Monday, February 16, 2015

Recapping National Signing Day 2015

There you have it folks, another National Signing Day come and gone. The one time of year where adults obsess about teenagers and it isn't deemed totally creepy. Each year brings about tons of surprises as recruits go against what the experts believe or make last second flips to a rival school. There are some people who detest this day as people think it is completely ridiculous to pay this much attention to kids who are just 18 years old. But many others, like myself, find this day totally fascinating. It is tough to know what goes through someone's head as they make their selection. You never know what a recruit values most in a university: the coach and staff, the university itself, the promise of development into a pro prospect, etc. Recruiting is the backbone of any great team and it's importance can never be underestimated if you're trying to build a championship team. Below is a recap of how the day went. I combined the statistics of three major recruiting websites: Rivals, 24/7, and Scout. Note that rankings are not a prediction of success. Some kids may not live up to their potential while others who garner lower rankings can turn into stars. The system isn't perfect, but it is a good place to start.

Top 10 Recruiting Classes

         Team              Rivals Ranking          Scout Ranking          24/7 Ranking           Total
              USC                           1                                 1                               2                             1

              Alabama                    2                                 2                               1                             2

              Tennessee                  5                                 5                               4                             3

              Florida State             3                                 11                              3                            4

              Auburn                      6                                 3                               9                             5

              Ohio State                 9                                 9                                6                            6

              UCLA                       13                                4                                7                            7

              LSU                           8                                 13                              5                            8

              Clemson                    4                                 15                              8                             9

              Texas A&M             10                                10                             12                           10

Now, I want to bring one thing up before we continue. Rankings are biased. That is just a straight up fact. And they are biased in favor of players in the south, southeast, and west coast. It isn't some massive conspiracy in order to promote the SEC or anything like that. Rather, kids from these areas have more exposure year round and have more camps that they can attend where scouts can rank them. Players from the northern states don't have quite that luxury, but that does not mean that they are necessarily worse players. That is why you have seen teams like Florida, FSU, Alabama, Texas, and USC get some of the highest rated recruits year in and year out. They have such an advantage from their geographic location that it pushes their rankings even higher.

Big Winners

The City of L.A.: One of the fiercest rivalries in college football has begun to heat up over the past couple of years with UCLA regaining the upper hand. Jim Mora has coached the Bruins for the past three years and beaten the Trojans each time they have faced off. Both teams finished in the top ten of my aggregate rankings and brought in some five star talent that should be able to compete right away. USC loaded up on defense which has been their Achilles heel the past couple of years while UCLA went the opposite route with two offensive players who achieved five star rankings on Rivals. I think that the bigger question is going to be how Sarkisian improves as a head coach from here on out. He was able to bring in the talent at Washington and is doing it at USC, but the results haven't reached the potential. UCLA, meanwhile, is on the verge of being a perennial PAC12 powerhouse if Mora is able to keep developing the talent he is bringing in. Either way, it is great to see this rivalry becoming more competitive again after USC essentially owned the 2000s.

Florida Gators: The Gators had an aggregate recruiting ranking of 24 which doesn't seem that great for such a prestigious football school. However, considering that Florida was ranked close to 100th before the day before signing day, they should be relieved to have advanced so far up the rankings. New head coach Jim McElwain was able to pull in talent on both sides, but he definitely got better recruits offensively which is what the Gators need to spark a stagnant offense. They were able to pick up two huge five star commits on either line. Defensive lineman Cece Jefferson added a little bit of drama to the day by holding out on sending in his letter of intent, but he is now officially a Gator. Once McElwain is able to establish himself in Gainesville, it should be no surprise to see them consistently pulling in top ten recruiting classes.

Ohio State Buckeyes: It may seem a bit strange to say that the reigning national champs were big winners on signing day, but they managed to land a couple of kids who were in the mix with several other schools. Offensive lineman Isaiah Prince and wide receiver KJ Wright both committed to the Buckeyes over Alabama and could make an immediate impact on the team. But the biggest victory was keeping Cass Tech (Detroit) running back Mike Weber away from Michigan. Weber had been committed to the Wolverines, but ended up decommitting during the Ohio State-Michigan game. Once Harbaugh was hired as their new head coach, there was a lot of speculation that he could actually recommit to the Wolverines. Apparently, he was 50/50 the night before he had to send in his letter of intent. With Ezekiel Elliott likely off to the pros after this season, Urban scored a huge victory by being able to keep Weber committed to the Buckeyes.

Biggest Loser

Michigan Wolverines: The Wolverines were behind the eight ball a bit considering they hired Harbaugh rather late into recruiting season, but even Florida was able to pull out a solid class. He was only able to get fourteen kids to commit and they really missed out on some players who would have boosted their rankings by a ton. Tight end Chris Clark decided to stay home and play for UCLA while Iman Marshall took the same route and decided to play UCS. Marshall was a long shot for Michigan, but there was always speculation that he could in fact head north. But as mentioned, the biggest loss was failing to get Mike Weber back from their hated rival. Harbaugh even took to Twitter to complain about it, making it that much sweeter. I don't think that Michigan will have this problem over the next couple of years, but it could be a while before they start seeing some on the field results with a weak and small recruiting class in Harbaugh's inaugural season.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Pre-Combine Mock Draft

College and pro football are now over, but this is one of my favorite times of the year. I will sorely miss being able to spend Saturday and Sunday doing nothing but watching games, but the NFL Draft is one of the most intriguing events in football. It is the culmination of years of hard work by college athletes and a year of dismal performances by professional teams. Justin and I will likely be posting a few more mocks before the actual draft and are going to get started now. Things will change a bit when the Combine results are cemented, but you can start to make some good selections based on team needs and how guys performed during the season. The Combine rarely keeps a player's draft status static. More often than not, they will either rise or fall based on how they perform. But until then, here is our preliminary mock draft. As was the case last year, this is more of what we believe each team should do based on needs and who is available rather than a prediction of what they will do.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
JR: Jameis Winston, QB- The Bucs are going for their quarterback of the future and definitely the best quarterback in this draft.

DR: Jameis Winston, QB- The Bucs don't have a franchise quarterback and are in desperate need of one. Winston is the best in the class and could win eight games in his first year.

2. Tennessee Titans
JR: Leonard Williams, DE- The Titans get the best player in this draft who will be a staple for the Tennessee front.

DR: Shane Ray, OLB- Williams is a popular choice here, but I think the Titans' defensive line is set. They sorely need a linebacker who can rush the passer in their new 3-4 defense. 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars
JR: Randy Gregory, OLB- Jacksonville has lacked a true playmaking pass rusher for over a decade.  Gus Bradley will find a way to use Gregory in his Leo role and maximize his explosive first step.

DR: Leonard Williams, DE- The Jaguars had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL last year, and that was even before Sen'Derrick Marks tore his ACL. 

4. Oakland Raiders
JR: Amari Cooper, WR- Derek Carr needs a true number one to grow with.  James Jones can only do so much.

DR: Amari Cooper, WR- A true game changing receiver is exactly what a young quarterback like Derek Carr needs to improve in his second year under center.

5. Washington Redskins
JR: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB- When Orakpo leaves via free agency, Washington will need a pass rusher who can actually stay healthy and be productive.

DR: Landon Collins, S- The Redskins secondary is an absolute abomination. Washington lands the safety they have been craving for since the tragic death of Sean Taylor.

6. New York Jets
JR: Marcus Mariota, QB- New Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has experience running the spread offense which can make Mariota’s transition to the NFL easier.  I pray they would sit this kid for 10 games.

DR: Randy Gregory, OLB- I'm not ready to mock a quarterback to this train wreck yet. But here is a guy who can get after the quarterback from the linebacker spot, something the Jets have been lacking.

7. Chicago Bears
JR: Ereck Flowers, OT- Jay Cutler got sacked quite often.  Maybe if he stays upright, he will actually enjoy playing in the NFL.

DR: Trae Waynes, CB- Why bother protecting Jay Cutler when he doesn't give a shit about the team anyway? The Bears would be better served continuing to upgrade their porous secondary.

8. Atlanta Falcons
JR: Shane Ray, OLB- Every year Atlanta needs to address the pass rushing position and every year they decide that Kroy Biermann is enough.  Time to change that with Biermann being a free agent.

DR: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB- Atlanta had a terrible pass rush that cost them a lot last year. Here is a player who can rush the passer with his hand in the dirt or standing up in Atlanta's hybrid defense.

9. New York Giants
JR: Brandon Scherff, OL- Taking a page out of their NFC East rival’s playbook, the G Men go for a versatile offensive lineman that can maul defenders at the line.

DR: Andrus Peat, OT- Same idea as Justin, but I simply think that Peat is a better player and has more blindside potential than Scherff. An elite offensive tackle will be needed to protect Eli in the twilight of his career.

10. St. Louis Rams
JR: Devante Parker, WR- Finally, whoever is lining up at quarterback for the Rams will have a true number one receiver.

DR: Marcus Mariota, QB- I think that this is the perfect situation for Mariota to be drafted into. He can sit, learn, and work on his mechanics while Sam Bradford finishes out the final year of his contract.

11. Minnesota Vikings
JR: Danny Shelton, DT- The Vikings miss the days of the two Williams’ brothers clogging up the middle and being the best at stopping the run.  They allowed over 100 yards rushing in all but three games this season, including over a 150 yards in five games.

DR: Devante Parker, WR- Greg Jennings is aging and Cordarelle Patterson has drawn the ire of his coaches. Why not give Bridgewater his favorite 6'3 target from Louisville?

12. Cleveland Browns
JR: Kevin White, WR- With the bone-headedness of Josh Gordon and him potentially never playing again in the NFL, it looks as though the Browns will have to look elsewhere for some playmakers.

DR: Danny Shelton, NT- The Browns were the worst at defending the run last year, giving up close to 150 yards a game. Shelton can clog lanes and get after the quarterback with his massive frame and relentless motor.

13. New Orleans Saints
JR: Alvin Dupree, DE/OLB- Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan were decent but not spectacular at getting to the quarterback.  They need a pure pass rushing playmaker to wreak havoc off the edge.

DR: Vic Beasley, OLB- Again, same idea as Justin but a different player. Beasley is a tremendous pass rusher who would fit well into Rob Ryan's blitz heavy defense.

14. Miami Dolphins
JR: Devin Smith, WR- Mike Williams seems like he is on his way out of Miami so it’s time to give Ryan Tannehill a true deep threat to match with his giant arm.

DR: Kevin White, WR- White is a more versatile receiver who can work all aspects of the field. That is needed as Miami currently has no one capable of being a true number one receiver on their roster.

15. San Francisco 49ers
JR: Maxx Williams, TE- The tight end from Minnesota is a fast riser.  Michael Crabtree may be leaving in free agency and Williams can be that big target that Vernon Davis clearly isn't anymore.

DR: Sammie Coates, WR- Crabtree is a bum who likely won't be on the team in 2015 while Anquan Boldin is fast approaching the end. Coates has the size and speed to be a dangerous playmaker if he can improve his concentration for the NFL.

16. Houston Texans
JR: Denzel Perryman, ILB- JJ Watt would love another addition to his defense and one in a player that hits like a Mack Truck such as Perryman.

DR: Shaq Thompson, LB- I think the Texans will value the versatility and big play abilities of Thompson. He can play inside, outside, rush the passer, play safety, and can even be plugged in at running back if Arian Foster gets hurt...again.

17. San Diego Chargers
JR: Andrus Peat, OT- Pass protection was an issue for the Bolts this past year and if you take Peat and stick him at right tackle while kicking D.J. Fluker to guard, you can kill two birds with one stone.

DR: Melvin Gordon, RB- One of the best backs to enter the game since Adrian Peterson, Gordon would take a lot of pressure off of Rivers and could have a massive rookie season. Ryan Mathews cannot be trusted to stay healthy and has been unspectacular when he is.

18. Kansas City Chiefs
JR: Landon Collins, S- Such a sad story about Eric Berry.  A phenomenal player and his career could be cut way too short, so it looks as though the Chiefs will have to replace him.

DR: Jaelen Strong, WR- I'm sure you've heard, but not a single receiver caught a touchdown for the Chiefs last year. Strong is at best a solid number one and at worst a stellar number two receiver who provides a huge body in the redzone.

19. Cleveland Browns
JR: La’El Collins, OL- Adding a mauler like Collins would help the Browns all along the offensive line.

DR: Brandon Scherff, OL- The Browns suffered mightily when center Alex Mack went down, but there were problems at guard and right tackle. Scherff could play either of those and be a terrific run blocker for Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. 

20. Philadelphia Eagles
JR: Trae Waynes, CB- I live in the Northeast and constantly hear Eagles fans complain about how terrible their secondary was and how Cary Williams is the worst corner in the league.  So maybe this will fix that.

DR: Marcus Peters, CB- Peters has good size, is physical, and excelled at man coverage at the University of Washington. But he comes with some baggage after getting kicked off the team this past season.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
JR: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR- We saw how Andy Dalton got shut down once A.J. Green is covered or is not playing.  Adding an unbelievable talent like Green-Beckham would do wonders for this offense.

DR: Mario Edwards, DE- It was clear that the Bengals really missed losing Michael Johnson in free agency as they struggled to get after the quarterback. Edwards would be a great upgrade at the end spot who also has the athleticism to stand up and rush.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers
JR: Vic Beasley, OLB- James Harrison and Jason Worilds could easily leave through free agency (or if Harrison retires) so adding a pass rusher who had 44.5 tackles for loss and 25 sacks the past two seasons would be a huge upgrade.

DR: Eddie Goldman, DL- Goldman would be an interesting fit as he could play several spots along the defensive line. However, his presence would instantly boost an aging pass rush unit.

23. Detroit Lions
JR: Malcom Brown, DT- Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley could both be gone next year so adding to what was a position of strength is a must.

DR: Jalen Collins, CB- The secondary has been a weakness for years for the Lions. Collins could soon develop into a true shut down corner across from Darius Slay.

24. Arizona Cardinals
JR: Jaelen Strong, WR- Larry Fitzgerald is such a polarizing figure in Arizona and if the Cardinals decide to move on from him, and even if they don’t, they need to look forward to the future.  Michael Floyd is a good number two and Strong is right in Arizona’s backyard.

DR: Denzel Perryman, ILB- The Cardinals have suffered some serious attrition at the linebacking corps. With defensive coordinator Todd Bowles leaving, Perryman could help ensure that the defense keeps running smoothly next year.

25. Carolina Panthers
JR: T.J. Clemmings, OT- Opponents sacked Panthers quarterbacks 42 times this past season.  Keeping Cam Newton upright and healthy is a must for this franchise.

DR: Ereck Flowers, OT- Cam is built like a tank, but there are only so many shots he can take before he regresses. Flowers has the potential to be his blindside protector for the rest of his career.

26. Baltimore Ravens
JR: Phillip Dorsett, WR- Even if Torrey Smith doesn’t leave, Joe Flacco needs more targets.  Steve Smith, who will be 36 at the start of next year, started off strong this year but tapered off towards the end.

DR: Todd Gurley, RB- Gurley is simply too talented to fall to the second round despite his injury. The team doesn't have that many needs, so they can allow him to recover while Forsett handles the load for the season.

27. Dallas Cowboys
JR: Shaq Thompson, LB- A true playmaker that has the ability to play both sides of the ball but is probably best suited for outside linebacker.

DR: Michael Bennett, DT- The Cowboys' defensive line started off the year strong but tapered off towards the end. Bennett isn't great at stopping the run, but he has explosiveness to get to the quarterback.

28. Denver Broncos
JR: Eddie Goldman, DL- If Terrance Knighton does not come back, this Broncos defense will need another big body to clog up the middle.

DR: Maxx Williams, TE- It seems likely that Julius Thomas isn't going to be retained for next year. Peyton loves his tight ends, so why not give him one who can do it all?

29. Indianapolis Colts
JR: Melvin Gordon, RB- As a Jaguars fan, this scares me to death.  The thought of Andrew Luck and Gordon teaming up with T.Y. Hilton on the outside would be a deadly trio.

DR: La'el Collins, OL- Andrew Luck is constantly under siege from pretty much every spot expect for left tackle. Collins could be plugged in at guard to provide better protection and get good movement in the run game.

30. Green Bay Packers
JR: Arik Armstead, DE- A long and built defensive end that can add to the talent on this Packers defense.  And oh yeah, getting trained up by Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews isn’t a half bad gig.

DR: Benardrick McKinley, ILB- Clay Matthews was forced to play inside due to injury, but an upgrade was needed anyway. McKinley is a very intriguing combination of size and speed that can do pretty much anything that is asked of him.

31. Seattle Seahawks
JR: Devin Funchess, WR- Time for Russell Wilson to have a big bodied endzone threat. 

DR: Devon Smith, WR- The Seahawks have some good receivers who can work well underneath, but none are a true deep threat. Smith averaged close to forty yards per reception during the Buckeyes championship run.

32. New England Patriots
JR: Marcus Peters, CB- While Peters comes with some baggage, Bill Belicheck is not afraid to turn a players life around.  Darrelle Revis will probably be cut after being owed over $25 million dollars with a $12.5 million roster bonus.

DR: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR- I have no idea how the Patriots won with Edelman and Amendola. Green-Beckham comes with a lot of baggage, but his potential is so limitless that it could honestly be the key to New England repeating next year.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Best QB Controversy Ever

It is considered a problem, but it is quite possibly the best problem in the world to have for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. Come next season, Meyer will have to decide which quarterback he wants to roll with. The choice will come down to redshirt senior Braxton Miller, redshirt sophomore JT Barrett, or redshirt junior Cardale Jones. Each quarterback presents their own unique strengths and weaknesses that will need to be evaluated heavily in order to make the best decision for the program next season.

It is pretty incredible when you think about it. I remember a few months back before the Michigan game I was wondering what would happen with Braxton Miller. There were rumors floating around that Meyer had already told him that the plan was to move forward with Barrett which would allow Miller time to transfer. Now, it has become a three way race that has no clear leader at the moment. That hasn't stopped Vegas from creating odds for this scintillating competition. Jones, who led the team to victories in the B1G Championship, Sugar Bowl, and National Championship, is currently the favorite to win the starting job. Barrett and Miller are second and third, respectively. Before we go any further, let's take a look at how each quarterback has performed during their duties under center.

   Passing YPG    Completion %   Passing TDs:INT     Rushing YPG     Rushing TDs 
Miller:   147 YPG             59.3%                   52:17                       85 YPG              32 TDs

Jones:    287 YPG             60.9%                     7:2                         99 YPG              1 TD

Barrett: 236 YPG             64.6%                   34:10                       78 YPG              11 TDs

Now for a little bit of perspective. Miller has started 36 games, Barrett 12, and Jones only 3. What stands out the most in this is how low Miller's yards per game through the air is. It is almost half that of Cardale Jones, but in fairness it is really brought down by his freshman year when Luke Fickell was the head coach. That is also a big reason why his completion percentage has suffered, as over the last two years his completion percentage was 61.8%, slightly higher than Cardale's. It is unfortunate to say, but despite improving in each year, I think that Braxton is the odd man out. He is incredibly athletic, but simply isn't the passer that Jones or Barrett are, and that is crucial to running Urban's system. He came up short in the last two games that he played in before getting injured. I am not saying that he lost OSU those games, but he definitely didn't do everything that he could to lead his team to victory. He has already indicated that he would like to return next year, but he is really going to have to fight for the starting job. In the most likely situation, he is going to be asked to switch positions to wide receiver or H-back where he would be a much better fit.

There's no bad blood in this competition
I believe that the quarterback battle is going to come down to JT Barrett and Cardale Jones. To me this is the much tougher choice. As can be seen from above, Barrett is slightly more efficient at passing the ball, but wasn't the all purpose weapon that Jones is. It is important to note that Jones faced much tougher competition during his three games than Barrett faced. Barrett struggled quite a bit against the best defenses he faced all year, Virginia Tech and Penn State. Jones, meanwhile, faced two top five defenses going against Wisconsin and Alabama and performed much better than anyone could have expected. I do think that Barrett is the more accurate passer and has slightly better touch on the ball. He has excellent ball placement that allows his receiver and only his receiver to have a chance at the pass. His arm strength isn't the greatest, but he is more than capable of making good passes down field. As a runner, he isn't the most elusive or the fastest like Braxton is, but as was evidenced by his 86 yard run against Minnesota he does have more speed than he is given credit for. Despite all of that, I believe that Cardale is going to win the starting job. I wouldn't be surprised if the race comes down the last month before the first game, but I think this his potential is so much higher. He has an absolute cannon for an arm that allows him to make every throw that can be asked from a quarterback, even at the professional level. In all honesty, I don't think that Ohio State would have beaten Alabama if Barrett was in at quarterback. Cardale was able to rifle in some passes into tight windows that would have been picked off if not for their velocity. Also, Cardale has the build of a tight end and was able to pick up crucial yards because he either broke tackles or ran people over. Barrett can be physical, but he isn't built like a Mack truck like Cardale is. It seems ludicrous to dismiss the guy who set the B1G record for touchdowns, but it is just so hard to ignore Jones's ceiling. Regardless of who wins the starting job, they will be placed in the best situation imaginable under Urban Meyer's tutelage. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

How Much does the Heisman Mean?

Over the past decade or so, the question of how prestigious the Heisman trophy actually is has grown louder and louder. The award has always been full of controversy, but there really isn't much of that anymore. Rather, people have grown tired of how it is essentially another quarterback award. Eight of the last ten winners have been quarterbacks and it is almost a given that one will be the recipient every year as college and the NFL transition to offenses focused around a quarterback. Mark Ingram actually received the lowest percentage of first place votes out of the last ten winners, and it is not much of a coincidence that he was only one of two running backs to win during that time. The game has become so catered to quarterbacks that running backs have become slightly devalued in favor of a signal caller or an elite receiver. Several of the past winners made cases that really couldn't be beat, like Manziel breaking the SEC record for yards and touchdowns as a freshman. Or how Cam Newton and Jameis Winston went 14-0 in their first years and led their teams' to a BCS title. But there has been plenty of room for arguments with some of the other recent winners given their field of competition.

Marcus Mariota had a fantastic season, and you really can't take away from what he was able to accomplish in terms of sheer numbers alone. And to take Oregon to the championship game while beating out Florida State is also very impressive. Mariota threw for 42 touchdowns against only four interceptions while adding another another fifteen touchdowns on the ground. He was nothing short of a point machine at times. I'm not going to argue that what he did is diminished or not impressive, but what I will argue is that there were two other candidates who were more worthy.

Amari Cooper (Alabama) and Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) were the remaining Heisman finalists along with Mariota, and I think there is a very strong case that either of them could have won. I think that all too often now there isn't enough credit given for how important a player is to their team. With Cooper and Gordon, each one was basically the offense for their respective team. Cooper caught 16 of Blake Sims's 28 touchdown passes while catching 124 passes, good for 49% of Sims's total completions. Gordon, meanwhile, ran for 29 touchdowns and 2587 yards, good for second all time only to Barry Sanders in a season. Each one of them had some pretty ridiculous games and were able to put on clinics against most opponents. There were times when each player was simply unstoppable and showed that they are going to be tremendous players in the NFL. But go back and look at the statistics that are posted above. Cooper caught almost half of Blake Sims's passing yards while Gordon came close to doubling the amount of yards his quarterback threw for. Each player was severely limited by Ohio State, but there is no doubt they would not have even had a chance to play the Buckeyes if they didn't accomplish the things they did during the regular season. That is why it is so frustrating to see Mariota win the award by a landslide victory. I'm not saying that the Ducks could have made it to the championship game with any scrub at quarterback. But what I'm saying is that both Cooper and Gordon were more valuable to their team and put up the kind of numbers that kept their team in contention, which is something I think the Heisman needs to focus on. Cooper was an absolute stud, and if he didn't have out of this world games, Alabama probably would have lost at least two more games throughout the season without him to bail out a below average receiving core. And there is no chance that Wisconsin plays in the B1G championship game if Gordon isn't on that team to average close to two hundred yards per game.

The Heisman trust really needs to start weighing the value of a player much more than just the numbers that a player puts up. Now, obviously, Gordon and Cooper put up some pretty unreal numbers this year. But I really do feel that each guy meant so much more to their team than Mariota did to his. That is why I can't argue with the fact that JT Barrett finished only fifth in the Heisman voting this year. With how well Cardale Jones played in the final three games, it is obvious that almost any quarterback could come in and command Urban's offense. Barrett was just the best we've seen at it since Tebow. Hopefully this begins to change a bit in the next few seasons, but I have a hard time seeing that happen with how the landscape of college football has changed.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Keys to Victory: Super Bowl Edition

by Justin Rasile

Let the tears roll down your beautiful faces as our beloved season of football is close to the end.  I may be holding back tears for not seeing football for another 8 months, but I can hopefully savor what might turn out to be a great game.  The New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks had very similar roads to get to where they are now.  They were both favorites to get to the big game from the beginning of the season but they faced uphill battles to get there.  Tom Brady was getting castrated for having an “un-Brady-like” season in the first few games and members of the media and “experts” were calling for him to step aside (and move onto whom, Ryan Mallet?).  Then came a Sunday night battle on October 5th where the Patriots were set to battle the non-primetime Cincinnati Bengals.  The experts were all banking on the Bengals to manhandle the Pats and start a new era in the AFC.  Then in typical Bengals fashion, they crumbled in the primetime light and the Patriots completely dominated them, starting off a seven game winning streak which helped claim the number one seed in the AFC.  The Seahawks season had an issue as well: the ALWAYS dangerous Super Bowl hangover.  That in addition to the heart and soul of the defense, Bobby Wagner, being out in the beginning of the season, made it difficult for Seattle to shake off the complacency.  After the embarrassing loss to the Rams, the Hawks won 11 of their last 12 and the defense has not allowed a team to score more than 24 points in that span.  The two juggernauts of their respective division are set to face off.  The battle of the 14-4 teams is about to ensue.  The veteran Hall of Fame players for the Pats vs. the young, captivating Seattle energy is a few hours away.  Here it is ladies and gentlemen, my three keys to victory for Super XLIX.

1. Tom Brady vs. the Legion of Boom.  This is the matchup to watch.  Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time facing off against one of the toughest secondaries the National Football League has ever seen.  Brady is a master game planner and will not be one to shy away from making a throw to any spot on the field.  Seattle will run their typical zone cover schemes and Brady will have to be on point with his pre snap reads because finding the holes in the zone are tough to do against this team.  The biggest issue for the Legion of Boom will be all the injuries that are piling up.  Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas both suffered arm injuries in the NFC title game against Green Bay and Kam Chancellor inured a knee injury in practice the other day (the extent of which will be unknown until the helmets are strapped on).  Earl Thomas’s injury is the most bothersome.  He is the last line of defense as the free safety and if his shoulder problem is worse than what we believe it is, tackling those big skill men in Rob Gronkowski, Tim Wright, and LeGarrette Blount will be extremely harsh and will be an all day venture.

2. The running game.  Everybody knows how important Marshawn Lynch will be in this game.  He may have a slow start and will have to churn away until he finally starts picking up large chunks of yards.  Then in typical Beast Mode fashion, he will come out in the second half and look fresher than he did in the first.  That is when he is the most dangerous.  Russell Wilson’s legs are also very important to the success of the Hawks.  He had an unreal 7.2 yard per rush average during the regular season but it’s his ability to extend plays with his legs which may be the useful tool that he has today.  Wilson has this uncanny sixth sense in the pocket that allows him to feel the pressure all around him when the pocket collapses.  When the pocket does fold up, he side steps one defender and then moves outside and tries to find an open man downfield.  Time and time again, it’s his maneuverability that allows him to be the dangerous quarterback that he is.  Depending on the Patriots game plan, Blount may be a huge factor or may not have much of an impact at all.  The Pats stick to their game plan unlike any team I have ever seen.  They find some weakness on the defense they are facing and will exploit it over and over again.  So even while this secondary is the best New England will see all year, the injuries to that unit may be just enough for Brady to want to throw it and force those injured players to make tackle after tackle; wearing them down with each snap.  The game plan may choose to go with Blount and have him run outside the tackle box more than usual, forcing those secondary players (specifically Earl Thomas) to have to tackle the 6 foot, 250 pound wrecking ball.

3. Patriot’s offensive line vs. Seattle’s defensive line.  The key to beating any great quarterback, but in particular Tom Brady, is hitting him in the mouth.  Seattle needs to hit Tom Brady every chance they get.  The only issue with that is Brady whines to the refs more than any other player in the league.  This will give him a roughing the passer penalty or at least get the referees attention to watch the defenders as they bring him to the ground.  Any kind of odd or peculiar tackle will be a flag against Seattle.  Despite getting hit often, Brady will keep his cool in the pocket.  The Seahawks will have to keep bringing pressure or hope that the front four can beat the New England offensive line, at least enough so that the Patriots will have to keep Gronk in to block and allow Brady to stay upright.  The defense will have to get the Pats' offense to stall and force as many field goals as possible because if it comes down to a shootout, Russell and the Hawks offense won’t be able to keep up.  In addition to Blount, Jonas Gray is another large person standing at 5’10” and 225 pounds and runs hard and low to the ground.  If the Patriots choose to run the ball with their big backs, then it will be a clash of two titans as the Seahawks rush defense was third best in the league allowing a miniscule 81.5 yards per game on the ground. 

Will “Deflategate” be a factor?  For as often as the Patriots’ players said “Deflategate” won’t bother them, it is on their minds.  They have been asked hundreds of questions over the past two weeks and every time they turned on the TV, something about this scandal was on.  That has to be mentally tiresome, especially leading up to a game that is as mentally and physically draining as it gets.  And if you give the Seahawks an edge or a leg up, they will take advantage of it and bury the Patriots early on, just like they did with the Broncos in last February’s massacre.  There is also the slight factor of fumbling the ball more with the footballs holding more PSI in this game than the last one for the Patriots.  If the fumbles start accruing, then this may be a bigger issue than we originally thought.  But the weather in Arizona will be 65 degrees and sunny, so ball control should not be a factor for either team.

Prediction: 31-28 Seattle Seahawks

Yes, I may be a Patriot and Tom Brady hater (I was raised in a house with a father who is a Raiders fan and can still vividly remember him screaming at the TV during the Tuck Rule fiasco) but I truly believe that Seattle is the better team, even given the injuries to key players.  Marshawn Lynch will get going and will find a way to accumulate 150 total yards.  His receiving game is an area in which he improved drastically this year so I could see him having a huge momentum swinging catch later on in the game.  Both kickers have ice running through their veins so there should be no issues with missed field goals in this game.  So this game should come down to who is better.  I just believe that this Seattle defense will be too much for the Patriots to handle.  Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas will take turns at covering Gronkowski and hopefully a linebacker will be hitting him on every single play as to not let him get going in the receiving game.  The run defense for the Seahawks should not have too much trouble with Blount and Gray and as long as they can force the Patriots to become one-dimensional.  Either way, I still expect it to be a great game and one filled with lots of Buffalo Wild Wings and beer.  Or um, I mean a ground and pound type of running attack with giant plays in the pass game.  One way or another I don’t want to see Tom Brady hoist another Lombardi Trophy, so today I am a member of the 12th man.  Go Hawks!