Tag Archives: Arizona Cardinals

The tactical interest in the extra point decline

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Tomlin is a two-point purist but more will follow his suit in the next year or so. Source: Fox Sports

The NFL set an unwanted record last week. Well, at least the kickers did.

The unheralded, first-to-blame, bit-part players missed a record 12 extra points at the weekend. Formerly seen as gimmes before being moved back last season, the extra few yards have seen some tumble into drivelling messes and this has been the culmination of what has been a poor year for kickers in general.

When a game will be forever known as the one where two easy kicks were missed, you know they are having a bad time. The 6-6 tie between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks will live in infamy for two terrible field goal attempts that would have won it for either team.

With that, we look at the point after. It was moved from the two-yard line when it turned into an almost pointless exercise, with the knowledge that moving it to the 15 yard line still almost guaranteed a safe hit.

However, the 12 missed in Week 11 highlighted two things that NFL teams may need to think about next season. The standard of kicking across the league has regressed, with more long-distance kickers keeping their job over accurate, safe ones and now whether it really adds to the value of going for two points after a touchdown.

There are a few teams that are already moving towards that line of thinking. Mike Tomlin has had the Pittsburgh Steelers routinely going for two over the last few years, knowing that converting just one can give you a big boost against teams that aren’t as willing to risk it.

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Del Rio showed the guts to go for it and was reSource: SFBay.com

That can also become a disadvantage if you continuously go for it and fail. They were 0-4 against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season, points that could have changed the complexion of the game if they weren’t constantly trying to make up for what they had lost.

But at the same time, converting the first can be such a big boost and would have negated some of the shortcomings, it’s a real tactical piece.

Take the opening game of the season from the Oakland Raiders, where Jack Del Rio was seen as ballsy enough to call for a two-point conversion to win the game rather than a kick to tie it. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the best kickers in the league, one of the most reliable and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, so why risk it?

Because they succeeded and won the game.

Many will cry that if they missed, they would have lost but that kind of attitude can really pull a team behind you. That’s not trying to say that the Oakland Raiders’ success was created solely from that but the early momentum it gave them was undeniable and that gutsy attitude has pushed them further than people could have imagined at the start of the season.

The hope will be that with these missed points, there’s a view to try and add to our options rather than restrict them. There were outcries to get rid of the extra point altogether, which is an interesting point but takes away some potentially exciting tactical ideas and opportunities from that.

What should take place is more two-point attempts, more risks and more teams willing to pile on the pressure if they can. Do you take the relatively safe, 95% extra point or the riskier two that could be the difference between a win and a loss? It adds an extra layer of intrigue, and that can only be a good thing.

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NFL Honors Award Show 2016 predicitons

As we head towards Super Bowl 50, I thought it would be ideal to look at the night before the big event and predict the potential winners for the NFL’s Honors Award Show.

Most Valuable Player – Cam Newton

Woah, Cam. Dab away sir, dab away.  Source: USA Today

Woah, Cam. Dab away sir, dab away. Source: USA Today

Although there are a few names in the hat in this one, Cam Newton is the clear front-runner. Having led his team to a 15-1 regular season record and the Super Bowl, Cam has really matured into the leader on this team and into a very good quarterback capable of carrying his team across the line.

This season, he recorded 35 passing touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, throwing for 3,837 yards with a 59.8% pass accuracy. Add onto that his 10 rushing touchdowns, as he himself added 636 yards on the ground as he lost just four fumbles.

It’s been a sensational year for the former Heismann trophy winner and he, along with Russell Wilson, are making the duel-threat quarterback a legitimate option. He’s inspired comebacks, he’s danced a lot and given some young kids moments they will never forget, this one is an easy call.

Coach of the Year – Ron Rivera

Riverboat Ron has had a masterclass of a season.  Source: panthers.com

Riverboat Ron has had a masterclass of a season. Source: panthers.com

This is a very close award between two-time winner Bruce Arians and Panthers coach Ron Rivera and by a slight margin, Rivera comes out on top. He helped his team continue the excellent work from the end of last season and really attack the 2015 campaign.

A superb 15-1 record, where he kept everyone in check and then added to that two superlative playoff wins against two strong teams really puts him above everyone.

Rivera has bread an atmosphere in Carolina that his players clearly both enjoy and thrive within. They have a superb team, credit to the general manager Dave Gettleman there too, and Riverboat Ron has continued ploughing away as his team only gets better and better.

Offensive Player of the Year – Carson Palmer

Palmer is an MVP candidate but will gladly accept this award.  Source: Fox Sports

Palmer is an MVP candidate but will gladly accept this award. Source: Fox Sports

There is a number of names that could quite easily win this award, Tom Brady being one of them, but the NFL should recognise how good the Arizona Cardinals were in some way and this will be how they will do it.

Carson Palmer threw for 4,671 yards with a 63.7% pass completion percentage, notching 35 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. He had a QB rating average of 104.6 and added a rushing touchdown as the 36-year-old came back healthy to lead the Cardinals to a 13-3 record.

Despite playoff disappointments, Palmer had a very strong year and just came up short against the best team in the NFL. If he can stay healthy, along with the entire team, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with again next year.

Defensive Player of the Year – Luke Kuechly

Kuechly is a tackling machine.  Source: Bleacher Report

Kuechly is a tackling machine. Source: Bleacher Report

The preview I had a month ago saw JJ Watt, Aaron Donald and Tyrann Mathieu ahead of this man but when it came to the business end, Luke Kuechly stepped up and showed why he absolutely should win this award.

In 13 games, he notched 118 combined tackles, a sack, 10 passes defended and a career-equalling four interceptions, including his first touchdown. In the post-season, he has 19 combined tackles, a fumble recovery, two interceptions returned for touchdowns and three passes defended.

He has been the heartbeat of the superb Carolina Panthers defence and if he was fit all season, he would have won this award with his eyes closed. His two tempo-setting interceptions in the playoffs should seal the deal, the middle linebacker changes games.

Rookie of the Year – Todd Gurley

More of this next season, just in LA. Source: USA Today

More of this next season, just in LA. Source: USA Today

It’s hard to predict this award as no-one really separated themselves from the crowd but Todd Gurley might have just done enough to win this one.

The first-round running back rushed for 1,106 yards in 13 games, averaging nine yards a carry and scoring 10 touchdowns. He did lose a few fumbles, three to be exact, but  he still flashed explosive talent that could torment the NFL for years to come.

Many thought he may struggle after missing his final year in college through injury but Gurley proved doubters wrong very swiftly. He’ll be the face of the Rams as they move to Los Angeles and they need to build around him and that strong defence to push forward.

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Amari Cooper

Cooper shined and will have a big future in the Black Hole.  Source: sacbee.com

Cooper shined and will have a big future in the Black Hole. Source: sacbee.com

He may have won the above award had he not slowed down towards the end of the season but Amari Cooper has shown people enough to let them know he’ll be a success in the NFL.

The Alabama alumni caught 72 balls for 1,070 yards, scoring six touchdowns and fumbling just once. He was used sporadically and only caught three balls in his final two games that may have hurt his cause but there’s no doubt that the rookie deserves at least one of the awards.

Cooper will just lose out to the running back who carried a sorry offence but make no mistake, he is one to keep an eye out for in the future. The Oakland Raiders are building again and the young wideout will be a big part of their next few seasons at least.

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Marcus Peters

Peters has settled in nicely with the Chiefs.  Source: thescore.com

Peters has settled in nicely with the Chiefs. Source: thescore.com

A rightful Pro Bowler in his first year, Marcus Peters has really impressed since he was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The young cornerback has had 60 tackles in 16 games, 26 passes defended and eight interceptions, with two returned for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble in a terrific year that has been a position of need at the Chiefs and has been duly filled by Peters.

The former Washington standout has a really bright future within a solid defence. Some may have had questions about him starting before the start of the season, now he’s even starting in Honolulu, it’s been a meteoric rise.

Comeback Player of the Year – Eric Berry

Berry's story is one of real triumph. Source: Kansas City Chiefs website

Berry’s story is one of real triumph. Source: Kansas City Chiefs website

Absolutely no questions about this one, Eric Berry will be the Comeback Player of the Year. He absolutely deserves it and no one will argue with it, his comeback this year has been monumental.

Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2014, ending his season and he began treatment straight away. He was cleared for action nine months later and despite not starting one game, he has been sensational yet again.

61 combined tackles, 10 passes defended and two interceptions as he became a key cog in the Kansas City Chiefs defence again and was selected to the Pro Bowl. To come back so quickly and at such a high level, you can only admire the terrific resolve of a real quality football player.

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How did Jeff Fisher hang on to the St Louis Rams job?

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress.  Source: theodysseyonline.com

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress. Source: theodysseyonline.com

The St Louis Rams finished the 2015 regular season with a 7-9 record, their fourth season in a row under .500 with head coach Jeff Fisher at the helm yet there is not a great calling to make a change. In the modern NFL, that seems a little more than strange.

At the start of the year, they again flattered to deceive. They pulled out a gutsy performance against the Seattle Seahawks, fuelled by the young defensive tackle Aaron Donald having a monster game and showed everyone how could they could be this season.

In fact, against the two teams in their division heading to the post-season, they finished 3-1. They beat the Seahawks twice, they beat the Arizona Cardinals in their own back yard and yet again, they showed promise that they could hang with the best in their division.

However, against a relatively soft schedule, they also showed that they lacked the composure to beat the weaker teams of the NFL. Sure, they got wins against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but poor losses against the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens must sting when that would take you to a much more respectable 9-7.

Even against some good teams, they allowed their standards to slip enough just to lose. They lost close games to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings  but were soundly beaten by the likes of the Chicago Bears, who managed to put up 37 points, and they were humbled by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly.  Source: Fox Sports

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly. Source: Fox Sports

It’s clear that despite the positives coming from the superb rookie season of Todd Gurley, this teams needs a hell of a lot on offence. They finished last in yards on offence and last in passing yards, showing that they don’t just need a steady quarterback, they need wide receivers and tight ends.

No pass catcher went for more than 700 yards, which is poor but when only three made it over 450 yards and the next best gained 250, that’s pretty appalling. Only three wide receivers caught balls for touchdowns this year, only one tight end managed it and no running backs caught it for a score either.

The shoddy play at quarterback was clear for everyone as Nick Foles threw for just 2052 yards for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Case Keenum was slightly better, with 4 TDs to 1 INT in a couple of games but when the offensive line allows a league-best 18 sacks all season and the running back goes for 1100 yards in half of a season, that play is inexcusable and the trade was a huge mistake.

Their defence is exciting but at the same time, they finished 23rd in total yards allowed and were not good against the run or the pass. They got the quarterback a fair number of times, with 41 sacks and forced 20 fumbles, with 13 recovered but they were in the middle of the road on interceptions (13) and points allowed (20.6).

However, I think it’s fair to give their defence the benefit of the doubt. They were out there much more often thanks to poor offensive play and I actually think they have done pretty well considering how tired they must have been by the end of games.

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

When you combine all of that together, especially since they haven’t had any success under Fisher, why isn’t his head on the chopping block? He’s fired five assistants, that doesn’t include the offensive co-ordinator or even the quarterback coach but does include the WR assistant, but that doesn’t seem like enough to me.

While other former basement dwellers in his division used their young talent to elevate them to beat the strong teams in their division, the Rams are consistently stuck in the middle ground searching for relevancy.

It could be that the Rams are already in a difficult division, it could be that they have some promising youngsters or it could just be that they do not want to upset the apple cart before a potential move to Los Angeles.

Despite any of that, Fisher’s seat has to be the hottest of all of them heading into 2016. Failure again, especially if they do get their move back to California, and there can be no excuses should he be fired.

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Who should win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year?

Watt deserved it last year, who's getting it this year?  Source: Houston Chronicle

Watt deserved it last year, who’s getting it this year? Source: Houston Chronicle

In one of the more difficult to predict awards that will take place just before the Super Bowl, usually the Defensive Player of the Year is more obvious by now. Realistically, there are at least five players that could arguably win the accolade so here’s a look at the contenders.

Special mentions to two players that would have been close, Charles Woodson has had a fantastic year but hasn’t maintained the success and Josh Norman might have courted too much controversy to be chosen.

 

JJ Watt

Watt has been great again but has his previous amazingness shadowed this season?  Source: NFL

Watt has been great again but has his previous amazingness shadowed this season? Source: NFL

Last year’s winner is unsurprisingly a front-runner again, as he was before the season even started. A real once-in-a-generation kind of player, JJ Watt is someone you have to gameplan for and then gameplan again when he ruins it.

This year, he has 66 tackles, 13.5 sacks, five pass defences and a forced fumble, which is a little down from last year. They are still pretty damn good numbers but the knock will be that it’s not Watt numbers, maybe we expect a little too much from the genetic freak.

The face of the franchise, the spiritual leader of the team and the fans, Watt is an example every young player should follow. Dedicated, humble and someone who puts everything into every game, it’s very hard not to admire his ability on the field.

Even a cast can’t stop this monster, who will finally help his side potentially sneak into the playoffs. If he does, it will be difficult not to back him again this season.

 

Aaron Donald

Donald has been an absolute machine for the St Louis Rams.  Source: helmet2helmet.com

Donald has been an absolute machine for the St Louis Rams. Source: helmet2helmet.com

After winning the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, everyone would take notice of Aaron Donald in his second year. A defensive tackle that can cut right through offensive linemen, he’s a dangerous man indeed.

The St Louis Ram has 64 tackles this season, 11 sacks and a fumble recovery. His numbers don’t really jump off the page like some others, but when you watch him play, it’s easy to see just how big of an impact he has on the game.

In the first game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks, he wrecked their running game. He had nine tackles, two sacks and two stuffs and essentially won the game when he denied Marshawn Lynch stone dead on fourth down in mid-field.

Donald has established himself as a big name and someone we will need to keep an eye on in the future. In a Rams unit that looks likely to be a potential juggernaut, he is the real centrepiece.

 

Khalil Mack

Mack is a stud and a young piece Oakland will build around for years.  Source: sportsworldreport.com

Mack is a stud and a young piece Oakland will build around for years. Source: sportsworldreport.com

What a breakout year for Khalil Mack, who was pretty damn good already, now he’s beginning to look special. The Oakland Raiders needed some new names and they certainly have one in the linebacker.

Mack has 60 combined tackles, 14 sacks and two forced fumbles, really impressive numbers as he has taken to Jack Del Rio’s schemes like a duck to water. A nightmare for any tackle, the youngster has been a real difference maker on a team that could barely create any pressure two years ago.

Against the Denver Broncos, Mack took over and dominated unlike anyone else has this season. Seven tackles, five sacks, a stuff and a forced fumble in a game where he created pressure on every play, it was a game that should be watched over and over again.

The fact that Oakland will miss out on the post-season might just hurt him a little, like it will others, but he is just as deserving as the others. The Black Hole will be a team to watch next season and Mack will be the one for teams to fear next year.

 

Tyrann Mathieu

Mathieu would have been so good to watch in the playoffs.  Source: azcental.com

Mathieu would have been so good to watch in the playoffs. Source: azcental.com

A real beast in the secondary and a nightmare for every quarterback in the league, the versatile Tyrann Mathieu has been spectacular on a great defence

In 14 games, he has made 89 tackles, 16 pass defences, five interceptions with one returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble. He has been used in the slot, he has covered tight ends, he has a sack because he can blitz, he’s a real all-rounder.

He’s a key cog in a really impressive secondary with Patrick Paterson, Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson. Mathieu helps glue it all together, he is able to play anywhere they need him and he can really wreck offensive gameplans.

A torn MCL knocks Mathieu out of the rest of the season and the post-season, which is a real shame. That may hurt not just his chances of DPOTY but also the Cardinals’ Super Bowl aspirations.

 

Luke Kuechly

Kuechly is a tackling machine.  Source: Bleacher Report

Kuechly is a tackling machine. Source: Bleacher Report

Not many would deny that Luke Kuechly is the finest inside linebacker of this generation and yet again, the 2014 DPOTY should be under consideration again.

On Sunday, the Carolina Panther recorded 15 tackles, with 10 being individual efforts and it was the fourth time he crossed double digits this season. Kuechly has 101 tackles in 11 games, with him missing some of the early part of the season due to injury.

Because of that, his numbers are down with just one sack but surprisingly, his four interceptions is a joint-career high with two games to go, he’s scored his first touchdown on a return and has forced two fumbles, a career high.

He just keeps getting better and better and is a leader on what can be a very good defence. If he was showing this form without missing any games, he might be ahead of the entire pack.

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The NFL needs to address poor officiating

Officiating has not been this poor since the lockout three years ago.  Source: CBS Sports

Officiating has not been this poor since the lockout three years ago. Source: CBS Sports

Back in 2012, we could take in when replacement officials got it wrong. They were inexperienced, they were thrust into a role because of a lockout that they were not expecting and while there were some questionable decisions, at least it did not last too long.

That seems like forever away when you see the standard of officiating this season.

It has been pretty bad all year long but just to add to the very poor mistakes, last night the Green Bay Packers were awarded another chance at a late game Hail Mary pass after the officials called for a facemask penalty on the Detroit Lions defence after time expired.

Aaron Rodgers got another play and wouldn’t you know it, they scored. It was a huge win for them but a monumental blow for the Lions as the defender barely brushed the quarterback and it has killed any unlikely late run for the playoffs stone dead.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg on bad officiating calls this season. The Baltimore Ravens lost the game on a similar incident against the Jacksonville Jaguars when this time, the offence had a false start with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.

That usually incurs a 10-second run-off, something that didn’t happen, which led to a facemask penalty on the final play which advanced the Jaguars into field goal range to win the game.

KJ Wright patting the ball out of the endzone was a penalty missed.  Source: deadspin.com

KJ Wright patting the ball out of the endzone was a penalty missed. Source: deadspin.com

On another TV game on Monday night, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Lions thanks to KJ Wright knocking  Calvin Johnson’s  fumble  out of the endzone, which is illegal and should have been a Lions first down.

However, the back judge claimed that he felt it was inadvertent, despite the cameras clearly telling a different story. Wright himself admitted that he did it on purpose after the game and the NFL also revealed that it should have been a penalty.

Another Thursday night game last week had controversy that luckily did not determine the final result of the game. The New England Patriots made a big play to Danny Amendola in the second quarter, he had beaten the corner and only had one man to beat for the touchdown.

Had a referee not inadvertently blown his whistle, killing the play dead. The officials then had to fumble around and award the pass to where the receiver caught it and the drive ended in a field goal.

The excuse was that the line judge had “lost track of the football”, which was absurd as it was in Tom Brady’s hands and visible to everyone as he was throwing it as he whistled. It also, technically, meant that it should have been spotted to where the initial play was, as Amendola hadn’t caught it before the whistle, but the officials needed to do something as they had pretty much prevented a touchdown.

Some might give the quarterback the benefit of the doubt but it certainly was questionable.  Source: sfgate.com

Some might give the quarterback the benefit of the doubt but it certainly was questionable. Source: sfgate.com

But the cornerstone of the whole argument this season came in Sunday night’s fixture between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. In a tight game, there were so many missed calls or ghost calls that it became simply a joke of a game for both sides.

They called a first-and-five for the Cards as a 2nd-and-three for some reason but the real stinger was the roughing the passer call near the end of the game. The officials deemed that they hit the head of the quarterback, which the defender did not, it was just a strong play but with that penalty, the drive continued and Arizona went on to win.

To say that the standard has dropped this season is probably not harsh enough. These bad calls are costing points and in too many occasions, entire games and when one of these coaches loses their jobs because of their poor record, they can look back at things like this.

With the amount of replays available, and the absurd amount that can’t even be reviewed, it’s simply astonishing that the NFL doesn’t do something to fix this. They need to further educate their officials straight away, severely punish the groups that have been found wanting and reward those that have performed up to the high standard.

The issue now is that something needs to be done now. The playoffs start next month and if something similar happens then or, god forbid, the Super Bowl then there will be significant reproductions. Quite simply put, it has been nowhere near good enough.

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