Jan 052013
 

Rat's Awards ImageThis year’s crop of offensive rookies promise to reshape the futures of franchises in Indianapolis, Washington, Seattle, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay as we move toward the 2013 season. While Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were expected to compete for this award, it was the surprising Russell Wilson who took away a near certain job from Matt Flynn in Seattle and put the Seahawks on the map.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The nominees for this award included Luck, Griffin, Wilson, Matt Kalil (MIN), Doug Martin (TB), Alfred Morris (WAS), Trent Richardson (CLE), Ryan Tannehill (MIA) and Brandon Weeden (CLE).

3rd Place – Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts didn’t suffer much in the transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. In fact, other than a lost 2011 season and the end of the Colts’ reign in the AFC South, there seems to be little difference in the overall performance of the team, despite a rookie quarterback, a lack of a running game (still) and a change in defensive philosophy. Luck finished the season with 4374 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while leading the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Only Luck’s proclivity for throwing interceptions prevented him from placing higher, but Luck is clearly set as the next franchise quarterback in Indianapolis.

2nd Place – Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. The 75th pick in the 2012 draft was expected to hold the clipboard for Matt Flynn, and instead displaced Flynn and led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. As the year has gone on and the coaching staff has grown more comfortable with Wilson, he has become an even greater threat, running the Read Option offense and demonstrating that he is a threat to run or throw. Wilson finished the regular season with 3118 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 489 rushing yards, and four rushing touchdowns.

Robert-Griffin-III1WINNER – Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Talk about a game changer. Robert Griffin III turned around a long-suffering franchise in the nation’s capital, leading the Redskins to a 10-6 record and the first playoff game since 2006. Although Griffin had plenty of help from Alfred Morris, it was his double barreled threat of running and passing that opened up defenses and allowed the Redskins to put together the top rushing attack in the league this season. When Griffin was hurt, fellow rookie Kirk Counsins proved his worth, insuring that momentum towards the playoffs wasn’t halted. But there is little debate that it was Griffin’s prowess that set this team on fire this season, and Griffin seemed to mature before our eyes on the field, learning the lessons that previous running quarterbacks have been unable to grasp. Griffin finished the season with 3,200 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, only five interceptions, and he ran for another 815 yards and seven touchdowns.

Jan 042013
 

Ravens-ColtsThe disintegration of the already tenuous relationship between Joe Flacco and the Baltimore fans has continued its downward trajectory along with the Ravens record after Baltimore’s 9-2 start gave way to a 1-4 finish. Nevermind Flacco’s 54-26 record in Baltimore or that since taking over as a rookie in 2008 he has become the only QB in history to lead his team to at least one post season victory in each of his first four seasons. It has gone virtually unmentioned the Flacco has improved in every single major statistical category from 2011 to 2012; as it’s the drop in wins from last season’s 12 to 10 that has the championship thirsty city on edge. His 309 yard 2 TD performance in Baltimore’s week 16 decimation of the Giants seemingly has gone unnoticed. Perceptions couldn’t have changed more dramatically than they have for Flacco who less than a calendar year ago executed a near perfect 2 minute drive in the AFC Championship only to have the NFL gods strike down and snatch victory at the last moment. Nonetheless, for the fifth time in Flacco’s five years—and second as division champion-the Ravens are heading to the playoffs.

For the opposing side, the Colts Andrew Luck has earned in 16 games a level of adulation from the city of Indianapolis seemingly reserved for the likes of only Peyton Manning. His 7 game winning drives are the most by an NFL QB since 1970 and no rookie in this stellar class has been asked to do more downfield with so little in the backfield (there is no Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson, or even Reggie Bush in the Colt lineup). Luck had dropped back nearly 650 times and only 4 QBs have been sacked more, nevertheless, Luck has nearly single-handedly resuscitated and transformed a team that was 2-14 just a year ago into an 11-5 contender.

In the 28 years that have elapsed since Robert Irsay drew the ire of the city of Baltimore by jetting for Indianapolis in a move that made economic sense and Jim Irsay drew equal ire from the city of Indianapolis by jettisoning Peyton Manning (another fiscally prudent move) much has changed. Manning brought a pair of AFC Titles and a Super Bowl to Indianapolis and Art Modell brought a team and title to Baltimore. As playoff opponents this marks the third meeting between the two franchises. The first two acts took place in Indianapolis and left much to be desired as Baltimore has managed only 12 points total. The most recent post season matchup with the two ended in a 20-3 Indy route in 2010 and marked Manning’s final victory in a Colt uniform.

The Keys for Indianapolis
Lining up for their 17th game, don’t expect wholesale differences for the Colt’s or any other team for that matter this late in the season (i.e. the Colts will not suddenly develop the ability to control the line of scrimmage or add a ground game to add balance to their attack). More than a touch of Luck will be required for the Colts to move on and they will need Luck to be every bit the quarterback that passed for more than 4,300 yards, was rivaled by only Flacco for most 20-plus yard completions, and posted 7 game winning drives.

The Colts will have their hands full handling Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and the only hope to improve on the 104 yards per game they rushed for is if Anthony Castonzo can withstand Ngata’s pressure versus the run. Unfortunately for the Colts, RB Vick Ballard has only one carry of over 25 yards this season and Ngata spent week 17 re-charging his batteries. Factor in the return of Ray Lewis and it is likely the Colts will be at their one dimensional worst.

The Colts will have to do anything they can to factor in as many five-man routes as possible, giving Luck as many options as possible. His ability to get the ball deep has been a revelation considering the lack of a ground threat and while his tendency has been to go deep he will need check down options available. Luck’s ability to dissect the Ravens’ defense will be pertinent, and he has the perfect coaching scenario to help him identify those keys and giveaways. Chuck Pagano—prior to taking the Colts job—took a tour as defensive coordinator in Baltimore and knows their personal better than anyone.

The Colts 28-16 victory last week against Houston marked their first win over a winning team since early October and came despite being outgained by over 100 yards. Yet, Luck was able to do enough to exploit the secondary to notch the win in Pagano’s return. If Luck can continue his third down success that has masked the run deficiencies and the Colts utilize the other subtle qualities they bring into the game—namely returner Deji Karim’s recent explosiveness and Pagano’s knowledge of the opposition—they can find a way. It has been just that, the ability to find a way, which has positioned them at 11-5 despite being the only team in the post-season with a negative scoring differential.

Defensively the Colts will need to do what they can to limit Rice’s effectiveness between the tackles; if they can force him outside they can utilize what is perhaps their only asset against the run—their sideline to sideline speed. Like Luck, Joe Flacco has been victimized by a leaky offensive line. The Colts will hope to touch up Flacco and will need Vontae Davis to build on his two interception performance of last week and match up with speedster Torrey Smith.

The Keys for Baltimore
While defense has been the Baltimore calling and the names Suggs, Reed, Ngata, and Lewis still appear on the marquee a win for the Ravens will likely have to be attributed to the ability to exploit obvious weaknesses in the Colt defense. The Colts defense has allowed 137.5 rushing yards per game. While solid in pursuit, they fail to hold up well versus running backs that do damage between the tackles. Enter Ray Rice: the Ravens have won 23 of the 26 games when Rice has at least 25 carries. The Ravens will look to establish strong play by their tackles to allow Rice to control the pace of the game and effectively approach that 25 carry magic number.

In the passing game, the same group of tackles that will be key to springing Rice to a good game on the ground will have to do a better job than they have this year of protecting Flacco. When protected, Flacco can be accurate and effective and the Baltimore offense more than efficient. The Ravens thrashed the Giants for 533 yards in week 16 and, despite all the late season offensive turmoil, have averaged nearly 32 points per game at home. Baltimore has their own man from the other side in Jim Caldwell who manned the Colts sideline in both a tight Super Bowl loss and last season’s 2-14 debacle. Caldwell has spent the last month calling the plays for Baltimore and though results have been mixed he does have knowledge of Colt personnel.

There is not enough that the Colts can do to gain effectiveness against a Raven’s defense that will look to feed off of the emotional return to the lineup of Ray Lewis. While the Baltimore defense has lost a step or five they still hold enough advantages to boil things down to one focus: the ability of Ed Reed and the secondary to ground the third down passing attack that has been at the crux of Luck’s ability to bail out the Colts offense all season long.

The Outcome
The Pagano story has rightfully captured the hearts of NFL fans everywhere and has made the Colts a post season rooting favorite for fans that don’t have a horse in this race otherwise. If the sentiment of Ray Lewis potentially playing his last game at home can be trumped then it is Pagano’s remarkable return to the sideline after battling leukemia that has deserving done so. Though the luster seems to have faded from Baltimore many weeks ago it will be quite a challenge for the Colts to do what no team has done in the Flacco era and the Ravens to a winless post season.

Is Luck enough to lead a team that takes the field with 28 men playing their first postseason game? Baltimore is better on defensive and their running game foils the Colts direct weakness against the run. Furthermore, Jacoby Jones and the elite return game has the potential to exploit Indianapolis’ struggling coverage unit. This will be Ray Lewis’ last home game, but it won’t be his last game. The Ravens have too many advantages and they are at home. This week being pretty good is better than having ‘Luck’ on one’s side.

Baltimore 30 – Indianapolis 21

Jan 022013
 

Seahawks - RedskinsThe Seattle Seahawks can take solace in the fact that the road to the Lombardi Trophy for the past two Super bowl winners—Green Bay and New York—came less a home game for either team. Thankfully, for the rest of the NFC playoff field, the unfriendly confines of CenturyLink Field will remain out of play this post season barring a Vikings-Seahawks matchup. In 2012, Seattle defeated only one team—the Chicago Bears—with a winning record on the road. Nonetheless, other than their opponent, no team heads into the post season hotter. While Washington has won its last 7 starts, Seattle has put together wins in 7 of 8 games during a stretch that has seen them give up more than 17 points only once and score 58, 50, and 42 points in succession.

For Washington, they can look no further than the Seahawks themselves for a prime example of how a home game wild card weekend can prove to be a tremendous advantage against a team that may either match or exceed them in virtually all aspects of the game. While home cooking has not correlated to championship success in recent seasons, it did help a 7-9 Seattle team upend the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints that traveled to Seattle sporting an 11-5 record in 2010. This game is more evenly matched than that game was. Washington, the only playoff team in either conference with 3 home losses, has reversed their early season home misfortunes by winning their last 4 home games—all virtual must win occurrences.

The Keys for Seattle
Seattle’s defense relies heavily on strict gap assignment football—they will need to stay disciplined to stop the league’s number one rushing attack. Assuming they are able to contain Alfred Morris and a physically limited Robert Griffin III, Washington will attempt to exploit man coverage from the Seattle secondary. CB Brandon Browner is back from suspension and Richard Sherman had his overturned. Additionally, Safety’s Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas have been adept at stopping both the run and pass all season. Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, the top two running QB’s to face Seattle this season, collectively scored 25 points against Seattle. Limiting the cutback lanes for Alfred Morris and Griffin and winning the one-on-one battles against the Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, and Leonard Hankerson will be paramount factors if Seattle is to win on the road.

Washington’s three interceptions against Dallas in their division title clinching performance in Week 17 were more story of Tony Romo’s ineptitude than Washington’s prowess. Offensively, Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle rushing attack has allowed Russell Wilson to exploit the opposition all season long with the play action and to compensate for a lack of talent amongst Seahawk receivers. This will have to continue for Seattle to move on to the divisional round. Washington gave up 281.9 yards per game through the air this season which is more indicative of who they are as a defense than the three pick performance and the 18 points they held Dallas to.

The Keys for Washington
Washington held opponents to 96 yards per game rushing throughout the season. In order to win they must limit a Seattle rushing attack that averaged 161 yards per game and limit the ability of Russell Wilson to feed off the play action. While Washington’s secondary is weak, Seattle’s Achilles heel is its lack of talent at WR—limiting Seattle’s running game and taking away the play action should ground the Seattle passing attack and compensate for Washington’s inadequacy in the secondary.

Offensively, Alfred Morris will need to continue on the course of success he has been on. The rookie rushed for 1613 yards and, more importantly, he came up with a 200 yard 3 touchdown performance in Week 17 with Griffin’s ground game being limited due to injury. If Morris’ cutback game can exploit the league’s 10th ranked rushing defense—and the condition of RG III’s knee improves, the Redskins will be better equipped to deal with the Seattle blitz and physical nature of their pass defense.

The Outcome
The two quarterbacks would easily be the Rookie of the Year in virtually any season had they not come out in the same year. The feature backs are separated by 23 yards on the season. The hot streak that both teams are on is equally incredible and all things point to this game being a pick ‘em type affair. In such cases it’s easy to side with the home team. However, there is one area where these teams are not at least close to even: The Seattle defense is better, particularly against the pass, and has fared well against moving quarterbacks. Seattle 28 – Washington 20

Update: Please note this article was first published with an incorrect note that Seattle was 10-5-1. This has since been corrected.

Week 14 Recap

 Posted by
Dec 102012
 

Week 14 offered us some amazing individual performances while also managing to make the playoff picture a bit murkier. The AFC division winners are all but set, as is the fifth seed, but the sixth seed became more competitive when both the Steelers and the Bengals lost on Sunday. In the NFL, Atlanta blew an opportunity to wrap up a first round bye, while the NFL wildcard race become more ferocious, and the NFC East is promising a pitched battle in the season’s final few weeks.

Here is our Week 14 recap:

Dec 032012
 

Week 13 served as a start reminder of how quickly lives can take a tragic turn. This Saturday, as I was home putting up a Christmas tree with my family and enjoying time with my loved ones, Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend before going to Arrowhead Stadium. He encountered Chiefs’ GM Scott Pioli, who tried to calm him down. Head Coach Romeo Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs were also brought outside to speak with Belcher, who thanked each man for the opportunities he was provided with. Then, when police arrived, Belcher turned the gun on himself.

Of all the things said this weekend, it was quarterback Brady Quinn’s comments that resonated the most. “The one thing people can hopefully try to take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people,” Quinn said after the game. “I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently. When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?” Quinn continued with, “We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”

Well said, Brady. And with those words I hope to focus more on the people around me, and a little less on staying connected through my phone. In the final analysis, our lives are remembered and judged based on the relationships we have, and how much we commit ourselves to them.

Week 13 Recap

  • The Falcons top the Saints 23-13 in a game sure to be remembered as one of Drew Brees’ worst; Falcon’s defense comes through as Atlanta wraps up the division crown
  • Buffalo pounds Jacksonville 34-18 behind solid performances from Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson; Bills rush for 232 yards in the win
  • Seahawks win away from home as they stun the Bears 23-17; Russell Wilson continues a solid rookie campaign with 293 yards and two touchdowns
  • Andrew Luck rallies the Colts to a dramatic last second win over the Lions 35-33; Lions’ defense squanders another monster game by Matthew Stafford and Megatron
  • Speaking of wasting great performances, Adrian Peterson rushes for 210 yards and a touchdown, but the Vikings fall to the Packers 23-14; Morgan Burnett picks off Christian Ponder twice in the win
  • The Chiefs overcome tragedy to pull off 27-21 win over the Panthers; Brady Quinn throws for two touchdowns and Jamaal Charles rushes for 127 yards
  • Patriots wrap up the AFC East with 23-16 victory over the Dolphins; Stevan Ridley and Jerod Mayo play key roles in the win
  • Greg McElroy comes off bench, leads Jets to 7-6 victory over the Cardinals;  Shonn Greene rushes for 104 yards as the Cardinals’ meltdown continues
  • The Rams have the 49ers number this season, as St. Louis edges San Francisco 16-13 in overtime; rookie Janoris Jenkins returns a fumble for a score
  •  The Texans whip the Titans 24-10 to clinch a playoff spot; rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus is merciless in recording two sacks and a fumble recovery
  • The Broncos lock up the AFC West with a 31-23 victory over the Buccaneers; Manning throws for three touchdowns and Von Miller returns an interception for his first NFL touchdown
  • The Steelers stun the Ravens 23-20 with Charlie Batch throwing for 276 yards; Flacco not looking like an elite quarterback in the loss
  • The Browns win a second straight game with a 20-17 victory over the Raiders; Browns break road losing streak on the backs of Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon while Brandon Myers has 14 receptions in a losing effort
  • BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushes for 111 yards as Bengals win fourth in a row, defeating the Chargers 20-13; Rivers continues turning the ball over at crunch time
  • The Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-33 as Dez Bryant catches two touchdown passes and Morris Claiborne returns a fumble by Bryce Brown for the decisive score
  • RGIII throws for 163 yards and runs for 72 more while Alfred Morris rushes for 124 yards as the Redskins edge the Giants 17-16 to pull within one game of the division lead
Nov 262012
 

Week 12 brought us one of the more entertaining Thanksgiving Day slate in recent years, as the Texans and Lions played a contest full of controversy and missed opportunities, the Redskins showed they are a time on the rise while the Cowboys proved they have no idea who they are, and the Patriots slaughtered the Jets, likely bringing closure to the Tannenbaum/Ryan era in the Meadowlands.

Not that Sunday wasn’t entertaining as well…

Here are your Week 12 results:

  • The Texans beat the Lions 34-31 with some held from Jim Schwartz and a real stupid rule; Ndamukong Suh again shows us that he has “issues”
  • Robert Griffin III is too much for the Cowboys to handle as the Redskins hold off the Cowboys 38-31; Alfred Morris has another big day for the ‘Skins
  • The Patriots once again get solid efforts from offense, defense and special teams while pasting the Jets 49-19; Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen and Steve Gregory complement Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork in a total team effort
  • Jay Cutler returns to lead the Bears past the listless Vikings 28-10; Bears exit the game with some injuries to be concerned with
  • Bengals crush Raiders 34-10 as Carson Palmer loses to former team; Green-Ellis rushes for 129 yards and a score on 19 carries
  • Steelers turn over the ball seven times, enabling the Browns to pull of the 20-14 upset; Weeden sustains head injury
  • TY Hilton is first Colt to score on offense and special teams as the Colts bounce the Bills 20-13; Fitzpatrick loooking less and less like the future starting quarterback in Buffalo as he again struggles
  • Chad Henne seems to be the spark that the Jaguards need as he guides Jacksonville to a 24-19 win over Tennessee; Jags snap seven game losing streak
  • Broncos win sixth straight, edging Kansas City 17-9; Brady Quinn holds on to the ball, but not much else in defeat
  • Davone bess catches 7 passes for 129 yards, helping the Dolphins beat the Seahawks 24-21 and stay in contention in the AFC; Seahawks look like playoff pretenders as they are now 1-5 on the road
  • The Falcons don’t win pretty, but they do win; they edge the Buccaneers 24-23 as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones enjoy big days
  • Chargers squander lead, give up a 4th and 29 en route to a 16-13 Baltimore win in overtime; Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith, and Ray Rice all have big games to lead the Ravens back
  • Janoris Jenkins has two pick sixes to lead the Rams past the Cardinals 31-17; Steven Jackson rushes for 139 yards on 24 carries
  • 49ers beat the Saints 31-21 with five sacks of Drew Brees and Colin Kaepernick wins his second game; only the Saints’ offensive line looked worse than their defense
  • Giants hammer the Packers 38-10 as Eli Manning throws for three scores; Packkers missing multiple starters but Aaron Rodgers looks pedestrian in the loss
  • Still to come: Panthers-Eagles
Oct 222012
 

Wow… we had quite a turnout for this past week’s poll, and we thank all the kind readers from Reddit who visited our site to take part. We had another runaway winner this week, as 42% of you thought that the New Orleans Saints were off to the most disappointing start in the NFL this season. Here are the results from last week’s poll.

 

Poll #10: Which team is off to the most disappointing start?

New Orleans (1-4) (42%, 32 Votes)
Carolina (1-4) (22%, 17 Votes)
New England (3-3) (17%, 13 Votes)
Green Bay (3-3) (9%, 7 Votes)
Pittsburgh (2-3) (4%, 3 Votes)
Kansas City (1-5) (3%, 2 Votes)
Dallas (2-3) (3%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 76

This week’s poll takes a first look at the MVP of the season to date. It is a large pool, trying to fit in the top quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and defensive players to see what fans think of the candidates after seven weeks.

Poll #11: If the season ended today, who would you vote for as the Most Valuable Player?

Tom Brady, New England
Drew Brees, New Orleans
Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Arian Foster, Houston
Frank Gore, San Francisco
AJ Green, Cincinnati
Robert Griffin III, Washington
Percy Harvin, Minnesota
Marshawn Lynch, Seattlle
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Peyton Manning, Denver
Clay Matthews, Green Bay
Alfred Morris, Washington
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Matt Ryan, Atlanta
JJ Watt, Houston
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
Wes Welker, New England