Championship or Bust

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By Brandon Thomas

There was no team in NBA history that had ever overcome a 3-1 deficit…. that was until the Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving became the first team to overcome this deficit, not only did they do it they did it against a team that won 73 games in the regular season.

For Warrior fans, this was a long offseason, questions about how team would rebound. Could they make another run with the team as it was constructed?

Then came July 4th 2016.

The Warriors landed the most prized free agent in this year’s class, former MVP Kevin Durant giving the Warriors a record four All-NBA players on one team. Durant’s acquisition made the Warriors the overwhelming favorites to win the championship this season. Durant brings a deadly scorer that teams have to honor down the stretch of games (Cleveland seldom guarded Harrison Barnes in the 4th quarters of the NBA Finals) and Durant provides a major upgrade in all facets of the game. This season all eyes will be on the Warriors, and anything less than a championship will be considered a bust.

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No Big Ben; No Problem?

By Glenn Pratt

When the next opponent on the schedule is the New England Patriots, I find it safe to say, there is one game plan and one game plan only: CONTAIN 4-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady!

The Pittsburgh Steelers fell short to the New England Patriots on Sunday, 27-16. The Steelers, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, were without defensive anchor Cameron Hayward, and gun slinger Ben Roethlisberger. This was the call for backup Landry Jones, who came into his first start of the season missing the likes of backup RB DeAngelo Williams, offensive linemen Cody Wallace and Marcus Gilbert. Jones came into the game with 32 connections on 55 attempts totaling 513 yards, with 3 TD and 4 INT on 3 starts, adding 29 completions on 47 tries for 281 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT to his career in yesterday’s loss.


While 47 pass attempts may have certainly been out of the young QBs wheelhouse and the Steelers game plan, 2 missed FGs (42, 54 yards) by Steelers kicker Chris Boswell certainly didn’t contribute to the success, or lack thereof, for Jones and the Steelers offense. After a rough start, Jones did everything he could to shake away the butterflies and find his assumed favorite target, Antonio Brown for a 51 yard strike. Brown finished the day with 7 catches for 106 yards on 11 targets, as Jones found 8 different receivers, with only Brown and running back LeVeon Bell amassing more than 40 yards.

The game of catch up, as the Steelers found themselves trailing early 0-14, and the Patriots’ young up-and-coming defense, made it a challenge for Tomlin and the Steelers to establish the run game. Bell compiled 81 yards on 21 carries, adding 68 yards on 10 catches out of the backfield.

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However, this match up was not a match up of playmakers vs playmakers, this was a classic chess match clash of the coaching staff.  Studs Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman were what many would call “held” to a combined 13 catches for 153 yards 1 TD.  However, former Steelers RB LeGarrette Blount, seemed to be the standout of the evening, totaling 127 yards on 24 carries, twice finding the end zone.

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Simply out coached, Tomlin particularly made a questionable, what many may call “one of the worst” challenges on a Gronk (not a) fumble, and what had to be a reluctant, however mathematically logical decision, to punt the ball trailing 2 possessions with 5:30 left to go.  Tomlin didn’t seem to be on his best game, understandably so, having to have made quite a few adjustments coming into the game.

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The takeaways for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, who will be without Pro Bowl QB Ben Roethlisberger for 3-6 weeks recovering from meniscus surgery, the 255 yards from scrimmage amassed by Bell and Brown are a reminder for the New England Patriots and the rest of the NFL, that fully loaded, this Pittsburgh Steelers offense may be a challenge in the postseason.

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Tomlin’s defense, albeit allowing 140 yards on the ground, held Tom Brady to his one of his most forgettable, yet most importantly, successful performances in recent years, falling short of 225 passing yards but only 13 times in his last 83 games, dating back to the very start of the 2011 season. Brady finished the day with 19 completions on 26 tries for 222 yards and 2 TDs.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers
A slow and late start for LeVeon Bell, who missed the 2016 season’s first 3 games due to an NFL suspension for violating the leagues substance abuse policy, is one thing the Steelers should look to revive. That will require the third year QB Landry Jones to get comfortable and embrace the role as the Steelers quarterback.

The New England Patriots are beatable. The challenge of stopping Tom Brady and his favorite target Rob Gronkowski, seemed to be a matter of “keep in front and tackle.” It will be interesting to see if upcoming Patriots opponents employ this strategy, as it kept a depleted Steelers team in position to mount a comeback, that ultimately wasn’t enough, and left Tom Brady and the New England Patriots yet again, victorious, moving on to 6-1, 2 game lead a top the AFC East.

“You knew the margin of error was going to be minimal,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

But the game must go on. The Steelers were provided opportunities to capitalize on 2 New England Patriot fumbles, but, to no avail.

“Self-inflicted wounds,” said Brady, is what allowed the Steelers to close the early deficit and fill the stadium with hope, that was most likely all but absent coming into the afternoon.

“Honestly, you never know,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “Sometimes we feel like we played well and we still get ripped.”

McCourty understand the downside to defending the Steelers with Roethlisberger under center, who’s notable ability to extend plays is something you can’t practice.


Said McCourty, “He makes plays that are not normal.”

The Steelers head into the bye week at a seemingly good time, allowing for the recovery of a few players who saw limited to no action yesterday.

 

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NFL “Weak” 3 Powder Rankings

The idea of the Powder Rankings is that this list will get shorter as the season runs along, but something tells me the same teams will continue to appear week after week.

1. Bears 0-3

God that was awful last night. The injuries have taken the Bears apart defensively, and when you couple that with your starting quarterback being Brian Hoyer, it’s bad.

2. Jaguars 0-3

These are your uncle’s Jaguars. It’s crazy to watch the hype machine meet reality. The Jags have talent on offense, but it didn’t show it’s face in the fourth quarter as Bortles and Flacco competed for,  “Who’s INT turn is it?”

3. Jets 1-2

Ryan Fitzpatrick.

4. 49ers 1-2

They picked the wrong time to play the Seahawks. They’re running defense was non existent as they allowed Christine Michael to run all over them. I knew I should’ve taken the points.

5. Buccaneers 1-2

Four touchdowns ago the Bucs were looking up. Now, after losing to the Rams at home in overtime, it looks as if they will struggle all year long. The LA Rams haven’t scored a touchdown since Michael Jordan was wearing 45.

6. Dolphins 1-2

Yes, they beat the Browns, but the way the Dolphins are playing will put them in position to look for a new quarterback in next year’s draft as well as some new defenders.

7. Browns 0-3

Your kicker was signed on Saturday. Terrell Pryor was out there like it was Pee-Wee football as he played every position possible to push the Browns to victory. Well, they are the Browns and I can’t deny that, but I must certainly cannot overlook their efforts on the road.

8. Bills 1-2

Look, they played Arizona in the pick of the week: The Cardinals do not fair well playing eastern time zone games at 1pm. So yes, they won. The defense actually turned the Cardinals over,but that was too be expected.

9. Lions 1-2

Just like the 49ers, the Lions ran into a Packer team ready to get back on track offensively.  Marvin Jones had a career day, but that Lions defense did what they do,  give up big plays.

10. Washington 1-2

Well, you won, barely. Watching the Giants turn the ball over in the redzone was vintage regular season Eli.

11. Panthers 1-2

Wow, the Panthers looked like it was the Superbowl all over again. The offensive line was completely taken over as the Panthers only victory this season is against the 49ers. With every pass, Cam Newton gets closer to that one injury that will put him out for the season.

12. Titans 1-2

Another week. Another chance to win. Another loss. When you depend on a 35 year old Receiver to get you a win, then the odds of you being good aren’t great. Their defense has kept them in games this season, it’s the offense that has yet to match their output.

13. Bengals 1-2

A loss to the Broncos isn’t too bad, considering the Broncos are on their path to the playoffs again. But the Bengals losing at home in blowout fashion is concerning as the Steelers and Ravens will be tough divisional games this season.

14. Chargers 1-2

Injuries aside, the Chargers did what the Chargers do: lose close games. They are now 3-11 in these close games under Mike McCoy.

 15. Colts 1-2

Sometimes playing another team just as bad as you is the perfect way to build a winning mindset.

The Saints and Falcons play tonight, and both have been bad since last Sunday, so no need to pile on.

The Giants returned to form and the Cowboys beat a dismantled Bears team, so that keeps them off the list.

The Seahawks won in offensive fashion as Russell Wilson went down again, but it was impressive enough.

The Rams are winning the division, they won on the road and scored touchdowns, does that deserve to not be made fun of at this time?

Although the Texans didn’t show on Thursday night, they are division contenders.

The Passing of the Running Game

337 carries, 2019 yards, 8 touchdowns combined with 45 catches, 645 yards and 5 touchdowns receiving. 300 carries,  1953 yards and 22 touchdowns.

I am old enough to remember when the running back position was something to be sought after by young men in high school. Everybody wanted to be Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and others. The NFL has rid itself of the feature running back for each team. More and more are we seeing a running back by committee, situational backs and running backs who go undrafted but still make it in the league.

Naturally when something goes away in football, outsiders will concede that there aren’t any good ones anymore. That is definitely not the case. As the pass attack has risen for all teams, the quality of quarterbacking has not risen as coaches have replaced the run game with 2 right end sets and 4 wide receiver combinations that keep defenses in a pass defense strategy. There are still good running backs on this league, but the starting running back has dwindled over the years. Not only had their playing time decreased, so has their money.

As we know the NFL is leaning towards a much safer game “cough cough” by eliminating kickoff returns, wedges, big hits on receivers and quarterbacks (unless you are Cam Newton). The running back is just as injured as any other player on the field. They are the one player that everyone is trying to take out on any given play. We know their shelf life is always around 3 years or less, and even if they make it past that number, getting past 30 is near impossible. There are always outliers, but those injuries and hits will pile up eventually, making them disposable and replaceable to the team, and by their contract.

There are a few theories as this phenomenon has slowly taken place.

1. The salary cap.

The salary cap has made it difficult to keep star and decent running backs on the team, while also allowing more of them on the roster due to injury concerns. Remember when Lamar Miller was a free agent, but the Dolphins needed to sure up the defense and offensive line again? They let Miller walk and replaced him with a cheap and injured Arian Foster.

2. Less positions to pay.

Once offenses started moving towards the pass friendly concept, money began to open up. Running backs got more team friendly deals, Fullbacks became obsolete, Defensive tackles became defensive pass rushers, and linebackers became safety’s with 20 extra pounds. Remember how Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher couldn’t stay on the field because teams had 4 wideouts and a tight end faster than your safety? They were there for stopping the running game, but with no running game, they became unneeded, which means you can pay them all less.

3.Wide receivers are cheaper, and more useful in today’s game.

Instead of paying Le’veon Bell to a super contract, the Steelers can let him go, give a raise to Antonio Brown and the other nameless, small receivers ready to take his place. Teams could pay one Good running back, maybe two or they could draft and sign 5 wide receivers and a few tight ends.

We know the running defenses in college don’t compare to the NFL, so guys who are averaging 5.7 yards per carry in college won’t see that in the league. They probably couldn’t get that average in screen passes. Not only are the defenses not up to par, guys are carrying the ball 250/300+ times a year in less games in college. We’ve seen the toll those carries have taken on the Alabama running backs that have made it to the NFL who can’t stay healthy nor produce. If you’re a feature back in college, that’s 3 years at the least of caring the ball 600+ times, not counting practice, catches and pass blocking. Most of our running back stars are done by their 2nd year in the league as they adjust to defenses.

I miss running backs, especially the star ones. I miss the 1500 yard rusher. I miss CJ2k. I know it’s not the most exciting thing to watch a 13 play drive with 10 runs, but I miss it. I also miss the fact that these guys use to get paid. Now they get used in their rookie contract, only to not be resigned, then get injured and are never heard from again.

The running backs are gone, the fullbacks are gone and now the Kirk Cousins’s of the world are getting 20 million a year to throw 6 yard passes and bubble screens.

Oh Yea, those stats at the beginning belong to Leonard Fournette and Christian Mccaffrey who are juniors and will be drafted. The way the NFL works, probably in the second round. KiJana Carter and Curtis Enis. Oh the glory days.

NFL “Weak” 2: Powder Rankings

By Will Stevenson

Almighty ladies and gentlemen,  excluding tonight’s games between the Eagles and the Bears, we’ve been able to witness two glorious weeks of NFL football!! What we’ve also witnessed is that many of these teams stink. The offense still stinks, the defense still stinks. Teams that told us they had a quarterback, still don’t have a quarterback. Teams that couldn’t rush the passer still can’t. And teams that can’t move the ball down the field still work that 5 yards and a cloud of piss passing game that results into all those yards, but no success (I’m talking to you Kirk Cousins). We know there are injuries everywhere and teams need to get use to coaching styles and game plans while not falling into early season holes.

1. Washington 0-2 

You lost to Dallas. Interception in the endzone. Still the same old Kirk. And same old Jay Gruden.

2. Dolphins 0-2

Same old Tannehill. The Dolphins defense is just as bad as last year.

3. Browns 0-2

No RG3, No problem. Looks like the Browns will be on QB number three in Week 3.

4. Saints 0-2

Saints defense can’t stop anybody. What else is new? Yes they got the turnovers and the Giants offense was terrible, but they lost on the road, again.

5. Jaguars 0-2

We all want to believe in the Jags so badly, and after their near victory against the Packers (struggling again on offense)  we had hope. Now we don’t. After their blowout loss to the Chargers, they may not make it through the division to rack up a wild card.

6. Bills 0-2

Offensive coordinator fired. And that’s 2.5 million reasons to fire. Rex Ryan still cannot generate a pass rush with a defense.

7. Colts 0-2

Bad Defense. Good offense. Bad team. One of these days Luck will…  (no puns)

8. Bucs 1-1

The Bucs are just like the Jaguars except they have a win. Bucs went on the road and got rolled.

9. Bears 0-1

I’m just guessing they’ll be not great this year. I mean look at the Vikings, Sam Bradford showed up.

10. Seahawks 1-1

What’s with West Coast guys and ankle injuries? The Seahawks looked average again, but the Rams defense allowed themselves to be dominant for their first home game in 20 years. Looking back, I shouldn’t have taken the points on the Seahawks

11. Raiders 1-1

Penalties and giving up big plays on defense, a Raiders specialty. The Raiders are also a team we don’t trust but feel they have the talent to win. Well, losing to the Falcons doesn’t help. And this is why momentum does not exist.

12. Cowboys 1-1

All things considered. You could be 0-2, but you were blessed with playing Washington and you almost screwed that up. If the Eagles stink tonight and the Giants continue their offensive struggles…  Dare I say another weak division up for grabs?

13. Chargers 1-1

They do this every year. Every single year. Lose impossible games and then blowout teams at home.

14. Packers 1-1

Another struggle for Rodgers and the offense against a divisional opponent. The Vikings defense is that good and another team opening up their new stadium that I should’ve taken the points.

15. Rams 1-1

One week after not scoring, they beat a team that can’t score. LA is back to where it should be…  .500

16. Lions 1-1

Another close game for the Lions, but this time they don’t finish the deal against the Titans. The Titans. The Lions are their usual fraud selves.

17. 49ers 1-1

Blaine Gabbert. Not terrible. I should’ve taken the points.

Strong start to Week 1

By Will Stevenson

Welcome back NFL!

Sunday provided NFL fans something we’ve all been waiting for since the Superbowl in February; Excitement with real-live, on the field action. With the Thursday Night game coming down to the wire with a missed field goal by the Panthers, the close games continued throughout Sunday’s schedule. Some teams stayed the same, while others game us a delicate surprise.

Cowboys vs Giants

Dak Prescott committed no turnovers Sunday evening which is more than what the Cowboys fans could’ve hoped for. The running game was not as explosive against the Giants defense with Ezekiel Elliot and Morris, but they kept the game close and had a chance to go for the game-winning field goal in the last seconds. You saw what happened. Stephen A. Smith can’t blame this one on Tony Romo.

The Giants got a lift from Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul and their effect offensively and defensively made the difference in the Giants victory. That being said, it wouldn’t have mattered if the Cowboys didn’t go Full-Cowboy in the final seconds, but with that being said the Giants needed every catch and every pressure.

Lions vs Colts

It was a somewhat revenge game for coach Caldwell and the Lions as they were able to pull off a win in the final minutes against the Colts. Andrew Luck was his usual self, and their defense was the same old Colts that keep them from doing much in the playoffs. The Lions were able to go up and down the field, and without Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford was able to find his new targets and spread the ball around the field. With Abdullah and Riddick in the backfield, the Lions may challenge for the North crown. Offensively.

Eagles vs Browns

I know it’s only Week 1, but why not be excited while you can. We all know the Browns are a work in progress and they aren’t the strongest of competition, but it is the NFL and all it takes are a few blown assignments and you can be on the wrong side of a blowout. Carson Wentz has given the Eagles fan base hope for one week at the least as he looked poised in the pocket throwing for a couple of touchdowns.

Robert Griffin III struggled for most of the game and ended up injured in the end. It’s Cleveland.

Falcons vs Buccaneers

The Falcons seem to be headed in a downward spiral as their redzone struggles continued Sunday afternoon. Their tackling was abissmal to say the least and their coverage on Mike Evans left something to be desired.

The Bucs and Jameis Winston seem to be trending up after their victory against the Falcons as the torched their defense throughout the day with their receiving core and made key runs in the 4th quarter to keep them at bay.

Saints vs The Raiders

The Saints have a passing attack. The Saints have no defense. The Saints lose at home. These three things are very familiar to the Saints fanbase as they once again struggle to keep another team out of the endzone on their home turf. Brees will be at the top of the league in passing yards, but if their defense does not improve, look for another losing season under the great Sean Payton.

Onions. Pure Onions. If you were able to listen to the telecast, you were able to here the disgust and second guessing as the Raiders began to line up for the 2pt conversion after scoring a touchdown that had them down by one point in the final seconds. The Raiders need this play, whether they lost the game or not. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. On the road, young team, and you go for the win, and you actually get the win. It’s only one week, but that’s one win that could’ve been a loss in overtime.

Chiefs vs Chargers

Oh look, another passing offense with no defense. Well what else is new for the Chargers? The gave up a 21 point lead to the Chiefs on the road as they allowed Alex Smith to look like he was back at Utah. And Keenan Allen may be done for the season; Sometimes you just can’t catch a break in this league.

For the Chiefs, we know they will flail in the playoffs. We know they will pull off wins during this regular season as they flame out offensively this postseason. This is Week 1, and it’s great to get a division win agaisnt a rival after being manhandled in the first half.

Seahawks vs Dolphins

What a stinker. Now, Ryan Tannehill was actually allowed to throw the ball downfield, but he kept coming up short as he forced throws to Kenny Stills. The Dolphins defense was very good against the Seahawks, but they couldn’t muster up enough offense to win the game. What else is new.

Russell Wilson looked out of sorts all through the game even before his ankle injury. He made key throws to Baldwin, Miller and Kearse, but it was the defense that showed themselves to be dominant Sunday Afternoon

Jets vs Bengals

When Ryan Fitzpatrick is your quarterback, you need your defense to keep the oppsing offense out of the endzone. Poor Darelle Revis. Life comes at you fast.

The Bengals passing offense led them to their victory, but their running game is soemthing that will need to improve for next week. Or it could just be that the Jets run defense is that good.

Patriots vs Cardinals

The Patriots will struggle because the Cardinals have too many weapons on offense. Well, Jimmy G is looking good and playing good as he Matt Cassel 2.0’s this team to a Week 1 win on the road in primetime. They also got a pretty consistent running game from Legarette Blount as the Patriots did what they always do; Bend, but not break. The Patriots won a game everybody said they would lose while the Bills, Dolphins and Jets did what they always do; stay one step behind the Patriots.

All in all, it was a great Sunday for the NFL. The passing offenses are still ahead, but their are some defenses to be reckoned with. The running game seems to be non existent by any player. The short passing game and precision offense has replaced the running game while teams continue to put up more and more points.

The missing of extra points will continue to make a difference at the end of games as points will be lost in the mix, but will definitely have teams chasing points in the final quarter.

GET OUT OF BOUNDS! Wide receivers stayed in bounds while trying to get extra yards for the field goal team. The Lions made it work, while the Cowboys and Dolphins lost the game. Just get out of bounds and stop the clock.

It’s amazing to watch these teams roll out new players and coaches, implement new schemes during the offseason and still give us the same results every single year. The same defense that can’t stop the run still can’t stop the run. The same teams that can’t throw the ball can’t throw the ball. The same teams that get penalties keep getting penalties.

An interesting year is on the way, but for some fans, it’s the same old song.

Browns

Chargers

Colts

Falcons

Jets

Bills

Dolphins

Bears

Saints

Cowboys

Titans

Jaguars

ANDY JONES: “Another undrafted talent”?

By Matthew McCaughan

Every year or two, the Dallas Cowboys seem to end up finding these undrafted players that nobody has had on their draft boards. It’s about two weeks into camp and there is another player grabbing many of the player’s and coaching staff’s attention. His name is Andy Jones, a 6’1 214 pound wide receiver out of Jacksonville University . He received the highest undrafted signing bonus worth $15,000, which should tell us what they think about his talent. While the Cowboys had a draft worthy grade for Jones, I’m sure they certainly didn’t expect him to standout as much as he currently is through just two weeks of camp.

Just from my own observation, which has not been a lot I’ll admit, I have definitely been impressed so far. He seems to have excellent length, he can go up and get the ball at its highest point and can create a good amount of separation while the ball is in the air. We still need to see a bit more route running and some live action versus other opponents at real NFL speed. However, the Cowboys could have very well found their next Miles Austin. For our sake as Cowboys fans hopefully he doesn’t carry the same hamstrings Austin had or this fire could fizzle out real quickly. Sorry Miles!

Currently,  Jones has some competition ahead of him. The number one and number two spots are taken by Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams and the slot role belongs to Cole Beasley. That leaves Brice Butler and Devin Street as the guys Jones will be battling for a roster spot. The only advantage really that these two have, is their game experience. To this point, Butler and Street haven’t done enough to force Jones out of any playing time so he should get enough live action to challenge both these guys. Brice Butler was part of a trade the Cowboys made last season with Oakland to help address depth at the receiver position due to the Dez Bryant injury. While he showed some spurts of talent and made some plays, he didn’t necessarily impress the coaching staff enough to shut the door on the competition behind him. But, what he does have that Jones doesn’t is experience in the offense which could benefit Butler. But, as they say that’s why we play the games to find out.

Devin Street was drafted from Pittsburgh in 2014 with hopes that maybe he could push Williams to either get better and keep the number two spot or maybe just maybe he could be the number two himself. Needless to say, holding onto the ball and being in the right spot has not benefited Street. It’s is disappointing considering what he accomplished in college. We’re talking plenty of records broken that were set by Larry Fitzgerald. So when you look at the fact that neither Street or Butler haven’t guaranteed themselves a roster spot, it clearly leaves the door open for Andy Jones to make some noise and possibly a snag a spot on the 53.

You can’t just put all your marbles in on this guy just yet and it’s hard because you see a glimmer of talent in camp and sometimes get too excited over fools gold. For Jones sake and the Cowboys fans, we are hoping he does in deed make some noise and quite possibly enough noise to bring some consistency to the number two wide receiver spot. Plus, who doesn’t like to see the underdog come out on top? Not much pressure involved , go out play your game and let that determine why you should get that roster spot. Jones is on his way to doing just that.