Photo credit: Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images Sport
Author: Jon Kuzma
The Arizona Cardinals are almost done with a disastrous 2018 campaign and their 2-9 record lets you know just how bad it’s gotten. If there is anything positive to take away from this whole situation it’s definitely how well Chandlers Jones has played. Arizona is ranked 19th in the league defensively and that number would be a lot worse without Jones anchoring down that unit. After leading the league with 17 sacks last year the 28 year old pass rusher came back with another 11 sacks this season. The Cardinals are lucky to have one player that can produce this much single-handedly and the only solution is to get some pieces around Jones that can also have an impact. At the moment all those other role players have been mediocre at best. The only other guy who’s been decent is Robert Nkemdiche. He’s got 4.5 sacks so far but it’s really a case of one player being asked to carry most of the weight on his shoulders. The great teams in league have more depth than what this franchise has and the offense isn’t helping either. They’re punting a lot and settling for three and outs. Ultimately that’s keeping Jones and company on the field longer and it’s fatiguing them late in games. Therefore it’s easy to see that there’s not a whole lot of factors working in the sack champion’s favor. Making it even more impressive that Jones has been able to dominate like he has the past two years. Arizona’s opponents spend all week game planning to stop number 55 and then they double team him on game day. Somehow Chandler Jones usually ends up with at least one sack in every contest he plays in and it doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down. With the right supporting cast around him Jones could be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
If you go back and look at the Dallas Cowboys history you’ll see that they haven’t made it past the divisional round of the playoffs since 1996. That was the last Super Bowl victory that Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin brought home for America’s Team and it’s surprising when you think about all the talent they’ve had. However this current roster has enough potential to snap the streak of early playoff exits. Dallas’ win over the New Orleans Saints certainly proved that and Jason Garrett’s ball club continues to get the job done with defense. Drees Brees came to AT&T Stadium with the 7th ranked offense in the league and they scored over 40 points on three of their last five opponents. New Orleans ran into a brick wall though and that was made up of Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Demarcus Lawrence. New Orleans running game was kept in check early on and then the pass rush pinned their ears back and shut Brees down. The future Hall of Fame QB (Brees) only threw for 127 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception which is obviously the key to beating the Saints. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara each had less than 40 rushing yards so this was a dominant performance from the Cowboys. Vander Esch had a team high of 10 tackles. Jaylon Smith finished with 9 tackles and Demarcus Lawrence had 4 tackles and 1 sack. That trio of players is the Big 3 for this group and they set the tone every week for Dallas. One other thing that has to be mentioned is Dak Prescott actually outplayed Brees. Prescott threw for 248 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions making it evident that the Cowboys offense is also improving. Now this squad is sitting atop the NFC East and it’s been an amazing turnaround from week eight until this present moment. We’re talking about going from a 3-5 record to winning four straight games.
It appears the Jacksonville Jaguars have had enough of Blake Bortles’ inconsistent play. Doug Marrone decided to bench his struggling quarterback and start the former USC standout Cody Kessler. Back in 2016 Kessler had a little bit of success with the Cleveland Browns. In eight starts he threw for 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions which wasn’t terrible by any means. When Kessler was with the Trojans he started for three years and threw for 88 touchdowns. So it’s not like this anything new for the 25 year old but it’s taken a little bit for him to get another shot at being the number one QB. That’s why Kessler has to seize the moment and find a way to hold onto the job. Nothing is going right for the Jaguars either and it won’t be easy to manage the game in those conditions. To make matters even worse Leonard Fournette will be suspended. Which almost guarantees that Jacksonville will lose this match-up because the Indianapolis Colts are on fire at the moment winning their last five contests. Really it’s going to come down to whether or not Kessler can throw for 2 or 3 touchdowns and limit his turnovers? Two touchdowns and no interceptions would let the coaching staff know that this course of action is a viable option. What the Jaguars new starting quarterback (Kessler) is trying to avoid is a meltdown. Truthfully it’s a little bit unfair to Cody Kessler because it’s not a conducive environment at all. That’s life in the NFL though. You’re expected to perform no matter what the circumstances are. Professional athletes get paid a lot of money and they’re supposed to deal with each situation diligently. Some people might see this as Jacksonville throwing Kessler to the wolves but really it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Challenges like this are a chance to surprise the world and cement your legacy.
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The Jaguars are benching Blake Bortles and starting Cody Kessler.
When you think of the Green Bay Packers usually the first person that comes to mind is Aaron Rodgers. The 2x league MVP is known for his savvy on the football field and he’s the face of the franchise. Another name that might jump out at you is Davante Adams. Adams finished 2nd in touchdowns last season (10) and he’s currently 4th in the NFL with 10 touchdowns this year. However there’s one player that’s been a little bit more consistent than both of those guys and he’s not getting nearly enough recognition. That individual is Green Bay’s inside linebacker Blake Martinez and he led the NFL with 144 tackles in 2017. Right now Martinez has 97 tackles with 5 games left and only Darius Leonard has more (114). Adams is very close to Martinez production wise but the stats prove that the former 4th round pick of out Stanford (Martinez) has been a tad bit better. Rodgers is currently 12th in the league in touchdown passes so if you’re going off the past two years alone nobody in that locker room has performed at a higher level. Now that’s not going to sit well with Packers fans because they’ll suggest Rodgers, Adams, or Jaire Alexander has been better. By saying that though you’re taking away from how good Martinez is playing. Not only is this guy a tackling machine he’s also recorded 4 sacks and that proves the 24 year old goes above and beyond to help his team win. Packers fans have to acknowledge that and vote their top defender to his 1st Pro Bowl. Martinez deserves it and he probably should’ve went last season. Therefore the last thing you want to see is Martinez getting snubbed again. That all-star event is supposed to recognize the best players in the game and it’ll lack merit if Blake Martinez isn’t a part of it.
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Over the past two seasons Blake Martinez has been the best Packer.
The Los Angeles Chargers got a huge boost when Joey Bosa returned to their lineup after missing the first nine games with a foot injury. In his first game back the superstar defensive end was quiet but last week against the Cardinals Bosa was absolutely overpowering. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year (2016) recorded 5 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 TFLs which is a stat line that Lawrence Taylor or Reggie White might’ve recorded. As you can imagine this a tremendous addition to this team and they’re already having a great year. Bosa could be the piece that uplifts this franchise into a Super Bowl champion. When this guy gets it going off the left edge quarterbacks start to become timid in the pocket. It takes a great right tackle to contain that impact and even then the Ohio State alum still usually records at least 1 sack. Defensively that’s such a weapon because Bosa can cut off half of the field. Offenses can’t run to the right because one of the most intimidating defenders in the game is that way. There’s a real possibility that Joey Bosa finishes the season with 7 or 8 sacks. Which is amazing considering how much it took for him to get back to where he is now. It was a lot of rehab and preparation to go from being in a cast to hammering Arizona last Sunday. Rex Ryan recently criticized Bosa for taking too long to suit up but now it’s looking like the 23 year old made the right decision. The last thing you want to do is rush back before you’re physically ready. Los Angeles’ medical staff handled this situation perfectly and everything is coming together at the perfect time. Defense wins championships and the Chargers have talented players everywhere on that side of the ball.
Charity of the day: Habitat for Humanity International
The Alliance of American Football has their ducks in a row. While most football fans were wondering what’s going to happen between the Saints and Cowboys this Thursday? Another league was working diligently to put together their first ever quarterback draft. That organization is the AAF and you have to give them their props because they nailed the timing aspect of their business. Not only did Bill Polian, Hines Ward, Mike Martz, Mike Singletary, and Steve Spurrier put together a team of extremely qualified football experts. They also dropped a public relations bomb on their biggest competitor (Vince McMahon) by beating the Xtreme Football League to the punch by at least a year. Now McMahon isn’t totally out of the picture yet because his pockets are deeper than just about anyone’s but it’s going to be extremely tough to beat those football guys (Polian, Ward, etc.) at their own sport. The AAF doesn’t plan to stray away from tradition like the gimmicky scramble which was used as the XFL’s coin toss. Not only that they have a broadcasting deal with CBS and CBS Sports so a lot of the planning and details are already hashed out. Then there’s the talent pool and it looks like the AAF is going to win in that category as well. With Josh Johnson, Aaron Murray, and Zach Mettenberger already drafted to the San Diego Fleet, Atlanta Legends, and Memphis Express. Who is McMahon going to bring in to fill out his team’s rosters? Bad timing and even worse talent could spell disaster for the legendary pro wrestling promoter. McMahon must’ve seen that AAF draft and had some serious doubts run through his mind. It doesn’t matter how savvy of a business man the owner of the WWE is. Sometimes it’s about striking when the time is right. Unfortunately for him Bill Polian and the rest of the AAF executives got the jump on this alternate football league scenario and now they have the upper hand going forward.
Charity of the day: Habitat for Humanity International
The Cleveland Browns had lost 25 straight games on the road when they headed to Cincinnati this past weekend but Baker Mayfield wasn’t having any of that. The rookie was dialed in for all four quarters and finished his day with 4 touchdowns, 258 yards, and no interceptions. Mayfield put together one of his best performances against his former head coach Hue Jackson. After the game Jackson tried to hug the number one overall pick but the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner was very reluctant. Then on Instagram Mayfield talked about how he felt like his old coach was “fake” and a lot of that was because Jackson went to a division rival and decided to join the Bengals. There’s actually more to the story though. Baker Mayfield is really upset with Hue Jackson because he believes that he should’ve been starting from day one. While Jackson felt like it was in Mayfield’s best interest to keep the training wheels on. Mayfield knew in his heart that he was the best quarterback on Cleveland’s roster. So when Jackson went with Tyrod Taylor it was a slight to the 23 year old signal caller. Another problem was how Hue Jackson treated Mayfield early on. We saw on Hard Knocks when the struggling coach (Jackson) suggested that Mayfield worked harder and got on a routine similar to Taylor’s. If you’re sitting there listening to that and you’re being bullied by guy who should be rolling out the red carpet for you. There’s no doubt any normal person would be angry. Eventually Baker Mayfield got his shot and he completely blew the expectations away. Now the Browns savior (Mayfield) wants to purge anything resembling Hue Jackson from “The Land.” One individual is a winner and highly competitive and the other is a continuous underachiever. Baker Mayfield wants to the world to know Hue Jackson isn’t built like him.
This Houston Texans team in the best in franchise history. After beating the Tennessee Titans for their 8th straight win it feels like Houston is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Chiefs, Patriots, and Steelers have to be terrified about running into this ball club in the playoffs. It’s because their defense is suffocating and the offense is built around the emerging star Deshaun Watson. The Texans front office also made a great move when they traded for Demaryius Thomas. Last night the veteran wide receiver hauled in 2 touchdown passes and proved to the world that he’s still a potent red zone target. With Will Fuller sidelined for the rest of the season Thomas is someone who can lessen the impact of that loss. The fact that Thomas is improving from a production standpoint also has to be uplifting for Houston. You never know the best may have yet to come. Lamar Miller is another component in of all of this and he’s doing a great job of establishing a rushing attacking. Miller finished the Titans game with 162 yards and 1 touchdown. So it’s apparent that this team is more than just Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney. There’s a next wave of players on this roster who are also very good and to be honest they’ve been stepping up quite a bit during this winning streak. The Texans only need two more wins and they’re almost guaranteed to make the playoffs. Although it should be noted that the Colts are 6-5 right now and the last thing this franchise wants to do is let the AFC South slip away to Indianapolis. Expect them to keep their foot on the gas and there’s a reason they’re one of the hottest teams in the league. Houston is just loaded with talent from the top to the bottom of their roster and it’s surprising they started the year off 0-3.
There’s only five games left in the season but the Denver Broncos aren’t eliminated from the playoffs yet. With a 5-6 record there’s still a possibility that Denver could win out and turn their luck around. Vance Joseph’s ball club is currently riding a two game winning streak and their 24-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers was a huge confidence boost. Another thing this franchise has going for them is an easy schedule the rest of the way. They’ll end up playing the Bengals, 49ers, Browns, Raiders, and Chargers during that time span. Realistically Denver will probably end up being a bubble team and will just barely miss the playoffs. However that’s big step for this organization. John Elway has struggled to find success after winning the Super Bowl in 2016. Just three weeks ago we were wondering if Joseph would end up being fired after the season? Now Elway might end up keeping his coach because it seems like the worst of the Broncos’ struggles are in the rear-view mirror. Their defense is still the reason they’re winning games. The Steelers have a high octane offense but Von Miller, Chris Harris, and the rest of those guys kept them in check. It’s not every week you see Ben Roethlisberger limited to 17 points but that was the case last night. Todd Davis has also been great he recorded 10 tackles in the win. Then on the offensive side of the ball Case Keenum is improving and Phillip Lindsay has been exceptional. With all of these different phases of their team trending in the right direction it makes sense that the overall results have been better. Maybe they can put all of the pieces together and go on a run throughout the final month we have left? A strong finish might lead to the start of a new era in the Mile High City.
The Buffalo Bills were battling the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday when something became overwhelmingly obvious. That’s the fact that rookie quarterback Josh Allen is a tremendous competitor and Buffalo can win with a game breaker at the quarterback position. Allen threw for 160 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions in a 24-21 trump over the Jags. The rookie also tallied up 99 rushing yards and 1 touchdown so he’s getting the job done in an unusual way. It almost reminds you of a young Jay Cutler but beyond just the arm strength, Allen is also an incredible athlete. The 45 yard run against Jacksonville’s defense proved that and then on another running play Allen lowered his head and plowed into the end zone. So there’s definitely some explosiveness to this kid’s game and we all know about his arm strength. At one point Allen threw a 75 yard strike to Robert Foster. With just a flick of his wrist Buffalo’s QB can send a perfect spiral over 50 yards in the air. Truthfully though there’s something else besides Allen’s play that is helping the Bills win. The former Wyoming alum has a swagger about him that is contagious to the guys around him. There’s 52 other players in that locker room and right now every single one of them believes in Josh Allen. Do you think every player on the Jaguars thinks that highly of Blake Bortles? No chance and it goes to show that the (Bills) front office nailed their 2018 first round pick (Allen was selected 7th overall). The next step from here is about adding pieces around the young signal caller and taking things to the next level. A wide receiver and an offensive lineman would be a good place to start. All of which will help bring out the best in Allen.