Pro Football Central Appearence

Hey folks, just got done taping an edition of Pro Football Central’s PFC Live Rapid Fire!

I joined host Brian Harrington and fellow BR guy (and AFC West Lead Writer) Tyson Langland to talk about Thursday night’s surprising Chargers win, whether Peyton Manning is a choke artist, RG3 vs Shanny and much much more.

Check it out below.

Thanks to Brian for having me on and be sure to catch everything they’ve got going on over at PFC.

Make sure you’re reading Langland’s stuff at BR, and follow him on Twitter at @TysonNFL.

 

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What We Saw: San Diego Chargers 27, Denver Broncos 20

This is the NFL, which means anything can happen—especially between division foes.

That said, while everyone said the Chargers could win nobody expected it.

Yet they went out and took care of business, beating the Broncos on their field 27-20.

Here’s what we learned last night.

  • It’s hard to say there’s a specific blueprint for beating Denver because “keep the offense off the field” and “play aggressive defense” could work for most teams. Still, the Chargers were content to grind the clock, especially late in the game. They could have kept the pedal to the floor and tried to pile the points on, but didn’t. Most surprisingly, they punted on the Bronco’s 39-yard line when they had mere inches to go. It worked out, but that sort of passivity of play calling can be dodgy in the playoffs. But Thursday night they won time of possession and it made a big difference.
  • That said, you have to look long and hard at the Broncos defense which pressured Rivers a little bit but only hit him twice. They also couldn’t even slow Ryan Mathews down. Yes, Manning had an off night (for him) but the defense also struggled when you didn’t expect it to. If you can’t get past the Chargers offensive line, it’s time to take a hard look at what is going on.

image via TheBigLead.com

  • Keenan Allen is as good as we thought. Maybe better. The touchdown where he leaped over one guy and trucked another should cement his Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There are several offensive rookies worthy of consideration (Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Gio Bernard should all be in the conversation along with others) but Allen is likely to get my vote when the PFWA has its vote later.
  • What Mike McCoy has done in San Diego is impressive and should tell you how bad things were under Norv Turner and AJ Smith. And it puts the lie to the myth that McCoy was only successful in Denver because everyone is successful with Manning. Remember, this is a guy who shaped offenses for three very disparate quarterbacks—Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Manning. Along with Marc Trestman in Chicago and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, McCoy has had an incredible impact on his team’s offense.
  • The Broncos still can win the division, but losing home field to the Patriots should worry them. Not because “Peyton Manning can’t play in the cold” but because it’s very tough to beat New England in New England during the playoffs.  The upside is, with Rob Gronkowski down for the count, Tom Brady is once again down a big weapon. Still, if I’m the Broncos I want that home field. It’s a much better place to be than Gillette Stadium.

image via AP Photo/Joe Mahoney & ESPN.com

  • I wasn’t ready to crown Manning as MVP before the game—though he was the one I was leaning towards—and I’m not calling him out of it. Still, it’s always been a season award so let’s finish the season, shall we? That said if we are talking “Not Peyton” I lean towards Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, not Tom Brady.
  • The Broncos have two games they should win in the next two weeks (Oakland and Houston). The Patriots have Miami, Baltimore and Buffalo. Put Buffalo aside (though you never know). Both Miami and Baltimore are games they should win. But both teams have playoff hopes and will be more desperate than the Raiders or Texans. Home field is still there for the taking.
  • San Diego has a winnable Oakland game and a very, very tough game against Kansas City, though at least it’s at home. They have a good shot at a Wild Card—the AFC is a mess so everyone does—but they will need help.

What did you see last night? Give me your thoughts down in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter..

3 Questions about: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

image via NFL.com

In the underwhelming AFC, there are an awful lot of teams still in the hunt for the second Wild Card.

At 6-7, you’d assume the San Diego Chargers weren’t one of them but here we are. Given that Baltimore and Miami both have games they can very well lose (against Detroit and against New England respectively) and with the other 6-7 team (the New York Jets) heading to Carolina, the Chargers have a great shot at getting a leg up for that spot.

They face a Denver Broncos team which, while it has secured a playoff berth, has its sights set on the division title and a bye week—and perhaps home field advantage.

In other words, this is no pushover for either team.

  • Can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Last time out, the Chargers offensive line allowed him to be sacked four times, hit five times total and pressured all day long. How will the Chargers avoid this? Will they go no-huddle and up-tempo early? Will they use a lot of short slants and quick passes to negate the rush by getting the ball out quickly? How they handle Von Miller and company will decide if they can keep up with Manning.
  • Without Wes Welker and with a Peyton Manning who is still wrestling with ankle issues, does the Broncos offense change at all? You can bet that the Chargers will try to hit Manning often and disrupt his timing but that’s a tough task. Manning can get the ball out quickly, so it’s a matter of keeping his receivers covered just long enough to get a hand on him. That hasn’t been easy and while Welker is a loss, Eric Decker has been on fire and the return of tight end Julius Thomas bolsters the offense up. Also, will the split between Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball continue?
  • How will the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen play into the Chargers offense? Back in Week 10, Allen wasn’t a big factor with just five targets and four catches for 41 yards. Truth be told, the entire offense played poorly once the Broncos built a 21-6 lead. But Allen was clearly not the playmaker he is now. This will be a tough test for him and the Chargers need him to perform. San Diego will want to try to get an early lead. To do that, they need to protect Rivers. But they’ll also need the rookie receiver to continue to step up.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Dallas Cowboys Continue to Struggle Closing the First Half

GarrettFinger

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”

– Auric Goldfinger from the James Bond novel Goldfinger

It’s a saying so true that during the Cold War, spies operating in Russia integrated it into what they called the “Moscow Rules.”

Someone should let the Dallas Cowboys know though because we’ve seen three instances of making some poor choices at the end of the first half which have resulted in big problems later.

Last time we looked at this, it was during a two-minute drill at the end of the first half against the New Orleans Saints.

Then, the Cowboys were down—as they were Monday night against the Chicago Bears—and went to the air, leaving a ton of time on the clock for Drew Brees to add some extra points on the board and essentially put the game away.

In the aforementioned Bears game, the Cowboys did it again—this time down just 17-14.

As with the Saints game, the Cowboys received the ball with under two-minutes to go.

They still had two of three timeouts as they set up for the beginning of their drive on their own 29-yard line.

1-10-DAL 29
(1:27) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to D.Bryant to DAL 39 for 10 yards (T.Jennings; M.Wright).

While Dallas has shown itself to have a lot of bad habits, you can give them credit for one thing—they didn’t leave the backfield empty.

The Cowboys line up with running back DeMarco Murray in the backfield, and four receivers wide—two on either side of the line.

The left side consists of tight end Jason Witten just off tackle and receiver Dez Bryant along the sideline.

Unfortunately, it’s obvious from the snap that Murray isn’t getting the ball. There’s no fake or play-action, so the linebackers know right away that they can drop into coverage. In fact one of the three linebackers sneaks up to the line of scrimmage prior to the snap—so you have to imagine they knew the pass was coming anyway.

Given what we’ve seen of Dallas’ tendencies, that’s no shock.

DeMarco Murray is ignored by the defense for the most part as he slips out on a short route. The most attention he gets is from a safety creeping up after the snap.

The receivers to the right of the line head out on deeper routes, while Witten drags across the middle.

Bryant runs a short hook route along the left sideline.

1st DownWhile it’s great that Murray is out there, not using him to fool the defense makes it too easy on them.

After all, with 70 yards to go in 90 seconds or so, a defense is pretty sure a throw is coming—even with two timeouts.

Because the defense doesn’t need to give the run a thought, they are in perfect position to cover.

1st Downcoverage

As you can see in the accompanying screen grab, The coverage is very good because nobody is worried about playing the run. Instead all they need to focus on are the receivers and the far safety (all the way at the left edge of the screen grab) can just hang back and contain.

The only person with even a little room is Bryant, because the corner is so concerned with Bryant’s speed that he has given him a nice cushion.

Even then, when the pass is completed, it takes a huge effort on the part of Bryant for the team to gain a first down.

Worse, he ends up hurt and, because it is within two minutes, the Cowboys have to squander one of their timeouts.

Perhaps if the team hadn’t had to waste one of their timeouts, head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan might have run the ball a few times. Maybe they wouldn’t have abandoned the run again since it had been so effective (Murray had 13 carries for 99 yards at the half).

1-10-DAL 39

(1:13) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short right to J.Witten.

The Cowboys once again line up with four wide—this time in trips right (three receivers on the right side of the line) and with Bryant once again on the far left side.

Murray is in the backfield as well, and it does look like he could be set to run the ball.

The Bears are set in their 4-3, the corners in single coverage. The corner on Bryant plays press off the line, to negate the receiver’s speed while the other corner leaves a bit of a cushion.

Again the ball is snapped and, again, it is immediately obvious this is a pass play.

The linebackers drop into coverage. This time out, Witten is open, though there are defenders right there. He drops the ball, one he should have caught.

Two things stand out.

First, it’s bitter cold. The announcers mentioned the temperature several times and it hovered around 7 degrees with the wind chill. When it’s that cold, not only do your hands feel like popsicle but the ball is hard as a rock.

Not an easy catch, especially on a literal frozen rope.

While you understand the decision to throw because of how far the offense has to go, you have to wonder if a shorter pass or a run might have been a better decision. The team still has plenty of clock left and a running back averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

Instead we see a route which is no more than 11 yards at the most, in brutal conditions to catch balls in.

Which is my second point. In these conditions, with a running back who is breaking off big yards, why are you throwing?

Let’s move on.

2-10 DAL 39

(1:10) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short left to D.Murray.

This time out, the Cowboys set up with just three wide receivers with Witten joining Murray in the backfield.

If you’re interested in tipping off that you’re passing, a tight end lining up in the backfield is a good way to go.

Again, we’ve got plenty of clock to call for a run, and a timeout, but the Cowboys want the ball in the air.

This time the play is a good one, it’s just executed badly.

Murray squirts out on a short out. The defense has once again dropped back with the receivers going long, so Murray ends up wide open with nobody around him for ten yards.

He gets to the end of his route and stops—

3rd Down Murray
—and quarterback Tony Romo overthrows him.
3rd Down Murraymiss
Romo didn’t like that, something which announcer Jon Gruden said was probably because Murray may have drifted in the route once he got open.

TONYNOLIKIE
And sure, Murray should have been more still perhaps but it’s not like Romo threw to a spot where Murray wasn’t or Murray ran the wrong route. The pass was in the area—it was just too high and too hard.

So as much as Murray should have sat down when he finished his route, Romo needed to take something off the pass. It’s cold, people are dropping passes and it’s a running back he’s targeting.

You take something off the throw. That wide open there is zero reason to rocket the ball into the receiver.

3-10-DAL 39

(1:05) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short right to T.Williams (Z.Bowman).The Cowboys run basically the same formation as they did previously and you can see the Bears defense jumping up and down as they recognize it.

This time though, Murray actually stays in to block. Witten heads out on a route, but the Bears are not fooled and blanket him.

Romo has time and chooses to go to rookie Terrence Williams, who is coming back to help him out along the sideline. Cornerback Zack Bowman makes a nice play and bats the ball down.

The Cowboys have to punt.

Interestingly, Romo misses Miles Austin on a “go” route out of the slot.

Austin isn’t wide open but he does have a couple of steps on the coverage. Romo could have hit him with a long pass rather than try to force the throw into tighter coverage.

AustinSpace

It could be he was worried about the deep safety, but it’s the sort of pass Romo can make so it’s surprising he didn’t take a shot given they needed a first down.

Even if Williams had caught the ball, he would have been short of a new set of downs.

The Cowboys are forced to punt and five plays later, the Bears score—arguably putting the game away.

Dallas never regained any real momentum on offense. After running the ball 13 times for 99 yards in the first half, Murray only runs five more times, though he gained 47 yards doing so.

The Cowboys had too many three-and-outs, rarely burned any clock and kept giving the Bears good field position.

Sure, the defense was horrible—the Bears never had to punt—but the offense absolutely didn’t help them out.

If you look at the game and want to find a tipping point, it looks to me that it’s easy to find.

Once again the poor play-calling prior to halftime, which led to a last second score by the opposing team, seems to be the beginning of the end.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

But Baby It’s Cold Outside: Why a Snowy Super Bowl isn’t the End of the World

image via SI.com

If you even casually watched any NFL games this weekend, you might have noticed we had some weather.

Of course, with weather (especially snow) comes endless amounts of complaining about the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl.

Because it’s outside and oh my you can’t have weather impact a Super Bowl.

image via USAToday.com

Let’s ignore the one in Miami which was played in a torrential downpour, because it ruins the narrative.

The biggest argument folks trot out when saying weather shouldn’t be a factor in a Super Bowl is that the two best teams should be able to play at 100 percent.

That they shouldn’t have to contend with things like weather because you want them to be able to do whatever they do best and have no outside forces impact that.

Let’s forget for a moment that part of winning a Super Bowl involves things like game planning and coaching. Let’s ignore the idea that if you knew there might be snow, you might have an alternate plan in place to negate or take advantage of it.

I mean, I get that if you throw the ball well, a blizzard puts a crimp in your plans. But knowing there is a chance it happens, a good coach – a Super Bowl winning coach – plans for it. Like all the injuries and other distractions which impact the game.

But again, let’s put that aside. You don’t want to have weather affect a Championship game. I hear you.

But here’s something you don’t realize.

It already has.

image via SportsofBoston.com

And this is why a cold-weather or snowy football environment isn’t the end of the world. There’s a good chance at least one of the playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl was played in poor weather.

Which means some team had to adjust it’s strategy or didn’t and lost. Which means there is a good chance the best team lost because of weather.

Now you may feel like this is supporting your “no weather” argument, but it doesn’t.

Because unless you stick every playoff game in a dome, you will never, ever have an even playing field. Ever.

Weather and the environment will always play a factor.

And guess what? It hasn’t ruined a Super Bowl yet. At no point have you looked at the Super Bowl and said “Man, if only team X hadn’t played in the rain/snow/fog they’d be here instead of team Y. This blows”

You’ve accepted the fact that the two teams in the Super Bowl got there, forget how, and now play. They may not be the best two teams in the NFL or playoffs and quite often they aren’t.

image via SBNation.com

image via SBNation.com

But the games are still great.

Despite the weather already impacting the playoffs and therefore, the Super Bowl.

And by the way, we keep talking about weather holding back a Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. How it’s unfair that snow might hamper their offense.

What about a team built for foul weather? What about Seattle or Carolina?

Why is it OK to make things favorable for some teams but not others?

I know the answer – it’s a passing league, we want passing.

But even in perfect weather we don’t always get it.

Why shouldn’t a team built for rough weather have the advantage?

And if it does – why is that a horrible thing?

The truth is, it isn’t. Football has always been an all-weather sport. It plays as well in the snow as it does in 75 degrees and still winds.

image of Ice Bowl via TexansUnited.com

Part of the greatness of football is overcoming the elements in your quest for success.

Maybe Thurston and Lovie Howell might not enjoy their $17,000 seats in the snow.

But I would, and a lot of fans would enjoy watching it in the comfort of their own homes.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

What we saw: Jacksonville Jaguars 27, Houston Texans 20

The Houston Texans took one step closer towards the number one overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft with another crushing loss—this time to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let’s take a look at what we learned last night.

  • Case Keenum isn’t the answer for the Texans. Neither is Matt Schaub, but that was something we knew much earlier this season. While a lot of people were frustrated by the move to Schaub Thursday night, they might be overlooking the fact that Keenum has been struggling. He wasn’t handling the blitz well, struggled making his reads and generally looked overwhelmed. It’s safe to say that Houston will be looking at quarterbacks for their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
  • Maybe the Jaguars aren’t quite as far off the rails as we thought. Bear with us here and keep in mind we’re not saying this is going to be the 2014 version of the Kansas City Chiefs. There are holes, but there is also a ton of talent. Their biggest holes are defensive end and quarterback (or quarterback, quarterback, quarterback and defensive end). But there’s a solid foundation here. And as much as you don’t want to overestimate two wins over the Texans, winning three games straight and four out of five after losing eight straight is worthy of note. It won’t be a short road, but maybe it’s not as long as we thought.
  • Andre Johnson doesn’t get as much love as Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant—rightfully so—but he needs to get more praise. Consider how bad his quarterback play has been this year—and how inconsistent over the course of his career—and it puts into perspective just how good he’s been. Health has been a factor at times, but when healthy he needs to be considered as one of the best in the NFL.
  • It makes sense to me for the Jaguars to let Maurice Jones-Drew go. It’s not that Jones-Drew is a bad back—far from it. But he’s likely to want a contract not unlike the current 5 yr/$31.1 million one he has now. The Jaguars aren’t likely to want to drop that on a back who will be turning 29 next year and is already showing signs of age. The Jaguars need to focus on other things and while Jones-Drew is a very good back, he’s not one to build a franchise around.

That’s what stood out to me. What stood out to you? Let me know in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

 

3 Questions about: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

While this may not be one of Thursday Night Football’s better matchups, there are still some interesting angles to it.

The Houston Texans may be a shocking 2-10 this season, but they have talent—talent enough to perhaps turn the team around quickly if they have the right quarterback and, perhaps, a new coach.

Meanwhile the Jacksonville Jaguars seem like they have a lot more ground to cover in order to compete in the AFC South, much less the NFL as a whole. At 3-9, they aren’t much better off than the Texans and they share a common need—quarterback—in a draft which appears to be heavy with talent.

This game may not seem like much on the surface, but the outcome could have a big impact on what each team’s offseason looks like.

  • Let’s be blunt—Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is coaching for his job. This season was a disaster from very early on and while he has had two straight successful seasons his 61-62 coaching record with the Texans points to a mediocre, at best, job. He hung onto quarterback Matt Schaub too long, has failed to make the most of talented players like Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and Ben Tate and has not been able to find a way to make the 2013 Texans look less like the 2010 Texans and more like the 2011 or 2012 Texans. The Jaguars may not be the worst team in the NFL, but they represent what should be a win for the Texans. The team lost last time at home—losing to the Jaguars again could be the last straw.
  • What future is there for Maurice Jones-Drew on this team? There aren’t a lot of offensive building blocks here. A passable offensive line, Cecil Shorts and, if he can get back in the NFL, Justin Blackmon—but not much else. Is this a team which can afford to lose Jones-Drew even if the back is on the downside of a career? And would it have been wiser to trade him and get some value? If he walks now, the Jaguars just gain another offensive hole. Jones-Drew can make a case in a game like this for sticking around and the matchup lends itself to success for him tonight.

Is Case Keenum potentially a starting NFL quarterback? After some great early games he has slid backwards and struggled. Still, for an undrafted free agent, he has acquitted himself well overall and against some good teams. It’s likely he will never be more than a backup, but he could build a strong case for at least a chance if he can close the season on a high note.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.