Tag Archive: Aaron Rodgers


NFL Weekly Picks: Week 3

Hey guys, sorry I didn’t have time to get my weekly picks post up last week. I just moved back to Minnesota so now that I am settling in hopefully I will be able to get into a groove with all of these weekly posts that I want to do. So, without further ado, here are my NFL Weekly Picks!

Eagles over Chiefs- I think the Eagles’ offense will be too much for the Chiefs to slow down, but it may come down to whether or not the Eagles defense can stop anyone. Thus far the answer to that question is no. Still, I’m going with Chip Kelly and the home team Eagles in this match-up, especially since the Chiefs have Dunta Robinson on their roster.

Packers over Bengals- The Bengals got a solid win against the Steelers last week but the Packers offense looked borderline unstoppable last week against the Redskins. The Bengals defense is a significantly better unit, but I think the Packers will be able to put up enough points to win this one. If Andy Dalton plays well he could make things interesting though, and I’m not sold on the Packers defense yet. Still, it’s tough to bet against Aaron Rodgers in this match-up even on the road.

Rams over Cowboys- This might surprise some people, but the Rams are a good football team and they gave my Falcons a run for their money last week. The Cowboys couldn’t quite figure out the Kansas City Chiefs, and while the ‘Boys have a lot of talent on offense the Rams are a talented defensive football team that I think has a chance to match-up with the Cowboys on offense. Of course, if Dez Bryant goes off for 180 yards and a touchdown like Julio Jones did last week then I would be completely wrong on that. Still, I have a feeling the Rams will play well in this game and I think they can beat Tony Romo and the Cowboys on the road.

Chargers over Titans- I’m realizing I’m picking a lot of road teams here so far, but I think the Chargers are the better football team in this match-up and it’s tough not to go with Philip Rivers over Jake Locker here. If Locker can pass accurately and use his legs effectively they could give the Chargers defense some problems, but most of us know the likelihood of both of those things happening consistently for four quarters is not likely.

Vikings over Browns- This would have been a more interesting game prior to the Trent Richardson trade, and there is something funny about the Browns making this trade with the Colts just days before they travel up to Minnesota to play the Vikings given that the Vikings are the team that traded down with Cleveland to allow them to move up to number three overall and select Richardson in the first place. The Browns offense has been struggling even with Richardson in the lineup, and it’s hard to imagine them being better without him even with Josh Gordon returning from suspension. The Browns do have a good defense though, so I expect both teams to score less than 20 points. The Vikings have the offensive advantage in this match-up though thanks to Adrian Peterson and a solid game from Christian Ponder, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and Jerome Simpson should be enough to win this one for the purple. However, it is worth mentioning that this is the kind of game the Vikings traditionally find a way to inexplicably lose.

Patriots over Buccaneers- The Buccaneers aren’t in great shape right now and while the Patriots have barely managed to defeat two rookie quarterbacks in consecutive weeks I don’t think Tom Brady and that offense are going to stay out of synch for more than a couple weeks. That should play to the Bucs advantage this week, but I don’t think it will be enough to get them a victory.

Saints over Cardinals- Originally I had the Cardinals winning this game, but it’s tough to travel into the Superdome and get a victory, particularly since the Saints defense looks significantly better through two weeks than it ever did last season. Carson Palmer has reinvigorated the Cardinals offense, and their defense is still respectable despite the loss of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, but I don’t think it will be enough to go into the Saints’ house and beat Drew Brees on his home turf.

Redskins over Lions- The Lions have shown plenty of flashes through the first two weeks, but I think they are going to come up short against a Redskins team that will likely be very motivated and focused after starting 0-2. It remains to be seen if the ‘Skins defense can get on track, but going up against the Eagles and the Packers in the first two weeks isn’t exactly a fair barometer for a defense, especially since they were essentially the NFL’s guinea pigs against Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offensive scheme. I think the Redskins will be motivated and hungry this week, so I’m giving them the edge over the Lions.

Giants over Panthers- I definitely didn’t expect the Giants to start the season out 0-2, but if Eli Manning can’t stop throwing interceptions they may be in for a long year. However, I am well aware that not all of those turnovers are his fault and I expect he and the Giants to get back on track against the Panthers. It would be really nice if David Wilson would get his act together and stop fumbling the ball, but the addition of Brandon Jacobs back into the fold should help provide at least a little stability in the running game. Maybe Cam Newton and the Panthers will surprise me, but I think the Giants are going to be motivated after starting 0-2 just like the Redskins are. I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about the Panthers yet or not.

Texans over Ravens- The Ravens offense has been ineffective thus far this season and I don’t anticipate them getting back on track against the talented Texans defense. If Andre Johnson can play the Ravens will get to see the Texans explosive combination of Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson AND DeAndre Hopkins who was one of my favorite wide receivers in last year’s loaded draft class. He caught the game-winning touchdown last week against the Titans, so I think the Texans are ready to beat the Ravens on the road this week.

Dolphins over Falcons- It pains me to do this, but the Falcons got way too banged up last week to go on the road and beat the Dolphins in my opinion. I think Ryan Tannehill is about to go off, and Lamar Miller may have a big day as well. Not only that, but Brent Grimes is a sure bet to pick off Matt Ryan in this game and I just don’t think the Falcons will be able to overcome Roddy White not being at 100%, Steven Jackson being out (though Jason Snelling will hopefully get a lot of touches), Kroy Biermann being out for the year, Bradie Ewing being out for the year, AND Sean Weatherspoon being out until Week 11. That’s a lot to replace and account for in one week, and while I think they will be able to survive those set-backs long term I’m not sure they can get away with it this week, so I give the advantage to the Dolphins at home.

Bills over Jets- In the battle of rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Geno Smith I’ve got to give Manuel and the Bills the edge in this one. The Jets defense is still a quality unit despite the departure of Darrelle Revis, but Geno Smith made some questionable decisions and poorly executed throws in the elements against New England last week, and I have been shocked by how well EJ Manuel has been playing thus far. The Bills coaching staff has done a great job managing him thus far, and I trust Nathaniel Hackett to gameplan well more than I trust Marty Mornhinweg to do the same, so I am going with the Bills in this one. May the best rookie QB win. I must say, I was shocked and critical of the Manuel pick at 16 overall, but defeating Geno Smith (who I expected to come off the board first of all the quarterbacks) would be a pretty big vindication for EJ Manuel and the entire Bills organization. It would also make me look stupid, so that’s probably why it will happen.

49ers over Colts- This is an interesting one and it will be worth monitoring just how involved Trent Richardson will be in this game given that he is unfamiliar with the system and has no chemistry with the team at all, but the 49ers are the better squad and are likely very pissed off after the way they lost that game to division rival and offseason Cold War opponent Seattle on Sunday Night. The 49ers should come out firing and it will take a terrific performance from Andrew Luck to leave Candlestick with a victory.

Seahawks over Jaguars- #BecauseJaguars and #AllRussellWilsonEverything

Bears over Steelers- I thought Marc Trestman might give the Bears offense a tune-up and he appears to have done just that, and it makes me happy to see Jay Cutler playing well. The Steelers offense is completely devoid of playmaking at this point and I don’t anticipate they will be able to take advantage of the Bears defense enough to come away with a victory even at home.

Broncos over Raiders- The Broncos are playing some terrific football right now and they are looking especially sharp on the offensive side of the ball so far. They simply have more talent than the Raiders do at this point, though I think Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden may give the Broncos defense a few headaches. It would be a truly fantastic upset if the Raiders were able to come away with a victory against the Broncos on the road, I just don’t see it happening.

Thanks for reading, hopefully I do better this week than I did during the openers. Enjoy the games this weekend!

–Tom

Current 2013 Pick Record: 9-6

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NFL Quick Hits: Week 2

This post will have to be more brief than my original one, partially because I missed the majority of the late afternoon games as well as the 49ers-Seahawks game (despite the delay) because of my move. Still, I want to write up my thoughts on the games I was able to see this week, so here there are.

New Message: Missing You. Sender: Tom Brady. Recipients: Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez: The Patriots are 2-0, but barely. They eeked out a win week one against a rookie quarterback and the Buffalo Bills and needed three interceptions from their defense to hang on for a 13-10 win against Geno Smith and the New York Jets this past Thursday. Shane Vereen got hurt after a very productive opening week and Stevan Ridley has started slowly in the first two weeks. On top of that, Danny Amendola was hurt against the Jets, Gronkowski is still out, Hernandez is long gone and so is Wes Welker. Julian Edelman was the only receiver Brady could trust to catch the ball and he targeted him very frequently as a result, though Aaron Dobson had three solid catches for 56 yards and the Patriots’ only touchdown. However, he caught those three passes on a whopping 10 targets from Brady and had at least a couple drops from what I saw watching the game live. Brady let his frustration show throughout the game and it’s easy to understand why. He’s used to sure-handed receivers that are on the same page as him, but it was clear that everyone on the unit outside of Edelman was still working out the kinks with Brady. This was perfectly shown on one 3rd down play in the red zone where Dobson was running a corner route and as he got to the goal line Brady fired a pass expecting him to have read the coverage, recognize the hole in the zone and sit down for an easy touchdown. Instead, Dobson continued running his route and the pass fell incomplete and led to a field goal attempt which left Brady incensed as he came off the field and on the sideline. Hopefully Amendola won’t be out for longer than a couple weeks and Gronkowski should be back either this week or next, so Brady won’t have to put up with this indefinitely. As frustrating as this is for him right now it might pay some dividends later in the season if he gets on the same page with Dobson and rookie undrafted free agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins early on. Once Amendola and Gronkowski are back (and if they stay healthy) having Dobson, Thompkins and Edelman as reliable complementary options could provide this offense with a significant spark, not to mention if the running game gets going and Vereen returns healthy after he is activated from the injured reserve. The silver lining for the Jets is that Geno Smith flashed some upside in this game despite his three interceptions (though some of the throws he made late in the game were awful and complete head scratchers) and Chris Ivory seems poised to take over as a potential bell cow as he comes back from injury. That would be great for the Jets because they need a running game to help take some of the pressure off of Smith’s shoulders, there’s no way he should be throwing the ball 35 times in poor conditions against Tom Brady and the Patriots in his second career start. As out of synch as the Patriots offense was at times, the Jets defense has been better than a lot of people assumed it would be after losing it’s best player in Darrelle Revis, further proving that Rex Ryan may not be a media darling but he is a very good defensive football coach. We’ll see if that continues, but I don’t expect the Patriots to continue to struggle on offense like this for more than two or three weeks, and hopefully Chris Ivory will stay healthy and help keep Smith from needing to attempt 30+ passes in a game for a while.

It’s A Good Thing the Falcons Played at Home Because They Know Where All the Hospitals Are: Steven Jackson is already hurt and may be out another two to four weeks with a thigh injury. Bradie Ewing is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Kroy Biermann is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Sean Weatherspoon is on IR and is eligible to return week 11 because of a Lisfranc injury. Roddy White is playing through his injury but was clearly limited in week two as he was targeted just three times for three receptions and 21 yards. Julio Jones was on the injury report but thankfully went off for 181 yards and one touchdown against the Rams. The Falcons can survive without Steven Jackson thanks to Jason Snelling (if they ever give him the ball) and Jacquizz Rodgers as a change of pace back, they can survive while Roddy White is largely a decoy if Harry Douglas keeps catching 80% of his targets like he did against the Rams (4/5), they can survive without Ewing at fullback like they did all last season, and they can find a way to replace Biermann’s production as a pass rusher and hopefully his versatility to drop into coverage as well as his terrific motor. However, it’s going to be hard to replace ‘Spoon’s value to the linebacking corp because the Falcons were already thin there and relied on rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu from Texas State to help solidify that unit already. Now they will be scrambling to either add a veteran or will be forced to call up one of the young linebackers who didn’t make the team such as Pat Schiller. The Falcons have been hit hard by injuries already this year, but it’s not time to hit the panic button yet. However, they really need to work on establishing the run game against the Dolphins this upcoming week because running the ball 16 times for 36 yards (2.3 ypc) is embarrassing, particularly when your most effective runner (Jason Snelling) only got 2 carries and managed 19 yards and a touchdown despite the coaching staff almost deliberately trying not to give him the ball. Ryan was brilliant despite the lack of even a semblance of a running game, but expecting him to be that brilliant without a running game consistently is asking for a let down. Feed Snelling and let him take some of the heat off Ryan by getting him in more favorable 2nd and 3rd down situations. I haven’t been able to go back and rewatch the game yet, but Sam Bradford finally seems to have some weapons around him to do some damage with. Chris Givens gives him a deep threat that the Rams have been missing for years, and despite not liking him out of Boise State Austin Pettis has stuck around and remained productive despite lacking any explosiveness what so ever. The Rams, too, need to establish a running game and Daryl Richardson is the man they expect to do it. Still, he only got 10 carries and mustered 35 yards, but I still hope the Rams will give Benny Cunningham a chance to show what he can do. He is my favorite running back on the Rams roster and I really think he and Isiah Pead could do some damage splitting carries. The Rams defense is definitely talented enough to contend, it all comes down to whether Sam Bradford and the offense can take that next step this year now that he has some weapons to throw to.

Aaron Rodgers Is Still A Robot: I watched almost the entirety of the Packers-Redskins game and it honestly scared me watching Rodgers play quarterback. He had 335 yards passing at HALFTIME and finished with 480 yards, tying the passing record set by Packers legend Matt Flynn. He also threw four touchdowns while completing an insane 34 of his 42 passing attempts. His “QBR” of 80.9 is proof that ESPN’s rating system for quarterbacks is a complete joke because Rodgers was nothing short of masterful against the Redskins. On top of that the Packers also got 132 yards and a touchdown out of James Starks who was forced into action after Eddie Lacy was knocked out of the game with a concussion. RGIII on the other hand had a tougher day and started much slower than Rodgers did (though Rodgers was under pressure frequently during the first couple series). He still managed to finish the game with 320 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 26/40 passing, but only ran the ball four times for a total of one yard. The Redskins are clearly trying to limit the contact that RGIII is taking, but it’s hurting the offense’s effectiveness early on in games if you ask me. The ‘Skins are 0-2 now and RGIII and that offense will have to get things going earlier if they are going to turn things around. We’ll see when the Shanahans are comfortable turning him loose on his surgically repaired knee.

Rivers Gets Redemption, Steals Victory From Vick, Eagles: Philip Rivers bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Texans the week before by winning on a last second field goal against the Eagles this past week. Rivers completed 36/47 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns, all of which went to his new favorite target Eddie Royal who now has five touchdowns in just two games. Who saw that coming? Not me. I wasn’t happy to see Malcolm Floyd sustain a neck injury when he got sandwiched by two Eagles defenders over the middle, but his injury gave Keenan Allen a chance to get on the field and he caught two of his three targets for 34 yards including a BEAUTIFUL route on a deep in for his first NFL reception. Allen was my #1 ranked wide receiver in the 2013 NFL Draft class so I am excited that he might be getting more playing time even if it is because Floyd went down with an unfortunate injury. Rivers’ performance also overshadowed a terrific game from Mike Vick who threw for a career best 428 yards on 23 of 36 passing and two touchdowns. He also added six rushes for 23 yards and another score on the ground. LeSean McCoy only got 11 carries for 53 yards but he and DeSean Jackson were lethal in the passing game as McCoy totaled 114 yards on just five receptions and Jackson reeled in nine passes good for 193 yards and a touchdown. Chip Kelly’s offense is certainly fun to watch, but I am not surprised that the Eagles’ defense is struggling to stop opposing offenses from gaining a lot of yards and putting up a lot of points. They’re giving up 30 points per game through the first two weeks and that isn’t going to cut it in a division with the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys all capable of putting up a lot of points on any given Sunday.

Texans “Nuke” Titans: For years Texans fans and NFL Draft analysts alike have been waiting and wondering when the Texans would get a legitimate wide receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson and 2013 was finally the year as the Texans added DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was my #4 ranked wide receiver in an absolutely loaded class but I am a huge fan of his and was not surprised to see him help the Texans rally despite losing Andre Johnson to a possible concussion in the 4th quarter. He finished the game with seven receptions for for 117 yards and the game winning touchdown in overtime in just his second game during his rookie season. It’s clear “Nuk” Hopkins is living up to the hype so far, and it’s great to see such a talented player blossom under the tutelage of a longtime NFL star in Andre Johnson.

Bengals, Bernard Burst Past Steelers: This wasn’t as fun of a game as I was hoping it would be largely in part because the Steelers offense is in a very bad way right now. Outside of Antonio Brown and occasionally Emmanuel Sanders there are no playmakers (Markus Wheaton has barely gotten any snaps the first two weeks) and Heath Miller was out for this game as well. Big Ben will be happy once Le’Veon Bell and Miller return because Bell should help perk up the running game even though Maurkice Pouncey will be out the entire season. Ray Lewis seemed to think that this was a devastating blow to the Steelers, and contrary to what I have read from some media members I tend to side with Ray. It’s easy to overlook how critical a center is to the offensive line sometimes, but players like Pouncey (even if he hasn’t been at his best for the last year or so) don’t come around too often. Add to that the departure of Mike Wallace and Miller’s injury and it’s not hard to see why the Steelers are struggling out of the gate this year. The defense is still strong, but they struggled to match up with the quickness of Giovani Bernard out of the backfield as well as the athleticism of Jermaine Greshman and Tyler Eifert. The Bengals continue to look like a very good team at pretty much every position except quarterback where I still have my reservations about Andy Dalton despite the fact that he is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Bengals have done well to surround him with weapons to get the most out of him that they can, but I think he plateaued after his rookie season and I don’t think he will ever take the next step from being a solid quarterback to being a good or great one. He settled down in this game and helped steer the Bengals to victory, but he was missing some throws he has to make to Eifert and AJ Green, two players with massive catch radii, that he has to make if he wants to lead the Bengals to the playoffs consistently, much less on a deep playoff run. The Bengals don’t seem to be totally convinced that Dalton is “the guy” yet either or they probably would have signed him to a contract extension, so it will be interesting to see how the season plays out, if Dalton takes the next step, and what the Bengals elect to do with him prior to him becoming a free agent.

Well, it was slightly more brief than last week. Hopefully you all enjoyed my thoughts, let me know what you think and if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve written here.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

NFL Quick Hits

This is a feature I’m going to try every week where I post some hopefully brief thoughts on the past weekend of NFL games. I don’t know if I’ll have time to do the same with College Football games, but I will post them if I have time to write them all up. Hopefully you guys enjoy this segment.

1- The Falcons Are Who We Thought They Were- I’m sure most of you guys know I’m a Falcons fan by now, and that loss to the Saints was tough. The Falcons scored on their opening drives in both halves, but otherwise were very inconsistent on offense. I’m wondering why they ran the ball so infrequently despite Steven Jackson having solid success on the ground, and I’m also wondering how they managed to hold Drew Brees and the Saints to 23 points despite a lackluster pass rush. I’m not too worried about the offensive line yet, I think they will gel and become a stronger unit, but the amount of pressure in Matt Ryan’s face and the inexplicable avoidance of the run game and quick-hitting pass game to try to counter the pressure was frustrating. Brees was on point as always and I was impressed with the Saints dramatic improvement on defense. Rob Ryan has done a great job with them up to this point, and the pressure they got on Ryan and the looks they were showing him pre-snap stuck out to me. The Falcons will be fine, but I don’t think they are a 13-3 team like they were a year ago. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think they are in the 10-6/11-5 area. We shall see.

2- Peyton Manning Needs To Stop Playing On Rookie- The way Manning was playing on Thursday night it is evident to me he was just playing Madden on a rookie setting, and a veteran with his resume should be playing on All-Madden at least, and preferably with a number of the sliders raised manually beyond that. Manning was obviously masterful, and that was despite having no running backs with a yard per carry average over 3.8 and only gaining 65 total yards on the ground. Joe Flacco came down to Earth after his fantastic playoff performances and it’s clear to me that he is missing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta right now. Torrey Smith is a stud, but he can only do so much without a significant threat to take some pressure off of him. Dallas Clark surprised me with 7 catches for 87 yards, and if he can keep that up the loss of Pitta shouldn’t be quite as significant. I am a huge Demaryius Thomas fan and had a top 20 grade on him out of Georgia Tech and he has completely lived up to my expectations for him. I definitely expected Decker to be the #2 guy and Welker to be the 3rd option, but if the first week is any indication then Welker is going to get a lot of love from Manning this year. I don’t think 2 catches for 32 yards will be a typical week for Decker by any means, but I think I definitely underrated Welker’s potential impact coming into the year. I was also blown away by how well Duke Ihenacho and Shaun Phillips played. I liked Ihenacho out of San Jose State but realized some of his athletic limitations, however he had 12 tackles (including ELEVEN solo stops), 1 tackle for loss and 3 pass deflections as well as some pretty nice hits in this game. Phillips had 2.5 sacks and 3 QB hits on the night and definitely helped make up for the absence of Von Miller for at least one night. The Broncos looked like they were in mid-season form, but I don’t think the Ravens are going to have that much trouble on offense or defense for the entire season. They have lots of new faces on their roster and they need time to gel, and Manning took full advantage. Don’t hit the panic button yet Ravens fans.

3- EJ Manuel Is Making Me Look Stupid- I was pretty clear that I was not a fan of EJ Manuel at FSU and while it is still very early in his career my analysis of him is looking quite foolish right now. I have been very impressed with how Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have managed Manuel starting from his first pre-season snaps. They haven’t asked him to go out there and be Tom Brady, but much like Cam Newton his rookie season they will likely open up the playbook and let him attack more as he becomes more comfortable. I was happy to see Robert Woods get his first NFL catch and his first NFL touchdown, but Manuel got to see first hand that there’s almost nobody better than Tom Brady when the game is on the line. He may not have had a great day statistically, but when it counted he took the Pats down the field and got them in position to win the game. Danny Amendola predictably had a good game, I loved what Shane Vereen did and I was very sad to see that he is going to miss significant time due to a broken wrist (which he apparently suffered on the first play of the game!). I am hoping that Spiller was given limited touches because of his lost fumble, and not because he is inexplicably being mismanaged again in 2013. Regardless, Bills fans should be very encouraged by the early returns on EJ Manuel.

4- “Same Old Bungles”- That is for my good friend Ryan Koons who is now an active duty marine. He is a die hard Bengals fan and whenever they manage to lose a game like this that is what he would always say. I have to say I really thought those days were behind Cincinnati because on paper I thought they were ready to win the AFC North. However, Andy Dalton continues to make me wonder about just how far the Bengals can go with him as a quarterback even in spite of the absolutely fantastic play of AJ Green. The Bengals have tons of talent on defense, they’ve got weapons on offense, but if they are going to win close games and go deep in the playoffs they need Dalton to play better and limit his turnovers. The run game deserves some ire as well as the Bengals only averaged 3 yards per touch and totaled 63 yards on the ground. On the other side I thought Jay Cutler, overall, had a good game and Brandon Marshall was fantastic. The Bears running game was sluggish as well, and hopefully that offensive line will slowly gel and improve over the course of the season. I know that probably makes Bears fans nervous because they’ve been waiting for that offensive front to improve for years, but I’m hoping this is the year for their sake.

5- Reggie Bush Is Dangerous, Christian Ponder Is Not- The Lions put up 38 points on the Vikings defense and a lot of that is due to Reggie Bush totaling 90 yards on the ground (4.3 ypc) and 101 yards and one touchdown as a receiver (with a long of 77). That’s very impressive production, and it comes despite only hauling in four of his eight targets on the day. Matt Stafford had another high attempt, high yardage day and while it wasn’t the most efficient performance it certainly got the job done. I wouldn’t expect too many four catch, 37 yard days for Calvin Johnson, but Bush, Nate Burleson and Joique Bell took the pressure off of him this week. On the other side Christian Ponder continues to prove his doubters right as he threw 3 interceptions, got sacked three times and lost a fumble on the day. He also spoiled a fantastic game for Jerome Simpson who had 7 catches and 140 yards which I certainly didn’t expect from him. Adrian Peterson had a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry but gained only 15 additional yards on his next 17 carries, but still managed 93 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as 18 yards and another touchdown receiving. I will be the first to admit that I liked Ponder out of FSU (clearly I’m 0/2 on scouting Florida State quarterbacks right now) but he doesn’t have the same velocity he had prior to the injuries he sustained his senior year, he isn’t making good decisions and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Cassel start at some point this season for the Vikings. That’s not a good sign, and it likely means the Vikings will be looking to draft a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft. I have been patient with Ponder and he occasionally shows signs of life, but unfortunately now that he’s in his 3rd year these kinds of struggles won’t be tolerated anymore. He’s got to step up his game and quick.

6- Pryor Makes Oakland Offense Almost Competent- I really feel like I am ruining any credibility I have as a quarterback scout but I liked Tyler Wilson a lot out of Arkansas and I didn’t like Terrelle Pryor out of Ohio State, but I am glad the Raiders elected to start Pryor over Matt Flynn. Pryor’s legs gave the Raiders life in this game and while I don’t think it will get them to the playoffs it should make them more competitive than they would have been with Flynn at the helm. I didn’t get to see as much of this game as I wanted to because the feed went out for it multiple times at the bar I was watching the games at (for some reason it was streaming online, not sure why), so outside of Pryor impressing me as a runner and Andrew Luck being a stud I don’t have too many thoughts on this game. Sorry guys.

7- Nolan Nawrocki Your Crow Is Ready- I know it’s early, and I know it’s only his first start, but it was fun to see Geno Smith rally the Jets to an unlikely win against Tampa Bay week one. I’m not going to say he made some unbelievable plays on that final drive to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but if Sanchez was the QB on that final drive I don’t think the Jets would have won that game. Smith isn’t known for his scrambling, but his athleticism was obvious at the NFL combine and he gave the Jets a chance to get lucky thanks to his skill set. He wasn’t mind-blowingly efficient by any means, but it was definitely a solid first start based on what I was able to see. Unfortunately for Bucs fans Josh Freeman struggled (though the Jets do still have a good, well-coached defense) and despite 154 yards from Vincent Jackson he only managed 210 yards on 31 attempts, was sacked three times and threw one touchdown and one interception. I wasn’t a Freeman fan coming out and his first season it really looked like he might make me eat my words, but he seemed to plateau after that rookie season and hasn’t quite been the same since.

8- Kaepernick Is The Truth- I wasn’t wild about Kaepernick’s throwing motion or accuracy coming out of Nevada, but Jim Harbaugh has done a fantastic job with him and that offense is now tailor made for him. It certainly helps having weapons like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis (even though Davis had a drop or two that he shouldn’t have) while Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are injured, but his athleticism, pure arm strength and seemingly improving accuracy really stood out to me against the Packers. Green Bay had absolutely no answer for the Kaepernick-Boldin connection and while they managed to keep him bottled up as a runner he shredded them for 412 yards and three touchdowns as a passer. The Packers will have to go back to the drawing board now to try to figure out how to slow Kaepernick down if they meet again in the playoffs. I thought Aaron Rodgers was great as usual even if he did come up just short, I still love Randall Cobb, and I was happy Jermichael Finley bounced back from that drop that led to Rodgers only interception with some solid catches, good yards after the catch and that impressive touchdown. The Packers should be fine and I think they will be a playoff team, but I’m sure they and their fans are annoyed that another referee controversy led to a do-over for the 49ers that led to an Anquan Boldin touchdown. Maybe I’m alone here, but I think the NFL downgrading Bill Leavy for that mistake is ridiculous. Leavy is a veteran official and while he made a mistake this just reeks of an overreaction to me.

9- RGIII Was Rusty, The Eagles Offense Wasn’t- The Eagles defense made this interesting in the second half as RGIII and the Redskins started to knock some of the rust off, but in the first half RGIII had a lot of issues fading away from throws and not stepping into his passes. He still did some of that in the 2nd half, but he was definitely much more crisp and effective once his receivers stopped dropping passes and Kyle Shanahan adjusted to get him into a rhythm with quicker, easier throws. Michael Vick was impressive, though he’s still the same Michael Vick that will hold onto the ball too long and take unnecessary risks with his body at times. LeSean McCoy looks like an ideal fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and he should have a huge year. I was also happy to see that one of my favorites from a couple years ago Mychal Kendricks looked much better (based on what I saw live) and was pressuring RGIII pretty consistently. I’m not sure he’s great in coverage, but it was fun to see him rushing some of Griffin’s throws. Additionally, that interception Cary Williams made on that out route that Griffin threw was nothing short of fantastic. What a terrific play.

10- Oh Philip Rivers, You Poor Bastard- Rivers was absolutely fantastic in the 1st half and he started off the 2nd half in the same fashion. He had the Chargers up 28-7 and seemed poised for a statement victory in week one of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, much like he and the Bolts have in the past, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Rivers and the offense began to sputter, the Texans woke up on offense, and the rally was complete once Brian Cushing read Rivers’ eyes beautifully and made a diving interception that he then returned for a game-tying touchdown. The Texans would go on to move the ball down the field and position Randy Bullock for a game winning 41 yard field goal. Andre Johnson continued to show why he is one of the best in the game with a 12 reception, 146 yard performance, Owen Daniels chipped in 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Hopkins added five receptions and 66 yards. I thought Arian Foster seemed determined to make a big play all game and didn’t seem focused on doing the little things. He was palming the ball and holding it away from his body, he dropped multiple catchable balls, and almost seemed to be showing off and looking to make someone look foolish. Maybe that’s just me over-extrapolating, but he seemed off tonight. I’d be surprised if Gary Kubiak doesn’t talk to him about how he’s holding the ball after he and the other coaches watch film.

Alright, so that was a LOT less brief than I expected it to be. I guess I had more to say than I anticipated, though I shouldn’t really be surprised since I am so long winded anyway. Sorry that was such a long post, hopefully you enjoyed it anyway!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

Divisional Playoff Picks:

I’m going to be traveling on Sunday morning en route to the East-West Shrine Game so I am going to make all of my picks today. We’ve got four intriguing match-ups going on this weekend, so it will be interesting to see how they shake out.

Denver-Baltimore:

As much as I want to see Ray Lewis and Baltimore continue on this season I’m not convinced they are going to. It’s hard to bet against Peyton Manning and this Broncos team, especially since this Denver defense is much more complete than any defense Manning ever had in Indianapolis. They can really get after the passer but I think they’ll be able to slow down Ray Rice as well, and that’s what I’d be worried about most if I was a Ravens fan. The Broncos can match up with the Ravens on both sides of the ball, and I’m not sure they have the fire-power on offense or the talent on defense to take away Manning’s passing options. On top of that, I’m not a big Flacco fan and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to make the big throws the Ravens need to win this game. He made some last week, but this defense is a different animal. I’m hoping for a good game, but I think Denver is going to win by more than one score: 31-20.

Green Bay-San Francisco:

This is a tough match-up to pick, but I’m going to go with San Francisco. I think they match up ok with Green Bay’s bevy of weapons on offense and they should be able to get after Rodgers without blitzing which is a big no-no against him. If you can generate pressure with four or five rushers (like the Vikings did in Week 17) then you can knock him around a bit and not give him a lot of options and force him to make unbelievable throws. The 49ers should be able to do that, and I think they’ll be able to take away the semblance of a running game that Green Bay has. On the other side of the ball I think the 49ers will be able to run the ball how they want against the Packers, and Kaepernick’s mobility outside of the pocket should extend a couple drives for the 49ers that could prove to be critical. It’s risky to pick a young QB like Kaepernick against a seasoned veteran like Rodgers, but Kaepernick isn’t one to wilt under pressure. I’m going with the 49ers but I think it’s going to be close: 27-21

Houston-New England:

I have to pick the Patriots here. I just don’t think the Texans defense will be able to match up with the weapons that the Patriots have on offense, and if the Pats can get the run game going I think the Texans will struggle to slow Brady and the Pats offense down. The Pats aren’t a great team on defense, but I think they’ll be able to do enough to slow down the Texans offense. If they can bottle Foster up and not allow Schaub to suck their linebackers in with play action fakes I think the Pats will be able to win this game. I think it’s going to be a close game, but I’m not going to be able to bet against Tom Brady in a playoff game at home: 31-24

Atlanta-Seattle:

This is a hard game for me to pick. I mentioned last week that I think the Seahawks match up very well with the Falcons on defense and I still believe that. This game is going to come down to who wins the match-ups between the Falcons WR’s and the Seahawks corners and whether or not the Falcons can find a way to get Tony Gonzalez involved without forcing him the ball. And if Michael Turner finds a way to have a productive game the Falcons can definitely win. But if the Seahawks make the Falcons one dimensional I will be very nervous with Ryan trying to carry the Falcons to victory against a very talented Seahawks secondary. They are missing their top pass rusher, but their secondary is good enough that I’d still be concerned. The Seahawks will look to run the ball early and often and I think the Falcons have the advantage on this side of the ball. Their defense has been very good at coming up with clutch turnovers this year and even if they let Wilson and Lynch move the ball I have a feeling Wilson is going to end up with an interception in this game and Lynch needs to make sure he covers up the ball because the Falcons will be looking to strip it. It’s never a good idea to bet against Russell Wilson (I did it last week and we all know how that worked out) but I think the Falcons have the defense to match up with him and even though I’m very nervous for this game I’m picking the Falcons to win a close one: 27-20

Those are my picks, hopefully I can improve over my 2-2 record last week. Enjoy all the football guys and look out for my coverage of the East-West Shrine game this next week. I’ll be posting notes here and on The Football Standard.

–Tom

BJ Coleman Interview:

Tom: First of all BJ thank you for your time, I really appreciate the chance to talk with you more in depth and I know it’s been a busy week for you.

Tom: I have been high on you as a quarterback since before the season started, so it was fun to see you down here. How do you think your senior season went overall?

BJ: Senior season was tough. It felt great starting out, opened up in Nebraska. It was an awesome opportunity to play in Lincoln, it was really impressive. We were off to a great start, 2-1, played against App State got beat and then I got knocked out during Georgia Southern. I had a shoulder injury and was out until the rest of the season until the last game, wasn’t out the whole season, but was out until Wofford. Threw the ball around fairly well I’d say, was able to finish and come back which was big. The guys fought hard, I was blessed to be a part of that group of guys, didn’t go the way we wanted it to so that’s a credit to my teammates and the coaches.

Tom: I was trying to watch that Georgia Southern game, it looked like a tough injury.

BJ: It was one of those plays, you look at it on film and it looks like the guy didn’t even hit me that hard but the guy just caught me in the perfect spot and came down right on that AC joint. When you get that AC joint messed up, it’s really hard to lift that arm. I really hard to let my arm heal for a while, do little shoulder exercises, and I feel like my arm is stronger now I’ll be honest with you.

Tom: What has been your favorite part of being down here this week?

BJ: I would definitely say Sunday, being able to go to the hospital and visit those kids, those 3 hours are something you will remember for a lifetime. It was special and to be a part of that was way more than I could have ever asked to be a part of. I love the game of football, football is what got me here so I owe those memories to football, but being here is pretty special. After that obviously it’s been the guys, I love being a teammate and this has been special. Nothing is guaranteed after Saturday, we’d love to think that everyone will get picked up and play at the next level, but nothing is guaranteed after Saturday. We just need to go out and have fun; it’s the last send-off from college football for all of us.

Tom: What is one thing you think you have done very well this week?

BJ: I think I picked up the offense very well, I feel very good with what we’re doing. Coach Carr has done a great job preparing all of us in the meeting rooms and on the field. I think I have gotten better with my feet this week, I think that has been huge for me. I have never really had someone focus in and coach me on my feet. It was a good feeling to get a lot out of what Coach Carr was saying about feet and how it measures up with where to go, the timing of the throw and the accuracy. So I think I picked up the offense well and got better with my feet.

Tom: I agree, it’s always good to see someone that can take coaching well and improve over the course of the week and I think you proved that you could do that this week.

BJ: Oh absolutely. Ever since I was 4 years old my Dad has always been there for me and he coached my little league teams. I’ve always been able to listen and focus in on what the coach is saying and try to execute it the way they want. Sometimes it’s not going to work that way and you have to improvise a little bit, but it’s very important that you don’t get too mechanical and that the fundamentals stick so that it’s like muscle memory so you don’t have to think about that stuff when you’re playing. That way you can play fast and you can react. Sometimes I catch myself guessing a little bit, but this week I was able to kind of release, say “hey, I know this offense” make a pre-snap read, get the ball out, react and just play football. I think I’ve always been able to pick things up quickly and that was big this week as well.

Tom: What is something that your coaches have taught you this week that you consider particularly valuable?

BJ: I would say it would be the fact that it’s important to show up, and keep focus for certain amounts of time. What I mean by that is that everyone comes in and always going to be amped up to try something new. Scouts are coming in and you get the chance to play in a very prestigious game, one that’s been around a long time and that has produced a lot of NFL players, some Hall of Famers and some future Hall of Famers. We all know that. But when you come in you have all that excitement. What are you going to do when you get tired? What are you going to do when you finish practice and have to go to two hours and forty five minutes of meetings? Are you going to put your head down, take your cell phone out and not keep focus? For the most part I was very impressed with the guys in that meeting room with me because they all worked hard. Because this is a job interview for all of us, and when you go to that next level it’s a business, it’s a job. It’s something that you are going to do to put food on your plate for your family. It’s still fun, and you gotta treat it like it’s fun, but at the same time it’s what you do.

Tom: What do you think your greatest strength is as a quarterback?

BJ: I’d say teammates. The most important thing for a QB ESPECIALLY, yes you have to know the offense, yes you have to be able to interact and communicate, but to say it all in one word it has to be teammates. If you’ve got 10 other guys that are looking at you in the huddle with 20 eyes and they look back at you and they believe in you and what you’re selling, and they believe that you’re going to take whatever is thrown at you and make it positive, then you can accomplish anything. If you don’t have anyone that believes in you it doesn’t matter how good you are, it doesn’t matter how strong your arm is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are and it doesn’t matter if you know where to go with the ball, you’re not going to be able to do it on your own because this is an 11 man game. You’re playing against 11 other men who are very determined to stop you from your goal, especially offensively. It could be the opposite if you’re a defensive player, but I think if you’ve got guys who believe in what you’re selling and believe in you as a quarterback I think that the sky is the limit. It’s not going to be perfect, but do you give your team the best chance to win.

Tom: I think that’s a fantastic answer BJ, this has been a very refreshing interview so far.

BJ: Haha, well I’m an up-beat guy! Some people will say “Woah, easy, easy calm down!” but my mother is a principal and she has always taught me to be a leader and as a quarterback you gotta be. You gotta be outspoken and at times you gotta be able to take coaching but at the same time you have to let guys know that in a time of duress; everything’s fine. Even if it’s not!

Tom: I agree, you always look for those intangibles from a quarterback. I think that’s what sets the good ones and the great ones apart.

BJ: Oh absolutely. And you know, everyone here is a good football player. Excuse me, a great football player. I’ve seen some amazing athletes and amazing people this week, but the littlest of things, and I’m talking the littlest of the little, set some of these guys apart.

Tom: What about something you need to work on?

BJ: You would put me on the spot, Tom. I’d say touch. I think that’s another good one. Touch on the shorter passes, and I think a lot of that to with touch on the red zone, I think a lot of that comes with knocking the rust off it’s been a little while since we’ve been out here playing. But I’ve got a great feel for the long ball, I’ve got a good feel for touch, and I missed some of them this week which I was upset about. But at the same time when you get a good feel for the receivers you’re throwing to and you get time to work with them then that stuff comes. But I think that touch when throwing the check-downs and the shorter passes, other than that I was pretty pleased.

Tom: You know, it’s easy to grade a quarterback during these weeks and say “Oh he missed this throw, oh he was inaccurate that day” but playing quarterback is so much about timing, anticipation and having a good feeling for all of your receivers.

BJ: Absolutely! That’s a great point. And being down here I love seeing the big receivers and the strong legs and people that can move down the field and eat up grass fast. I think that’s what excited me because I knew I had the arm to get it there. But sometimes you get so amped up that you get a little heavy on some of those touch passes. You just have to slow yourself down, not your game, but you have to understand what throws to make in certain situations.

Tom: I agree, and I think that people forget sometimes that as a quarterback you have to develop chemistry with your receivers in just a few days of practice because you’ve usually never played with or even met any of these guys before. So I think watching the whole week to see if the chemistry starts to develop or whether the quarterback and his receivers just aren’t on the same page still is important.

Oh absolutely. I got off the plane and started shaking hands because I had never met these men. But we have done a lot of hard work this week and now it’s time to let the hard work go to work.

Tom: Do you have any mentors for the position or people you modeled yourself after?

BJ: Well, I have. It was my freshman year at UT with the Vols under Coach Fulmer, I went to Coach Cutcliffe. I went to Coach Cut and said look, I know I’m redshirting, I am going to take 18 hours of classes and I want to get every piece of film you have on Peyton. I got as much as I could and I I watched his release and his feet, and I still got some way to go on my feet, but my release I really like. It’s comes over the top, it’s not a ¾ release, it’s over the top to get the ball over the defensive line, I like it and it comes out quick with no waste of motion. I got a lot of that stuff from Peyton and I love watching Peyton. I call him “The Sherriff” because he can dissect a defense better than anyone I’ve ever seen. So if you’re going to model your game after someone he’s not a bad one to model yourself after.

Tom: How would you describe your work habits? Do you watch a lot of film?

BJ: Junkie baby. I want to be one of those guys that when you walk in “hey BJ, why are we running this play?” I want to be able to tell you. I love watching film. Throughout my career at Chattanooga and at Tennessee when I was there I watched as much as I could weekly along with class, but making sure that I could balance it and take care of business in the classroom. I watched between 20 and 25 hours of film a week on top of school and on top of the film we watched with our coaches. Preparation is important to me. I think that being unprepared for what you’re doing on game day is the worst feeling. I can safely say there were not many times in my career when I was out there and I had to say “Coach I have no idea what they’re doin.” I have been very blessed to have some great coaches prepare me. Preparation is key and it’s something I’ve always been able to do. I’m not the fastest guy, I don’t have the strongest arm and I’m probably not the smartest but if I can prepare and understand how teams try to attack us defensively and I can try to put us in the best situation to be successful.

Tom: If you don’t mind me asking, what was the biggest factor that led you to transfer from Tennessee?

BJ: The truth is, the biggest factor was that I wanted to play. I love this game, I enjoy it. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to showcase that if I stayed there. I wasn’t there to just sit on the bench. I knew I had the intangibles to get guys to play and to get excited, and to know that if they blocked for 2.5 seconds that the ball was going to come out and that we could be successful. And that’s the biggest thing with me. I wanted to go a place where I could play in a pro-style offense. There is NOTHING that is close to a NFL offense, but I wanted to go somewhere that would line me up with two backs, let me do play-action passing, do 3 step, 5 step drops. So I was able to get some of that stuff in my muscles early. That was the biggest reason. I wanted to play. I love the game and that’s what I wanted to do.

Tom: What do you think is an attribute that is crucial to play and succeed at the quarterback position?

BJ: I think you have to have a great mind. I think it’s as simple as this too, I think you’ve got to have a good arm. You don’t need to have the strongest arm, but you’ve got to be able to throw the football. I think the NFL has really become a passing league and I believe you need to be able to push the football down the field. I think if you watch the league, guys like Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Manning, Rivers, Jay Cutler, Brett Favre, they can push the football down the field. It’s important to carry out your fakes to hold those defensive ends, but it all comes down to completions, completions, completions. That’s what you wanted, I can sum it up in one word: Completions. To be able to play quarterback in the NFL you’ve got to be able to complete the football. You can never go broke making a profit, and if you complete the football… getting a yard in the NFL is very tough, and I don’t know anything about it, but listening to these coaches this week they say that getting a yard is very tough and winning is even harder. So I think it all starts with being able to complete passes.

Tom: That reminds me, I have always noticed that you do great ball fakes even when it’s in drills without a running back. I think that is part of what makes your play-action fakes so effective on film.

BJ: I learned this from Coach Clausen. He said that you want your defensive line and linebackers to see the ball in the running backs pocket. You want them to see that and if they take a picture, they would think he’s got it. Then you can carry out your fake and make big plays down the field. But if you don’t carry out your fake correctly and get that ball in the right spot then it’s not going to be effective.

Tom: Who are a few players on defense that have stuck out to you this week?

BJ: You’re going to have to work with me with some of the names, but I really like the Merrimack kid (Shawn Loiseau). I love his intensity. I love his energy, his passion. You can tell he loves to play the game for the game. There are several good defensive linemen here. Defensive back wise there’s some good ones. The kid from Notre Dame, the Blanton kid is pretty good. The Hampton kid is a solid football player.

Tom: Anyone on offense that you have been impressed by?

BJ: Tauren Poole. I’ve known him for a while but that’s not why I like him, he really works hard. I think our tight ends have done a great job. Ford, Rodriguez and I can’t pronounce the last one Tom, we just call him Big Ig. Those guys have been a solid group. The offensive line has done extremely well. You’ve got to give those guys credit, and I’m not just doing that because I’m a quarterback. For four days to get the protections down well is impressive. The receivers have gotten better all week. I like the Michigan State kid (B.J. Cunningham), I like his burst and I think he’s got something to him. I like Jenkins from Illinois and the Benford kid has made some strides as well. We’ve got some weapons, and those guys have really stood out.

Tom: If you don’t mind me asking, what teams have you talked to this week? Any interesting questions?

BJ: Oh man. I’ve talked to a bunch which I hope is a good sign. I was able to talk to several teams. Every one of them was something different which I thought was something intriguing. Those guys are just down to earth type people. They interact with me just like they would anybody else. It was a really neat experience. They asked me what type of offenses are you in, can you explain certain plays, what do you expect out of your career. Some cool things, I was intrigued. It was a neat experience, and they asked a bunch of the same things you’re asking me about my strengths, weaknesses, what do I like or dislike, what type of guy are you. They just want to get to know you.

Tom: Well I’m glad some of my questions are reminding you of those interviews, I think that’s a good sign for me! Haha.

BJ: That’s exactly right!

Tom: If you don’t mind me stealing one of their questions, what do you see from your career?

BJ: I’ve always loved this game. It’s funny, I understand the situation that it’s very difficult. There’s 96 quarterbacks give or take a few, 3 per team, 32 teams. Those jobs are very few and far between. I understand that. My goal is to play football in the NFL. I want to be on a team, but I want to contribute. My goal is to play in a Super Bowl. I want to be a starting quarterback in the NFL and I want to play and win a Super Bowl. I want to have a long, successful career and I want to be the best. I think that’s something you should always strive for, to be the best. There have been some GREAT quarterbacks in the NFL, but I think that’s the goal you have to have.

Tom: I love hearing players, but especially quarterbacks, say that they want to win and that they want to hear a Super Bowl. That’s not always the first thing to come to people’s minds. But you can throw for a lot of yards and everything, but it comes down to being able to win and I think that’s why Tim Tebow has created such a big stir, because he has been able to win games.

BJ: Oh absolutely! I love what he has done in Denver. He goes out there and he has “it.” I believe you can look into a guy’s eyes and say “he has it.” You gotta be able to have that factor for people to gravitate to you. That comes down to playing quarterback and being a leader, being somebody that you can look at and say “I want to follow that guy and do whatever I can because I know that if he succeeds, we succeed” and that’s big.

Tom: Now, here’s the big question: Do you think YOU have “it”?

BJ: Gosh, I would prefer if someone else told me that I have “it”. But deep down in my gut I truly believe I do have “it”. I believe I have the ability to walk into a room and take control, and not in a “hey look at me” way, I’m talking about walking into a room and you have their respect and their eyes pop up. I think Coach Cutcliffe had “it.” When he walked in you knew he was there, you could feel him in the room. That’s the difference to me between good and great. When Peyton Manning walks into a room you can feel him, I’m positive. When Brett Favre walks into a room, people felt it and they could tell “hey, it’s time to go to work.” I love to have fun, but when it’s time to go to work you’re going to be accountable.

Tom: Where will you be training for the combine and your pro day?

BJ: As of now I have been working out in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. My agent is Bus Cook so I have a great man representing me. He’s a lot like me outside of athletic clothes I wear cowboy boots and jeans. I have gotten to work out with Brett Favre a couple times so I am very pleased.

Tom: Wow, how was working out with Favre?

BJ: Oh man, it’s been great. He’s a hall of fame quarterback man. He’s everything and more that anyone could think about, and I’m very lucky to be able to work out with him and Sam Morris my weight trainer down there. I’m not anything flashy man, I don’t like flash. I’m working out at a local high school in Hattiesburg with the head trainer there named Sam Morris and that’s exactly how I want it. I’m from Chattanooga, Tennessee and I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else. To be able to go down and train with people who are very respectful “yes sir, no sir” type people is all I could ever ask for.

Tom: What is some of the advice he’s given you so far?

BJ: His biggest thing is that you gotta go in prepared. You never know what’s gonna happen. Make sure that when you go in you have a plan and when you snap the ball you can react. That’s what I’ve been trying to do this week. You have to do what you do, and you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Our quarterback coach, Coach Carr for the East, he said “Hey look, I don’t want you to play so uptight that you’re afraid to pull the trigger.” And that’s how I’ve played this week, I’m not afraid to pull the trigger. Was it always perfect? No, but because of that it allowed people to kind of see that this kid here is not afraid to throw the football.

Tom: What was your favorite moment during your senior season?

BJ: Senior season… It felt good to come back, I’m not gonna lie to you. It felt good to come back. It was a feat that I wanted to accomplish. Since I was very young I hadn’t missed a game in any sport I had played. This was the first time I had to sit out of anything. You can get to a point where you start playing mind games and you say “Am I ever going to be able to come back, is my arm ever going to be healthy” and the guys there, and my family were great and told me not to think that way. They told me that this is a part of playing athletics. You’re going to get injured, you’re going to have knocks, but my mom always said that every knock is a boost. If you can get through it it’s only going to make you stronger, and I really believe my arm is stronger now. I just gotta continue to build on it.

Tom: You know, it might be a strange thing, but I believe that sometimes those hardships that might feel awful when they happen, but knowing how to deal with an injury and rehab from it is important for going to the NFL. And maybe, if you hadn’t gotten hurt, you wouldn’t have known what to do but now you have some experience dealing with that adversity.

BJ: Absolutely!! My mother always says that everything happens for a reason. I had no idea Tom, I had no idea what it was like to get injured! I mean I’ve played with bad ankles, with a bad whatever, but I’ve always played. It didn’t matter, I always played through it. But this time the good Lord was saying “Hey man, you’re a guy who is just like everyone else and you’ve got to learn these things.” Did I like it? No, not at all. It was my senior season and we had great aspirations, and I was sorry that it happened that way not just for me but for my teammates, but everything happens for a reason.

Tom: Is there one thing specifically you want to work on or develop once you get to the NFL?

BJ: Sure. I think the biggest thing is that whatever ball-club I end up with I want to take in that system, learn all the ins and outs and everything I can learn about it. I’m one of those guys that loves to study and I want to learn all about it and I am one of those guys that really focuses in on the little things about it. But I think the most important thing is to learn from the guy that’s there. Obviously you want to be the guy, but I think there’s a lot to be said for a guy that can come in and really learn from the guy that’s there. It’s important for a new guy to come in and take in everything people are willing to teach him. It’s important to take some instruction and I’m very willing to do that. I think there’s a lot to be learned from those guys that are up there. They aren’t up there for no reason, they are up there because they can play football and I think they can really be good leaders too.

Tom: Is there any offense that you would like to play in?

BJ: I really… I’m very pro-stylish. I love what the Colts do, I know that’s Peyton, but the Colts do it. The Saints and Drew Brees do it. Play action fake and push the ball down the field. I like what Green Bay does with Aaron Rodgers, and he’s a guy that can move outside the pocket but it’s a lot of ball fakes and throwing the ball down the field. I like that I really do. I’ve never really played in a spread offense so I don’t know too much about it and I don’t know who runs it, I know some teams have dabbled in it, but wherever I go I’ll be able to adapt to whatever they do.

Tom: Do you have any specific goals left for the rest of the week?

BJ: Have fun. I think the biggest thing is for the rest of this week is, as I have been all week, is to just go out and have fun. As I said earlier, nothing beyond this Saturday is guaranteed and the teammates thing is pretty hard to swallow. I miss the guys back in Chattanooga, I miss my boys and Go Mocs. Those guys have been awesome for me. I’ve talked to a few of them since I’ve been down here, my brother is on the team, so I just really miss the team. You miss bleedin’, you miss sweatin with those guys, but now I have been blessed to try to make another ball squad. That’s my focus, it’s still an interview, but you go out, you have fun and you stay focused. Even if it’s just a disaster, that’s ok, you pick yourself up and you go on to the next day.

Tom: What is one thing you would like the world to know about you that it may not already know?

BJ: That’s a tough one, but I could talk to a wall man. I’m always open to meeting new people. But if you give me a call Sunday after the game I can have a better answer for you than that, you put me on the spot! But I really appreciate you takin the time to talk to me and taking the time to follow me and the guys, it really means a lot.

Tom: No problem BJ, this has been great. I’ll check in with you on Sunday, and if I don’t talk to you before the game good luck on Saturday!

I’ll be sure to update this once BJ gives me his final answer on what he would like the world to know about him, so stay tuned for that. Hopefully you enjoyed the interview; I had a lot of fun talking to BJ.

–Tom

Playoff Prediction Post:

I realize I’m late on this, meant to post it earlier but lost track of time today. I had the Texans picked though, I swear!

Wild Card:

Texans over Bengals
Saints over Lions
Giants over Falcons
Pittsburgh over Denver

The Giants-Falcons game could be interesting depending on what Falcons team shows up. They have struggled against quality competition this year and have gotten to the playoffs largely because of a weak schedule (especially to finish the season). The Giants pass rush could give the Falcons offensive line fits, but if they can run the ball and keep Matt Ryan upright they could make things interesting. The Giants should be able to pass all over the Falcons if they want to, but may struggle to run the ball a bit. I’m picking the Giants because they know how to win in the playoffs and the Falcons haven’t proven that they can yet.

Divisional Round:

Ravens over Texans
Patriots over Pittsburgh
Saints over 49ers
Packers over Giants

The Texans have been an inspiring story winning without Matt Schaub and Mario Williams, but I don’t think T.J. Yates will be able to threaten downfield enough to keep the Ravens from working to take away Arian Foster. The Ravens offense is going against a quality defense but I think they will be able to move the ball. Joe Flacco may not have a ton of playoff experience, but he certainly has more than Yates. I’m not sold on Yates making critical plays in big games and I think the Ravens will expose his flaws for all to see.

The Patriots over Pittsburgh is a tough call for me. I think the Patriots are a good team but their secondary is a mess and I am not sold on their defense at all. Pittsburgh can move the ball and threaten teams vertically, so they could make New England pay if they bite on the run. It’s tough to bet against Tom Brady in the playoffs though, and even though the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game in a while I think they have a good chance to win one with Pittsburgh coming up to Foxboro.

The Saints over 49ers isn’t an automatic either, but I think the Saints might be the only team in the NFC that can beat the Packers. There’s just no way I can bet against Drew Brees, especially with Alex Smith starting opposite him.

The Giants are one of the few teams that is built to beat the Packers. The Packers can’t run the ball very well and rely on passing the ball quite a bit, and the Giants have shown that they have the blueprint to beat passing teams when they upset Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2007. This is an interesting match-up, especially since Aaron Rodgers didn’t play in week 17, but I expect the Packers to end up winning despite some of their struggles on defense.

Conference Championship Games:

Ravens over Patriots
Saints over Packers

The Ravens have a great defense that I think can slow down the Patriots offense enough for their offense to win the game. I don’t think the Patriots can slow down the Ravens enough to win this game personally. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think much of the Patriots defense, especially their secondary, but I do love the Ravens defense. So I’m going with them to beat the Patriots!

Yes, I’m picking the Saints. I can’t stand the Saints for what they do to the Falcons every year, but I do respect them. Their defense certainly isn’t elite, but they will be able to pressure Rodgers a bit and won’t have to worry much about the running game I don’t think. The Packers defense has little chance of slowing down the Saints offense and I think this game will end up being a shoot-out, but despite it all I think the Saints can win. They are playing the best football in the NFC right now and as the Packers know it’s all about getting hot at the right time. The Saints are hot, the Packers are not.

Superbowl:

Ravens over Saints

I am a defense first guy even though I love slinging the ball around and scouting quarterbacks, so that has something to do with my pick here. The Saints are a great offense, but the Ravens defense can slow them down in my opinion. Do they match up perfectly? No, I don’t think so. But I think they can rattle Brees and knock him around enough to contain their offense when they need to. The Saints know how to manufacture pressure, but I think the Ravens can run the ball on them and extend drives that way. I am a closet Ravens fan so take that into consideration, but I believe defense wins championships so one of the few good defensive teams left has a great shot to win the title!

Thanks for reading, it’ll be interesting to see how I do!

–Tom

I will readily admit that I was opposed to playing Christian Ponder this week against the Packers. I tend to be more conservative when it comes to quarterback development, and if you commit to sitting a QB and letting him learn I believe that you should stick to that and not rush him into the starting role before he is ready. The Vikings don’t exactly have a beautiful track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks (the last one they developed that amounted to anything was Daunte Culpepper if I remember correctly, unless you’re one of the few Tarvaris Jackson fans left) so it’s hard for me to trust their judgement on playing Ponder this early in his rookie season. I had my reasons, and I thought they were legitimate. Why play your rookie quarterback in his first start of his career against the defending Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packers, especially when they love to apply pressure off the edge with interesting blitz packages?

Shows what I know.

Ponder didn’t have an insane stat sheet at the end of the game, completing only 13/32 passes for 219 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He had a QB rating of 59.2, and threw a couple of passes that could have been potential turnovers. The Vikings couldn’t complete the comeback against the Packers, and the Vikings limped to a 1-6 record on the season.

But somehow, that all doesn’t seem to matter.

I haven’t watched every single Vikings game this season, but it’s safe to say they looked like a different team than they did previously. They fought throughout the entire game, they didn’t look like absolute garbage in the second half (though they did struggle in the 3rd quarter as Green Bay adjusted to take away Ponder’s roll-out plays that accounted for so much of their success in the first half) and Ponder gave the Vikings a significant spark on offense. It will be interesting to see what happens the rest of the year, but I have to give the Vikings credit: They were in the right when they chose to start Ponder today.

Had McNabb started the offense would have had no confidence, it would have been the same vanilla play-calling, and McNabb’s seemingly disinterested attitude would have continued to permeate through the offense and the rest of the team. Instead, Ponder’s excitement and up-tempo attitude became contagious and the team seemed to be fighting harder than they did in other weeks. I was very impressed by this, and it was actually fun to watch the Vikings on offense today. That’s not something that I’ve said often when watching them in previous weeks.

Adrian Peterson had a great game against a very good rushing defense, and while you have to give credit to the Vikings offensive line and blocking schemes, it’s hard not to argue that a lot of it had to do with Ponder. McNabb struggled to stretch the field vertically and I have seen him get sacked so many times off of play-action I’m not sure he even expected to throw the ball after he turned around to scan the field anymore. Ponder was only sacked twice tonight, which says a lot about the game-plan the Vikings had (AKA, get the ball out early and let Ponder use his mobility to extend plays outside of the pocket) but it also speaks to Ponder’s ability to process information and how ready he was to play this game.

Now, this wasn’t just about Ponder. Ultimately, Ponder and the Vikings lost and that had everything to do with Aaron Rodgers. It has been said time and time again, but he is without a doubt the best quarterback in the NFL right now. The things he is doing right now are just out of this world. At one point Rodgers had thrown three incompletions in the first half. Two of them were a result of dropped passes that should have been caught, and the other was a spike. He was unbelievable in this game and it was really something amazing to watch. He hasn’t had a QB rating under 100 yet this year and he had one of his best games of the season against the Vikings. You have to feel for the Vikings because their defense was just not up to the task of slowing him down, especially in the secondary.

Overall I was obviously incredibly impressed with Rodgers, but Ponder really impressed me because the Vikings offense just looked totally different. It looked like he was unleashing some of their potential whereas McNabb was holding them back in previous starts. Again, I didn’t think Ponder should play in this game because I like to be conservative with QB development, but it is clear that he was ready to start. The Vikings absolutely made the right decision playing him in this game. It will be interesting to see how he does the rest of the year, particularly when teams make a concerted effort to take away so much of his passing outside of the pocket (especially on designed roll-outs).

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Before I start to discuss anything it’s important to know that I’m a huge Falcons fan, but I think it’s time to talk about the hype surrounding Matt Ryan. I have been pleased with Ryan since he became a Falcon but I don’t view the Falcons with rose colored glasses and I do what I can to not “drink the Kool-Aid” before each season. I have been a pretty consistent supporter of Ryan since he became a Falcon, especially because he played a significant role in turning the franchise around, bringing consecutive winning seasons to Atlanta for the first time in franchise history and getting us back to the playoffs for the first time since Michael Vick was our starting quarterback.

Matt Ryan is a good NFL starter, but I don't think there is a lot of evidence that he is "great" or that he will ever be "elite."

But at the same time it is not unfair to acknowledge some of Ryan’s faults of which there are a few. The most obvious of these faults is his relative lack of arm strength. It’s not awful like Chad Pennington’s in my opinion, but it is not good or great by any means. I would constitute it as above average personally, because I think he struggles to stretch the field well downfield, and doesn’t have great zip on passes in the 10-15 yard range like deep curls, deep outs and other difficult NFL throws. To his credit he makes up for his lack of arm strength with good accuracy and anticipation which he routinely uses when he throws the ball before his receivers make their breaks on these more difficult throws so that the defensive back still struggles to make plays on the ball even though the ball hangs in the air a bit longer than you would ideally prefer.

One thing that I have noticed Ryan has been doing over the last couple seasons is forcing passes to particular players and at times doing so instead of finding an open player. Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are usually the players he forces the ball to when he does do it. I have seen Ryan throw the ball to Gonzalez in double coverage, once or twice with three players around him, and this does not traditionally end well for Ryan because he doesn’t quite have the zip on his throws to put the ball into tight windows without the defense having time to make a play on the ball. The most frustrating part of this is that he almost seemed to be regressing as far as making his progressions in these specific instances because he would ignore Turner open in the flat at times in favor of throwing to Gonzalez or White in double coverage.

The final thing that I personally consider a flaw is that I don’t think Ryan can will us to a victory. Not many quarterbacks can, but this is something the great ones are able to do and I don’t think Ryan can do it. I’m not saying he should be able to play by himself out there and win the game, but the correlation between Ryan having a below-average/poor game and our running game struggling to consistently churn out yardage is pretty staggering. Obviously a good running game makes life easier for any quarterback, but great quarterbacks are able to shoulder the load on offense and throw their teams into contention when they don’t have a running game. Brady, Manning and Aaron Rodgers are all players who have done this consistently for the last couple of years and their teams routinely appear in the playoffs. But when the Falcons (specifically Michael Turner) struggle to gain yardage on the ground on a consistent basis and Ryan is forced to throw to convert 2ndand 3rd and longs to sustain drives it usually results in a loss for Atlanta. That, in my opinion, is not the mark of a great quarterback. And believe me, this isn’t something that I just conjured up out some doom and gloom thought process because of the Falcons unexpected 2-3 start, I have had this opinion of Ryan since I re-watched the Falcons-Steelers game from week one of last year. My post on the subject was actually published on October 5th, 2010, just over a year ago.

Julio Jones has been an incredibly pleasant surprise this year. I thought highly of him as a prospect, but I didn't expect him to contribute so much explosiveness so quickly.

Now, one thing that the Falcons made a huge deal about was our lack of big plays last season. I would argue that the Falcons’ lack of big plays as well as their poor pass defense contributed to their problems last year, but their running game and run defense was solid. The Falcons decided that getting Matt Ryan another playmaker at receiver was the best course of action and sold the farm to move up and select Julio Jones. I was skeptical of the move, but I never doubted Jones’ upside. I just worried that the Falcons were putting too much pressure on him by anointing him the starter after watching him practice by releasing Michael Jenkins, a relatively reliable #2 receiver, before Jones had ever played a game. I have been very pleased with Jones and he has been everything I could have hoped for and more this year as a rookie, but we just haven’t been able to get him the ball consistently down-field. We wanted more explosive plays and I tend to believe that our issues with pass protection really inhibit our ability to challenge defenses down-field. Additionally, our wide receivers during Ryan’s first three seasons in the NFL weren’t exactly burners that created a lot of down-field separation so it wasn’t completely unrealistic to see limited down-field plays that can change games and grab momentum for the offense.

However, I think it is very clear that Ryan plays a role in our limited deep plays as well. You can’t blame it all on Mike Mularkey’s lack of down-field play-calling, you can’t blame it on a lack of receivers who can separate down-field, and you can’t blame it exclusively on the offensive line. At some point Ryan is responsible for his production on down-field throws, so I would like to highlight how he has done on throws that produce 20+ yard plays that the Falcons were so driven to create this year. These are statistics on any throw that is thrown 21+ yards from the line of scrimmage from the past four years:

2008: 21/55, 718 yards, 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s
2009: 9/35, 297 yards, 3 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2010: 10/38, 320 yards, 4 TD’s, 1 INT
2011: 2/14, 94 yards, 0 TD’s, 0 INT’s (through five games)

Even Aaron Rodgers, who I personally think is the best quarterback in the NFL right now, isn't automatic on 21+ yard passes.

Now, it’s easy to look at these statistics and say “Wow, that’s awful. Even in his best season he was only 21/55, that’s under 50% and good completion percentages for quarterbacks are typically 60%.” While that is true, deep passes that travel 21+ yards are difficult to complete even for great quarterbacks. Here are some stats for some other quarterbacks to help demonstrate this:

Aaron Rodgers:
2010: 24/65, 976 yards, 8 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2011: 7/13, 255 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Tom Brady:
2010: 14/36, 537 yards, 6 TD’s, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/18, 186 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Even Sam Bradford, a player I have never really liked, has been more efficient on 21+ yard passes than Ryan has this season.

Phillip Rivers:
2010: 22/57, 852 yards, 9 TD’s, 4 INT’s
2011: 4/14, 159 yards, 2 TD’s, 2 INT’s (thru five games)

Sam Bradford:
2010: 10/39, 345 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/15, 213 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru four games)

So as you can see, even some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL don’t complete a lot of down-field throws. They are low percentage plays a lot of the time and they are some of the most difficult throws to complete because they require better pass protection, they require a good route from the receiver as well as a more difficult down-field catch, plus they require a more difficult throw from the quarterback. But still, the best quarterbacks in the business complete more down-field passes for more yardage than Ryan does, and while some of that has to do with who they are throwing the ball to or who is blocking for them at the end of the day Ryan has to shoulder a portion of the blame for his limited down-field production. He’s not a great deep ball passer and these statistics help prove that to be true. You would like to see him take that positive rookie season in which he was able to threaten defenses down-field and progress, but instead he has regressed on his deep passes and become less and less efficient with each year of experience. That is a disturbing trend and it’s one that absolutely warrants mentioning because he is in his fourth season in the NFL and is surrounded with some legitimate weapons with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas (who has been a pleasant surprise now that he is healthy), Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. Is this a team full of pro-bowlers and Hall of Famers? Perhaps not, but they are still legitimate weapons that are better than perhaps a majority of other teams in the NFL.

And yet, in spite of this improved supporting cast Ryan hasn’t been able to be as efficient on deep passes as Sam Bradford, a player I have never been a fan of and continue to be skeptical of in the NFL. But he has almost matched his previous totals in completions, yardage and has already thrown one more touchdown pass on 21+ yard throws than he did as a rookie. He is trending upwards in spite of his pathetic supporting cast of wide receivers who are regularly lambasted for dropping passes. Ryan’s supporting cast drops passes too, sure, but it would be outlandish to suggest that his supporting cast is not significantly superior to Bradford’s. Yet, in spite of this assertion, Bradford has been more efficient on deep passes and has a comparable QB rating to Ryan (Ryan has a 79.9 QB rating this year, Bradford a 70.8).

Tom Brady has been and continues to be one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL, but he makes his money on passes within 20 yards, not on 21+ yard bombs.

Now, this is not an attempt to say that Bradford is going to be the next great QB, far from it. I am also not trying to suggest that Ryan is a poor quarterback. I am simply trying to demonstrate that he isn’t a very good deep ball passer. The games I have watched of him (over three years of games at this point) as well as the statistics he has accumulated are pretty clear evidence of this, and it’s arguable that even with better pass protection and upgraded skill position weapons that he won’t ever be a good or great deep ball passer. That’s just not what his skill set is. This season on passes within 20 yards (excluding passes behind the line of scrimmage) Ryan has a QB rating of 91.54, a good number. Rodgers has an insane rating of over 120, as does Tom Brady. Both are having incredible seasons statistically thus far, and it shows on their bread and butter passes of under 20 yards. Ryan is good in this area too, and to force him to throw deep passes that he struggles to consistently complete seems counter-intuitive. On one hand, you obviously can’t keep throwing passes that are under 10 yards while attempting to run the ball or the defense will crowd the line of scrimmage and put a stranglehold on the offense’s ability to sustain successful drives. But that hasn’t been Ryan’s problem. He is actually most efficient statistically on throws that are 11-20 yards downfield, completing 24/43 attempts for 402 yards, 4 TD’s and 2 INT’s (a rating of 99.2). That is statistically superior to Phillip Rivers, but significantly below the outrageous QB ratings that Rodgers and Brady have (142.1 and 130.8, respectively).

So, my argument is that the Falcons need to acknowledge that Matt Ryan isn’t the next Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He doesn’t have the same skill set. He has been effective on passes that are under 20 yards and while we still need to take the occasional deep shot, passes in that 11-20 yard range will help keep defenses honest and can turn into longer gains if the pass is completed to a player like Julio Jones who can gain quality yards after the catch once he has the ball in his hands. So while everyone loves to see the 30 or 40+ yard deep ball that the receiver hauls in and scores on that just isn’t what Ryan is good at doing. Mularkey and the rest of the staff should acknowledge this and continue to work to his strengths: Passes with-in twenty yards, play-action passing, and passes on three and five step drops. He is good at making pre-snap reads and gets the ball out quickly when he identifies a blitz, and if we can sustain drives and get some yards after the catch to make bigger plays without just lobbing the ball up and praying for it to be completed I think our offense will be better off.

This isn’t me arguing against 20+ yard plays, it’s simply me questioning how we are going about getting them. Ryan’s track record is pretty solid evidence that throwing the ball 21+ yards downfield isn’t the most efficient way for him to accumulate yards, so why would we continue to force him to do it? He’s not an elite quarterback and this is something he struggles with, so let’s continue to play to his strengths as much as possible. He can’t just throw us into games when we are behind or when the running game is ineffective. Accepting that and moving forward seems like a more logical step to take rather than pretending he is going to be the next elite NFL quarterback, because after over three years of watching him I’m just not convinced that he is going to be.