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Week 17 Recap: New York Giants @ Washington Redskins

Final: New York 19, Washington 10

Giants Redskins Football
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie finished the game with two picks.

In a game where the Washington Redskins desperately needed a win, it was the Giants who showed up in a big way and took the victory.  New York rode its defense as it has for the majority of the season and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was able to come away with the game-winning interception late in the fourth quarter to bring the Giants their eleventh win of the season.  Perhaps most surprisingly is that Big Blue kept most of their starters in for a majority of the game instead of resting them for the playoffs.  Speaking of the post-season, the Redskins are now eliminated from the dance and will have to stew in the bile of a crushing defeat until the 2017 season kicks off.

Washington’s offense was, for the most part, handled by the Giants defense.  They had just six first downs through the first three quarters and 4/12 on third down throughout the game.  Kirk Cousins was not great, but also not completely terrible.  He did not see some open receivers and was a little off on some of the throws.  There was plenty of pressure on him throughout the game accounting for some of this.  He was under duress when he floated the game-ending interception to Rodgers-Cromartie late in the fourth quarter and the throw was a bit behind the intended receiver as a result.  The offensive line was poor in this game and did nothing to bolster any kind of a rushing attack until late in the game when they began pulling their guards on sweep plays.  Again, Cousins did not receive optimal protection either and he had trouble getting the ball to open receivers since the New York secondary was in lock-down mode, even after Janoris Jenkins was pulled.  Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed were the standouts on offense for Washington.  Reed was a favorite target and did get open a bit underneath while Garcon was the man who converted a 3rd and 17 later in the fourth quarter that lead to a game-tying touchdown to Reed on the next play.  The lack of a running game is what ended up killing the ‘Skins shot at a postseason berth here because they were unable to find any kind of balance that would keep the offense unpredictable.

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins in action from Week 17.

The flip side to the story was how well the Giants’ defense played on the road.  They received huge performances from a lot of their men.  First of all, it was quite a bit surprising to see how much man-to-man coverage that they rolled out.  Washington normally thrives in these situations and they were unable to do so here.  The secondary was outstanding.  Eli Apple had one of his better efforts of the year, but it was Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who was making all of the splash plays on the back end with two picks (he also nearly blocked a PAT in the fourth quarter as well).  Up front for Big Blue, Damon Harrison was a monster and probably the best player from the New York defense in this contest.  He accounted for a couple of hurries and run stops as well as a sack.  He did a beautiful job sniffing out a screen pass by the Redskins that did have some promise with blockers out front in the final frame.  Keenan Robinson showed a lot with some solid form tackling and a nice sideline to sideline presence.  The Giants “D” was terrific and deserves a ton of credit for keeping the explosive Washington offense at bay.

The New York offense was not overly impressive here, but they were able to do some nice things, starting with a great effort running the ball.  This game resembled what the Giants were back in 2008 with a fantastic defensive performance coupled with a dominant running game.  Paul Perkins turned in the first 100+ yard rushing game for the G-Men on the season and did a lot of the dirty work behind the left side of the offensive line and Ereck Flowers, who had a nice game despite being flagged for yet another holding penalty.  Eli Manning did underthrow a few of his passes, but his waning arm strength did not look to be an issue late in the game when he hooked up with Tavarres King for a 44-yard gain that lead to the go-ahead and eventual game winning field goal.  The New York receivers were easily able to get open early in the game against some pretty soft zone coverage.  Josh Norman did follow Odell Beckham Jr. around for most of the game while OBJ was in there and while he did not let up an explosive play, Beckham did get the better of him quite a few times with good routes.  The Giants did fall into a bad lull in the second half offensively after they were so good in the first couple of quarters and this was mainly due to the fact that they were not able to run the ball with as much success.  When the ground game was cranking, New York was able to move the ball up and down the field, but the Redskins did catch on to this and once they shut the rushing attack down it was tough sledding for the #5 seeded team.  Going into the playoffs the Giants will have to be sure to address this spot because the offense yet again did not put up a lot of points.  Six of them came on the final play of the game when Trevin Wade picked up a loose ball and walked it into the end zone.

Eli Manning
Eli Manning made the plays he had to in the Giants’ 19-10 win over Washington.

Defensively for Washington, the team was pushed around a bit early on but they eventually got their bearings straight and were able to contain the Giants’ attack.  In the second half they really stacked the box and began to load the left side of the formation to cut down on the rushing attack that was pretty successful at the open.  The Redskins’ secondary was not great but was also very conservative and more concerned with guarding against the big play.  They did a good job with this until the aforementioned 44-yard completion to King.  Greg Toler was not too good in coverage, but Brashaud Breeland was, someone who had stepped his play up considerably over the final weeks of the season.  Also, as a side nugget, Mason Foster was everywhere in this game getting in on 17 tackles, 15 solo.  Ryan Kerrigan did leave the game with an injury in the first quarter and there was certainly a lack of a pass rush after he did exit.  All and all, the Redskin defense has nothing to be ashamed of in this game, they were not the reason why the team will be missing the playoffs at 8-7-1 following this heartbreaking loss.

The Giants will now hit the road and play the winner of the NFC North on the road in the wild card round.  Their offensive woes will need to be overcome if this team is going to make one of their runs towards the Super Bowl, but they certainly have the defense to keep them in many of the games they may be playing.  For the Redskins, this is a crusher.  Kirk Cousins had a great opportunity to lead his team down the field for the win and a playoff berth in the waning seconds, but was unable to do so and that is going to be a big black mark on their 2016 season.  He did end up throwing for nearly 5,000 yards this year and that alone could land him a big contract, but it is going to be tough to overlook the failure that was this game for the Redskins.  Their offense let them down when they needed a win the most.

Jordan Reed
Jordan Reed celebrates after his fourth quarter touchdown against the Giants.

The Skinny:

  • The Washington Redskins are eliminated from playoff contention with this loss.  A win would have earned them the #6 seed.
  • Washington could not run the ball for the majority of this game and only managed one rushing first down throughout the entirety of the contest.
  • The Redskins defense did a good job limiting the explosive plays and keeping the ball in front of them, but unfortunately they did not receive much help from their offense come the end of the game.
  • The New York defense was great yet again as they intercepted Kirk Cousins twice and held the Redskins to 4/12 on third down.  Washington was tops in the league when it came to not going three and out and the Giants forced them to do just that five times.
  • For the first time this year, the Giants offense had a 100+ yard rusher in Paul Perkins who has come on lately and is looking like he could be the lead back heading into the playoffs and next season.
  • The Giant offense is still very much a work in progress as the team managed only 13 points on that side of the ball.  Their game became predictable and easy to shut down in the second half and could be a problem come playoff time.
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Week 16 Recap: San Diego Chargers @ Cleveland Browns

Final: Cleveland 20, San Diego 17

Jamar Taylor
Jamar Taylor celebrates after his interception of Philip Rivers on 12/24/16.

Call it a Christmas miracle, perhaps, but the Cleveland Browns erase their names from one of the most embarrassing feats in pro sports by getting off the schnide and grabbing their first win of the season.  They did it at home against an injury riddled Charger team, but it was a good win for them nonetheless and there were flashes as to why Browns fans can try to find hope moving forward.

The defense was the main reason why Cleveland won this game.  The secondary was not too terrific, but Jamar Taylor was able to make some plays in coverage.  Joe Haden, hobbled, was not great and eventually exited the game in the second quarter after getting fried up top by Travis Benjamin on the first play of the game.  The real star in the secondary was Truman Williams.  He plastered to his receivers and made some nice PBUs.  Christian Kirksey, who is the best player on defense next to Jamie Collins, made some plays as well, getting his nose in on nine tackles, six unassisted.  Emmanuel Ogbah, who is blossoming into a fine young player, was doing the dirty work and drawing a lot of doubles.  The Browns defensively, under Ray Horton, threw the kitchen sink at San Diego.  They rolled zones, blitzed, packed the box and did a great job stopping the run.  This was the biggest reason why they finally picked up a win is because the “D” held its own and was not just bullied by the opposing running game.  Yes, the Chargers were essentially down to their third and fourth string running backs in Kenneth Farrow and Ronnie Hillman, but they had little room to run at all as the Brownies did a nice job clogging the running lanes and tackling.  This was their best tackling effort all year.

Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers threw two touchdowns and was picked off once in the loss to Cleveland.

Offensively, the Browns were not all that good up front.  They allowed their starter Robert Griffin III to get battered all game long and he ended up getting knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to a concussion.  The Chargers racked up eight sacks on the Browns’ quarterbacks in this game and the Cleveland O-line was flat out bullied for a majority of the game.  Luckily they were able to run the ball with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson.  The line did a nice enough job blocking on those efforts, especially the right side behind Johnathan Cooper and Austin Pasztor.  The Browns have been getting blown out a lot lately, but early in the season they were competitive in most of their games.  The reason behind this was because they were able to run the ball.  They got back to that blueprint and it paid off for them.  RGIII used his legs on read options and was able to hit slants off of play actions looking, at times, like he did his rookie season under Kyle Shanahan.  Working with Hue Jackson in the future could net some exciting results.  Terrelle Pryor was really neutralized by Casey Heyward, but Andrew Hawkins uncovered a bit and was the best receiver for Cleveland.  While this offensive output was nothing too impressive, the Browns did have a decent balance to their game and they did not turn the ball over.

The San Diego defense came into this game being the only team in the league who had created a takeaway in every game this year, but that streak came to an end.  Cleveland did a good job taking care of the ball and the Chargers really did not come close to forcing an error.  The defense, in fact, contributed to the march of the Browns’ offense at times with pass interference penalties.  Casey Hayward got off to a rough start against Terrelle Pryor, but he turned his fortunes around and kept him bottled up.  Joey Bosa was unblockable on the interior as he bulled his way into a pair of sacks and five tackles, further campaigning for his Defensive Rookie of the Year crown.  The best player that San Diego had to offer was Denzel Perryman, although he was dinged up multiple times on the afternoon and had to leave the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter.  While he was in there, he flew around the field.  He made a couple of hard hits and would really slow the ball carriers often, allowing other teammates to make their tackles.  Jatavius Brown was the leading tackler for the Bolts with nine.

San "D"iego
Two of the stars on San Diego’s defense in this contest were Casey Hayward and Joey Bosa.

The Chargers offense was not great.  Obviously they had two missed field goals late in the game, which is not something that can be pinned on the “O”, but they did allow the game to get into those situations.  On the first play of the game, Philip Rivers heaved the ball down the field to Travis Benjamin for a 50-yard gainer and the drive ended with seven points on an Antonio Gates one yard touchdown.  After that drive, San Diego managed only 10 points.  Rivers was under heavy pressure all day.  He was not officially sacked, but he did get flagged for intentional grounding once and had to throw the ball away on a couple of other occasions.  He poorly underthrew a ball in the second quarter to Antonio Gates and it was intercepted by Jamar Taylor.  His play was not great but that was a product of the poor protection up front.  It was a flat out bad effort by the offensive line.  They were not able to make any lanes for Kenneth Farrow and Ronnie Hillman to run through after the first quarter and were very bad in handling the many blitzes that the Browns brought at them.  The absence of King Dunlap at left tackle was missed as the Chargers were not able to anchor down Rivers’ blind side.

The hero of the game had to be Jamie Meter who blocked the first of two Josh Lambo field goals in the fourth quarter.  He plowed his way past the line and into the lane of the kick and swatted it away.  Then, Lambo missed a 45-yarder on a bingo-attempt when the team had to march out the kicking unit in under 15 seconds without a timeout.  If those kicks were made, we would possibly be singing a different tune after this one.

So the Browns finally won one.  It came at a good time because their probability of picking up that initial “W” in Week 17 on the road in Pittsburgh were not going to be very high.  The defense played much better and Cleveland ran the ball and these two things were a huge factor in determining the outcome.  For the Chargers, they have fallen a long way ever since dropping that game to the Buccaneers and can blame a lot of it on injuries.  However, the offensive line has been a problem for years and it does not look like it is getting any better.  This will certainly be an area for them to target in free agency and in the draft.  The Bolts will finish up their season at home against the Chiefs in what will likely be the teams last game in San Diego.

Isaiah Crowell
Isaiah Crowell in action from 12/24/26.

The Skinny:

  • Cleveland was able to run the ball and stop the run, out-gaining the Chargers on the ground 124-34.
  • The Browns blitzed a lot in this game, and their coverage on the back end held up pretty well.  Their defense did their best work of the season in the tackling department.
  • Robert Griffin III was sacked six times in this game and was knocked out with a concussion.  Cody Kessler was fine in relief of him, but did not have to do a whole lot with a lead at his disposal.
  • Josh Lambo misses two fourth quarter field goals and the Chargers commit 9 penalties for 92 yards and turn it over once, heavily factoring into this ugly loss.
  • Antonio Gates ties Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdowns by a tight end all time.  He now has 111 in his great career.
  • For the first time this season, the Chargers failed to create a turnover in a game as the Browns did a good job protecting the ball and controlling the time of possession.

Week 15 Recap: New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos

Final: New England 16, Denver 3

Patriots Broncos Football
Dion Lewis racked up nearly 100 yards on the ground Sunday versus Denver.

The Denver defense fought valiantly, but in the end they did not produce enough pass rush and were outplayed by the Patriots at Sports Authority in a 16-3 loss.  It is easy to draw comparisons between this game here and the AFC Championship contest a season ago, but we are not going to do that.  Let’s break down this contest as its own entity.

The Denver offense was stuck in the mud for most of the game, especially in the second half.  They managed only five first downs after the midpoint of the second quarter and the offensive line was not very good.  Trevor Siemian did not have a lot of time to scan the field, and it did not help that the Pats had excellent coverage throughout the game.  Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were bottled up by Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Eric Rowe and did not have much of an impact in the game.  After a promising start in the first quarter, Justin Forsett was pretty silent for the second straight week.  Denver’s inability to run the ball really handicaps this offense, one that relies heavily on play action and bootlegs with the quarterback.  Siemian did try a couple of rollouts, but the New England pass rush and linebackers were quick to sniff them out and give him a tough time trying to find outlets.  Former Patriot A.J. Derby was probably the most consistent target in the game Demaryius Thomas finished with seven catches for 91 yards, but a lot of that came in garbage time.  A lack of a run game and decent pass protection really dragged down this Devner offense.

The New England offense was nothing special in this contest, but their offensive line was remarkable.  Facing the talented Denver “D”, the game plan was to run the ball and not allow the Broncos to hit Tom Brady all that much, and this worked.  They ran the ball 38 times and Dion Lewis nearly cranked out a 100 yard game.  LeGarrette Blount found the end zone for his 15th time this season, the most any back has this year and also in New England franchise history.  Marcus Cannon did a heck of a job containing Von Miller.  Miller was a virtual non-factor as he was chipped and double-teamed a majority of the game, but even the plays where he was not in two on one situations, Cannon was very good against him.  Tom Brady did tie a career worst start to a game missing on his first six passes, but he did eventually settle down and connect with Julian Edelman who was great against the man-coverage employed by Wade Philips’ “D”.  The Patriot offense was not spectacular, but it did not have to be since their defense was lights out.

Patriots Broncos Football
The Patriots passing game never got going until Julian Edelman got involved early in the second quarter snapping Tom Brady’s 0-6 mark to start the game.

Credit certainly has to go to the New England secondary in this game.  Eric Rowe made a couple of nice plays on PBUs.  Malcolm Butler completely blanketed Emmanuel Sanders as well.  Logan Ryan picked off a Trevor Siemian pass on the first play of the second quarter and brought it back 42 yards to thwart a Denver scoring chance.  The D-line of New England was pretty good as well.  They threw a lot of stunts at a struggling Broncos’ offensive line and were able to get home with three sacks, two of which went to the second year budding star, Trey Flowers who was a force in the middle of the field.  Not only did Logan Ryan have an excellent interception (with a fantastic read and break on the ball), but he also lead the team in tackles with seven unassisted.  The New England defense, which was very much the weak point of the team heading into this game, turned in their best effort of the season and really put a dagger in the Broncos’ playoff hopes.

Trevor Siemian
Trevor Siemian throwing the ball against the Patriots from 12/18/16.

The Denver defense did everything a fan could have wanted them to outside of getting significant pressure on Tom Brady and stopping the run.  That sounds like a lot of failure, but considering the way the Pats have been able to rip through opposing secondaries this season, the Broncos were great against the pass.  Aqib Talib and Chris Harris were solid in their coverage and the Denver “D” allowed just one play over 20 yards in this game, a 34 yard completion to Martellus Bennett in the fourth quarter.  Otherwise, they really limited the opportunities that New England had with some great zone coverage and a mix-in of the occasional press.  Jamming the Pats’ wide-outs was effective and the held Brady to a lowly 188 yards on a 50% completion clip.  Shane Ray accounted for one of the two Denver sacks and forced a fumble.  He and Todd Davis were the best players on defense after watching this game.  Davis did a great job filling in for Brandon Marshall at the Mike linebacker spot as he was in on 13 different tackles (seven unassisted).  Jared Crick was responsible for the other sack and really flourished with a lot of attention being focused on Von Miller.  DeMarcus Ware did not have a great game as he was unable to win a lot of his battles on the outside and failed to create much pressure against Tom Brady in this one.

The Patriots improve to 12-2 after a healthy 13 point win in Denver where their defense dominated.  This is important because earlier in the year it was easy to point out the New England defense as a major flaw and the reason why this team would not win the Super Bowl.  Now with this game, and their effort over the past couple of weeks, it is easy to see that they have turned the corner and could be a force against any team if their secondary is able to shut down their opposing receivers the way they did in this contest.  For the Broncos, this is their second straight game where their defense was solid but the offense failed.  Last year when they made their run to the Super Bowl, their offense wasn’t the greatest, but they were at least able to run the ball.  This year, that is not something this team can lean on and hence why they are now 8-6 and fighting for their playoff life.  Denver will hit the road and take on Kansas City in a must-win game next week on Christmas day.  The Patriots, in the meantime, have locked up the AFC East and a first round playoff BYE and will host the Jets next week with a chance to lock up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.  This was a dominant win for the Pats, and one they can build on as they hope for yet another Super Bowl run.

Tom Brady
The Patriots secure the AFC East as well as a first round BYE in the playoffs with a 16-3 win over Denver on Sunday.

The Skinny:

  • The New England offensive line holds up well as Tom Brady is only sacked twice in 32 dropbacks.  The running game for the Patriots really got cranking as well as the team ran it 37 times for 137 yards.
  • The Patriots corners were terrific in coverage completely shutting down both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in this game.  Denver’s greatest output in the passing game came from their tight ends.
  • LeGarrette Blount hammered his way into the end zone for his 15th time this season, a New England franchise record.  The Patriots were also able to secure a first round BYE and another win of the AFC East title with this victory.
  • The Bronco offensive line was pushed around in this contest.  Denver was unable to run the ball yet again and that really took away from the play action pass opportunities that a Gary Kubiak offense is predicated on.
  • The Denver pass rush was not much of a factor in this game which was a shame because the coverage on the back end was fantastic.  The Broncos’ secondary was very good in this game.
  • A Jordan Norwood muffed punt in the first quarter as well as a Trevor Siemian interception really hampered the Broncos as they contributed to a (potential) 10 point swing.  The Patriots were +3 in the turnover battle.

Week 14 Recap: New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Final: Tampa Bay 16, New Orleans 11

Jameis Winston
Jameis Winiston throws the ball against the Saints from 12/11/16

The Buccaneers continue their hot streak as the team picked up its fifth consecutive win for the first time since 2002 in a chippy win over the plummeting New Orleans Saints.  The Tampa Bay defense was marvelous in this game, holding their division rivals to just three field goals on offense and clamping down in the red zone on a couple of different occasions against what was the best scoring team within the 20 in football.  Here’s how they did it.

As stated above, the Buccaneer defense deserves almost all of the credit for this win.  Their cornerbacks were all over the New Orleans receivers for almost the entire game.  There was one instance where Brandin Cooks beat them deep in the second quarter for what should have been six, but otherwise the team let up nothing over their heads and were making solid tackles.  Kwon Alexander and LaVante David had big games at linebacker.  David shot the gap and made a nice tackle for a loss at one point in the game and was filling the hole with great regularity alongside his very underrated teammate.  The real star in this game was Gerald McCoy.  McCoy was double-teamed frequently, but still managed to get a couple pressures against what is regarded as one of the better offensive lines in football and he was helpful in slowing the run; something that the Saints have excelled at doing lately.  SS Kieth Tandy was a man on fire in the secondary.  He is the one who officially sealed the win for the Bucs with an interception on fourth down with less than a minute to go in the game, absolutely mugging Willie Snead, but he was all over his assignments all day and had eyes on Brees passes throughout the entire contest.  Holding the Saints to just two field goals in two red zone possessions was huge for Tampa Bay and the biggest reason as to why they won this game.

Saints vs. Buccaneers
Drew Brees threw three picks in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.

New Orleans was, by no means, dynamic on offense in this game, but they did have their chances to score.  There was a play in the second quarter were Brandin Cooks got loose in the secondary and Drew Brees overthrew him.  On that same drive, Travaris Cadet dropped a gimme touchdown that would have brought the Saints to within a point going into the half.  Later, at the end of the third quarter on a third down play, Brandin Cooks let a ball drop right out of his hands to the grass after it was initially ruled a touchdown in the end zone.  Playoff teams make these plays, and the Saints did not and that is why they are sitting at 5-8 with a nearly impossible climb to the post season.  Besides those mistakes, the team combined for a season-high 13 penalties and a disastrous three turnovers.  The offense converted just 30% of their third down tries (4/13) and was 1/2 on fourth down.  A huge reason for the lack-luster offensive performance was a mediocre effort turned in by the New Orleans O-line.  Drew Brees was not afforded great protection and they did not get much of a push for the running game.  The tackle combo of Andrus Peat and Terraun Armstead was not great in this game as they were getting beat one-on-one on the edges with double team focus being put on Gerald McCoy in the middle.  Tampa Bay played a lot of man-to-man early and then switched it up and played a ton of zone in the second half and the 180 in schemes under defensive coordinator Mike Smith really baffled the Saints.

We would be singing the praise of the New Orleans defense had their offense showed up today because they were actually quite good.  Cameron Jordan had his usual impact, completely bowling over Gosder Cherilus at one point in the game.  Delvin Breaux was awesome while he was on the field, although he did leave with an injury during the middle of the game.  The Saints did not bring a ton of pressure in most situations, but they did bring heat when they stuffed the run for the safety in the second quarter.  Keeping seven men in the box was their strategy to stop the run, and it worked well as the Bucs only rushed for an average of three yards per play on 35 tries.  Paul Kruger had a nice game, officially recording two tackles and a QB pressure.  He was a force when rushing the passer and made life tough on the Tampa O-line.  Nick Fairley was an animal in stuffing the run.  He finished the afternoon with six tackles.  In the secondary, the effort of Von Bell, Ken Crawley, Delvin Breaux, and Sterling Moore was remarkable.  Mike Evans, who typically struggles against the Saints, continued that trend as he was held to just four catches for 42 yards.  This was the same player that lit up one of the best secondaries in football a couple of weeks ago in Seattle.

Doug Martin,Stephone Anthony,Nick Fairley
The Saints defense stepped up on Sunday, but unfortunately their offense managed only three field goals in a 16-11 loss.

The Tampa Bay offense got off to a hot start but quickly fizzled out because they were unable to run the ball with great success or create many big plays with the passing game.  Jameis Winston did not score a touchdown in this game for the first time in (possibly) his entire life.  He did, however, make some nice throws under pressure and showed some more tremendous mobility and strength in the pocket.  This kid grows with each start and really seems to be blossoming into one of the league’s better passers.  Charles Sims was actually the better of the two running backs today.  He broke more tackles than Doug Martin and finished with 17 yards on four carries.  Nobody ran the ball particularly well, however, as the longest rush of the game belonged to Jameis Winston.  It officially went for 14 yards.

Special teams played a big role in this contest.  Newly signed Josh Huff did muff a kickoff and the ball squirted out of bounds at the one yard line, leading to the New Orleans safety.  Roberto Aguayo was 3/3 in the kicking game and hit his lone extra point try, which is news considering the awful start that the young Florida State product had to his career.  Brian Anger pinned the Saints inside the five twice in the fourth quarter with excellent punts (along with a brilliant save by Ryan Smith who sold out to keep a punt from going into the end zone).  This really put the New Orleans offense in a tough place and contributed mightily to their eighth loss.

Now that the Saints do have eight losses, the playoffs are nearly impossible.  They will have to win out and hope for a ton of help, so it seems as though they are cooked and will have to play spoiler going forward (perhaps in two weeks when they replay these Bucs).  Tampa Bay keeps pace with Atlanta, who also went to 8-5 with a blowout win over Los Angeles this week.  The good news for the Bucs is if they keep winning they will have a good shot at a wild card spot, if not the division.  They will be tested next week on the road as the team pits their five game winning streak against the team with the best record in football, the Dallas Cowboys.  New Orleans will head to Arizona to play the Cardinals in Week 15.

Ryan Smith
Special teams ace Ryan Smith saves a punt from going into the end zone Sunday versus New Orleans.

The Skinny:

  • The Buccaneers win their fifth straight game for the first time since 2002, largely because of their defense which has allowed an average of 12.8 points per game over that stretch.
  • Jameis Winston does not account for a touchdown for the first time in his career, but he did show some more impressive mobility within the pocket throughout the game.
  • Roberto Aguayo nails three field goals and an extra point without a miss as the rookie seems to be getting back on track for the Bucs.
  • Drew Brees, for the first time in his career, throws three picks in back-to-back games and was held without a touchdown pass for his second consecutive game as he appears to be falling into a bit of a funk.
  • New Orleans had their chances in this game.  Brees overshot Brandin Cooks on a deep throw which would have been six in the second quarter, and then Travaris Cadet dropped a would be touchdown on that same drive while Cooks botched one in the end zone that would have put the Saints in front going into the fourth quarter.
  • The New Orleans defense was not to blame for this loss.  After surrendering a quick 13 points to the Bucs, the Saints defense held Tampa to just three points over the team’s final six drives, including one safety.  They held Mike Evans in check as the star wide-out finished with a line of 4-42-0.

Week 13 Recap: Washington Redskins @ Arizona Cardinals

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 31-23 from the fourth of December.

Final: Arizona 31, Washington 23

The Arizona Cardinals improve to 5-6-1 after Patrick Peterson intercepted an errant Kirk Cousins pass late in the game, downing the Redskins.  There was good quarterback play taking place in this game despite woeful performances by both injury-riddled offensive lines.  Here’s how it all played out.

The Redskins defense was victimized by two players on defense: Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson.  These two players have carried the Cardinals’ offense all season long and certainly continued that trend on Sunday.  Fitz now has 1,104 catches in his brilliant career and sits all alone behind Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez in third place on the all-time reception list.  Fitzgerald hauled in ten balls for 78 yards and made a couple of key conversions, including one late in the game that allowed the Cards to march down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown.  David Johnson was a man on fire yet again for Arizona as he recorded 100+ yards from scrimmage in his twelfth straight game.  He ended the afternoon with 27 touches for 175 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).  He was nearly uncoverable out of the backfield and did have opportunities to make a couple more grabs if the ball was delivered accurately.  This was a bit of a problem at times because the offensive line for Arizona continued to be an issue.  The interior was getting shoved backwards and the Redskins were getting pressure even on three step drops.  Luckily, Carson Palmer showed some of his best mechanics so far this season and was good with his feet, able to move out and make some decent throws.  Other tosses were inaccurate because he was not able to escape the pressure.  On the Cardinals’ final scoring drive of the game, Bruce Arians showed some guts by calling a run play on a fourth and one, inside of their own territory with less than four to play.  The call payed off with a 17 yard rush by David Johnson.  Later on, on a third down try, he let Carson Palmer take a shot for the end zone, and the veteran quarterback delivered the goods by dropping a perfect pass into the waiting arms of J.J. Nelson in the end zone for a 42 yard score.  The Cardinals were playing to win the game, and they were able to do just that.

Washington Redskins v Arizona Cardinals
Action from Sunday’s matchup between Arizona and Washington.

Conversely, the Washington offense held its own.  They were in a tough spot versus the league’s top defense on the road, and they did not look atrocious despite missing their best offensive player in Jordan Reed.  Kirk Cousins was great on the afternoon making quick reads and finding open men when he was afforded the time to pass.  This was the key, though, because there were a lot of occasions where he could not stand comfortably in the pocket and pick out his best option.  His best throw of the game came right at the beginning of the third quarter where he hooked up with DeSean Jackson on a 59 yard bomb.  This lead to a Rob Kelley score later on.  The 59 yarder was one of the rare times that Cousins had all day to throw.  The Redskins suffered injuries to their center John Sullivan and their right guard Spencer Long.  Arizona brought a ton of corner blitzes and spread the line out.  This allowed some men to run free on the interior and take shots on Cousins.  There was not much room for Washington to maneuver on the ground either as the Cardinals blitzed those looks as well.  It came down to the Redskins’ players beating their man coverage.  They did not do so on many occasions as the ball rarely went in the direction of Patrick Peterson who was all over DeSean Jackson for a majority of the game.  Jameson Crowder did not have a reception until the third quarter of play and without Jordan Reed to make plays in the middle of the field, Kirk Cousins was heavily reliant on quick hitches to the outside, which is not necessarily Washington’s game.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals
Kirk Cousins throwing the ball against Arizona from 12/4/16

This has already been touched upon quite a bit, but the Arizona defense was a huge reason why the team was able to keep their playoff hopes alive.  They were tremendous in man coverage when Kirk Cousins did have time to throw the ball and they were blitzing very frequently.  Deone Bucannon and Markus Golden shined as each made plays at the line of scrimmage all game long.  Golden recovered a fumble and ran it back deep inside of the Redskins’ territory late in the game that set up one go-ahead score.  Bucannon was excellent help in stuffing the run game and made some great open field tackles.  Tyvon Branch was a bit of a liability in coverage, and he was the guy who got beat deep by DeSean Jackson.  Otherwise, the secondary for Arizona was strong even without Tyrann Matheiu to help them out.  The Cardinals were just as aggressive without him and really got after a hobbled Washington offensive line.

The Redskins on defense found out what a lot of teams have already seen this season: the Arizona offense is run through the production of two guys, David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald had a lot of catches, but nothing terribly explosive.  The true challenge was with Johnson out of the backfield, something the Redskins have shown to struggle doing all season and that is covering running backs.  Their interior line was good and they held up well against the run.  Johnson himself did break some tackles and got on to the second level, but for the second straight week the Redskins’ held a potential #1 running back in the league to less than 100 yards rushing, which is not bad.  Washington did a great job at limiting explosive plays from the Cards until late in the game when J.J. Nelson grabbed his long touchdown.  Josh Norman was more of an impact player around the line of scrimmage as he was brought on CAT blitzes quite a few times and had a nose for stuffing the ball carriers.  He had a bad holding penalty later in the game that did extend an Arizona drive, however, and was not overly dominant in covering Larry Fitzgerald.  Bashaud Breeland actually had one of his better games in coverage for most of the game having primary assignments with Michael Floyd throughout.  He was beat on a touchdown pass, but Larry Fitzgerald drew him away from his primary receiver, so it is hard to blame him for that.

In the end, this turned out to be a signature win for the Cardinals.  They got back to their roots and were aggressive on both sides of the ball.  This was important for them since they are a squad whose identity is built on taking risks and this “W” is something that they can look back on for the rest of the year.  With this victory, they now jump above the Eagles and the Saints in the NFC Wild Card standings and now have a head to head win over the Redskins.  They will be heading on the road to the Dolphins next week trying to continue a late season renaissance.  The Redskins have a chance to bounce back with a struggling Eagle team next on their schedule.  That game will be on the road.

Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald is now third on the all-time receptions list with 1,104 following this weekend’s game.

The Skinny:

  • Arizona’s defense clamped down in the waning moments of the game when Patrick Peterson intercepted Kirk Cousins’ pass late with :41 to go, sealing a win for the Cardinals and keeping their season alive.
  • David Johnson had his twelfth straight game with over 100 yards from scrimmage while Larry Fitzgerald moved into third place all time with 1,104 receptions.  Arizona’s offense continues to run through these two players almost exclusively.
  • Carson Palmer had his best game since Week 2 versus Tampa Bay, throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.  He did all of this despite another poor performance from his offensive line and showed his best mobility of the season.
  • Washington’s offensive line suffered a couple of big injuries to the center and guard position and the Cardinals exploited that with blitzes.  Kirk Cousins was under pressure all game and was off the mark with a lot of his throws.
  • Until J.J. Nelson’s 42 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Washington secondary did hold up well due to the amount of pressure they were able to get on Carson Palmer.  The Redskin “D” did not hold when it counted most as they gave up that bomb late in the fourth quarter and allowed a fourth down conversion earlier on the drive.
  • The middle of the field was not as prosperous for the Redskins without Jordan Reed in the game.  Outside throws were contested by the Arizona corners and Kirk Cousins did not have much of a running game to work with.  The Washington offense was handicapped and exposed by a good defense.

Week 12 Recap: Tennessee Titans @ Chicago Bears

Final: Tennessee 27, Chicago 21

Marcus Mariota
QB Marcus Mariota taking off against Chicago’s defense.

The Titans looked to be running away with this game, at one point leading the game by 20 in the fourth quarter, but eventually had to gut a win out in crunch time handing the Bears their ninth loss of the season.  There were a lot of moving parts contributing to the nearly completed comeback out of Chicago’s corner.  Let’s take a look at them.

To begin, the Bear’s offense got off to a slow start but finished strong.  Chicago did manage a touchdown on their second possession of the game, but were then held out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.  Matt Barkley was very inconsistent over that (nearly) three full quarter stretch until catching fire later on.  He was inaccurate with the ball at times, failed to put a lot of air under many of his passes, and he made a couple of bad decisions.  When in rhythm he was just fine, but when he held the ball for more than three seconds, there was trouble.  Barkley would force it into coverage and ended up being picked off twice.  After his second pick, which was a horrible mistake throwing late into double coverage in the red zone, the USC product was much better getting the ball out fast and not allowing the Titans to build any kind of a pass rush against him.  The Bears’ offensive line was actually quite dominant in this contest.  They hardly allowed any pressures when the Titans did not blitz, and they paved the way for some nice runs out of Jordan Howard and KaDeem Carey.  Matt Barkley was not sacked.  The weak point of the Chicago offense was their receiving corps, specifically the wide receivers.  Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Jordan Howard, and Marquess Wilson all had bad drops and the team had at least seven of them officially.  They were winning a lot of their battles as far as route-running went, but when the ball was in the air they were not going up to catch it and the Tennessee defensive backs won all of those contests.  There was almost no production coming out of the tight end spot as compared to last week when Zach Miller was dominant in the seam versus the New York Giants.  It is clear that the Bears are hurting without their regular starters in Alshon Jeffrey and Zach Miller.

Matt Barkley
Matt Barkley in action from 11/27/16.

The Chicago defense was nothing special on the afternoon.  They were gouged in the middle of the field by Delanie Walker and Harry Douglass up the seams, and were frequently beat around the edges by Derrick Henry.  The one area they were good in was stuffing DeMarco Murray, who had almost no room to run in the middle of the formation.  Willie Young had a nice game creating tackle opportunities for his teammates.  He also made one stop behind the line of scrimmage.  There was not much of a pass rush mounted by Chicago.  Like the Titans, they also did not record a sack on the opposing pass-rusher.  Danny Trevathan ended up leaving the game with an undisclosed injury, predicted to be on his leg, but once he was gone it was apparent that the Bears’ defense had almost nothing left.  There was no leadership, and there were a lot of miscommunications in the secondary on the day.  The defense did look slow at times as well because they were beat around the edges by Derrick Henry on more than a couple of occasions and Marcus Mariota had a lot of green grass to take off with the ball in front of him.  Eddie Goldman was probably the closes thing the Bears had to a pass rush on the interior line this afternoon.

For the Titans, their offense looked sharp at times in this game.  Marcus Mariota was very good, and well protected.  He was making very accurate passes and throwing the ball away when it was not there.  Out of his eight incomplete passes, five of those were throwaways.  He was attacking the Bears up the seams with Harry Douglass and Delanie Walker and was able to hit a couple of passes deep down the field outside the numbers to Rishard Matthews.  Matthews found the end zone yet again in this game on an excellent diving 29 yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.  DeMarco Murray did not find a lot of running room in this game as the Bears loaded the box when #29 was in the backfield.  Derrick Henry, after not receiving a touch of the football last week in Indianapolis, was a very effective runner of the ball in this game.  He showed off why he was the number one pick for the Titans this year flashing his speed around the edge and power on the inside finishing all of his runs in impressive fashion.  The offensive line was solid in this game as well.  It is a good thing Taylor Lewan was healthy to go because he has been a stalwart for Tennessee on the season.  He and rookie counterpart Jack Conklin were constantly cracking down and sealing the edges.  Delanie Walker pitched in with some nice blocks as well.  He also made a nice touchdown grab in the second quarter of this game.  Overall the best player for the Titans was Marcus Mariota, but he had a lot of help from his toys, unlike Matt Barkley.  That was the ultimate difference in this contest.

Delanie Walker
Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker had a nice game making some catches, a couple of good blocks, and hauling in one touchdown pass.

The Titans’ defense was probably the worst unit on the field from Sunday.  Their corners were victimized on more than a few occasions and they allowed the Bears’ limited options to beat them down the field.  It started because they were unable to create much of a pass rush.  Yes, a lot of Matt Barkley’s passes were out quickly, but some of them weren’t, and to not record a sack on 54 dropbacks is not good for Tennessee.  This allowed their back seven to get exposed.  Jason McCourty had a rough game.  He was beat deep on a couple of occasions and ended up interfering with the opposing receivers on those plays.  LeShaun Sims ended up being a liability on the back end, looking very much the part of a rookie by letting his assignments beat him across his face.  The Bears were heavily undermanned in this game, yet Dick LeBeau let his corners play a lot of off coverage.  They also did not employ nearly as many blitzes as they should have against what was the equivalent of a rookie quarterback standing under center on the opposite side of the field.  Brice McCain was the lone player who did much of anything in coverage, but his most memorable plays were those where he was able to get some pressure on Barkley.  Overall, the Titans defense was not good and they allowed a talent-poor Chicago team hang around and almost pull off a surprising win.

The Titans did manage to win the game, but it was not as satisfying as it should have been since they nearly let a 20 point lead in the fourth quarter evaporate to an inexperience Matt Barkley with almost no weapons outside.  They will hit their late Week 13 BYE at 6-6 and a game in back of the Texans, who lost this week, for first place in the AFC South.  The Bears have nobody to blame but themselves for this loss.  Their receivers dropped way too many passes, including one in the end zone from Josh Bellamy with :47 left in the contest, one that if he caught it would have put the Bears in front without much time remaining.  Matt Barkley did at least prove to Chicago that he is capable of closing out the season for John Fox under center after looking atrocious early on.  He will likely get the nod next week against the 1-10 49ers when San Fran comes to town.

Titans vs. Bears
Matt Barkley threw his first three touchdown passes of his career Sunday versus Chicago

The Skinny:

  • Marcus Mariota played well yet again and set the Tennessee franchise record for touchdown passes in a season with 25.
  • The Tennessee defensive backs were torched all day.  A lot of off coverage allowed for underneath passing patterns and the secondary was, frankly, lucky that the Chicago receivers were not sharp enough in this game because they were not good.
  • Derrick Henry was, by a large margin, the best running back for the Titans after not touching the ball a week ago he ended this game with 60 yards on eight carries, showing great power running between the tackles and speed sprinting around the edge.
  • Matt Barkley was not awful in his first career start.  He threw the ball 54 times and tossed his first three touchdown passes in the league.  The longer he held the ball, however, the worse as he made a couple of bad decisions with the ball including a costly turnover in the red zone late in the third quarter.
  • The wide receivers for Chicago cost the team dearly in this contest.  They contributed for at least seven drops and were not winning their battles at the point of attack.  The absence of Zach Miller and Alshon Jeffery was clear.
  • Chicago’s defense was soft in the middle of the field and they got even thinner at linebacker when they lost Danny Trevathan to injury in this contest.  Their secondary was also beat deep on a few separate occasions.  They were fine in stuffing DeMarco Murray on the inside.

Week 11 Recap: Jacksonville Jaguars @ Detroit Lions

Eric Ebron
Eric Ebron finished his afternoon against the Jaguars with three catches for 70 yards, as well as a rushing touchdown.

Final: Detroit 26, Jacksonville 19

In a game that was pretty back-and-forth throughout, featuring six lead changes, the Lions pull off the win at home following a bone-headed offside penalty against Sen’Derrick Marks late in the fourth quarter on a fourth and one.  Detroit did not look particularly good in this game outside of a couple of players while the Jaguars were not all horrible, but still very sloppy.  Here’s a look at the performances of the players in the contest.

We start with the Jacksonville defense.  This was a unit that came into the game having not forced a turnover in five straight contests.  They snapped that streak when they recovered a muffed punt off the mitts of Andre Roberts in the first quarter.  Of course, that turnover was technically credited to their special teams but the defense also forced a fumble on Golden Tate to create a play of their own.  Telvin Smith, who was coming off of an emotional week after his brother was murdered, came out and made some nice plays and demonstrated some good form tackling.  He missed one take-down, but was otherwise sure to bring his man down with seven solo tackles.  Paul Posluszny was around the line of scrimmage and helped out with a couple of run stops as well.  The best player in the secondary was strong safety Johnathan Cyprian who was also a sure-tackler and mad a couple of nice breaks on the ball.  Jalen Ramsey was okay, making big plays and also giving up a couple of completions when in coverage on Anquan Boldin.  The biggest play of the game was surrendered in the third quarter when Matthew Stafford hooked up with Eric Ebron for a 61 yard pass.  This was on a zone coverage when Ramsey stumbled as he attempted to turn his hips.  This let the big tight end out of North Carolina run loose.  Prince Amukamara’s tough year continued as well when he was beat on routes on more than a couple of occasions.  The Jaguars played a lot of zone on passing downs, which hurt them more than anything, but they ran many run blitzes and hit on almost all of them.  This could be more attributed to the Detroit line than anything else, which will be hit on now.

Davon House
Davon House in coverage from Sunday’s game.

The Lion’s up front were pushed around.  There was almost no fight out of their O-line and most players on the offensive side were not very good.  Matthew Stafford turned in one of the lone solid performances from Detroit.  His right arm essentially became their running game, especially late in the fourth quarter when the Lions went on an eight minute drive to milk just about all of the remaining time out.  He had a lot of throws from weird arm angles, as we have become accustomed to seeing, and was pinpoint accurate on most of them.  He did face a lot of pressure early in the game and the offensive line is to blame for that.  The Lions had almost no yardage until about halfway into the second quarter, something that will not cut it if they are to play a competent team down the stretch here.  There was almost no surge from the O-line in the run game and it is hard to blame any of the backs for the lack of space running the ball.  Anquan Boldin was not bad; he made a lot of separation on his routes with his physical running.  The Golden Tate roller coaster season continued.  He showed up in this game but did not have a monster impact with three catches for 27 yards.  Tight end Eric Ebron was a near non-factor against man coverage, but had a lot of success against zone.  He also trotted into the end zone on a fourth quarter one yard rushing touchdown.

The Jaguars on offense were not a whole lot better running the ball with Chris Ivory, who put the ball on the ground for the fourth time this season.  T.J. Yeldon looked strong with the rock in his arms, but he suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and missed the remainder of the game.  Blake Bortles was an adventure in this contest.  He was brought down hard on a scramble early in the game and was rolling his shoulders for the rest of the contest.  Many of his throws from that point forward were underthrown and off the mark.  He threw two picks in the game, and as coach Brian Billick would say interceptions come because of four reasons: Bad throw, Bad decision, Bad route, or Bad luck.  His first interception was a bad throw while his last was bad luck when the ball bounced off of Marqise Lee’s foot and into the hands of Tavon Wilson.  Before those two second half turnovers, he did have a nice first half, getting rid of the ball quickly and into the hands of his play makers.  Allen Robinson chipped in with a touchdown catch and the backs were active participants in the receiving game.  Chris Ivory ended up leading the team with six catches.  9/22 of Bortles’ completions went to his running backs, many on screens.  He made a horrible pass coming out of the half that was intercepted by Rafael Bush and returned 39 yards to the house.  He then came back on the very next thrown and was nearly picked off again trying to force it in to Allen Robinson (Darius Slay was on the coverage).  The throw was behind Robinson and clearly a greedy pass.  Bortles was trying to do too much in this game and made some careless throws because of it.  The best overall player on offense for the Jags was Marqise Lee.  He made some great catches, had separation, chipped in with excellent blocks, and grabbed a touchdown at the very left side of the end zone.  He has picked up his play the past few weeks and is becoming Blake Bortles’ go-to receiver.  Allen Hurns was essentially a no-show in the game, as was Julius Thomas.  The two combined for four catches and 21 yards.  They are going to need a lot more production than that.

Jags
Jacksonville taking the field against the Lions in Detroit.

The Detroit defense was nothing too special in coverage; they lucked out facing a quarterback who made a lot of errant passes.  Ziggy Ansah was a beast, however, forcing multiple QB pressures and a tackle for a loss.  Miles Killebrew came up and made four huge tackles on third down situations stopping the runner short of the sticks.  The Lions opted for a lot of zone in their own right and they were effective in that coverage only because their front four was able to get pressure on Bortles.  Otherwise the secondary was not great.  Haloti Ngata was in the backfield for practically the whole game as the nose tackle had his best showing of the year, making a tackle for a loss and a couple of run stuffs as well as a pressure on the quarterback.  As stated before, Rafael Bush had a 39 yard pick six which ended up being the difference in the game.  His interception was basically gift-wrapped though as the ball was thrown right to him.  Blake Bortles made a lot of risky and bad passes and it made this sloppy secondary look much better than it really was.

Special teams-wise, the Lions benefited from a 55-yard punt return touchdown from Andre Roberts in the second quarter.  Marqise Lee had a 42-yard kickoff return as well, but other than these two plays special teams was awful in this contest.  There were two missed PATs, and many penalties.  The Jaguars lead the league in penalties against them in this area of the field and their 2-8 record reflects how sloppy they have been.

Looking back, this was a really bad effort from so many players.  The Lions were not very good outside of Matthew Stafford on offense, and their defense benefited from playing a dysfunctional offense.  Neither offensive line got any push; Jacksonville was bullied when protecting against the pass while Detroit got no surge when blocking for the run.  The Lions are tied for first place in the NFC North with Minnesota, who they play next week on Thanksgiving.  If they do not straighten up, they could be in for a rude awakening.  The Jaguars will be taking on the Bills on the road as they desperately try to give their head coach Gus Bradley anything to help him save his job by the season’s end.  They are one of the most undisciplined team’s in the league and this was clearly seen on a fourth and one late in the 4th when Sen’Derrick Marks, a leader of the D, jumped offsides in an obvious 4th and one hard count from the Lions.  The Jaguars are not going anywhere until they fix their problems on offense.

Jared Odrick
Jared Odrick attempts to bring down Matthew Stafford.

The Skinny:

  • Matthew Stafford was forced to bail his offense out yet again as the Lions could forge nothing on the ground in an all-around embarrassing effort from the offensive line.  Detroit finished the game with 14 rushing yards and just one first down via the run.
  • The Lion “D” was lead by a relatively unknown player today in Miles Killebrew.  He made a number of key third down stops to hold back the Jacksonville attack.
  • Offensively the Lions were a mess overall.  Half of their points came on return touchdowns with a punt return TD by Andre Roberts, who shined outside of a muffed punt in this contest, and a pick six from Rafael Bush in the third quarter.
  • Blake Bortles continued to struggle in this game.  After producing his best half of football in the first two quarters, he came out and was forcing throws and missing his receivers in the final two.  He ended the game with two picks, with yet another one bouncing off of his receiver’s foot.
  • Marqise Lee had an excellent showing making very nice plays on offense and a couple of nice returns.  He ran great routes, made nice sideline grabs (as well as a touchdown), and even threw a couple of nice blocks.
  • The Jacksonville defense had a nearly perfect stuff rate when run blitzing and were able to keep things tight for the entire game.  They were beaten deep a couple of times in zone coverage which has been a problem for them all year.