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Blog & Tackle: NFL Week 1 review

Posted on 14 September 2009 by Chris Pika

An interesting Week 1 in the NFL had its share of big moments, surprises and injury news. Let’s take a spin around the league’s opening Sunday.

Atlanta 19, Miami 7: Not the start Miami was hoping for, by far. Several experts picked the Fins in an upset, but the Falcons took advantage of four Miami turnovers for nine points. Atlanta TE Tony Gonzalez can still catch the ball and find the end zone, and Miami should have kept running the ball at the Falcons, but decided to use the Wildcat too many times. Atlanta might have a kicking problem on its hands as Jason Elam struggled, despite a 50-yard field goal. This one should have been a blowout.

Ravens 38, Kansas City 24: A tougher game than many expected was put away by a late touchdown by Baltimore’s Willis McGahee at home. The Ravens posted a club-record 501 total yards, and they needed almost all of it with two touchdowns in the final three minutes of play. Joe Flacco’s 43 pass attempts weren’t expected as Kansas City prepared for a running attack. Ravens TE Todd Heap came back to form in a big way with 74 receiving yards and a touchdown.

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Philadelphia 38, Carolina 10: Story of two quarterbacks dominates Eagles’ victory. Philly QB Donovan McNabb breaks a rib and his status is undetermined for Week 2 against New Orleans. By the way, Michael Vick is not eligible until Week 3. Jake Delhomme struggled mightily as he was responsible for five of Carolina’s seven turnovers (Eagles scored 24 points off those seven miscues), but coach John Fox is sticking with him – for now. Carolina will have to do better than 2.4 yards per play to win games.

Denver 12, Cincinnati 7: CBS announcer Gus Johnson was in NCAA Tournament form as the easily excited play-by-play man cranked into full gear on Brandon Stokley’s 87-yard touchdown off a tipped pass late in the game. Stokley then stalled at the goal line to kill the clock and the Bengals. Chad Ochocinco had just one catch for eight yards – not much to Tweet about for the Cincy WR. Denver QB Kyle Orton was a winner in his debut and the folks in the Broncos front office have to be glad he’s the QB, instead of Jay Cutler today.

Minnesota 34, Cleveland 20: Vikings QB Brett Favre’s debut with Minnesota was the focus of the national media, but RB Adrian Peterson was the real show for the Vikes with 180 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Favre was 14-21 for just 110 yards passing. Again, his greatest contribution will be to safely hand the ball off to Peterson. A lot good Browns coach Eric Mangini did with his starting QB antics – Brady Quinn threw for 205 yards, including a late TD, and was sacked five times by the Minny D.

New York Jets 24, Houston 7: Rex Ryan had a very successful debut as the Jets’ head coach, thanks to – no surprise – the defense. The Jets pounded the Texans running game, and Texans QB Matt Schaub was harassed all day. The Jets got 272 pass yards from Mark Sanchez and 107 rush yards and two scores from Thomas Jones. Not sure what this victory means to New York, but Rex has the Jets buying into his way of football.

Indianapolis 14, Jacksonville 12: The Jags missed a chance to get a division upset in Week 1 as the Colts’ defense clamped down late in the fourth quarter. Jax QB David Garrard completed half his 28 passes for 122 yards, and RB Maurice Jones-Drew had only 97 rush yards and one TD. Colts QB Peyton Manning showed that even with the offseason coaching changes, he still runs the Indy defense with 301 pass yards, 162 to WR Reggie Wayne on 10 catches.

New Orleans 45, Detroit 27: The good news for Mt. St. Joe’s Jim Schwartz in his NFL head coaching debut? The Lions scored more points than they did in ANY 2008 game. The bad news? The Saints got a club record-tying six TD passes from QB Drew Brees in a blowout that extended Detroit’s futility streak to 18 straight games. Brees distributed the ball around as TE Jeremy Shockey scored twice – his first scores since being traded to New Orleans last season. Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford will want to forget his first NFL game – three interceptions. He and Lions will have better days – but not soon.

Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21: Cowboys QB Tony Romo successfully shook off the supposed hex by former girlfriend Jessica Simpson to throw three touchdown passes as part of a 353-yard passing day. Bucs QB Byron Leftwich probably thinks the blonde bombshell put the hex on the wrong guy, as he was battered by the Dallas defense once Tampa Bay had stop running the ball. Tampa Bay could be in for a long year as division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans have as much, if not more firepower, than the Cowboys.

San Francisco 20, Arizona 16: One of the few mild surprises of Week 1, as the defending NFC champs were beaten at home by a rapidly improving 49ers squad. 49ers QB Shaun Hill threw for 209 yards and a score, while fantasy darling Kurt Warner was picked off twice and subject to a heavy pass rush from San Francisco. Arizona was led in receiving by a running back, Tim Hightower, who caught 12 balls for 121 yards – that’s not the formula that helped the Cards go so far in 2008.

New York Giants 23, Washington 17: The Giants defensive line, sparked by the return of DE Osi Umenyiora, made life very difficult for the Skins as Washington was held to only 51 rush yards. Even without former WR Plaxico Burress, the G-Men are going to be a serious contender in the NFC because of their defense. QB Eli Manning completed 20 of 29 passes for 256 yards. Skins QB Jason Campbell was stripped of the ball by Umenyiora for a score, and DE Albert Haynesworth collected a check, but not many Giants runners in his debut after the monster contract handed out to him by Dan Snyder in the offseason.

Seattle 28, St. Louis 0: Good to see old friend Jim Mora get a victory in his opening game as Seahawk coach, thanks in part to instant replay that showed 12 men on the field for the Rams when St. Louis returned a blocked field goal to apparently tie the game 7-7 late in the first half. The penalty on the Rams gave the Seahawks new life, and Seattle converted for a late TD for a 14-0 halftime advantage. St. Louis folded their tents in the second half as Seattle got three TD passes from QB Matt Hasselbeck.

Green Bay 21, Chicago 15: This wasn’t the script Bears fans had in mind for the season opener against hated rival Green Bay. Jay Cutler threw four interceptions, and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw one TD pass, but it was a game-winning 50-yard toss with just over a minute to play. Chicago killed a lot of clock in the fourth quarter to kick a field goal that seemed to put them in charge, but Cutler’s fourth pick in the dying seconds sealed the Green Bay victory. The Bears’ loss could be costly in other ways as LB Brian Urlacher might be finished for the season with a wrist injury.

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2009 Ravens Preview – Weeks 5-9

Posted on 09 September 2009 by Derek Arnold

Today is Wednesday, which means we are now down to three work days remaining until we get to watch our purple and black take the field for a meaningful football game for the first time since that awful day in Pittsburgh. Day 2 of our quick Ravens season preview sees the Ravens take on the other purple team in the league, a neck-bearded QB, and Bungle bookends.

See Day 1 here or here.

Of course, all of these predictions are based on rosters, teams, etc., as they stand today. Injuries, suspensions, and whatever else could easily drastically change my feeling about any or all of the games. This is for fun more than anything else, so don’t go calling your bookie on my recommendations.

Week 5 – vs. Cincinnati

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Count me in the group that thinks Cincy will be a bit less bungle-riffic in ’09. Their defense finished up strong in 2008, Carson Palmer is back (back again), and Ocho Cinco looks like he’s ready to return to his Pro Bowl form, assuming he can stop “tweeting” long enough to catch a pass or 80. I think they’ll win 1st Place – Ohio Division this season, and give a lot of teams all they can handle. A lot of lesser teams than the Ravens, that is.

Chance of victory: 75%

Week 6 – @ Minnesota

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The Ravens travel up North for the Purple Bowl in their final game before their first bye week since 2007. Lots of similarities here – both teams rely heavily on their running game, have very strong defenses, and think they finally have the quarterback they need to get them over the hump. The difference, of course, is that the Vikings are on a much shorter time table with their grizzled old gunslinger Brett Favre than the Ravens are with 24-year old Joe Flacco. Also, it takes three Ravens to do the damage in the ground game that the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson is capable of. Assuming both teams are at full strength, I really think this one is a toss-up.

Chance of victory: 50%

Week 8 – vs. Denver

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The Ravens get two weeks to prepare for the Denver Broncos, who are likely to be in shambles by late-October. After one of the most tumultuous offseasons by any team, ever – one that saw them lose their head coach and franchise QB, and suspend their stud WR – most Broncos fans are about as happy with their team’s ownership as we O’s fans are with our baseball team’s. The bugaboo for the Ravens defense has been the big game QBs – Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger. Kyle Orton (with Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter to hand off to)? Not so much. This one’s in the bag.

Chance of victory: 80%

Week 9 – @ Cincinnati

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It bugs me a bit when the schedule-makers in the NFL have teams completely finish with one divisional opponent before playing another. Such is the case for the Ravens this year though, getting the Bengals twice before facing Pittsburgh. Like I said, Marvin’s Bunch will be competitive, but the Ravens simply outclass them in all aspects of the game. “The Jungle” won’t provide enough of a home field advantage to make much of a difference.

Chance of victory: 65%

Tomorrow: Weeks 10-13


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Blog & Tackle: Wild Card round predictions

Posted on 02 January 2009 by Chris Pika

Four games, four opinions: Here is a quick look at this weekend’s NFL Wild Card round games with my gut feel for how each will go. Three of the four games will be competitive, with the Atlanta at Arizona game the lone exception.

In order of play:

Atlanta at Arizona (Saturday, 4:30 pm): Arizona was absolutely putrid over the final five weeks of the season with blowout losses to Philadelphia, Minnesota and New England. Atlanta went into the toughest indoor facility in the league, Minnesota, and came out with a key victory late in the season. But, the Falcons lost in a shootout at New Orleans and got everything they could handle in a victory over St. Louis.

The key stat here is that Arizona tied for the most points among the NFC playoff teams (427 with the Giants), but have given up 426 – the most among NFC qualifiers. The opposing offenses are ranked No. 2 (Falcons) and No. 3 (Cardinals) in the conference. Atlanta’s defense, led by Pro Bowl snub John Abraham (16.5 sacks), and the offense, behind offensive rookie of the year Matt Ryan and tough runner Michael Turner, will chew up yards and clock to make quick work of the Cardinals. Prediction: Atlanta 34, Arizona 14.

Indianapolis at San Diego (Saturday, 8 pm): This is maybe the best matchup on paper of the four games. The Chargers stopped the Colts’ attempt at back-to-back titles with a 28-24 victory in the division round a year ago. Indy QB Peyton Manning is the league MVP for rallying the Colts for 3-4 to 12-4. San Diego has basically played playoff games the last four weeks just to qualify, as the Chargers went from 4-8 to 8-8 to win the AFC West over slumping Denver.

Don’t let the Chargers’ 52 points against Denver last week fool you. They were held to 20 and 16 points in the final two losses to Indy and Atlanta just before the four-game win streak. The Colts beat the Ravens handily before the streak, and New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego during it. Throw out the preseason-style win over Tennessee last week. The only tendency is that they really haven’t blown out much-weaker teams (Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville), which makes them suspect if a good opposing defense can slow them down. The big number is that Indy is +9 in turnover margin. Also, if San Diego has both LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates on the shelf or if either/both are limited, the Chargers offense won’t be able to keep up with the Colts. Prediction: Indianapolis 23, San Diego 20.

Baltimore at Miami (Sunday, 1 pm): Miami is underrated as a playoff opponent, as the Dolphins have steadily improved since the Ravens beat them in Week 7. Chad Pennington is a veteran quarterback, and probable NFL coach of the year Tony Sparano will have his group believing they can settle the earlier score. Baltimore is playing as well as any playoff team right now, and John Harbaugh’s veteran-laden team will take nothing for granted or get caught looking ahead at Tennessee.

The key in this game is the quarterbacks. Chad Pennington has had his career reborn after some up-and-down seasons in New York. Joe Flacco is playing like an older veteran, and he improved each week during the regular season. The only carryover from the first meeting to keep an eye on is that the Ravens were extremely disciplined against the “Wildcat” offense and didn’t allow the Dolphins to make much headway.

If the Ravens impressive run game is on track, Flacco can settle into a rhythm with Cam Cameron’s playbook, and move Baltimore along. If the Ravens have a second-half lead, the run game will take over to finish off the Dolphins. Miami has to bank on their amazing +17 turnover margin that led the league, hope Flacco regresses (nine of his 12 interceptions came against playoff teams) and that Pennington (seven INTs) doesn’t find Ed Reed and Co. with errant passes. This game will be much closer than many think. Prediction: Baltimore 24, Miami 21.

Philadelphia at Minnesota (4:30 pm): Somewhere along the way, Philadelphia re-discovered the magic formula and battled its way into the playoffs. Minnesota finally took a weaker-than-expected NFC North over Chicago. The Metrodome is the loudest indoor facility in the NFL, but the game might not be a sellout and there will be plenty of Philly fans in the house, which will negate some of that advantage.

Adrian Peterson will probably get his yards against the Eagles, but Philadelphia’s relentless pass rush will rattle Vikings’ QB Tavaris Jackson. Donovan McNabb has been hot with nine TD passes and just one interception in the last five games. The Eagles’ run game has four 130+ yard games in the last five outings. This will be a lower-than-expected scoring game for both clubs. Prediction: Philadelphia 21, Minnesota 17.

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