Tyrann Mathieu looks to recover after an outstanding 2015 season:

Photo credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The honey badger was in full effect in 2015 and he was a big part in the Arizona Cardinals going 13-3. The third year player was having an outstanding year before he suffered an ACL tear during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 20th. Mathieu was in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year and recorded an impressive 5 interceptions up until his injury. That setback certainly hurt the Arizona Cardinals heading into the postseason and it will be a huge uplift getting him back in their lineup for the 2016 season. Before that happens Mathieu will have plenty of rehabilitation in his future though. This isn’t the first time the honey badger has had to face adversity. In his rookie season he tore his ACL and his LCL in a major knee injury returning a kick. He managed to bounce back from that injury but was clearly sluggish in that initial year back in 2014. He was about a third as productive statistically as his first and third season. Look to see if he has another down year just trying to get back to his old athletic form, like he did back then. Although it must be stated that this injury isn’t as bad as the two ligament tear he had to face last time. Maybe Mathieu will recover quickly from this tear though and won’t miss a beat from the form he was in during 2015. In today’s era we’ve seen top tier athletes like Adrian Peterson bounce back the following year after major knee injuries. A huge leap forward from the old days of football where an ACL injury meant the end of a players career. If the advancements of science and medicine can work wonders for Mathieu then he might be able to make a quicker recovery. It’s really a waiting game and just seeing how he responds to this particular setback. Still getting Mathieu back in the line up is good news for the Cardinals because that means he is a step closer to being the player he once was. It’s hard to bet against the guy when he has already came back from worse. Expect Mathieu to be back playing football at a high level by the end of 2016. Right in time for the Cardinals to make a deep postseason run.

Charity of the day: Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Go donate! www.plannedparenthoodaction.org

Hopkins could be even better next time around for the Texans:

Photo credit: Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

DeAndre Hopkins had a great year for the Houston Texans. After slowly progressing in his first two season, Hopkins exploded into a big time receiver in his 3rd NFL season. This is exactly what the Houston Texans envisioned when they drafted Hopkins in the 2013 draft with the 27th overall pick. Hopkins is a young dynamic receiver that can beat you in a number of ways. Whether it is his speed up the field on vertical routes, his tremendous jumping ability, or his acrobatic catches he can truly beat defenders with a variety of different approaches. We seen those unique skills on display time and time again in 2015. On one particular play against the Bengals Hopkins showcased everything that makes him great on an amazing one handed catch against Pacman Jones for a touchdown. On that play Jones had great coverage only to be bested by Hopkins for six points. What stood out most when reviewing that game film is the fact that DeAndre Hopkins had so little room to work with. Jones had been forcing Hopkins to the sideline hoping the receiver would run out of bounds. Instead with hardly any space the former Clemson wide receiver flipped the script on the Bengals and showed why he was one of the best receivers in the league. The Bengals weren’t the only team to experience that play either, the Tennessee Titans were beat the same exact why by DeAndre Hopkins. Quarterback Brandon Weeden threw the ball up the left sideline. Where Hopkins was able to high point the football and out jump the defender in a jump ball scenario. That play also resulted in a Texans touchdown and it’s clear that this guy is a marquee player who is here to stay. Hopkins would end up finishing the season with 111 receptions for 1,521 yards, and 11 touchdowns. If he can put up those numbers again in Houston you better believe the team will be ecstatic with his production. It seems like DeAndre Hopkins will be a staple in the league for years to come. That is great news for football fans, the guy’s game on the football is about as entertaining as it gets.

Charity of the day: Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Go donate! www.plannedparenthoodaction.org

Life in Los Angeles: How the Rams could make their mark on LA

Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Los Angeles Rams are in a huge transition phase. After spurning St. Louis for the emerging Los Angeles market. The team now finds itself in a position to have it’s first winning season since 2003 when they went 12-4. The Rams finished 7-9 in 2015 and had some big wins over teams like Seattle and Arizona. That could be a sign of what is to come for the Rams and they are certainly trending upward. The first thing the Rams can do to improve their football team is land a quarterback. The Rams finished dead last in the league when it came to passing yards in 2015. Finishing number 32 out of the league is never acceptable for any football club and letting the team’s fate rest on Nick Foles and Case Keenum’s shoulders doesn’t seem like a good idea. If the team can land Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, Carson Wentz, or even Connor Cook that would be a huge victory for this team. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the plan of action though and the team could take a different rout that best suits their needs. For example maybe taking a wide receiver who is the best available player at the time and then taking a lineman later on. Followed by a pick like Cardale Jones would be a good plan of action for the Rams. A plan like that would significantly bolster the Rams starting line up and also would give Jones at the helm much more talent around him to succeed. Keep in mind the Rams would also have Todd Gurley for Jones to lean on while he learns the game at the professional level. It’s really up to the front office and where they feel like their biggest needs are. Regardless expect this team to go mainly offensive in the draft with a few picks here and there to solidify the defense. If they could add the majority of those picks to the offense and a couple defenders that seems like the best course for them. Keep mind the team might have to add a corner for the loss of Janoris Jenkis should he choose to leave in free agency. Still this team is poised for a big season in 2016 and it’s up to management to put the best team on the field this offseason. That will ultimately make the transition to Los Angeles a much smoother one for this franchise.

Charity of the day: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Go donate! www.peta.org

Lesean McCoy’s nightclub brawl was shady:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

Lesean McCoy could find himself on thin ice after an investigation has started looking into the Buffalo Bills running back’s actions at a Philadelphia nightclub. Apparently McCoy was at the nightclub relaxing last Sunday when an argument took place over a bottle of champagne. The real twist in the story is the fact that McCoy’s altercation took place against off duty Philadelphia police officers. Apparently after some verbal exchanges about who truly owned the bottle of champagne. Some poor decisions were made on behalf of McCoy who went on to fight with the officers. A video recently has surfaced which shows an angered McCoy punching and kicking someone in the nightclub. The really tough thing to stomach was the fact that the person McCoy was punching and kicking was on the ground. Hey we get it, sometimes people (even off duty police offers) don’t know their place and pull shady stunts like trying to claim a bottle of champagne that isn’t theirs. However regardless of who truly owned the bottle of champagne, if you’re in McCoy’s shoes you have to be smarter than that. He is a professional player with a multimillion dollar contract. Why risk everything you’ve worked for over a group of people who you easily could of walked away from. It’s not like McCoy couldn’t afford to buy another bottle of champagne, one he would have certain ownership of. It’s also about being a man and understanding that a man can walk away from an incident and be the more mature individual. Maybe McCoy was upset about where his life has headed being a guy from Pennsylvania and being traded away by the Eagles. Still you can’t let your inner turmoil destroy you. The mayor of Philadelphia isn’t happy and wants McCoy to pay for his crimes. It’s never good thing when such strong political figures have an agenda to take you down. McCoy will soon regret this decision, a decision that could of easily been preventable. Future athletes take notice and learn from McCoy’s mistake!

Charity of the day: Reading Is Fundamental

Go donate! www.rif.org

Doug Martin and Matt Forte will both be on the go this offseason:

Photo credit: Grant Halverson / Getty images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

There are some big names that headline the unrestricted free agent list this offseason. The running back position in particular has a few marquee players that could be looking at a change of scenery in 2016. Doug Martin the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back will look to test the market and land a huge payday after a stellar 2015 season. The initial rumors out of Tampa Bay during the season were that the team might strike a deal and retain Martin. Now it appears that the two sides will go their separate ways, due to the fact that Martin is adamant about testing free agency. After posting a 1,402 yard rushing season and finishing second among all rushers in the league. Martin will have more than several teams courting him during the free agency period. At the end of the day if you’re a betting man expect the Dougernaut to change teams. It’s clear that he wants to be highly compensated for his effort and truthfully who can blame him? He deserves that paycheck for his body of work. Another running back who will be changing locations in 2016 is Matt Forte. The Chicago Bears continue to clean house by letting Forte walk away. While the running back is getting up there in age for running backs (30 years old). He still has a solid two seasons left in him to contribute to a team. One possible landing spot might be the New England Patriots. After the Patriots were depleted at the running back position by the end of the year. You have to wonder if bringing in Forte would solve all their woes.Keep an eye on where Forte will land in 2016. Just acknowledge it won’t be with the Bears, and in the end the team might regret that decision. Especially after going 6-10 in 2015 with Forte on their roster. Certainly a bold move for Chicago and the freedom to sign wherever he prefers for Forte.

Charity of the day: Troops Need You

Go donate! troopsneedyou.com

Football skills: Todd Gurley is the future of running backs in the National Football League

Photo credit: Dillip Vishwanat

Author: Jon Kuzma

Todd Gurley was the first running back off the board in the 2015 draft and man did he live up to expectations. The former University of Georgia running back had an outstanding first season in the NFL which earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Gurley at one point was on an absolute terror for the St. Louis Rams finishing with a 100 yards rushing for 4 straight weeks. It’s effort like that which makes Gurley such a dynamic player. He runs hard every play and does a great job of leaving it all out on the field. Gurley’s best play on the football field is either the 23 or 24 power, or the stretch play. This allows Gurley to run to the outside of the field and evade defenders in space. When you plug in the film and watch most of his big plays. This is the play that Jeff Fisher decided to run and Gurley tends to reward Fisher for choosing that particular play. Like most outstanding running backs in the National Football League Gurley is also outstanding after the first contact. He is constantly breaking tackles and turning what should be little gains into big plays. The next big factor in Todd Gurley’s game is his ability to use him vision to beat opposing defenses. When you plug in his film and watch the way he plays. It becomes obvious that not many backs understand the concept of “running to daylight” like Gurley does. On so many different plays you’ll notice Gurley cutback against the grain or side step a defender in the open field. It’s plays like that which let you know Gurley sees the field better than most. When you combine all those traits with his athletically ability. Which is his speed, acceleration, and ability to jump over defenders. These characteristics make Todd Gurley the total package on the football field.

Charity of the day: Cancer Care

Go donate! www.cancercare.org

Steelers must improve on the defensive side of the ball to soar in 2016:

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Pittsburgh Steelers looked outstanding offensively in 2015. That was despite the fact that they seen several injuries to key players including Maurkice Pouncey and Le’Veon Bell. The team at the end of the day still had enough firepower to get the job done. On defense though things were a little bit of a different story. The once proud Steelers defense from the 2008 defense is starting to transition to a new Steelers defense. They have some good young talent in players like Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward. Players that can serve as a nucleus moving forward and can be somewhat the cornerstone of this franchise. The thing that needs to be addressed first is the rushing defense though. The Steelers ranked 28th against the run and were just leaving too many holes for runners to slip through. One way to improve a 3-4 defense is to put a great nose tackle in the middle to help against the run game. That position is so important in controlling both A gaps and allowing the linebackers to play freely. A’shawn Robinson, Andrew Billings, and Kenny Clark all fit that mold perfectly and would serve as a great fit in that particular scheme. By drafting one of those players the Steelers make a commitment to sure up that defensive front. Which ultimately should result in more tackles for losses, and the Steelers winning in the trenches more often. It’s not everyday that you can add an uber talented 300 plus pounder to your roster and the Steelers need to take advantage of this opportunity in the draft. With that pick and the addition of another outside backer or defensive end. Maybe through free agency or through the draft and that would be a huge step in the right direction defensively for this team. You have to think that a franchise that has developed the nickname Blitzburgh would understand the importance of an outstanding defense. Expect them to make the right decision and at least go defense first in the first round of the 2016 draft. Remember the old adage “defense wins championships”.

Charity of the day: Help Our Wounded

Go donate! www.helpourwounded.org

Playoff expectations are high for the Buffalo Bills in 2016:

Photo credit: Brett Carlsen / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Buffalo Bills are the closest they’ve been to the postseason since Doug Marrone and Mike Mularkey’s 9 win seasons in 2014 and 2004. For those of you who don’t know, the Bills haven’t made the postseason since 1999. When Wade Phillips was the head coach of the team. Now with Rex Ryan having the team finish 8-8 in the tough AFC East, the team finally has a strong enough core of players that could get 3 more wins during the 2016 season. One thing that helps is Ryan’s cool demeanor that he emits while coaching. It’s no secret that players around the league like Rex and many players have been vocal about their desire to play for Ryan. That helps make Buffalo a more attractive destination and could be the reason the Bills land a few extra free agents this offseason. Still keep an eye on whether or not they can put it all together. Rex is a players coach and that helps bring talent in the door. However they have to get better x and o’s wise and systematically. Bringing in Rob Ryan should help Rex have another bright football mind on his staff. So keep an eye on whether or not that tilts the odds in Buffalo’s favor. A lot of people will knock Rob Ryan and will say it won’t add a lot because he is not that good of a coach. All of those people would be wrong though, sometimes situations don’t work out for whatever reason. Anytime you can add a guy like Rob Ryan to the mix it’s a good move to do so. That is why so many teams have chose to bring him on board in the past. Outside of that the team has to make some offensive upgrades to the passing game. The Bills were ranked 28th in the league when it came to the pass. So it would be wise to add a few lineman and receivers through offseason additions. They were number 1 in the league when it came to the running game, and that is a testament of Rex Ryan’s philosophy when it comes to running the football. Lesean McCoy and Karlos Williams did a great job of helping the Bills achieve that ranking. If Lesean McCoy doesn’t have any off the field issues (which he very well might) the Bills should have a very real chance at repeating that number 1 ranking in 2016. Finally the Bills have to do a better job of stopping the run and rushing the passer in 2016. Especially if the Mario Williams will be departing from that defensive front. So there has to be some calculated tweaks made to this roster heading into the future. Especially since the Bills are short on cap space, which puts them in a tough position to maneuver. Still this team looks to be heading in the right direction and they even made headlines by hiring the first female full time assistant coach. Just another example of Ryan’s impact in Buffalo.

Charity of the day: Help Our Wounded

Go donate! www.helpourwounded.org

Quarterback is the most important position, defensive line is second:

Photo credit: Streeter Lecka

Author: Jon Kuzma

If there is one thing that stands out from being a football coach in the past. It’s how important the quarterback position truly is to a team. When you get up to the higher and more competitive levels of football. You realize that the teams with the good quarterbacks consistently win more, while the team with a mediocre quarterback have a hard time putting it all together on the field. That is a pretty obvious observation. Most people who don’t have a deep grasp of football still understand this simple concept. Although if you plug in a game a madden and start a franchise mode they will suggest that left tackle is the most important position. That is something many insiders around the league will disagree with. Get a passer and put him in a position to succeed it’s the name of the game. Outside of that though, most people don’t know what position you look at next when building a team. From first hand football experience and many seasons on the sidelines as a coach and player. I can tell you this, a team with an outstanding defensive line changes the game for that team. First off a good defensive line typically engulfs the running game similar to how the Broncos were able to handle the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Also a strong defensive line also helps eliminate quarterbacks. A good examples of this would be the Giants beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. When you factor in how much the NFL has become a passing league or how much football around the world has developed into a passing game. You also begin to understand that a good defensive line helps eliminate those tendencies of the game that football has transitioned towards. This is essentially the counter to those teams that like to throw for 40 passes in a football game. If you get both of these positions right. Chances are you are going to put together a winning football team. In the NFL they are that much more important because offense is nearly impossible without a QB in the professional ranks. Keep that formula in mind when you watch teams build their roster in the offseason. If they make moves and improve in those particular areas you can almost guarantee they will improve!

Charity of the day: Action on Smoking and Health

Go donate www.ash.org

Steve Smith can still produce heading into his 16th pro season:

Photo credit: Matt Hazlett / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Baltimore Ravens got a heck of a player from the Carolina Panthers when they signed Steve Smith to their receiving corps. Smith had just been released by the Panthers and was looking for a new home to continue his professional career. He found a great landing spot in Baltimore and has never looked back since. In Smith’s first season with the Ravens he was able to haul in 79 receptions, 6 touchdowns, and 1,065 receiving yards. Showing that even though he was getting up there in age, Smith could still play at a high level and have success in the National Football League. In year two things didn’t change very much for Smith. He still came out of the gate and played at a high level. Bringing in 670 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns through the first 7 games of the season. That is when Smith had to face adversity head on. Smith would tear his achilles just 7 games into his 15th NFL season. There were some good things that happened because of the injury though. Instead of retiring like Smith had planned to at the end of 2015. Smith now had a new goal of not getting cheated out of his last NFL season. He made the decision to come back for the 3rd year of his contract and wanted to leave the league on a good note. That is excellent news for Ravens fans since Smith is one of the teams most dynamic weapons on the edge of the field. Giving quarterback Joe Flacco a dynamic threat that can beat the defense in a number of different ways. Even though Smith is small in stature, he plays like he is 7 foot tall. The guy has a motor that never stops running and he has perhaps the most heart of anyone on the field every time he steps on the gridiron. That combination of talent and drive are the reason that Smith is number 11 on the all-time receiving list in terms of yardage. It’s clear Smith can still get the job done and Cam Newton suggested the reason Smith is coming back is because “he always gets the last laugh”. That is just the type of guy Steve Smith is. That competitive fire is what made him such a dominate athlete and that same fire will likely get him to the Hall of Fame someday. In fact both Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice believe Steve Smith will get a gold jacket someday. It all comes to down to will. Steve Smith willed himself into a future Hall of Fame receiver time and time again. It will be a pleasure to watch him go one last time in his 16th season.

Charity of the day: Scholarship America

Go donate! www.scholarshipamerica.org

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