New England’s Achilles Heel: Pass Rush

This weekend we were treated to another classic chapter of the Brady-Manning rivalry, and especially for the Patriots’ fans, it did not disappoint. In the 16th edition of this rivalry, Brady came out victorious for the 11th time. Everything seemed to be working for them, defensively they were untouchable, causing two Manning interceptions, while at the same time absolutely stifling Denver’s run game. On offense, it was the “Tom Terrific” that we all know and love, and have come accustomed to week-in and week-out. It is hard to find something to complain about when it comes to a 43-21 rout of many experts’ Super Bowl favorites. However, that is why I am here, to play devil’s advocate. Many people watched that game last night and made their mind up that if the Patriots play the way they did Sunday afternoon they will have no problem competing in the playoffs. I am not one of those people. The fact of the matter is, right now New England has no pass rush.

While I don’t want to take anything away from the secondary of the Patriots, those guys outplayed anybody else on that field. Revis was the same shutdown corner he has been all year. Browner is finally getting into the swing of things and is absolutely punishing any receiver who he covers with his brutal hits. Even the guys who don’t get a lot of attention were getting into the mix, for instance Kyle Arrington made a few key plays when covering ex-Patriot Wes Welker in the slot. For the first time in years that aspect of the defense is solid and we don’t need to worry. The problem is the pass rush. Usually, Chandler Jones is coming off the edge, but he is the only threat they have. Now New England’s sack leader has been out for the past two weeks with a hip injury and has forced New England to back off with the rush and keep more men in coverage. This strategy cannot stay for the remainder of the season if they want to be successful. Manning did not play well, but he had all day to throw. Manning is too good of a quarterback to not pressure, he has made a living out of making good pass coverage look like a high school team. If Denver and New England meet up in January, you better believe he will not make the mistakes he made Sunday if this pass rush stays the same.

What needs to happen is the patriots need to switch around the defensive sets and clog the box. Because they are missing players like Jones, and their best inside blitzing Linebacker Jerod Mayo, they need to send the cavalry at opposing quarterbacks. The secondary has proven that they can handle receivers one-on-one, so if they overload the offensive line it would force quarterbacks to rush and make poor decisions. Giving Quarterbacks like Manning all day is just asking for trouble. It does not matter who you have covering who, if you give good NFL Receivers and Quarterbacks time, they will make you look bad. It is simply too much to ask of the secondary to pick up the slack of the line. The Patriots need to utilize their new players, namely first-round draft pick Dominique Easley and newly acquired Outside Linebacker Akeem Ayers. They drafted Easley to play opposite Jones to come off the other edge to put pressure on Quarterbacks. While he has produced when being put in the game, he has not been utilized much. Ayers was brought in right after the injury to Jones presumably to fill in, but since New England got him he has been used more in coverage than rushing the Quarterback. He did have one sack against Denver, but that was a blown protection and  wasn’t touched coming at Manning. If they run packages that have these guys coming off both edges it will be difficult for opposing offensive lineman to cover them, especially if they have the middle linebackers blitzing. While the pass rush did not show up as much as it could have, I think the problem is in the scheme rather than a lack of talent.

If New England can figure out this pass rush problem, I think they have a great shot at another title. Every other aspect of the team is solid and has been making the plays they need to. Having said that, you just can’t get a game out of your secondary like you got on Sunday, games like that happen a couple times a season at most. It is essential to put pressure on the other team to force them to make bad decisions. I guarantee if Denver and New England meet in January and you give Manning all the time that he had Sunday, he will pick apart the secondary.

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Pats Broncos Recap

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Immediate reactions; first off a little surprised seeing as this Denver team has looked better than it did last year as of late and with only one loss to the Seahawks (in Seattle) this Broncos team was absolutely the biggest test of the year.

Going into the game my concern was not the red hot Peyton Manning offense that seems to score at will, but it was the 4th ranked defense that Brady’s offense has to go up against. A defense with a pass rush that is probably the best in the league with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware playing the best they’ve ever played in their careers. I wasn’t sure how the young offensive line was going to hold up against the leagues best rush.

When the game got into the 2nd quarter those concerns went out the window when I realized that the Patriots won this game before even stepping on the field. They won this game in the film room and out on the practice field. Bill and Tom did what they do best and prepared for this game so nothing could go wrong.

Thats certainly what it felt like, watching Tom hit Gronk for 10, the Edelmen for another 8, put the ball on the ground with Gray for 4 and a pile of dust, then hitting Gronk or LaFell down field for 20. It was vintage Brady and his unstoppable offense at its finest.

Without a few drops by LaFell I think we would have put up 60 on this 4th ranked defense. The offensive game plan was clicking on all cylinders. You know that you have a D on it’s heals when you only need to run 1-2 plays on average in the red-zone before scoring a touchdown.

It looked like it was too easy. It took one play after the Browner pick mid way through the 3rd quarter to score when Brady hit Lafell on a 10 yard slant and walked into the end-zone nearly untouched and when Edelmen scored that touchdown early in the 4th quarter but it was called backed because the ball was not secure, the very next play they get into their goal-line formation, motion Gronk out the left to get him in one-on-one coverage, then just threw him a quick slant for a 1-yard touchdown that put them up 43-21 and iced the game.

It was simple plays like that that made us look really good and Denver really bad and that is all a credit to preparation.

Brady was rushed in the pocket only one or two times and only sacked once and to me, that is a great game for this offensive line that has received so much criticism all year. I think they finally have their blocking schemes down, for example; there was one play in the first half where the pocket was collapsing and it looked like Brady was going to have to move out of the pocket with a rush coming from his left but all the sudden the whole line shifted and Stork made a huge block picking up a blitzer which in turn, gave Brady that extra half a second to look down field and find Gronk for a pretty good gain.

Now on to the defense.

I’d give them a B+ against any other team but since it was Manning and the Bronco I’ll bump it up to an A- because they did their job for the most part throughout the game.

Sore spots are the pass rush but you can see more about that in Justin’s post.

Main thing I took from this game was the fact that they were 3-11 on third-down conversions. I have to tip my cap to Matt Patricia for that one because again, preparation won this game. Granted he has best corner back tandem in the league with Revis and Browner (yes better than Seattle) but it’s one thing to have them it’s another thing when you know how to use them which he did in this case winning the matchup battle 9 times out of 10 in this one.

On the other end of it they did let up 481 total yards and 3 touchdowns but only 43 on the ground and most of those pass yards came at the tail end of the game where it didn’t matter.

Overall I think this defense could be the best in the league with room to improve on a lot of things as of right now.

In conclusion, I can’t wait to see the Broncos again come this January when they come to town for another AFC Championship Game showdown. This time with a little bit different outcome.

Heisman Race, Prescott or Mariota?

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Well, here we go again. Two quarterbacks in a dead heat for the most prestigious prize in college football.  We normally will be down to 5 to 6 guys at this point of the year. But Mississippi States Dak Prescott and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, two of the top quarterbacks in the game today. Lets look at this two guys a little closer.

Dak Prescott, a redshirt junior out of Haughton, Louisiana. Prescott has thrown for 16 TDs and 7 INTS through 8 games this season. But what is more impressing, Prescott has lead the Bulldogs to victories over LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Kentucky. All four of these teams were ranked at the time of defeat to Prescott and the Bulldogs. Prescott, could be holding that trophy in NYC come the day of the announcement.

His competitor, Marcus Mariota. Mariota, the Junior from Honolulu, Hawaii, has impressed since the day he debuted with the Ducks. Mariota on this season has thrown for 26 TDS and only thrown 2 INTS. Impressive numbers from the young Duck. Mariotta has also beaten the likes of Michigan State, UCLA, Washington and Stanford. What stands between the two is that Mariota has one blemish on his record and that comes from the Arizona Wildcats.

These two guys will be the front runners until the last day possible. But don’t forget about Jameis Winston and Everett Golson. Those two guys can still be looked at in this race. Especially Golson, look at him in this race as the dark horse. I also will not make a choice at this time. Too much time left in the year, and I’m really holding out for Golson. But as we sit here, the two men with the last names Prescott and Mariota stand above the pack.

Terriers Becoming Top Dogs Again?

College hockey success is tradition at Boston University, which since beginning play in 1918 has made 21 trips to the NCAA Frozen Four while capturing the national championship crown five times. The most recent of these titles came in 2009 under former long-tenured head coach Jack Parker, BU’s all-time winningest coach. However since then, BU has managed only one NCAA tournament berth in five seasons and has seen the changing of hands from Parker to new coach David Quinn. This was a tumultuous transition last year which led to BU’s worst season since 1962-63 in terms of winning percentage (10-21-4, .343).

Going into this year, all eyes have been on top recruit Jack Eichel, an American forward from the National Team Development Program who was the youngest player to compete in the World Junior Championships for the USA last winter. The freshman forward has excelled thus far, leading the Terriers through five games with nine points (4-5-9) while skating on a top line with standout junior forwards Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen. Their efforts have combined to lead BU to a 4-1-0 start including a dominant 8-1 win away at Massachusetts, a win each against Michigan and Michigan State and a split record against conference rival Providence this weekend, who entered the season ranked No. 3 in the country. This early success and sign of potential is exciting for fans who hope to see this storied program return to its spot in college hockey royalty, and they could be doing so soon if Eichel can maintain this elite level of play. Considered by many to be the second prospect in next year’s NHL draft behind Phenom Connor McDavid, there is no telling how long this kid will need before making the jump to professional hockey, so Agganis Arena should be buzzing all winter anytime the Terriers are at home.

Bruins Bouncing Back?

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The struggling Boston Bruins finally have gotten themselves over .500 on the year (7-6-0) after an OT win in Buffalo Thursday night and then coming back home to Boston and taking care of the Senators 4-2 in convincing fashion.

This brings up the question we’re all asking, are they back? After a very shaky first dozen games or so it seems like they are just about to get back on track.

Losing our best defensive defensemen and best offensive deffensemen, with Chara out for 6-8 weeks and Torey Krug out for 2-3 with the grossest finger injury I’ve ever seen, I won’t lie I was about to give up on the season. That’s what us Bostonians do though. If you show any sign of not being able to win a championship ever throughout the season, panic. If we’re not the best, we suck.

Oh and then Krejci was scratched tonight too. I tuned in tonight right around the beginning of the 2nd period and immediately was pleasantly surpised. I saw a beat up hockey team playing well but more importantly playing hard.

Best example; Matt Fraser (who filled in for Krejci). 24 year-old kid that no one had ever heard of until May of last year when he scored the biggest goal of his life in overtime against Montreal this past playoffs. Now he’s battling to get a full time spot on the team. Fraser notched two goals tonight, his first two of the season. Maybe a far fetched opinon but he could be one of the guys that helps fill the void of Iginlas 30 goals.

Another plus from Tonights game, Tuukka didn’t play…bad? Didn’t play awesome but he got the job done and that is a step in the right direction.

Some have been starting to question the franchise net-minder. I think with what he showed in the 2013 post season and last year’s regular season shows that theres no need to warm up the sub-par back up in Niklas Svedberg. Rask is our present and future. He is the most sound goalie in the whole league and is more than able to steal a game.

I expect a lot out of Tuuk and that means he will get better as the season goes on and will be ready to take this team for a deep cup run.

Last thing, I’ve been hearing a lot of mumble about how the Bruins just don’t have it this year. You’d think if that was the case then the crowd wouldn’t be as live as it usually is. Tonight when the game was tied at one goal a piece the Garden was alive and well. That’s what Boston does best; gives a playoff atmosphere even in early November. Everytime the Bruins got a good scoring chance, everyone was up and on their feet.

These fans (me included) haven’t given up on this team yet. Well at least for now.

College Football Playoff Preview

If you are a college football fan, we are right in the midst of a very exciting couple of years. Starting this year, the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision for the first time is going to have a playoff system. The four-team, two-game playoff system was implemented because of the enormous outcry for a playoff system. Previously you would have the two top ranked teams meet in a national championship game, but for those teams who were the elites that could compete with these #1 and #2 ranked teams never got an opportunity to show how well they stack up. There always seems to be a team at the end of the year that never got the chance to play in the National Championship. For example, during the 2012-2013 season Alabama blew out Notre Dame in the Championship Game. This was highly controversial because while ND was undefeated, their schedule was very easy compared to the other top-5 teams. When Alabama absolutely routed them 42-14, and this led to many debates about a playoff system, because the Oregon Ducks put up a very impressive 12-1 campaign and the teams they played were much more competitive than the teams Notre Dame had played. Many believe this playoff system can somewhat make these situations go away.

Enough of history, let’s talk about this season and the teams that are making the biggest push to be in the playoffs. What is making this year interesting is we have a few fresh faces to the mix. At the same time we have both teams that were in the National Championship last year right in the playoff picture as well. This mixture of somewhat upstart teams coming at the teams we constantly see as marquis college football teams is making this race for the title very exciting.

Breakdowns:

#1: Mississippi State University:

Mississippi State is a team hard not to root for. Starting the season not even in the Top 25 preseason polls and moving all way up to the #1 team in the nation is a feat we don’t see often. Nobody has though of them as a threat for years, they have been in a rebuilding mode for their team for years. Dan Mullen was hired as head coach in 2008, and has not been very successful the entire tenure until now. Their spark comes from their Heisman candidate Quarterback Dak Prescott. With a Cam Newton-like physique he is a dual-treat weapon that can beat any team with his arm or with his legs. Already throwing for over 1,600 yards with 15 throwing touchdowns and running for over 600 yards with 10 rushing touchdowns he is just picking apart opposing teams defenses.

The Achilles Heel for this team however is their defense. They have not shown much consistency this season, for example last weekend they went on the road to an un-ranked Kentucky, and only won 45-31 which is not good for a team trying to make an National Championship push. The game was very close throughout most of it which is scary for a team with a weak defense. If they are going to make this Cinderella story come true, they are going to need to improve the defense otherwise i do not think they will be able to handle the grueling end of their season which includes Alabama and Ole Miss.

#2 Florida State:

Jameis Winston still has yet to lose a game as a college football quarterback. Him and the ‘noles have picked up where they left off last season after winning an National Title. An offensive juggernaut, no team has been able to stop them the past year and a half and they have shown no signs of slowing down. The biggest obstacle this team has is its quarterback’s judgment in his personal life. It is becoming a recurring pattern of Winston getting in trouble off the field, but when he is on the field he is unstoppable. Like Mississippi State, their defense seems to be the lone weakness of the team. But they have to rely heavily on Winston to score astronomical numbers day-in and day-out to set them so ahead of the pack. If a team is going to bring down the reigning champ they will need to just hope they can limit Winston’s scoring ability. If anyone does bring them down, it will have to be a shootout because the only way to take them down will be to just dominate them offensively, because even on a bad day Winston will still put up unbelievable numbers. In my personal opinion, this Florida State team is the strongest team in this tentative playoff bracket, being the reigning champs it is easy to say that, but they have kept the pivotal pieces of their team from last year. They know what they are going to get out of Winston, whereas we do not know how Dak Prescott of Mississippi State can handle the pressure down the stretch.

#3 Auburn Univeristy

Auburn, the NCAA’s runner ups is trying to make a push back to the National Championship game, but this time wants to bring home the trophy. The Tigers come back this year like last year with a more complete team when it comes to every aspect of the ball. Unlike the other two teams, Auburn’s defense is very solid. They rely on them heavily to not put too much of a burden on the offense. Offensively, they are very run-heavy. Their Quarterback situation is very shaky. Last year, the Tigers fought their way to an SEC Championship and a NCAA Championship game berth on the ground. Their Quarterback, Nick Marshall has yet to prove himself as a great passer, something that is necessary to survive in the SEC. He has yet to prove himself so much that head coach Gus Malzahn benched him the first game of this season, and while that did not last long and he was in the game later on that game, it clearly show they do not have much faith in Marshall even though he was their Quarterback last season. They are lucky to have the defense that they have, it somewhat makes up for the lack of passing. They are very run-heavy, but it is hard to break games wide open with the run rather than the pass. They have had a strong start but in my opinion they are the weakest in the playoff picture thus far, just because of the lack of confidence in Marshall it makes them vulnerable.

#4 Ole Miss

Another team out of Mississippi who is having a “re-emergence” season is the Rebels from Ole Miss. Like Mississippi State, it was a surprise just how well Bo Wallace and the Rebels have come out this season. Out of the top four teams right now, Ole Miss has the best defense of all of them, ranked #9 in the nation. The most points they have allowed all season was 20 against Texas A&M in a 35-20 victory in College Station. On the offensive side of the ball, Bo Wallace has been slinging it, already throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 18 Throwing touchdowns. His ability to read defenses is one of the best in the nation. On the ground they have a great combination of Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers who help set up the passing game. Not an overpowering running threat but good enough to scare defenses so they are always preparing for the run which sets up opportunities for Wallace. I hold these guys in high regard, even coming off a 10-7 loss to LSU, that game was a battle and could have gone to anyone. I think they are a very complete team so down the stretch I would keep these guys in mind to sneak up in the playoff bracket. The game I am most looking forward to this season is the “Egg Bowl” which is the rivalry game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State that is both teams final game of the regular season. Even though Mississippi has Prescott, I am intrigued to see what Ole Miss does with their defense to stop him. If they are able to stop Prescott, I think Wallace and this Rebel’s offense could beat the Mississippi State Defense.

Outside Looking In:

This playoff system is sort of a trial run for this type of thing for the FBS, which is why there are only four teams and two games. It has not totally gotten rid of the problem of some teams probably deserving to be in the playoffs but do not get the votes. Like stated before, the Oregon Ducks are ranked #5 in the nation, just missing the cut off for the playoff system, and an argument could be made that Marcus Mariota and the Ducks deserve a shot at a championship. Another team right there is Alabama at #6. Nick Saban puts contenders out on the field year-after-year, and this season is no exception, Amari Cooper is just torching defenses out there, some believe they deserve a shot. So hopefully the playoff format will be a hit and maybe a few years down the line it can be expanded to have more teams. I believe this format will do nothing but make the sport more exciting and that can only help the NCAA.  Hopefully the teams will live up to the hype, we could be in for an electrifying couple of weeks.

The Rebuild

Prior to the 2013-2014 NBA season the Celtics traded head coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a first round draft pick. In addition, Paul Pierce; undoubtedly the best Celtic to wear black and green in my life time, Kevin Garnett; a fan favorite and an absolute monster on both end of the courts, and Jason Terry were traded to the Brooklyn Nets for a slew of players and three first round draft picks(2014,2016,2018). It was clear at this point that the Celtics were in for a long season.

If you even caught a glimpse of SportsCenter during the 2013-2014 NBA season last year you knew just how horrendous the Celtics were.  In the 68th season of the most successful franchise in the sport, the Celtics managed to win only twenty-five games while dropping fifty-seven games to opposing teams. Of course, the painful 2013-2014 season was largely due to the major changes made to the foundation of the franchise. Changes, that in my opinion, had to be made one way or another as the Celtics team aged and its chances of defeating powerful teams like the Heat in playoff battles decreased more and more year by year. The Celtics head coach last year Brad Stevens, whom they aquired after a few solid years at Butler, was a first year NBA head coach who was adjusting to a new team. To put it simply, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the Celtics would accomplish very little last season other than Coach Stevens learning to play with his team, and chemistry building among teammates.

With the 2014-2015 NBA season tipping off in less than twenty four hours many Celtics fans are wondering what this season will turn out like. In a city that has almost zero patience for being irrelevant, it is important for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens that their are some major improvements this season. Fortunately for them and Celtics fans the will have a better season than last, and here’s why.

Rajon Rondo, although battling a hand injury and uncertain for tomorrows start, is becoming a free agent at the end of this season and will be looking for a big contract. Rondo also has a reason to play meaningful basketball again for the first time in two years, and last time he did that he took over and came damn near close to taking down LeBron with a tattered Celtics team.  Rondo has all the incentive he should need to have the best season of his career to date, and help some of the young players on the team to play smart NBA style basketball. Ha. Marcus Smart the Celtics 1st rounder out of Oklahoma shows a great deal of promise with his aggressive and explosive style that should fit nicely with Stevens new system, as well as great vision with the basketball getting the ball where it needs to be quickly in pre-season play. Evan Turner is another asset to the Celtics who on the other hand plays at a much slower speed but has great handles and plays a nice pick-and-roll game. The duo to really look out for though is Jeff Green and Rondo. Now that Rondo is healthy and can take some of the weight off of Jeff Green’s shoulders I expect that Green will have a better season than last even if he is not scoring as many points. With that being said, if Rondo and Green can not produce and the Celtics are sucking I expect they will be bundled together and traded out of the bean for a big name player sooner rather than later. Celtics have a much better season than last year and if they really click could even have hopes of a playoff run, unlikely, but crazier things have happened in this conference.

Heard it here first.

BrothershipTul (@itstul)

 

Just A Couple Of Guys Talking About Sports