Jun 182013
 

Mike McCoy11. San Diego Chargers
Head Coach: Mike McCoy
2012 Record: 7-9
2012 Offense: 350 points scored, 20th in points, 31st in yards (24th passing, 27th rushing)
2012 Defense: 350 points allowed, 16th in points, 9th in yards (18th passing, 6th rushing)

Key Additions
Head Coach Mike McCoy, T Max Starks, LB Dwight Freeney, G Chad Rinehart, T King Dunlap, CB Derek Cox, RB Danny Woodhead, G Rich Ohrnberger, DE Jarius Wynn, LB Thomas Keiser, LB DJ Smith, DB Cornelius Brown, DB Johny Patrick, T DJ Fluker, LB Manti Te’o, WR Keenan Allen, WR Luke Tasker

Key Losses
T Jared Gaither, WR Michael Spurlock, TE Randy McMichael, TE Dante Rosario, T Kevin Haslam, G Tyronne Greene, G Rex Hadnot, G Louis Vasquez, LB Shaun Phillips, LB Takeo Spikes, LB Demorrio Williams, CB Chris Carr, CB Antoine Cason, DB Quentin Jammer, DB Corey Lynch, LB Antwan Barnes, DB Atari Bigby, DT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Vaughn Martin

Why 2013 will be better
The Chargers are getting a lot of hype for a solid draft class that includes Fluker, Te’o, and Allen. Allen and Tasker offer relief to Malcolm Floyd, assuming the revamped line can keep Philip Rivers on his feet long enough to find them. The defensive line features seven new defensive ends going into camp, but the Chargers give the appearance of throwing bodies at their pass rush issues, hoping that someone will stick. Running back Ryan Matthews is loaded with talent but has underachieved so far, meaning new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt needs to motivate Matthews to do better while they hope he stays healthy. Woodhead is a great change of pace back with reliable hands and big play potential. Still, “better” in the case of this year’s Chargers might simply mean another 7-9 season.

Why 2013 will be worse
I happen to love visiting the city of San Diego, but my friendly Chargers’ fan friends who reside there may be in for another long season. The roster changes for San Diego look like “garbage in, garbage out.” The offensive line, which yielded 49 sacks in 2012, did not get dramatically better with the additions of Starks, Rinehart, and Dunlap. DJ Fluker looks poised to grab the right tackle spot, but it looks like another year of living on the edge for Rivers. The line also failed to open running lanes, as Chargers’ running backs were held to just 3.6 yards per carry a season ago, second worst in the league. The line will need to improve dramatically if the 31st ranked offense from last season is going to fare any better in 2013. Starks played every game for Pittsburgh last season, but will not be much of an upgrade. He struggled in the Steelers’ passing game last season and has never been an exceptional run blocker. On defense, the Chargers were the fourth worst team in the league on third down conversions, and the turnover on linebackers to bring in Freeney and Te’o as complements to Donald Butler and Jarret Johnson may work out for San Diego, but it seems to have just as much potential to implode, especially after the Chargers lost LB Melvin Ingram to a torn ACL this spring.

Outlook
It seems very hard to make the argument that the Chargers got noticeably better over the course of the off-season. Mike McCoy has his hands full this season, trying to fix a broken offense while trying to maintain a decent defense that is undergoing significant turnover. San Diego seems to be in a re-building phase in a division where the Broncos are dominant and the Chiefs are improving. A window of five to seven wins seems likely.

Mar 152013
 

John AbrahamThe New England Patriots’ improving defense may be getting an influx of veteran leadership, as the Patriots are bringing in safety Adrian Wilson (Arizona) and defensive ends Dwight Freeney (Indianapolis) and John Abraham (Atlanta).

The Patriots and Freeney know each other well. Freeney was the leader of the Colts’ defense that battled the Patriots throughout the past decade. He did not fit neatly into defensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ new defensive scheme in Indy, and is now looking for a new home. The eleven year veteran has seen his production diminish in recent seasons, but his leadership could be a boon to the Patriots’ young pass rushing talents. Similarly, Patriots’ fans are well aware of Abraham, as he spent his first six seasons with the Jets before spending seven years in Atlanta. Abraham had ten sacks for the Falcons last season and is still seen as a disruptive presence on the defensive line.  He would seem to be the better grab for the Patriots if they can land him. Abraham has 122 career sacks, while Freeney has collected 107.5.

Safety Adrian Wilson has spent his entire twelve year career with the Cardinals, and while lacking the physical nature of Bernard Pollard, he would be a stabilizing force in the secondary, where he could potentially play alongside Devin McCourty. That requires the Patriots to stabilize their cornerback situation, which is in flux right now given the free agent status of Aqib Talib and the forthcoming criminal sentencing of Alfonzo Dennard. Wilson has 27 interceptions and two touchdowns in his NFL career.

It looks like the Patriots have good plans for the money recouped through the restructuring of Tom Brady’s contract.  We will keep following this to see if the Patriots reel in any of the three.

Mar 122013
 

Wes WelkerYes, we’ve been on a little self-imposed hiatus here at GiR. Personally, I have no one to blame for that other than myself, being a parent, having a day job, having a sideline job, and finishing a degree. Yep, it’s a boring life. :-) I can’t speak for our other contributors, but suspect the same thing is true, though I have been holding off on a series of articles already written by the one guy (DJ Crash) who has been writing. (Sorry DJ – they will be up soon).

But the start of free agency later today gives us the perfect time to jump back into the fray. But before the madness begins later this afternoon, here are some of the recent development that have helped set the stage for the madness that is now likely to ensue:

1. It looks like Baltimore’s Paul Kruger won’t be hitting the open market. That’s a smart move by the Ravens. The Browns are waiting in the wings if the Ravens don’t get it done.

2. But the Ravens committed a stupid move by shipping Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth round pick. Newsflash to the Ravens and their fans: the Ravens don’t win last month’s Super Bowl without Boldin… he was amazing n the post-season and (in my view) made Joe Flacco look better than he probably is. Flacco gets the new contract, and now Boldin will be saying “Coach Harbaugh” on the west coast.

3. Might Bryant McKinnie be next in Baltimore? He claims no more discounts for the Ravens.

4. The J-E-T-S are likely to move Darrelle Revis soon through a trade. A good business move for the team living in cap hell. It won’t help their defense, but one very good cornerback is the least of that team’s concerns right now.

5. The J-E-T-S have signed quarterback David Garrard. Garrard just became the best quarterback on the team despite not having played a down in the NFL since 2010. No doubt Rexy will now predict a Super Bowl win for the Yets.

6. The Vikings have shipped unhappy wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, where it is believed he will earn $12 million a year. The Vikings are getting a first-rounder and a seventh-rounder this April, and a mid-round selection in 2014.

7. The Patriots are scrambling to sign wide receiver Wes Welker and cornerback Aqib Talib. Robert Kraft has stated that he wants Welker to be a “Patriot for Life”, though Welker will certainly have offers on the table if he feels otherwise. In the meantime, the Pats are thought to be trying to leverage a crowded cornerback market to get Talib to take a team friendly deal, but the Redskins are rumored to be ready to pay Talib what is looking for if (and it’s a big if) they can clear the cap room.

8. Finally, rumors have Ed Reed likely headed to San Francisco and Dwight Freeney headed to Denver, so there will be a lot of fun to watch over the coming days.

Now that we’re back, stick with us to see where some of the top flight free agents end up.

Nov 172012
 

The Indianapolis Colts roll into Foxboro this weekend with a new quarterback to renew an old rivalry as the Colts face the Patriots in a 4:25 pm match-up at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Both teams enter the game with a 6-3 record. For the Patriots, the 6-3 record is reflective of a poor start in which the Patriots’ defense has made nearly every opposing quarterback look like Joe Montana, coupled with an offense that, while productive, has struggled to close out games when it has the the lead and the ball. The Colts’ 6-3 is just the opposite; they have already surpassed the season win total projected for them by most experts and seem poised to make a surprising run into the playoffs. The Colts still enter this game deserving to be the underdogs, but they are a team the Patriots cannot afford to take lightly.

Here’s how the game breaks down:

When the Patriots run

The Patriots have the fifth best rushing attack in the league, averaging 146 yards per game and led by Stevan Ridley. The Colts surrender just over 120 yards per game, ranking 22nd in the league, and this match-up favors the Patriots. In order to apply pressure to Brady, the Colts will have to rush four to five players and drop the rest into coverage. A weak secondary will put strain on the linebackers to take away the dink and dunk offense, making them susceptible to draw plays. Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes and Dwight Freeney are effective pass rushers, but their hunger to get to Brady will open running lanes for Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen. Using a hurry-up attack will also force the Colts to limit their substitutions, tire their defenders, and make them even more vulnerable to the Patriots’ ground game. Look for the Patriots to run in excess of 140 yards again on Sunday.

When the Patriots pass

Safeties Antoine Bethea and Tom Zbikowski are in for a tough day. The relatively weak cornerbacks are going to have their hands full with Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. Darius Butler had a great game against the Jaguars, but wasn’t facing Tom Brady that day. The Patriots’ cast-off is likely to be tested down the field a few times as Brady takes occasional stabs at big plays. The middle of the field should be wide open for short passes, and the 7th ranked passing attack should carve up the field and affect long drives against the Colts’ patchwork secondary. With Aaron Hernandez likely being held back again this week, look for Gronkowski to have a big day receiving, complemented by Visanthe Shiancoe and Julian Edelman. The Patriots may only get around 250 passing yards, but the way that they get them will dictate the pace of the game.

When the Colts run

The Patriots’ defense has shut down numerous running backs this season, yielding a 100 yard game only to Ray Rice this season. The Patriots have the 8th ranked rushing defense (96.6 ypg) and will focus on slowing down Andrew Luck, daring the Colts to run the ball. Vick Ballard is a promising back, complemented by Donald Brown and Delone Carter, but these backs pale to the competition that the Patriots have faced through their first nine games. Even in sub-packages, the Patriots are likely to be content rushing three or four defenders, and will hold the running backs to short gains. The Colts average 109.4 yards rushing per game, and will likely come in near that number for the game.

When the Colts pass

Andrew Luck is having an outstanding rookie season, and Reggie Wayne is having a Pro Bowl season, aiding the young quarterback’s development. Donnie Avery and TY Hilton are very capable receivers, and the Colts’ passing attack (8th in the NFL) should put up 300 or more yards against the Patriots’ secondary. The Patriots rank 29th against the pass and are set to ease newly-acquired Aqib Talib into the fold at cornerback this weekend, but the adjustment will take time and Talib will likely not have a huge impact in his first game. The move of Devin McCourty to safety looks like a semi-permanent one, which plays into McCourty’s skill set. The secondary is improving, but the Patriots lack of cohesiveness in the secondary, plus their refusal to sell out in rushing the quarterback, mean Luck will continue his march towards a rookie record for passing yards. Luck will get his yards and some points, but the Colts may find themselves playing catch-up against the Patriots’ offense. A potential tipping point is the inability of the Colts’ offensive line to consistently protect Andrew Luck. This could result in Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower getting pressure and forcing big plays, but it could also work in reverse by making Luck improvise against a secondary that is susceptible to quarterbacks who can extend plays.

Special Teams

Some guy named Adam Vanatieri is the Colts’ kicker. Seriously, Vinatieri is still pretty good, but Stephen Gostkowski is the superior kicker. Pat McAfee is a good punter with a slight edge over Zoltan Mesko, but Mesko excels at pinning opponents deep. Both return units are adequate, but neither represents a significant and consistent threat. Gostkowski tends to put most kickoffs through the end zone.

Intangibles

Turnovers represent a key statistic in any NFL game, and this does not bode well for the Colts, who are -12 in the turnover battle this season. The Patriots are third in the league with a +17 in turnovers, and Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Vince Wilfork, and Rob Ninkovich excel in creating opportunities for the Patriots offense to play with a short field. In order for the Colts to win, they likely have to win the turnover battle by +2 or +3, but this is simply not in their character so far this year as a team. The Patriots thrive on creating big plays, one of the reasons why the Patriots, while ranked 25th in total defense,  rank 15th in points allowed. A second intangible is the pace of the play. If the Patriots move to a hurry up offense, the Colts’ defense will likely wear down, and by the second half the lead could be out of control for the Colts.

Prediction

No game has been easy for the Patriots this season, save for perhaps the game against the Rams. The Colts will strike early through the air, and I expect a bit of a see-saw through the first quarter and a half as the teams trade scores. But as the second quarter goes on, the Patriots will begin using more and more of the clock on drives while limiting defensive substitutions, and the Patriots will secure the halftime lead. Look for more of the same in the third quarter, and then the fourth quarter becomes Andrew Luck putting up the ball to try and get back in the game. Predicted score: Patriots 38 Colts 27.