Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC East

Here we go! With a little over a week until kickoff 2012, we're going to start our annual NFL previews today. As always, we'll start in the AFC East, and finish up with the NFC West, reviewing key players for each team and discussing where we believe each team will finish.


1st Place, New England Patriots: 12-4

Key Offensive Players- QB Tom Brady, TE Ron Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Wes Welker, WR Brandon Lloyd

Defense- LB Dont'e Hightower, DE Chandler Jones (R), CB Kyle Arrington, LB Jered Mayo

The Patriots get the luxury of playing in one of footballs worst divisions in 2012, and they'll need all the advantages they can get because they are a flawed team. Of course, as long as Tom Brady stays upright, the Pats will have one of the most explosive attacks in the game, but they're extremely one-dimensional and will need someone to take over in the backfield this year for Benjarvus Green-Ellis. Their defense should be a little better than last years bunch, but they do still have major questions in the secondary, at safety especially. Still, they return much of the same roster that took them to the Super Bowl in February, so they're still a force to be reckoned with.

2nd Place, New York Jets: 8-8

Offense: QB Mark Sanchez, QB Tim Tebow, RB Shonn Green, WR Santonio Holmes, T D'Brickashaw Ferguson

Defense: LB Calvin Pace, LB David Harris, CB Darrelle Revis, CB Antonio Cromartie, S LaRon Landry, S Yeremiah Bell

The Jets still have their very potent defense which is especially adept at stopping the pass. Their problem lies on offense, and it has really ever since they got Mark Sanchez. This year, they have another option in Tim Tebow, who may actually be a better fit with this particular offense, but it will again be Sanchez's job going in. Their running game has to improve big time on last year, and they need Sanchez to play with confidence, otherwise they could try to use the 2011 Bronco recipe of Tebow, a lot of running and defense. I think they'll be right around .500, but nowhere near ready to compete with the Pats.

3rd Place, Buffalo Bills: 7-9

Offense: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Fred Jackson, WR Stevie Johnson, T Cordy Glenn (R)

Defense: DE Mario Williams, DT Marcell Dareous, LB Nick Barnett, CB Stephon Gillmore (R), S George Wilson

The Bills have an improving defensive front, and added a premiere cover man in Stephon Gillmore with their top pick in the draft. They also added Mario Williams to their D-Line, to play next to the "Crimson Elephant", Marcell Dareous. That part of the team is certainly on the rise, but their offense will need to get some breakout seasons, especially in the QB and WR department, and they absolutely need Fred Jackson to stay healthy the whole season. The only credible wideout they have is Stevie Johnson, and he gains most of the attention from opposing DB's, so they need another option or two to emerge to balance out the attack.  

4th Place, Miami Dolphins: 2-14

Offense: QB Ryan Tannehill (R), RB Reggie Bush, WR Davone Bess, T Jonathan Martin, C Mike Pouncey

Defense: DE Cameron Wake, LB Kevin Burnett, LB Karlos Dansby, CB Richard Marshall

This years Dolphins really resemble an expansion team, and their record should reflect that. They have a rookie QB throwing to a well below average receiving corps. They do have some nice backs in Bush and Daniel Thomas, but unfortunately those guys won't do much good when the team is battling back in so many games. They do have one of the best young pass-rushers in the game in Cameron Wake but outside of him, there aren't many standouts on that defense either.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

49ers Dress Rehearsal Unimpressive

The 49ers were able to go into Denver and pull out the victory, thanks in large part to five David Akers field goals, but it was hardly a win for the 49ers first unit.

The Niners offense again looked stagnant vs. the Broncos' D, as the offensive line really had a tough time keeping people off Alex Smith and opening up running lanes for the halfbacks. Really the only play the first string offense can be happy about was the TD pass from Smith to Vernon Davis that put the 49ers on the board. It was a nice route by Davis and an excellent read by Smith, but that play doesn't likely go for 6 if the Bronco defender would have stayed on Davis instead of shadowing towards the middle of the field. Other than that, the 49ers passing attack was very similar to what we saw over the first two preseason games, extremely conservative. Most Smith's looks were little 5-10 yard routes as Harbough apparently didn't want to expose too much. They did take a few shots down field to Moss, but he had about 3-4 Broncos around him every time Smith dropped back. On the other side of the ball though, the Broncos had no such trouble moving on the Niners defense with Manning throwing 2 TD tosses vs. the first unit.

One big difference between this one and the first two preseason games was that the 49ers failed to get their running game opened up early. Again, this falls in line with Harbough not wanting to show his hand in practice games, but I was a little surprised to see Frank Gore get just 2 carries in this one. The third preseason game is usually the game in which coaches will treat the first half much like a regular season game, just to get a judge on where the team stands. However, Harbough went the complete opposite of that. I do understand it to an extent, but I don't see any reason why Gore wasn't given 5-6 carries early on just to get him some game action. Frank has expressed some frustration this preseason because he's not been given a lot of carries and he's really been unimpressive with the ones he has gotten. His first run of the preseason was a solid one, but 2 runs for -4 yards probably wasn't what he had in mind for his final tune-up. They do have one last exhibition game before their September 9th opener, but it's highly doubtful any of the 49ers starters see any time with the caution their coaching staff has been using.

Monday, August 20, 2012

49ers Back-Step vs. Texans

San Francisco had a pretty good, tidy first preseason game vs. the Vikings at home, but they didn't fair nearly as well in Houston over the weekend.

The 49ers struggled to generate any offense vs. the strong defense of the Texans, and looked a lot like the pre-2011 49er teams because of it. Alex Smith, albeit a small sample size, didn't look nearly as crisp as he did in game one vs. the Vikings. 49ers' starting QB was 5-9 for 49 yards but was sacked 2 times and failed to spark the Niners offense. Frank Gore also got his first reps of the preseason in the contest, but only stuck around for 4 carries, which he collected 19 yards on before giving way to Hunter and Jacobs. Really the only good thing that came out of the first-team offense on Saturday was they got out of the game with everyone in tact, which looked a bit iffy after Brandon Jacobs was carted off the field in the first quarter. The Niners' new short yardage back was helped off the field after tweaking his leg, then had to ride the cart into the locker room where luckily, x-rays and MRI's revealed no major damage. This left the bulk of the carries for Kendal Hunter with the first team offense, and once again the speedy back put up some nice numbers. Hunter rushed for 46 yards on just 6 carries and looks like he's in mid-season form already.

The 49ers running game wasn't the issue coming into this game though, it was how these new receivers would fit in with Alex Smith and the 49ers offense, and so far we haven't seen much of anything on that front. Smith did connect with Randy Moss on a few short passes and hit Michael Crabtree for a minimal gain and that was about it for Smith. I said at the start of the preseason that a big key for the 49ers in my mind would be establishing their aerial attack early on, with the first team out on the field, but instead Harbough has been playing it extremely conservative. We haven't really seen Alex Smith take any shots down-field yet, and that has to change in this crucial, upcoming third preseason matchup. This is the one where the first unit will likely stay out there through halftime to start the third quarter. However, if the 49ers are unable to establish their passing attack, we may see them take the fourth preseason game a little more seriously.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Surviving Without Melky

The Giants ran into a double-dose of bad luck Wednesday as the news of Melky Cabrera's suspension came down just before the Giants lost their series with Washington.

Melky Suspended for Season
Melky Cabrera, who was quickly becoming huge fan favorite around the Bay Area, just gave Giants fans a sucker punch to the gut. The '12 All-Star MVP was suspended the mandatory 50-games for violating the MLB drug policy by taking a Testosterone-based supplement. Once again the Giants are left shorthanded and without one of their lineup's cornerstones. Whether it's been suspensions like with Mota and Cabrera season, or injuries like with Wilson and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants just couldn't seem to get their A-team out on the field all together this season. They had the one game with Pence, Panda, Cabrera and Posey all in the lineup together and the offense looked completely rejuvinated. Turn the page to Wednesday's game, and you saw a 180-degree turnaround....
Rest of Article Here!

Monday, August 13, 2012

49ers/Vikings Recap

Over the weekend, the 49ers squared off with the Minnesota Vikings for their first preseason game of the summer at Candlestick Park, and coaches have to be pleased with the results.

The 49ers sat a lot of their primary offensive players Friday, but they still came up with a few big plays in the first half that helped them put the game away. What I was most impressed with in this one was the newly acquired Brandon Jacobs and really the whole running game. Jacobs and Kendal Hunter each reeled off big runs on the 49ers scoring drive. The new power-back of the 49ers run game collected 31 yards on just 4 carries and did exactly what the 49ers brought him in to do by moving the chains on each of his carries. As the 49ers main short yardage back, Brandon Jacobs will be asked to cash in on third down carries quite often this season, and he displayed that ability on a key 4th-and-1 situation early on. Also, last seasons breakout rookie showed that he's not ready to be a forgotten man in this running game either. Kendall Hunter looked like he hasn't missed a beat since the 2011 playoffs when he filled in so well for Frank Gore at times. These two set the tone for the 49ers attack early and helped pave the way to a 260-yard rushing performance for the 49er offense.

As for the passing game, the 49ers didn't really have to open that up too often with their running backs torching the Vikings retooled defense, but both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick had their moments out there. Smith put the 49ers on the board early in the first with a perfect short pass to Brett Swain in the corner of the end zone. Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss each played about 10 snaps before exiting and both were targeted early by Smith but neither played long enough to make much of an impact. The play of the game came from Kaepernick, who took some strides towards becoming the 49ers primary QB 2. He looked a little off on some of his throws, but displayed that game changing athleticism the 49ers coaching staff have been waiting for in a break away QB sneak for a 76-yard score. And although he didn't have an earth shattering game with his arm, Kaep made a few very nice reads in the passing game, especially the out route play he connected with 49er rookie AJ Jenkins for in the 2nd quarter. I'd like to see the passing attack opened up more as the preseason wares on, just so Smith can get better acquainted with his new weapons, but other than that, things went seamlessly.

There was a hold your breath moment for the defense there early on, as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Aldon Smith, came down sharply on his hip attempting to make a tackle and was later carted into the locker room from the 49ers sideline. Luckily X-Rays came back negative and Smith is not expected to miss any serious time. I wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers hold him out of this weekends game, but don't look for that injury to linger into the regular season.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dwight Howard Dealt to Lakers

After nearly a year of speculation and rumors involving fifty percent of NBA teams, Dwight Howard, the Magic and a 3rd party finally agreed on something!

In the trade of the summer, the Magic sent Dwight Howard to, surprise surprise, the LA Lakers in a 4-team, 12-player mega-deal. Oddly enough, Orlando probably got the worst return in the deal and couldn't manage to get the guy they supposedly wanted in Andrew Bynum. The Lakers' young center was part of the deal, but he'll be heading to Phily instead of Orlando because apparently the Magic didn't have a shot at signing him long term. After looking at the players the Magic did get, it makes me wonder why they didn't pull the trigger on Howard before the deadline last season when they had much more reasonable deals on the table. The Nets were offering Brooke Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and a few unprotected draft picks to Orlando before the deadline, but instead, it will be Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and 3 picks heading to the Sunshine State. It's tough when your the clear losers in a deal that you give up your franchise player in, but that's exactly where the Magic find themselves after this one!

The winners in this deal, in my opinion, where each of the other three teams involved. The Lakers obviously make out the best, bringing in the NBA's top center and giving Kobe Bryant a force up front he hasn't had since Shaq. Add this deal on top of the trade they swung for Steve Nash last month, and the Lakers have reloaded exactly the way they wanted to this summer. I know they don't have the youngest team in the league, but they now have an element in Nash that they've never really had there during the Kobe years. The Lakers have never had that game-changing point guard, and it's going to take a huge load of pressure off Kobe Bryant. Sure, Bynum is also one of the top centers in the league, but he's not on the level Howard is yet, and Dwight better fits LA's immediate plans for contending. Not to mention it just didn't seem like Bynum was working out too well in LA. Kobe has said he'd like another ring or two before he hangs 'em up, and I their two deals this summer has put them in great position to do so.

 Speaking of Bynum, he'll be playing the 2012-13 season with the 76ers, and they have every intention on keeping him around long term. Philly had to part with Andre Iguodala, who's one of the best all-around players in the league, but expendable when you have a shot at reeling in a guy like Bynum. Iguodala will heading to Denver.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

49ers: Focus Shifts to Backup QB Spot

With the 49ers preseason opener just 3 days away, and most starting positions pretty much set, their has been a lot of discussion lately on who will be Alex Smith's backup this fall.

Kaepernick Improving
A lot of the talk has started because of the way 2nd year QB Colin Kaepernick has played in training camp. The 6'6" sophomore has reportedly taken great strides from his first training camp up till now, and has coaches raving about him once again. It was obvious it would take the young slinger some time to adjust to NFL play after running the "pistol" offense in college with Nevada but he looked much more lost during the 2011 Preseason than I was anticipating. This time around, he's got the playbook down and he's adapted much better to taking snaps directly under center. He's got the great arm, good athleticism and certainly the size to succeed at QB in the NFL, but he's going to have to prove he's got the brain. Jim Harbough said he still has the edge up on 49ers newcomer Joe Johnson, but both will get heavy looks in the Vikings game Friday and things could change day-to-day according to Harbough. One thing I'd like to see Kaepernick do better on Friday is sticking in the pocket longer.

Manningham vs. Rogers
In other 49ers news, it's been a relatively quiet week one of training camp, but one unit that has been making a lot of noise is that strong defense. The 49ers defense is apparently so far ahead of their offense right now that they're having to dial back their play in scrimmages against the offense. It's understandable to an extent, being that the 49ers have a completely new wide receiving unit out there and their passing game has been a bit off. Michael Crabtree is just now returning after missing a week with a bum foot, so Smith will have one familiar face back, but he still has to get in synch with Randy Moss, AJ Jenkins and Mario Mannignham. A big reason why the 49ers are expected to improve upon last years 13-3, NFC Championship run is because their upgraded receiving core and it won't do any good if Smith can't get them the ball. I get not wanting to run your first team out there too much on Friday, but I do hope Harbough opens up the playbook a bit when they are, just to see where they stand.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Giants Add Pence, A's Stand Pat

Both the A's and the Giants had rumors swirling around them Tuesday before the trade deadline, but only the Giants were able to make a move to improve their chances at reaching and being competitive in the postseason.

Hunter Pence Coming to Town
After seeing their offense wilt over the weekend vs. the Dodgers, it was clear the Giants needed a boost. They got just that Tuesday, sending young catching prospect Tommy Joseph, Nate Schierholtz and an minor league arm to Philly for the guy I think was the best bat in this trade market, Hunter Pence. The thing I really like about this move is it's not a half season rental. Pence will be around for 2013 and could give the Giants a good security blanket in case they can't re-sign Melky Cabrera this winter. He's going to come right in and hit in the middle of the order and should provide a huge boost to the sputtering offense. Giving up Joseph certainly isn't easy to do, but the one area the Giants are pretty deep at is catcher so that was the area of strength to deal from. With the Dodgers improving left and right (adding Brandon League and Shane Victorino), it was inevitable the Giants would try and answer for a splash of their own. I'm just glad they aren't needing to part with a slew of prospects in order to get to get it done.

The A's just finished their best July in club history, so it's not like they were desperate to make a move, but apparently they were trying. They entered last month as a team likely to sell off veteran players but their surge over the last 30 days changed Billy Beane's thinking. I just don't think the A's are legit contenders yet though, even with their solid play of late. The Angels got a whole lot better before the deadline and both them and the Rangers are much deeper than Oakland. I said in our post previewing the trade deadline that the biggest roster moves for Oakland would be when they get Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson back, but it's too bad they couldn't add that big hitter they needed.