Two years ago the San Francisco 49ers selected George Kittle with their 5th round pick out of the University of Iowa. What stood out about Kittle was his 4.52 40 yard dash speed and the fact that he could be another weapon within Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system. It was the right value for the 49ers with a late round selection and on the field Kittle hasn’t disappointed. The 2nd year pass catcher became the first ever San Francisco tight end to haul in 1,000 receiving yards. Kittle has also recorded 4 touchdowns so he’s turning into someone this team can rely on and it’s been a lot of fun to watch him operate on Sundays. We’ve even seen George Kittle score on an 82 yard reception and it’s those big yardage plays that have Niners supporters excited about his future. There’s also what he’s able to do after the catch and on film that becomes immediately obvious. This is an hybrid player who is very good at getting open and he turns those five yard out routes into 10 and 20 yard pickups. You’ll also see Kittle selling out to make it past the first down marker. Proving how much of a competitor the emerging star is and he’s only 25 years old. All of this confidence is going to allow Kittle to be lethal the next couple of seasons. When Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerrick McKinnon get healthy then the 49ers should significantly improve. This year wasn’t totally lost though because number 85 (Kittle) established himself as one of the most talented players at his position. Travis Kelce is still the top dog but Kittle is gaining ground quickly. The biggest difference between the two is Kelce has recorded 10 touchdowns. Meaning Kittle must be better in the red zone if he wants to keep climbing the ladder.
The last couple of years the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have really struggled when it comes to getting stops. Things just haven’t clicked defensively and that’s such a disappoint because there’s enough points being scored to win games. Jason Pierre-Paul and Vita Vea were supposed to be the cure to all of those problems but that hasn’t been the case. Tampa Bay has improved a little bit but there’s still a ways to go before this ball club has what it takes to match-up against the best in the business. After diving into the data it becomes apparent that the secondary is surrendering far too many passing yards (387 yards per game). The Bucs only have 8 interceptions too which is tied for 23rd in the league. So right away that jumps out at you and it’s clear the defensive back position could use some improvement. There’s really two ways you can go about fixing things. Either you can sign a couple of free agents such as E.J Gaines and Bradley Roby. Those cover guys can sure things up a little bit and will make that group more competitive. Another option is drafting someone like DeAndre Baker early on in the 2019 NFL Draft and allowing a superstar rookie to set the tone. Whatever course of action Jason Licht pursues he’ll have to clean things up by the end of next season. This problem has gone on for a while now and it’s keeping Tampa Bay down in the NFC South. If you can’t get off the field on third down then it’s very hard to playing winning football at the pro level. The quarterbacks in this league can expose players who struggle against the pass quickly and that’s why Licht has to patch up those holes as soon as possible.
The Carolina Panthers are currently in the 7th seed on the NFC side of the playoff bracket and that means they’re on the outside looking in. The Panthers actually have a chance of beating out the Minnesota Vikings for that final spot in the postseason but it’ll take some wins and a little bit of luck. In order to improve their odds of making that happen Carolina needs to rely heavily on Christian McCaffrey. The dual threat running back is having a remarkable season with 926 rushing yards and 701 receiving yards. He’s also combined for 13 touchdowns so it’s clear who this ball club’s best offensive player is and that’s why Ron Rivera needs to feed his star tailback frequently. The pressure is on this coaching staff and there’s been rumors that they’re on the hot seat. So it’s a make or break situation and that’s why Rivera has to make sure they have a list of swing passes, screens, and run plays that can take advantage of the second year ball carrier’s speed. Cam Newton is a rare talent but McCaffrey is younger and he’s extremely quick. Plus you always want to establish the ground game and that sets up your playactions and bootlegs which open up your offense. By getting McCaffrey going on the inside zone then you play to his advantage and it could be exactly what is needed to get past this bad luck streak the Panthers have been on. Trust your hot hand and let the guy who’s performed well all season lead the way. The last thing Carolina wants to do is go out and throw a bunch of passes and get away from their top weapon. It’s easy to do though because you have to be patient when running the football. Coaches want results right away rather than waiting for something to develop but those 20 or 30 carries will give McCaffrey enough opportunities to showcase what makes him special. Any other course of action would be a letdown for this organization.
Most of the Seahawks players from the 2014 Super Bowl are gone but somehow Pete Carroll keeps finding ways to win. The only person who really remains from that initial crew of players is Russell Wilson. It’s easy to see why Carroll chose to keep Wilson around because both guys are optimists in every sense of the word. What that does is it creates a positive learning environment for the rest of the individuals on the team. People wonder how Carroll develops his talent so quickly and that’s exactly why. When the toxic culture is removed then it allows people to be more relaxed and focused on the task at hand. Clearly that’s a winning formula because Seattle just took a roster without very many recognizable names and severely damaged the Minnesota Vikings reputation. The fans up North are ready to run Kirk Cousins out of town and Mike Zimmer could be next in line. If the Vikings collapse and miss the playoffs you’re going to see the wheels fall off that regime and remember that the Seahawks game was the breaking point. Meanwhile there’s a new contender rising out of the West. Frank Clark has to at the forefront of all of that because he’s got 11 sacks on the season. Bobby Wagner is also a man on a mission and how great has he been? Wagner is stuffing runs on short yardage plays and pick-sixing passes for defensive touchdowns. Then on the backend there is cover guys like Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers who kind of remind you of how Richard Sherman used to play in his younger days. Getting to the playoffs is going be huge for the direction this organization is heading in but wait until two or three years from now. They’re really going to be dangerous and Pete Carroll will have a shot at winning another Super Bowl.
Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images Sport
Author: Jon Kuzma
The Bills and Jets game was surprisingly intriguing thanks to two rookie quarterbacks. Those players were Josh Allen and Sam Darnold and most football fans were excited to get a look at the future of the QB position. While Allen really stood out as a dynamic player both running and passing the ball. We do have to tip our hat to Darnold because he came out of this contest on the winning side. Buffalo actually had a 20-13 lead heading into the fourth quarterback but that’s when Sam Darnold pulled a rabbit out of the hat. On one play Darnold scrambled for a total of 46 yards before throwing a touchdown strike to Robby Anderson. All of that was behind the line of scrimmage and it was just a case of a young player doing what he had to do to win the game. There’s a few other things that have to be mentioned too. The Bills have the best defense in the entire NFL. They also had a much more creative offensive strategy and were supposed to come out on top. Yet Darnold was able to overcome all of that and find a way to will the Jets to victory. Was it as flashy as Josh Allen’s big numbers? Absolutely not but we have to recognize Sam Darnold’s efforts because he rallied his team to an upset over a division rival. If you started a team today it would be hard to pass on Allen but if Buffalo keeps losing to New York then there’s going to be a lack of confidence that comes with those results. It’s already begun with yesterday’s match-up ending the way it did and now gang green is starting to establish themselves as a the superior ball club in the AFC East pecking order. That’s so crucial because the Patriots are becoming more vulnerable every single day.
Doormat football teams don’t score 40 points in a game. Especially against a division opponent who has a pretty good run defense. However that’s exactly what the New York Giants did when they beat the Washington Redskins 40-16. Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t even play in that match-up but Saquon Barkley wouldn’t let his squad fail. Barkley rushed for 170 yards and 1 touchdown validating New York for selecting him 2nd overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. At the moment Dave Gettleman is looking like a genius for going with Barkley because Big Blue is finally striking fear in their adversaries. With three games left it’s possible that the Giants win out and get back to an 8-8 record. That won’t get them into the playoffs this season but their confidence will carry over into 2019. With another free agency and draft we could be looking at a contender. If Gettleman gets it right then New York should be right on the cusp of making the postseason next year. We know Saquon Barkley is taking on a heavy workload and his playmaking abilities translate into instant offense. Now it’s about building around the rookie running back and finding the perfect pieces to compliment his game. Make no mistake about it though it all starts with the former Penn State ball carrier (Barkley). That was proven when he led this team to a blowout victory over Washington without Odell Beckham on the field. Barkley is a leader in every sense of the word and every single Sunday he leaves it all out on the field. That has to inspire his teammates and compel them to compete at a higher level. It’s funny because running backs are often disrespected when it comes to their salaries but you see guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Barkley having the biggest impact on the gridiron.
The San Francisco 49ers came into this season with a ton of promise after winning five straight games at the end of last year. Jimmy Garoppolo was a big reason why and he signed a five year $137M dollar contract extension because the 49ers felt like he’s their franchise quarterback. Garoppolo wasn’t as sharp in 2018 though and eventually he was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. You have to wonder if San Francisco has any regrets about giving Garoppolo that massive deal? At the moment it feels like John Lynch rushed a little bit and that’s not the only problem on the former safety’s hands. Lynch has also struggled to select competent draft picks and the two most notable failures are Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster. Thomas was the third overall pick in 2017 and he’s only recorded 4 sacks (2 per year). That’s way below expectations and Foster isn’t on the team anymore. So those were two crucial opportunities that Lynch squandered and it’s destroying Kyle Shanahan’s chances on game day. That can’t sit well with owner Jed York and after two seasons there’s already doubts about Lynch’s future. The only hope is the 49ers 2018 draft class can bail them out. Mike McGlinchey, Dante Pettis, and Fred Warner all seem like good players but it’s still hard to get past the Thomas and Foster blunders. Imagine how much better everything would be if they went with Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Ramczyk? Going that route would’ve also saved them from the Garoppolo deal and Shanahan would be flourishing with all that talent. It’s those kind of moves which can separate you from competing or being the number one pick in the draft. Unfortunately the scarlet and gold seem to be heading for the top pick because they’ve been all around awful. Lynch has to drastically improve soon or he’s not going to be around for very long.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the best teams in all of football since the 70s but this current era has been all Ben Roethlisberger. Ever since Pittsburgh selected Roethlisberger in the 1st round back in 2004 (11th pick) they’ve been a Super Bowl contender. Big Ben won this organization a Vince Lombardi Trophy in his second NFL season. Then he went back and got them another one in 2008. So when you look back on the past couple of years and the Steelers had Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Le’Veon Bell who are all great players. However the person who is at the center of all of this is Roethlisberger and he’s also the guy who won those Super Bowls when Brown, Smith-Schuster, and Bell weren’t there. We’re talking about a QB who is 6’5” 240 pounds. Although he isn’t quite the athlete he was in his younger days, Roethlisberger still has to absorb a lot of contact. And after every single hit he gets back up and continues to push the Steelers franchise into the future. The level of grit and toughness that takes is enormous. Imagine trying to be the glue for fifteen years and taking on all that responsibility. Not only that but you’re putting your body on the line every single week and your health is deteriorating rapidly. Yea Ben Roethlisberger has made some errors in dealing with the media by suggesting he may retire soon or by saying he has earned the right to criticize his teammates but can we really blame him? What normal person wouldn’t be breaking down if they were asked to do what Roethlisberger does? For the most parts he’s handled himself exceptionally well despite the circumstances he’s had to deal with. Tom Brady was lucky to have Bill Belichick’s system which makes everyone around him better. Ben Roethlisberger is the system in Pittsburgh. It all starts with him and for that we have to give this man our respect.
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Ben Roethlisberger is racking up passing yards and he’s clearly the backbone of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Author: Jon Kuzma
Blake Bortles is done in Jacksonville after this season and it’ll be interesting to see where he winds up? The best situation for him seems like the New York Giants because Eli Manning’s days are coming to an end. Maybe Bortles can wait in the wings until Manning is finished and then take over the job. Before the former 1st round draft pick is able to do so he needs to correct some serious flaws in his game. The turnovers and interceptions are absolutely plaguing this guy’s career and they already cost him the Jaguars starting gig. Now sometimes a quarterback will struggle because the team as a whole is in bad shape. Regardless if that was the case with Bortles or not there’s a perception that he doesn’t know how to protect the football. Therefore he’s on a short leash and his next head coach will be hesitant about putting him on the field. The biggest hope for Bortles is being in a new uniform will help him shake off the rust he had down in Florida. Playing with Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram could definitely help create plays in the passing game. However there’s one thing that has to be mentioned. Cody Kessler hasn’t played that bad in his short stint as the Jags starter. There were points in the Titans game where he looked leaps and bounds better than Bortles. So there’s plenty of questions marks with this season coming to an end but maybe if Blake Bortles can find the right fit he’ll be able to turn his career around? Playing the number two role and climbing the depth chart takes time but if he catches a few breaks it’s certainly possible. The most important thing is taking the situation day by day and trying to get better. You have to go out there and show all those potential employers that you’re not going to roll over and quit.
The Miami Dolphins are a bubble team and they’re doing everything they can to get into the playoffs. One player who has been consistent for their defense is cornerback Xavien Howard. The former 2nd round pick (2016) has made a splash for Adam Gase’s team with a league leading 7 interceptions. There’s two main characteristics that helped Howard become so productive. The first is the fact that he’s a ball hawk. Once quarterback’s throw his way Howard does a great job of breaking on the pass. The 25 year old cover guy is also very instinctive and he can even defend areas of the field that aren’t his responsibility. We’ve seen Xavien Howard go way back deep and intercept passes when he was supposed to be in the flats. You can’t get mad at the third year defender though because it’s all about adjusting on the fly once the ball is in the air. The other thing that really stands out is his jumping ability. It seems like Howard always wins the one on one plays where he has to elevate above the receiver. Those offensive wide outs are known for high pointing the football but Howard does it better. Clearly taking the next step is going to be huge for his confidence going forward. Once you prove to the world that you’re good enough to be an elite defender you start to walk around with a swagger. Between Kiko Alonso and Howard Miami has two rare talents that lead the charge every single Sunday. The Dolphins need them to be at their best during this final stretch. With only four games remaining there’s no room for error. We’ll also see if Howard can pick off a few more passes and hold off Kyle Fuller and Damontae Kazee for the the most interceptions in the NFL? It won’t be easy but at least Howard has a 1 INT advantage as we begin to round things out.
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Xavien Howard is leading the league with 7 interceptions. He’s been great for Miami’s defense.