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Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Pulling Linemen Predicts: Week 8 + Games of the Week

Toby Durant’s Game of the Week: New England Patriots (5-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
Tom Brady reads the Steelers defense en rout to a 39-26
victory in 2010

Forget Peyton Manning’s Colts, these 2 are the AFC powerhouses. They’ve represented the conference in 7 of the last 10 super bowls, winning 5 of them. And once more they’re the early leaders in the AFC.

The Pats are coming off a gritty win against Dallas and a bye week that has allowed them to prepare for this tough road game. An advantage Brady and Belichick don’t really need when it comes to playing the Steelers. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Welcome back Steve Smith

Before the season Steve Smith wouldn’t have broken a top 10 wide receivers list. Maybe even a top 15. He was a forgotten man. Stuck with terrible quarterbacks for too long people, including yours truly, were overlooking him for younger models. Declaring Mike Wallace as the next great deep threat was more fun than umming and ahhing about Smith’s future in football. After all when was the last time he, or the Panthers, had been relevant? We’d all forgotten just what a motivated Steve Smith can do in the NFL.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Pulling Linemen Predicts: Week 7 + Games of the Week

Toby Durant's Game of the Week: Denver Broncos (1-4) @ Miami Dolphins (0-5)

While some teams are positioning themselves for a charge at the playoffs, others are battling it out for the most hyped prospect since, well, ever. And these are 2 of the latter.

Denver’s new coach John Fox has seen his game-manager of a Quarterback Kyle Orton go from bad to worse this season and has made the decision to come out of the bye week with Tim Tebow as the new starter. Think what you may of his in-your-face religion/politics or his unorthodox throwing mechanics but Tebow is exciting to watch and a to-the-death competitor. He’s been phenomenally popular among the Denver fan base, but then most back-up QB’s are.

However the Denver front office haven’t exactly made things easy for Tebow, they traded away their best receiver, Brandon Lloyd, during the week for a meagre return. Suck for Luck indeed.

Now I’m not sold on Tebow being good enough to be an every week starter, once teams figure out how to stop him scrambling he’ll really struggle. He’s just not accurate enough to be reliable. But until then he can cause extra problems for defenses that aren’t performing well generally, such as Miami’s.

There were great hopes for Miami’s defense in the pre-season, with young talent across the board and additions like that of Kevin Barnett were meant to be the missing piece needed. Well those dreams can go out of the window. Miami’s defense has been a real let down so far, with blown coverages a plenty and very few turnovers. But it’s not been helped by the dire nature of their offense either. Miami’s red zone offense especially shows a horrible lack of imagination. It’s either a run up the gut or a pass for Brandon Marshall. The loss hasn’t Chad Henne helped, at least not in winning games.

They signed Reggie Bush in the off-season and have taken away what he does best, hitting the edge and making plays. Instead they’ve used him as a between the tackles runner, and occasionally split him out wide. This is wrong! In New Orleans they let Reggie make plays both as a fearsome punt returner and in the red zone. You have to use players like Bush intelligently, create some room for them to go to work. Sean Payton could do that with the Saints, Tony Sparano can’t in Miami, which is one of the many reasons he’s going to be out of the door sooner rather than later.

So to the winner? More tough days at the office. To the loser? One step closer to the 2nd coming of Quarterback-Jesus. It’s a strange scenario when the right thing to do for teams is to just tank the whole season and we’re only in October but that’s the truth of the matter.

Gur Samuel's Game of the Week: Chicago Bears (3-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2)

Bucs/Bears. Because it's at Wembley, and I'm going to see my Bucs in the flesh. It's going to be a very good game; both teams entered week six with a ton of questions, but managed to secure W's to at least quieten down the doubters, although they haven't yet silenced them.

Now both Tampa Bay and Chicago are looking to build on that, to prove that they weren't just flukes, by winning today at Wembley Stadium. There are several very intriguing match ups in this game - All-Pro DE Julius Peppers facing off against Bucs LT and 2010 Pro Bowler Donald Penn; a young Tampa Bay defensive line going against a Bears O line that seems to have finally managed to keep Jay Cutler upright for a game; and even on special teams, where the Bucs hope their highly-touted, highly-paid free agency pickup, punter Michael Koenen, can win the field position battle while avoiding putting the hands in the most dangerous return man in NFL history, the immensely talented and always ridiculous Devin Hester.

I'm seriously far, far too excited about actually going to this game to get all my thoughts down here - but expect a full account and analysis not just of the game, but the pre-game tailgate outside the stadium and the whole International Series circus later this week. Go Bucs! 

Toby Durant
Phil Gaskin
Gur Samuel
Seahawks @ Browns
Falcons @ Lions
Texans @ Titans
Broncos @ Dolphins
Chargers @ Jets
Bears @ Buccaneers
Redskins @ Panthers
Chiefs @ Raiders
Steelers @ Cardinals
Rams @ Cowboys
Packers @ Vikings
Colts @ Saints
Ravens @ Jaguars

Last Week:

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Pulling Linemen Predicts: Week 6 + Games of the Week

Toby Durant's Game of the Week: Philadelphia Eagles (1-4) @ Washington Redskins (3-1)

It's make or break for the "Dream Team". A loss here at Washington will all but close the door on any playoff hopes. They are already 4 games behind the NFC North's 2nd placed team and 2 wins behind the Skins and Giants in the NFC East. Fall back another game and you can call the coroners office and start the post-mortem.

The problems for the Eagles are, to be brutally honest, exactly where we thought they'd be before the season started. Offensive line and run defense. In the pre-season the Eagles named Juan Castillo defensive coordinator. Here is a man who had been their offensive line coach since 1998 and hadn't coached defense since the late 80's. What a perfect candidate! Suddenly the defense and O-Line are in shambles. They can't keep Vick clean and the pre-jail quarterback has returned with vengeance. Sure it's fun for neutrals, but it must be a nightmare for Philly fans.

As for the defense... The trifecta of elite cornerbacks aren't as scary and unbeatable as everyone thinks. The reason? Linebackers. The Eagles linebacking corp is very weak and they just can't cover. Teams can take plenty of easy yards and passes over the middle without fear, negating the strongest part of the defense. Opposing quarterbacks have a 104.3 rating against them. And life is just as easy on the ground for their opponents who are tearing off 5 yards a run. Something the Redskins are just salivating over....

As ever with Mike Shanahan, his offense is built on a zone running game that appears it could get 100 yards a a game with me at running back. Roy Helu, Ryan Torain and Tim Hightower look like interchangeable pieces back there and they'll just go with the hot hand. Meanwhile Rex Grossman has been, well, not the Grossman we remember. Yes, his interception rate is still high but he's not making bone-head mistakes like he did in his previous incarnation over in Chicago. Meanwhile that defense, WOW.

They've created 15 sacks on defense, nearly 4 a game, and held opposing QB's to a paltry 73.5 rating. The presence of rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has galvanized the front 7, freeing up Brian Orakpo on the other side and terrorizing the oppositions offensive line. They are a legitimate unit that, much like the 2006 Bears, can give Rex Grossman enough possessions, in good enough field position, to win games.

After being the butt of so many jokes after the draft for not taking a Blaine Gabbert or Andy Dalton the Redskins have turned it back on everyone else and are a legitimate threat to take this division, especially if they win this game.

But, i just can't get the Rex Grossman implosion out of my head. It's coming folks, and when it does it's going to big.

TD's picks.


Phil Gaskin's Game of the Week: St Louis Rams (0-4) @ Green Bay Packers (5-0)

If you want a tight game that could go either way, two sides swapping blows right until the death, don't watch this game. If you want to watch possibly the biggest mismatch in the NFL this year, then this is the game for you.

The Packers passing attack led by Aaron Rodgers is unstoppable. On Sunday night against the Falcons, he spread the ball round to a dozen different receivers, totaling 396 passing yards and keeping him very easily on track to smash Dan Marino's single-season record. Combine that potent unit with an aggressive, turnover forcing defense, and you've got a 5-0 team that looks all the world like repeating it's Superbowl success from last year.

Across the ball from them, not so good. The Rams were tipped for big things this year, the addition of Josh McDaniels as OC was supposed to ignite Sam Bradford and turn him in to a young Tom Brady, and in year 3 of the Spagnuolo defence, this phase of the game was hoping to be ranked amongst the best in the NFL.

Never mind.

The Rams have slumped to a deflated 0-4, with receivers that have dropped more passes than they've caught, an offensive line that has Bradford on track for 72 sacks for the season, and 7, count them, SEVEN cornerbacks placed on IR since the beginning of camp. And we're not just talking background, practice squad guys. #s 1, 2 and 3 are all out for the year, with the secondary now being led by Justin King, #4 at the start of the season with question marks over whether he was good enough to play dime corner. Alongside him are Al Harris and Rod Hood, 36 and 30 repectively, both of whom missed all of 2010 with knee injuries. So, between those three they have to stop Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and anyone else Aaron Rodgers can turn in to a viable receiving option...

...Hence my choice of this as my Game of the Week. If the Packers don't put up 50 points, it'll be a surprise. If the Rams can take advantage of the Packers injury problems at OT and get some early pressure on Rodgers, they might just be able limit them to 30ish points. If not, we could see some record setting numbers - something you can tell the grandkids you watched. The total O/U on this game is currently around 48.5. Go and put your house on Over. Now. Then don't blame me if the Packers win 48-0. Blame the Rams.

PGs picks:

Atl over Car
Cin over Ind
Det over SF
GB over Stl
Buf over NYG
Pit over Jac
Was over Phi
Bal over Hou
Oak over Cle
NE over Dal
TB over NO
Chi over Min
NYJ over Mia

Gur Samuel's Game of the Week: Carolina Panthers (1-4) @ Atlanta Falcons (2-3)

As a generality, inter-division games tend to be exciting to watch; but I'm expecting this game to be an all-out slug fest. It's probably a given that all teams from a division don't like each other, but the NFC South teams really don't like each other - from the heydays of the division with Warren Sapp and Kris Jenkins mouthing off violently to the en masse rumble in the aftermath of Steve Smith's touchdown on the Saints last week. This game is sure to be filled with very, very high tensions - as the losing team will find themselves in the basement of the division. Beyond that, both teams have psychological pressure to prove themselves. The Falcons, finishing with the best record in the NFC in 2010, pulled off a huge trade on draft day to nab Julio Jones, which they believed would put them over the edge and finally get Mike Smith his first play off win as a head coach. Instead, they have looked like a shadow of last seasons' Falcons, and with Jones already ruled out for this match, Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff will have to justify trading away a treasure trove of draft picks by proving that this team is not as full of holes as they have appeared at times this season - holes that could have been filled by picks sent to the Cleveland Browns on draft day. The Panthers, on the other hand, have looked so much better than they did last year, and despite the 1-4 record, have arguably shown themselves to be better than Atlanta, having not lost a game by more than a score in 2011. Despite this, the Panthers need to show the ability to make that final push in the fourth quarter to win out close games, or the face becoming the first team in the history of the NFC South to finish 4th two seasons in a row.

This game has all the ingredients for an explosive game. The teams are both helmed by young, exciting quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and rookie star Cam Newton. Both teams will have plenty of material to fire them up, thanks to two egotistical, lippy diva wideouts in Roddy White and Steve Smith. Both offenses benefit from established stars at running back (Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) and some of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league (Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen). On the other side of the ball, the Carolina defence ranks below average, but on the other hand, despite allowing the 7th least yards per carry to opposing running backs, the Falcons have the NFL's 29th worst pass defence. With both sides boasting a wealth of offensive talent squaring off against underwhelming defences, this game could very well turn into a high-scoring shoot out. Add in the psychological need to prove themselves to the rest of the league, not to mention the passionate, violent dislike that exists between the NFC South teams, and you have a very, very intriguing match up.

GS's picks:

Panthers over Falcons
Bengals over Colts
49ers over Lions
Packers over Rams
Bills over Giants
Steelers over Jaguars
Redskins over Eagles
Ravens over Texans
Raiders over Browns
Patriots over Cowboys
Saints over Buccaneers
Bears over Vikings
Jets over Dolphins

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Life in the Trenches: A guide to playing on the line

Playing on the offensive and defensive lines seems like a very thankless task. You’re not going to make the big play that wins a game very often and can go years without so much as touching the ball.

I compare it to playing front/second row in rugby union; doing all the grunt work so the little skinny guys can get the glory. It takes a certain selfless attitude to want to play on the lines. But it’s very, VERY fun.

The International Series: To Stay or Not To Stay...

If you’ve seen any of NFL coverage in the UK this season you’ll be sick to death hearing about the latest game in the International Series. “DA BEARS!!! THE SWASHBUCKLING BUCCANEERS!!! IN WEMBLEY! HAVE YOU HEARD?!?! YOU DEFINITELY HAVE, BUT HERE IT IS AGAIN!!!!!”

Friday, 7 October 2011

2009 Draft Revisited - Best and Worst of the 1st

Ok, so we’re only 2.25 seasons removed from these names being called at Radio City Music Hall, and the usual mantra is that you can’t truly evaluate a draft class until at least 3 years post-event. But with the way the 2011 season has begun for certain members of this class, I think it’s worth taking a look at their young careers, and passing judgement on who has fared best, and casting aspersions on those who have flopped worst.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Pulling Linemen Predicts: Week 4 + Games of the Week

Toby Durant's Game of the Week: Minnesota Vikings (0-3) @ Kansas City Chiefs (0-3)

That’s right folks, I’m picking the bottom of the barrel, 0-3 vs 0-3 match up.

This game will go a long way towards helping with a few things. Firstly, how long is Zombie-McNabb going to get before 1st round pick Christian Ponder is given a chance? And secondly who will take the lead in the much talked about Andrew Luck Sweepstakes.