Planning the next move: How New England will have to regroup

Photo credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The New England Patriots were the sure bet to repeat early on in the season. That was before the team suffered a list of injuries to some key players on their roster. Getting those players back will be huge for the Patriots efforts next season. Yet there is several other moves that have to be made if the Patriots want to get back to the Super Bowl. First and foremost they need to retain most of the players on their roster. Turnover can create inconsistency for a football team. While keeping a group together causes growth. If the Patriots do their best to keep all the unrestricted free agents from leaving Foxborough. Then add players through the draft and free agency they will have a legitimate shot of being back in the big game like they were last year. The team has already tried to cure one of their playoff problems by firing their offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. The offensive line was clearly the problem in the Patriots loss to Denver and Belichick sent a message to his team that mediocrity is unacceptable. That position group (offensive line) will surely be addressed in the draft, free agency, or via trade this offseason. If the Patriots want to be great again they must give Tom Brady time to operate. They also have to establish a running game. Which was non existent against the Broncos defense. Maybe adding a marquee running back will be the answer for this team. After watching Legarrette Blount and Dion Lewis go down with injuries. The last thing the Patriots want to do is find themselves in a position like they did this year where Tom Brady finishes a playoff game as the leading the rusher for the team. Believe it or not New England is at its best when they are balanced. Something they were not in this postseason, which was big reason for their letdowns. The other thing the Patriots will have to do is get back to their two tight end sets. Using Gronk and Chandler works well for the Patriots offense. They could of kept Chandler or another tight end home to handle that Broncos pass rush as well. If this team can get back to doing the things that made them successful there is no doubt they can be back in the Super Bowl hunt. At the end of the day it will take calculated moves, something the Patriots are very familiar with.

Charity of the day: One Acre Fund

Go donate! www.oneacrefund.org

Palmer picked the wrong time to have a letdown:

Photo credit: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

Carson Palmer had a terrific regular season. The quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals finished the regular season with 35 touchdowns and 4,671 passing yards. Only to have it all come crashing down in the NFC championship game when he threw 4 interceptions and lost 2 fumbles. 6 total turnovers for one player will leave a bad taste in Palmer’s mouth. Even though Palmer had one of the worst games of his career. The defeat falls on all of the Arizona Cardinals shoulders not just Carson Palmer’s. That was echoed by coach Bruce Arians after the loss and believe it or not the coach is right. The offensive line didn’t do a good enough job of protecting Palmer and the players around the quarterback didn’t make enough plays. Still you can’t have 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in the postseason and expect to keep advancing. It’s safe to say Palmer’s efforts weren’t very convincing. Big time players make big time plays in big games. Carson Palmer has to remember what it takes to have success in the postseason. The stakes are higher and the bar is raised. If the stage is too big for Palmer maybe coach Arians will have to go a different direction. So while the team had a complete letdown, personally Palmer failed as well. Palmer now has decided that he will skip the Pro Bowl to heal up his injured finger. A move that is expected due to the lack of player interest when it comes to competing in the event. When you add in the injury as well it’s a common occurrence to see a player opt out of playing in the Pro Bowl. The Honolulu showdown could of been a time to build Palmers confidence back up. Instead he will decide to rest up. We will see how the move pays off for him.

Charity of the day: One Acre Fund

Go donate! www.oneacrefund.org

Panthers roll past the Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC championship game:

Photo credit: Grant Halverson / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Carolina Panthers were just too much for the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers high octane attack had the Cardinals on their heels for all four quarters of the game. Cam Newton did a great job of coming out early and setting the tempo for this Panthers offense. Cam threw for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns in the contest. He also rushed for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. Showing why he is such an effective dual threat quarterback. On one particular rushing play Newton had the touchdown in arms length range before he decided to jump up and go over the top of the defenders. Newton came crashing down into the end zone but the play did a great job of highlighting just how much fun Newton has while playing the game. He got up all smiles after that particular play and that attitude is almost infectious to teammates. Everyone from the top to bottom has fun on this Carolina roster, and they have fun when while they play the game. That approach has resulted in a 15-1 regular season and Super Bowl appearance during the postseason. Showing that the team might have stumbled upon the formula for success. Defensively the Panthers were sound all night as well. They forced Cason Palmer not only to throw four interceptions but they also caused the Cardinals quarterback to lose a couple of fumbles as well. It’s hard to win the game when you have six turnovers from one player. Luke Kuechly was able to intercept one of those Carson Palmer passes and return that interception for a touchdown. We’ve seen Kuechly make plays like this before and he was a big part of why the defense was successful. The defensive line also deserves some credit as well. They did a good job of pressuring Palmer and forcing him to make ill-advised decisions. It’s safe to say the Panthers dominated in every facet of the game. They will head to the Super Bowl as the clear favorites to win the game. It will be up to Cam Newton and company to get it done one more time. It won’t be easy against that tough Denver defense.

Charity of the day: National Osteoporosis Foundation

Go donate! www.nof.org

Super Bowl bound: Broncos defense overwhelms the Patriots

Photo credit: Christian Petersen

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Denver Broncos defense absolutely destroyed the New England Patriots offense in the AFC championship game today at Sports Authority field. The match up that most stuck out in the contest was the Denver Broncos defensive line versus the New England Patriots offensively. Both the Patriots offensive tackles Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer had a rough outing trying to match up with the Denver pass rusher. It seemed like nearly every snap Brady had a Broncos defender in his face. Causing the 16th year quarterback out of Michigan to put a number of his passes in the dirt. It doesn’t matter how good your quarterback is if you don’t have the pass protection upfront to give that quarterback time to operate he will fail. Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, and Demarcus Ware all did their part in eliminating Brady’s comfort in the pocket. Offensively for Denver you have to give credit to Peyton Manning for getting the job done despite his old age. Manning finished the game with 2 touchdowns passes and no interceptions. Outperforming Tom Brady who had 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Turnovers kill your team and Manning did a great job of not turning the ball over through the air. Denver also did a much better job of utilizing the running game. The Broncos were able to rush for 99 yards as a team compared to the Patriots 44 yards as team. The Broncos were fundamentally a better football team. They ran the ball better and they played better defense. It’s very uncharacteristic to see Belichick get away from those football values. Ultimately that cost the Patriots down the stretch. As much as you can say the Patriots game plan was off though. You still have to give credit to the Broncos and their front office. They put a superior team on the field talent wise than New England. They were truly the most complete team in the AFC.

Charity of the day: National Osteoporosis Foundation

Go donate! www.nof.org

Patrick Peterson edges out Josh Norman as the top corner in the postseason:

Photo credit: Christian Petersen

Author: Jon Kuzma

Josh Norman has had an outstanding season this year for the Carolina Panthers. So good that he has been commonly referred to as one of the best defensive backs in football. Still it’s hard to give Norman the nod as the best cornerback in the playoffs over Patrick Peterson. While Norman certainly had a more productive year. Peterson has earned a reputation as one of the best corners in the game. Which causes opposing quarterbacks to rarely throw his way. The result of that is less interceptions for Peterson overall. That is why he finished the season with 2 interceptions compared to Norman’s 4. When you look at both player’s careers in comparison you get the true tale of the tape. Peterson has 17 interceptions over his 5 year career. While Josh Norman has 7 interceptions over a six year career. It’s really not disputable Patrick Peterson is one of the best in the league because he works so hard to hone his craft. On the field Peterson has the speed to keep up with the best in the league. He also has the football intelligence to read the quarterbacks drop and read the wide receivers route and make a play on the ball. It’s no secret playing defensive back is one of the hardest positions to play in all of sports. To be as effective as Peterson is just goes to show that he is indeed one of the best in the game today. Norman has done a great job of shutting down some of the league’s best receivers this year. He without doubt deserves that credit. Yet he has a long way to go before he gets recognized as a better player than Patrick Peterson. Truthfully you would have to think that both players would rather go home with a win over better player recognition. Expect the Panthers to pull the victory out on the field. They went 15-1 in the regular season for a reason. They were the most well rounded football team this year.

Charity of the day: Environmental Defense Fund

Go donate! www.edf.org

A few questions and answers with Tim Lelito from the New Orleans Saints:

Photo credit: Joel Auerbach / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

Who was the toughest defensive lineman that you ever faced in the National Football League?

T.L- The toughest defensive lineman that I ever had to face was hands down Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay. The guy was a load to handle and one of the best doing it.

2. What is it like playing with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees?

T.L- Drew is such a stand up guy and he genuinely cares about the people around him. Personally he has paid for two of my vacations to Mexico and just recently he took all of us on a duck hunting trip. So you can tell the guy is authentic in terms of caring about the people he works with.

3. What do you think about Brandin Cooks game?

T.L- Cooks is a very dynamic player. One of the best I’ve ever played with, he is just so explosive. He can beat you in a number of ways. Charles Johnson #12 on the Minnesota Vikings was the best wide receiver at Grand Valley State University when I was there. Both of those guys are amazing ball players at the receiver position.

4. What is it like going against Cameron Jordan in practice?

T.L- Cam is at the defensive end position so he is usually going against the tackles. However when they run loops or twists we have to go against each other sometimes. The guy is so quick for how big he is. He sets you up one way and then beats you the other way. He is just a tough draw and a handful for any offensive lineman. He is really choppy with his feet and his hands and can break you down quickly. It’s crazy to me how elusive he is!

5. Is Cameron Jordan a ripper or swimmer?

T.L- He is definitely a swimmer. He likes to work the swim move especially on my inside A gap on a direct path to the quarterback.

6. What was it like going against Cam Newton?

T.L- When I first got to New Orleans it was like how are we going to stop this guy? Now this year it was like, is there anyway that we can slow this guy down? Obviously this year nobody really slowed him down. So yea, he is a very special player.

*Notes- Tim Lelito was one of the must humble and down to earth professional athletes we’ve ever encountered. He wasn’t cocky at all nor did he make anyone at the interview feel inferior to him. Tim Lelito is a stand up guy and deserves all of the success that he has earned. We at endzoneblog.com would like to thank him for taking the time to speak with us and wish him nothing but the best in his NFL career.

Charity of the day: Environmental Defense Fund

Go donate! www.edf.org

Manning is the weakest quarterback remaining in the postseason:

Photo credit: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

It’s very rare that Peyton Manning is the worst quarterback in the playoffs. In 2016 that is the case this year. After Manning broke Brett Favre’s record and became the most accomplished passer of all time in terms of yardage. Manning got injured, lost his job, and threw for 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in the regular season. By some stroke of luck the Denver Broncos decided that giving Manning the nod for the postseason would be the best solution for this team. That couldn’t be further from the truth honestly. Brock Osweiler flat out had a more successful year than Manning did, and essentially willed the Broncos to the postseason. For the Broncos to turn the page on Osweiler when they desperately needed him just several weeks ago is a harsh move by the franchise. We know Peyton Manning is most likely done after this season. So why start the quarterback that the team has no future with? Not to mention Osweiler is a free agent this offseason. You would think with Osweiler proving he is a talented quarterback the Broncos would want to keep the young signal caller in their good graces. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Denver though. They believe Manning with his deep mental understanding of the game is a better suited option for this offense. Remember last year when Manning refused to come out of the game when the Broncos were blowing out the Oakland Raiders? Essentially cutting into Osweiler’s garbage time late in the fourth quarter. It’s things like that and benching Osweiler for Manning entering the playoffs that are going to drive Osweiler out the door this offseason. Would you want to work for an employer who clearly didn’t look out for your well being? Absolutely not, and don’t expect Osweiler to be back in Denver. If Denver would of started Osweiler not only would they have had a shot to do exactly what they’re doing now. Osweiler would of been leaps and bounds better next year in the postseason. Due to the development he would undergo this postseason. Manning is a great player, but he is a player of the past. His best days are behind him and it’s always a good thing to look to the future. The things you do today set you up for tomorrow. The Denver Broncos clearly don’t understand that. That is why they have the worst starting quarterback out of the 4 teams remaining. Hopefully for Denver’s fans sake the defense can pull out some victories. Because it’s very unlikely at this point of his career that Manning will be putting the team on his back and having those dominant 5 touchdown pass performances we’ve seen in previous years. It’s just past his time.

Charity of the day: Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Go donate! www.michaeljfox.org

 

Carson Palmer will try to put the Cardinals on his back this weekend:

Photo credit: Jennifer Stewart / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

Carson Palmer had an outstanding year for the Arizona Cardinals. The 13th year quarterback threw for 35 touchdowns and 4,671 yards accumulating a passer rating of 104.6. Palmer has came a long way from the time he decided to sit out the season in Cincinnati. After slowly getting back into stride with the Raiders, Palmer really resurrected his career when he got to Arizona. Palmer was the perfect fit in Bruce Arians system. Which gives Palmer support by relying on a steady run game and tremendous defense. That is why we seen Palmers touchdown production jump to 35 touchdowns passes after being injured just a year before. When you factor in that Palmer is the perfect pro quarterback as well that is really what pays dividends for his game. Standing at 6’5 Palmer has the height to see over the line and make all of the throws. He isn’t fast or mobile like the opposing quarterback he will face this weekend (Cam Newton). Yet Palmer has arguably a better arm than Cam. All Palmer has to do is read the defense, take the snap, and hitch and throw from the pocket. It’s as simple as that. It will be up to the Cardinals offensive line to give Carson enough time to make his magic happen. Not an easy task when you factor in just how good this Carolina defense has been this year. Carolina has been decent against the pass ranking 11th in the league. However they are great upfront defensively. It will be up to Palmer to do his homework all week long and really find the weak links to this Carolina defense. Maybe that is going away from Josh Norman and attacking Robert McClain and Cortland Finnegan. Maybe that is putting a receiver like Michael Floyd on Josh Norman and letting Larry Fitz handle one of the lesser talented defensive backs. Whatever the formula is for success expect Palmer to do everything he can to find it. The 36 year old quarterback isn’t getting any younger, and you never know how many playoff opportunities you will have later in your career. Kickoff is slated for Sunday at 6:40 P.M. Don’t miss it.

Charity of the day: Arbor Day Foundation

Go donate! www.arborday.org

What is next for the New York Jets?

Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski / Getty images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The New York Jets had a great year under first year head coach Todd Bowles. The Jets finished 10-6 and were on the cusp of making the playoffs before losing their final game of the season to the Buffalo Bills. The Jets have some big challenges they face this offseason to repeat their first year success under Bowles. They must first and foremost retain free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was a huge reason the Jets went 10-6 he provides a spark to this offense and Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall have already discussed their future together in the big apple. Meaning that is more than likely that Fitzpatrick will indeed re-sign with the Jets and be back in 2016. Another year together between Marshall and Fitzpatrick could spell danger for opposing defenses. The pair already had an outstanding first performance together which saw Marshall hauling in 14 touchdowns passes. When you add in the chemistry and rhythm and timing that they will achieve in their second year. This tandem could easily be even more dynamic the second time around. Defensively the Jets must do everything they can to retain Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson was the Jets best defensive lineman in 2015 recording 12 sacks on the year. However the fifth year defensive lineman out of Temple broke his leg in the final game of the season against the Bills. With the Jets limited cap space wise they will have to make some tough decisions about who stays and who goes. Not an easy decision when you have to re-sign your starting quarterback and your best defensive player. To make matters worse the Jets have to determine what they will pay Wilkerson coming off that injury. There has to be some concerns about whether or not Wilkerson will be able to return to that top form after the injury. Wilkerson’s teammate Sheldon Richardson believes Wilkerson will bounce back but also believes the Jets might not get him back. Sometimes players need a change of scenery and that might be the case for Wilkerson. Like stated above expect Fitzpatrick to return.

Charity of the day: Arbor Day Foundation

Go donate! www.arborday.org

Where are they headed? Here are some key free agents that could be on the move

Photo credit: Steve Nehf / Denver Post

Author: Jon Kuzma

There are plenty of big name free agents on the market but maybe none bigger than Von Miller. Von Miller was the most talented prospect NFL scout Matt Miller has ever seen. All that talent that was seen in the combines and all those grades evaluators gave Von Miller ended up panning out. His game translated well to the NFL level and in Miller’s five year career he has managed to record 60 total sacks. That 12 sacks a year average has helped shape the Broncos into one of the best defenses in the league. Now with Miller slated to hit the open market after the season it will be up to the Broncos to do everything they can to keep one of their top players in Denver. With the talent and skills Miller brings to the table he will certainly be courted by more than several teams. Don’t be surprised if a team like the Oakland Raiders try to make a push for the 5th year pass rusher. Could you imagine that Raiders defense with Khalil Mack and Von Miller on it? The Raiders have a ton of cap room and we all know how often players jump teams but stay in division. So that could be one destination for Miller if he does leave.

Eric Berry is another talented player who is slated to hit the open market. It would be weird if Andy Reid didn’t try to retain the talented safety, but if he can’t there will a number of teams that will bid for Berry’s services. Berry is truly one of the most talented players in the league and would help upgrade any defense on the backend. If teams are wary of his health concerns Eric Weddle might be a decent fill in. Weddle is also a free agent heading into the offense season and with the way the Chargers treated him he won’t be back with that franchise.

Finally Bruce Irvin and even Kirk Cousins are free agents. You have to think that the Redskins will get a deal struck with Cousins however nothing is guaranteed. If the Skins want to emulate the success they had this year the first step would be re-signing Couins no matter what it takes. As far as Irvin goes, he had 5.5 sacks this year and will be a cheaper option than Von Miller. A team with limited cap space looking to add more pass rush might see Irvin as a good fit. The Jets are team who might look at Irvin to stack behind that talented defensive line. Adding Irvin would bolster the Jets pass rush even more and at the same time not break their back financially. Keep an eye out for more free agent updates to come. There will be some changes happening personnel wise for the NFL landscape.

Charity of the day: American Kidney Fund

Go donate! www.kidneyfund.org

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