Tuesday, February 26, 2013

NFL Combine: The 40-yard Dash is Overrated

The 2013 NFL Combine in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium is in the books (thank goodness).

The annual four-day event brings together the top college prospects for the NFL draft––which is set to begin on Thursday April 25 this year––and gives scouts, head coaches and general managers their first live look at what they are in for come draft day.

It's always a huge event in the media, and usually dictates what a respective player's "draft stock" will look like heading into their college's Pro Day in March.

I wont get too in-depth right now because, frankly, I don't care. The NFL combine is just an excuse for analysts to rip a player apart or, occasionally, praise a player when in reality, his performance at the combine means nothing.
First off, players arrive Wednesday for orientation, tests, weigh-ins, physicals, meetings, measurements, interviews etc. etc. etc. The actual skills drills (QBs throw, receivers catch passes), timed events (e.g. 40-yard dash) and other events such as bench press don't begin until Saturday––they are televised on NFL Network from Saturday-Tuesday.

The most looked-at events are, perhaps, the 40-yard dash and the bench press.

This is where I have a problem: the 40-yard dash does not take in effect padding (they are simply dressed in shorts and a t-shirt), game speed and instincts of a player. And the bench press doesn't fully cover a player's strength and explosiveness. Now these are not the only drills that players take part in, but I chose to discuss them because they seem to attract the most attention.

Sure, speed kills and receivers, running backs and defensive backs need to be fast on their feet (doesn't hurt to have a quick linebacker, or defensive end either). But football is not a track race. Should the 40-yard dash really have this much of an effect on how these players are evaluated? No of course not.

You wanna know the fastest 40 times in combine history?

4.24: Chris Johnson (2008), Rondel Martinez (1999)
4.25: Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009)
4.28: Champ Bailey (1999), Jerome Mathis (2005), Jacoby Ford (2010)

Yeah, sure, Chris Johnson did run for 2,000 yards in 2009 and has nearly 7,000 career rushing yards in just five seasons with the Titans. But what did Rondel Martinez and Jerome Mathis do in the NFL? Nothing. Martinez was drafted in the 7th round by Atlanta and never saw a single snap, and Mathis was nothing more than a Houston return man and hasn't seen the field since 2007. Bailey is a future Hall of Fame corner and Ford still has a small window of opportunity to prove himself in Oakland, but this list of six players is proof that the 40-yard dash means nothing.
Lets stick to game film, and not put so much pressure on a solid combine performance deciding whether a player should go first round, fourth round, or seventh round.

So, Manti Te'o (poor combine performance as he ran just a 4.8 40-yard dash and struggled to dazzle the crowd), you may slip out of the first round, but your chance to shine will come once you lace up the pads for the first time in August.

Note to scouts: Calling a player "undersized" or "too slow" usually doesn't always guarantee a poor NFL career. Look up the names "Drew Brees," "Emmitt Smith" and "Ray Lewis" if you would like a few examples. Their careers have panned out just fine despite critics on draft day.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Televised 2013 NFL Combine Workouts Set to Begin Saturday Morning

The annual National Football League combine officially got underway on Wednesday in Indianapolis, but the televised workouts don't begin until tomorrow morning.

Be sure to tune in to NFL Network tomorrow for on-field workouts, as all 11 position groups will be participating in timing, stations, skill drills, measurements and medical exams. This year's draft is much different than last year's as it will revolve around the lineman and linebackers rather than offensive skill positions.

Don't you want to find out this year's Leon Sandcastle (below) before the draft in April?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Kurt Warner's Canton Enshrinement May Come Down to Just Two Games

As I'm re-watching A Football Life: Kurt Warner, an hour long NFL Network documentary on the career of Super Bowl champion quarterback Kurt Warner, I've decided to open the debate a couple of years early: is Kurt Warner Hall of Fame-bound?

Trust me, I've done a little research and this may be one of the toughest calls the Hall voters will be forced to make in recent history.

In his 12 professional seasons with the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals, Warner put up impressive numbers while receiving the league Most Valuable Player award twice and the Super Bowl MVP award following his one Super Bowl victory in 1999 while in St. Louis.

If it came down to his back-story, and how he got into the league, he'd be a first ballot Hall of Famer without a doubt. But unfortunately that's not how the voters make the decision to induct a player into the Hall in Canton, Ohio.

The former grocery bagger and Arena Football League standout went undrafted in 1994. The Green Bay Packers invited him to training camp that summer, but due to a crowded roster in terms of QBs (Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and Ty Detmer), Warner didn't even last until the start of the regular season.

It was following his release from the Packers that the Iowa-native resorted to stocking shelves in a grocery store and playing in the Arena Football League. While playing for the Iowa Barnstormers from 1995 until 1997, Warner threw for 183 touchdowns and over 10,000 yards (the AFL is a much more pass-oriented league). His jersey is retired and he was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in August of 2011.
Three productive seasons in the Arena League was enough to get a tryout with the Rams in 1997, and newly-hired head coach Dick Vermeil saw potential in Warner. Prior to his second season with the Rams, starter Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury during a preseason match-up. This paved the way for Warner to step in and lead the Rams to an NFC West division title and Super Bowl appearance.

Going 13-3 during the regular season and throwing for 4,300+ yards and 41 touchdowns, Warner won his first of two career Associated Press MVP awards and was the key component of the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that featured Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk and Warner's targets Isaac Bruce (future HOF wideout) and Torry Holt.

Receiving a first round bye in the '99 postseason, Warner's Rams got a Divisional round match-up with Minnesota and put up 49 points in the dome. A home Conference Championship win over the Bucs put the league's top scoring offense in the Super Bowl and Warner was the primary reason for this.

A late scoring drive for Warner's Rams against Tennessee in the Super Bowl was enough for the Rams to shock the world and come away with the franchise's first-ever Vince Lombardi trophy. Warner passed for a Super Bowl record 414 yards and two TDs, capturing the Super Bowl MVP award.
Two seasons later he found himself back in the same position––the Super Bowl. Falling a couple hundred yards shy of 5,000 yards (and 36 TDs) in the regular season, the Rams were once again the league's highest-scoring offense. Two straight home postseason victories over Green Bay and Philadelphia put the Rams up against the up-and-rising New England Patriots, led by a quarterback in a similar position as Warner from two seasons ago––Tom Brady.

Thanks to a game-winning scoring drive from Brady and the Pats, Warner fell just shy of a second championship, losing 20-17.

The next two seasons Warner battled numerous injuries and was basically forced out of St. Louis due to the up-and-coming signal caller Marc Bulger (put up 18-4 record during his first two seasons in STL, 2002-03).

It could be argued that Warner's legacy in St. Louis may be tarnished by the unproductive, injury-riddled final two seasons. During that time Warner went winless in his seven starts over those two seasons and the 32-year old was forced out by a younger guy who outperformed Kurt.

Two days after being released by the Rams in the off-season leading into the 2004 season, Warner signed a two-year deal with the Giants. His Giant career was short-lived, as he merely was there to help shape the rookie Eli Manning. In his nine starts that season, Warner was 5-4 and posted an 86.5 QB rating. It was thought that this was the end of the then-33-year old's career.

However, he was given one last chance by the Arizona Cardinals, signing a one-year, $4 million contract with them prior to 2005. It appeared as though he'd be doing exactly what he did in New York––mentoring a younger quarterback to take his spot. He did get a majority of the starts in his first season as a Cardinal, but the drafting of Matt Leinart in 2006 was a sign of what's to come for the Cardinals.
Warner started the season under center, but ended up starting just five games in '06 (1-5 record) and 11 games in '07 (5-6). It wasn't until the realization that Leinart wasn't likely to fully develop as the Cardinals starter that Warner received his one final shot at another championship: the improbable run of the 2008 Cardinals.

With the help from Pro Bowl wideouts Larry Fitzgerald (96 catches, 1,431 yards, 12 TD) and Anquan Boldin (89 catches, 1,038 yards, 11 TD), the Cardinal offense put up 30+ points on seven different occasions throughout the regular season, winning the NFC West with a 9-7 record. A huge underdog, much like he was throughout his 12-year career, Warner led the Cardinals to three consecutive playoff wins (30-24 over Atlanta, 33-13 over Carolina, 32-25 over Philadelphia) and a Super Bowl berth. The third of his career.

But, as the title of this article suggests, a heart-wrenching 27-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLVIII leaves Warner's career with a huge question mark.

Warner's career regular season record of 67-49 (9-4 in the postseason) is superb, but his career numbers leave him on the fence in terms of Hall of Fame-worthy:

116 starts, 65.5 comp %, 32,344 passing yards (29th all-time), 208 touchdowns (t-28th all-time), 128 interceptions, 93.7 QB rating, nine 4th-qtr comebacks, 14 game-winning drives.

It's tough to put a guy in the Hall of Fame based solely on just a handful of excellent seasons. The four-time Pro Bowler played just three complete seasons and had five seasons in which he posted a losing record as the team's starter.

His postseason numbers are a different story, and will certainly get the attention of voters:

13 starts, 9-4 record, 66.5 comp %, 3,952 passing yards (304.0/game), 31 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 102.8 QB rating; six games with 300+ yards, nine multi-TD games, four games with rating over 100.
The two MVP awards and one Vince Lombardi trophy don't appear enough to put him in as a lock at this point in time. However, had he been able to pull off a Super Bowl victory in 2001 and 2008, I think it'd be enough to put him in.

It's also tough not to put a three-time Super Bowl champ in the Hall. This is exactly why the Warner/HOF debate is so tragic, because it may come down to just two games. Games in which he played greatly (365 passing yards and 2 combined TDs vs. New England; 377 yards and 3 TDs vs. Pittsburgh), but was unable to come out on top due to simply being outplayed. The Rams and Cards were outscored by a combined seven points in those two big games in '01 and '08.

There's still plenty of time to debate this, but looking at everything in perspective, Warner may end up needing some generosity coming from voters to find himself inducted into Canton.

What do the readers think: Hall of Fame, or no Hall of Fame?

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Hitman: The Destructive Career of Bernard Pollard

Bernard "The Hitman" Pollard (his nickname will catch on soon enough) is now a Super Bowl champion after his Baltimore Ravens defeated the Niners. But I think it's safe to say that that isn't the way Pollard will be remembered.

Rather, he'll be remembered as his era's NFL hitman.

The 7-year strong safety has spent his time with three different teams, yet with each franchise he delivered devastating blows to opposing players leading to serious injury.

Pollard, 28, played two seasons of college ball at Purdue in '04 and '05. While there, he was dubbed the nickname "Bonecrusher" (you shouldn't have to ask why). During the 2005 season, Bonecrusher recorded 92 total tackles and picked off three passes.

Pollard hit the NFL after being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round (54th overall) in the 2006 draft. He didn't make a single start as a rookie, but in 2007 he started 15 games at strong safety, recording 90 total tackles, 1 sack and 2 interceptions.
It wasn't until the 2008 season, however, when he became widely known around the league. In the first quarter of the first game of the season against the New England Patriots Pollard hit quarterback Tom Brady in the knee. Brady was taken out, missed the rest of the game and it was later determined that Brady tore his ACL and would miss the entire 2008 campaign.

Since then there have been numerous additional cases of Pollard knocking players out of games, most notably New England players. Yes, you may also refer to Pollard as a "Patriot Killer."

Pollard left the Chiefs after three seasons, signing with the Houston Texans in 2009. His two best seasons came with Houston, as he recorded 100+ tackles in each of the two seasons in spent in Houston. He also totaled four interceptions, 4.0 sacks and four forced fumbles in '09 and '10.
In the 2009 season finale against, you guessed it, New England, Pollard was in on the play that led to a torn ACL from Wes Welker. Pollard made the tackle as Welker's leg buckled underneath of him. As a result, Welker was done for the postseason and the Patriots ended up being one-and-done with a 33-14 loss to Baltimore a week later.

The 2011 and 2012 seasons were spent with the Baltimore Ravens where, once again, Bernard killed more Patriots. He began to get noticed as a great player while with the Texans, which continued in his two-year stint in Baltimore, but his big hits and bone-crushing tackles continued as well.

Last postseason, in the AFC Championship against the Pats, Pollard was responsible for spraining tight end Rob Gronkowski's ankle on a tackle. Gronkowski ended up playing in Super Bowl XLVI, but was limited by his injured ankle and the Patriots lost.
This past season he recorded 98 total tackles, 2 sacks and an interception in his 13 starts. He was fined $7,875 by the league in October for a Week 7 unnecessary roughness penalty against the Texans and $15,250 on January 30 for a hit on Wes Welker in the AFC Championship game. But the hit on Stevan Ridley late in the Championship game is what drew the most criticism as it knocked Ridley unconscious.

In the past two seasons Pollard has played in all six of the Ravens' postseason games (5-1 in those games) and prior to 2012 his two-year deal was extended for three more seasons. So it looks as if we could see plenty more from The Hitman in the next couple of seasons in Baltimore.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lights Out: Flacco-Led Ravens Capture 2nd Super Bowl Title over San Francisco

Super Bowl XLVII was a tale of two halves. And by two halves, I mean pre-power outage and post-power outage.

This year's Super Bowl will certainly be a memorable one, and likely not because Ray Lewis went out with a second ring on his "last ride" or because Joe Flacco finally proved his worth and captured a Super Bowl MVP award.

It'll be memorable because of a 34 minute power outage that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans experienced two minutes into the third quarter. I'd like to think that Beyonce's powerful halftime performance had something to do with the outage, although commissioner Goodell has come out and stated that she was not the cause. At the same time, though, the league still is unsure of the cause...so we'll go with Beyonce blowing out a fuse. It sounds cool.

Leading 21-6 at the half, and then coming back out of the tunnel and witnessing Jacoby Jones return the second half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown had Baltimore fans going crazy––the stadium was at least half purple. The return was originally ruled a 109-yarder, but that was later changed to 108. Either way though, it's not only a Super Bowl record for longest return, but a postseason record.
Just minutes away from the infamous power outage at this point, Baltimore had a 28-6 lead and a jubilant crowd on their side. What could possibly go wrong? But just prior to a 3rd & 13 play from their own 40-yard line, half of the stadiums lights went out on the Niners.

Speculation rose, and the CBS analysts began thinking that the outage would benefit San Francisco the most as they'd get to slow the game down and kill Baltimore's momentum. Following the delay, quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an incomplete pass intended for backup tight end Delanie Walker, forcing an Andy Lee punt.

But following a short-living four-play drive from the Ravens, San Francisco got the ball back and managed to drive 80 yards on seven plays and Kaepernick capped the three-minute drive with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.

The atmosphere inside the dome had changed quite a bit at this time, and the Niners defense stepped up as well, forcing a three & out from Joe Flacco. A 32-yard return for Ted Ginn Jr. off a Sam Koch punt put the ball at Baltimore's 20-yard line. Two plays later running back Frank Gore put the ball in the end zone for the Niners.

Baltimore's offense hadn't gotten anything going on its previous two drives of the quarter, and this time after catching a swing pass from Flacco, running back Ray Rice fumbled the ball deep in his own territory. San Francisco cornerback Tarell Brown both forced and recovered the ball at the BAL 24.
Despite the great field position, Baltimore's defense stepped up and forced a field goal try from 34-yards out. Splitting the uprights, the score was now 28-23 Baltimore. In just over four minutes of play, the Niners had put up 17 points with 3:14 to play in the third quarter.

Baltimore had begun to put the ball on the ground, and on the following drive ran the ball seven times to four passing plays on the 11-play scoring drive which ended with a Justin Tucker 19-yard field goal. On a 3rd & 1 play from San Francisco's 1-yard line, there was a borderline no-call in which Isaac Sopoaga hit Flacco out of bounds.

Some wanted a roughing the passer call, others wanted a late hit. But Flacco was on the run so roughing the passer could not be called since he was then considered a runner. And I thought Sopoaga's momentum took him into Flacco and that he wasn't far enough out of bounds to warrant a flag. So personally I thought it was the right no-call, because it could have made the difference in the game. In a Super Bowl, don't you want the players to make or break the game? I thought so.

So with one of many controversial calls aside, Baltimore took the three points and still held the lead early into the fourth quarter, 31-23. With the way Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco offense had been moving the ball in the second half, however, Baltimore knew an 8-point lead wasn't safe. After a LaMichael James 28-yard kickoff return, Kaepernick got to work. A 32-yard pass to the legendary Randy Moss (though he's clearly past his prime) was the key play of the five-play scoring drive, because three plays later Kaepernick managed to run the ball in from 15 yards out for a touchdown––longest TD run for a quarterback in Super Bowl history.
Unfortunately the two-point conversion failed, so San Francisco still found themselves down two points with 10 minutes to play.

During Baltimore's ensuing 9-play drive, penalties were key for the Niners' defense and proved costly. Facing a 3rd & 9 early in the drive, San Francisco was looking to stop Flacco on a three and out but defensive back Chris Culliver was flagged for a defensive PI on wideout Torrey Smith, giving Baltimore an automatic first down and another chance to put points on the board. Baltimore continued to slowly chip away at the Niner defense, and once again the Niners were penalized on an offsides penalty on 3rd & 7. The five-yard penalty gave BAL a more doable 3rd & 2 and, even though they still failed to convert on the play, the penalty gave Tucker a more manageable 38-yard field goal.

The drive took over five minutes of game clock, but 4:19 was still plenty to work with for the San Francisco offense. Starting at their own 20, the Niners chipped away at Baltimore and drove all the way down to the BAL 5-yard line while trailing by five. Three consecutive incomplete passes, all intended for Michael Crabtree, gave the ball up on downs with under two minutes to play. The final play of that sequence was once again controversial.

It appeared as though Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith had held onto Crabtree with the ball in the air. Again, no flag thrown and the drive was over. Considering that, while being held, Crabtree pushed Smith to the ground I believe the officials saw that and donned the play as two guys getting tangled up. I don't believe that they had actually gotten "tangled up," but I certainly agree with the no-call. Both guys had been pushing each other, so it's tough to call defensive holding when one player is as guilty as the other. Gotta just let these guys play when we're at the biggest stage of them all.
But just out of curiosity, I can't be the only one puzzled by the play-calling, right? Kaepernick and Frank Gore's legs were at Jim Harbaugh's disposal, and he decides to go through the air on three straight plays? There was plenty of time left on the clock and the Niners still had one timeout. Why not try to pound the ball in from five yards out? Confusing.

But either way, Baltimore was stopped on a three and out and forced to punt. Backed up in their own territory and worried about Ginn Jr. returning a short punt for a touchdown, the Ravens made the decision to take a safety and free kick it back to the Niners. Smart decision. Punter Sam Koch held onto the ball for as long as possible before running into the end zone for a safety. It's now 34-31 Baltimore and the Niners have just :04 left on the clock.

Ginn's 31-yard return wasn't enough for a touchdown, clearly, and the Ravens began its celebration, winning the franchise's 2nd Super Bowl title 12 years after celebrating its first.

I find it funny that people are trying to call for a conspiracy theory when talking about the power going out. Yes, the Niners may have picked up momentum and nearly successfully mounted the best comeback in Super Bowl history. But maybe if you had actually watched football this season you'd understand that the 49ers have been a second half team all season long:

Under Kaepernick (10 starts including postseason/SB)

1st half: 121 points (12.1/game)
2nd half: 167 points (16.7/game)

Under Kaepernick (3 starts in postseason/SB)

1st half: 44 (14.6/game)
2nd half: 60 (20/game)

In Super Bowl vs. Ravens

1st half: 6
2nd half: 25

At the biggest stage, it's not often you see a team completely buckle in like the Niners did in the first half, so I knew they'd put some points on the board. Did I know they'd outscore Baltimore 25-13 in the second half? No not really. But it's a good thing they did, because this game may end up going down in the top 10 for best Super Bowls.

Joe Flacco, as I predicted prior to the game, captured the Most Valuable Player award. He put up one of the most prolific single-season postseasons in league history, finishing with a near-perfect statline:

73/126, 58 comp %, 1,140 yards (285 per game), 11 TD, 0 INT, 117.2 rating (106.2+ rating in each of his four starts)
Flacco's performance tied both Joe Montana and Kurt Warner for most touchdowns in a single postseason, and he also tied Montana for the record of most touchdowns without an interception in a complete season. Flacco and Steve Young are now tied for third-place all-time with a 117.2 rating in a single-postseason (only counts Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks).

It's fair to say that Flacco has deserved a long-time contract from Baltimore after this season. His agent has already come out and say that he deserves to be the highest-paid quarterback. I certainly don't agree with this statement, but there's no doubt he deserves a big-time contract. Either way, there's a chance that the Ravens may use the franchise tag on Flacco this season so that they have more time to hash out a deal.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday: Previewing the Ravens/Niners Match-up

Today is finally the day. We're just about 3 1/2 hours away from kick-off of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, and the All-Out Blitz is just now making its SB pick public.

I tried not to give in to the two-week-long hoopla surrounding the city of New Orleans, and watched a limited amount of coverage of the big game ever since the major networks such as ESPN and NFL Network arrived in New Orleans.

It's all hype. That's all it is.

I wanted to be able to quickly discuss some of the headlines without beating a dead horse for two weeks. So now that we're only a couple hours away, I thought it'd be a nice time to give my take on the headlines, and the match-up itself.

Super Bowl XLVII Headlines:

*Harbaugh brothers

This is one of the multiple obvious headlines, so I'll make it quick. Yes, it's the first time that two brothers have ever faced off in the Super Bowl. And yes they have faced each other one time before as head coaches––last Thanksgiving. John got the best of his little brother Jim as the Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6 at home.

Fans are deeming this one the "Harbowl" or the "Harbaugh Bowl." Call it whatever you want, but I think I'll just stick to calling it by it's actual name. The Super Bowl.
*Ray Lewis' last ride

Win or lose, 17-year veteran linebacker Ray Lewis is hanging up his cleats for a microphone following this evening's game. He won a Super Bowl MVP trophy early in his career, so who knows maybe he'll finish his career with one as well. One thing is for sure, Kaepernick better watch out for No. 52 tonight.

*Alex Smith is benched for Colin Kaepernick and the young 25-year old's 10th career start is a Super Bowl

Let's face it, Colin looks like a 14-year old kid out of uniform. But once he steps onto that field he puts fear in opposing defenses. Well not exactly the kind of fear that Lewis and SF linebacker Patrick Willis puts in opposing offenses. But it's still a form of fear. Kaepernick ran the pistol offense just as well as RGIII and Russell Wilson did this season, and his 105.9 QB rating in two postseason games shows he's just as effective through the air.

*Baltimore defense vs. San Francisco defense

Both of the defenses will be facing different challenges. San Francisco will need to put pressure on Joe Flacco and force mistakes (which they will then need to capitalize on), while Baltimore will be focused on keeping Kaepernick in the pocket. Unfortunately for both sides, doing so doesn't necessarily mean success.

Flacco has recently thrived under pressure over the last few games, while Kaepernick has proven effective through the air and completed nearly 80% of his pass attempts and ran the ball just two times in a victory over Atlanta. San Francisco's overall defense was ranked No. 2 during the regular season, Baltimore's No. 12, but today brings completely different challenges.
*Joe Flacco's brilliant postseason success

Baltimore's Flacco has garnered quite a few critics over the years, including myself. But in the midst of an expiring contract following this season, he's stepped his game up a few notches––especially in his three postseason games. Normally the success of this offense would be based on the amount of touches and the effectiveness of Ray Rice, but as of late he's been coming out of the backfield and catching passes more often than he's been running the ball.

This may also have to do with the success of backup running back Bernard Pierce. But either way, Flacco has played lights out with the ball in his hands. Ever since the firing of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, Flacco has been trusted with the offense. With 8 TDs and 0 interceptions in his three postseason games this season, Flacco is now just three touchdowns away from surpassing Joe Montana for most in a single postseason. Interesting.

The Game

Finally we've gotten to the actual game and the match-ups, and frankly this has to be the potential to be one of the best Super Bowls in years. And that's saying a lot considering the Super Bowls recently.

All eyes will undoubtedly be on Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick and Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis. With two game-changing running backs in the backfield––Ray Rice and Frank Gore––one would think that both offenses will come out and run early and often to establish a heavy-dose on the ground. I have a feeling that that wont be the case tonight, however. The game will come down to the signal callers, and whichever plays a mistake-free game will come out winners.

San Francisco has a top 3 run defense, so why wouldn't offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell want to come out of the tunnel and put the ball right in Flacco's hands from the start. He's proven over the last month that he's ready to handle the reins of the offense. Lining Torrey Smith out wide and letting him test out free saftey Dashon Goldson's range is what I would do early. Rice is great coming out of the backfield and catching passes, but I believe Pierce will end up being a more effective option at running back tonight as well.
As for San Francisco's offense, Kaepernick will need to keep the ball in his hands a little more often this time around. With 16 rushing attempts in a 45-31 Divisional round shellacking of the Packers, why wouldn't you let the young kid spread the field out and use his legs to tire out Baltimore's defense. At this point, I think that's the best option they have. Baltimore's defense shut down future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in two consecutive games, but they are both pocket passers.

Completely different ball game here.

Baltimore's defense has only faced one team that uses the pistol offense to its advantage this season, and that was in a 31-28 overtime loss to Washington. Allowing 268 passing yards and 179 rushing yards––423 total yards––Baltimore's defense clearly struggled, and they only forced one Washington turnover.

Bottom line: Both teams have great defenses, capable rushing offenses and great quarterbacks. But Flacco has been seemingly unstoppable and has limited all mistakes, which is something that used to haunt him. Baltimore has had an extra week to prepare for Kaepernick's style of play and have great game film from a December game in which Seattle exposed San Francisco's offense (won 42-13 two days before Christmas).

So here it goes, Baltimore pulls one out and wins its second Super Bowl in franchise history...12 years following its first one.

Final score: Baltimore 24, San Francisco 21

MVP: Joe Flacco (it feels weird saying that).

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Hall of Fame Class of 2013: Seven More Set to be Enshrined in August

Before I get down to my Super Bowl prediction for tonight's big game, I thought I'd take the time to honor the five modern-era and two senior candidates who were elected to join the Hall of Fame in August 2013.

Of the 17 finalists, only seven were selected. The rest are forced to wait another year. Here is your 2013 class:

Larry Allen––Dallas, San Francisco G

Allen was well-known as the league's strongest man, reportedly bench pressing 700 pounds during the off-season in the early 2000s. For a 325 pound man, he was pretty quick coming off the corner too. As a guard you have to be able to move quickly when pulling for a running back and, despite his extra baggage, Allen was pretty damn good at that.

Brute strength was probably Allen's strongest point (no pun intended), but his consistency throughout his 14-year career didn't hurt his Hall of Fame case either. He played 12 seasons in Dallas and then went on to make his 11th and final Pro Bowl appearance during his final two seasons in the league with the Niners. He didn't miss many games, starting 10 complete seasons and finishing his career with 197 starts at guard.

In his first year of eligibility, Allen didn't have much trouble pushing his way through the doors at Canton. But that's to be expected from a big guy like Larry, right?
Cris Carter––Minnesota, Philadelphia, Miami WR

Carter's been waiting a long time for this day. After being for five consecutive years, the 16-year veteran wideout has finally received the call from Canton. Currently top 10 in all three major receiving statistic categories and top 4 in career receptions and touchdowns, Carter has paid his dues and is the most-deserving wideout of the remaining two receivers who were finalists this year (Tim Brown, Andre Reed).

The eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro recorded eight consecutive 1,000 yard seasons with the Vikings from 1993-2000. Had he not played alongside the second-best receiver this league has ever seen (Randy Moss) for four seasons out of his career, who knows what Carter's numbers would look like now. He wasn't the fastest or the flashiest, but he used his large frame (6-foot-3, 202 lbs.) to his advantage and racked up 130 touchdown receptions––behind only Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens on the all-time list.

He still holds Minnesota's franchise records for career receptions (1,004), yards (12,383) and touchdowns (110) and his No. 80 jersey is retired by the team.
Warren Sapp––Tampa Bay, Oakland DT

As Allen did, Sapp also managed to push through the Canton doors on his first year of eligibility. I'm sure that wasn't very difficult for him either considering the amount of offensive lineman he dominated during his playing days.

Sapp finished his 13-year career with seven Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring as a member of one of the top defenses this league has ever seen (2002 Buccaneers). Also over his 13 years, nine in Tampa and four in Oakland, Sapp recorded four seasons with double-digit sack totals. He's currently 34th on the all-time list and just second among primary defensive tackles (John Randle).

Over 500 combined tackles, 96.5 sacks, four interceptions and 19 forced fumbles coming from a defensive tackle is pretty impressive. But it's the simple fact that opposing offenses had to base its game plan completely around Sapp that puts him over the top and into Canton so quickly.
Jonathan Ogden––Baltimore OT

It's been a great weekend for Baltimore. Not only are they in the Super Bowl, but they are also able to celebrate the franchise's first real Hall of Fame member. Ogden was an original Raven, drafted prior to the 1996 season, and was a Raven throughout his entire 12-year career. He made the Pro Bowl every season other than his rookie campaign in which he started just 11 games at guard.

Starting in 1997 Ogden made the move to left tackle and went on to spend the next decade protecting his quarterback's blindside. With a huge 6'9"/340 pound frame and quick hands, Ogden solidified himself as his era's top offensive tackle.

The four-time First Team All Pro is one of three inductees being enshrined in his first year of eligibility.
Bill Parcells––New York, New England, Dallas HC

Parcells finally makes it over the top, being voted into the Hall on his fourth try. The only non-player to be inducted this year, Parcells beat out owners Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and Art Modell (it's not usually likely to have multiple non-players voted in the same year).

Coaching four different teams: both New York teams, Patriots and Cowboys, Parcells became the first person to coach four different teams to the postseason. Perhaps best-known for leading the New York Giants to Super Bowl victories in 1986 and 1990, the 71-year old New Jersey native posted a career 172-130-1 regular season mark with an 11-8 postseason record.

Some of Parcells' past assistants include Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton, Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini, Tony Sparano and Romeo Crennel, all of which have had an NFL head coaching gig at some point in their respective careers.
Senior Inductees

Curley Culp––Kansas City, Houston, Detroit DT/NT

Playing 14 seasons with the Chiefs, Oilers and Lions from 1968-1981, the six-time Pro Bowler was the anchor of his respective defense for well over a decade. During the days of a much rougher game and a game dominated by the running game, that's saying a lot.

Helping the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory in 1970, Culp becomes the fifth player from that team to be inducted.

Dave Robinson––Green Bay, Washington LB

Robinson managed just three Pro Bowl appearances during his 12 seasons from 1963-1974 but that wasn't necessarily the best way to gauge a player's impact back then. One of the franchise's best linebackers, Robinson was named to the 1960s All-Decade team and retired with 27 career interceptions––as a linebacker in a run-oriented league.

He was an elusive player and played alongside greats Ray Nitschke and Lee Roy Caffey, winning Super Bowls I and II under Vince Lombardi.

It took him nearly 40 years to get recognized by the Hall, but the now 71-year old is finally in and can join former teammate Nitschke in celebration.
Will Have to Wait Another Year...

Jerome Bettis––LA/STL, Steelers RB

For the third consecutive year, Jerome "The Bus" Bettis will be forced to wait it out after coming up just shy of receiving a call. The sixth all-time leading rusher, with over 13,000 career yards, should be getting a call next year I'm thinking.

Tim Brown/Andre Reed––WRs

Before this year Carter was waiting alongside these two guys, who are probably sweating a bit now. There are more and more worthy guys becoming eligible, so these next couple of years will be vital for Brown and Reed to squeeze their way through.

Michael Strahan––New York Giants DE

This was only his first year of eligibility, so don't expect Strahan to be waiting for very long. The Super Bowl champion and single-season sack record holder is still fifth on the all-time sack list (141.5).

Willie Roaf––New Orleans, Kansas City G

Roaf was the epitome of consistency throughout his 13-year career, and I'm a tad surprised that the 11-time Pro Bowler wasn't elected in with fellow O-liners Ogden and Allen this year.

John Lynch––Tampa Bay, Denver SS

Again, first year of eligibility. He was best-known for his hard-hitting, but Lynch was a pretty smart player as well. If he does get in in the future, it'll likely be his 2002 Super Bowl ring and spot on one of the top five defenses in history that puts the nine-time Pro Bowler over the top.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr./Art Modell––owners

DeBartolo Jr. is much more deserving than Modell, in my opinion. So perhaps DeBartolo will find a way in next year and leave Modell on the outside by himself.

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

NFL Honors: 2012 Season All But Complete

Saturday night, less than 24 hours before Super Bowl XLVII was set to kick-off in New Orleans, the rest of the National Football League gathered to hand out the 2012 regular season awards and celebrate the brilliant season.

The 2nd annual NFL Honors, hosted by actor Alec Baldwin again this year, was once again the life of the party, handing out zingers all over the place. From Roger Goodell to Christian Ponder to Archie Manning to Ndamukong Suh to Jim Brown, Baldwin didn't play favorites and appeared to be roasting the entire league––current and past.

All in good fun, of course.

So though we were made aware of the award winners prior to the 9 p.m. (eastern time) airing of the two-hour long show, it was worth every minute watching Baldwin in action as the players, coaches and family/friends of the players gathered for the celebration in New Orleans.

Here's a rundown of all of the awards and All-Out Blitz's take on each one:

Most Valuable Player––Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings RB

Though it was the last trophy awarded Saturday, I'll put this one first because it's clearly the most coveted award given. Peterson single-handedly led the Vikings to the postseason following a 2,097 rushing yard performance, second-most in a single-season in NFL history and just nine yards short of surpassing Eric Dickerson's record.

Personally I'm a bit surprised the voters didn't hand the award to a quarterback (Manning, Brady, Griffin III, etc.), but this was definitely the correct choice in 2012 MVPs.
Offensive Player of the Year––Adrian Peterson

Ah, yes. Peterson took this one too. I always liked it when the MVP and the OPOY awards were handed to different players for the simple idea of keeping parity within the league. But obviously Peterson was the most deserving considering he was also the MVP of the regular season.

With the league becoming more and more of a passing league, we may not see too many more single-season performances similar to Peterson's 2012 season in quite a while. Enjoy it while you can, folks.

Defensive Player of the Year––J.J. Watt, Houston Texans DE

There were multiple players that were very deserving of this award, most of which were also second-year players like Watt. Whether it was Watt, Aldon Smith of the Niners or Von Miller of the Broncos, all three second-year pass rushers are equally as deserving.

Watt finished with 20.5 sacks, most in the NFL and just 2.5 away from breaking Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22.5. Watt and his huge hands also led the league in passes defensed and a category that I like to call "explosions created." It's not an official stat, but it should be. Watt is by far the most disruptive pass rusher in the game today, and he's only just getting started.
Offensive Rookie of the Year––Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins QB

Again, not surprised by who won, but there were also plenty of great candidates in this category as well. Griffin battled multiple injuries throughout the season (concussion and a torn ACL in the postseason), and though the awards aren't based on postseason performance, Griffin still likely got credit for his postseason heroics despite the loss to Seattle....plus, if they were based on postseason performance don't you think Russell Wilson would have come out the winner?

Griffin and his rookie backfield teammate, RB Alfred Morris (also up for the award), built a viable one-two punch coming out of the pistol, and RGIII was both a threat with his arm and his legs. Unbelievable season for a great talent, it's just a shame that his season had to end the way it did.

Defensive Rookie of the Year––Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers LB

My off-season DROY pick, would ya look at that! Kuechly appeared to have almost been overlooked, likely based on the team he plays for. Kuechly led the league in combined tackles, with 164 (103 solo) and added 8 passes defensed, 2 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries in Carolina.

Though he was never flashy throughout his rookie campaign, the 21-year old rookie out of Boston College was the most productive defender out there. And he did it quietly. No trash talk necessary. Perhaps that's why I like him so much?
Comeback Player of the Year––Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos QB

This was a no-brainer to me. There has been a lot of talk about whether Manning or Peterson are more deserving of this award, and there's no doubt it's Peyton. Sure, Peterson had his best season to date and is the MVP, but Manning went from missing the entire 2011 season to being an MVP candidate. Peterson, on the other hand, still fell just 30 yards shy of 1,000 yards and ran for 12 TDs in his 12 starts.

His 4.7 yards per carry average still looks pretty solid despite tearing a shortened season due to his torn ACL and MCL. Peyton, on the other hand, was completely out of action for an entire year and underwent four neck surgeries and what did he do? Oh, just threw for 4,659 yards, 37 TDs and a 13-3 record on his way to a 12th career Pro Bowl appearance. Yeah, I think Peyton had the best comeback season...

Coach of the Year––Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts

Arians became the first interim head coach to ever win the Associated Press Coach of the Year award. Filling in for head coach Chuck Pagano after he was diagnosed with leukemia in September, Arians went 9-3 during his 12 games as the head coach of the Colts. Under rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, the Arians-led Colts went to the postseason despite being without the newly-named head coach.

The cool thing about this is that Pagano finished 2nd in the Coach of the Year voting, even though he coached just four games and went 2-2 during those games...and then was one-and-done in the postseason. One of the best stories of the 2012 season, no doubt.
My Off-season Predictions

Lets see how accurate my August predictions (for these same awards) ended up being:

MVP: Arian Foster, Texans
Offensive POY: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Defensive POY: Patrick Willis, Niners
Offensive ROY: Justin Blackmon, Jaguars (Not even close)
Defensive ROY: Whitney Mercilus, Texans (Again, not even close)
Coach of the Year: Gary Kubiak, Texans (At least they won the division..)

A little Texan-heavy, eh?? Oh well, I came close on a couple right? Anyways, at least all of the awards were handed out to the correct guys. There's only one thing left to do, and that's to play the Super Bowl!

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Remember the Name: Meet 10-year old Quarterback Daron Bryden

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with a young aspring quarterback, 10-year old Daron Bryden of Connecticut. Daron and his father Craig Bryden work hard to improve and perfect his craft year-round and he's shown vast improvement since he began playing the sport at the age of six.

Daron conducted this interview via phone while on his way to work out with his father and his receivers:

All-Out Blitz: Your team, the Manchester Sentinals, finished with an 8-2 record and fell just short of the Junior PeeWee championship.  How did this season compare to previous seasons?

Daron Bryden: I think I took this season more seriously. I think it was good compared to other seasons, because I get better each year.

AOB: You train pretty much year-round. How often do you train, and what is a typical training day for you?

DB: I train five times a week during the summer and as much as I can during the winter. Me and my dad do drills and work on my footwork. I like training because I can get better every day.

AOB: What do you find most difficult when it comes to playing the position?

DB: I find it really hard to lose. I don't really like losing.
AOB: You seem to roll out and throw on the run a lot. Is that something you've been working on, or does that come natural to you?

DB: I've been working on my roll out during training. I have QB coaches that have taught me footwork and how to roll out, so I've been getting better at it.

AOB: Do you model your game after any professional or college quarterbacks?

DB: Yes, I model it after Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. I do after Ben because I think he's really good, and my QB coach (Todd Krueger) says my throwing mechanics are very similar to Tom Brady's.

AOB: How do you approach each game? Do you have any superstitions or pre-game rituals?

DB: Me and my dad always warm-up before every game, and I also warm up with my receivers. Sometimes, if it's a big game, I'll go on the field before right the game to warm-up my arm.

AOB: Do you play any other sports?

DB: Yes. I also play basketball. I used to play baseball but then it started messing up my throwing mechanics for football, so now it's just football and basketball.

AOB: What's your favorite football memory?

DB: Probably this year. We went to the championship and, even though we lost, it was really exciting. I came really close to 1,000 passing yards, I was only a couple away. I think I've been getting better every year.
AOB: What are your thoughts on the Super Bowl match-up? Are you cheering for a certain team?

DB: None of them (Ravens or 49ers) are my favorite team, but I don't know I kinda want the 49ers to win.

After the 10-minute interview one thing was clear: Daron is a typical 10-year old with a huge passion for football and the work ethic needed to succeed. Driven behind a supporting family, including his father Craig who is very avid in keeping track of Daron's accomplishments and taking note of his career, Daron has a special talent.

With about four years of experience under his belt, Daron stated that he feels he's been improving each season. After being able to throw a football about 25 yards last year, Daron says he can now throw an accurate 30-yard pass.

He's been accumulating quite a following as well. Daron has come across many current and former professional players and coaches, as well as college. Among the guys Daron mentioned during the interview are Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and even famous rapper/entrepreneur/actor LL Cool J. Daron said both guys had seen his Youtube videos and complimented his skill.

Former quarterback Kordell Stewart (Steelers, Bears, Ravens) is also a huge fan of Daron's, and they have been in contact via Twitter. Stewart, nicknamed "Slash" during his early days because he also played a little wide receiver, may even be one of Daron's biggest fans (aside from his family, of course).

It's not often you come across a 10-year old with the kind of character, drive and passion that Daron has expressed. So be sure to takes notes, ladies and gentleman.

Daron has set personal goals for himself:

*Throw for over 1,400 yards and 20 TDs in the fall
*Play in the Junior Rank 6th grade All-American Game in January 2014.

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If you wish to follow Daron and his career to find out if he accomplishes his goals next fall and winter, I have included information for both his Twitter and Youtube pages as well as his father's Twitter and Blogspot pages below:

Daron Bryden:

Mr. Craig Bryden:

Note: We do not own the above photos/videos. Images courtesy of the Bryden family and found via Google. No copyright infringement intended.