|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 3: Patriots cement hold on top spot, Broncos move up to 3||09.22.15 at 9:42 pm ET|
The Bills were supposed to be a serious test for the Patriots offense. Rex Ryan typically gives Tom Brady fits. Such was not the case Sunday, as Brady and the Pats put a divisional whupping on Sexy Rexy and retained their top spot in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Packers held strong at No. 2, avenging their NFC championship game loss to the Seahawks. I’m not quite ready to say that Peyton Manning is back, but he certainly looked in control during the Broncos‘ fourth-quarter comeback against the Chiefs.
The biggest surprise in the NFL seems to be the NFC East. No one is poised to win that division, never mind run away with it. The Cowboys have to withstand injuries to their two best players, but they can still make a run late in the season if their backup quarterback — Brandon Weeden or the newly acquired Matt Cassel — can win one out of every three. The AFC East looks better than it has in years, with the Jets and Pats starting off undefeated. The Bills will stick around, but the Dolphins’ loss to the Jaguars is a major cause for concern.
Drew Brees is hurt, leading many to consider the Saints’ 2015 campaign already over. The NFC South, then, becomes a two-team battle between the Panthers and Falcons, both of whom are 2-0. The Colts are 0-2 but still will end up winning the AFC South, because it’s just that bad of a division. We’re only two weeks into the season, but that doesn’t stop us from making rash generalizations that will look foolish at year’s end. On to the rankings!
1. (1 last week) Patriots (2-0) — Tom Brady and the Patriots marched into the Ralph and dominated Rex Ryan and the Bills. Following three touchdown passes from TB12, pundits are comparing this team to the one in 2007. A Week 3 matchup vs. Jacksonville will lead to more stat-padding from the offense.
2. (2) Packers (2-0) — After losing three straight to the Seahawks, the Pack finally got some revenge. Aaron Rodgers continues to spread the ball around, and he was masterful in the fourth quarter. The team’s decision to move LB Clay Matthews into the middle has worked out, as he helped limit Marshawn Lynch to 41 yards on the ground.
3. (9) Broncos (2-0) — Peyton Manning still has no velocity, but Thursday night’s comeback win over the Chiefs, in Kansas City, was about as gutsy of a performance you’ll see from the veteran QB. The defense forced five more turnovers and looks primed to carry the load week in and week out.
|Bill Belichick explains his approach to Devin McCourty, secondary: ‘Trying to create depth for ourselves’||08.23.15 at 11:25 am ET|
Speedy receiver Brandin Cooks blew past McCourty at the line of scrimmage and then ran past free safety Duron Harmon before catching a perfect pass from Drew Brees for a 45-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
Bill Belichick watched the play on film afterward and wasn’t as hard on McCourty.
“It’s a great play by two great players, Brees and Cooks,” Belichick said in a Sunday morning conference call. “Obviously, it could’ve been defended a little bit better. I’ve seen a lot worse defense than on that play but it wasn’t good enough because Brees made a great throw, Cooks ran a great route, ran through [to] to the ball.”
More important to Belichick was the situation. Brees had just completed a pass to Cooks on McCourty to set up a first-and-10 at the Patriots 45.
“It was a good play for us to learn from,” Belichick said. “Sometimes in practice you pull off those plays at the end, avoid the contact, Would you have it? Wouldn’t you have it? Would it have been complete? Would it have been incomplete? But all that shows up in the game. We can definitely learn from that about just the whole situation, the play-action, the first-and-10 in a drive, which is what is kind of an alert for us at that point, anyway. Better pass rush, a long extended play that we obviously could have obviously defended better.”
There has been lots of speculation as to what McCourty playing on the corner in the game and in practice means down the road in the Patriots’ secondary. Perhaps sending a message to McCourty, Belichick cautioned Sunday that the different roles in the secondary is the best way the coaching staff and team can build depth.
“It’s been good for all of us,” Belichick said. “As we move forward, we’ll try to narrow that down but at some point, we may be using different people in different spots and we’ll have to come back to the base that we’re trying to build now and the depth we’re trying to build now, with players playing multiple positions and trying to create depth for ourselves at all positions on the team, not just the secondary.”
Saturday was a teaching point as Harmon continues to learn how to communicate with his cornerbacks.
“Overall, I think our secondary communication has been good,” Belichick added. “We’ve played a lot of people in a lot of different combinations and that’s sort of forced everybody to really work harder on the communication. It’s not always the same two guys with their own way of communication, whether it’s a signal or a nod or however subtle it is. When you work with a lot of people, you’ve got to build that ability to communicate throughout the entire unit, with whichever players you’re paired up with.”
As Belichick noted after the game, there were several competitive plays by the secondary that prevented scores, such as McCourty and Bradley Fletcher each breaking up would-be touchdown receptions in the red zone.
One look at the highlights Saturday and you could tell Devin McCourty was not exactly happy to be back at starting cornerback.
With Duron Harmon playing McCourty’s old spot of free safety and Patrick Chung starting at strong saftety, McCourty, who has been practicing the last two weeks with the cornerback groups, played exclusively as a corner in Saturday’s 26-24 preseason win over the Saints at the Superdome.
The six-year veteran, who just signed a new five-year, $47.5 million contract two days before free agency was targeted by Drew Brees several times in the first three series.
The results were mixed, and that’s probably being kind even by McCourty’s own admission to reporters after the game.
“It didn’t feel great and I don’t think it looked great,” said McCourty, who also admitted that he hoped the move by the defensive coaching staff was experimental and not permanent.
The results weren’t all bad. McCourty broke up a certain touchdown connection from Drew Brees to Brandon Coleman, forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal on their first drive. Bill Belichick, after the game, gave props to McCourty for his effort on that play. But on the second and third series, Brees appeared to be picking on McCourty just a bit, completing an 18-yard pass to Brandin Cooks to the Patriots’45. The next play, Cooks ran past McCourty and eventually Duron Harmon for a 45-yard touchdown pass on a post route.
McCourty got the start at right corner over the likes of Bradley Fletcher and Tarell Brown, who got some looks at the slot or “star” corner spot on the inside.
Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia began to toy with the idea of McCourty as a free safety in 2012, taking advantage of his ball-hawking and signal-calling skills and taking the pressure off him as a cover man. Then in 2013, they moved McCourty over to free safety full time.
|Jimmy Garoppolo compares his college game to ‘stud’ Sean Payton, heading in ‘right direction’||08.19.15 at 3:18 pm ET|
It was such an obvious question that Jimmy Garoppolo answered it like he knew it was coming.
The Patriots back-up quarterback to Tom Brady played at the same college – Eastern Illinois – as the head coach on the other sideline this week.
Saints coach Sean Payton earned a scholarship to Eastern Illinois after graduating from Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Illinois.
Payton eventually led the Panthers to an 11-2 record and the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA Playoffs in 1986. Under coach Al Molde, Payton’s Eastern Illinois teams were known as “Eastern Airlines” due to their prolific passing attack that routinely topped 300 yards per game, including a game in which he threw for 509 passing yards in one game, still a school record.
Although he was not drafted in the 1987 NFL Draft, Payton tried out for the Chiefs for one day. In 1987, he played quarterback for the Chicago Bruisers and Pittsburgh Gladiators during the inaugural season of the Arena Football League. His only NFL action came for the replacement Chicago Bears in ’87.
Garoppolo had a slightly more glamourous entry into the NFL, getting drafted in the second round by the Patriots in 2014.
As a senior at Eastern Illinois in 2013, Garoppolo broke Tony Romo‘s school records for career passing touchdowns, yards and passing touchdowns in a season. He also won the Walter Payton Award that season, which goes to the best offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Does Garoppolo ever talk trash with Sean Payton about the best quarterback to come out of Eastern Illinois?
“He asked me that in the combine process, I remember, but I’ll keep the answer private for now. You’ll have to ask him,” Garoppolo laughed.
So, how did his college games compare to those of Sean Payton?
“I’ve never really seen his game film, but he was a stud back then,” Garoppolo said. “Apparently, he was setting all the records and all that stuff, so he must’ve been pretty good.”
There was another stud back at practice with Garoppolo Wednesday. Tom Brady returned after missing Tuesday’s practice to travel to New York in advance of Wednesday’s court date, which he eventually skipped. Garoppolo was happy to see No. 12 back on the field.
|Bill Belichick encouraged by ‘competitive’ pass D, red zone stops||08.14.15 at 12:50 pm ET|
Perhaps one of the most encouraging developments came in red area and fourth-down defense against arguably the premier quarterback in the game not named Tom Brady.
Aaron Rodgers played the first three series. On his first drive, he handed off to Eddie Lacy, who ran through and around the Patriots defense until the Packers had first-and-goal at the 5. Chandler Jones and Jonathan Freeny combined to make a stop on Lacy on first down. Jamie Collins made a tackle of Lacy on third down and Rodgers was forced out of the pocket and threw incomplete on fourth down.
On the second drive, Jabaal Sheard made stop of James Starks on fourth-and-1 at the Patriots 34. On the third drive, Rodgers threw incomplete on third-and-7 from the Patriots 7. What was the key to success?
“I thought, with the exception of a couple of plays, overall our pass coverage was competitive and our pass rush was competitive,” Belichick said. “We just didn’t do a good enough job on — we let a few drives get extended with penalties, with a couple conversions on second-and-long, so we never got to third-and-long. But, overall in those situations, we covered fairly well. The quarterback had to hold the ball, scrambled around two or three times, got a little pressure on a couple of those plays.”
Those are significant words from Belichick since there has been so much talk this spring and summer about how the Patriots were going to replace Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner (carted off Thursday night) and Kyle Arrington. Belichick generally was pleased with Robert McClain and Bradley Fletcher, though Logan Ryan did get beat by Jeff Janis for a touchdown late in the second quarter.
|Who will be the next over-35 quarterback to win a Super Bowl?||05.26.15 at 11:16 am ET|
Last season, Tom Brady entered into select company on a couple of levels. He wasn’t only the third quarterback to win four Super Bowls as a starter, joining Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw — he became the fifth quarterback to win a Super Bowl after his 35th birthday, joining Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett and John Elway.
In truth, this could be considered a pretty good time to be an older quarterback. This season, six projected starters will be 35 or older (Peyton Manning, Brady, Drew Brees, Josh McCown, Carson Palmer and Tony Romo), and while it’s early to handicap the field, it seems to be a safe bet that at least four of them will make the postseason. But which one of them has the best chance of joining Brady in that exclusive company and being able to boast of winning a ring after his 35th birthday?
Here’s a look at the field:
Peyton Manning: Despite the fact there was talk he wouldn’t return for an 18th season, Manning is back in camp with the Broncos. After seeing how he struggled to the finish line last year with Denver, there are questions about his health, as well as a few members of his receiving corps. At 39, he’s slated to be the oldest position player in the league this season, and if he wins a Super Bowl this year with the Broncos, he’d be the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a title.
Drew Brees: The Saints’ signal-caller turned 36 in January, and while he’s talked about playing into his 40s, he shown little sign of slowing down. He led the NFL in several major passing categories in 2014, including passing yards (4,952, first), completed passes (456, first) and passing yards per game (309.5). Despite the fact that New Orleans was 7-9 last season and underwent some serious personnel changes in the offseason, as long as he stays healthy, Brees will certainly be able to keep the Saints competitive for the foreseeable future.
Josh McCown: Truthfully, we’re just including him on this list because he’s become the default starter for the Browns this season. McCown, who will turn 36 in July, has had some nice moments for the six other teams he’s played for over the course of his career, but at this stage with Cleveland, is a longshot at best to become the next plus-35 quarterback to win a title.
Carson Palmer: The former Bengal, who will turn 36 in December, was looking good as a possible darkhorse last season, as he led the Cardinals to a 6-0 start. Then, he wrecked his knee and had to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines. If he stays healthy this year, it’s reasonable to think that Arizona has progressed to a point where it can be a serious playoff threat in the NFC West.
Tony Romo: Well, he’s certainly not lacking for confidence when it comes to the 2015 season. The Cowboys quarterback, who celebrated his 35th birthday last month, was able to get the first playoff win of his career last year against the Eagles, and if a catch is truly a catch, then there’s the very real chance that Dallas pulls the upset on Green Bay in the divisional playoffs and is going against the Seahawks in the NFC title game. If the Cowboys can keep the running game moving after losing DeMarco Murray and Romo is truly over any past late-season or playoff meltdowns, then Romo has a chance to join fellow Cowboy Staubach and the rest of the over-35 crowd that took home a title.
|Fantasy Football: Quarterback rankings||07.31.14 at 3:06 pm ET|
Last week we took a look at the top 50 wide receivers. This week we will get into the signal callers and break them down into tiers as we did with the receivers. Jim Hackett and I will get even deeper into the quarterbacks in our weekly podcast that will be posted tomorrow. I am also pleased to announce that Jim and I will be hosting a new show on WEEI 93.7 called “The Fantasy Football Hour.” Our first episode airs Aug. 10 at 7:30 a.m., and we’ll be on every Sunday throughout the NFL season. If you missed my article on high-value targets, give it a read. It points out some nice value opportunities based on average draft position.
2014 features perhaps the deepest group of fantasy quarterbacks I’ve ever seen. For years, Rotobahn has been preaching patience when drafting passers — and never has that approach been more prudent than it is for this season. There simply is no way you can get shut out at the position. Sure, some outcomes are better than others, but you are not taking a big risk by waiting on a quarterback because, quite simply, they will not be depleted unless you are playing in a league that allows teams to start more than one quarterback.
If you are looking for more information on any particular quarterback or player, go to rotobahn.com and check out our top 400. If your player isn’t listed there, you should strongly consider getting him off of your redraft board.
Tier 1 (1)
Yes, for fantasy purposes he’s all alone. If there is a valid argument for taking an early quarterback, it’s Manning’s scoring gap over second place. Even though I expect a mild statistical regression, there’s still Manning and then everybody else. Yes, he lost a very reliable option when Eric Decker signed with the Jets, but the Broncos added Emmanuel Sanders and drafted Cody Latimer. Latimer has a skill set that ultimately could make Denver fans forget about Eric Decker. Check out Latimer’s Rotobahn scouting report if you haven’t already.
Tier 2 (2-3)
Just about all of Rodgers’ arrows are pointing up. As long as he avoids another season-ending injury, he’s about as safe as it gets as a performer and his receivers are talented and deeply immersed in the Green Bay offense. Brees is the definition of consistency. That’s why he’s an elite option, and that’s why people overdraft him in most leagues. Though he’s showing some signs of age, that should be counter-balanced by the influx of young receivers. We are very high on Kenny Stills, who played 60 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie, and this year’s first-round selection, Brandin Cooks. This could give Brees the kind of shot in the arm that Manning got from Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in 2012.
Tier 3 (4-7)
By my math, you have three very secure options at the top of this tier. Stafford, Luck and Foles all are in very good situations and they’re all big strong-armed passers with quality targets. Griffin also has quality targets, and we like new head coach/offensive coordinator Jay Gruden‘s offense in terms of its flexibility. Griffin is the lottery ticket of the group. He is one of the few players who could outscore everybody, but the injury risks are obvious and real. If you do choose to roll the bones on RGIII, you’ll want to back him up with a strong option, ideally from the next tier.
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