers. San Diego has been hot and cold all year, and really aren't more than a one-and-done wild-card team, but that's enough to beat a dysfunctional offense and a non-existent home field advantage. Hope it was worth the money to move a ridiculously long way away from your city, Niners.

Chargers 23, Niners 17

MINNESOTA (+6.5) at Miami

Just a feel pick here. The Vikes have been working teams close to the vest, with some encouraging work on offense, while the Fish haven't been able to get any kind of downfield passing game working, which is slowly poisoning the running game. They might win this game, but covering seems a bit much.

Dolphins 24, Vikings 20

BALTIMORE (-5.5) at Houston

Oh, you poor Texans. Reduced to QB Who Cares due to injury, they get a Ravens team that has a horrible secondary, but won't be able to take advantage. Look for the road team to spend the entire game making sure the DL MVP candidate JJ Watt can't add to his highlight reel, which is just about the only way the Texans win this game.

Ravens 20, Texans 13

DETROIT (-7) at Chicago

Has there been a more disappointing team than the Bears? Seemingly on the rise in the pre-season with an improved defense to go with a playmaker-heavy offense, they've slid so far that they are now turning to QB2, the previously disgraced Jimmy Clausen, to try to stop the bleeding. Not exactly the best team to try that on, given the Lions' propensity for making bad QBs look worse.

Lions 26, Bears 17

Cleveland at CAROLINA (pick 'em)

Is it heresy to note that the Panthers have looked a lot better with QB Derek Anderson under center than QB Cam Newton? Well, um, it's true... and while it's unlikely to be a long-standing trend, the fact that the Panthers are still in an improbable playoff race does make you go Hmm. As for the Browns, look for QB Johnny Manziel to bounce back all the way to ordinary bad, rather than historically atrocious.

Panthers 23, Browns 13

ATLANTA (+6) at New Orleans

Two bad teams fighting for one playoff chance. The spread's too high for comfort, especially with the damage that Falcons QB Matt Ryan did last time these teams met, in Week One in Atlanta. It seems more likely than not that the final is close, and with the Saints' desperate need to upgrade their defensive talent and get their coaching staff in sync, an upset isn't out of the question.

Falcons 27, Saints 26

GREEN BAY (-10.5) at Tampa

For the second straight week, the Packers visit a venue where they've had serious and improbable trouble over the years. Unlike last week in Buffalo, they won't encounter a defensive team that's gelling, a fan base that's rabid, or a team with any idea of playoff hopes. Look for the Pack to open up a big lead early, and run up the score by more than a little.

Packers 44, Bucs 16

Kansas City at PITTSBURGH (-3)

I apologize in advance, Steeler Fan, for taking your team at home against a club that they should beat. That's been the kiss of death against the Bucs and Saints, and might be again with a Chiefs team that certainly has playmakers... but the way that the Steelers have lost games this year has been against big and physical WRs. The Chiefs, you may have heard, have not thrown a touchdown to a WR in 2014. And 2014 is nearly over.

Steelers 27, Chiefs 20

NEW ENGLAND (-10) at NY Jets

Over the years, this series has been the strongest point to the Rex Ryan Era of Gang Green. They've managed to bedevil the Patriots, and occasionally even beat them, because the Jets are basically engineered to beat teams like the Patriots... by playing ugly ball and punching them in the mouth a lot. But all of that fails when (a) the Patriots have a good enough defense to stop the run, (b) the Jets can't help but turn the ball over and create runway moments, and (c) Green has a secondary. I think I'd take the Pats at 2X the points listed.

Patriots 38, Jets 16

NY GIANTS (+5) at St. Louis

Time to see if Blue's resurgence is just a case of kicking tomato cans, or if they can step up against a dominant defensive team at home. What's going to help them is that the Rams offense is the weakest unit on the field, that QB Eli Manning has been finding his legs again with WR Odell Beckham Jr. and TE Larry Donnell proving multiple targets, and that their defense can create turnovers with the pass rush. Oh, and that Blue's going to win out the last month of their season and save their coach, while ruining the Eagles' season. Have I mentioned that I'm ready for this season to be over?

Giants 23, Rams 20

Buffalo at OAKLAND (+6)

In last week's game in Kansas City, the Raiders ran for 78 yards on 17 carries, for 4.6 yards per pop. They threw it for 202, on 56 attempts, for 3.4 yards per pop. In a road game, which was 10-6 Chiefs with 22 minutes left in the game. Oh, and rookie RB Latavius Murray, who had torched the Chiefs in their last game, an upset Raiders win at home less than a month ago, was doing just fine, and didn't have a concussion. If you can make sense of this play calling mix... well, you can't.

This week in Oakland, I think that the Raiders will be less dense, especially since the Bills are a lot better wt rushing the passer than they are at stopping the run. I expect Buffalo to have a letdown after that fairly fluky Packers win, what will all of the travel. I expect the Raiders to have a loud crowd, seeing how they've won two in a row at home. And I also expect them to lose. But cover.

Bills 24, Raiders 20

INDIANAPOLIS (+3) at Dallas

Betting with my heart here? Well, sure. The Cowboys need to lose for my laundry to have any realistic chance at the playoffs, and this home game against the explosive Colts is a lot more likely than a road game against the lifeless Slurs. Indy also needs the game to have a shot at home field and a bye, so there's incentive for them as well.

As for the matchup itself, Dallas has real worries with RB DeMarco Murray having surgery on his left hand. He's practiced with it, but has also had ball security issues in the past, and might as well paint a bullseye on his gloves with the condition being made public. Indy has had issues stopping the running game in the past, and can be turnover prone... but QB Andrew Luck can extend plays and utterly dismantle this secondary, and Dallas has been surprisingly vulnerable at home. It's a bad matchup for them, and at a bad time.

Colts 37, Cowboys 31

SEATTLE (-7.5) at Arizona

Wow, what a time to try to nurse a win with QB3 and 4... and against the best defense in football. Seattle isn't going to score a lot of points in this one without the benefit of short fields, and Arizona is going to pound away with a patient and mildly imaginative running game -- think a lot of end arounds, misdirection and traps -- but you can't win games in the NFL that way. And eventually, when they turn the ball over, you can't cover the spread, either.

Seahawks 20, Cardinals 10

DENVER (-3) at Cincinnati

Time for the Bengals to turtle up in bright light against a Broncos team that's battle-tested for games like this, with HC Marvin Lewis and QB Andy Dalton making their local fans despair... but it really does go deeper than that. Denver's got the defense to take away WR AJ Green, and are stout enough to make just pounding the rock with RB Jeremy Hill not a potent enough second option. But the far bigger issue is that Denver's running the ball well now, and the Bengal defense will spend an unsatisfying evening toggling between formations that won't get it done.

Broncos 24, Bengals 20

Last week: 8-7-1

Season: 107-111-4

Career: 595-611-43

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brief and Obvious Points About Johnny Manziel

This just in... the Browns set local ratings records for Sunday's game against the Bengals, Manziel's first start in the NFL, which was, of course, a train wreck for the ages.

Is this franchise a Factory of Sadness or what? (And yes, I know, Eagle Fan talking about how some other fan base has it rough is Pot Kettle Black, but so be it.)

And yeah, I don't think any one is really faulting the team for moving away from QB Brian Hoyer, but... um...

Did anyone watch, or remember, the pre-season?

There's a reason why Hoyer got the job over Manziel. It was because he played better, and the team looked better, with him in the lineup. Not good, not even all that close to good, but better.

The thing is, the Browns *should* be a decent offensive team, especially now that they have WR Josh Gordon back. And yeah, Gordon might be the most overrated player in the league, because his routes aren't good and forcing him the ball is doing no one any favors, but there are weapons here. The rookie running backs are solid, TE Jordan Cameron has potential, WR Andrew Hawkins is a solid WR3, and before injuries to the offensive line, that unit was very capable. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has had some moments in the league, and the defense is good enough to put them in decent situations. They aren't world beaters, and won't be until health and Gordon getting anywhere close to his 2013 fantasy football press clippings, but they aren't hopeless.

Enter Manziel.

There is, of course, a prejudice against short QBs. For a reason. When you see a smaller guy go down in the hands of a big defender, it looks bad. When sacks happen, it looks worse, and when a ball is tipped at the line of scrimmage, it looks like a definitive end point.

But, well, tall QBs fail all the time, too. At every level. And the defending Super Bowl champions, and the team that looks most likely to win it all again right now, has the definitive short QB of the age in Russell Wilson.

I watched most of Manziel's game, and yeah, he was terrible... but his teammates weren't much better. The defense got steamrolled by the Bengals running game and gave up a long drive for a score right off the kickoff. The WRs dropped balls, and high throws became tips for turnovers. Penalties put the team in long third down situations, and Manziel honestly could have played like an All-Pro and still lost this game.

There was also, frankly, some unseemliness about the joy in which some greeted the player's struggles. Joe Buck got on Fox and pretty much a chortle-fest over the results, and was as close to wrestling heel on the hopes of Browns' fans as you could get. It's as if Manziel, had he been a success, would have somehow been bad for the NFL, or the Very Very Serious Nature Of How To Be Good At Football.

And that, really, is why people want Manziel to succeed. He's different. He's fun to watch. Rubbing your fingers together is a relatively innovative celebration, and having your QB run around like he's a real-life Tecmo Bowl character is good times. Especially if he wins. Which, well, he probably won't, because most QBs don't.

I have no idea if Manziel can play at this level. Anyone who watched this game would have the same doubts. If I'm a Brown fan and the team isn't looking to upgrade the position in the off-season, and Manziel doesn't set the world on fire in the last two weeks, I'd be wondering about the continued competence of the organization.

But, well, the Browns weren't winning anything this year with Hoyer, either.

I just don't get the hate. Do you?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Eagles - Cowboys Takeaways

Was 24 Nnamdi Asomugha's Number?
> From the start of this, NBC could not have been more in the tank for a Cowboy win

> Green wins the toss, takes the ball, because Aggro Is Everything

> Eagle Fan booed the ball falling off the tee, because, well, the tee had one job, and the fans are also very prescient

> Silver hit the world's longest onside kick and recovered, and how that happens, I have no idea

> Third and save the disaster early touchdown is Romo from the gun to WR Terrance Williams, easy cross on CB Cary Williams, and that happens all the damned time because Green does not have a CB1

> Murray all the way to the one, big surge from the vaunted Silver OL, then again for the easy score, and that's not the way to start

> Another terrible kick causes concern, but Huff's on this one

> WR Riley Cooper on the bubble screen dances for no reason and gets nothing, just because Cooper is utterly useless

> False start on two players, then a middling run for RB LeSean McCoy to set up third and 12

> Huge down to avoid continuing avalanche is Sanchez from the gun with time, but throws to some middle ground between McCoy and Cooper, and yeah, that's flat out horrible

> Dallas ST miscue allows for a 69 yard punt by P Donnie Jones, so, um, yay

> Murray for 3, Silver runs on first all the time now

> Romo with the non-grounding grounding that's all the rage now

> Third and 7 to keep field position and wake the crowd up is Romo from the gun to the wide-open TE Jason Witten for 21, couldn't have been easier

> Defense remains historically awful on third and long

> Near TAInt on a nice break on the ball by Williams on WR / PR / Thanksgiving Cheap Shot Artist Dwayne Harris

> 3rd and dear god in heaven get off the field for once is Romo to Witten, covered well by Jenkins, but the ball is perfect, and that's 17 more

> DE Vinny Curry nearly has the tip, but otherwise, rush not there

> Murray for nine on the automatic first down carry, and this game got out of hand fast

> RB Lance Dunbar for the relief carry and first down, Silver in figgie range already

> Romo with non-grounding grounding on the read screen

> 3rd and prevent the inevitable touchdown is Romo from the gun to Witten for the first, and it says something about the way this one went that I had that written down before it happened

> Romo to WR Cole Beasley, wide open, easy first, knife through butter

> Murray loses two, DT Fletcher Cox with his first play of the night

> Romo from the gun against max coverage, it actually works, non-grounding grounding, but let's throw a wildly after the play flag for funsies, because NFL officiating isn't seen as weak enough yet

> Murray with the inevitable first down run, gets two

> Romo to WR Dez Bryant over CB Bradley Fletcher, just too big and too long and too good, and yeah, I'm not talking about Fletcher

> Silver 14, Green 0, and as dominant as possible so far

> Actual ordinary kickoff, Smith to the 19, and if the offense doesn't do something fast, this one is going to just be the photo negative of the Thanksgiving game

> McCoy for a loss, then five, and ridiculously important third down is Sanchez getting sacked on a blitz

> I'm not feeling how the Sanchize's vaunted better than Nick Foles athleticism is an edge

> With each succeeding series since Thanksgiving, QB Nick Foles' chance to start 2015 rise

> 10-0 in first downs and counting

> Romo got away with grounding not grounding, which only takes 20 seconds to adjudicate now

> 127 to 0 on yards in the first quarter is hard to do, folks

> Murray for five, then loses a yard on a good hit by Jenkins

> Holding makes it 2nd and 15 rather than third and 7, hmm

> Injury to MLB Casey Matthews, and yeah, it's a loss because his backups are worse

> Beasley for 10 negates the holding call, and third and 5 instead of third and 7 is a false start as the pass rush looks like it has a pulse

> 3rd and 10 from the 30 is Cox sacking Romo to end the figgie, but a gift flag in the secondary is another first down, sure, why the hell not

> Williams called for being as physical with Bryant as Bryant is with him

> Honestly, just walk off the field and make the refs call flags for delay or unsportsmanlike, if it's going to be a joke, make it a joke

> Murray for a yard loss on the stretch, Silver calls time, Matthews back to the bench, having cleared the infamously pliable Eagles concussion test

> Romo to Bryant, who is open because of course he is, 26 yard touchdown, and if Fletcher was a horse, they'd have shot him by now

> Fletcher on the non-coverage, but if he had, it would have been a flag anyway, so whatevs

> Huff with a nifty roll to get a decent return, refs fix that with a flag

> Sanchez to TE Brent Celek for five, and the dream of a Green first down lives

> Cooper drops a catachable second  down ball, and dear God, Stop Throwing It To Riley Freaking Cooper

> Third and prevent a historic embarrassment is Sanchez to RB Darren Sproles, and Praise Jebus, An Actual First Down

> Sanchez misses a wide-open Huff, high and terrible

> Sproles for three, then gets Celek, open over the middle for 23, high throw but the TE saves him

> S Orlando Scandrick with the Ow My Pancreas moment as everyone in the building knows it's bullsquat, and yeah, NFL, so long as you are taking everything away from the defense, take this, too

> McCoy for 12, big hole left, Silver forgets to fake an injury, so he goes again for 7

> McCoy stuffed on 2nd and 3, Sanchez had it wide open on a keep

> Refs call a wildly late flag for mutual nastiness, and hey, more tempo killed

> 3rd and 2 is Sanchez to TE Zach Ertz for a first, defensive holding declined, for 15

> That throw to Ertz showed nice accuracy on the short ball in tight quarters, and why people keep making the mistake of thinking that Sanchez is better than he is

> First and goal from the 5 brings in Polk, who powers it in and yeah, Silver doesn't have a great defense after all

> Down 21-7 with 8:32 left in the second quarter, and Silver getting the second half kickoff, is what NBC defines as "back in the game", because NBC is desperate for any game that keeps casual viewers late

> Bad coverage continues the rough night for the STs; Silver at their own 27 to start

> Murray for 2, DT Cedric Thornton with the non-fumble fumble recovery

> NBC reports on Silver's Xmas shopping, because we are all Silver Fans, and yeah, it never gets tiresome to hear how wonderful Dallas is

> Romo to Witten, first down, phonograph needle skips

> Murray for 4, and I think you could play all 11 in the box on first down

> Dunbar for nearly the first, playing defense with no push is fairly theoretical

> Third and make a mistake that would count as a stop is a sack for LB Connor Barwin, as Romo turtles up from his slipstream

> P Chris Jones whiffs badly, giving Silver only 23 yards of net

> Sanchez to McCoy in the flat for two, then to Ertz, who hurdles a man to convert the all-important first first down

> Sanchez to WR Jeremy Maclin for 11, and tempo now means something

> McCoy for seven, holes developing, then shows strength on the drag right run, another first

> Sproles trips for two, first time in 2014 that his feet weren't right

> Sanchez pumps wide, takes Celek middle, first down

> Sanchez to WR Jordan Matthews on the play action, bad drop of what would have been first and goal

> Sanchez to Sproles, Silver read the double screen, loss of three and the two-minute warning hits

> 3rd and 13 is a big damned deal, as any kind of conversion gets the score closer and maybe helps kill clock for Dallas later

> Sanchez with time, rolls, then non-ground grounds, and that was exasperating, given that any kind of yards makes a figgie try easier

> K Cody Parkey from 47 is just good, and yeah, he hasn't been the same since the groin injury

> Silver 21, Green 10, 1:48 left with one road team timeout

> Parkey's short high kick works, and the STs get Harris down at his own 11

> Romo from the gun hands to Dunbar, who gets 7; conservative but smart play call

> Romo to Williams, easy cross, first down, clock running, and the defense failing to take advantage of good field position was w a recurring motif to this game

> DE Vinny Curry drew a holding flag on the Wide Nine Memorial Formation

> Romo extends and airmails, better coverage by the suspect secondary that time

> Third and 17 with 15 seconds left is Romo throwing beyond the line of scrimmage and missing Williams

> Green declines the run off to force a punt, it's not blocked, and that's the half

> Parkey with the touchback, that looked healthy

> Murray for 4 despite penetration, then little, as Silver's predictable nature isn't helping them

> Third and 6 and might have a game is a false start, Terrance Williams jawing

> Third and 11 is long enough to be an automatic conversion, so Romo to Williams is just a festival of DPI

> If next year's first three draft picks next year are anything but DBs, Green Fan should riot

> 40 yard penalty, 3rd first down via penalty on Cary Williams already tonight

> Murray loses a yard, then Romo takes another shaky sack, this one going to Thornton

> 3rd and 19 is a near-automatic conversion, but for once, it's OPI, not DPI

> Honestly, if DPI is a 40-yard flag, why isn't OPI

> On 3rd and 5 to continue the comeback, Sanchez from the gun to Maclin, nearly an INT, but moved the chains

> Every game Sanchez plays is 1-3 INTs waiting to happen, really

> Sanchez to Maclin, misses, defensive hold gets sarcastic Green Fan cheer

> First penalty on S Barry Church in 2014, which is hard to imagine

> McCoy loses 2, dancing but not much room

> Sanchez to Maclin, hit while the ball is in the air, but not catchable and no bailout call

> 3rd and 11 is Sanchez to Maclin, huge play, 72 yards to the Silver 1, possible fumble at the close, but the WR is down

> Green races to get the play in, but Dallas challenges, and that works to take a challenge away from Silver as well

> Maclin wasn't able to get his block clear to get in, and also looked like he was running out of gas with all of the back and forth, but that play showed you just how susceptible the Silver secondary still is from 2013's historic mess

> Given Green's struggles in the red zone, a defensive timeout from a wasted challenge isn't the worst thing in the world for them, but still, useful

> Polk walks in for the easy score, and if you own McCoy in fantasy, yeah, it's not your year

> Missed gamble by CB Brandon Carr set up the score

> RT Jason Peters with the wipeout block, and it's Silver 21, Green 17, and Game Exists

> Poor kick, good coverage, Silver starts at the 15

> Romo curls away from Cox, completes to TE James Hanna for 12, embarrassing for the DL

> False start from the QB, then Murray into a run blitz by Jenkins for a loss of 4; great ankle tackle by the only starting DB in 2014 who should work here in 2015

> 2nd and 19 with loud crowd is Romo from the gun, incomplete to Williams, stopped by Cary, weak back foot play gave the CB time to react

> 3rd and 19 with this defense is no sure thing, and against a 3-man rush, Romo takes all day... and forgets about Curry, who separates him from the ball on a pump fake and wow, that's huge

> Cox on the recovery, and one more mile on the trip to Hawaii

> Sanchez waving the crowd for quiet, McCoy for yards, and S Terrell McClain with an idiot flag for more

> First and goal from the four for the lead is McCoy to the stick, nearly gets there, but nice recovery by LB Anthony Hitchens

> 2nd and goal from the one is Sproles to the wide drag, gets in, and that's a nice lead block from McCoy to make the play possible

> Green 24, Silver 21, and the comeback was, if anything, too quick and easy

> NBC showing us Eagles owner Jeff Lurie singing, and at least he knows the words

> Jerruh Jones with NJ Governor Chris Cristie, and yeah, Eagle Fan who lives in NJ and voted for him, you're soaking in it

> Murray for a yard on first, not working

> Romo from the gun and alone, Bryant open for 22, and if the rush doesn't get there and the protection isn't maximum, it's real damn easy

> Romo to Witten for 11, LB Mychal Kendricks to the QB a half second late, lucky to avoid a flag

> Murray for one, then gets through a run blitz for 21, big fail for the DL on that play

> Figgie range to tie already, Murray loses a yard to DT Bennie Logan

> 2nd and 11, alone in gun, Romo to Bryant, and he's got 22 more to the 2

> Murray in from the 2, and that was easy and predictable and says all kinds of misery to the defense

> Silver 28, Green 24 with snarls afterwards to make a Silver onside kick a winning idea

> Silver tries to get tricksy with a pop up kick, and Huff gets it back to the 21 with a moment of Serious Overthinking for Silver

> McCoy for 3, then Sanchez escapes pressure and pumps four times before getting it away

> 3rd and 7 with 12 seconds left in the third is a big damned deal, and it's Sanchez wide to Ertz, tipped ball to INT, and just a goddamn disaster

> Silver now with ball and lead to start the fourth, and have a 2-1 turnover edge

> If you are going to spot a team a 21-point lead, also giving them turnovers strikes me as absurdly generous

> Murray with the Dispirited Defense hole for 14, and yeah, crowd's dead and Not Good

> Murray for nothing, then the check down for 3

> 3rd and keep it a one-score game is a big damned deal, and it's Romo to Bryant, touchdown against the blitz, and yeah, someone might want to show Fletcher what the bench looks like now

> Cowboys 35, Eagles 24, and if Green doesn't put in CB Nolan Carroll just to lose in some other way on the next series, I give up on defensive coordinator Billy Davis as well

> Sanchez with an awkward sack, and just giving up on the running game when you are a tempo offense is a mistake

> Sanchez to Huff, great run after contact, and the rookie gets 44 to get them out of an immense hole; that play encapsulates why we need to see more of him, and less of Cooprer

> 15 more for sideline interference on Silver, and that's a new one on everyone

> McCoy for 1, then Sanchez misses a wide-open Celek, just the kind of mistake that makes the backup a backup

> Green timeout on third and 9 from the 31, then Sanchez to Ertz for 6, short of the sticks

> Parkey in to try from 43, essential, and the rook makes it, but figgies don't really matter when your secondary is a sieve

> Silver 35, Green 27, and feel free to try an onside kick now, Chip, given how terrible your defense is

> Harris fumbles, but gets it back, and it's Silver ball at the 20 the hard way

> A stand would be nice here, Defense

> Murray for 5, everyone in the yard can predict it

> Dunbar for 4, falling forward on the drag run

> 3rd and ye gads, still a game is Murray up the middle and nope, didn't get there

> Credit Logan for that, and honestly, as many chances and lead as Silver had tonight, holding Murry to 31 carries for 81 yards is kind of a miracle

> Jones with a good directional kick to neutralize Sproles; gunner wasn't blocked, either

> McCoy for 7 on the drag, then 7 more, but holding negates; C Jason Kelce with the laundry, and deserved it

> 2nd and 13 is Sanchez to Celek, got the first and down before giving up the ball... but the league's fastest offense can't snap the ball before a winning challenge

> NBC salts the wound with Jones and Christie kanoodling

> Murray loses 2 on Graham's penetration, runs clock, then hits Bryant, who is open by 10 freaking yards, cotton-soft first down

> Murray loses 4, Brandon Graham in for Cole and doing the work again, and maybe we should line him up at CB

> Romo misses Witten, and Murray with a hold makes it worse for them

> Romo too high for wide-open Bryant, unforced error to set up 3rd and 24 and prevent the figgie

> Romo shovels to Witten to get a dangerous 4 and save the figgie with 5:05 left; why they didn't just call a safe run there, we'll never know

> Bailey connects from 49 to make it an 11-point game

> Sanchez to Maclin, 10 yards and out, gunshy CB

> Sanchez pump fakes the DL to the ground, bad high INT bait goes to Cooper (WHY DEAR LORD WHY IS COOPER IN THE GAME), and three Silver players go Soccer Player post-whistle, so, um, sure

> Honestly, I don't get why the defense doesn't fake an injury after every positive Eagle offensive play, it's not out of the rules (yet), and it's dumb not to

> With sub DBs in, Sanchez doesn't get rid of the ball quickly, and it's a killer sack

> 3rd and 14 in 4-down territory is a weak backpedalling sack, and yeah, that's the second straight week at home where Kelly punted and capitulated

> Feel free to get those Foles jerseys off the clearance racks

> Murray twice for nothing, Dunbar once for little, burns the Green timeouts, and this game is in Laffy Time Mode

> Punt not blocked, Spoles fumbles but recovers, and yeah, the ST lost this game tonight, too

> Sanchez to Cooper for 17, two minute warning

> Sanchez with the coup de grace INT, and you can queue up Foles' healthy collarbone X-ray for Monday's press conference

> Pretty sure Cris Collingsworth achieved orgasm during that pick

> Al Michaels seems very invested in the Eagles' travel itinerary

> Green can still win the division, but will need to win out against Washington and New York (not a certainty, not the way this team has played in the last two weeks), and Indy to win on the road next week in Dallas (not likely, Indy isn't very good and won't have anything to play for)

> There's a very real chance that this team, with the chance a week ago at a bye, now won't even make the playoffs, and given the quality of the secondary and the turnover ways of the offense, well, it would suit them right